Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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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: 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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Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4

Beethoven

The other night I decided to listen to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.1

Wow.

Let me tell you more about this incredible piece of music.

Beethoven wrote Piano Concerto No. 4 (Op. 58) in 1805-6, and it was first performed at a private concert in 1807.  It was not performed at a public concert until December 1808.2   But what a concert!  Here’s what was on the program:3

Symphony No. 5

Symphony No. 6

Choral Fantasy

Piano Concerto No. 4

Ah, perfido!, a concert aria

Mass in C (excerpts)

The audience spent four hours in a freezing cold theater listening to this concert of a lifetime–it would be the last time that Beethoven would perform as a soloist.

A feature that distinguishes this concerto from many others is that the piece begins with the piano alone.  This would have been totally unexpected for the audience.  And when the orchestra finally comes in to state the first theme, they do not come in playing in the announced key (G major), but an unexpected key (B major).

But you might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, sure, but what makes it so great?  Where’s the wow factor?”

Aside from doing the unexpected, Beethoven takes you on a wild ride.  In the second movement, it is as if the orchestra and pianist are facing off against each other–how will that struggle end?  And it has exciting, demanding piano writing.  Watch the pianist’s hands. Then recall this quote from composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt, who attended the first public performance:3

[Beethoven] played with astounding cleverness and skill, and at the fastest possible tempi.

Wow.

(Of course, then I think, imagine how long the concert would have been if he hadn’t!)

The references below will give you detailed descriptions of the concerto’s three movements.  But you might be tempted to just jump in and listen.

This link will take you to a YouTube page where you can find great performances of this piece by many prominent pianists and orchestras.  The list extends for pages.  Here I’d like to highlight the performance of pianist Mitsuko Uchida and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons at the 2013 Proms Festival.  I hope you will enjoy it!

References

  1. Since inquiring minds will want to know, I listened to (and watched) pianist Jonathan Biss and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the DSO Replay subscription streaming service. Phenomenal performance!
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Concerto_No._4_(Beethoven)
  3. http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/piano-concerto-no-4-g-major-op-58-ludwig-van-beethoven


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Explore Beethoven Piano Sonatas with Jonathan Biss on Coursera

Ludwig van Beethoven Jonathan Biss, photo by Benjamin Ealovega

Pianist Jonathan Biss has created a new set of lectures on selected Beethoven piano sonatas on Coursera.org.  The course is free, and is designed “for people of all levels of experience with Beethoven’s music (including no experience at all!).”1 This set of lectures will cover Sonata No. 3, Op. 2, No. 3; Sonata No. 8, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”); Sonata No. 21, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”); and Sonata No. 27, Op. 90.

This course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 2, will begin in mid-January, but you can enroll now.

The first course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, will begin again on January 2, but you can enroll now as well.  This course provides an overview of the 32 sonatas, and contains a wealth of detail on the sonatas themselves and music history.

I took the first course, enjoyed it, and learned a lot.  You can read more about the course in an earlier blog post.  You may learn more about Jonathan Biss at his website, which contains the least serious biography I have ever seen.

Biss is in the process of recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas, and several CDs have already been released.

Follow this link for my post containing more free Beethoven resources.

Follow this link for my post containing more on Beethoven’s late string quartets.

And now, here is Jonathan Biss performing Beethoven’s Sonata No 5 in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 1.

 

References

  1. https://www.coursera.org/learn/exploring-beethoven-piano-sonatas-2
  2. http://www.jonathanbiss.com/

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Image attributions: Beethoven, Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beethoven_.jpg.  Jonathan Biss, photo by Benjamin Ealovega, http://www.jonathanbiss.com/img/publicity/Jonathan_Biss_104_credit_Benjamin_Ealovega.jpg.

