Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Lux

yellow sunrise

And the sun will rise
And we’ll find our way forward
In a brand new day.

In novo dies
Soles orietur et
Aurora erit.

In novo dies
Viam inveniemus.
Progrediemur.*

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, darkness comes earlier now. It’s getting colder. Fall seems to be taking on greater gravity this year. It’s been a tough year. It’s not over. We don’t know what next year will bring.

Coming soon are the Christian observances of All-Saints Day, All-Souls Day. The Day of the Dead. November brings Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, known as Veterans Day here in the United States.

All are observances of loss and remembrance. So many have lost friends and family just in this year. My heart goes out to all of you. As societies, we look at losses suffered, and wonder at our way forward.

Our motion is perhaps unsteady, perhaps uneasy. There is trepidation in our steps. And yet, we resolve to move forward, somehow.

One thing is certain. The sun will rise.  We may not see it clearly, but after a long darkness, there will be light.

All of this was in mind when I came across this video of a performance of Lux Aeterna. It is from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. It is a small solace, a balm, a moment of calm amidst the storm. We all need a moment of peace.

And because we all deserve another, here is a performance by a virtual choir of Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque.

Wishing you health and peace.
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*My Latin might be a little shaky, but what I meant to say was: On a new day/The sun will rise and/It will be dawn. On a new day/We will find a way/And we will go forward.

Image attribution: Jpogi at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellow_sunrise.JPG


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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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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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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.


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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.

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

 


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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.