Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Bach and Awe

J. S. Bach

Every now and then, I listen to Bach, and as the music starts, and I start to hear the melody lines interweave, I think, “You know, I think I’m starting to get this.” And then Bach throws in three more lines, ramps up the speed, and I realize something:

I’m not even close.

It’s very much the same feeling you might get when you’re learning a foreign language, and you decide to test your newfound skill with a native speaker.  And your methodical elementary-school-level bid is met joyfully with a flood of fluency, the torrent of a mountain stream, water flowing over and around rocks, streams combining in ways that leave one wondering where one begins and another ends.  Itisveryhardtounderstandwhenyoudon’tknowwherethewordsactuallyend.

The same goes for Bach.  When those melodic lines start to intertwine, you can try to follow them, and you catch a glimpse of one every now and then as it goes by, but it is really tough to grasp everything that is going on.

I was listening to Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 (BWV 1052), and immediately had to listen to it again to try to figure out what was going on, it was so good.  The first movement begins simply enough as Bach states his theme.  Ah, but then, the keyboard and orchestra begin stating the theme individually, and the keyboard adds a rippling line, and here the water image is particularly apt, as the strings and keyboard take turns surging forward then receding.  If you want to hear it and follow the score, you can do so here.

This video provides a balanced, and amazingly fast, performance of the first movement.

Another fascinating video puts the keyboard in a more prominent role, this time with Glenn Gould at piano and Leonard Bernstein conducting.  The performance begins at 5:08, but Bernstein’s introductory remarks about the performance of music that bears few interpretative markings may be of interest as well.

Ok, so now we reach the second movement.  And one would expect the same sort of interplay of instruments and lines.  You know, predicting, because you’re starting to get this.

Not even close.

Bach pulls the rug out from under your feet, beginning the second movement with an extended statement, everyone playing the same note (within the particular octave their instrument plays).  It then develops into a thought-filled, deeply expressive, one might even say somber, melody.

The liveliness of the first movement returns in the third movement, and it is classic Bach.

And yet.

There are moments, something in the strings, that seems to reach forward in time toward the Classical era.

And that’s the stunning thing with Bach.  Every now and then, you come across a phrase, and there is foreshadowing of music yet to come.  It’s there, little glimpses of the future, and yet, it’s undeniably Bach.

One more thing.  Here’s the kicker about the keyboard concerto.  Most experts say that he put it together from earlier works, probably a violin concerto, judging by the violin-like features, and there’s some direct copying from earlier cantatas.

As stunning as it is, it’s just a reworking of stuff he already wrote.

And that’s the Bach and awe of it all.

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References

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

https://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/keyboard-concerto-d-minor-bwv-1052-johann-sebastian-bach

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New Free Online Concert Resource

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced the addition of video to their collection of audio concert recordings.  The recordings are free and available on demand.  A series of live-stream concert webcasts will begin in September.

At the moment there are only a few video recordings available, but they are outstanding.  There are performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue –wow!), as well as a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s  Symphony No. 4 “Italian”, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  You can check out their library of recordings here.  Videos are indicated by a small camera icon, and clicking on a hyperlinked performer name will give you a list of performances by the artist available on the site.

With selections from John Adams to Hugo Wolf, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy!

 

 


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Haiku Wednesday:  An Unexpected Jazz Suite

Dmitri Shostakovich with dark glasses

Tapping my toes to
Some lively jazzy music
Really makes my day.
So who wrote this piece?
Dmitri Shostakovich.
Wait…what?!  Believe it!

I was streaming some classical music, probably Bach, and all of a sudden, I realized I was listening to some jazz-like music, probably 1930s vintage, judging from the sound of it.  What was this?  Shostakovich Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.  What?!  And then the Hawaiian guitar came in.  Mind blown.

Better known for his symphonies and film music (and operas), Dmitri Shostakovich also wrote two jazz suites.  The first was written in 1934, and the second in 1938 for the Soviet Union’s new State Jazz Orchestra.  Each of the suites has three movements.  The first has a waltz, polka, and foxtrot; the second a scherzo, lullaby, and serenade.

Here you can see a performance of Shostakovich’s Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.

The score of the second suite was lost during the Second World War, but a piano score was found in 1999.  An orchestral arrangement was created, and you can see Suite No. 2 performed here.

