Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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A Run of Notes: The Worldwide WordPress 5k

sneakers with treble clefs on lacesThis week WordPress bloggers around the world will be running or walking five kilometers as part of the Worldwide WordPress 5k.

As a runner, I was ready to step up to the challenge.  But to stay true to the blog, I knew I wanted to talk about classical music.  So I thought I’d talk about the music that gets me through a typical five mile run.

The first leg of my run is uphill, which is a pain going out, but great coming back!  To avoid starting out too fast, I typically pick something slow.

If I’m in a particularly Early Music mood, I enjoy listening to The Sixteen’s Allegri: Miserere CD, which contains Lotti’s Crucifixus, Allegri’s Miserere, and Palestrina’s Stabat Mater and Missa Papae Marcelli.

The slow tempos keep me focused, and the CD makes for a great overall meditative run, but I’m not setting any records.

Piano fans might like the Goldberg Variations.  But if you’re a Gould fan, pick ’55 not ’81 or you’ll never make it up the hill (if you’re not familiar with these recordings, read this article).

Some days I need a little more help getting up that hill, or every hill for that matter.  Twitter followers may remember this post:

Liszt…I think he could get you up a hill, over a brick wall, and through a field of flames.  Here, listen to Transcendental Etude No. 8.

Don’t you feel more heroic already?  Makes you want to don a superhero cape and strike a pose on a hilltop.  But if you peek at the sheet music, you’ll find that the person sitting on that piano bench just got a better workout than you did running up that hill!

If you’re looking for an assortment of classical music for your workout, you might consider All You Need Classics: Workout, currently available as a digital download from Amazon for 99 cents.  You might want, as some reviewers have suggested, to edit the playlist to get the tempos you’d prefer for your workout.  They vary widely, and some items on the album will leave you wondering what they have to do with workouts.

I’m not sure I can recommend 30 Must-Have Classical Marches (also 99 cents) for this purpose (which you’d think would be better) because of its inclusion of the Wedding March (running to or away?) and … Chopin’s Funeral March.  Not good as telephone on-hold music either (especially when you’ve been on hold for over 30 minutes, like I was, and are pessimistic of ever reaching a human in your lifetime).

For record-breaking runs, I prefer something more along the line of Heavy Classix 1 (and 2), or collections like them, that focus on the loud, intense, and fast .  Though I must say I’m not keen to run to Sabre Dance—that’s music for plate spinning.  Oddly, though in my mind I connect that music with that variety act, I could find no videos that did.

The 5/4 time of Mars from Holst’s The Planets makes me run funny.

Ok, so let’s assume we’ve made it to the halfway point.  What’s good music for getting back home?

Well, if you’re a piano fan, I suggest Chopin’s 24 Preludes (Op. 28)–perhaps minus the Largos and Lentos.

Or, if you’re feeling heroic after the Liszt, how about Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, Eroica?

No matter what you pick, it’s fantastic to be out in nature listening to classical music.

If any runners out there have suggestions for great selections, let us all know!

Below are some websites with playlists.  Also check Spotify and YouTube.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/100568-runners-classical-playlist/

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/50-running-classics-marathon/id849703931

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2012/01/03/music-for-running-jogging

Here’s an article on finding the beats per minute of your music to get the tempo you want for your workout http://gizmodo.com/5906815/the-most-mathematically-perfect-playlist-for-running

 

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Haiku Wednesday: Josquin des Prez

Josquin des Prez

A moment in time:
It happened to be Josquin.
Frozen in memory.

The October skies
Were vivid blue with clouds by
Michaelangelo.

The air was so crisp
And leaves rustled underfoot;
World in equipoise.

Then I heard Josquin,
Motets of aching beauty,
Many years too late.

As the notes wove
Around each other and me,
Nothing was the same.

In 2012 I wrote this to a friend:

How did I manage to live 50 years without hearing Josquin Des Prez motets?  Yesterday the sky was bright blue, the clouds were puffy and white, and Josquin…sublime.

It was a before and after moment.  After was somehow…different.  It was early in my forays into polyphony, and since then other pieces of that period have endeared themselves to me more:  Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, Lotti’s Crucifixus for eight voices.  But that combination of Josquin and autumn will remain with me always.

Josquin des Prez (around 1450-1521) was a Franco-Flemish composer.  He was one of the great experimentalists, adopting a variety of different styles.  His music spread widely thanks to the use of the newly invented printing press.  One of his more well-known works is the Missa L’homme armé, whose theme is based on a popular tune.  He wrote both sacred and secular music.

Here is a Josquin gem, La Déploration sur le Mort de Jean Ockeghem, performed by Vox Luminis.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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Haiku Wednesday – Palestrina

Thanks, Palestrina!

Missa Papae Marcelli

Saved polyphony.

In the Middle Ages, western church music was dominated by Gregorian chant, or plainchant.  Everyone sang the same notes, there was one vocal line.  This began to change in the middle of the 1100s when the composers Leonin and Perotin introduced a second vocal line and more.  Music with multiple vocal lines is known as polyphony.

Fast forward to the Renaissance.  Polyphony had become very complex.  In fact it had become so complex that it was a matter of some concern to church officials.  The problem was that the vocal lines interwove so much, it was difficult to understand the words.  There were murmurings of abandoning polyphony altogether and going back to plainchant.

In the midst of all this, Pope Marcellus died after serving only three weeks as pontiff.  Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), musical director of the Julian Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica and other chapels in Rome, a master of polyphony and the hero of today’s haiku, wrote a mass in the pope’s honor.  It combined the beauty of polyphony with word clarity.

Whether or not Palestrina actually “saved” polyphony is a matter of academic debate.  What is beyond debate is the beauty of the composition.