Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Leave a comment

Free Concert Webcast: Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, and a New Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev Featuring Branford Marsalis

Today, March 24, 2017, at 8PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  You can see the webcast here.  The program includes Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz, and the Suite from Romeo and Juliet by Sergei ProkofievAndrey Boreyko will conduct.

Also on the program is a new commissioned work by Gabriel Prokofiev, British composer and DJ, who is also the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev.  His Saxophone Concerto will feature soloist Branford MarsalisYou can read a little more about the composition here.

References

  1. https://gabrielprokofiev.com/
  2. http://www.branfordmarsalis.com/
Advertisements


2 Comments

Berlioz Ho Ho Ho

BerliozSantaHat001

This weekend one of the choirs I sing with presented a program of seasonal music.  The selections included a sweet lullaby by William Byrd, Schönberg’s Friede auf Erde with its surprising and beautiful chromaticism, and The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz.  I’ve talked about this interesting character before.  There is a great story associated with The Shepherds’ Farewell.  At the time people were…how shall I put this…not thrilled with Hector’s work.  Ok, a lot of people hated it, just his name being on it made them hate it.  So in 1850 he had The Shepherds’ Farewell performed but attributed it to some made-up 17th century composer named “Ducré.”

Well, they loved it.  One woman said, “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré.” [1]

That must have been sucré [sweet].

Here is The Shepherds’ Farewell.

Here’s a brief commentary on L’enfance du Christ by Sir Colin Davis.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27enfance_du_Christ


1 Comment

Haiku Wednesday – Hector Berlioz

200px-Hector_Berlioz_Crop

Hector concocted
An elaborate scheme to
Kill his fiancée.

Donning a dress, he’d
Access the house, draw his gun…
Maybe use poison.

Jilted Berlioz
Came to his senses, went back,
Wrote copiously.

Fortunately, Hector Berlioz was in Italy when he received word from his fiancée’s mother that the engagement was off, and she would be marrying the rich son of the Pleyel piano manufacturing family in France.

Furious, he decided to kill Pleyel, his fiancée, her mother, and himself.  He got a dress, wig, hat, and heavy veil as a disguise to enter their house.  He stole pistols from the music academy (why does a music academy have pistols?), and for good measure, bought strychnine and laudanum in case the pistols misfired (um…how would that work?…never mind).  Anyway, en route to France, he decided maybe this was a bad idea after all.1

Good thing too (for many reasons).  Berlioz went on to write operas, a Te Deum, a Requiem, and a host of other magnificent pieces of music.

His Requiem has special meaning for me; it was one of the small number of classical albums I had when I was growing up. The Tuba Mirum section has trumpets blaring from the four corners of the world and tympanis announcing the Final Judgment.  With my stereo and its four speakers (one in each corner of my world/room), bass turned up to beyond sane levels, the tympanis shook the floor as the trumpets blared.  Unfortunately, one of those frequencies also caused the aluminum Venetian blinds to vibrate uncontrollably, adding an annoying buzz to all that analog awesomeness.

Berlioz was my Metal before there was Metal.

Feel free to turn up your speakers as you listen to the Tuba Mirum (but not if you’re wearing headphones–the buzz you hear will not be the Venetian blinds, it will be your ears complaining bitterly).

References

  1. Cairns, David, Berlioz, Vol 1. University of California Press, 2003, pp 457-9, via Wikipedia.org.


Leave a comment

The French Connections: The Soundtrack

FrenchConnectionsCircle003

For each of the composers in the illustration I have selected a piece of music or two for your listening pleasure.  I deliberately tried not to pick the pieces the composers are best known for, so there will be no Carnival of the Animals here. The exception is Widor’s Toccata, because, well, it’s a cool piece of music, and that’s the instrument I started on (and no, I never got that far—not even close.  But one can dream).

Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande Suite Op 80

Poulenc Stabat Mater

Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No 3

Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2

Franck Violin Sonata in A Major, 4th Movement

(Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk! Thanks WQXR!)

Berlioz Reveries

Got some time?  Here’s the complete Symphonie fantastique performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Widor Suite for flute and piano

This is what Widor is known for: the Toccata from his Symphony No 5

Here’s the beginning of a Widor documentary.  If you’re an organ fan, you’ll enjoy this.

Gounod Repentir

Debussy Beau Soir

Beau soir indeed.


Leave a comment

The French Connections

FrenchConnectionsCircle003

While I was researching Maurice Ravel for last week’s Haiku Wednesday, I kept seeing connections between various French composers, more so than I had seen with other composers (or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough yet).  So I started reading about them to learn more, and found the connections fascinating.

