Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Haiku Wednesday: Toccata

Flashing fingers fly
And dance across the keyboard
Weaving their magic.

Feet too join the dance
Executing bass figures,
Sliding as on ice.

The word toccata
Means to touch—fingers, yes, and
Heart and soul and mind.

The toccata is by nature a flashy piece of music.  It typically includes fast runs of notes, and can sound like an improvisation.  It is a showcase for a musician’s skills.  Toccatas are typically written for a keyboard instrument, but that’s not a requirement—toccatas have been written for string instruments, and even for orchestra (the prelude to Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo is a toccata).  While the form had its heyday in the Baroque period, with Bach, master improviser, at the summit (Toccata in D Minor, the toccata everyone knows), the form never entirely went away.

Schumann wrote a Toccata in C (Op. 7) which he believed was the most difficult music at the time.  In this video, you can follow the sheet music, which will give you an idea of the complexity.  Liszt also gave it a whirl (Toccata, S. 197a).

Ravel included a toccata in his Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes is a toccata as well.  One can also look to the finale of Widor’s Symphony No. 5 for a fine example of a toccata.  You can find some videos of the finale here, including Widor himself playing the toccata.

Khachaturian wrote a toccata that became very popular (the suite it came from is nearly forgotten).  The link features pianist Lev Oborin, who was the first to perform it.

For some real flash (and the piece that prompted this post) check out Prokofiev’s Toccata Op. 11.  Here it is on a piano.  Now add feet:  here is the same toccata on an organ.

Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto begins with a toccata.  The last movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 8 contains a toccata.  Also check out John Rutter’s Toccata in 7.

And now for the strings!  The last movement of John Adams’s Violin Concerto contains a toccata, and Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 5, a viola concerto, also contains a toccata (he also wrote a Toccata for a Mechanical Piano, meaning a player piano, which you can see here).

If you’re ever having a blah day, and need a quick pick-me-up, try a toccata!

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Want to Binge Watch Opera?  Want to Give Opera a Try for the First Time?

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

Opera fans, this post is for you!  Not an opera fan yet?  This is also for you!  The OperaVision website and the OperaVision YouTube channel have a wide variety of operas for you to enjoy (or just sample, if you’d like).   The operas are available on demand, free of charge, no login necessary.

Here’s some of what’s currently available on demand:

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Handel: Semele

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

Martinu: Juliette

Mascagni and Leoncavallo: Cavalleria rusticana and I Pagliacci

Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Offenbach: Blaubart

Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Puccini: Turandot

Verdi: Aida

Wagner: the entire Ring cycle

Here’s what’s coming up in April:

April 1   Wagner:  Parsifal

April 2   Rossini Gala: Homage to Conductor Alberto Zedda featuring a number of overtures and selections from Rossini’s operas.

April 8   Verdi: Il corsaro

April 14 Verdi: La Traviata

April 26: Donizetti: La Favorite


What if you’re not sold on the idea of opera?  Do you think language will be a barrier?  These operas have subtitles in a number of languages.  Don’t know how to get into opera?  Check out OperaVision’s New to Opera? tab.  Not sure if you can devote a couple hours in one sitting?  Then watching from home is perfect!  You can take a break whenever you want and come back whenever you want (just remember to write down the timestamp where you stopped).  It’s a great no-risk opportunity to sample a variety of different opera styles or find a new favorite.

If you watch something that you like, let us all know about it!

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Free On-Demand Viewing of 10 Operas for the European Opera Days Celebration

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

The Opera Platform will present ten operas as part of the European Opera Days celebration, May 5-14, 2017.  On-demand viewing begins at midnight CET (11PM UTC; 7PM EDT).  Here’s what you can see:

Ginestera: Bomarzo from the Teatro Real Madrid

Bizet: Carmen, two performances, from the Latvian National Opera and the Opéra de Lyon

Vivaldi: Farnace from the Opéra National du Rhin Strasbourg

Janáček: Foxie! Cunning Little Vixen from La Monnaie De Munt Brussels

Rossini: Il Turco in Italia from the Bergen National Opera

Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea from Opéra de Lille

Charpentier: Médée from Theater Basel

Thordarson (Þórðarson): Ragnheiður

Mozart: The Magic Flute (set in outer space) from Den Norske Opera Oslo

Learn more about European Opera Days and the featured operas here.

See other operas currently available on The Opera Platform here.


L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, Part 2

Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Friedrich Rehberg, 1812

In yesterday’s post, I told you about a webcast of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo presented by The Opera Platform and the Berlin Komische Oper.

Today, I thought I would provide you with a more traditional performance of this opera so you can compare them.  This performance was presented by the Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, and the orchestra, playing period instruments, is conducted by Jordi Savall.   In addition, the orchestra members are wearing what appear to be period clothing styles, pretty cool!

Yesterday’s performance was re-orchestrated by composer Elena Kats-Chernin using modern instruments.

Below you can do your own quick head-to-head comparison using the aria presented in yesterday’s post.  Yesterday’s aria is in German, today’s in the original Italian.

Here is the aria from yesterday’s post

Here is the same aria in the traditional presentation.

So, what do you think?

Oh, and here are a few more references on Monteverdi and the origins of opera.


The Root of All Opera: Monteverdi’s ‘Orfeo’,

Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Invention of Opera,,monteverdi-s-l-orfeo-and-the-invention-of-opera.aspx.


Image attribution: Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Friedrich Rehberg, 1812.


Free Opera Webcast:  L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi

Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Edward Poynter

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo recounts the ancient story of Orpheus, who after celebrating his wedding, must descend to Hades in a quest to bring back Eurydice, his bride, who has died of a snake bite.  After beguiling the powers that be with song, he is told that he may reclaim Eurydice–but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?):  he cannot look back at her to see if she is following as he leads her back to the world of the living.

L’Orfeo is one of the first operas, written in 1607, and it is still performed today.  Monteverdi didn’t invent opera (Jacopo Peri did), but as Howard Goodall puts it, Monteverdi was the first one to write good opera.1

You can now see Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for free on The Opera Platform.  The opera is presented by the Komische Oper Berlin, with new orchestration by Elena Kats-Chernin.  The opera is performed in German.  There are no subtitles, but here are some libretto links:  in German, in English and ItalianThe full score may be found here.

The opera will be available until June 30, 2017.  Here’s the trailer.

And here you can see a lively aria from the opera.  This does not sound like music from 1607!   I hope you will enjoy it.



  1. BBC Howard Goodall’s Story of Music Episode 1 of 6: The Age of Discovery (time stamp 53:18); also Goodall, Howard, The Story of Music. New York: Penguin Books, 2013, pp. 69-74.


Image attribution: Orpheus and Eurydice, painting by Edward Poynter, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, .