Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Poster showing the outline of the Voyager spacecraft against a blue and black painted background representing space

Beethoven, Mozart,
Bach wrote music for all time,
And now, all of space.

Bach traveled on foot
Over two hundred miles to
Hear great music, learn.

Now his music flies
Beyond the sun’s reach, into
Interstellar space.

This week NASA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.  When Voyager 1 and 2 were launched, each carried a golden record containing images and the sounds of Earth.  Along with greetings in over 50 human languages, whale song, and sounds of nature, there was a selection of the world’s music, including classical music.

One of the spacecraft has now left our solar system and is in interstellar space; the other will be there soon.  And as they travel through the dark and empty space between the stars, our “silent ambassadors”1 carry the story of who we are.  Here are the classical selections chosen for the record:

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor.

Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from Partita No. 3 in E major for violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux

Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No. 1, performed by Glenn Gould, piano.

Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor.

Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by the Budapest String Quartet (read more about the Cavatina here).

Holborne, “The Fairie Round”, performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London.

Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, No. 14, performed by Edda Moser, soprano and the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor.

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, performed by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor.

Bach walked 250 miles to hear the music of Dieterich Buxtehude and learn from him. The Voyager spacecraft are now 10-12 billion miles from Earth and are outward bound at around 40,000 miles per hour.  They’re still sending back fascinating and valuable data. Like Bach, they have traveled a long way in the pursuit of knowledge.  And the results have been glorious.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and two moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

What music would you select to represent all of us?

References

  1.  https://www.space.com/37860-voyager-mission-40-years-ed-stone-interview.html
  2.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/voyager-nasa-exploring-unknown-1.4267178
  3. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/whats-on-the-record/music/
  4. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/index.html
  5. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

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Image attribution:  Like the image? Download it (and more) for free at https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/

Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/images-voyager-took/saturn/.

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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.


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Haiku “Wednesday”: Better Late than Never

Frederic Chopin

Consider Chopin,
Whose pianistic brilliance
Reached beyond the grave:

His unpublished works
Were supposed to be destroyed;
But fate intervened.

But then sometimes fate
Abruptly ends the music–
Sometimes in mid-line.

These posthumous works
Let the creative candle
Burn a bit longer,

Another insight
Into the life and soul of
A voice lost to us.

Work gets interrupted, whether it’s the humble writing of a blog, or the composition of a symphony.   Sometimes things are…terminally interrupted, or lie finished, but unpublished, languishing long after a composer’s death.

Chopin requested that all unpublished works that were “not worthy of me” be destroyed after his death.1  But Chopin’s mother and sisters countermanded that, and had Chopin’s friend Julian Fontana pick out the best pieces, which were then published and cataloged as posthumous works.2,3

And this is hardly a unique case.  After Schubert’s death, some of his unpublished songs were gathered into a song cycle that was called Schwanengesang (Swan Song).  While some of the songs appeared on consecutive pages in Schubert’s manuscript version, by no means were all of the songs unambiguously meant to be presented together, and his last song, Taubenpost, was clearly added by the publisher.4

And then there is the matter of incomplete works.  Schubert’s eighth symphony remained unfinished at the time of his death.  Mozart’s Requiem was incomplete—he had written sketches for several movements, and it fell to Franz Süssmayr to complete it, who added some movements of his own for good measure.

Bach’s The Art of Fugue ends in the middle of a fugue.  Mahler’s last symphony was unfinished, and Puccini’s opera Turandot was missing part of the finale at the time of his death.5

Last page of Bach's The Art of Fugue

Last page of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. The note written by CPE Bach says, “in this fugue, where the name B A C H is introduced in the countersubject, the composer died.”

In some cases, the works are presented as is (Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9).  But given the human nature to tinker, some latter-day composers have tried their hand at completing some of these incomplete works based on the composer’s sketches (see here for a list).  Not all of these extrapolations have been universally accepted.  They are interesting experiments though.

Some works that see the light of day only posthumously may be awkward yearbook pictures from a composer’s youth, others unsuccessful experiments that the composer neglected to pitch into the fireplace.  Others, gems that lacked a bit of polishing and a publisher.  Yet all give one more glimpse into the composer’s life, like finding a photo of a relative long gone.  I cannot help but quote Douglas Hofstadter’s poignant reference to a Chopin étude (please forgive the length) from his book I Am a Strange Loop.6

One gloomy day in early 1991, a couple of months after my father died, I was standing in the kitchen of my parents’ house, and my mother, looking at a sweet and touching photograph of my father taken perhaps fifteen years earlier, aid to me, with a note of despair, “What meaning does that photograph have? None at all. It’s just a flat piece of paper with dark spots on it here and there. It’s useless.” The bleakness of my mother’s grief-drenched remark set my head spinning because I knew instinctively that I disagreed with her, but I did not quite know how to express to her the way I felt the photograph should be considered.

