Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Memorial Day

Battlefield memorial, helmet on rifle, World War I

Battlefield memorial, World War I.

Today in the US we commemorate those who have died while serving in the armed forces.

There is an abundance of music written for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Charles Ives’s Decoration Day (what Memorial Day was called at an earlier time in America) incorporates Taps into his depiction of Memorial Day proceedings in New England.  Here is a performance of Decoration Day.

Walt Whitman’s poem Dirge for Two Veterans has been set to music by a number of composers.  Here are links to performances of settings of this poem by Holst, Kurt Weill, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Maurice Ravel wrote Le Tombeau de Couperin, a suite for solo piano in six movements.  Each movement is dedicated to a friend who lost his life in World War I.  A performance of Le Tombeau de Couperin can be found here.

Frank Bridge’s intense Piano Sonata was written in memory of a friend who was killed in World War I.  You can hear it here.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was first performed at the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II.  The poignancy of the piece is heightened by the use of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action one week before the end of World War I.  A performance can be found here.  A short documentary on War Requiem from the Royal Opera House can be found here.  A recording of a moving performance at Coventry Cathedral is available on DVD.

Sadly, I’m sure there are other notable works that I’ve omitted with a similar origin.  It is utterly human and noble to try to create beauty from loss.

I salute the bravery of those who serve.

I honor the memory of those we have lost.

Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines Memorial Service

Boots, rifle, dog tags, and kevlar helmet stand in solitude to honor Cpl. Orville Gerena, Lance Cpl. David Parr, and PFC Jacob Spann during a service held by Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq Feb. 18, 2006. The three Charlie Company Marines were killed conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

References

Wounded Warriors Family Support http://www.wwfs.org/wounded-warriors-family-support/information-main/about-us

Fisher House Foundation https://www.fisherhouse.org/about/

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) http://www.taps.org/about/

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Image attributions:

Helmet and Rifle, World War I.  Courtesy of Getty Images Hulton Collection. http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/battlefield-grave-high-res-stock-photography/HH8040-001

Helmet and Rifle, 2006, Iraq.  22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit website http://www.22ndmeu.marines.mil/News/ArticleView/tabid/196/Article/510146/22nd-meu-blt-12-marines-mourn-the-loss-of-three-warriors.aspx


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Free Concert Webcast Today: Joshua Bell and the DSO

Today, May 27 at 8 PM EDT (GMT-4) Joshua Bell will perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the DSO’s latest free live webcast.  Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Here’s the program:

Stucky: Dreamwaltzes

Lalo: “Symphonie espagnole

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5.

You can see it at dso.org/live.

What a great way to start the weekend!

While you’re waiting, why not build your own Joshua Bell made from LEGO?


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Haiku Wednesday: Amy Beach

Photograph of Amy Beach, American composer

Amy Marcy Beach,
Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,
Are one and the same.

A child prodigy,
A talented composer,
Brilliant pianist.

Her music constrained
By society’s standards;
Yet she persevered.

Once gone, her music
Languished for many a year.
Times changed; she’s now hailed.

American born,
Forward-looking Romantic,
Extraordinary.

In recent years, Amy Beach (1867-1944) has again begun to receive recognition for her great talent.  In her lifetime she was lauded by audiences, her peers of the Second New England School of composers (the “Boston Six”), and by critics, although sometimes grudgingly so.  She brought a thoroughly American voice to music.

It must have been frustrating for her sometimes though.  She was allowed to perform in public for the first time only when she was nearly an adult, although she had been playing and composing since her childhood.  Her musical activities were circumscribed by her mother, then by her husband.  Her performances were limited (a concession to her husband), so she concentrated on composition. But she did not have access to professional instruction, so she taught herself what she did not know and immersed herself in the study of music theory, translating for herself texts by Berlioz and Gevaert.1

After the death of her mother and husband, her performances resumed, and her composition activity again flourished.

The BBC has an hour-long podcast on Amy Beach’s life and music.  A blog has been established to coalesce information about Beach and her work, and can be found at amybeach.org. Scores of her music may be found in the Petrucci Music Library.

Despite the obstacles, Beach created a phenomenally rich body of music.  Here you can find videos of some of her key works, the Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor, Grand Mass in E Flat Major (Kyrie), and Symphony in E Minor Op 32 “Gaelic”. The Piano Quintet (Op. 67) reflects Beach’s incorporation of distinctly modern elements. The Quartet for Strings (Op. 89) uses Alaskan Inuit melodies as themes.

There is much to discover:  a symphony, songs, chamber music, and even an opera.  But for now, let us relax and enjoy Beach’s Dreaming from Four Sketches for Piano.

References

  1. Block, Adrienne Fried, Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 p 55.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Amy Beach from the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmy_Beach_01.jpg and http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b12657/


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New Free Online Course: “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn” from Stanford University

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

Stanford University has a new free online course on Haydn and the development of the string quartet.

The first half of the course explores string quartet writing before Haydn, as well as his early works.  The second half is devoted to a detailed look at Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20 No 5.

The course will help you learn what to listen for and get a better understanding of how the string quartet works.

You do not need to read music for this course.  The music tutorial that is offered is minimal, and looks like a quiz–click on “Show Answer” for explanations.  If you do read music, “dynamic scores” are available. Even if you don’t read music, check them out, they’re pretty cool, and you can learn a lot through observation and pattern matching.  When you select a movement, a play bar appears.  When you click play, the notes that are being played turn red.  And for the trill, the tr and note wiggle up and down—I think that’s quite clever!

The course includes a video of each movement of the String Quartet in F Minor performed by the St. Lawrence Quartet.  The videos can be viewed with or without the dynamic score.  The videos may also be downloaded for further study and enjoyment.

You can go at your own pace, and you can earn a certificate of accomplishment.  You can pick entry level or advanced level for the quizzes.

For more details, here is the webpage for “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn.”

You might also be interested in the course “The World of the String Quartet” from the Curtis Institute of Music on Coursera.

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Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJoseph_Haydn.jpg

 


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Free Webcast Concert Today: Jeremy Denk Plays Beethoven at DSOLive

Beethoven conducting wearing dark sunglasses

Today, at 3 PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free live webcast featuring Jeremy Denk playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.  Sir Andrew Davis will conduct.  Here is the program:

Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Stenhammar: Serenade

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor

See the webcast at dso.org/live.


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The 40-Part Motet Revisited: A Work of Art

Octagon with lines connecting all vertices with one anotherI recently wrote about the 40-part motet written by Thomas Tallis, and showed you a wonderful visualization of the piece, which is titled Spem in alium.

Here is a video about how artist Janet Cardiff has taken this music and created a unique installation, The Forty Part Motet.

Thanks to friend and reader Paul B. for telling me about the Cardiff installation.

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Image attribution:  Octagon with lines connecting all vertices with one another, via openclipart.org.