Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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New Free Online Concert Resource

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced the addition of video to their collection of audio concert recordings.  The recordings are free and available on demand.  A series of live-stream concert webcasts will begin in September.

At the moment there are only a few video recordings available, but they are outstanding.  There are performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue –wow!), as well as a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s  Symphony No. 4 “Italian”, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  You can check out their library of recordings here.  Videos are indicated by a small camera icon, and clicking on a hyperlinked performer name will give you a list of performances by the artist available on the site.

With selections from John Adams to Hugo Wolf, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy!

 

 

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Free Public Domain Classical Music: Listening, Downloads, and Sheet Music

Creative Commons logo, circle with 2 Cs, as eyes with smile

Many generous musicians around the world are making their performances available so that more people can have access to and enjoy classical music. They are doing this through Creative Commons licensing of performances of materials in the public domain.

The rules governing what works are in the public domain vary from country to country (find your country in the list here).  Be sure that the offerings meet the public domain requirements of your country.  Don’t infringe copyright.  Don’t be that guy.1  Read more about classical music and copyright here.

Here are my latest discoveries.

Here is the opening paragraph of the https://www.hdclassicalmusic.com/ website:

Here at HDCLASSICALMUSIC.COM, we believe that classical music is the common heritage of humanity, and therefore everyone in the world should be able to enjoy it and use it for free. In order to achieve this, we are building the world’s largest and highest quality platform for releasing classical music under an open copyright license (public domain, creative commons, etc.).2

I can’t improve on that wording.  Here is the composers index, You can play the track online as well as download it.

They also offer playlists and a radio option.  You can also build your own CDs.  The quality is wonderful.  Listen here to a performance of “Mélodie” from Tchaikovsky’s Memory of  a Dear Place (Op. 42, 3rd Movement).

And then there’s MusOpen (https://musopen.org/)

Musopen is…focused on increasing access to music by creating free resources and educational materials.  We provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions.  Put simply, our mission is to set music free.3

I found this entry for Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in D major (BWV 1028) featuring viola da gamba and harpsichord.  On this page, you can listen to the track, download the recording, and download the sheet music.

Here’s a comment about the Classic Cat website (http://www.classiccat.net)

Classic Cat is a great website available for downloading thousands of free classical music downloads that are completely legal for you to download and keep.4

You must use caution when exploring the Classic Cat website.  There are many ads.  Be sure to use the tiny red download buttons to get to the music you want. When you click on them, you will be taken to another website where you can hear and/or download tracks.  No downloads were automatic.  For example, if you click on Tomaso Albinoni on the composers list, you’ll be taken to a works page where you’ll see  the Sonata in C major, underlined, in a blue font.  Clicking that takes you to another page.  The tiny red button that you will then find midpage will take you to the website of the performers, the Corale San Gaudenzio, where you can hear and download a large number of tracks of various works, including Albinoni’s.  In exploring the Classic Cat site, this was a typical series of steps, leading to fine performers who have made a lot of tracks available.  It would be hard to track down all these folks independently, so Classic Cat has provided a great roundup.  A lot of steps (tread carefully), but rewarding.

And let’s not forget Wikipedia.  You may have noticed that an entry for a composer might have a link to a sound file so you can hear a representative piece of music.  There is a master list.  Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sound/list and you’ll find links to alphabetical index pages where you can find the composer and the pieces that are available for that composer.  You can play or download the files.

Piano fans:  Lisztonian.com provides free recordings that the performer has made available for you to listen to online or download, as well as links to download the sheet music.  Here’s the composers list.

Also, see the bottom of this recent post for a list of Bach freebies.

Happy music hunting!

References

  1. Catapulting into Classical Terms of Use Page.
  2. http://www.hdclassicalmusic.com/
  3. http://musopen.org/
  4. https://www.thebalance.com/download-free-classical-music-at-classic-cat-1358019


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New Digital Audio Guide Page on Streaming and CD, LP Conversion

Stick figure confused by music note comprised of ones and zeroes

Now available in the Digital Audio Guide tab is Drinking from the Firehose: Giant Music Libraries at Home and Online.  This page will give you background information on what’s involved in turning your physical musical media (CDs and LPs) into audio files on your computer.  It will also provide a quick overview of on-demand streaming services.  I hope you’ll check it out.

Speaking of streaming services, Primephonic has inaugurated its new streaming service specializing in classical music.  You can stream in MP3 or FLAC format.  They are offering a 30-day free trial.  Here is the link for the signup.


