Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Haiku Wednesday: Nadia Boulanger

Photograph of Nadia Boulanger, 1925.

Nadia Boulanger, 1925.

Nadia Boulanger
Teacher to great composers
Quietly excelled

“Nadia Boulanger knew everything there was to know about music; she knew the oldest and the latest music, pre-Bach and post-Stravinsky, and knew it cold.  All technical know-how was at her fingertips: harmonic transposition, the figured bass, score reading, organ registration, instrumental techniques, structural analyses, the school fugue and the free fugue, the Greek modes and Gregorian chant.  Needless to say this list is far from exhaustive.”1

Aaron Copland, from On Music

When you read album liner notes, music books, profiles of performers and composers, you’ll start to see the name Nadia Boulanger popping up regularly.  Here’s why.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a composer and conductor, pianist and organist, but is perhaps best known as a teacher.  Here are only some of her students:

Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Dinu Lipatti, Vigil Thomson, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass, Ástor Piazzolla, Elliott Carter, and Quincy Jones.

She was the first woman to conduct the following orchestras:

BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington National Symphony, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Society London.

Boulanger studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and won several prizes while she was there.  She studied composition with Gabriel Fauré.  She became friends with Fauré, poet Paul Valéry, and Igor Stravinsky.

She founded the French Music School for Americans in Fontainebleau, and this was a magnet for American composers in the 1920s  (however, she told Gershwin, as had Ravel, “I can teach you nothing”).2  American composers were drawn by her rigorous instruction and encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire.

She visited Great Britain and the US on numerous occasions to teach and conduct, and taught at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore during World War II.  She returned to France after the war.  She taught until nearly the very end, and died at age 92.

American composer Quincy Jones said, “Nadia Boulanger used to tell me all the time, ‘Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being.’ It’s okay to play fast and all that other stuff, but unless you have a life experience, and have something to say that you’ve lived, you have nothing to contribute at all.”3

Because of her many students, and the great influence she had upon them, Nadia Boulanger continues to cast a long shadow in the music history of the 20th century.

Here is Nadia Boulanger speaking about music and genius.

Here is her Fantaisie pour piano et orchestra


  1. Copland, Aaron, On Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1963, pp. 87-88.
  2. Rosenstiel, Leonie and Rosenstiel, Annette, Nadia Boulanger: A Life in Music. New York:  W. W. Norton & Co, 1982, p 216.


Image attribution: Photograph of Nadia Boulanger, 1925 by Edmond Joaillier, Paris (Bibliothèque nationale de France) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.



A Salute to Muzio Clementi

Portrait of Muzio Clementi by Thomas Hardy

Muzio Clementi

If you are now or have ever been a piano student, or attended a student recital, you know Muzio Clementi.1  His Op. 36 piano sonatinas are no strangers to the fingers of piano students all over the world.

The sad thing is, that’s all most people know about him.

That, and that he had a keyboard duel with Mozart that ended in a diplomatic draw (read more about the Clementi-Mozart match here).2

Clementi was born in Rome in 1752, and his family encouraged his musical studies.  He was already a composer and parish organist at age 14 when he came to the attention of a visiting Sir Peter Beckford.  Beckford made an agreement with Clementi’s father, according to which Muzio would live on Beckford’s estate and receive music lessons to age 21, in exchange for musical entertainment.  This agreement lasted until 1774.

It was during Clementi’s subsequent three-year European tour that the famous musical duel with Mozart occurred (on 24 December 1781).  At the time, he was promoting Broadwood pianos—making him one of the first Broadwood artists, just as we have Steinway artists today.

A Clementi piano, 1805Later in life, Clementi was the spokesman for his own piano line.  Here is a picture of a Clementi piano.3 Those interested in piano restoration will enjoy this account of the restoration of a Clementi piano.4

He also had his own publishing firm, and acquired directly from Beethoven the right to publish his music in England.5

Beethoven was a great admirer of Clementi.  In fact before they met formally, Clementi wrote to a business partner that he saw Beethoven grinning at him when he saw Clementi in public.6 Grinning.  Hard to imagine, given the stern image we traditionally have of Beethoven.

Clementi is well known to piano students for his piano sonatas and sonatinas, but also for his Gradus Ad Parnassum, a set of instructional pieces, which may be the basis for Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum (although some say it is Czerny’s set by the same name that Debussy is referring to in his somewhat satirical piece).7  Here is a list of Clementi’s compositions.

Speaking of Carl Czerny, he was one of Clementi’s students, as were Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ludwig Berger (teacher to Felix Mendelssohn) and John Field (who influenced Chopin).

For all things Clementi, visit the website of the Muzio Clementi Society.

And now, a little Clementi–not Op. 36.  Here is the finale from his Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 26 No. 2, performed by Roberto Giordano.


