Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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If you can’t find beauty, try to make some

A treble clef that ends in a hand holding a paintbrush making swirls of lines, flowers, and music symbols.

Times are tough.  We all need to find a way to get through, and the right music definitely helps.  Here are some recent finds.  Humor, flexibility, and great ingenuity are hallmarks here.

Have you seen the No Corona version of Nessun dorma by Daniel Emmet?

How about the Covid-19 Bach fugue by Nicholas Papdimitriou?  This is incredible.

And now, a great concert for you!  Pianist Alexander Krichel gave a live drive-in classical piano concert that you can now see online. Car horns and flashing headlights replace applause (it works better than you’d think).  The upside?  No coughing, cell phones ringing, or candy wrappers crackling (other than perhaps from your family members, whom you can probably shush).  Krichel introduces the pieces in German, there are no subtitles available, but there is captioning of the title at the beginning of each piece.  You can see it at:    https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/radio/wdr3/video-autokino-meets-klassik–alexander-krichel-spielt-beethoven-und-liszt-100.html

When life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade, make lemon sorbet.

Here’s another tip, not necessarily a musical one, but one you might consider.  A friend who lives far away and I have started exchanging photos.  Typically, it’s flower pictures (they have a tremendous rose garden), but not always.  It doesn’t have to be flowers, it could be a meme, or an animal picture, a photo you take on a walk (if permitted) (added benefit: your picture-taking gets better), a happy memory photo, or a link to some great music, whatever works for you.  It doesn’t need to be every day–no pressure (we have enough)!  And you know what happens?  You end up looking for beauty, or levity, and actually start seeing it amidst gloom and chaos.  If you know someone who might be interested in this, why not suggest an informal exchange?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see something happy in your inbox or on your phone?

And as Daniel Emmet says in his aria, vinceremo [we will win]!

Thanks to reader Paul B for alerting me to the fugue!

 


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Bach’s St. John Passion To Be Livestreamed from Bach’s Church in Leipzig on April 10, 2020

J. S. Bach

On April 10, 2020, Bach’s St. John Passion will be performed at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, at the site of Bach’s tomb.  The broadcast will begin at 15:00 CET (GMT+2; 9AM EDT).  This innovative performance will include a tenor, a harpsichordist, and a percussionist, as well as five singers, with the addition of various artists and choirs participating via video.  The tenor part, the Evangelist,  and all the other characters will be sung by Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson (see bio in English here).

Here’s a sample, “Zerfliesse, mein Herze, in Fluten der Zähren”.

Sheet music for the chorales and program notes are available via the Carus-Verlag website.

You can see the livestream at the following sites:

http://www.facebook.com/bacharchiv
http://www.facebook.com/mdrkultur
https://www.facebook.com/MDRKlassik
http://www.mdr-klassik.de
http://www.arte.tv/en/arte-concert (six languages available at this site)
https://www.arte.tv/en (six languages available at this site)

It will be broadcast in Germany at 19:00 on MDR Kultur and MDR Klassik, and on German TV at 24:00 on MDR-Fernsehen.

For more details, see this Gramophone article and the Carus-Verlag website.


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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.

_____

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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Of iTunes, Streaming, and Thrift Shop Finds

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

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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.

 

 

 

 


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Beauty and Creativity Are Everywhere

Here is the link to Yo-Yo Ma’s new video, in which he performs the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.  This would be beauty enough; but the music forms the background to clips of people around the world expressing their creativity and showing how culture connects us all.  It is exuberant and full of hope, something we can all aspire to as this new year begins.  The video was created as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach Project, in which he will be playing Bach’s six cello suites in 36 cities around the world.


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Haiku Wednesday:  The Rat’s Lullaby

A mother mouse in a long dress rocking a baby mouse with a cradle full of baby mice beside her.

Mutter Rattelein
Schau mal! Was hast du getan?
Für deine Kinder,
In der alten Burg,
Machtest Du ein Bettelein
Von alten Seiten.

Bisschen bei Bisschen,
Du hast die Musik zerriss’n
In kleine Stücke.

Du hast ein weiches
Nest für die Kinder gewebt
So wären sie warm.

