Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


A virtual orchestra performance and more great free concerts

illustration of the seating chart of an orchestra with each instrument in its own box

Musicians can’t not make music.  And when creative people, well, get creative, wonderful things can happen.  What does an orchestra do when everyone has to stay home?

Watch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Seeing this video made me think of a comment by artist Janet Cardiff, highlighted in my Virtual Choirs post.  She said that visitors to her sound installation would frequently walk directly up to a speaker projecting a singer’s voice, something that you could not do with a live choir.  The visitors literally got close to the music, hearing each singer’s voice in a way that you cannot do under normal circumstances.  In the Toronto Symphony Orchestra video, you can see, frequently close up, each musician, a view that you cannot get, certainly at live performances, and even in recorded concerts.  They are all wearing different clothing, you can see them as individuals. And there is something very warm in that.

I can only hope that the resourcefulness that is now being displayed during this crisis will not be forgotten once the crisis is past, and that we will find new ways to bring more music to more people in more venues, and find ways for musicians to be justly compensated for bringing their music directly to their listeners and viewers.

So, let’s hear some more music!

Here is an article from the CBC providing details on “6 cool classical concerts to watch right now.”

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montreal is streaming concerts from its archives every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00PM ET (GMT -4).

At this link you can see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and his Sixth Symphony “Pastorale”. It is a top-notch performance.

If you find great performances or live concerts I haven’t discovered, be sure to share them with everyone in the comments.  Thanks!

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Haiku Wednesday: Thanksgiving

Cornucopia with fruit, vegetables, and sunflowers

‘Tis a gift to be
Simple; ‘tis a gift to be
Free.  And ‘tis a gift
To come down again
Where we are meant to be.  And
We will find ourselves
In the place just right:
The valley of love, delight.
Turn; we’ll come round right.

Tomorrow in the United States Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving.  For those who don’t know the story of the first Thanksgiving, people that we call the Pilgrims came to America hoping to start a new life in 1620.  Half of them died during the first winter.  The following year at harvest time the survivors had a great feast with their neighbors, the Native Americans of the region.

Thinking about this holiday and the music of America, Aaron Copland came to mind.  His Appalachian Spring includes an American folk tune, the Shaker song Simple Gifts, the words of which are paraphrased in the haiku above.

Today’s video is the portion of Appalachian Spring that uses Simple Gifts as a theme.  The ballet performed to Copland’s music was choreographed by Martha Graham.  This performance was filmed in 1959.

No matter where you are, I hope you will enjoy the company of family, friends, and colleagues tomorrow, and perhaps give a thought to what you are thankful for.




Image attribution: Cornucopia image courtesy of,


Haiku Wednesday: Nadia Boulanger

Photograph of Nadia Boulanger, 1925.

Nadia Boulanger, 1925.

Nadia Boulanger
Teacher to great composers
Quietly excelled

“Nadia Boulanger knew everything there was to know about music; she knew the oldest and the latest music, pre-Bach and post-Stravinsky, and knew it cold.  All technical know-how was at her fingertips: harmonic transposition, the figured bass, score reading, organ registration, instrumental techniques, structural analyses, the school fugue and the free fugue, the Greek modes and Gregorian chant.  Needless to say this list is far from exhaustive.”1

Aaron Copland, from On Music

When you read album liner notes, music books, profiles of performers and composers, you’ll start to see the name Nadia Boulanger popping up regularly.  Here’s why.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a composer and conductor, pianist and organist, but is perhaps best known as a teacher.  Here are only some of her students:

Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Dinu Lipatti, Vigil Thomson, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass, Ástor Piazzolla, Elliott Carter, and Quincy Jones.

She was the first woman to conduct the following orchestras:

BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington National Symphony, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Society London.

Boulanger studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and won several prizes while she was there.  She studied composition with Gabriel Fauré.  She became friends with Fauré, poet Paul Valéry, and Igor Stravinsky.

She founded the French Music School for Americans in Fontainebleau, and this was a magnet for American composers in the 1920s  (however, she told Gershwin, as had Ravel, “I can teach you nothing”).2  American composers were drawn by her rigorous instruction and encyclopedic knowledge of the repertoire.

She visited Great Britain and the US on numerous occasions to teach and conduct, and taught at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore during World War II.  She returned to France after the war.  She taught until nearly the very end, and died at age 92.

American composer Quincy Jones said, “Nadia Boulanger used to tell me all the time, ‘Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being.’ It’s okay to play fast and all that other stuff, but unless you have a life experience, and have something to say that you’ve lived, you have nothing to contribute at all.”3

Because of her many students, and the great influence she had upon them, Nadia Boulanger continues to cast a long shadow in the music history of the 20th century.

Here is Nadia Boulanger speaking about music and genius.

Here is her Fantaisie pour piano et orchestra


  1. Copland, Aaron, On Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1963, pp. 87-88.
  2. Rosenstiel, Leonie and Rosenstiel, Annette, Nadia Boulanger: A Life in Music. New York:  W. W. Norton & Co, 1982, p 216.


