Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Ubi Caritas

Hello!  I hope you are all well and safe.  The world is a troubling, dangerous place right now.  Let’s take care of ourselves, and each other.

I’ve been searching for superlative soothing music.  We all could use that now.

Here you can see Kings Return singing composer Ola Gjeilo’s setting of the ancient Latin hymn Ubi Caritas.

You can find more videos from Kings Return here.

A more traditional setting, but one that actually dates from the 20th century, was written by Maurice Duruflé, and you can hear the Kings College Choir sing it here.

 

Wishing you well, more music soon!


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If you can’t find beauty, try to make some

A treble clef that ends in a hand holding a paintbrush making swirls of lines, flowers, and music symbols.

Times are tough.  We all need to find a way to get through, and the right music definitely helps.  Here are some recent finds.  Humor, flexibility, and great ingenuity are hallmarks here.

Have you seen the No Corona version of Nessun dorma by Daniel Emmet?

How about the Covid-19 Bach fugue by Nicholas Papdimitriou?  This is incredible.

And now, a great concert for you!  Pianist Alexander Krichel gave a live drive-in classical piano concert that you can now see online. Car horns and flashing headlights replace applause (it works better than you’d think).  The upside?  No coughing, cell phones ringing, or candy wrappers crackling (other than perhaps from your family members, whom you can probably shush).  Krichel introduces the pieces in German, there are no subtitles available, but there is captioning of the title at the beginning of each piece.  You can see it at:    https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/radio/wdr3/video-autokino-meets-klassik–alexander-krichel-spielt-beethoven-und-liszt-100.html

When life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade, make lemon sorbet.

Here’s another tip, not necessarily a musical one, but one you might consider.  A friend who lives far away and I have started exchanging photos.  Typically, it’s flower pictures (they have a tremendous rose garden), but not always.  It doesn’t have to be flowers, it could be a meme, or an animal picture, a photo you take on a walk (if permitted) (added benefit: your picture-taking gets better), a happy memory photo, or a link to some great music, whatever works for you.  It doesn’t need to be every day–no pressure (we have enough)!  And you know what happens?  You end up looking for beauty, or levity, and actually start seeing it amidst gloom and chaos.  If you know someone who might be interested in this, why not suggest an informal exchange?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see something happy in your inbox or on your phone?

And as Daniel Emmet says in his aria, vinceremo [we will win]!

Thanks to reader Paul B for alerting me to the fugue!

 


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Bach’s St. John Passion To Be Livestreamed from Bach’s Church in Leipzig on April 10, 2020

J. S. Bach

On April 10, 2020, Bach’s St. John Passion will be performed at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, at the site of Bach’s tomb.  The broadcast will begin at 15:00 CET (GMT+2; 9AM EDT).  This innovative performance will include a tenor, a harpsichordist, and a percussionist, as well as five singers, with the addition of various artists and choirs participating via video.  The tenor part, the Evangelist,  and all the other characters will be sung by Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson (see bio in English here).

Here’s a sample, “Zerfliesse, mein Herze, in Fluten der Zähren”.

Sheet music for the chorales and program notes are available via the Carus-Verlag website.

You can see the livestream at the following sites:

http://www.facebook.com/bacharchiv
http://www.facebook.com/mdrkultur
https://www.facebook.com/MDRKlassik
http://www.mdr-klassik.de
http://www.arte.tv/en/arte-concert (six languages available at this site)
https://www.arte.tv/en (six languages available at this site)

It will be broadcast in Germany at 19:00 on MDR Kultur and MDR Klassik, and on German TV at 24:00 on MDR-Fernsehen.

For more details, see this Gramophone article and the Carus-Verlag website.


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Aurora Australis

Stick figure in parka looks up at Southern Lights

Since everyone seemed to like my matching of the Llandudno goats video to Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets, I’ve decided to bring you another mashup.
First, I saw this beautiful time-lapse footage of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) over Antarctica. [1]  If the only thing you do is watch this video, your day may improve. The soundtrack for this video is a piece called Diana by Tony Anderson, and it works wonderfully with this video. If you enjoy the video, check out Timestorm Film’s YouTube channel for more videos (in particular, Nox Atacama. Wow.)