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It’s Been a Wonderful Future: Accidental Time Travel with Bach

Recursive clocks in a snail-shell pattern. Photo Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11

Photo: Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11 (Flickr.com/Creative Commons).

I did some unintentional time travelling yesterday.

I was testing out a new audio cable, and decided to connect it to my audio receiver.

On a whim, I decided to try it with an LP. I randomly grabbed a record from a section of the shelf I knew would yield some favorite, and put on my headphones.

As the needle settled into the groove, I settled into my armchair.  The sound was fine.  In fact, it was superb.

I had picked out an album of Bach organ works that I’ve had since I was a teenager.  I found myself sitting in the same position I would have been in then: seated diagonally, head nestled in the wing of the armchair, leg draped over the armrest, dangling, foot keeping time.  Like then, I closed my eyes and absorbed the sound of what my mother would call “staring into space music.”

Here is the Fugue in C Minor (BWV 537) played by Ton Koopman.

Back then the world was still a mostly unknown place to me.  Germany, where Bach was from, was a far-off land where they spoke a language I didn’t understand.  I was sure I’d never get there.  People didn’t just go to Europe.  Not the folks I knew, anyway.

Then, and now, the music made me think of the soaring stained-glass windows of cathedrals that I’d seen in books.  If I opened my eyes back then, outside my window I saw soaring green trees, or the tracery of bare branches, or autumn leaves forming their own stained-glass pattern.  At dusk, the view was marred by the light of a small gas station sign beyond the woods that seemed so far off then, though it was only a mile away.

I wasn’t sure what I’d end up doing, but I was looking forward to stepping out into that great big world and starting the adventure.  As there was no internet at the time, and “blogger” would have sounded like some made-up nonsense word, well, how could I have known?

Here is the Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578) also played by Ton Koopman.

And then, the reverie was broken; an LP side only lasts so long.  And I was back to the future, now my present.

And how unexpectedly glorious that future had been.  Once I learned to drive, I passed that gas station regularly, though I didn’t recognize it and make the connection at first.  The world grew.  I learned to speak German, and have been to Germany a couple of times, though not yet to any of Bach’s towns.

And as I had listened to Bach in my current comfortable chair, I realized I understood more of what was happening, there were more “I see what you did there” moments.  I now have access to sheet music, to see for myself—and now everyone does.  And if you’ve got an internet connection, you can listen online to Bach works for organ, cello and more for free without annoying pops or crackles from the record (though they’re so familiar now I find them somewhat endearing).

I don’t know where Bach will take you, but I believe it will be a wonderful journey.

Bon voyage!

Here is the Toccata in F Major (BWV 540) played by Diane Bish.  Some folks will say this is played too fast, but I love it, it’s exciting!

List of Bach Freebies

Performances

Organ http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/

Cello https://costanzabach.stanford.edu/

Vocal and instrumental http://allofbach.com/en/ (this website will eventually have performances of all of Bach’s compositions; read about it here)

Goldberg Variations:  http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/ and https://kimiko-piano.com/open-goldberg

Spotify users:  someone has made curated playlists for all of Bach’s works.  Read about it here.

Spotify users:  if you want to hear the Hänssler Classic complete set of Bach recordings (under the direction of Helmuth Rilling), read about it here.

Sheet music

Sheet music and, for some pieces, MIDI or mp3 files http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Bach,_Johann_Sebastian

Open Well-Tempered Clavier https://musescore.com/opengoldberg/sets/openwtc

Open Goldberg Variations  https://musescore.com/opengoldberg/goldberg-variations

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Image attribution: Recursive clocks in a snail-shell pattern. Photo Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11, Flickr.com, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 2.0. Click here for source page.


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Free Live Webcast:  Tchaikovsky’s 5th, Stravinsky, and a New Work by Wynton Marsalis; or, Cossacks, Elephants, and a Hootenanny

On Friday, June 2, 2017 at 10:45AM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free live online concert that will include a new work by Wynton Marsalis featuring violinist Nicola BenedettiHere is her official website.  Here’s the program:

Stravinsky: Circus Polka
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5.

The circus polka was composed for a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  It was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas.  Balanchine said he phoned Stravinsky:1

“I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me,” Balanchine said.
“For whom?”
“For some elephants.”
“How old?” Stravinsky asked.
“Very young,” Balanchine assured him.
There was a pause.  Then Stravinsky said gravely, “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.”2

I have to hear this now.  By the way, the elephant ballet was only performed for a short time, after which it became popular among solely human dancers.

