Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Free Opera Binge Watching!

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

I had hoped to showcase this weekend’s livestream of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (musical direction by Kirill Petrenko, with a fine cast including Jonas Kaufmann) from the Bavarian State Opera.  However, it has been postponed.  For more information, click hereHere is a video about the production.

Undeterred, I searched the internet for a replacement.

I have found you hours and hours of opera.  And I don’t mean The Ring cycle.

The Vienna State Opera  is currently offering for free Wagner’s Parsifal and Götterdämmerung (ok, some of The Ring; click here for details). The opera company typically offers livestreams by subscription (single, monthly, by season).  You can watch at the time of event, or slightly time shifted to accommodate your time zone.

Not a Wagner fan? Here’s what The Opera Platform website has for you right now (the assortment changes over time; click here for details):

Bell  In Parenthesis

Bizet  Carmen

Boesmans  Reigen

Debussy  Pelléas et Mélisande (not available for viewing in the US)

Puccini  Manon Lescaut

Rossini  The Barber of Seville

Tchaikovsky  Eugene Onegin

Tchaikovsky  The Queen of Spades

Verdi  Macbeth

Wagner  Parsifal

(this is the same production available at the Vienna State Opera site)

Wagner  The Valkyries

 Enjoy!

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Image attribution: C. Gallant, 2016.

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Haiku Wednesday: Carlos Kleiber

Carlos Kleiber

The score–a landscape
Seen anew in bright colors,
In sweeping brush strokes,

The smallest detail
Made plain with delicate touch.
Nothing omitted.

Orchestra–palette
Paints music with a baton
The air–his easel.

See now his Mozart
See Beethoven from his hands
Hear in a new way.

I recently saw this tweet by cellist Steven Isserlis:

I had heard of conductor Carlos Kleiber, but I’d never seen him.  Over to YouTube.  First on the list was Kleiber conducting Beethoven’s Symphonies 4 and 7.  I clicked play.

I have never seen anything like it.

His hands were utterly fluid.  And he conducted with his whole body.  The subtlest gesture yielded a highly specific response.  It was fascinating.

And that’s not all.

He was smiling.  He was clearly enjoying the music, the process…everything.

That kind of enthusiasm is infectious.  You want to keep watching.  And you want to keep listening, because you know at any moment he might bring out a nuance you have never heard before.

Who is this guy?

And so I joined the ranks of countless more before me who have asked this same question.  Kleiber didn’t give press conferences, didn’t answer correspondence, sometimes didn’t show up at all.  He would agree to concerts and then change his mind.  He’d up and drive off to his cottage with no notice.  He gave few concerts, recorded fewer; but they were magical.

If you want to read more about Kleiber, there is this article from The Guardian.  And here is a tribute to Kleiber from the Met orchestra musicians.  Wherever I looked, I found glowing testimonials from musicians of the highest calibre.

Charles Barber has written a book on Kleiber, half biography, and half devoted to the letters that Barber exchanged with Kleiber over a number of years.  Told that Kleiber would not respond, he decided to try anyway, and managed to interest Kleiber enough to answer, again and again.

Documentaries have been made about the maestro.  Here is a BBC audio podcast on Kleiber.

You can find DVDs, CDs, and vinyl of Kleiber performances at your favorite vendor.

So now I’ve told you how to find out more, what you can read, how to hear what people have said about him.

But what you really need to do is see for yourself and listen.  That, more than anything else, will show you what a phenomenon Kleiber was.

Here is Kleiber conducting Beethoven’s Symphonies 4 and 7.


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Buxtehude

Portrait of Dieterich Buxtehude by Johannes Voorhout, 1674.

After writing about Haydn, and how much of his work remains generally unknown, I got to thinking about other composers whose worthy work has been overlooked.  And one name came to mind immediately.

Dieterich Buxtehude.

Why Buxtehude?

Handel went to visit him (and was offered a job, on the condition that he marry Buxtehude’s daughter—he departed shortly thereafter).  He was a distinct influence on Brahms.

Bach walked 250 miles to Lübeck to hear him play, and spent three months there absorbing his music and techniques.  Wow.  Few modern bands excite that kind of devotion…

Bach wearing t-shirts in the style of popular modern bands

Buxtehude is mainly known for his organ works.  He also, however, composed numerous works for voice, as well as chamber music.  Only the librettos of his oratorios survive.

Here is a fine example of a vocal piece by Buxtehude, Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (BuxWV92).

Chamber music fans will enjoy the Sonata in D Major for viola da gamba, violone, and harpsichord (BuxWV267)

And finally, one of Buxtehude’s better known organ works, the Prelude, Fugue, and Chaconne in C Major (BuxWV137), played here much faster than anyone else, but with great verve and precision, by Ton Koopman (side note: the organ pipes used as a background to this video seem very Monty Pythonesque to me).

Those looking for more by Buxtehude will not be disappointed by YouTube.

Need sheet music?  Go to the webpage of the International Dieterich Buxtehude Society.  Its president, Ton Koopman (whom you heard above), has recorded all of Buxtehude’s surviving music, and has made the sheet music available for download.  The downloads page also lists other online sources for Buxtehude’s music.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieterich_Buxtehude

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Image attributions: Portrait of Buxtehude, detail from the painting A Musical Party by Johannes Voorhout, 1674, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Imagebuxtehude.jpg

Portrait of J. S. Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg, modified by C. Gallant, 2016.