Of course we know now about Ravel (1875-1937).  Ravel studied with Émile Decombes, a student of Chopin’s, as did Alfred Cortot, whom I mentioned in a previous post.  Later Ravel studied with Gabriel Fauré.  Ravel’s father introduced him to Erik Satie (1866-1925).  Satie at some point turned his back on Ravel, and Satie’s student Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) said (after Satie had also turned against Poulenc) “I admire him as ever, but breathe a sigh of relief at finally not having to listen to his eternal ramblings on the subject of Ravel.”1

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) studied organ under the tutelage of Camille Saint-Saëns, and the two remained close friends.  In 1871 he took the post of choirmaster at a church where the organist was Charles-Marie Widor.  The two frequently improvised organ duets.  Fauré was a charter member of the Société National de Musique founded by Saint-Saëns.  Also members were Georges Bizet (1838-1875), Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), Jules Massenet (1842-1912), and César Franck (1822-1890). 2  One of Franck’s students at the Paris Conservatory was Claude Debussy (1862-1918)3

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) studied organ at the Paris Conservatory (organ was emphasized over piano because of the greater career opportunities for organists).  As an organist he came to the attention of Hector Berlioz.   After the collapse of his marriage, Saint-Saëns became attached to Gabriel Fauré’s family.4

Charles-Marie Widor received his first organist post with the support of Saint-Saëns and Charles Gounod.  When César Franck died, Widor took his post as professor at the Paris Conservatory.  Widor was a staunch proponent of Bach’s organ music and one of his students was Albert Schweitzer.  Widor founded the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau and served as its director until 1934, at which time Maurice Ravel succeeded him.5

Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was introduced to Bach’s music by Fanny Mendelssohn.  One of Gounod’s students was Georges Bizet.  When Gounod died, the music for the service was conducted by Fauré with Saint-Saëns at the organ.6

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) became friends with Franz Liszt, when both attended a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with an overture composed by Berlioz.  Liszt was a witness at Berlioz’s marriage to Harriet Smithson.7  Liszt was also in attendance at a mass where organ improvisations were performed by César Franck.  Liszt highly praised Franck’s work and began including Franck’s work in concerts in Germany.8  Liszt is said to have called his friend Camille Saint-Saëns “the greatest organist in the world.”  Saint-Saëns dedicated his third symphony to Liszt.9

Tune in tomorrow for more on the music behind these French connections.

Resources

  1. Kelly, Barbara L, Music and Ultra-modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2013, p 57, Wikipedia entry on Maurice Ravel.
  2. Wikipedia article on Gabriel Fauré.
  3. Wikipedia article on Claude Debussy.
  4. Wikipedia article on Camille Saint-Saëns.
  5. Wikipedia article on Charles-Marie Widor.
  6. Wikipedia article on Charles Gounod.
  7. Wikipedia article on Hector Berlioz.
  8. Vallas, Leon, Cesar Franck, Trans. Hubert J. Foss. New York: Oxford Universty Press, 1951, p 127. Trans. of La veritable histoire de Cesar Franck, 1949, via Wikipedia article on Cesar Franck.
  9. Wikipedia article on Franz Liszt.


2 Comments

Opera in Pajamas

(you, not the performers.  Although that would be interesting)

Can’t make it to Milan to see an opera at La Scala?  I feel your pain.  Maybe this will help.

If you’re curious about opera, but didn’t know where to start, here’s a low-budget way (meaning, in this case, free) to see what it’s all about…in your pajamas if you’d like.

The Opera Platform website is intended for those new to opera as well as seasoned attendees and is intended to promote European opera companies.  A number of operas have been made available as video on demand and include subtitles.  A new opera is added each month, and is available on demand for six months.  See their About Us page for more details.  The site features operas by Wagner, Sibelius, and Verdi (La Traviata) to name a few, and Puccini’s La Boheme will be added soon.

Another venue for full opera performances is the Warner Classics TV channel on YouTube.  And the Metropolitan Opera offers a free 7-day trial to their Met Opera on Demand streaming service.

Need a little background info before you dive into the operas?  There are numerous books dedicated to demystifying opera (headed to the library?  Dewey decimal number 782.1).  Don’t have that much time?  Sinfini Music has put together a number of comic strips outlining the plots of famous operas.  You can find the comic strips here.

While these are great on-ramps to opera, there is no substitute for the thrill of live performance.  If you like what you hear, check the web for local opera companies and performances in your area.  There are a lot of talented folks out there who would love to have you come out and enjoy all the hard work, time, and devotion they put into their craft.   They’d also prefer that you not attend in your pajamas.

No opera in your area?  Head to your local library or favorite online merchant.  Many operas are available not only on CD but DVD as well (including BluRay).  Nothing beats a live performance, but the sound and visual quality of the recordings are typically top-notch.  I saw Les Troyens by Berlioz on BluRay and it was spectacular.

So settle into your chair, wherever it may be, and get ready for a treat.  If you see something you think is great, let us all know so we can see it too!

Postscript:  After writing this, I found two great operas on pristine LPs at my local thrift shop.  Total cost:  $3.90.

  • Wagner’s Tannhäuser, with soprano Birgit Nilsson and tenor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Deutsche Oper Berlin conducted by Otto Gerdes
  • Verdi’s Aida, with soprano Montserrat Caballé and tenor Placido Domingo, New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti.

which led me to find the Riccardo Muti’s recording label website on which one can stream Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under his direction.

Must. stop. finding. links.