Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Binge Watching Brendel’s Schubert

Franz Schubert

I found a series of videos of Alfred Brendel playing Schubert impromptus, moments musicaux, and more that I wanted to share with you.

Here are some Schubert impromptus, D. 935

Here are some Moments musicaux, D. 780

Here are some more impromptus, D. 899

Here are Drei Klavierstücke. D. 946

Here is the Fantasie in C Major, D. 760, the Wanderer Fantasy

And if you’re really committed to binge watching (got four hours?), here are Schubert’s Piano Sonatas 14-21.

I think I’m going to need a bigger bowl of popcorn.

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Image attribution: Portrait of Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFranz_Schubert_by_Wilhelm_August_Rieder_1875.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Johann Nepomuk Hummel

Let’s all get to know
Johann Nepomuk Hummel—
Best you’ve never heard.

Piano, trumpet,
Viola, bassoon, and flute—
He composed for all.

Enjoy music from
Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
Then go spread the word.

If you don’t know Johann Nepomuk Hummel, here’s a little of what you’ve been missing.  Listen to the third movement of his Trumpet Concerto.

Wow, that’s better than caffeine!  It’s the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and the trumpet soloist is Elmer Churampi.  I love seeing the performers smiling.  Music should be fun!

If you would like to see the entire concerto (different orchestra and soloist), you can see it here.

Hummel was a virtuoso pianist as well as a composer.  As a child, he caught the attention of Mozart, who was so impressed with his ability that he took him into his home and provided him with free lessons for two years, after which he studied with Muzio Clementi in London, and Haydn and Salieri in Vienna.  Hummel was friends with Beethoven and Schubert.  He worked with Haydn at Prince Esterházy’s court.1

Hummel was surrounded by greatness—and that perhaps is part of his anonymity problem.  A star may be bright, but you will never see it when the sun is shining.  Over time, his more stellar contemporaries got more attention, and his works were nearly forgotten.

Hummel’s music is not performed very often, and it is a pity, because he wrote some very enjoyable music.  Here is his Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano (Op. 78).  Bassoon fan?  Here is Hummel’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra.  Here is the compelling (and fast fingering-intense) Return to London for piano and orchestra (Op. 127) (oh, did I forget to mention that Carl Czerny was Hummel’s student?).  Finally, I think you will enjoy the charming Rondò brillante in B Minor for piano (Op. 109).

For a detailed account of Hummel’s life and links to videos, performances, and scores, see The Hummel Project webpage.  You can also find more of Hummel’s music on YouTube.  Those who read German may want to visit the website of the Hummel Gesellschaft Weimar.

I hope you have a Hummel-ful day!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Nepomuk_Hummel
  2. The Hummel Project webpage, http://www.jnhummel.info/en/index.php

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Image attribution:  Engraving of Johann Nepomuk Hummel by Pierre-Roch Vigneron, based on a portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Nepomuk_Hummel#/media/File:JNHummel_2.jpg . Also viewable at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84212189 .


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A Little Vacation

Stick figure fishing with treble clef as hook

Catapulting into Classical will be “off the air” this week. In the meantime, I encourage you to search the internet for your favorite composer (or one you’ve heard of, but don’t know well) and listen to a little something. Or maybe play a CD or LP that you haven’t heard in a long time. Or how about pulling up an interesting playlist on Spotify or the like?  Or purchase a recent release–lots of great new recordings out there!

If you hear something you like, let us know what it is, and what you like about it. We’re all looking for the next new thing…even if it was new hundreds of years ago.

I hope you have a wonderful, music-filled week!

Can’t go without some music.  Here is Yundi Li playing Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude, Op. 28, No 15.


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Spring Cleaning

It’s spring where I am, allegedly.  A freak flurry the other day sent everyone scurrying for hats and coats, but still, plants are starting to bloom, and it’s time to start cutting grass again.

So it’s time for spring cleaning, and it occurred to me that I’ve accumulated a rather motley collection of musical instruments over the course of time.