After a few minutes of emotional pondering—soul-searching, quite literally—I hit upon an analogy that I felt could convey to my mother my point of view, and which I hoped might lend her at least a tiny degree of consolation. What I said to her was along the following lines.

“In the living room we have a book of the Chopin études for piano. All of its pages are just pieces of paper with dark marks on them, just as two-dimensional and flat and foldable as the photograph of Dad—and yet, think of the powerful effect that they have had on people all over the world for 150 years now.  Thanks to those black marks on those flat sheets of paper, untold thousands of people have collectively spent millions of hours moving their fingers over the keyboards of pianos in complicated patterns, producing sounds that give them indescribable pleasure and a sense of great meaning.  Those pianists in turn have conveyed to many millions of listeners, including you and me, the profound emotions that churned in Frédéric Chopin’s heart, thus affording all of us some partial access to Chopin’s interiority—to the experience of living in the head, or rather the soul, of Frédéric Chopin. The marks on those sheets of paper are no less than soul-shards—scattered remnants of the shattered soul of Frédéric Chopin. Each of those strange geometries of notes has a unique power to bring back to life, inside our brains, some tiny fragment of the internal experiences of another human being—his sufferings, his joys, his deepest passions and tensions—and we thereby know, at least in part, what it was like to be that human being, and many people feel intense love for him.  In just as potent a fashion, looking at that photograph of Dad brings back, to us who knew him intimately, the clearest memory of his smile and his gentleness, activates inside our living brains some of the most central representations of him that survive in us, makes little fragments of his soul dance again, but in the medium of brains other than his own.   Like the score to a Chopin étude, that photograph is a soul-shard of someone departed and it is something we should cherish as long as we live.”

 

I think it’s appropriate to close with a work that might never have been heard: Chopin’s Nocturne in C -sharp minor.

References

  1. http://www.radiochopin.org/episodes/item/862-episode-163-fryderyk-posthumous-chopin-polonaise-in-b-flat-minor-adieu-a-guillaume-kolberg
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscellaneous_compositions_(Chopin)
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_compositions_by_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Chopin_by_opus_number#Published_posthumously_2
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwanengesang
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfinished_creative_work
  6. Hofstadter, Douglas R., I Am a Strange Loop. New York: Basic Books, 2007 pp 9-10.

Image attribution: Final page of Bach’s The Art of Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. (Berlin State Library, Germany.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABach-unfinishedfugue.jpg .  The note at the end, written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, says, “in this fugue, where the name B A C H is introduced in the countersubject, the composer died.”


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Mozart Mania: Over 8 Hours of Free Webcasts Now Available!

Mozart

More Mozart than you can shake a baton at!

More Mozart than you can Handel!

Ok, I’ll stop now.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has made all six programs of its MozartFest concert series available on YouTube until March 3, 2017.  That’s over eight hours of music available for your viewing and listening enjoyment.  Here’s the link for the “Mo-Fest BingeFest playlist.”

Here’s what you can see.

Overtures!

to Cosi fan Tutte

to Don Giovanni

to La Clemenza di Tito

to The Marriage of Figaro

to The Magic Flute

to The Abduction from the Seraglio

Concertos!

Bassoon Concerto

Flute Concerto

Concerto for Flute and Harp (exquisite!)

Horn Concertos 1, 2, 3, and 4

Oboe Concerto

Symphonies!

No 35, “Haffner”

No 36, “Linz”

No. 38, “Prague”

No. 39

No. 40

No. 41, “Jupiter”

But wait, there’s more!

Eine kleine Nachtmusik

Concertone

Sinfonia Concertante

You can also see works by Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, Bruckner, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and more on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra channel.  Click the Videos tab to see what’s available.


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From Prague to Jupiter—Mozart Symphonies: Free Live Webcast Today!