But I wanted to try something different.

I found this video of violinist Mari Samuelsen playing Max Richter’s November live in Beijing. If you only listen to this, your day may improve.

Now for the mashup. Open the two videos in separate tabs. Start the video of November. Once the orchestra starts to play, start the video of the Southern Lights in Antarctica, but mute its sound. The timing is not critical.

I think you will enjoy the result.

Wishing you peace and good health.

 

Extra note for Max Richter fans: If you are in the UK or Europe, BBC3 and the European Broadcasting Union will broadcast Max Richter’s Sleep, all eight hours of it, beginning 11PM London time on 11 April 2020. Read more about BBC’s Culture in Quarantine program here.  Not in Europe?  Need Sleep now?  You can find it here on YouTube.
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1. Clara Parkes is providing a daily moment of calm, with photos or videos to provide a moment of peace, or a smile, to your day. It is called The Daily Respite. Past days have included a photo of the Maine sky, a dog jumping into piles of leaves, the Llandudno goats, and today’s Southern Lights video. You can check it out at the website, or if you subscribe, it will be sent to your inbox each day. See details at the link above.

Image attribution: Drawing by C. Gallant (c) 2020.


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A Nocturne for Granville

Photograph of musician Granville Reynolds, taken between 1872 and 1888.

Today I’d like to tell you a little story.

The gentleman you see at the top of the page is a musician named Granville C. Reynolds.

I have been trying to find out more about him for over 20 years.

It all started with that photograph, or rather, the original sepia version of the photograph.  It was probably taken some time between 1872 and 1888.  Granville was born in 1846.

Granville didn’t start out as a musician though.  The son of a shoe manufacturer in Massachusetts, in 1865 he is a shoe fitter; in 1866, a mechanic.  That year, he married, and by the end of the year was a father of a little boy in Connecticut.

But then something happened.  In one record of his marriage, the entry is crossed out.  In 1869, his wife remarries.  In 1876, Granville’s father in his will excludes Granville’s “son by his wife now said to be divorced from him and to be married and living with another man.”  The child is not named.  Did the family not even know his name?  What on earth happened?

Granville maddeningly disappears from the records after 1866, and emerges in 1875 in Rhode Island as a teacher of music.  He is there for only one year, then he disappears again.

He reappears in 1880, living with his parents.  Occupation: musician.  But what instrument?

I came across an intriguing notice in an 1884 periodical.  In the “New Music” column we find

“Golden Days are Coming Dearest: ” Words by George Birdseye; music by Granville C. Reynolds, is unquestionably the sweetest song of the season. Brimming over with melody, cheery and hopeful it will touch an answering chord in every heart. [1]

I cannot find this music. Birdseye’s poem was set a number of times, but I can’t find Granville’s.  I can’t even prove that the Granville C. Reynolds mentioned is our Granville.

But knowing that he was a musician, I can only hope that the “sweetest song of the season” is his.

Granville died of a stroke in 1888.  He was only 42 years old.

Up until a few weeks ago, that was all that I could ever find.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I might never know what instrument he played.

And then—I found the most unusual genealogical clue I have ever encountered.

Searching in a genealogy database, I plugged in Granville’s name, the way I always do, hoping new data might have been uploaded.  And I found this:

October 16th. Mother called for a piano record on the Victrola.  One of the Nocturnes was played, and Roy gave the name of Granville Reynolds.  He was known to mother’s people, when she was a young girl, Reynolds then being a man of about forty years of age.

“He played that, if you remember, at your home that evening when he called….He says he passed through the change not long after. He says it was better for him, for he was worn out.” [2]

What was this?!  It turns out, it was a passage from the book The Second Letters from Roy, by Leon Stevens, published in 1918.  The premise of Letters from Roy and The Second Letters from Roy is that Leon’s brother Roy, deceased, was communicating with his living family from the Great Beyond, in a chatty correspondence about people and events past and present.

