Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Women in Music

music note with feminist symbol (ankh) below

They threw away half
Of all the great music that
Might have been written.

They threw away half
Of all of the great music
That could have been heard.

No time to write for
The hand that rocked the cradle
And maintained the home.
No baton left for
A matron, mom, or maiden
On the podium.

For lack of training
And of opportunity
We lost their voices…
Nearly—just a few
Managed to break down the walls
And make themselves heard.

Today is more than
Women’s Day—it’s time to rise,
Conduct, play, compose.

Today is International Women’s Day.  You may see any number of articles on Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, maybe even Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Cheney Beach.  You can follow the links to articles on each of these remarkable women in this blog.

Women were traditionally underrepresented in classical music.  What’s the situation now?

If you look at an old photograph of any orchestra, you’ll see a sea of tuxedos, and not a woman in sight (wait…maybe there’s one hidden behind the harp).  Look at a current photo, and you’ll see some women in the orchestra.  So, progress is being made.  But you’re still unlikely to find an equal distribution.

When we turn to the topic of female conductors, everyone first thinks of Marin Alsop—and then perhaps there is a long pause.   However, journalist Jessica Duchen has compiled a list of over 100 female conductors.  Duchen includes links to the conductors’ websites as well as brief bios, and these are fascinating.  But if we can name only one out of a hundred, there is still a long way to go.

Sadly, a search using the words “women classical music soloists” yields articles with titles containing the words”hottest,” “sexiest,”  and “pin-ups”…and I’m going to be ill now.

While there may be more women composers now than in previous times, a 2014 study11 found that women constitute only 15 percent of composition faculty in the top 20 music schools in the United States.  More than half of these schools have no women among the composition faculty at all.  Women constitute less than 15 percent of living composers whose works are presented by orchestras and in new-music series.11

So…

Are things better than they were?  Yes.

Has the problem of underrepresentation been solved?  No.

We still have a long way to go, but the progress that has been made is somewhat encouraging.

Below you will find a number of articles on this topic that may be of interest.

References

  1. Gregory, Alice, “A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version),”  The New York Times, December 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/02/arts/music/01womencomposers.html?_r=0
  2. “The Great Women Composers,” Classic fm, http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/great-women-composers/
  3. Rivera, Jennifer, “Where Are All the Women in Classical Music?” The Huffington Post, September 21, 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-rivera/where-are-all-the-women-i_1_b_12095342.html
  4. Tsioulcas, Anastasia, “What is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” NPR Classical Deceptive Cadence, October 9, 2013 http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem
  5. Pentreath, Rosie, “9 of the Best Contemporary Female Composers,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2017 http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-contemporary-female-composers
  6. Cooper, Elinor, “10 Female Composers You Should Know,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2016 http://www.classical-music.com/article/10-female-composers-you-should-know
  7. Duchen, Jessica, “Why the Male Domination of Classical Music Might Be Coming to an End,” The Guardian, February 28, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/feb/28/why-male-domination-of-classical-music-might-end
  8. Tilden, Imogen, “’This is not a woman’s issue’—Tackling Conducting’s Gender Problem,” an interview with Marin Alsop. The Guardian, February 6, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/06/this-is-not-a-womans-issue-tackling-conductings-gender-problem
  9. Beer, Anna, “The Sound of Silence: Classical Music’s Forgotten Women,” The Guardian, April 2, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/02/sound-silence-classical-musics-forgotten-women-caccini-strozzi
  10. Elizabeth, Jordannah, “10 Black Female Women Composers To Discover,” https://bitchmedia.org/post/10-black-female-women-composers-to-discover
  11. “Her Music: Today’s Emerging Female Composer,” WQXR, August 20, 2014, http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/


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Free Concert Webcast: Brahms, Tangos, a Bartered Bride, and More

Today I want to tell you about a free concert webcast on Saturday.  But first let me ask you this:  when you read the title, did you, for just a moment, picture Brahms dancing the tango?  No?  Ummm…me neither.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is offering a new free webcast featuring violinist Cho-Liang Lin, who will play Lalo Schifrin’s Tangos Concertantes.

Also on the program are Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, “Reformation.”

You can see the concert Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 8:00 PM EST (GMT -5) at the DSO Live webpage.  At 7:00PM you can see an informal presentation by conductor Leonard Slatkin about the program.

I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Brahms dances the tango

References

  1. http://cholianglin.com/
  2. http://www.schifrin.com/ Note: this webpage automatically plays introductory music (The Theme from Mission Impossible). In case you’re at work; don’t want the boss to get the wrong idea.  You can click “Skip intro” to stop it.

Photo attribution:  Couple doing the tango via http://angelplant1920.thoughts.com/posts/beautiful–14, modified by C. Gallant using Johannes Brahms photograph by C. Brasch, Berlin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

 


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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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Mendelssohn Autograph Sketches May Yield New Insights

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Earlier this year the Berlin State Library acquired a Felix Mendelssohn autograph from a private collection.  The pages (4 pages, 8 sides) contain sketches of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and his composition Die erste Walpurgisnacht.

The acquisition is significant because researchers had not previously had access to this material, which sheds light on the early stage of the composition process of these works.

You can see a sample of the Mendelssohn manuscript at the Berlin State Library website (click on image for a larger view).

Here is a performance of Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring pianist Ilya Yakushev.  Mendelssohn himself played at the piece’s debut.

Here you can a full performance of Die erste Walpurgisnacht.