 


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Free Concert Webcast: Emanuel Ax and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Play Beethoven, Elgar

Pianist Emanuel Ax

Pianist Emanuel Ax. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Here’s another free webcast from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra!  On December 11, 2016 at 3PM (GMT -5) pianist Emanuel Ax will be featured in a program of Beethoven and Elgar. Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Here’s the program:

Beethoven:  Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus

Beethoven:  Piano Concerto No. 2

Elgar:  Symphony No. 1

If you can’t see the webcast at that time, the DSO offers an reasonably-priced alternative. For a donation to the orchestra of $50 or more, you can access DSO Replay, their catalog of previous webcasts, for a year.  There are over 100 works available, viewable on desktops, tablets, and mobile devices, in high-definition, and more than 26 new concerts are added during the season.  Find out more about DSO Replay here.


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s 4th and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde

Ludwig van Beethoven

On Saturday, November 12 at 8PM EST (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert.  The orchestra will be led by French conductor Louis Langrée, and soloists Kelley O’Connor (mezzo soprano) and Russell Thomas (tenor) will be featured.

Gustav MahlerThe program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 and Mahler’s Das Lied von der ErdeA text and translation for Das Lied von der Erde can be downloaded from the DSO websiteThe original Chinese poems that are the source of the text (and some beautiful paintings for the poems) can be found at this English-language website. Those interested in translation technicalities (like me) will find an interesting article here. An article that provides reviews of a number of recordings of the work can be found here.

You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.  Go to the website an hour before the performance to see an informal presentation on the works in the program.

References

  1. http://www.mahlerarchives.net/archives.html A website to find out more about Mahler and his works.

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Image attributions:  Ludwig van Beethoven, painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beethoven_.jpg.  Gustav Mahler, photograph by E. Bieber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGustav-Mahler-Kohut.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Time

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).

How long is that note?
Tell me the tempo you want,
That’s the way I’ll know.

“’55 – too fast!”
“’81 is too damn slow!”
Glenn Gould played with time.

Album leaf- so brief,
Symphony – heavenly length,
Grosse Fuge – vast.

How much time is left?
When will we reach the coda?
Carpe musicam.

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately.  Probably because there are some important deadlines on my horizon, and the clock is ticking very loudly.  Also because it’s one of my children’s birthday, and how can they be that age already?

As we say in linguistics, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” (and yes, there really is a Wikipedia entry for this).

In music, time can be a very fluid thing.  While a note has a fixed duration relative to other notes in a given piece of music, its absolute duration is quite malleable.

So how fast is allegro?  And exactly how much rubato can you get away with (they do call it “stealing time” after all) before people start to raise their eyebrows at you?

It’s fuzzy–except when it’s not.  I’m thinking of the famous disagreement between Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein on the tempi of a Brahms concerto.  Gould insisted on stunningly slow tempi for certain portions of the concerto, and Bernstein felt it necessary to make an announcement before the piece began to make the audience aware that this would be a…unique…interpretation.

Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge was deemed too vast to be the last movement of the Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130.  But some have recorded the quartet with the fugue, leaving it to the listener to make up their own mind.

Schumann described Schubert’s ninth symphony using the word’s “heavenly length”; the phrase is now more typically applied to Schubert’s late sonatas. Both Schubert’s and Beethoven’s late sonatas seem worlds unto themselves, time stretching out infinitely.

But while it seems to extend endlessly, time can also be too short.  Monday’s featured artist, Jacqueline du Pré, was forced by illness to stop performing at age 27.  Schubert died at 31, having already produced over 600 songs, nine symphonies (and he had started a tenth).  What if he had lived to 80?  What would a Schubert who lived to the time of Brahms, Bruckner, San-Saëns, and Liszt write?

Alas, we will never know.

Minutes tick by, never to return.  You can blaze through Chopin’s Minute Waltz, sure, but after listening to many feats of pianistic wizardry, I have to go with Rubinstein’s less-blazing performance.  Each note is clear, distinct, and it becomes a small jewel.

 

So today, let us make the most of our notes, and make the best music we can, in any way that we can.  For there is but one certainty regarding time:

I am definitely going to be late to choir practice…again.

Carpe musicam!