Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Got Five Minutes?  Barenboim on YouTube

 

Analog clock face with hands separated by a five minute intervalGot five minutes?

Pianist Daniel Barenboim has created a series of five-minute YouTube videos on works by Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, and Liszt, as well as introductions to harmony and other elements of music.  Here is his video “How to listen to music.”  Here is my favorite quote from this video:

“Hang on to the first note, and you fly with the music until the last note. 
And the amount of pleasure that you will get out of that is absolutely unique”

For the entire list of 5-minute videos (and more), see Daniel Barenboim’s YouTube channel.

Got a little more time?  How about this:

Vanderbilt University has a number of lectures on classical music https://www.youtube.com/user/VanderbiltUniversity/search?query=classical+music

Or you can listen to the lectures in Yale’s “Listening to Music” class: https://www.youtube.com/user/YaleCourses/search?query=MUSI+112

Thanks to friend and reader weemspiano for telling me about the Barenboim videos.

References

  1. http://danielbarenboim.com/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Barenboim

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Image attribution: Clock photograph by C. Gallant, 2016.


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Stravinsky, Sibelius, Kuusisto

On Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hannu Lintu will perform the divertimento from Stravinsky’s one-act ballet, The Fairy’s Kiss,” and Sibelius’s Second Symphony.  The program will also include the DSO debut of Jaakko Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto, which will feature violinist Elina Vähälä.

An hour before the concert starts there will be an informal interview with composer Jaakko Kuusisto, who is also a conductor and an award-winning violinist.  He plays a 1702 Matteo Goffriller.2  Elina Vähälä plays a 1780 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini.5  You’re welcome, violinists!

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon–don’t miss it!  You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.

References

  1. http://www.jaakkokuusisto.fi/index.php?LanguageID=3
  2. Karlson, Anu, The two lives of Jaakko Kuusisto, Finnish Musical Quarterly, 2/1997. http://www.fmq.fi/1997/06/the-two-lives-of-jaakko-kuusisto/.
  3. http://www.hannulintu.fi/
  4. http://www.elinavahala.com/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elina_V%C3%A4h%C3%A4l%C3%A4


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Haiku Wednesday: Time

Recursive clocks in a snail-shell pattern. Photo Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11

Photo: TIme Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11 (Flickr.com/Creative Commons).

How long is that note?
Tell me the tempo you want,
That’s the way I’ll know.

“’55 – too fast!”
“’81 is too damn slow!”
Glenn Gould played with time.

Album leaf- so brief,
Symphony – heavenly length,
Grosse Fuge – vast.

How much time is left?
When will we reach the coda?
Carpe musicam.

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately.  Probably because there are some important deadlines on my horizon, and the clock is ticking very loudly.  Also because it’s one of my children’s birthday, and how can they be that age already?

As we say in linguistics, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” (and yes, there really is a Wikipedia entry for this).

In music, time can be a very fluid thing.  While a note has a fixed duration relative to other notes in a given piece of music, its absolute duration is quite malleable.

So how fast is allegro?  And exactly how much rubato can you get away with (they do call it “stealing time” after all) before people start to raise their eyebrows at you?

It’s fuzzy–except when it’s not.  I’m thinking of the famous disagreement between Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein on the tempi of a Brahms concerto.  Gould insisted on stunningly slow tempi for certain portions of the concerto, and Bernstein felt it necessary to make an announcement before the piece began to make the audience aware that this would be a…unique…interpretation.

Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge was deemed too vast to be the last movement of the Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130.  But some have recorded the quartet with the fugue, leaving it to the listener to make up their own mind.

Schumann described Schubert’s ninth symphony using the word’s “heavenly length”; the phrase is now more typically applied to Schubert’s late sonatas. Both Schubert’s and Beethoven’s late sonatas seem worlds unto themselves, time stretching out infinitely.