Image attribution: Photograph of Nadia Boulanger, 1925 by Edmond Joaillier, Paris (Bibliothèque nationale de France) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Haiku Wednesday: Classic Books on Classical Music

Photo of stack of books about classical music

Richard Taruskin
Howard Goodall, Burkholder,
Grout, and Palisca.

Aaron Copland and
Leonard Bernstein, Grove, Schonberg,
And Willi Apel.

Need some history?
Explanations, or old scores?
Then seek them all out.

I just finished reading Howard Goodall’s The Story of Music, and I highly recommend it.  Goodall does a fantastic job of presenting the development of music from prehistory to today in language that everyone can understand.  You don’t have to read music, or have studied music.  You won’t get bogged down in terminology.  And it is very entertaining.  There was also a companion tv series, but sadly it is not available on DVD.  It too was very well done, very lively.  You may be able to find recordings of the original series on the internet.

I got to thinking about classic books that provide an in-depth look at western music and music history, and I wanted to let you know about some of them.  Some of these are for reading, some for reference.  This list is far from exhaustive.  You may want to leave a comment if you know of a great classic resource that I’ve omitted that you’d like to share.

So who are these people in the haiku?

Richard Taruskin is the author of The Oxford History of Western Music, a five-volume set that reaches from the time of early notation to the late 20th century.  Taruskin and Piero Weiss are the editors of Music in the Western World, which is a phenomenal collection of primary-source documents.  You can read excerpts of the letters of Monteverdi, or CPE Bach’s writing on playing keyboard instruments.  Or Josef von Spaun’s personal recollections of Schubert.

Howard Goodall is the author of not only The Story of Music, but also Big Bangs, in which he discusses revolutionary developments in music history, such as the development of notation and equal temperament.  Big Bangs is also available in DVD format.  Again, an excellent, easy to understand exposition.

Burkholder, Grout, and Palisca are the authors of the current ninth edition of A History of Western Music.  My ancient third edition is by Grout alone.  The latest edition incorporates music of the twenty-first century and permits streaming of all the repertoire in the Norton Anthology of Western Music.  As in Taruskin’s five-volume tome, you will find a wealth of information, abundant detail, and sheet music to illustrate the discussion.  BG&P are well known to many university music students.

Aaron Copland’s What To Listen for in Music will help you learn to identify elements of music such as rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone.  It will also teach you about different forms of music, such as the sonata, fugue, and variations.

Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music takes a different approach.  He begins with a series of imaginary conversations to get at the meaning of music and other topics.  The second half of the book includes transcripts of some of his early Omnibus television programs on Beethoven, jazz, conducting, Bach, and opera, among other topics.  Later, Bernstein hosted the incomparable Young People’s Concerts, which are available on DVD.

Grove.  One word that speaks volumes.  20 actually.  But it’s not a person.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the comprehensive source of information on all things musical.  There is also a Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music.

Harold C. Schonberg is the author of The Lives of the Great Composers, The Great Conductors, and The Great Pianists.  The slant is more biographical than analytical, and if you love a good biography, you’ll enjoy Schonberg.

I include Willi Apel because he and Archibald T. Davison are the editors of the two-volume Historical Anthology of Music.  These are some meaty HAMs, two volumes of music scores for the period before the Classical era of classical music.  The Norton Anthology of Western Music covers a greater span of time, but there is something special about this collection.  Norton looks like regular sheet music.  And here is a slice of HAM (here’s L’Homme armé, which I wrote about recently):

Song L'homme arme and Kyrie of mass of same name by Dufay

And finally, let me not forget Charles Rosen, whose books The Classical Style, Sonata Forms, and others provide an in-depth treatment of these very specialized topics.

All of these are books are available through your favorite book vendor.  Some are available as ebooks.  For the budget-minded, look to the library, or eBay (or Amazon marketplace) for earlier editions of these classic works (eBay–HAMs–$10–just sayin’).


Bernstein, Leonard, The Joy of Music. Amadeus Press, 2004.

Burkholder, J. Peter, Grout, Donald Jay, and Palisca, Claude V., A History of Western Music, Ninth Edition. W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.

Burkholder, J. Peter, and Palisca, Claude V., The Norton Anthology of Western Music.  W. W. Norton & Co, 2014.

Copland, Aaron, What To Listen for in Music.  Various publishers, Copyright Aaron Copland 1985.

Davison, Archibald T., and Apel, Willi,  Willi Apel, Historical Anthology of Music.  Harvard University Press, 1949.

Goodall, Howard, Big Bangs.  Vintage (Rand), 2001.

Goodall, Howard, The Story of Music.  Pegasus, 2015.

Rosen, Charles , Sonata Forms.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1988.

Rosen, Charles, The Classical Style.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1998.

Sadie, Stanley, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, Inc., 1995.

Sadie, Stanley, The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music.  W. W. Norton & Co., 1994.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Lives of the Great Composers. W. W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Great Conductors. Simon & Schuster, 1967.

Schonberg, Harold C., The Great Pianists. Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Taruskin, Richard, The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Weiss, Piero and Taruskin, Richard, eds., Music in the Western World.  Schirmer Books, 2007.


Image attributions: C. Gallant, 2016.