Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


A Beethoven String Quartet and DIY Visualization

Portrait of Beethoven wearing tie-dye t-shirt, holding manuscript

I have some eye candy for you this morning, and an opportunity to get absolutely no work done today (hey, it’s Monday, let’s ease into the week!).

Here is a visualization of Beethoven’s String Quartet No 14 in C-sharp minor.  For visual learners, this is a gem, because you can see how each instrument line moves and it’s easier to see patterns.  It can also be mesmerizing to watch.

For those who are up to a challenge, let me recommend the visualization of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op. 133.

The creator of the video, Stephen Malinowski, has uploaded a number of these visualizations to YouTube.  Malinowski developed the software that generates them.  Here is a TED talk about it.

So, do you want to generate your own?

It turns out the software to generate these visualizations (in other colorful formats as well) is available for free at  As of today’s date the file is safe to download, if that’s a concern.  Download the file, which is in zipped format, extract it, and open the player (it works fine in Windows 8).  Pull down the “File” tab, click “Open” and select any file you might have in .mid (midi) or .mamx format.

The download includes some popular selections such as Berceuse, Chopin’s Opus 27 No 2, Clair de Lune, In Dulci Jubilo, and some selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.  As Malinowski points out, you can find abundant midi files to download at the Classical Archives website (sign-in required).  You can also find them at (sign-in required), the Mutopia Project, the Choral Public Domain Library, and the Petrucci Music Library (

If you do a little composing yourself and use software that generates midi files, you can see your own music on screen!  You can also recreate an ocular harpsichord of sorts, because the program allows direct input from a midi keyboard.

Thanks to friend and reader Paul B. for telling me about the Beethoven string quartet video.


Image attribution

Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tie-dye by MpegMan at en.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons.

Mash-up by C. Gallant.



Parody in Church? When the Sacred and Secular Meet

Painting, Angels singing, detail from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck

When you hear the word parody, you may think of a satirical treatment of serious material.  That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one might hear in a church.

But in the case of a parody mass, it’s ok (most of the time—I’ll tell you about the exception in a bit).  A parody mass is one which uses a secular song as the musical theme for the setting of the words of the mass.  It has nothing to do with a satirical parody.  It was a technique that was widely used in the 16th century.  It is sometimes called an imitation mass.

Some of the more well-known parody masses are the Westron Wynde masses of John Taverner, Christopher Tye, and John Sheppard, and masses based on the tune L’homme armé, some of the most well known being the settings by Josquin Des Pres, Johannes Ockeghem, and Guillaume Dufay.  You can see an article on L’homme armé, called the “most borrowed tune ever” here.

Here’s the original Westron Wynde.

Here’s a sample of Taverner’s Westron Wynde Mass.

And here’s the original L’homme armé and Dufay’s adaptation.

Of course one should probably be selective in one’s choices for mass themes.

Orlando di Lasso (Orlande de Lassus) wrote a mass now known as the Missa Entre vous filles.  Here’s the problem.  In the song Entre vous filles de quinze ans (written by Jacobus Clemens non Papa), fifteen-year-old girls are advised not to go to the fountains because they are distracting.  Clemens non Papa is rather specific about what is distracting about them.  You can imagine that some people were not too happy when they found out where the mass theme came from.

Here is Clemens non Papa’s song

Here is Orlando di Lasso’s adaptation

The use of the parody mass dwindled, but the musical intermingling of sacred and secular has continued.  Martin Luther used folk tunes for chorales.  Classical themes have been used for hymn tunes and given new words.

Here’s an unexpected mixing of sacred and secular.  See if you can hear Bach’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [O Sacred Head, Now Wounded] from the St. Matthew Passion in Paul Simon’s American Tune.


Image attribution

Jan van Eyck (circa 1390–1441) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

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Free Webcasts: Brahms Piano Concerto No 1 and No 2 This Weekend

The DSO wraps up its BrahmsFest with free live webcasts of Piano Concerto No 1 and No 2 this weekend.

You can see the webcast at

On Friday, 26 February 2016 at 10:45 AM EST the program will include Piano Concerto No 1, and Schoenberg’s arrangement of the Piano Quartet in G.  The featured pianist is Hélène Grimaud.

On Sunday, February 28 at 3 PM EST the program will feature Piano Concerto No 2 with pianist Grimaud, and Berio’s arrangement of the Sonata for clarinet and orchestra with clarinetist Ralph Skiano.