References

Berlin State Library press release on Mendelssohn acquisition at http://staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/aktuelles/presse-news/detail/article/2016-01-26-2137/

Program notes on Piano Concerto No. 1 http://redwoodsymphony.org/history/prognotes.aspx?ID=177

Barenreiter’s description of its annotated score of Die erste Walpurgisnacht at http://www.takte-online.de/en/orchestra/detail/browse/11/artikel/mendelssohns-die-erste-walpurgisnacht-in-kritischer-neuedition/index.htm?tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=549&cHash=0fd5be150a4847b112725f7dd9bf84f4

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Image attribution: Lithograph of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Felix_Mendelssohn-Bartholdy_(AMZ_1837).png


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Free DSO Webcast: Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Mozart

Don’t miss Saturday’s free live webcast from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  That’s January 30, 2016 at 8PM EST at dso.org/live.

Here’s the program:

Mozart: Violin Concerto No 1
Mendelssohn: Incidental music for “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4

An hour before the concert there will be an informal presentation to provide more information about the program music.

The last free webcast, which included Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Ravel’s Bolero, was quite a treat.

The performances are great, and the excellent camera work makes the concert come alive.


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Lost Mendelssohn Easter Sonata Found—and it’s by Fanny, Not Felix

Fanny_Hensel_1842

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

Duke University graduate student Angela Mace discovered that the Ostersonate [Easter Sonata] formerly attributed to Felix Mendelssohn was in fact written by his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. [1]

The work had been considered lost.  It was found in the 20th century, then disappeared again.  Until recently.

Mace made the discovery after locating and examining a manuscript of the piece in a private collection.  She also determined that it had been written in 1828, and not 1829.

The piece is in Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s handwriting, and also contains stylistic elements that indicate that she is the composer. [2]

Here is a video containing a portion of the piece and a discussion.  Another brief video may be found here.

Fanny composed the music for her own wedding when her brother Felix was injured and could not produce the music in time. In fact, the recessional was composed the night before the wedding! [3]

 

FannyMendelssohnMorgengrussMS

Fanny Hensel: Morgengruss, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK (D-B) MA Ms. 174.

The above is a beautifully illustrated manuscript of Morgengruss by Fanny Hensel, courtesy of RISM, and below is a performance of a slightly different version of the pieceRISM holds a number of Hensel manuscripts, some of which have been digitized and are freely available online (look for the blue bar with an e to the right of the entry  with “Online lesen”).

And finally, here is Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Quartet in E-flat major

References

  1. http://trinity.duke.edu/node/1467
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHPfweE8iIk&feature=youtu.be
  3. https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2015/09/fanny-mendelssohn-a-pre-hensel-tale/

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Image attributions: Portrait of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFanny_Hensel_1842.jpg

Morgengruss manuscript image courtesy of RISM under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).  http://www.rism.info/en/home/newsdetails/article/2/fanny-hensel-1805-1847.html


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TGIF! Boisterous Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev

BeethovenConductsModified001

Rock on, Ludwig!

The weekend is here, finally, and there is definitely a fun, Friday night vibe in the program of tonight’s free live webcast by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with pianist Ingrid Fliter (8 PM, GMT -4).

First up is Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”).  He said, “If Haydn had lived to our era, he would have retained his compositional style but would also have absorbed something from what was new.”1 So what we have is a classical era symphony with unmistakably modern harmonies and voicings (some way higher than Haydn would have dared,2 and 2-octave leaps!3). This symphony has been called “intentionally rude but wonderful fun” and a “joyous romp.”4  Sounds like a great Friday night symphony!

Next on the program is Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Mendelssohn wrote it in 1831 after falling in love with a beautiful young pianist while traveling to Italy.5  It’s youthful, flashy music, and a delight to hear (and watch!).  The piano can’t wait to get the party started–it jumps right in before the orchestra can even state the first theme!6

The tempos of the movements tell the whole story: Molto allegro con fuoco [fiery!]; Andante (a sweet theme); Presto; Molto allegro e vivace [lively].  It’s a fun bit of music!

The concert will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, written in 1813.  The words used to describe this symphony sound more like rock than Beethoven:  “hard-driving,”7 “loud, ferocious outbursts alternating with soft, light responses,” and “raging demonic energy.”8 Wow!  Listen for the rhythm patterns that give the symphony that driving sound (heavy/light/light in movement 1 and long, short/short, long, long in movement 2).9

Can you imagine Beethoven conducting it?  Here’s a firsthand account by violinist Ludwig Spohr:

At this concert I first saw Beethoven conduct.  As often as I had heard about it, it still surprised me very much.  He was accustomed to convey the marks of expression to the orchestra by the most peculiar motions of his body.  Thus at a sforzando [strong accent] he tore his arms, which until then had been crossed on his breast, violently apart.  He crouched down at a piano [soft section], bending lower as the tone decreased.  At a crescendo [gradual increase in loudness] he raised himself by degrees until at the forte [loud section] he leapt to his full height; and often without being conscious of it, would shout aloud at the same time.10

Mosh pit Beethoven!

Even without the shouting, I’m sure it’s going to be a great concert, and I hope you’ll be there online.  If you can’t be there, DSO offers their DSO Replay program.

If you can’t make it, or if you can’t wait to hear this music, here are some performances to watch.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Ilya Yakushev

Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, Valery Gergiev conducting

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Ivan Fischer

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References

1, 2. Libbey, Ted, NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection.  NY: Workman Publishing, 1999 pp 129-130.

  1. Berger, Melvin, The Anchor Guide to Orchestral Masterpieces. NY: Anchor Books, 1995 pp 228-229.
  2. Libbey, Ted, Op. cit.

5, 6.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. p 180.

  1. Smith, Tim, NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music.  NY: Perigee Books, 2002 p 90.

8, 9, 10.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. pp 43-44.

Image attribution:  Try as I might, I could not find a source for this image, but thanks, Artist!  The sunglasses are mine though.