Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Arirang

Globe with eighth note

When I came across this video of Stephen Hough playing his arrangement of the Korean folk song Arirang as an encore at a concert in Seoul, I knew I had to share it with you.  It is beautiful.  The audience laughs in surprise and delight when they realize what he is playing.

To call Arirang a Korean folk song is an understatement.  It is the Korean folk song, an unofficial national anthem, known by folks of all ages.  And yet it is many songs; each generation has its own version, each region has its own verses.  But the song remains.  And it is not only a national treasure:  the song’s importance has been recognized by UNESCO, and it is on the List of Intangible Cultural HeritageHere is a traditional version.

Here is a modern interpretation, still beautiful, but far from traditional, by popular singer Sohyang.  You will see people singing along in the audience.

And K-pop fans would chastise me for not including the BTS cover of the song.

The world is filled with wonderful music!

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Image attribution:  Image of globe and eighth note via Wikimedia Commons.

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Free Concerts: Haydn to Cage

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Here are three great live concert webcasts to choose from, with music ranging from Haydn to Bernstein to Cage. 

On Friday, February 22, 2019 at 8:00 PM EST (GMT -5) Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will present works by John Cage, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, and Kristin Kuster.  You can see the concert at https://www.dso.org/live.  Here’s the program:

Kristin KusterDune Acres (world premiere)

John Cage: 4’33” (after talking about this piece in a recent post, you get to see it live!)

Samuel Barber: Violin Concerto

Leonard Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs

Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and other selections

But wait, there’s more!  You’ll have to make a choice:

On Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 3:00 PM EST (GMT -5) Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present “Maximum Minimal”, featuring music by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams.  You can see the concert here.  Here’s the program:

Steve Reich: Clapping Music

Philip Glass: Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean

Also on Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 3:00 EST (GMT -5), the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), conducted by Tito Muñoz, will present “Reflections on Home”.  You can see the concert here.  Here’s the program:

Felix Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No. 10 in B Minor for String Orchestra

Maya Miro Johnson: wherever you go, there you are (world premiere)

Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96, The Miracle

Lembit Beecher: Say Home (world premiere)

If you’re not available for the SPCO concert, it will be available for on-demand viewing later at the SPCO concert library website.  Detroit Symphony Orchestra webcasts can be viewed at a later date with a subscription to their Replay program (a benefit of a tax-deductible contribution to the DSO).

Whatever you decide to watch, I hope you will enjoy it!


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No Wrong Number: The Aria Code Opera Podcast Series and More

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

I have been reading enthusiastic reviews of Aria Code, a new series of podcasts sponsored by WQXR, the Metropolitan Opera and WNYC Studios.  And after listening, I agree.

Each podcast discusses one aria.  Just one.  Afterward, the aria is presented in its entirety without interruption.

For those looking for an introduction to opera, this is what I would call an easy on-ramp.  The presenters provide diverse views and insights into each aria, revealing details one might not have heard otherwise.  Each podcast lasts around 30 minutes.

Arias from Verdi’s La Traviata and Otello, Puccini’s La Boheme and Tosca, and Saint-Saën’s Dalila have been presented thus far.

You can listen to Aria Code at https://www.wnycstudios.org/shows/aria-code.

 

Are you in the mood for full operas now?  Here’s just some of what’s currently available on demand at OperaVision:

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute

Verdi: Macbeth

Puccini: Tosca

Wagner: The Flying Dutchman

Britten: Albert Herring

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Click here for a list of all the operas currently available.


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Haiku Wednesday:  Name That Tune—the Quodlibet

music note with laughter emoji inside
A quodlibet is
Music that quotes others’ works;
So, it’s a mashup.

It goes back to Bach
And probably before that
‘Cause that’s what we do:

Humans match patterns,
And we disrupt those patterns
Just to get a laugh.

(“Cabbage and turnips
Have driven me away” is
Part of Bach’s Goldbergs?!)

A quodlibet is a musical composition that quotes other works, usually several at a time, to show that two disparate items can be combined.  It can be like a musical joke.  That was certainly the case in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It’s said that the Bach family loved to perform quodlibets for each other for entertainment.  Variation 30 of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a quodlibet.  It brings together two German folk tunes: “Ich bin so lang bei dir nicht gewes’n” [“I haven’t been with you for so long”] and “Kraut und Rüben, haben mich vertrieben” [“Cabbage and turnips have driven me away.”  The whole line is “Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, if my mother would have cooked meat, I would have stayed longer”].  You can find a more technical discussion of this variation here.

Here is Variation 30.

It’s pretty, but if you don’t know the tunes it refers to (understandable; it has been several hundred years), it won’t get a laugh.  Though you might get a chuckle out of the fact that at least one of the songs included in this elegant little piece of music is, um, rather bawdy.  Let’s just say the Bach boys wouldn’t have been singing it around their grandmother.

A few years back, I wrote a post that featured a quodlibet that combined 57 classical themes by 33 composers.  You can read that post here.

Today, I bring you the Quodlibet For Small Orchestra by Peter Schickele, which has so many classical themes one would be hard pressed to catch them all.  There are also some popular tunes thrown in for good measure.  And it’s not only what he includes, but how he includes it that will make you laugh.

If you would like to know why this is funny, you may consult this study, which specifically focuses on Schickele’s work.  If you’d like to read about the origin of PDQ Bach, read this interview with Peter Schickele.

I hope you have a happy day!

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Image attribution:  C. Gallant, 2018.


