Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Live Concert Webcast: Beethoven, Haydn, and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 9PM EDT (GMT-4) the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a live concert on its website.  It is also viewable on the SPCO’s app for Apple and Android.  Conductor Thomas Zehetmair and the orchestra will present the following program:

Ludwig van BeethovenRomance No. 1 for Violin (Eunice Kim, violin)

Jean-Féry Rebel: The Elements (this take on the creation of the world includes a movement, Chaos, which is strikingly modern even though it was written in 1737).

Claude Vivier: Zipangu

Franz Joseph HaydnSymphony No. 95 in C Minor

Here’s the link to watch the concert.

The concert will be added to the on-demand concert library thereafter (great collection, check it out), which is available on the website or via the SPCO app.

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Haiku Wednesday: Summer, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Savings

Miniature of 'The Spanish Dance'; from Códice de trajes, Germany, 1547.

It’s summer! Have a party and dance!

In the northern climes,
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!

Vivaldi wrote some
Sonnets for The Four Seasons;
That I never knew!

The Four Seasons app
Is on sale for the summer,
And we say “Woo-hoo”!

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere.  School is out, the heat is ramping up, and summer thunderstorms blaze through, leaving (hopefully) cooler air in their wake.

People have been singing about summer for a long time.  The first stanza of today’s haiku refers to one of the earliest notated songs in English, Sumer Is Icumen In (loudly sing cuckoo).  The earliest manuscript dates to the mid- to late-13th century.  Here’s some sheet music to follow along, and here’s the tune.

Manuscript of song Sumer Is Icumen In from the British Library

Sumer Is Icumen In. MS Harley 978 f. 11v, British Library.

Somewhat later (between 1720 and 1723), Antonio Vivaldi wrote The Four Seasons.  You may hear familiar refrains, as it is frequently used in television commercials.  Something that I learned is that the piece is accompanied by four sonnets, possibly written by Vivaldi himself.  You can find the four sonnets in Italian and English in the link, but here is the translation of the one for summer (Boreas is the north wind):

Under the merciless sun
Languishes man and flock; the pine tree burns,
The cuckoo begins to sing and at once
Join in the turtledoves and the goldfinch.
A gentle breeze blows, but Boreas
Joins battle suddenly with his neighbor,
And the shepherd weeps because overhead
Hangs the dreaded storm, and his destiny.

His tired limbs are robbed of their rest
By his fear of the lightning and the heavy thunder
And by the furious swarm of flies and hornets.

Alas, his fears are well founded
There is thunder and lightning in the sky
And the hail cuts down the lofty ears of corn.1

The sonnet itself is broken into three sections, which is not uncommon for the sonnet form, but also echoes the three movements of the composition.  See if you can hear what is depicted above.  Here is Vivaldi’s Summer.

(I know it’s summer, but educators can find a teacher resource kit on Vivaldi and The Four Seasons at the link.  It’s written for students in grades 4-6, but I enjoyed reading it!)

Now, if you have an iPad or iPhone, you are in luck.  This summer, Touchpress is offering the Vivaldi Four Seasons app for $2.99 (70 percent off!)

Here’s a review of the Vivaldi Four Seasons app.  Here is the website for the app (which is available through the Apple iTunes App Store).

The Four Seasons app joins Touchpress’s other iPad offerings, The Liszt Sonata, The Orchestra, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (free!).

I hope you will enjoy lots of music this summer, and I hope your living is easy.

The blog will be on summer vacation for a week.  See you again soon!




Image attributions:

Miniature of ‘The Spanish Dance’; from Códice de trajes, Germany, 1547, BNE MS Res 285, ff. 2v-3r via  The original can be found at the Biblioteca Nacional de España BNE MS Res 285, ff. 2v-3r,

Manuscript of Sumer Is Icumen In, MS Harley 978 f. 11v.  British Library digitized manuscript, via Wikimedia Commons  See the original (and more) at the British Library website

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Haiku Wednesday: Classical Music at 3AM from Sweden? Sure, why not!

Broadcast tower with globe002Music spans the globe
Concerts happen day and night
Find them all right here

The World Concert Hall is a site where you can find free radio concerts and classical radio stations all over the world.  Via the site you can stream live concerts and check the schedule to see what will be playing when you’re available.  Or just listen to a classical music radio station—in Russia.