Kinder, Ihr nicht wisst
Sie war Komponist eines
Ratzenwiegenlied.

 

Wee Mother Rat, look
Now what you have done here, look!
For your small children,
In the old castle,
You made a soft little bed
From some old pages.

Bite by tiny bite,
You rendered all the music
Into small pieces.

You wove the music
Into a softly lined nest
So they would be warm.

Your babes didn’t know
You were the composer of
A rat lullaby.

 

I would like to tell you today the story of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel.  He lived about the same time as Bach, and was much admired by his contemporaries.  He was highly regarded by most people…but perhaps not so much by his successor as Kapellmeister in the court at Gotha, Georg Benda.

Benda wrote that he had saved the best stuff, and separated it from the “junk.”  That “junk” was stored in a castle attic, where it was mostly destroyed by rats.

While I suppose it’s possible that rats could have eaten the manuscripts, I recall a time that mice got into my outdoor garden shed.  I found that they had nibbled the owner’s manual for my mower into long, neat strips, and made them into a nest.  And this is what I pictured that they had done with poor Stölzel’s music.

There is good news and bad news about our composer and his repurposed compositions.  An obituary listed his prolific output, which included 1,358 cantatas, a passion, oratorios, masses, instrumental works, and five operas.

Of perhaps thousands of works composed in Gotha, only about a dozen survive.  His operas are gone.

Luckily, however, some of Stölzel’s music was published, and works he had written for the court at Sondershausen were preserved.  However, even there, Stölzel’s music was disrespected: his manuscripts were found in a box behind the organ in 1870.

A few of Stölzel’s compositions were reworked by Johann Sebastian Bach, including the aria Bist du bei mir, which for many years was attributed to Bach himself.  This aria, found in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, was an aria from Stölzel’s opera Diomedes.  He also performed some of Stölzel’s cantatas in Leipzig.  One of Stölzel’s works, a minuet can be found in Bach’s Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

Recently, I heard a piece of Stölzel’s music performed live (where I first heard the story of his music), and what struck me was how lively and engaging it was.  It’s hard to feel “meh” about this music—it grabs you by the hand and makes you run with it.  Let me give you some examples to choose from:

Here is the Concerto grosso a quattro cori in D.

And a Concerto for Trumpet in D major.

How about a trio sonata for organ!

Here’s another sonata

Even this religious work, a Te Deum, is lively.

Here is a discussion thread of enthusiastic commentary about Stölzel on the Bach Cantatas website.  And here’s a video to introduce folks to Stölzel’s Brockes Passion.

But this article would not be complete without the one work Stölzel is known best for.  Here is a beautiful rendition of Bist du bei mir.  I hope you will enjoy it.

With thanks to the Rebel Ensemble for their wonderful performance and the Stölzel story.

References

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Heinrich_St%C3%B6lzel.

Fritz Hennenberg. Das Kantatenschaffen von Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel. Volume 8 of Beiträge zur musikwissenschaftlichen Forschung in der DDR. Leipzig, 1976 (Benda quote on p. 22).

Lorenz Christoph Mizler (editor). “VI. Denkmal dreyer verstorbenen Mitglieder der Societät der musikalischen Wissenschafften; B.”, pp. 143–157 in Lorenz Christoph Mizler‘s Musikalische Bibliothek, Volume IV Part 1. Leipzig, Mizlerischer Bücherverlag, 1754.

Image attribution:  Illustration from The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Beatrix Potter (1866—1943) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Hunca_Munca_babies.png (ok, technically not a rat, but you have to admit it’s a cute picture).


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Free! Live! Bach!  St. John Passion Webcast

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On November 4, 2018 at 2:00 CST (UTC-6) (that’s 3:00 PM for US East Coast folks), The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a live webcast of Bach’s Saint John Passion.  The performance will have a stellar cast of soloists, featuring Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, William Berger, Joélle Harvey, Tim Mead, and Nick PritchardJonathan Cohen will conduct.

You can see the webcast at this link.

If you can’t watch at that time, you can catch it (and much, much more!) later on demand in the SPCO Concert Library.

US readers: remember to set your clocks back one hour tonight, or you’ll be super-early to the concert.