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99 Cent Classical Music

Music staff showing 99 cents

By popular demand, here is a list of box sets of classical music that you can download from Amazon for 99 cents.  These offerings change from time to time, so for those viewing this page sometime in the future, your results may vary.  I’ve mentioned this resource before, but today, I’m giving you a link-laden list which will also be available shortly as a separate page for easy reference.

I’ve focused here on the Bach Guild or Vox Box series because you get the most bang for the buck and because of the impeccable quality of the recordings.  But there are other fine series that you can also get for the same low price.  You’ll certainly see them on the Amazon pages.

It’s a great way to get your classical music collection started at a phenomenal price.  And you won’t end up with a 20th century wall of CDs (and, in my case, LPs).  If you’re an Amazon Prime customer already, you can stream some of these, and you won’t even have to download them.

If you don’t subscribe to a streaming service or are just getting started, it’s a good way to get a taste (buffet!) of a composer or era with little investment.

I am not associated with Amazon in any way and receive no benefit from purchases.  I just think these are good deals.

 

By Composer

Big Bach Cantatas Box

Little Big Box Bach Orchestral Music

Little Big Bach Piano Box

Little Big Box Bach Saint Matthew Passion

Big Beethoven Box

Bigger Beethoven Box

Little Big Debussy Box

Big Handel Oratorio Box

Big Haydn Box

Big Haydn Symphonies Box

Little Big Liszt Box

Big Mozart Piano Sonatas Box

Little Big Mozart Serenades and Divertimenti Box

Paganini Violin Spectaculars

Big Purcell Box

Big Schumann Box

Little Big Sibelius Box

Little Big Telemann Box

 

By Instrument

Big Flute Box

Big Guitar Box

Little Big Oboe Box

Big Piano Concertos Box

Little Big Trumpet Box

Big Violin Box

Big Violin Concertos Box

Big Winds and Brass Box

 

By Era

Big Choral Renaissance Box Vol 1

Big Baroque Choral Box Vol 1 (not currently present) and Vol 2

Big Baroque Box

Big Baroque Box Vol 2

Big Baroque Box Vol 3

 

By Genre

Big Chamber Music Box Vol 1 and Vol 2 and Vol 3

Little Big Overtures Box

 

By Country

Big English Music Box

Big French Music Box

 

By conductor

Big Harnoncourt Box


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Haiku Wednesday: Haydn

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

“Just like an iceberg—
Only 5 percent is known;
The rest is unknown.”

This is a paraphrase of a comment made by Sir Simon Rattle regarding the work of Haydn during a Berlin Philharmonic concert presenting his montage of “the wittiest, most thoughtful and most eccentric moments in Haydn’s gigantic oeuvre.”1

It was fascinating, with the notable exception of the “slow movement which repeatedly and unexpectedly breaks off,” which in 21st century manner I momentarily attributed to my Bluetooth connection breaking up.  Oops.

Excerpts were drawn from Symphonies No. 45, 64, and 90, The Creation, The Seven Last Words, and other works.  The links will take you to full performances.  If you are a subscriber to the Berlin Philharmonic digital concert hall, you can see the montage.  Otherwise, sadly, it is unavailable, but a description may be found in the link.

So how can you get to know more of Haydn’s work?

Got 99 cents?

You can go to Amazon and download the Big Haydn Symphonies Box, over nine hours of music for 99 cents.  You can also get the Big Haydn Box, over 14 hours of music for—you guessed it—99 cents.  That’s a lot of iceberg for two bucks.

Or, you can go to the delightfully detailed blog Haydn Seek, where you can find a wealth of historical details and recommendations of fine recordings of Haydn’s works.

Or you can go to the extensive YouTube channel PapaHaydn and binge watch symphonies, string quartets, oratorios and more.

Kids can go to the Classics for Kids page on Haydn (adults will enjoy it too).

Check out Classical-music.com’s Haydn page.

Or take the course “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn.”

I can’t leave today without mentioning Symphony No 94, the “Surprise” symphony (full symphony here).  It’s one of Haydn’s better known works, but for those who don’t know…well, you’ll see.  Here’s the famous second movement.

I think I have my day’s listening planned out.  How about you?

References

  1. https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/concert/22475

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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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Musicians Play Haydn Seek: The “Farewell” Symphony

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

I have a fun video for you today, the last movement of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony (Symphony No 45).  Here’s the story behind it.

The musicians at the Esterházy court were grumpy.  They had been at the prince’s summer palace too long.  They wanted to go home.  They appealed to their conductor, Franz Joseph Haydn. Rather than approach the prince, Haydn decided to make his statement musically.  In the final movement of the symphony, the musicians left the stage one by one until only two violins (at the time, played by Haydn and his concertmaster) remained.

The prince got the point.  The musicians soon returned home.

In the video presented here, Daniel Barenboim and the musicians ham it up, and it’s delightful.

I hope you will enjoy the final movement of the “Farewell” Symphony.


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Classical Ice Cream Truck

We don’t have a classical ice cream truck in my neighborhood.  Look, he’s even got a cool license plate (BRRRRR2).

I’m guessing he probably doesn’t sell these Mozart ice cream treats.

Mozart Eis Symphonie ice cream treat

But I’m not sure if this music would result in people associating classical music with happy memories of eating ice cream, or would adversely affect Für Elise (Wednesday’s post?).

But hey, it’s Friday!  I hope you enjoy your favorite dessert today!