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is presenting the final program in its MozartFest today, February 4, 2017, at 8:00PM EST (GMT -5).  Here’s the program:

Symphony No 38, “Prague”

Concerto for Flute and Harp

Symphony No 41, “Jupiter”

What a fantastic lineup!  There will be a preconcert presentation, “Mozart from Practical to Sublime” at 7:00PM EST.  And if you’d like to brush up on how a harp works before hearing the delightful Concerto for Flute and Harp, you can read my harp post here.

You can see the webcast at http://dso.org/live.  Enjoy!

 

References

Symphony No. 38

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._38_(Mozart)

https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2013/oct/01/symphony-guide-mozart-38-prague-tom-service

Concerto for Flute and Harp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerto_for_Flute,_Harp,_and_Orchestra_(Mozart)

Symphony No 41

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._41_(Mozart)

https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/may/27/symphony-guide-mozart-41st-jupiter-tom-service


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Night Music in the Morning: Mozart’s Nachtmusik and More Free at the DSO

I wear my sunglasses at night.

On Friday, February 3, 2017 at 10:45 AM (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony will feature another free concert webcast in its MozartFest series.  Here’s the program:

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Symphony No 35, “Haffner”

Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio

Symphony No. 36, “Linz”

You can see it at http://www.dso.org/live.


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Haiku Wednesday: Antonio Salieri

Portrait of Antonio Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler

They say he poisoned
Amadeus Mozart; but
That is not the truth.

And then they called him
A second-rate composer;
If he was so bad,

Why then did Schubert,
Liszt, Beethoven, and Czerny
Call him their teacher?

He’s been much maligned,
Old Antonio Salieri.
Here’s the real story.

If you ask people who Antonio Salieri was, the two most likely answers might be

“Who?”

or

“Isn’t he the guy who poisoned Mozart?”

Since I’ve been pointing you in the direction of a series of free Mozart concerts in the last few weeks (more to come—stay tuned!), I thought it only fair that I clear up some of the misunderstandings about Salieri.

First, Salieri didn’t poison Mozart.  Though the two had their differences, they respected each other.  Salieri produced a revival of Mozart’s Figaro in Vienna (when he had the opportunity to produce an opera of his own), and Mozart himself wrote of Salieri’s enthusiastic reactions during a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute that the two attended together.1 A collaboration between Salieri and Mozart, once considered lost, was found in 2016.  After Mozart’s death, Salieri taught his son, Franz Xaver Mozart.

Salieri’s students included the composers mentioned above, and more.2 Students were keen to learn about vocal writing from him, as Salieri was a highly-regarded figure and a very successful opera composer.  But Salieri didn’t always get it right: fortunately, Schubert ignored Salieri’s disdain for the German Lied,3 and went on to write over 600 of them.  Salieri taught most of his students for free, remembering how one of his mentors had once taught him for free.  I think it’s fun to note that, “from time to time Salieri treated his pupils, Schubert among them, to ice cream, which was obtainable from a lemonade kiosk….”4  Picture Salieri, Schubert, and other students standing on a Vienna street corner eating ice cream!

As for the second-rate composer jibe … well, when you’re constantly being compared to Mozart, that’s a no-win situation, isn’t it?  The criticism is typically leveled at his non-operatic works.  You can judge for yourself:  more of his secular and religious orchestral and chamber works may be found here.  Here is Salieri’s lively Sinfonia Veneziana.

When it came to opera, however, Salieri was an innovator.  He would mix aspects of serious and comic opera, use established singing styles in unexpected ways, and he even incorporated ballet.  Many of his operas were very successful, in particular, Armida and Les DanaïdesYou can see the entire opera Les Danaïdes at this link.  Some of his other operas, including Tarare, Axur, re d’Ormus, L’Europa Riconosciuta, and La grotto di Trofonio are also available online.

Here is the overture to Les Danaïdes.

If you find yourself becoming a Salieri fan, you might want to check out some of these recent recordings.

Salieri—he’s making a comeback.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Salieri
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_music_students_by_teacher:_R_to_S#Antonio_Salieri
  3. Gibbs, Christopher H., “Writing Under the Influence?: Salieri and Schubert’s Early Opinion of Beethoven” Current Musicology No 75, Spring 2003, p 125 (quoting Deutsch, Otto Erich, Schubert: Memoirs by his Friends, trans. Rosamond Ley and John Nowell. London: A &C Block, 1958 pp 20 and 130). https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/27300266.pdf
  4. Reference 3, quoting Deutsch, p 66.

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Image attribution: Portrait of Antonio Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAntonio_Salieri_painted_by_Joseph_Willibrord_M%C3%A4hler.jpg.