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Some Moosic from Edvard Grieg

A Cow, photo by Dave Wild (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo by Dave Wild.

I was driving through the countryside the other day, and saw some cows grazing in a field.  I was reminded of Edvard Grieg’s Cattle Call, a solo piano piece I had played a long time ago.  Grieg has always been a favorite of mine.  I particularly enjoy the little vignettes he creates in his solo piano miniatures, in particular, his Lyric Pieces.

When I went to look it up again, I remembered that there was more than one Cattle Call.  There are four pieces known as Cattle Call, or Cow Call, or Cow Keeper’s Tune.  Op. 17 No. 22 and Op. 66 No. 1 were written for solo piano.  Op. 63 No. 2, which expands on the first Cattle Call, was written for a string ensemble.  And there is a song called Cow Call from Op. 67.

Each of them evokes a peaceful, bucolic, restful end-of-the-day feeling.  This is music to make you say ahhhh.  I think we all could use that sometimes.

Here are some lovely performances of Grieg’s Cattle Call pieces.

Op. 66. No. 1

Cow Call from Op. 67

Op. 63 No. 2 for strings

(It would seem from these videos that cows also enjoy moosic, in these cases, the cello and harp)

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A footnote for musical completeness (‘cause that’s how I roll).  The Cow Call from Op. 67 is not part of the published Op. 67.  Grieg set a number of poems from Arne Garborg’s poem cycle Haugtussa.  The published music includes eight songs.  But Grieg wrote 12 others that were not included (these are designated EG 152), including Cow Call.  Information from https://imslp.org/wiki/Haugtussa%2C_Op.67_(Grieg%2C_Edvard).

Image attribution:

“A Cow”, photo by publicenergy [Dave Wild, https://www.flickr.com/photos/publicenergy/], 2007, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.   https://www.flickr.com/photos/publicenergy/1846375599/.


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To the Sun:  Classical Music and an Exciting NASA Mission

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

Many composers have written music to evoke the mood of seeing the rising sun, and I thought I’d bring some of this music to you today because an exciting new scientific mission is about to begin.  Early Saturday morning, NASA, the American space agency, is sending an unmanned spacecraft closer to the Sun than ever before to study its many mysteries.  It is the Parker Solar Probe.

NASA has wanted to implement this mission since the dawn of the space age, but it is only now that the technology is available to make it possible.  Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield will withstand temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1377 Celsius) while the measuring instruments in its shadow will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

You can see live coverage of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, named for pioneering scientist Eugene Parker, at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#public starting at 3:00 AM EDT (GMT-4) on Saturday, August 11, 2018 (the launch window begins at 3:33 AM).

And now to the music.  We must start with an excerpt of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, iconic sunrise music if there ever was any.

You can see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the entire piece with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra here.  And here is an audio recording of Richard Strauss conducting his own piece in 1944 with the Vienna Philharmonic.

For a calmer start to your morning, I suggest Grieg’s Morning Mood.

Here is the beautiful and haunting On the Nature of Daylight (Entropy) by Max Richter.

You may also enjoy Aulis Sallinen’s Sunrise Serenade, Op. 63 for two trumpets and orchestra.  And here is Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Op. 17.

Reaching back in time, here is Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in B flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4 “Sunrise.”

Finally, here is the oldest surviving music about the sun, nearly the oldest surviving written music, the Hymn to the Sun by Mesomedes of Crete, second century CE.

Wishing NASA the best of luck with its pioneering mission, and wishing all of you sunny days ahead!

 

Previous space-related posts you may enjoy

Haiku Wednesday:  Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Beethoven’s Cavatina–The Universe in the Palm of Your Hand


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Haiku Wednesday: Toccata

Flashing fingers fly
And dance across the keyboard
Weaving their magic.

Feet too join the dance
Executing bass figures,
Sliding as on ice.

The word toccata
Means to touch—fingers, yes, and
Heart and soul and mind.

The toccata is by nature a flashy piece of music.  It typically includes fast runs of notes, and can sound like an improvisation.  It is a showcase for a musician’s skills.  Toccatas are typically written for a keyboard instrument, but that’s not a requirement—toccatas have been written for string instruments, and even for orchestra (the prelude to Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo is a toccata).  While the form had its heyday in the Baroque period, with Bach, master improviser, at the summit (Toccata in D Minor, the toccata everyone knows), the form never entirely went away.

Schumann wrote a Toccata in C (Op. 7) which he believed was the most difficult music at the time.  In this video, you can follow the sheet music, which will give you an idea of the complexity.  Liszt also gave it a whirl (Toccata, S. 197a).

Ravel included a toccata in his Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes is a toccata as well.  One can also look to the finale of Widor’s Symphony No. 5 for a fine example of a toccata.  You can find some videos of the finale here, including Widor himself playing the toccata.

Khachaturian wrote a toccata that became very popular (the suite it came from is nearly forgotten).  The link features pianist Lev Oborin, who was the first to perform it.

For some real flash (and the piece that prompted this post) check out Prokofiev’s Toccata Op. 11.  Here it is on a piano.  Now add feet:  here is the same toccata on an organ.

Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto begins with a toccata.  The last movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 8 contains a toccata.  Also check out John Rutter’s Toccata in 7.

And now for the strings!  The last movement of John Adams’s Violin Concerto contains a toccata, and Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 5, a viola concerto, also contains a toccata (he also wrote a Toccata for a Mechanical Piano, meaning a player piano, which you can see here).

If you’re ever having a blah day, and need a quick pick-me-up, try a toccata!