Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Faure’s Berceuse from the Dolly Suite

Gabriel Faure playing piano four hands with Mlle. Lombard, 1913

He smiles as she sits
With him at the piano.
Her hands are so small.
“Happy Birthday, dear,”
He says, “I wrote this for you.”
Together they play.
She smiles as Mom looks on
With love at the two.

Listen to this lovely piano four-hands work, Berceuse, by Gabriel Fauré.

Ahhh. Isn’t that wonderful?  Gabriel Fauré wrote six piano four-hands pieces for Hélène Bardac, nicknamed Dolly, who was the daughter of Emma Bardac, a singer and Fauré’s mistress.  The six pieces are known as the Dolly SuiteBerceuse is the first piece in the suite, which was written for Dolly’s first birthday.

Fauré enjoyed playing the suite in public and with the young children of his friends.  The photograph above shows Fauré playing the piano with a child identified as Mademoiselle Lombard in 1913.  Below is a picture of young Dolly with her mother Emma Bardac and her older brother Raoul from around 1895, about the time Fauré was writing the pieces.

Emma Bardac and children Helene (Dolly) and Raoul

Some folks may remember Berceuse as the theme of BBC Radio 4’s program Listen with Mother, which was a popular children’s radio program in the 1950s through early 1980s.

You may hear the entire Dolly Suite here. You may find the sheet music here.

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Image attributions: Gabriel Fauré at the piano with young Mlle. Lombard at Trevano, Lake Lugano, 1913.  Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Musique, Est.FauréG.101 via Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gabriel_Faur%C3%A9_jouant_%C3%A0_quatre_mains_avec_Melle_Lombard.jpg

Emma Bardac and her children, Raoul and Hélène (Dolly), c. 1895 from Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life by Jean-Michel Nectoux, trans. Roger Nichols.  Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 287.

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New Guide: Intro to Digital Audio

Cartoon depicting digital recording procedure

Hello, Catapulting fans!  I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been working on a special project.

You may recall that I did a post on digital music management software.  In the process of researching the various options, I realized that I wanted to know more about how digital music worked.  And now, I want to share what I have learned with you.

So I’m rolling out the Catapulting into Classical Intro to Digital Audio for folks who might be interested in the subject, but who might not be technically oriented.

I don’t want to bore those of you who might not be interested in tech stuff, so the guide can be found in a tab at the top of the page.  But if you don’t mind dipping a toe in the digital waters, I’ve tried to make it easy to read, with plenty of stick figure drawings to help explain some of the concepts.

Today, I’ve uploaded Part 1, Clash of the Titans: Analog versus Digital.  In the near future, this will be followed by an intro to audio formats, and an entry on giant music libraries at home and online.  I’ll let you know whenever I post new information.

Haiku Wednesday will be back tomorrow, and we’ll resume our weaving way as we wander through the history of classical music.


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Free Concert Webcast: Bach, Shostakovich Jazz, and New Jazz from Michel Camilo

Dmitri Shostakovich with dark glasses

Am I hip yet?

On Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 8 PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  The program includes orchestral transcriptions of Bach works, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 1, and the world premiere of Michel Camilo’s Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra (his official website is here).  The orchestra will be conducted by Leonard Slatkin.  You can see the concert here.

Be there or be square.


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Haiku Wednesday: A Look at the History of Classical Recordings

Edison wax cylinder phonograph

Edison bellowed
“Mary had a little lamb”
Into a small horn.

History was made:
Voices’ vibrations turned to
The tiniest grooves.

People gathered ‘round
To hear the tinny sounds, now
Played upon demand.

In the suave sixties
You could spin disks—hi-fi sound!
Don’t scratch the record!

Fast forward. Today
Music’s turned to ones, zeroes,
Heard around the world.

And we all walk ‘round
And hear hi-fi sound that’s fed
To only our ears.

(In the future, will
All the world’s music be sent
Right into our brains?)

From the very beginning of recorded sound, classical music was a presence, and it was significant in the development of music technology.

The first wave of development included Edison’s recording of sound on wax cylinders.  You can see a demonstration of how Edison’s original wax cylinder recordings were made here.

As soon as he developed mobile recording equipment, Edison sent his engineer, Theo Wangemann, to Europe to collect recordings.  Here is an 1889 recording of Brahms playing an excerpt of Hungarian Dance No. 1Here is Otto Neitzel, a student of Liszt and a teaching colleague of Tchaikovsky, playing a portion of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1890.  This is believed to be the first recording of a work of Chopin.

This 1903 recording was an attempt to record a live opera performance, the opening scene of Act 2 of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  You can find more Edison recordings here.

Shortly thereafter, the opera recordings of tenor Enrico Caruso became wildly popular.  He recorded on cylinder first (here’s one from 1903, E lucevan le stelle from Puccini’s Tosca), and then on disks (Questa o Quella from Verdi’s Rigoletto).

Another treasure of this era is a recording of Rachmaninoff playing his Etude-Tableau in A minor (Op. 39 No. 6) in 1925.

Vinyl came into its own, and conductor Leopold Stokowski made the medium his domain, crafting a “Stokowski sound” that would translate well to vinyl, bringing classical music to countless households.  Here is a Stokowski recording of the first movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 (Op. 95) from 1934.  The sound of vinyl continued to improve:  here is Eugene Ormandy’s recording of the same piece from 1944.

An aside:  Rachmaninoff and Stokowski recorded Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  Apparently, it nearly turned into a slugfest, as the two men strongly disagreed about the interpretation (ok, wait–with the infamous Bernstein-Gould disagreement over the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, I can see where there could be a difference of opinion…Brahms wasn’t there.  But this was Rachmaninoff’s piece, and he was standing right there.  Ah, Stokowski!).  You can hear it fully restored here.