I’ve already told you about The Piano That Does 11.  It finds companionship with an 88-key Yamaha keyboard neatly placed between my kitchen and family room.  My kids have been known to sit and improvise or play a few tunes while waiting for dinner.  I enjoy that so much, I’m disinclined to move it.  Sometimes they used it for practice with headphones, and I challenged myself to try to identify the piece by the rhythm of the keystrokes.

Its upstairs compatriot is a smaller, much older keyboard that found its way to my home office for those nights when music strikes and The Piano That Does 11 is completely unsuitable.  A recent rummage in the office led to dropping of items on the keyboard, causing it to turn on and play an ominous chord.  Alright, alright, I’ll be more careful next time!

The basement is the home of the loud instruments:  an antique bass drum from a defunct pipe and drum corps, the drumheads thinly worn in spots, though still intact; a snare drum, cymbals that have seen better days, plastic school recorders, a handful of harmonicas (my mother’s—she kept one, and she can still play a few songs from memory), two ram’s horns (which my father used for the sole purpose of confusing the dog) and a child’s toy concertina (gift-giving advice:  never buy children anything that makes them louder or faster).  If I rummage enough, there’s probably a few kazoos as well, though I’m not sure if one can call that a musical instrument.

Then there’s the saxophone.  It had belonged to a friend of my great-aunt, and it had had a long and storied life before it eventually came to me.  It has a wonderful mellow tone, and in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, I’m sure it’s magical.

Sadly, I am not that person.

However, that’s not to say that it hasn’t been entertaining.  I did learn to play a few songs my father liked.  And as a teen I developed a ridiculous routine to amuse my great-aunt, my benefactor, that used to leave her helpless with laughter.  I’d set up the music stand loosely…it would slide down to its lowest position.  After bending and twisting, I’d kneel and start playing a tune, adding the occasional reed squeak for good effect (I say this as if it were intentional).  Shaking my head, I’d stop, try to fix the stand, and put it in its absolute highest position.  On tiptoe, I’d peer at the music, shake my head, then get a chair, stand on it and play…at which point it would slowly start to slide down again, and I’d contort myself following it.  By this point I was usually musically accompanied by the dog who was confused by the ram’s horns.  It was quite the scene.

If you have an instrument lying around that you haven’t played in a while, maybe from when you played at school, why not dust it off and give it a try?  And if you decide it’s time for it to find a new home, check if a school in your area accepts donations—you could make a difference to a student who can’t afford to get their own instrument.  If you live near New York City, there’s an instrument drive going on right now.  Here’s a list of US organizations that take instrument donations.

Or just search on “donate musical instruments” and you’re sure to find a charity in your area.


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Newly Rediscovered Telemann Viola da Gamba Fantasias Score, Recording Now Available

Telemann

Viola da gamba enthusiasts, this is your lucky day!

Over the weekend, Thomas Fritzsch, who rediscovered the lost Telemann solo viola da gamba fantasias, performed them at the annual Telemann conference in Magdeburg, Germany.  The score and CDs were available for sale at the performance.

Couldn’t make it to Magdeburg?  I’m here to help.

Here is a website where the Telemann score can be purchased.  You can see a sample page of the new edition and a sample page of a “complete facsimile” edition there.  Here is another source for the Telemann score.

The publisher’s page has a link for CDs, but it brings you back to the page for the score.  I’m guessing CDs will be available there at some point.  I couldn’t find physical CDs elsewhere at this time.

Can’t wait?  Amazon has an MP3 album available now. So does iTunes (a search for “Telemann Fritzsch” will take you right there).

Short on cash?  You can hear it on Spotify.  Check your favorite music streaming service for availability.

So tell a friend–Telemann is back!

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Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann, watercolor by Valentin Daniel Preisler [Public domain], after a lost painting by Ludwig Michael Schneider (1750), via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATelemann.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Telemann, Newton, and Roy G. Biv Walk into a Concert…

A_caricature_of_Louis-Bertrand_Castel's_-ocular_organ-

Color joins music
The ocular harpsichord
The world’s first light show.