While I can’t vouch for the validity of the premise, I do know that the author’s family and the Reynolds family lived in the same place at the same time, so it is likely that they had crossed paths with Granville during his natural life. And the details about Granville fit.

He played a nocturne.  The only piano nocturnes recorded on Victrola records were Chopin’s.

Granville was a pianist.

And so it is only fitting to close with a Chopin nocturne.  The one that, to me, best suited Granville was Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 1, played here by Arthur Rubinstein.

A side note:  I created the colorized picture of Granville at the MyHeritage genealogy website.  Until the end of April you can colorize your own black and white (or sepia) photos for free, as many as you would like, and download them.  Visit myheritage.com/incolor for details.

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  1. The Southern World, Atlanta, GA, March 15, 1884, p 192, via newspaperarchive.com.
  2. The Second Letters from Roy by Leon Herbert Stevens, Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1918 p 125 via hathitrust.org. Originally found on myheritage.com.


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A little Levit-y

No April Fools foolishness today.  But a little fun.

I hope everyone is staying home and staying safe out there.  After a while though, you might be wondering what to do with your time.  Here’s one idea.  This is pianist Igor Levit.  The caption is “And what’s Corona doing to you?”  If you go to his Twitter feed, you can check out his wonderful mini-concerts.

In other news, now that all the pesky humans are staying inside in Llandudno, the goats have taken over the streets. Boars are strolling through Bergamo. What could be next? Could there be trouble brewing?

Personally, I’m thinking more of Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets. Mute the above video and try it!

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A tip of the hat to Clara Parkes of The Daily Respite who blogged about the Llandudno goats video.


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A virtual orchestra performance and more great free concerts

illustration of the seating chart of an orchestra with each instrument in its own box

Musicians can’t not make music.  And when creative people, well, get creative, wonderful things can happen.  What does an orchestra do when everyone has to stay home?

Watch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Seeing this video made me think of a comment by artist Janet Cardiff, highlighted in my Virtual Choirs post.  She said that visitors to her sound installation would frequently walk directly up to a speaker projecting a singer’s voice, something that you could not do with a live choir.  The visitors literally got close to the music, hearing each singer’s voice in a way that you cannot do under normal circumstances.  In the Toronto Symphony Orchestra video, you can see, frequently close up, each musician, a view that you cannot get, certainly at live performances, and even in recorded concerts.  They are all wearing different clothing, you can see them as individuals. And there is something very warm in that.

I can only hope that the resourcefulness that is now being displayed during this crisis will not be forgotten once the crisis is past, and that we will find new ways to bring more music to more people in more venues, and find ways for musicians to be justly compensated for bringing their music directly to their listeners and viewers.

So, let’s hear some more music!

Here is an article from the CBC providing details on “6 cool classical concerts to watch right now.”

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montreal is streaming concerts from its archives every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00PM ET (GMT -4).

At this link you can see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and his Sixth Symphony “Pastorale”. It is a top-notch performance.

If you find great performances or live concerts I haven’t discovered, be sure to share them with everyone in the comments.  Thanks!


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Virtual Choirs

grid of 16 boxes, each containing a stick figure choir singer

At the moment, choirs cannot sing together.  But today, I have for you two examples of virtual choirs.

Composer Eric Whitacre got the idea of a virtual choir “gathering” to sing his composition Luz Aurumque. The result is stunning. Here is the virtual choir singing Lux AurumqueYou can read about the virtual choir here.

Artist Janet Cardiff had a different idea.  Cardiff recorded a choir singing Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, a motet for 40 voices.  You can read more about Spem in alium here.  Each singer had their own microphone.  She then tuned the result into a sound installation.  The voice of each individual singer comes from its own speaker.  While no human singers are present in the installation, it is a profoundly human experience.  I encourage you to watch this video about the sound installation.  Here is an excerpt of Cardiff’s installation.

And because we all need this now (Spem means “hope” in Latin), here is the complete Spem in alium.