Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Two Choral Groups Walk into a Bar…

I’m currently learning Ave Maria by Franz Biebl with my choir.  I was looking for videos, found the one below, and had to share it with you.

No joke here:  two vocal ensembles, Cantus and Chanticleer, walked into a bar one night and decided to sing Biebl’s Ave MariaListen.  This is magical.

 

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Haiku Wednesday: Schubert–Last Hope, Last Leaves of Autumn

Stick figure looks at the last leaf on a tree in autumn

Here and there upon
The trees, many colored leaves
Remain, and often,

I stand there and think.
I spy one leaf, and upon
It, I hang my hopes.

The wind stirs the leaf.
I shake. If it falls, I’ll fall,
And weep for lost hope.

The haiku above is a rendering of the words of Wilhelm Müller’s poem Letzte Hoffnung [Last Hope], which was set to music by Franz Schubert as part of his Winterreise song cycle.  Here is Letzte Hoffnung, performed by tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch.

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Image attribution: Drawing by C. Gallant, 2017.

The painting that is the background in the YouTube video is Abandoned by Jakub Schikaneder.  He was known for his paintings of lonely figures–a perfect choice for Winterreise.


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Concert Etiquette Poll

Stick figure asleep at concert


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Haiku Wednesday: Lvov To Pennsylvania, By Way of Ancient Greece and Russia

Bryn Mawr lantern and bust of Athena

O, friends of wisdom,
Let us gather together
And name those things that
We all hold so dear:
Beauty with simplicity,
And without softness.

Our talent is used
To accomplish deeds: this, our
Finest achievement,
Our noble venture;
And proper is our pride in
What we have achieved.

And our hope is great,
The achievement is worthy,
Yea, our hope is great.

The words above are a translation from ancient Greek of a song called “Sophias.”  It is one of the traditional songs of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.  And its origins span the globe.

As a preface, let me tell you a little about a college tradition.  On a dark night each October, the Bryn Mawr freshman class, wearing black academic robes, gathers in the courtyard of a building that looks like it could be found on the set of a Harry Potter movie.

Great Hall at Bryn Mawr College

Sophomores file in, singing a hymn to Athena, goddess of wisdom, in Greek, as a candle-lit lantern is placed behind each freshman (see a little here).  When all the lanterns have been bestowed, the freshman take up their lanterns and all the students (and alumnae observing in the background) sing “Sophias”.  It is haunting, mysterious, and wonderful.  Even when sung without academic robes.

In the early years of the college, the tradition was for each freshman class to come up with its own Lantern Night song.  The Class of 1889 came up with “Sophias”.  Later, it became one of the permanent Lantern Night songs, along with the hymn to Athena (contribution of the class of 1893).1

The words were extracted from Thucydides’s account of Pericles’s Funeral Oration, as found in The Peloponnesian War (Book 2, Chapter 40)2 …because everyone has common knowledge of that, and ancient Greek, and thinks, “hey, you know what would be good for our song?”  Right?  Sure. But that’s the kind of place Bryn Mawr is.  I recall attending a lantern-lit funeral for a pet goldfish involving orations in Greek and English (oddly, modern English) before solemn interment in a tiny grave dug with a spoon that may have been liberated from the cafeteria.

And now for the Russian content (and the classical music content—thank you for your patience).  The melody was written by Alexei Fyodorovich Lvov.  He was a Russian composer and violinist who was friends with Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer.  His string quartet regularly held private concerts for Russian aristocracy, and guest performers at these concerts included Liszt, Robert and Clara Schumann, and Berlioz.3 In “Sophias,” Bryn Mawr students used Lvov’s religious work, “Of Thy Mystical Supper” (“Вечери Твоея тайныя”), which can be heard here performed by an ensemble wearing period attire.  Please note the bass, who sings the incredibly deep notes underpinning this beautiful piece of music.

Lvov is also known for composing the Russian Imperial Anthem, “God Save the Tsar” (“Боже, Царя храни”).  In another interesting twist, this melody is regularly sung by students of the University of Pennsylvania as they sing the words to “Hail, Pennsylvania.”

Lvov also composed operas, a concerto, and various works for strings (sheet music here).  To conclude, here is Lvov’s Violin Concerto.

References

  1. Bryn Mawr College Special Collections Facebook page, “Lantern Night Songs,” https://www.facebook.com/pg/Bryn-Mawr-College-Special-Collections-205274397222/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10151998179002223
  2. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0200%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D40
  3. “Alexei Lvov”, Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexei_Lvov

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Image attributions:  Photographs by C. Gallant.

 


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Thrift Shop Score!

Literally and figuratively.  Found this classic Edition Peters score of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio on a bottom shelf.  Paid 99 cents!

Photograph of score of Bach's Christmas Oratorio

Want to hear what it sounds like?  Follow the links to a fine performance conducted by John Eliot Gardiner: Part 1, Part 2.

Need a score?  Find one here (no thrift shop runs required).


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Haiku Wednesday: Faure’s In Paradisum

The Assumption of the Virgin, painting by Francesco Botticini

May angels lead you
Into paradise, and may
Martyrs receive you,
And lead you into
Holy Jerusalem with
Choirs of angels.
And with Lazurus,
Once a poor man, may you have
Your eternal rest.

At this time of year, many cultures hold observances that remember and honor the dead.  In his Requiem, Gabriel Fauré uses the Latin text of the In paradisum section of the requiem liturgy (reproduced in English as a haiku above).  Here you can hear the original plainchant (and practice reading the ancient notation).

And here is Fauré’s transformation, complete with his notion of an angel choir.  Beauty and rest.

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Image attribution: The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Francesco_Botticini_-_The_Assumption_of_the_Virgin.jpg


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Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations Outtakes Released

Photograph of Glenn Gould, pianist

Photo by Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation

Glenn Gould was not only a great pianist, he was also well-versed in the art and technology of audio recording.  He was the final arbiter of what appeared on his released recordings.  Any retrospective look at his 1955 and 1981 recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations will mention the countless alternate versions of individual variations that Gould discarded in favor of the performances that ultimately were released.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to wonder what those outtakes were like.  The difference between his 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Variations is stunning.  What alterations were occurring in 1955 that we didn’t get the chance to hear?  Some outtakes were made available in the retrospective A State of Wonder recording that included both the earlier and later renditions.  But it was only a small sample.

Finally, it is possible to hear them all.  Sony has released a box set containing all of the alternate versions that were recorded in the 1955 sessions.  There are five CDs of outtakes.  The box set also includes a coffee table book that includes audio engineering notes and the score, the 1955 and 1981 recordings on CD, the 1955 recording on vinyl, and a poster.  You can see the box set here.

Or should we perhaps trust Gould’s meticulous selection of variations, seamlessly spliced together, as representing his vision of what the Goldberg Variations should be, as he saw it in 1955?  I will leave it to you to decide.

Here is a video of Gould playing some of the variations in a television broadcast from 1964.

 

References

  1. Siegel, Robert and Huizenga, Tom, “The Gould That Didn’t Glitter: New Box Set of ‘Goldberg Variations’ Outtakes” Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical, October 25, 2017.  http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/10/25/559611543/the-gould-that-didnt-glitter-new-box-set-of-goldberg-variations-outtakes?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=classical&utm_term=music&utm_content=2052
  2. Clements, Andrew, “Goldberg Variations, Complete Sessions CD Review—Glenn Gould’s Obsession, Meticulously Assembled” The Guardian online version, September 13, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/sep/13/goldberg-variations-complete-sessions-cd-review-glenn-gould

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Image attribution:  Photograph of Glenn Gould by Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glenn_Gould_1.jpg