But while it seems to extend endlessly, time can also be too short.  Monday’s featured artist, Jacqueline du Pré, was forced by illness to stop performing at age 27.  Schubert died at 31, having already produced over 600 songs, nine symphonies (and he had started a tenth).  What if he had lived to 80?  What would a Schubert who lived to the time of Brahms, Bruckner, San-Saëns, and Liszt write?

Alas, we will never know.

Minutes tick by, never to return.  You can blaze through Chopin’s Minute Waltz, sure, but after listening to many feats of pianistic wizardry, I have to go with Rubinstein’s less-blazing performance.  Each note is clear, distinct, and it becomes a small jewel.

 

So today, let us make the most of our notes, and make the best music we can, in any way that we can.  For there is but one certainty regarding time:

I am definitely going to be late to choir practice…again.

Carpe musicam!

 


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Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words for Cello and Piano: Beauty Without Words

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

I was originally going to write about Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words for solo piano (and I will at some point), but then I found this gem.

It is believed that Mendelssohn wrote this piece for cello and piano, titled Song Without Words, sometime around 1845.  It was published after Mendelssohn’s death and given the designation Op. 109.  The sheet music may be found here.

It was with great delight that I found this video of cellist Jacqueline du Pré performing Op. 109 (Iris du Pré, piano).  I listened to other performances, but I kept coming back to this one.  Perhaps it was the richness and sweetness of tone, or the expressiveness of the playing.  I hope you will enjoy it as well.


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Friday Freebies! Rachmaninoff and Puccini’s La Bohème

Photograph of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and Poster for Puccini's La Boheme

Get ready for a Friday doubleheader! (yes, I realize using a baseball term to describe classical concerts is a little weird, but go with me on this one)

At 10:45AM EDT (14:45 UTC), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present “The Romance of Rachmaninoff.”  The program will include Rachmaninoff’s Russian Song and Symphony No. 1.  The conductor will be Neeme Järvi.  Cellist Zuill Bailey will be featured in composer Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway, a portrayal of the life of American author Ernest Hemingway.  You can see the DSO webcast here.

At 2:00PM EDT (18:00 UTC), The Opera Platform will present a performance of Puccini’s La Bohème from the Teatro Regio TorinoSee the performance and read more about it here.

For those watching at home, formal attire and/or rally caps are optional.

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Image attributions: Sergei Rachmaninoff, photograph by Kubey Rembrandt (Philadephia, Pennsylvania) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sergei_Rachmaninoff_cph.3a40575.jpg

La Bohème poster by Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928), Publisher: G. Ricordi & Co. (Allposters) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALa_Boheme_poster_by_Hohenstein.PNG


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Haiku Wednesday: Schubert’s “The Crow” from Winterreise

Crow

Driven out of town,
A lone crow travels with me
On my long journey.

It flies o’er my head,
Follows me from tree to tree,
Faithful companion.

Crow, wondrous creature,
Will you never forsake me,
Always by my side?

Or, Crow, is it that
I am to be your next meal
Soon as I am dead?

It won’t be long now;
Wand’ring with my walking stick
Will soon reach its end.

So, Crow, let me see
One who’s faithful to the grave;
That I’ve never seen.

The above haiku is a recasting of Wilhelm Müller’s poem Die Krähe [The Crow] that Franz Schubert set to music in his 1827 song cycle Winterreise.

Winterreise is a masterpiece among song cycles, one in which pianist and singer play equal roles, painting pictures with words and notes, creating a universe filled with fiery emotions and frosty, unforgiving landscapes.

Winterreise’s 24 songs chronicle the despair and descent of a man who has left his love, and who travels out into the bleak winter landscape, never to return.  In this song, the crow, which at first seems friendly, is transformed into a malevolent shadow, constantly following, ready to prey upon the wanderer.