  3. Morse, Frances Clary, Furniture of the Olden Time. Macmillan, 1917, p 290.
  5. Albrecht, Theodore, ed., Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828, ed. University of Nebraska Press, 1996, p 185.  (
  6. Albrecht, Theodore, ed., Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828, ed. University of Nebraska Press, 1996, p 186. (


Image attributions

Muzio Clementi by Thomas Hardy (1757-1804) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Clementi piano in Furniture of the Olden Time by Frances Clary Morse.  Macmillan, 1917, p 290.

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Haiku Wednesday: Learn To Write Like Mozart, Free on Coursera


Like Mozart’s music?
You can write like him (sort of)
Now on Coursera.

Coursera is again offering its “Write Like Mozart” course.  The session will run from April 11 to May 29, but you can preview the first week of material now.  You have to enroll by April 16.  They will offer another session that begins on May 9.  The course is free, or if you want a certificate when you complete the course, it’s $49.

If you want to learn the basics of Western composition in Mozart’s era, this is a great class.  But you have to have some prior knowledge of the rudiments of music.  Not just the ability to read music; I mean chords, scales, key signatures, intervals, and Roman numeral analysis (not as scary as it sounds). The instructor, Peter Edwards of the National University of Singapore, suggests visiting if you need a refresher course on a particular topic.

One of the nice things is, if you don’t quite pick up the content of the lectures the first time, you can play them again.  You can even download the lectures and slides.  And if you don’t complete the course–no loss! (if you haven’t paid for a certificate, that is).  You learned what you learned, and it’s more than you knew before.

If you don’t have the basics you need for the Mozart course yet, never fear. has a class “Introduction to Music Theory” which will teach you the rudiments you need to know.  It will begin on April 18. uses a flashcard-based approach for learning or reviewing music rudiments that is definitely go at your own pace.  Here are their musical offerings.  There’s lots of fun stuff there, including “Who Composed Me?” (there is also a “Who Painted Me?”) and 80 Operas, with musical clips.

Can’t read music?  Don’t want to pursue that right now? Still want to learn more about how all those dots and lines turn into glorious Mozart? has a course called “From Notation to Performance: Understanding Musical Scores.”  You do not have to be able to read music for this course.  The class is not currently available, but you can let them know you’re interested, and they’ll email you when it becomes available again.  The approach is one of visual pattern recognition.  You’ll learn how to be able to follow the “flow” of the score, and hear musicians discuss how they work together in small ensembles or individually and derive the meaning from the marks on the page.

So there’s lots of fun options out there, and if you find one you really like, let us all know about it!

Just be warned, these little courses (especially the flash card ones) are like potato chips—you can’t stop at one!

I have to get back to my music/art/photography/language courses now.  But it would be wrong not to hear some Mozart.

Here’s Mozart’s first symphony.  Written when he was eight years old.  Sigh.


Image attribution: Mozart c. 1780, portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce. Public domain. Questionably modified by C. Gallant.

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Newly Rediscovered Telemann Viola da Gamba Fantasias Score, Recording Now Available


Viola da gamba enthusiasts, this is your lucky day!

Over the weekend, Thomas Fritzsch, who rediscovered the lost Telemann solo viola da gamba fantasias, performed them at the annual Telemann conference in Magdeburg, Germany.  The score and CDs were available for sale at the performance.

Couldn’t make it to Magdeburg?  I’m here to help.

Here is a website where the Telemann score can be purchased.  You can see a sample page of the new edition and a sample page of a “complete facsimile” edition there.  Here is another source for the Telemann score.

The publisher’s page has a link for CDs, but it brings you back to the page for the score.  I’m guessing CDs will be available there at some point.  I couldn’t find physical CDs elsewhere at this time. [Update:  several recordings have since been made; here’s one place you can find them]

Can’t wait?  Amazon has an MP3 album available now. So does iTunes (a search for “Telemann Fritzsch” will take you right there).

Short on cash?  You can hear it on Spotify.  Check your favorite music streaming service for availability.

So tell a friend–Telemann is back!


Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann, watercolor by Valentin Daniel Preisler [Public domain], after a lost painting by Ludwig Michael Schneider (1750), via Wikimedia Commons.


Haiku Wednesday: Classic Books on Classical Music

Photo of stack of books about classical music

Richard Taruskin
Howard Goodall, Burkholder,
Grout, and Palisca.

Aaron Copland and
Leonard Bernstein, Grove, Schonberg,
And Willi Apel.

Need some history?
Explanations, or old scores?
Then seek them all out.

I just finished reading Howard Goodall’s The Story of Music, and I highly recommend it.  Goodall does a fantastic job of presenting the development of music from prehistory to today in language that everyone can understand.  You don’t have to read music, or have studied music.  You won’t get bogged down in terminology.  And it is very entertaining.  There was also a companion tv series, but sadly it is not available on DVD.  It too was very well done, very lively.  You may be able to find recordings of the original series on the internet.

I got to thinking about classic books that provide an in-depth look at western music and music history, and I wanted to let you know about some of them.  Some of these are for reading, some for reference.  This list is far from exhaustive.  You may want to leave a comment if you know of a great classic resource that I’ve omitted that you’d like to share.

