Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Autumn Nocturne

Photograph of lake viewed through autumn leaves

The sky is slate gray
Dead leaves crunch beneath my feet
Or skitter away.

Collar turned up, I
Shove my hands in my pockets
Against the cold wind.

I walk along with
Furrowed brow, lost in thought, with
Even measured steps.

Looking up, I see
Autumn’s rich, vibrant colors
Surrounding the lake.

More than the cold, it
Takes my breath away–there is
Beauty everywhere.

Here is Stefan Jackiw performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor as a violin solo. Exquisite.

Here you can find a haunting piano solo performance of the nocturne by Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story became known worldwide in the movie “The Pianist.”

References

  1. About the nocturne:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_Op._posth._(Chopin)
  2. Sheet music:  http://imslp.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_B.49_(Chopin,_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric)

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Image attribution: Lake view through autumn leaves by http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Looking_through_tree_autumn_leaves_lake_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg

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Haiku Wednesday: Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Poster showing the outline of the Voyager spacecraft against a blue and black painted background representing space

Beethoven, Mozart,
Bach wrote music for all time,
And now, all of space.

Bach traveled on foot
Over two hundred miles to
Hear great music, learn.

Now his music flies
Beyond the sun’s reach, into
Interstellar space.

This week NASA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.  When Voyager 1 and 2 were launched, each carried a golden record containing images and the sounds of Earth.  Along with greetings in over 50 human languages, whale song, and sounds of nature, there was a selection of the world’s music, including classical music.

One of the spacecraft has now left our solar system and is in interstellar space; the other will be there soon.  And as they travel through the dark and empty space between the stars, our “silent ambassadors”1 carry the story of who we are.  Here are the classical selections chosen for the record:

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor.

Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from Partita No. 3 in E major for violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux

Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No. 1, performed by Glenn Gould, piano.

Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor.

Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by the Budapest String Quartet (read more about the Cavatina here).

Holborne, “The Fairie Round”, performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London.

Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, No. 14, performed by Edda Moser, soprano and the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor.

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, performed by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor.

Bach walked 250 miles to hear the music of Dieterich Buxtehude and learn from him. The Voyager spacecraft are now 10-12 billion miles from Earth and are outward bound at around 40,000 miles per hour.  They’re still sending back fascinating and valuable data. Like Bach, they have traveled a long way in the pursuit of knowledge.  And the results have been glorious.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and two moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

What music would you select to represent all of us?

References

  1.  https://www.space.com/37860-voyager-mission-40-years-ed-stone-interview.html
  2.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/voyager-nasa-exploring-unknown-1.4267178
  3. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/whats-on-the-record/music/
  4. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/index.html
  5. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

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Image attribution:  Like the image? Download it (and more) for free at https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/

Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/images-voyager-took/saturn/.


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Haiku Wednesday: Gigue

Dancer with Cello by Hakan Sevgen

Photograph by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016

Now it’s time to dance.
Forget, for a moment, the
Worries of the world.

If you look at the names of the movements of Bach’s cello suites, you’ll see they are dances:  allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet, bourrée, gavotte, gigue.  Look around, and you will see many pieces of classical music rooted in dance–ecossaises, ländlers, hallings, and of course, waltzes.  While they may be dances of another time and another place, you can’t help but pick up on some of their infectious rhythms.

And no one wrote a gigue like Bach.  He even wrote a gigue fugue, one of my favorites.

For your enjoyment, here is the gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4 played by Mischa Maisky.

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Image attribution:  Photograph of dancer and cello by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016, via Facebook (check out his other work, it’s brilliant!), https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154813926058478&set=a.184796868477.155176.543318477&type=3&theater


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Haiku Wednesday:  Butterfly

Monarch butterfly on a cluster of purple flowers

With fluttering wings
The butterfly alights on
A vibrant flower.

Sweet summer nectar,
Abundant blossoms, and a
Gentle summer breeze;
These are the good times,
And the butterfly dances
To music unheard.

Soon its wand’ring path
Will lead it to warmer climes
Before the air chills,
And fall’s orange leaves
Become a poor mimic on
The cold autumn wind.