Today, for example, you can hear concerts of Schumann and Schubert from Espoo, Finland, Tchaikovsky from Moscow, and Nielsen from Stockholm.  Later there will be broadcasts from Budapest and Barcelona, and programs featuring Bach, Birtwistle, Britten, and Brahms.

Screen shot of World Concert Hall website:

Screen shot of World Concert Hall website.

Tap the Schedule piano key tab to see today’s offerings, or tap the Channels key to see a world map and pick a specific country.  You can then see what classical music live radio stations can be streamed to your computer (keen to practice your Danish? Estonian? Language lover’s delight!).  The Halls key also provides a world map.  Picking a region gives you a list of countries, and once picked you can see which halls offer concerts and their schedules (in case you need to know what’s on at La Scala).

The World Concert Hall can be accessed on mobile devices, and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and via RSS feed (warning:  lots of posts).  See the site for details.

Your day just got a lot more interesting.



Image attributions:  Globe image via Wikimedia Commons.


Haiku Wednesday: Beethoven’s Ninth for iPad (free!) and more


What would Ludwig say
Seeing his work so displayed,
Manuscript on screen?

See Beethoven’s Ninth
In hands of four conductors
Right on your iPad.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, Touchpress has some nice classical music apps for you!

I’ll start with the free app:  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  The app includes four Deutsche Gramophon recordings of the work (audio and video), and you can switch between performances to see how one conductor and orchestra’s performance differs from another.  The scrolling score is displayed at the bottom of the screen.  You can also use Beethoven’s 1825 manuscript to follow along.  The app includes interviews with musicians and conductors.  The four conductors (and performances) are Fricsay (1958), Karajan (1962), Bernstein (1979), and Gardiner (1992).  Here’s a promo.

The company has also produced a number of other paid apps (around $14 each):  Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (promo video link), the Liszt Sonata in B Minor (includes a performance by pianist Stephen Hough), and The Orchestra.  In searching for a promo video for The Orchestra, I found a YouTube comment by the Philharmonia Orchestra directing me to YouTube videos that their orchestra members have made to introduce their instruments.  The videos are quite detailed, so if you ever had celeste or clarinet questions, check it out!  A thorough video review of The Orchestra, the app, is available here.

Touchpress has also partnered with the Juilliard String Quartet to create an app for Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.  Here’s a promo video for the app.

I couldn’t preview these for you because I don’t have an iPad, so if you do try the free Beethoven (or splurge for any of the others), please let us all know what you think.


Image attribution:  Modified image of painting of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

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Ear training, music theory, bonus points, and Toki Pona

I just found another website that may be helpful in learning ear training, music rudiments, composers, and, if you so inclined, a language or two (can’t help it, I’m an inveterate linguist).

It’s  Their “courses” are set up like flash cards (with audio where appropriate).  The system keeps track of what you get wrong and what you get right and drills accordingly, incrementally adding new information.  You set up a free account, and take your pick of any number of courses.

The music courses include note identification (reading), interval training, pitch identification, scales and chords, music theory, composers, music terms, and “Who Composed Me?”.  There are also courses for the ABRSM exams, British school exams on one’s knowledge of music rudiments.  That’s just the music part.  There are courses devoted to languages, programming, art history, math, science, and law, just to name a few areas of study.

Their goal is to make learning fun.  You get points for correct answers, so the competitive among us (who, me?) risk getting a little carried away.  But it’s better to keep coming back and doing a little, rather than trying to cram, you’ll get further faster.  I have used this approach in language learning in Duolingo and Mango (Mango is typically available through libraries), and it does work.  It’s worth noting that Memrise co-founder and CEO Ed Cooke studied cognitive science.

There is also a users forum or community in which you may wish to participate.  You may even choose to create a course if you’d like.

So, is there an app for that?  Yes, via Apple App Store, Google Play Store, and Amazon App Store.  Sorry, no Window phone app available.

Give it a try and let us all know what you think.  I’m working on pitch recognition, ear training (intervals), and, off-topic, “Who Painted Me?” at the moment.  And maybe I’ll try my hand at the constructed language Toki Pona, since, oddly, that’s how I found this website in the first place!