I’m also eager to hear Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto.  From the reviews I’ve read, it is a thoroughly American concerto, with movements titled Rhapsody, Rondo, Blues, and Hootenanny.  Marsalis packs the work to overflowing with musical ideas and notions, and the work you hear on Friday may differ from previous performances—it seems to be a work in evolution.  A documentary has been created, The Making of a Concerto, which you can see at the link.  Here is the trailer.

Rounding out the program is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in which Tchaikovsky wrestles with the concept of fate.  And in the finale, the wrestling becomes fierce.  Check out this wild review from 1892, written by William Foster Apthorp, who was no great fan of “modern” music:8

In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes.  The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker.  Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!9

Wow.  Elephants, a hootenanny, and pandemonium.  Don’t miss it!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Polka
  2. Krista, Davida. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner Publication, p 72.
  3. http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/01/500059901/the-transatlantic-collaboration-behind-wynton-marsalis-new-violin-concerto
  4. http://wyntonmarsalis.org/news/entry/nicola-benedetti-performs-wynton-marsaliss-violin-concerto-los-angeles
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/nso-offers-exuberant-marsalis-concerto/2016/10/27/b5c1c3cc-9cb9-11e6-b4c9-391055ea9259_story.html?utm_term=.f1f925b105e4
  6. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-cso-marsalis-review-ent-0714-20160713-column.html
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/08/london-symphony-orchestra-nicola-benedetti-james-gaffigan-wynton-marsalis
  8. http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/Tchaikovsky-Symphony-No-5-in-E-minor.aspx
  9. Boston Evening Transcript, October 24, 1892 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._5_(Tchaikovsky)


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Free Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s Ninth and Bob Dylan Reimagined

Tonight, May 19, 2017 at 8PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free webcast.  The program will feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.

Corigliano has set Bob Dylan’s words to music that is very different from the original recordings.  You can read more about the song cycle here on the composer’s website.  Those interested in a more detailed musical analysis of the work can find one at the link.

You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.


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Haiku Wednesday: Bach’s Ukulele-Piano Duet

Bach in Hawaiian shirt photobombs picture of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig

Bach photobombs tourist’s picture of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig

What would Bach do if
He had a ukulele?
I picture the scene:

We see him scowling,
As he does in his portraits,
Unwrapping a box.

Carefully, he lifts
The lid, and peering inside,
Smiles, then roars, laughing.

The kids all gather
As he gleefully extracts
His new tiny lute.

And, of course, he then
Plays it instantly and well,
Playing his own tune.

A kid brings a bow
As he sees what it can do,
Thinking what he’ll do.

And as the kids leave,
He sits at his desk. With quill
In hand, he begins…

A friend of mine got a ukulele for Christmas.  We were talking about the availability of music, and joking, said there were no ukulele and piano duets.

We were picturing a ukulele trying to contend with a concert grand, figuring that, short of amplifying the ukulele or alternating solos, it would be an exercise in futility.  A clavichord, maybe, they were known for being whisper soft.  But a piano?  It’s a classic(al) David and Goliath story.

Of course, I couldn’t leave it alone.

The easiest way to make it happen was to borrow from Bach.  So I borrowed the Minuet in G Major (BWV Anh. 114) from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.  As it turns out, it is now believed that Bach borrowed this little ditty from Christian Petzold.

Those of a certain age will remember hearing it popularized as the song “How Gentle is the Rain?” or “A Lover’s Concerto”.  I transposed it from G major to C major to make it easier for the ukulele to play.  Then, I tried to figure out how to integrate a piano without overwhelming the ukulele, while allowing them each to have their moments to shine.

No matter what, the pianist will need to use restraint (and the soft pedal).  A piano, even the subtlest piano, can easily overpower the ukulele.  But balance can be achieved, and it’s fun!

Here’s what it sounds like.  Warning: if you use the link rather than the player displayed on this page, you may hear unrelated music afterward.  Can’t prevent it (Soundcloud!).  Hit the pause button (at the bottom of the Soundcloud page).

Here’s what it looks like (below).  Click the image to magnify, or click the following link to view/download/print the Minuet for ukulele and piano as a PDF file.

Sheet music, Minuet for Ukulele and Piano page 1Minuet for ukulele and piano-2

If you’re a ukulele player (ukulelist?), give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

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Image attribution: Photograph of Leipzig Thomaskirche by Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomaskirche_Leipzig_Westseite_2013.jpg.  Vintage Hawaiian shirt by Omaopio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVintage_aloha_shirt.JPG. Portrait of Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg.