Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Free Concert Webcasts: Berlioz, Elgar, New Music, and Opera!

Tomorrow, 21 October 2017 at 8:00 PM EDT (GMT -5), visit dso.org/live for a performance of Harold in Italy by Hector Berlioz, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and the world premiere of Loren Loiacono’s Smothered by Sky (at link see page 19).

The Opera Platform website, long the home of free opera webcasts, is now Operavision.eu.  Operas typically remain available for viewing on the site for six months after their initial webcast, and some are available with subtitles in multiple languages.  Operas currently available on the new website include Puccini’s Tosca and Madama Butterfly, Handel’s Acis and Galatea, and Verdi’s La Traviata.  Haven’t watched opera before? Check out Operavision’s New To Opera? tab for some helpful information.

Also, opera fans, please note that Operavision will present Wagner’s entire Ring cycle in separate webcasts beginning 28 October 2017, and, on a lighter note, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on 3 November.

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Haiku Wednesday: Gigue

Dancer with Cello by Hakan Sevgen

Photograph by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016

Now it’s time to dance.
Forget, for a moment, the
Worries of the world.

If you look at the names of the movements of Bach’s cello suites, you’ll see they are dances:  allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet, bourrée, gavotte, gigue.  Look around, and you will see many pieces of classical music rooted in dance–ecossaises, ländlers, hallings, and of course, waltzes.  While they may be dances of another time and another place, you can’t help but pick up on some of their infectious rhythms.

And no one wrote a gigue like Bach.  He even wrote a gigue fugue, one of my favorites.

For your enjoyment, here is the gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4 played by Mischa Maisky.

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Image attribution:  Photograph of dancer and cello by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016, via Facebook (check out his other work, it’s brilliant!), https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154813926058478&set=a.184796868477.155176.543318477&type=3&theater


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Bach Cello Suite No. 6, Sarabande

Did you ever listen to a piece of music and have it take hold of you, and not let go?  Or have it end, and sit there, absorbing what you’ve heard, needing time to…I don’t know, be.  Sit with it quietly for a while, like an old friend.

When I heard this performance by Miklos Perenyi of the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6, that’s how I felt.  I have heard other wonderful performances, but there was something about this performance, the sound of this cello, that was particularly moving.

I hope you will savor it too.


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It’s Been a Wonderful Future: Accidental Time Travel with Bach

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).

I did some unintentional time travelling yesterday.

I was testing out a new audio cable, and decided to connect it to my audio receiver.

On a whim, I decided to try it with an LP. I randomly grabbed a record from a section of the shelf I knew would yield some favorite, and put on my headphones.

As the needle settled into the groove, I settled into my armchair.  The sound was fine.  In fact, it was superb.

I had picked out an album of Bach organ works that I’ve had since I was a teenager.  I found myself sitting in the same position I would have been in then: seated diagonally, head nestled in the wing of the armchair, leg draped over the armrest, dangling, foot keeping time.  Like then, I closed my eyes and absorbed the sound of what my mother would call “staring into space music.”

Here is the Fugue in C Minor (BWV 537) played by Ton Koopman.

Back then the world was still a mostly unknown place to me.  Germany, where Bach was from, was a far-off land where they spoke a language I didn’t understand.  I was sure I’d never get there.  People didn’t just go to Europe.  Not the folks I knew, anyway.

Then, and now, the music made me think of the soaring stained-glass windows of cathedrals that I’d seen in books.  If I opened my eyes back then, outside my window I saw soaring green trees, or the tracery of bare branches, or autumn leaves forming their own stained-glass pattern.  At dusk, the view was marred by the light of a small gas station sign beyond the woods that seemed so far off then, though it was only a mile away.

I wasn’t sure what I’d end up doing, but I was looking forward to stepping out into that great big world and starting the adventure.  As there was no internet at the time, and “blogger” would have sounded like some made-up nonsense word, well, how could I have known?

Here is the Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578) also played by Ton Koopman.

And then, the reverie was broken; an LP side only lasts so long.  And I was back to the future, now my present.

And how unexpectedly glorious that future had been.  Once I learned to drive, I passed that gas station regularly, though I didn’t recognize it and make the connection at first.  The world grew.  I learned to speak German, and have been to Germany a couple of times, though not yet to any of Bach’s towns.

And as I had listened to Bach in my current comfortable chair, I realized I understood more of what was happening, there were more “I see what you did there” moments.  I now have access to sheet music, to see for myself—and now everyone does.  And if you’ve got an internet connection, you can listen online to Bach works for organ, cello and more for free without annoying pops or crackles from the record (though they’re so familiar now I find them somewhat endearing).

I don’t know where Bach will take you, but I believe it will be a wonderful journey.

Bon voyage!

Here is the Toccata in F Major (BWV 540) played by Diane Bish.  Some folks will say this is played too fast, but I love it, it’s exciting!

List of Bach Freebies

Performances

Organ http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach/

Cello https://costanzabach.stanford.edu/

Vocal and instrumental http://allofbach.com/en/ (this website will eventually have performances of all of Bach’s compositions; read about it here)

Goldberg Variations:  http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/ and https://kimiko-piano.com/open-goldberg

Spotify users:  someone has made curated playlists for all of Bach’s works.  Read about it here.

