Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


1 Comment

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.
_______
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.


1 Comment

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.

_______

  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.


3 Comments

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!

_______

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


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

Classical Hand Washing Help

Guidonian Hand

Everyone has been advised to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.  A good way to make sure you’re doing it long enough is by singing song lyrics.

I love this hand-washing guide I found on Twitter (you can find the original here and you can make your own here).  Below it (and in the link) you will find a video of the music that goes with it, Perotin’s Viderunt omnes (and see why I found it amusing; the page turn just adds to it).

Drawing of hand washing technique with lyrics of Perotin's Viderunt omnes (the first two syllables)

 

And if you find the header image of a hand mysterious, see my post Beware the Guidonian Hand for an explanation.  For more on Perotin, see the 2015 haiku post Christmas 1198.

_____

Image attribution:  https://twitter.com/DrCanonic/status/1237364191763271680, created using https://washyourlyrics.com.

 


1 Comment

A Mysterious World Inside a Cello

Sketch of a cello made of two question marks, one upside down.

Artist Adrian Borda used a miniature camera to photograph the insides of musical instruments.  The result is magical.  The inside of a cello could be a cathedral, or the interior of a forgotten mansion, or some secret cabin on an ancient sailing ship. Borda has also taken a series of photos inside a violin, saxophone, and guitar.  These are in addition to a print campaign that he created for the Berlin Philharmonic.

What better music to explore these landscapes than music from Bach’s cello suites?  Here is Bourrée I and II from Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

_____

References

Behold Mystical Photographs Taken Inside a Cello, Double Base, and Other Instruments, Josh Jones on openculture.com, http://www.openculture.com/2018/09/behold-mystical-photographs-taken-inside-cello-double-bass-instruments.html?fbclid=IwAR21ZM9yd0uG8fZcOyVR0ZUy-q8jRb7-7z4jaRXJb2LVq06ge-XJ4tz0pjc

Hidden Landscapes Inside Musical Instruments, https://twistedsifter.com/2012/03/hidden-landscapes-inside-instruments/

Adrian Borda’s art gallery http://www.adrianborda.com/

Adrian Borda’s photography https://500px.com/adrianborda

Adrian Borda’s artwork https://www.deviantart.com/borda

Image attribution:  Cello, sketch by C. Gallant, copyright 2019.


2 Comments

Tonus peregrinus

Renaissance painting of people in procession in an ornate twisting mountainous background. Journey of hte Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli.

Tonus peregrinus is an ancient plainchant mode.  It differs from other modes in that the first half of the verse begins on one note of the scale, and the second half begins on a different note (this was a deviation from the norm at the time).   Here’s what the chant looks and sounds like in its basic form.

The name means “wandering tone,” or as I saw it described in one source “pilgrim’s tone.”  Of course, both names work.  The phrases “wander” to an extent that is unusual for plainchant.  Christian pilgrims wandered their way across Europe to the Holy Land.  It has also been suggested that this rule-bending chant mode may have come from Eastern Christian religious practice, or perhaps an even more ancient form of chant.  So, it appears to have done a bit of wandering itself.

Here is an example of the use of the tonus peregrinus, which is typically used in the singing of Psalm 114.  In this example it is sung in English with organ accompaniment.

I haven’t written much here on the blog lately because I have been doing a bit of peregrination myself of late, physical and virtual, as a number of changes have occurred around me.

I have helped no fewer than three sets of folks move their belongings from one household to another, some over long distances.  Anyone who has ever moved knows it is not just the physical moving of stuff that is exhausting—it is all the paperwork, and details, and the sheer mental adjustment to new surroundings (where did I put the light bulbs? where is the nearest bank?).  Thankfully, my only challenge was lifting things and finding my way from point A to B.  GPS made my peregrinations much easier than those of the pilgrims of old.

Earlier in the year, a place where I spent a great deal of time as a child passed from family hands, so the places where I once walked were no longer mine to tread, my steps redirected from once familiar paths. Rooms deprived of their furniture echo differently.  The tone is shifted, slightly, but perceptibly.

The elderly relative who had lived there is living a contented life, but can no longer clearly identify other family members.  They are familiar, perhaps, on a good day, but, as they say, the mind wanders.

Even more changes:  recently, our choir director retired.  While we are sad to see him step down from the podium, we are happy that he will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.  When the new director signals the downbeat, some of the music will be the same, but we know it may sound a little different.  After all, Glenn Gould’s Chromatic Fantasy (Bach) is different from András Schiff’s Chromatic Fantasy, and Wanda Landowska’s Chromatic Fantasy (and of course, Gould’s Goldberg Variations are different from … Gould’s Goldberg Variations).

Also, recently I performed a piece of music that I had written.  It was first set to paper five years ago.   It has undergone some changes since then, though the basic tune remained the same.

Tonus peregrinus.  Things change, they shift in unexpected ways.  And we continue to meet new challenges and new opportunities.  It may not be clear how things will turn out, or where we’ll end up.  But we keep wandering anyway.

In my search for examples of tonus peregrinus, I stumbled upon a work by Perotin on an album by the group Tonus Peregrinus.  The work, Beata viscera, is not an example of tonus peregrinus; it is a monophonic conductus, a work for one voice, typically used in processions.  This was probably sung at Notre Dame in Paris–it too will return, but be not quite the same.  The twisting and turning of the melody, beautiful and haunting, made it a perfectly imperfect accompaniment to this post.  Here is Beata viscera by Perotin, performed by soprano Rebecca Hickey.

_____

Image attribution:  Procession of the Youngest King, also known as Journey of the Magi, by Benozzo Gozzoli [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gozzoli_magi.jpg.