Prior to the rediscovery of the piano score, Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra was mistakenly believed to be Jazz Suite No. 2.  You can see the Suite for Variety Orchestra here.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._1_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._2_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Variety_Orchestra_(Shostakovich)

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/shostakovich/music/jazz-suites/

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Image attribution: Dmitri Shostakovich in the audience at the Bach Celebration of July 28, 1950. Photo by Roger & Renate Rössing, retouched, Deutsche Fotothek (By Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0002792_002_Portrait_Dmitri_Dmitrijewitsch_Schostakowitchs_im_Publikum_der_Bachfeier.jpg: Roger & Renate Rössing, credit Deutsche Fotothek. derivative work: Improvist [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons).  Lenses modified by C. Gallant.


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Free Live Webcast:  Tchaikovsky’s 5th, Stravinsky, and a New Work by Wynton Marsalis; or, Cossacks, Elephants, and a Hootenanny

On Friday, June 2, 2017 at 10:45AM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free live online concert that will include a new work by Wynton Marsalis featuring violinist Nicola BenedettiHere is her official website.  Here’s the program:

Stravinsky: Circus Polka
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5.

The circus polka was composed for a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  It was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas.  Balanchine said he phoned Stravinsky:1

“I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me,” Balanchine said.
“For whom?”
“For some elephants.”
“How old?” Stravinsky asked.
“Very young,” Balanchine assured him.
There was a pause.  Then Stravinsky said gravely, “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.”2

I have to hear this now.  By the way, the elephant ballet was only performed for a short time, after which it became popular among solely human dancers.

I’m also eager to hear Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto.  From the reviews I’ve read, it is a thoroughly American concerto, with movements titled Rhapsody, Rondo, Blues, and Hootenanny.  Marsalis packs the work to overflowing with musical ideas and notions, and the work you hear on Friday may differ from previous performances—it seems to be a work in evolution.  A documentary has been created, The Making of a Concerto, which you can see at the link.  Here is the trailer.

Rounding out the program is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in which Tchaikovsky wrestles with the concept of fate.  And in the finale, the wrestling becomes fierce.  Check out this wild review from 1892, written by William Foster Apthorp, who was no great fan of “modern” music:8

In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes.  The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker.  Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!9

Wow.  Elephants, a hootenanny, and pandemonium.  Don’t miss it!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Polka
  2. Krista, Davida. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner Publication, p 72.
  3. http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/01/500059901/the-transatlantic-collaboration-behind-wynton-marsalis-new-violin-concerto
  4. http://wyntonmarsalis.org/news/entry/nicola-benedetti-performs-wynton-marsaliss-violin-concerto-los-angeles
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/nso-offers-exuberant-marsalis-concerto/2016/10/27/b5c1c3cc-9cb9-11e6-b4c9-391055ea9259_story.html?utm_term=.f1f925b105e4
  6. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-cso-marsalis-review-ent-0714-20160713-column.html
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/08/london-symphony-orchestra-nicola-benedetti-james-gaffigan-wynton-marsalis
  8. http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/Tchaikovsky-Symphony-No-5-in-E-minor.aspx
  9. Boston Evening Transcript, October 24, 1892 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._5_(Tchaikovsky)


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Free Live Webcast: Vivaldi, Mahler, Brubeck

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 8:00 EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a live concert webcast featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin.  The program will include Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D major (R. 93), and new music from Chris Brubeck, Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra.  You can read the program notes for the Brubeck concerto here.  Chris Brubeck is the son of jazz great Dave Brubeck.  You can see the webcast at this link.

The program will conclude with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 10 as completed by musicologist Deryck Cooke.  Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Mahler had completed a draft of the symphony, but most of it was not orchestrated at the time of his death.  Mahler fans may be interested in this 1960 BBC broadcast recording featuring a lecture by Cooke and a performance of his first (incomplete) version of the symphony’s reconstruction.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair via http://www.sharonisbin.com/photos.html.


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Free Concert Webcast: Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, and a New Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev Featuring Branford Marsalis

Today, March 24, 2017, at 8PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  You can see the webcast here.  The program includes Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet by Berlioz, and the Suite from Romeo and Juliet by Sergei ProkofievAndrey Boreyko will conduct.

Also on the program is a new commissioned work by Gabriel Prokofiev, British composer and DJ, who is also the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev.  His Saxophone Concerto will feature soloist Branford MarsalisYou can read a little more about the composition here.

References

  1. https://gabrielprokofiev.com/
  2. http://www.branfordmarsalis.com/


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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.