Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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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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Evil Masterminds, Organists, and Halloween–Spooky Classical Music Sources

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925

It’s getting toward Halloween here in the US and I got to thinking about spooky music.

Why is it that organ music is always considered mad scientist/evil mastermind music?

I mean, think about it: do these guys have time to be practicing their arpeggios and pedalwork?

Do they really want their hands tied up with massive nasty, gnarly chords?

Is it easy to come up with byzantine evil plans while playing the intricate counterpoint of a fugue?

Can we picture an evil mastermind wearing sensible organist shoes?

Photo via OrganMasterShoes.com

Photo via OrganMasterShoes.com

C’mon, really?

I guess we’re stuck with that image though.

So, ok, we’re going with it.  What are our options here to make folks think an evil genius lives at your house while you’re handing out candy at Halloween?

Everyone thinks of the Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor first.  Recordings of ALL of Bach’s organ music are available for free.  Or you can download a subset of more familiar pieces.  The pieces were recorded by Dr. James Kibbie on baroque organs in Germany (learn more about the project here).

Also, check out The 13 Scariest Pieces of Classical Music for Halloween (and the readers’ suggestions) for classics like Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre, and Liszt’s Totentanz, among others.

Looking for something different and original?  Try Frederik Magle’s music.  Delectably dark and hair-raising, from traditional Gothic organ to rock/classical fusion.  Here’s Origin.

Here Stockhausen presents his composition Gesang der Jünglige, which is just a little unnerving, and I imagine terrifying in the dark, played at low volume in some obscure corner.

Got 99 cents? Go to Amazon’s MP3 store for The Darkest Classical Piano Pieces, or the Little Box of Horror, or 100 Must-Have Horror Classics.  All may not be what you think of as terror-inducing but for 99 cents, one can’t quibble.

And finally, this less terrifying but fascinating mash-up of classical works by Guy Cavill, from The Frankenstein Suite, Movement 3, It’s Alive – The Frankenstein Breathes.  I like how the composers’ faces morph into one another in the video, all focused on the eyes.

Do you have any other suggestions for scary music?  What’s the most terrifying music you’ve heard?


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Haiku Wednesday: Bartolomeo Cristofori

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Cristofori fa
“il piano e il forte.”
Grazie mille.

[Cristofori makes
The pianoforte. (For this)
Thank you very much.]

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) was a maker of a variety of keyboard instruments.  While in the employ of the Medici court, he initially created harpsichords and virginals.  But they weren’t very loud.  But then he hit upon an idea to make the instrument louder.  Hit upon the strings…with a hammer.

Not like this.

Via Midiorama.com.br.

Via Midiorama.com.br.

Cristofori developed a mechanism that allowed the performer to play both loud and soft.  His name for the instrument is believed to be arpicembalo (a harp-harpsichord).  But fortepiano>pianoforte>piano stuck.

Today nine of the instruments he built, including three pianos, survive.  Here is a picture of one of them.

By Shriram Rajagopalan, via Wikimedia Commons.

One of Cristofori’s pianos. Photo by Shriram Rajagopalan, via Wikimedia Commons.

The piano continued to undergo development, in particular by John Broadwood and Sons in England. Thomas Broadwood made a gift of his finest instrument to Beethoven.  The instrument later came to the hands of Franz Liszt.  Liszt also had a Érard piano (France), which featured an innovation that allowed him to play notes in more rapid succession.  Chopin played a piano produced by the Pleyel family in France (whom you may remember from Hector Berlioz’ ill-fated engagement).

Broadwood, Érard, Pleyel, Steinway, Bösendorfer, Fazioli…the list goes on and on. Beautiful pianos made all over the world, at every price point (check out the Fazioli special models!).

Mille grazie, Bartolomeo Cristofori!

Here is a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti played on one of Cristofori’s surviving pianos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Image attributions:

Photo of a 1726 portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori. The original was lost in the Second World War. Public domain.  Via Wikimedia Commons.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolomeo_Cristofori#/media/File:BartolomeoCristofori.jpg

Member of Blue Man Group and piano. http://www.midiorama.com.br/wp-content/gallery/blue-man-group-2009/foto_bluemangroup_01.jpg

Cristofori pianoforte, 1720.  Photo by Shriram Rajagopalan (Flickr: Met-32) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APianoforte_Cristofori_1720.jpg


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My Piano Does 11

IMG_2587

My Yamaha W102. Yes, that’s an electric guitar amp to the side–we’re a multi-instrumental family.

I have a piano.  Actually, I have the piano.  The one uniquely suited to my personality and temperament.

My piano does 11.

For those who don’t know the reference, in the movie This is Spinal Tap one of the guitarists in the rock band boasts that his amplifier is better than those of other bands because it goes to 11, not the standard 10.  So it’s one louder (here’s the scene).

My piano is like that.  It’s not a subtle beast.

It is not the finest piano I have played.  My piano teacher has a Steinway that is capable of great delicacy, whisper-soft and silken, and rich full vibrant tones.  In the right hands, it can create a great variety of color.

However, a Steinway was not in my budget.  Nor was a buttery-toned Yamaha grand piano that I briefly considered.  Given its price and large footprint, it didn’t seem a viable option.

My piano is a Yamaha W102.  Its nearest current equivalent is a Yamaha U5 or U5 BB.  It is not black; it flaunts its natural walnut grain (hence the W).  It has a full composer’s desk to hold music, not just a ledge.  It is 52 inches tall, the tallest upright model, and its harp (the ironwork frame upon which the strings are stretched) is as large as the harp of a baby grand.  The W uses wood that is thicker and heavier than is used in the U series.  This results in enhanced resonance.  The warm, rich tones of both the wood and the strings endeared it to me then and have ever since.  Here’s the blog post of another person whose ear was grabbed by a Yamaha W (paragraph 7, in particular).  They called it “mellow and warm with a powerful bass.”  Exactly.

It is likely to have started its life in the home of a family in Japan.  I was told that there is no market for secondhand pianos there, so they are containered up and shipped to the US.  As fraught with peril as this journey may have been (salty air and extreme dampness are not a piano’s friend), it made its way here, unscathed, to join a roomful of other Yamaha Ws and Us, Kawais, and other makes.  These pianos are sometimes called gray-market pianos.  Here’s an article on the subject.

Its story on these shores began when my child needed a piano (the electronic keyboard I had at the time was insufficient).  I made my way to the warehouse and started testing them out one by one.  This was made slightly problematic by the fact that I didn’t know how to play a piano at the time, but such minor technicalities have never stopped me before.  So I catapulted into the search.

I tested the sound of each piano and my husband checked under the hood for mechanical soundness.  From the first chord, I knew this piano was special.  We left to think it over, but an hour later I went back–I had to have that piano.  I may have fallen in love, but I hadn’t lost my head: I left with a discount, a ten-year warranty, and t-shirts.  And a beautiful piano.

There are times when I wish it (and I) were more subtle, but I wouldn’t trade that piano for the world.

And sometimes I vainly think Liszt would have liked my piano.  He was the rock star of his time, and he regularly snapped strings during his energetic performances.

I think he could have used a piano that does 11.

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Image attribution:  Photo of Yamaha W102 by C. Gallant, 2015.


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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.