So who are these people in the haiku?

Richard Taruskin is the author of The Oxford History of Western Music, a five-volume set that reaches from the time of early notation to the late 20th century.  Taruskin and Piero Weiss are the editors of Music in the Western World, which is a phenomenal collection of primary-source documents.  You can read excerpts of the letters of Monteverdi, or CPE Bach’s writing on playing keyboard instruments.  Or Josef von Spaun’s personal recollections of Schubert.

Howard Goodall is the author of not only The Story of Music, but also Big Bangs, in which he discusses revolutionary developments in music history, such as the development of notation and equal temperament.  Big Bangs is also available in DVD format.  Again, an excellent, easy to understand exposition.

Burkholder, Grout, and Palisca are the authors of the current ninth edition of A History of Western Music.  My ancient third edition is by Grout alone.  The latest edition incorporates music of the twenty-first century and permits streaming of all the repertoire in the Norton Anthology of Western Music.  As in Taruskin’s five-volume tome, you will find a wealth of information, abundant detail, and sheet music to illustrate the discussion.  BG&P are well known to many university music students.

Aaron Copland’s What To Listen for in Music will help you learn to identify elements of music such as rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone.  It will also teach you about different forms of music, such as the sonata, fugue, and variations.

Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music takes a different approach.  He begins with a series of imaginary conversations to get at the meaning of music and other topics.  The second half of the book includes transcripts of some of his early Omnibus television programs on Beethoven, jazz, conducting, Bach, and opera, among other topics.  Later, Bernstein hosted the incomparable Young People’s Concerts, which are available on DVD.

Grove.  One word that speaks volumes.  20 actually.  But it’s not a person.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the comprehensive source of information on all things musical.  There is also a Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music.

Harold C. Schonberg is the author of The Lives of the Great Composers, The Great Conductors, and The Great Pianists.  The slant is more biographical than analytical, and if you love a good biography, you’ll enjoy Schonberg.

I include Willi Apel because he and Archibald T. Davison are the editors of the two-volume Historical Anthology of Music.  These are some meaty HAMs, two volumes of music scores for the period before the Classical era of classical music.  The Norton Anthology of Western Music covers a greater span of time, but there is something special about this collection.  Norton looks like regular sheet music.  And here is a slice of HAM (here’s L’Homme armé, which I wrote about recently):

Song L'homme arme and Kyrie of mass of same name by Dufay

And finally, let me not forget Charles Rosen, whose books The Classical Style, Sonata Forms, and others provide an in-depth treatment of these very specialized topics.

All of these are books are available through your favorite book vendor.  Some are available as ebooks.  For the budget-minded, look to the library, or eBay (or Amazon marketplace) for earlier editions of these classic works (eBay–HAMs–$10–just sayin’).


Bernstein, Leonard, The Joy of Music. Amadeus Press, 2004.

Burkholder, J. Peter, Grout, Donald Jay, and Palisca, Claude V., A History of Western Music, Ninth Edition. W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.

Burkholder, J. Peter, and Palisca, Claude V., The Norton Anthology of Western Music.  W. W. Norton & Co, 2014.

Copland, Aaron, What To Listen for in Music.  Various publishers, Copyright Aaron Copland 1985.

Davison, Archibald T., and Apel, Willi,  Willi Apel, Historical Anthology of Music.  Harvard University Press, 1949.

Goodall, Howard, Big Bangs.  Vintage (Rand), 2001.

Goodall, Howard, The Story of Music.  Pegasus, 2015.

Rosen, Charles , Sonata Forms.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1988.

Rosen, Charles, The Classical Style.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1998.

Sadie, Stanley, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, Inc., 1995.

Sadie, Stanley, The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1994.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Lives of the Great Composers. W. W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Great Conductors. Simon & Schuster, 1967.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Great Pianists. Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Taruskin, Richard, The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Weiss, Piero and Taruskin, Richard, eds., Music in the Western World.  Schirmer Books, 2007.


Image attributions: C. Gallant, 2016.


Playing with Music: Chrome Music Lab

Today’s Google homepage celebrates the theremin.  The theremin…well, just go there, you’ll see.  It’s a strange instrument (the musician has no contact with it) that creates an eerie sound that will be familiar to you from horror movie soundtracks.

But that’s not why I’m posting.  Below the search box you will see a link “Explore how music works.”  If you use the Chrome or Firefox web browsers, definitely click on that (sorry, Internet Explorer users, it won’t work for you).  The link will take you to Google’s Chrome Music Lab, where you can play with different ways of visualizing music and sound and  you can make some music.  You can create a drawing and hear what kind of music is produced when it is “played” (click on the drawing, the Kandinsky module).  You can see colorful spectrograms of the sounds of different instruments, see how chords and arpeggios works, and how the length of a string affects its pitch.  You will even be treated to a little Bach if you click on the dashed bars on the bottom line (the Piano Roll module).

Suitable for kids and former kids.  Go play music.

As Google says in the About statement, “Music is for everyone.”