Brahms fans may also enjoy Brahms biographer Jan Swafford’s brief overviews of the pieces that were presented in the programs.  You can find the videos on the DSO’s YouTube page.

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Haiku Wednesday: Scott Joplin’s Forgotten Operas

Cover of score of Treemonisha by Scott Joplin

She rises up and
Leads her people to
Fight evildoers,

Those who control by
Superstition and by fear,
Evil magicians.

They capture her and
Would kill her; but then rescue
Arrives—she is saved.

The people now know
Education is the way,
And she will lead them.

Composer rises,
Leaving his railroad labors
To ePhotograph of Scott Joplin, 1903mbrace music.

We know him only
As the father of ragtime,
There was so much more.

His first opera—gone:
A Guest of Honor was staged,
Then the score was lost.

He tried yet again.
His score was hailed in print, then
Largely forgotten.

But now, a new day:
Vindication for this work.
Treemonisha lives.

Scott Joplin is known as the father of ragtime.  But few know that he was the composer of two operas.  A Guest of Honor was written in 1903 and Treemonisha was written in 1910.

A Guest of Honor was performed in a number of cities in the American Midwest in 1910.  The score was subsequently lost.

Lost also is the orchestration of Treemonisha—only the piano and vocal score, published in 1911, survives.  No one would publish the score, so Joplin paid for the printing himself.

Joplin submitted a copy of the score to the American Musician and Art Journal, where it received a glowing review.  The text of the review can be seen in conductor Rick Benjamin’s detailed account of the history of Treemonisha and the life of Scott Joplin contained in the program for a performance of Treemonisha (pp 14-15).  The program also contains the libretto.  You can find the score of Treemonisha here.

Conductor Rick Benjamin cites research that, contrary to popular belief, Treemonisha was performed during Joplin’s lifetime, but it appears the number of performances was limited.  Thereafter, it was forgotten.

It was only in the early 1970s that the score again saw the light of day and received the recognition that it deserved.

And now, due to the wonders of the Internet, you can see it too.  Click the links to see the Overture, Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3.

Treemonisha lives.


Berlin, Edward A., King of Ragtime.  Oxford University Press, 1994.


Image attributions
Cover of Treemonisha score, published 1911, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Joplin.  First published in St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, June 7, 1903.  Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


Manuscript of Earliest English Secular Song Found

Manuscript of song Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Rawlinson Collection, MS. Rawl. G 22 via

A manuscript of what is now considered the earliest English secular song was found some time ago in an unexpected place.  The name of this song is Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast.  Here’s the story.  Someone wrote out this English song and two other French songs and stuck the sheets of paper in the front of a book of psalms.  The paper dates from the first half of the 13th century.

Whoa.  That’s over 760 years ago!

The other contender for earliest English secular song had been Sumer is Icumen In.  This manuscript predates it.

Ian Pittaway has written a fantastic blog post on Mirie It Is While Sumer Ilast.  He provides great detail on the song’s significance and structure.

Here is Ian Pittaway performing Mirie It Is.






Image attribution:  Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Rawlinson Collection, MS. Rawl. G. 22 via


Free Webcasts: Brahms Symphony No 1 and No 2

Photograph of young Brahms with red hedgehog superimposed on shoulder

There’s still a chance to see the DSO’s BrahmsFest mascots, the adventurous red hedgehogs, at the DSO’s free live webcast tonight, 19 February 2016, and Sunday, 21 February 2016.

Oh yeah, you can also see Symphony No 1 (Friday) and Symphony No 2 (Sunday).

You can see the webcast at tonight, 19 February 2016, at 8 PM EST and Sunday, 21 February 2016 at 3 PM EST.  Friday’s program will also include the Academic Festival Overture and Serenade No 2.   Sunday’s program will feature Symphony No 2 and Serenade No 1.

Why the red hedgehogs?  Because Brahms used to hang out at Zum Roten Igel, The Red Hedgehog, his favorite pub in Vienna.

Have a good weekend!


Image attributions

Johannes Brahms, 1853.  Public domain.

Hedgehog, via

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Hear the Mozart-Salieri Cantata!

Recently I told you about the discovery of a cantata co-written by Mozart and Salieri.

The piece was performed on a harpsichord at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague.  The video was released yesterday.  The author of each section of the piece is displayed before it is played.