3 Comments

Of iTunes, Streaming, and Thrift Shop Finds

A gramophone. The binary text in the caption says "gramophone".

01100111 01110010 01100001 01101101 01101111 01110000 01101000 01101111 01101110 01100101

Apple has announced that it will be discontinuing iTunes on Apple devices.  For the moment, iTunes will remain untouched in the Windows environment.  You can read about the change in this Apple press release about the new Catalina OS.  You might also find this CNET article of interest.  Apple users will still have access to all of their music, but will reach it through the Apple Music app.  You do not have to subscribe to the Apple Music streaming service to access your existing collection, and the iTunes Store will still exist to purchase music.  The decommissioning of iTunes follows the trend of more people using streaming services to access music.  Also, iTunes has been criticized as it has evolved from its earlier sleeker form.

If any of you find this upcoming change uncomfortable, you might want to check out my survey of music management software for Apple and Windows devices.  There are a variety of solutions available (many free) for managing your music library.  Also, here is a previous post on streaming services.

In the meantime, you still have all of your digital music on your computer.  As with any digital data, I would advise readers to keep their music media in several locations.  I learned this the hard way after a hard drive failure, followed shortly thereafter by an external drive failure.  My mistake was to have data in only one operational device—which then failed.  Fortunately, only a small amount of data was lost; unfortunately, this included a couple years of photographs.  Yeah, you don’t want that to happen.

So how do you avoid that?  External drives have been dropping in price and are very portable, so if you can afford one, having one wouldn’t hurt.  Also, microSD cards, the size of your fingernail, now have capacities that can handle even large music libraries.  You might also decide to back up your music to the cloud, for example, with Amazon Music, Google Play Music, or iCloud.

Do be aware, however, that if you “upload” your music library to iCloud, Amazon Music, or Google Play Music and play it from there, you may not actually be hearing your copy of your music.  To save space, these services match your track to an existing track in their system, and use that one instead.  Otherwise, they might be storing millions of copies of, say, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  To hear your copy, you would need to back your music up to a service like Dropbox or OneDrive, or the like, that doesn’t have its own music database (but you will probably have to pay a fee for storage if you have more than a small music collection).

One of the reasons streaming services are appealing is that this pesky maintenance issue goes away.  For a small monthly fee, you don’t have to worry about losing your music, or getting scratches on your CDs (or vinyl) and you have access to a vast library (as long as you keep paying).  You will always have a pristine copy anywhere you go (as long as you have an internet connection).

You also don’t have to physically store music in “pre-digital” form.  More than one article I’ve read recently has declared the CD dead.  Many computers no longer have drives that can play CDs; some tablets no longer have USB ports to hook up an external DVD drive or hard drive (digitally, you can still usually accommodate a microSD card, especially in phones).  The inexorable force that moved us from VHS to DVD, from LP to 8-track to cassette to CD is now nudging us toward the cloud.

The other day, I was wandering through a local thrift shop and stopped to look at the CDs and LPs.  For those of you for whom these are not extinct formats (and who have room for them) there are wonderful bargains to be found, as people digitize and divest themselves of physical media.  And in fact, I found LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1 and 2.  Each box set contained three LPs—all were in perfect condition.  I paid 99 cents for each box set (about the cost of buying one digital track).

LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, priced 99 cents

I lowered the needle on the record, and clear analog sound streamed forth.  Twenty-some minutes later, I had to get up and flip the record.

Or I could have listened on YouTube.

The choice is yours.

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Haiku Wednesday:  Hands

Six foot six Sergei
Rachmaninoff’s hands were huge,
With enormous span.

Do not ask “Can you
Reach a tenth?” Ask “Can you reach
The listener’s heart?”

I was doing some research on Rachmaninoff because there’s going to be a free online concert this weekend (June 9, 2019).  Anytime you start looking, you’re going to come across at least one article on Rachmaninoff’s hands.

Basically, the guy had huge mitts.

And I was going to write about comparative hand sizes of famous musicians, and flexibility, and speed, and blah, blah, blah.  It’s all been written before.

And I didn’t want even one of you to say, “well, I have small hands, that’s never going to work, so why bother.”  Or stiff hands, or slow hands, or whatever.

Nonsense.  Whatever you love to do, go for it!  You don’t have to be Rachmaninoff, or Rembrandt, or Robert Frost.  Or whoever.  Enjoy what you can do.  And you might surprise yourself if you keep at it.

If you don’t play an instrument and love music, you don’t have to be a specialist to share the music and help someone to hear what you hear and enjoy.

Here is a video of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-Sharp Minor, Op. 32, No. 12, performed by Wael Farouk.  Dr. Farouk, director of piano studies at Carthage College and a faculty member of the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, was told that he would never be able to be a concert pianist because of shortened ligaments in his hands.  He has performed all of Rachmaninoff’s solo piano works.

_____

Image attribution:  Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1936 or earlier, photographer unknown, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARachmaninoff_plyaing_Steinway_grand_piano.jpg.


Leave a comment

Mourning for Notre Dame de Paris

The north transept rose stained glass window at Notre Dame de Paris

It is heartbreaking to see the flames soaring above Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.  Such beauty destroyed, centuries of work by countless architects, artists, and craftsmen, consumed.  It is the cradle of Western polyphony.  It is where Perotin, Leonin, and other anonymous medieval composers heard their music sound against the stone walls, changing Western music forever.

Here is Perotin’s Beata Viscera.

You may also wish to see my post Christmas 1198.

_____

Image attribution: The north transept rose stained glass window at Notre Dame, Paris.  Photograph by Oliver J. Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_north_transept_rose_at_Notre-Dame_de_Paris.jpg