Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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To the Sun:  Classical Music and an Exciting NASA Mission

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

Many composers have written music to evoke the mood of seeing the rising sun, and I thought I’d bring some of this music to you today because an exciting new scientific mission is about to begin.  Early Saturday morning, NASA, the American space agency, is sending an unmanned spacecraft closer to the Sun than ever before to study its many mysteries.  It is the Parker Solar Probe.

NASA has wanted to implement this mission since the dawn of the space age, but it is only now that the technology is available to make it possible.  Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield will withstand temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1377 Celsius) while the measuring instruments in its shadow will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

You can see live coverage of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, named for pioneering scientist Eugene Parker, at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#public starting at 3:00 AM EDT (GMT-4) on Saturday, August 11, 2018 (the launch window begins at 3:33 AM).

And now to the music.  We must start with an excerpt of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, iconic sunrise music if there ever was any.

You can see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the entire piece with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra here.  And here is an audio recording of Richard Strauss conducting his own piece in 1944 with the Vienna Philharmonic.

For a calmer start to your morning, I suggest Grieg’s Morning Mood.

Here is the beautiful and haunting On the Nature of Daylight (Entropy) by Max Richter.

You may also enjoy Aulis Sallinen’s Sunrise Serenade, Op. 63 for two trumpets and orchestra.  And here is Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Op. 17.

Reaching back in time, here is Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in B flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4 “Sunrise.”

Finally, here is the oldest surviving music about the sun, nearly the oldest surviving written music, the Hymn to the Sun by Mesomedes of Crete, second century CE.

Wishing NASA the best of luck with its pioneering mission, and wishing all of you sunny days ahead!

 

Previous space-related posts you may enjoy

Haiku Wednesday:  Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Beethoven’s Cavatina–The Universe in the Palm of Your Hand

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Free Live Concert Webcast:  Baroque to Classical

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 9 PM EDT (UTC-4), The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a free live concert webcast that traces the transition from the Baroque to the Classical.  You can see the concert here.

Here’s the program:

Charles Avison: Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D Minor (after D. Scarlatti)

Jan Dismas Zelenka:  Sinfonia in A Minor for Orchestra

C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia in E Minor, Wq. 178

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 6, Morning.

 

The SPCO also has a great library of concert videos that you can access here.  You should be able to see this concert there in a short while.


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Haiku Wednesday: Sitka Spruce

Photo, looking up at a group of sitka spruce trees

Sitka spruce photo by Peter Pearsall/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Once the wind would howl
Around your supple branches.
You stood, majestic,
Among the tall trees.
A silent sentinel, you
Looked out on the world.

That was not your fate.
To be cut down in your prime
Seems all too bitter,
But keen eyes picked you
To help others see and hear
A whole inner world.

And now the sound swirls
Like snowflakes, landing softly,
Hushed and whispering;
Or hits you like hail,
Ferocious, unrelenting.
You pay it no mind,
As you once did on
An Alaskan hillside; but
Now, Sitka, you sing.

Sitka spruce is the wood most commonly used for piano soundboards due to its resonance, flexibility, and great strength.  Piano soundboards resonate and propagate the sound generated by the strings of the piano.

Today’s haiku was inspired by a documentary.  Sitka traces the restoration of the Steinway grand piano at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  The soundboard of the piano at The Phillips Collection had cracked, and this had adversely affected the sound.  Piano fans will enjoy seeing the inner workings of the instrument, and the meticulous work involved in restoration process.  The soundtrack is provided by Joseph Haydn (performed by Olivier Cavé).

And now, here is Sitka.

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Image attribution: Sitka spruce photo by Peter Pearsall/US Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cape_Meares/wildlife_and_habitat/sitka_spruce.html


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Free Online: Innovative Performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Haydn’s The Creation

 

This week, visit the website of The Opera Platform to see two innovative performances.

On April 13, 2017 at 1 PM EDT (GMT -4), see an abridged performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with an additional final chorus composed by James MacMillan.  This staged performance, called The Passion, will feature The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers and the Streetwise OperaDetails on the performance can be found here.  This performance will be available through October 12, 2017.