Spotify users:  if you want to hear the Hänssler Classic complete set of Bach recordings (under the direction of Helmuth Rilling), read about it here.

Sheet music

Sheet music and, for some pieces, MIDI or mp3 files http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Bach,_Johann_Sebastian

Open Well-Tempered Clavier https://musescore.com/opengoldberg/sets/openwtc

Open Goldberg Variations  https://musescore.com/opengoldberg/goldberg-variations

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Image attribution: Recursive clocks in a snail-shell pattern. Photo Time Travel Haikus 5-7-5 by CityGypsy11, Flickr.com, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 2.0. Click here for source page.


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Happy Birthday, Chopin!

Frederic Chopin

Piano works are
What he’s known for, but there’s more
That you need to hear:

Concertos, duets,
His versions of Polish songs,
A stirring trio.

Get to know Chopin
In a whole new dimension
In non-solo works.

Now let us all say
Happy birthday to the great
Frédéric Chopin.

It is Chopin’s birthday today! Church records list his birthday as February 22, 1810, but since Chopin and his family celebrated his birthday on March 1, it is considered the correct date.

Where does one begin to write about Chopin?  He was brilliant.  His works revolutionized the piano repertoire, and enriched the world of music forever.  His mazurkas and polonaises captured the soul of Poland, his nocturnes and preludes plumbed the depths of human emotions.  Countless words have been written about his piano solo works.

So I’m going to write about his other works.

Did you know that Chopin didn’t write solely for the piano?  Certainly, there is a piano present in all his works (and he wrote a piece for two pianos, Rondo in C for Two Pianos, Op. 73, Op. posth.), but lesser known are his compositions that include other instruments.

Chopin wrote two concertos for piano and orchestra (Op. 11 and Op. 21).  There are many wonderful videos of the concertos performed at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, and you can find them here.  You can also hear and see Piano Concerto No 1 performed by Evgeny Kissin (Zubin Mehta conducting) or Martha Argerich (Jacek Kaspszyk conducting)Here is a link to Piano Concerto No 2 performed by Arthur Rubinstein (conducted by Andre Previn).

Cello fans will enjoy this video of Chopin’s Cello Sonata (Op. 65) performed by Natalia Gutman and Sviatoslav Richter, or this performance of the Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major (op. 3) performed by Daniil Shafran and Anton Ginsburg.

Here is Chopin’s Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (Op. 8), a wonderfully stirring piece of music.

Chopin also set several poems in Polish to music.  Here is one of his Polish songs for voice and piano.

And now, since it is Chopin’s birthday, here is a fun tribute to him, the song Happy Birthday in the style of Chopin, with some added improvisation.


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Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words for Cello and Piano: Beauty Without Words

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

I was originally going to write about Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words for solo piano (and I will at some point), but then I found this gem.

It is believed that Mendelssohn wrote this piece for cello and piano, titled Song Without Words, sometime around 1845.  It was published after Mendelssohn’s death and given the designation Op. 109.  The sheet music may be found here.

It was with great delight that I found this video of cellist Jacqueline du Pré performing Op. 109 (Iris du Pré, piano).  I listened to other performances, but I kept coming back to this one.  Perhaps it was the richness and sweetness of tone, or the expressiveness of the playing.  I hope you will enjoy it as well.


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A Little Monday Music: Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale

Tchaikovsky

The Valse Sentimentale is the last movement in Tchaikovsky’s work Six Pieces (Op. 51) for solo piano, composed in 1882.

You can read the history of the creation of this set of six pieces here (if you’re a Tchaikovsky fan, this website is a wealth of information; here’s the main page).  Here you can see the manuscript of the pieces in Tchaikovsky’s own hand (click on the book icon in the middle of the page).

Here is Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale performed by pianist Lucas Debargue.

There’s an interesting story behind the solo piano video presented above.  The French pianist in the video, Lucas Debargue, was awarded fourth place by the judges in the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition.  Of six finalists, there was one gold, a joint silver, a joint bronze, and fourth place.  Yet his performance was widely acclaimed, leading some to question the judges’ decisions (first place was awarded to Russian Dmitri Masleev).

Conductor Valery Gergiev, chairman of the competition, made the bold move of insisting that Debargue play at the concert showcasing the winners of the competition, and that is the performance presented above.  You can read more about the competition and the controversy here and here and here, from one of the judges.

I’m not going to get into that debate.

But I suppose if you disagree with an interpretation, any interpretation, it makes you think about how you believe it should be interpreted.  It makes you think about the music.  And that is always a good thing.  I can’t help but recall Leonard Bernstein’s disagreement with Glenn Gould over the Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, in which the two had widely differing opinions about how the piece should be played.

Interested in hearing more from the International Tchaikovsky Competition?  Want to be an unofficial judge?  The performances of participants in the piano, cello, violin, and voice competitions can be found here.  This might be the soundtrack of your Monday!

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Image attribution: Photograph of Tchaikovsky [public domain] from book Tchaikovsky by Edwin Evans.  London:  J.M. Dent & Co., New York:E.P. Dutton & Co., 1906   https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATchaikovsky_1906_Evans.PNG