Butterflies seem impossible; their wings are so delicate, their colors too bright to be real.  And yet, you can walk right up to them, and for the most part, they don’t mind if you look closely at the texture of their wings as they extract nectar from flowers one by one.  And then, on a whim, they fly off, seemingly not quite under control, in search of a new set of blossoms.

In Norway, Edvard Grieg too must have stopped to watch these marvels, and the result was Butterfly (Op. 43, No. 1) from his Lyric Pieces.  And here is a treat—this recording comes from a reproducing piano roll that was created as Grieg himself played the piece.  Perhaps you can hear the butterfly’s fluttering, somewhat chaotic flight in the notes.

 

More asides than references

If you’d like to see the reproducing piano at work, here is a video of Grieg’s Berceuse (Op. 38, No. 1) being played from a piano roll created by Grieg.

Grieg’s Lyric Pieces is great summer music.  You might also like Summer Evening (Op. 71, No. 2).

In case you were wondering, there are over 2,000 species of butterflies and moths in Norway.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Lepidoptera_of_Norway

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Image attribution: Monarch butterfly by Richiebits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABBGMonarchButterflyWings.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Chopin at Dusk

Dusk. As the light fades,
Birds sing their last song, and deer
Emerge from the woods.

A crescent moon peeks
Through the trees, gathers courage,
And rises boldly.

An open window.
Notes like fireflies twinkle
In the cool night air.

They dance for a while,
Then fade away, but surely
They’ll last forever.

You might be expecting a nocturne here.  But what inspired this was Chopin’s Andante Spianato.  Below is a performance by Daniil Trifonov.*  I also like the performance of Benjamin Grosvenor on his Dances album.  Both sublime.

Have a pleasant evening.

 

*Email subscribers, please click here to see the video on my webpage.

References

http://daniiltrifonov.com/

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Image attribution: Nightfall image via https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1324389, CC0, public domain.


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Haiku Wednesday:  Short Ride in a Time Machine

First of all, they crawl.
Then hold your hand and toddle.
You let go.  “Go! Go!”

Training wheels off, they
Teeter on their bike until
You let go. “Go! Go!”

You sit next to them.
They take the wheel, learn to drive:
“Light’s green now—go, go!”

Then one day they stride
License in hand to their car.
Their stuff is all packed.
And then as you watch
The red lights leave the driveway,
You let go.  “Go! Go!”

 

Today’s music is John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast MachineYou can hear John Adams tell the story of the origin of the piece here.  He says, “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?”

Sometimes in life you do things that are exciting, and somewhat terrifying, and you’re extraordinarily glad you did.


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Haiku Wednesday:  An Unexpected Jazz Suite

Dmitri Shostakovich with dark glasses

Tapping my toes to
Some lively jazzy music
Really makes my day.
So who wrote this piece?
Dmitri Shostakovich.
Wait…what?!  Believe it!

I was streaming some classical music, probably Bach, and all of a sudden, I realized I was listening to some jazz-like music, probably 1930s vintage, judging from the sound of it.  What was this?  Shostakovich Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.  What?!  And then the Hawaiian guitar came in.  Mind blown.

Better known for his symphonies and film music (and operas), Dmitri Shostakovich also wrote two jazz suites.  The first was written in 1934, and the second in 1938 for the Soviet Union’s new State Jazz Orchestra.  Each of the suites has three movements.  The first has a waltz, polka, and foxtrot; the second a scherzo, lullaby, and serenade.

Here you can see a performance of Shostakovich’s Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.

The score of the second suite was lost during the Second World War, but a piano score was found in 1999.  An orchestral arrangement was created, and you can see Suite No. 2 performed here.

Prior to the rediscovery of the piano score, Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra was mistakenly believed to be Jazz Suite No. 2.  You can see the Suite for Variety Orchestra here.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._1_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._2_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Variety_Orchestra_(Shostakovich)

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/shostakovich/music/jazz-suites/

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Image attribution: Dmitri Shostakovich in the audience at the Bach Celebration of July 28, 1950. Photo by Roger & Renate Rössing, retouched, Deutsche Fotothek (By Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0002792_002_Portrait_Dmitri_Dmitrijewitsch_Schostakowitchs_im_Publikum_der_Bachfeier.jpg: Roger & Renate Rössing, credit Deutsche Fotothek. derivative work: Improvist [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons).  Lenses modified by C. Gallant.