Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Celesta

‘Tis the season for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and one of the most well-known pieces from that work is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So how do you get that magical tinkling sound?  The celesta.

The celesta is a keyboard instrument that produces its sound through the striking of metal plates with little hammers connected to the keys, in the same way that pianos strike strings.

Here is a video from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic introducing the celesta.

If you are interested in a more in-depth treatment of the mechanics and the manufacturing of celestas, see this video from Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH.

Would you like to see The Nutcracker in its entirety?  You can!  EuroArts presents it on YouTube (with minimal commercial interruption).  You can find the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at time stamp 1:29:00.  If you would like to see a purely orchestral version, you can see The Nutcracker performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 1:22:00).

But the celesta doesn’t go back in the storage room after the Christmas season!  It is used in a number of other works, namely Mahler’s Symphony No. 6Symphony No. 8, and Das Lied von der Erde, as well as several symphonies by Shostakovich.  A wonderful use of the celesta can be found in Gustav Holst’s The Planets in the mystical final movement Neptune.

It can also be found in Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, and many operas.

Listen, and I think you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find the celesta adding that extra bit of magic to the music around you!


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A Run of Notes: The Worldwide WordPress 5k

sneakers with treble clefs on lacesThis week WordPress bloggers around the world will be running or walking five kilometers as part of the Worldwide WordPress 5k.

As a runner, I was ready to step up to the challenge.  But to stay true to the blog, I knew I wanted to talk about classical music.  So I thought I’d talk about the music that gets me through a typical five mile run.

The first leg of my run is uphill, which is a pain going out, but great coming back!  To avoid starting out too fast, I typically pick something slow.

If I’m in a particularly Early Music mood, I enjoy listening to The Sixteen’s Allegri: Miserere CD, which contains Lotti’s Crucifixus, Allegri’s Miserere, and Palestrina’s Stabat Mater and Missa Papae Marcelli.

The slow tempos keep me focused, and the CD makes for a great overall meditative run, but I’m not setting any records.

Piano fans might like the Goldberg Variations.  But if you’re a Gould fan, pick ’55 not ’81 or you’ll never make it up the hill (if you’re not familiar with these recordings, read this article).

Some days I need a little more help getting up that hill, or every hill for that matter.  Twitter followers may remember this post:

Liszt…I think he could get you up a hill, over a brick wall, and through a field of flames.  Here, listen to Transcendental Etude No. 8.

Don’t you feel more heroic already?  Makes you want to don a superhero cape and strike a pose on a hilltop.  But if you peek at the sheet music, you’ll find that the person sitting on that piano bench just got a better workout than you did running up that hill!

If you’re looking for an assortment of classical music for your workout, you might consider All You Need Classics: Workout, currently available as a digital download from Amazon for 99 cents.  You might want, as some reviewers have suggested, to edit the playlist to get the tempos you’d prefer for your workout.  They vary widely, and some items on the album will leave you wondering what they have to do with workouts.

I’m not sure I can recommend 30 Must-Have Classical Marches (also 99 cents) for this purpose (which you’d think would be better) because of its inclusion of the Wedding March (running to or away?) and … Chopin’s Funeral March.  Not good as telephone on-hold music either (especially when you’ve been on hold for over 30 minutes, like I was, and are pessimistic of ever reaching a human in your lifetime).

For record-breaking runs, I prefer something more along the line of Heavy Classix 1 (and 2), or collections like them, that focus on the loud, intense, and fast .  Though I must say I’m not keen to run to Sabre Dance—that’s music for plate spinning.  Oddly, though in my mind I connect that music with that variety act, I could find no videos that did.

The 5/4 time of Mars from Holst’s The Planets makes me run funny.

Ok, so let’s assume we’ve made it to the halfway point.  What’s good music for getting back home?

Well, if you’re a piano fan, I suggest Chopin’s 24 Preludes (Op. 28)–perhaps minus the Largos and Lentos.

Or, if you’re feeling heroic after the Liszt, how about Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, Eroica?

No matter what you pick, it’s fantastic to be out in nature listening to classical music.

If any runners out there have suggestions for great selections, let us all know!

Below are some websites with playlists.  Also check Spotify and YouTube.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/100568-runners-classical-playlist/

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/50-running-classics-marathon/id849703931

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2012/01/03/music-for-running-jogging

Here’s an article on finding the beats per minute of your music to get the tempo you want for your workout http://gizmodo.com/5906815/the-most-mathematically-perfect-playlist-for-running

 


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Memorial Day

Battlefield memorial, helmet on rifle, World War I

Battlefield memorial, World War I.

Today in the US we commemorate those who have died while serving in the armed forces.

There is an abundance of music written for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Charles Ives’s Decoration Day (what Memorial Day was called at an earlier time in America) incorporates Taps into his depiction of Memorial Day proceedings in New England.  Here is a performance of Decoration Day.

Walt Whitman’s poem Dirge for Two Veterans has been set to music by a number of composers.  Here are links to performances of settings of this poem by Holst, Kurt Weill, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Maurice Ravel wrote Le Tombeau de Couperin, a suite for solo piano in six movements.  Each movement is dedicated to a friend who lost his life in World War I.  A performance of Le Tombeau de Couperin can be found here.

Frank Bridge’s intense Piano Sonata was written in memory of a friend who was killed in World War I.  You can hear it here.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was first performed at the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II.  The poignancy of the piece is heightened by the use of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action one week before the end of World War I.  A performance can be found here.  A short documentary on War Requiem from the Royal Opera House can be found here.  A recording of a moving performance at Coventry Cathedral is available on DVD.

Sadly, I’m sure there are other notable works that I’ve omitted with a similar origin.  It is utterly human and noble to try to create beauty from loss.

I salute the bravery of those who serve.

I honor the memory of those we have lost.

Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines Memorial Service

Boots, rifle, dog tags, and kevlar helmet stand in solitude to honor Cpl. Orville Gerena, Lance Cpl. David Parr, and PFC Jacob Spann during a service held by Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq Feb. 18, 2006. The three Charlie Company Marines were killed conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

References

Wounded Warriors Family Support http://www.wwfs.org/wounded-warriors-family-support/information-main/about-us

Fisher House Foundation https://www.fisherhouse.org/about/

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) http://www.taps.org/about/

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Image attributions:

Helmet and Rifle, World War I.  Courtesy of Getty Images Hulton Collection. http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/battlefield-grave-high-res-stock-photography/HH8040-001

Helmet and Rifle, 2006, Iraq.  22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit website http://www.22ndmeu.marines.mil/News/ArticleView/tabid/196/Article/510146/22nd-meu-blt-12-marines-mourn-the-loss-of-three-warriors.aspx


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Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s New Season of Free Concert Webcasts Begins

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will kick off its new series of free concerts via webcast on Saturday, October 3 at 8 PM EDT. To quote their announcement, “French pianist extraordinaire Jean-Yves Thibaudet returns to Detroit with Gershwin’s jazzy Concerto in F, and Leonard Slatkin conducts Strauss’ romantic suite from the comic opera, Der Rosenkavalier.”  Here’s the full program:

BERLIOZ Roman Carnival Overture
GERSHWIN Concerto in F
JACOB DRUCKMAN Mirage
STRAUSS Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

The DSO has been compiling a web-based archive of past performances, dubbed “DSO Replay.”   You can access over 100 pieces of music on demand for a $50 contribution to the DSO Annual Fund.  They also have a number of performances available for free on the DSO YouTube channel.

Here’s a taste:  the DSO performing “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.