The fifties brought stereo sound; of course, you might say the idea had been around for a long time, but technology had to catch up:  the Venetian polychoral style that was used at St. Mark’s in Venice, a style that was popular from the 1540s, made use of choirs singing in alternation from separated choir lofts.  Wow, just like headphones!  But then, Thomas Tallis could be said to have invented surround sound with his composition Spem in alium for eight choirs of five voices each, first sung in an octagonal hall, around 1570. You can hear Spem in alium here.

Classical music was also present at the advent of digital sound: Sony’s first CD release was to be Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; Philips released Bach’s Mass in B Minor on CD.1

Today, CDs and mp3s are making it possible for anyone to hear not only the masterworks of the most famous composers (not to mention various interpretations), but also the works of less well-known composers, others whose works have not been heard for hundreds of years, and others who finished their compositions just this year.

No one knows how music will be delivered in the future; but thanks to recording technology, we now have about 1000 years of classical music at our disposal, to be heard wherever and whenever we want.

Life is good.

References

  1. Elie, Paul, Reinventing Bach, New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, p. 325, 331.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Edison wax cylinder phonograph (1899) by Norman Bruderhofer, http://www.cylinder.de (own work (transferred from de:File:Phonograph.jpg)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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Free Online: Innovative Performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Haydn’s The Creation

 

This week, visit the website of The Opera Platform to see two innovative performances.

On April 13, 2017 at 1 PM EDT (GMT -4), see an abridged performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with an additional final chorus composed by James MacMillan.  This staged performance, called The Passion, will feature The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers and the Streetwise OperaDetails on the performance can be found here.  This performance will be available through October 12, 2017.

On April 16, 2017 at 1 PM EDT (GMT -4), see Haydn’s The Creation, staged and danced by Rambert, one of Britain’s leading dance companies.  Details on the performance can be found here.  This performance will be available through October 15, 2017.

References

The Story of Haydn’s Creationhttp://www.classical-music.com/article/story-haydns-creation.


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Free Live Webcast: Vivaldi, Mahler, Brubeck

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 8:00 EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a live concert webcast featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin.  The program will include Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D major (R. 93), and new music from Chris Brubeck, Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra.  You can read the program notes for the Brubeck concerto here.  Chris Brubeck is the son of jazz great Dave Brubeck.  You can see the webcast at this link.

The program will conclude with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 10 as completed by musicologist Deryck Cooke.  Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Mahler had completed a draft of the symphony, but most of it was not orchestrated at the time of his death.  Mahler fans may be interested in this 1960 BBC broadcast recording featuring a lecture by Cooke and a performance of his first (incomplete) version of the symphony’s reconstruction.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair via http://www.sharonisbin.com/photos.html.


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Haiku Wednesday:  Debussy’s Clouds (Nuages)

Nocturne - Blue and Silver - Chelsea, painting by James McNeill Whistler

Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Chelsea, by James McNeill Whistler

Clouds, no two alike,
Slowly drift across the sky,
A painting that moves.

Debussy drew clouds
In the darkening sky with
Subtly shifting sounds.

He painted his scenes
In harmonies, in music,
As none had before.

‘Nuages’ renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white.1

–Claude Debussy

When Claude Debussy premiered his set of three nocturnes, the first of which is Nuages [Clouds], critics were perplexed.  They tried to explain its structure using traditional forms, but the explanations didn’t quite fit.  One can imagine that Debussy might have responded, “Precisely.”  He was moving away from traditional musical notions and toward something that had not yet been defined, or perhaps could not be defined.

How does one describe the beauty of a cloud?

Debussy was influenced by the paintings of James McNeill Whistler,2 one of a number of painters Debussy knew in Paris.  You can see Whistler’s Nocturne paintings here (type “nocturne” in the search box).

Both artists sought to reinterpret the word “nocturne”:

Whistler: “By using the word ‘nocturne’ I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour first.”3

Debussy: “The title Nocturnes is to be interpreted here in a general and, more particularly, in a decorative sense. Therefore, it is not meant to designate the usual form of the Nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and the special effects of light that the word suggests.”4

Debussy’s music combines elements that are changing, evolving, with elements that remain the same—moving clouds against a static sky, with colors changing slowly as night falls.

Here is Nuages, performed by the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Pierre Boulez.

If you would like to “see” the piece in a fascinating graphical form (notes represented by shapes moving across the page), you can find it here.

When was the last time you got to sit quietly and watch the clouds go by?  It has probably been too long.

I think I hear a cumulus calling me.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturnes_(Debussy)
  2. http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/nocturnes-claude-debussy
  3. Dorment, Richard and MacDonald, Margaret F. James McNeill Whistler, published by Harry N. Abrams, 1995, p 122 via http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/whistler-nocturne-blue-and-silver-chelsea-t01571
  4. Brook, Donald. Five great French composers: Berlioz, César Franck, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Ravel: Their Lives and Works. Ayer Publishing. p. 168 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturnes_(Debussy)
  5. http://www.classical-music.com/article/story-debussys-nocturnes
  6. http://resource.download.wjec.co.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/vtc/2015-16/15-16_23/Debussy/Debussy%20-%20Nuages%20notes.pdf
  7. http://upers.kuleuven.be/sites/upers.kuleuven.be/files/page/files/2010_1_2.pdf

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Image attribution:

Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Chelsea, James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturne:_Blue_and_Silver_%E2%80%93_Chelsea