Ear training apps

Ear with notesIf you checked out Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians after yesterday’s post, the first thing you saw was this (my translation here):

The development of the ear is most important. Strive early on to recognize each note and key.  Find out what notes the bell, the windowpane, the cuckoo, etc. produce.

Having “a good ear” is important whether you’re a cellist, a doctor diagnosing through a stethoscope, or a mechanic diagnosing an engine.

What if you’re not one of those enviable few people with “perfect pitch,” the ability to recognize and reproduce notes without a reference?  What if you call yourself “tone deaf”?  Good news: you probably aren’t tone deaf.  More good news:  ears can be trained, and you can improve with practice.

And as you might expect, there’s an app for that.  In fact, there are several.  Below I describe a few Apple and Windows apps for ear training.  I’ll also give you the names of a few Android apps, but I was unable to road test them because I am android-less.  I’d like to thank my friend Bruce L. for finding some of the apps below a while back and sharing his findings.

I have focused on apps that have free and paid versions so you can try before you buy.  Most of the apps keep track of your progress so you can see what you have mastered and what still needs work.


NailThatNote allows you to test your knowledge of notes, intervals, melodies, chords, and scales.  For each of these you can select a subset (testing only 4ths and 5ths, for example, or minor vs. diminished, or harmonic vs. melodic minor scales).  It also includes a nice reference of songs that begin with a particular interval to help memorize them.  One can use a piano or guitar sound.

EarTrainer lets you practice identifying intervals, chords and chord progressions, scales and melody replication.  Like the previous app you can select subsets for testing, and can use a piano or guitar sound.  This app lets you toggle between seeing a piano keyboard or a music staff.  I particularly liked the music staff option.

PlayByEar is a little different.  Like the others, you identify intervals, chords, and melodies and can define testing subsets.  How it differs is that you identify them by playing them back on your instrument or singing them back (so you need a microphone; the one on a set of earbuds is ok).  PlayByEar shows you the first note, and then the next note when you play/sing it.  Each note lights up green if you got it right, red if not.

Better Ears provides a learning mode and training mode.  In learning mode, tapping an interval name plays it and shows it on a staff.  It also provides links to a Wikipedia article on the interval for further info. You can test yourself on intervals, scales, chords, chord progressions, pitches, tempo, and key signatures.  In addition to ear training, it also has modules for sight reading of intervals, scales, and chords, which is a very useful component.

Singer’s Friend allows you to pick your range (bass, soprano, etc.) and a scale (blues hexatonic, minor, five tone, mixed intervals, arpeggios) and it then plays the scale starting with C, and in each iteration ascends chromatically.   You can vary the speed.


There were fewer options in the Windows store.  I found Ear Trainer, Ear Fluent, and Winterval Trainer 8.  I tested all on a touch screen tablet.

I couldn’t figure out how to use Winterval Trainer 8.

Ear Trainer allows you to test “perfect pitch” and “chord recognition.”  It gets the job done, but it does not offer the flexibility seen in the Apple apps listed above.

Ear Fluent allows you to test intervals, chords, and chord inversions. It also provides a module for testing two consecutive intervals.  Like the Apple apps, you can select subsets for testing.  The notes in an interval can be played simultaneously or consecutively.


As I said above, I didn’t test these, but I did look at the descriptions, screen shots, and reviews.

There are many Android apps for ear training.  The ones that stuck out for me (again, based on free apps with paid versions) were My Ear Trainer, Complete Ear Training, and Interval Recognition, as well as Functional Ear Training (described below).  There are any number of apps that are called Ear Training.  At least one contained minimal English-language content, so you have to make any selection from among these according to your tastes (and linguistic ability).


The Functional Ear Training Method (available as a device app and as a program downloadable to your computer) takes a somewhat different and more incremental approach to learning to identify tones.  It is designed to help you recognize a note in relation to the tonic, or fundamental note of a given scale.  The program plays a cadence, that is, a series of chords, and then a note.  You learn to hear how that note relates to the tonic, the “home” note of a scale.  I didn’t work with this enough to be able to form an opinion about it, other than seeing it’s very different from traditional interval training.

Everyone learns a little differently, so you’ll have to see what works best for you.  If you find or know of another app that I haven’t mentioned here that you’ve used and like, leave a comment.