After the recent excitement about the discovery of a lost work by Telemann, I couldn’t resist this story, which I read in an entertaining article by Becky Ferreira.

Turns out, Telemann also wrote several pieces for the ocular harpsichord.

Wait…the what?  Ok, settle in for a slightly convoluted story.

It’s hard to believe that there once was a time when people didn’t know how colors worked, but it’s true.  The laws of physics governing them hadn’t been worked out yet.  People were coming up with all kinds of theories, and Isaac Newton decided to throw his hat in the ring too.  Maybe he shouldn’t have, what with the apple and all; or maybe the theory came after that alleged apple assault (actually it did; his Principia Mathematica that discussed gravity came out in 1687.  As a further side note, a piece of Newton’s apple tree escaped Earth’s gravity briefly in 2010).

Anyway, in his 1704 work Opticks, Newton presented his theory of colors.  He also related the seven colors you see in a prism (or a rainbow; hence the Roy G. Biv) to musical notes, the seven notes in the diatonic scale.  Here Newton used the Dorian scale, the white notes on a piano starting with D.  Newton theorized that the spectrum of colors and the diatonic scale used the same ratios.

Newton's_color_circle

As it turns out, Newton didn’t get it quite right (but I think we can cut him some slack, given the whole gravity thing, and calculus).  But his theory generated a lot of excitement and discussion (for more on historical discussions of color and music, read this).

The French mathematician Louis Bertrand Castel, inspired by Newton’s theory, souped up a harpsichord, adding sixty lanterns with different colors whose light would be shown when specific notes were pressed.  Castel said, “the pressing of the keys would bring out the colors with their combinations and their chords; in one word, with all their harmony, which would correspond exactly to that of any kind of music.” (Franssen, via Ferreira).

Sadly, the only image of the ocular harpsichord, also called the color organ, is one that lampoons the device (shown above).

Enter Telemann (finally).  Telemann saw the ocular harpsichord while he was in Paris, and penned a description of the device.  He also was inspired to write several pieces of music for it.  Sadly, I could not find those specific pieces—I wanted to see how chromatic they were (sorry! couldn’t resist).

While the ocular harpsichord has not survived, the idea of combining light, color, and music certainly has, providing a new avenue to interpret the tonal colors of music.

Here is John Adams’s Harmonium, as visualized on the face of Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

 

With thanks to my friend Louis B. for referring me to the Ferreira article.

References

Becky Ferreira, “Behold the Ocular Harpsichord, the Laser Light Show of the 18th Century”, Motherboard, 16 November 2015.  http://motherboard.vice.com/read/behold-the-ocular-harpsichord-the-laser-light-show-of-the-18th-century

Maarten Franssen, The Ocular Harpsichord of Louis-Bertrand Castel, http://www.tbm.tudelft.nl/fileadmin/Faculteit/TBM/Over_de_Faculteit/Afdelingen/Afdeling_Values_and_Technology/sectie_filosofie/medewerkers/Maarten_Franssen/doc/OcuHarpsCastel.pdf

Isaac Newton, Opticks, 1704, Book I, Part II, Proposition VI, Problem 2

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Image attribution

Castel’s ocular harpsichord, characactured by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_caricature_of_Louis-Bertrand_Castel’s_%22ocular_organ%22.jpgNewton’s color wheel.

Color wheel.  Isaac Newton, Opticks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newton%27s_color_circle.png


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Live from Detroit, it’s Robert Schumann!

Robert Schumann 1850

I wish I could go to the concert.

If you’re not already attending a great concert tonight, don’t miss this free live webcast from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 8 PM (GMT-5)  at dso.org/live.  Here’s the program:

William Bolcom:  Commedia for (almost) 18th-cent. Orchestra

Max Bruch:  Violin Concerto No. 1

Robert Schumann:  Symphony No. 2