Singer Elena Gerhardt said, “You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it.”1  It is certainly one of those pieces of music that, once heard, is not easily forgotten.  Here is an account of the first time Winterreise was played and sung, by Schubert himself, before a stunned audience:

“Come to Schober’s today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs.” He then, with a voice full of feeling, sang the entire Winterreise for us. We were altogether dumbfounded by the sombre mood of these songs, and Schober said that one song only, “Der Lindenbaum”, had pleased him. Thereupon Schubert leaped up and replied: “These songs please me more than all the rest, and in time they will please you as well.”2

There are many wonderful performances of Winterreise.  One singer whose name is perennially associated with this song cycle is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who performs Die Krähe in this video with pianist Murray Perahia.

Favorites of mine include the recording of Winterreise by Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis and Ian Bostridge’s intense video performance of Winterreise with Julius Drake.  Your favorite streaming service will have dozens of recordings to choose from, from the deep baritone Thomas Quasthoff to the mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig, and the unforgettable idiosyncratic performance of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten.  I have enjoyed all of them; I hope in time they will please you as well.

References

  1. Schubert Winterreise, Sleeve notes HMV ALPS 1298/9 (Gramophone Co. Ltd 1955).
  2. Haywood, Ernest. “Terrifying Songs,” Radio Times, 20 January 1939.
  3. Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of An Obsession. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
  4. Youens, Susan, Retracing a Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

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Image attribution:  Crow, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvus#/media/File:Corvus-brachyrhynchos-001.jpg.


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A Classical Music Revolution: In Your Living Room and Down the Pub

For years, critics have been bemoaning the increasing average age of classical music concert attendees.  They worry that the candlelight of classical music, once so bright, is beginning to flicker.

Nonsense.

While silver hair may dominate in gilded concert halls, there’s an unexpected place you might find a more youthful and lively group of classical music fans.

Down the pub.

It was with great delight that I learned of two wonderful recurring events, Polyphony Down the Pub and Counterpint.  I first read about them in this blog post in Luis Henriques’s early music blog (check it out!).

London pubs are the common venues for these events—singers sign up and gather at the appointed (appinted?) place and time and sing Renaissance polyphony…to the delight (and possibly confusion, though I hope not consternation) of non-singing pubgoers.

Sometimes you just have to take polyphony into your own hands.

I cannot tell you how much I want to be in London right now.  And I don’t even drink beer.

Image of glass of beer with text "Universal Languages: Love. Music. Beer."

But here’s another option for up-close-and-personal classical music:  Groupmuse.

This US company matches young classical musicians with hosts who hold concerts for 10 to 50 people in their own homes.  An audience member might pay as little as $10 for the ultimate front row seat (or couch).  The first set is always classical music; the second set is the performer’s choice.  Soloists and quartets can be booked.  An article describing this service states that the typical audience consists of mostly millennials.1

Gray hair?  None in sight.

Classical music is far from dead.  But the market is evolving—not everyone has access to a concert hall, or can afford to go to one.  Not everyone wants to.  Online streaming has made it possible not only to hear the piece of music we want, but to hear that music played by the specific performer we’d like to hear (without the extraneous noise of crinkling candy wrappers, cell phones, or coughing—ok, with the exception of the Horowitz in Moscow live recording before a seemingly tubercular audience—or Glenn Gould’s humming).  So live performance producers need to be more creative to meet the changing demands of the market.

We are already seeing this in the live streaming of concerts and operas and their availability on demand, as well as in the proliferation of small groups of music makers, local opera companies, and local symphony orchestras.  And I expect this trend will continue to expand.

There once was a time when only kings could summon musicians, only royalty could afford concerts.  Those days are gone.

¡Viva la revolución!

References

  1. https://www.wired.com/2016/10/groupmuse-classical-music-concerts/
  2. Toffler, Alvin, The Third Wave. New York: William Morrow & Co, Inc., 1980, Chapter 13 “De-Massifying the Media,” in particular, pp 144-153.

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Image attribution: Image from press kit of International Beer Day, http://internationalbeerday.com/press-kit/.