On April 16, 2017 at 1 PM EDT (GMT -4), see Haydn’s The Creation, staged and danced by Rambert, one of Britain’s leading dance companies.  Details on the performance can be found here.  This performance will be available through October 15, 2017.

References

The Story of Haydn’s Creationhttp://www.classical-music.com/article/story-haydns-creation.


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That Jokester Joseph Haydn!

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

The last post was kind of heavy, so I thought I’d lighten things up.  And what better way than with a joke?

In particular, Joseph Haydn’s string quartet Op. 33 No. 2, known as “The Joke.”

In this string quartet, Haydn plays with the listener’s expectations of what a string quartet “should” sound like, what the listener expects to hear.  And when we are surprised by what we hear, sometimes we laugh.  And sometimes we jump—this is, after all, the same man who wrote the “Surprise” Symphony (No. 94)You can hear the symphony’s famous second movement here (headphone/earbud listeners might want to pull them away from their ears before time stamp 0:40).

I found a great short TEDx talk by the St. Lawrence String Quartet on the last movement of “The Joke”  that provides a fun explanation of what Haydn is up to.  When the movement ends, you can’t help but chuckle.

They also have an extended discussion that includes other movements of the string quartet, and that video can be found here.

A funny point is brought out that involves the minuet (scherzo) movement.  This minuet had already showed signs of Haydn’s tinkering:  the “graceful” minuet had some starts and stops that would make it a little difficult to dance to.  Then, (in the trio section) Haydn put an interesting fingering notation over some notes.  Editors must have scratched their heads and said, “that can’t be right—play two successive notes on the same string with the same finger?!”  What you end up with, if you play it with Haydn’s fingering, is an effect that sounds like…well, a slide whistle.  It’s a funny sound, perhaps slightly inebriated-sounding, that seems to poke fun at the stately minuet.  You can hear a wonderful example of it here.

Ah, but enough explanations!  Let’s let Haydn do the talking.  Here is this wonderful string quartet in its entirety.  Enjoy!

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Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1757-circa 1805) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJoseph_Haydn.jpg


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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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Buxtehude

Portrait of Dieterich Buxtehude by Johannes Voorhout, 1674.

After writing about Haydn, and how much of his work remains generally unknown, I got to thinking about other composers whose worthy work has been overlooked.  And one name came to mind immediately.

Dieterich Buxtehude.

Why Buxtehude?

Handel went to visit him (and was offered a job, on the condition that he marry Buxtehude’s daughter—he departed shortly thereafter).  He was a distinct influence on Brahms.

Bach walked 250 miles to Lübeck to hear him play, and spent three months there absorbing his music and techniques.  Wow.  Few modern bands excite that kind of devotion…

Bach wearing t-shirts in the style of popular modern bands

Buxtehude is mainly known for his organ works.  He also, however, composed numerous works for voice, as well as chamber music.  Only the librettos of his oratorios survive.

Here is a fine example of a vocal piece by Buxtehude, Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (BuxWV92).

Chamber music fans will enjoy the Sonata in D Major for viola da gamba, violone, and harpsichord (BuxWV267)

And finally, one of Buxtehude’s better known organ works, the Prelude, Fugue, and Chaconne in C Major (BuxWV137), played here much faster than anyone else, but with great verve and precision, by Ton Koopman (side note: the organ pipes used as a background to this video seem very Monty Pythonesque to me).

Those looking for more by Buxtehude will not be disappointed by YouTube.

Need sheet music?  Go to the webpage of the International Dieterich Buxtehude Society.  Its president, Ton Koopman (whom you heard above), has recorded all of Buxtehude’s surviving music, and has made the sheet music available for download.  The downloads page also lists other online sources for Buxtehude’s music.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieterich_Buxtehude

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Image attributions: Portrait of Buxtehude, detail from the painting A Musical Party by Johannes Voorhout, 1674, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Imagebuxtehude.jpg

Portrait of J. S. Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg, modified by C. Gallant, 2016.