Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Two Free Opera Live Webcasts This Weekend

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

This weekend, April 1 and 2, 2017,  The Opera Platform presents two live webcasts.

Today, April 1, 2017 at 12:55 EDT (GMT -4) The Opera Platform will present Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti  from the stage of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia Spain.

Tomorrow, April 2, 2017 at 12:55 EDT (GMT -4) see the opening performance of Sorochintsy Fair by Modest Mussorgsky and Vissarion Shebalin (who finished the incomplete opera) from the stage of the Komische Oper in Berlin.

If you can’t make it, you will be able to view the webcast for a limited time on the website.  Check out the website for other operas available for viewing on demand.


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Haiku Wednesday: These Five Were a Handful—Balakirev’s Circle

hand holding Russian flag

Rimsky-Korsakov,
Balakirev, Borodin,
Mussorgsky and Cui.

These make up “The Five,”
Russia’s Mighty Handful of
Splendid composers.

The five composers noted above, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and César Cui, made up the group that came to be known as The Five, or in Russia, the Balakirev Circle or Mighty Handful (Могучая кучка).  The group was led by Balakirev, and the goal was to elevate the standing of Russian traditional music (the musical nationalism movement, which was found in other countries as well).

The name Mighty Handful came from a review of a concert that included a number of Russian composers, including Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov (and Mikhail Glinka as well).  When the phrase was used disdainfully by critics, Balakirev and his group kept the name as a badge of honor.

One unusual thing that distinguished this group is that most of them kept their “day jobs.”  Borodin was a chemist (he is well known for his work with aldehydes and as co-discoverer of the Aldol reaction). Others were in the military or civil service.  What’s more, none were conservatory trained (which may have been part of the disdain noted above).

It was a challenge to pick some music to represent this group.  Hmm, challenge, mighty handful…actually there can be only one choice:  Balakirev’s Islamey, long considered one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) piece of solo piano music of all time (Ravel wrote Gaspard de la Nuit with the intent of making it more difficult than Islamey!).

Here is Islamey, performed by Boris Berezovsky.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mighty_Handful_(composers)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamey

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Image attribution

Photo by C. Gallant, 2016.


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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?