Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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If you can’t find beauty, try to make some

A treble clef that ends in a hand holding a paintbrush making swirls of lines, flowers, and music symbols.

Times are tough.  We all need to find a way to get through, and the right music definitely helps.  Here are some recent finds.  Humor, flexibility, and great ingenuity are hallmarks here.

Have you seen the No Corona version of Nessun dorma by Daniel Emmet?

How about the Covid-19 Bach fugue by Nicholas Papdimitriou?  This is incredible.

And now, a great concert for you!  Pianist Alexander Krichel gave a live drive-in classical piano concert that you can now see online. Car horns and flashing headlights replace applause (it works better than you’d think).  The upside?  No coughing, cell phones ringing, or candy wrappers crackling (other than perhaps from your family members, whom you can probably shush).  Krichel introduces the pieces in German, there are no subtitles available, but there is captioning of the title at the beginning of each piece.  You can see it at:    https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/radio/wdr3/video-autokino-meets-klassik–alexander-krichel-spielt-beethoven-und-liszt-100.html

When life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade, make lemon sorbet.

Here’s another tip, not necessarily a musical one, but one you might consider.  A friend who lives far away and I have started exchanging photos.  Typically, it’s flower pictures (they have a tremendous rose garden), but not always.  It doesn’t have to be flowers, it could be a meme, or an animal picture, a photo you take on a walk (if permitted) (added benefit: your picture-taking gets better), a happy memory photo, or a link to some great music, whatever works for you.  It doesn’t need to be every day–no pressure (we have enough)!  And you know what happens?  You end up looking for beauty, or levity, and actually start seeing it amidst gloom and chaos.  If you know someone who might be interested in this, why not suggest an informal exchange?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see something happy in your inbox or on your phone?

And as Daniel Emmet says in his aria, vinceremo [we will win]!

Thanks to reader Paul B for alerting me to the fugue!

 


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A Nocturne for Granville

Photograph of musician Granville Reynolds, taken between 1872 and 1888.

Today I’d like to tell you a little story.

The gentleman you see at the top of the page is a musician named Granville C. Reynolds.

I have been trying to find out more about him for over 20 years.

It all started with that photograph, or rather, the original sepia version of the photograph.  It was probably taken some time between 1872 and 1888.  Granville was born in 1846.

Granville didn’t start out as a musician though.  The son of a shoe manufacturer in Massachusetts, in 1865 he is a shoe fitter; in 1866, a mechanic.  That year, he married, and by the end of the year was a father of a little boy in Connecticut.

But then something happened.  In one record of his marriage, the entry is crossed out.  In 1869, his wife remarries.  In 1876, Granville’s father in his will excludes Granville’s “son by his wife now said to be divorced from him and to be married and living with another man.”  The child is not named.  Did the family not even know his name?  What on earth happened?

Granville maddeningly disappears from the records after 1866, and emerges in 1875 in Rhode Island as a teacher of music.  He is there for only one year, then he disappears again.

He reappears in 1880, living with his parents.  Occupation: musician.  But what instrument?

I came across an intriguing notice in an 1884 periodical.  In the “New Music” column we find

“Golden Days are Coming Dearest: ” Words by George Birdseye; music by Granville C. Reynolds, is unquestionably the sweetest song of the season. Brimming over with melody, cheery and hopeful it will touch an answering chord in every heart. [1]

I cannot find this music. Birdseye’s poem was set a number of times, but I can’t find Granville’s.  I can’t even prove that the Granville C. Reynolds mentioned is our Granville.

But knowing that he was a musician, I can only hope that the “sweetest song of the season” is his.

Granville died of a stroke in 1888.  He was only 42 years old.

Up until a few weeks ago, that was all that I could ever find.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I might never know what instrument he played.

And then—I found the most unusual genealogical clue I have ever encountered.

Searching in a genealogy database, I plugged in Granville’s name, the way I always do, hoping new data might have been uploaded.  And I found this:

October 16th. Mother called for a piano record on the Victrola.  One of the Nocturnes was played, and Roy gave the name of Granville Reynolds.  He was known to mother’s people, when she was a young girl, Reynolds then being a man of about forty years of age.

“He played that, if you remember, at your home that evening when he called….He says he passed through the change not long after. He says it was better for him, for he was worn out.” [2]

What was this?!  It turns out, it was a passage from the book The Second Letters from Roy, by Leon Stevens, published in 1918.  The premise of Letters from Roy and The Second Letters from Roy is that Leon’s brother Roy, deceased, was communicating with his living family from the Great Beyond, in a chatty correspondence about people and events past and present.

While I can’t vouch for the validity of the premise, I do know that the author’s family and the Reynolds family lived in the same place at the same time, so it is likely that they had crossed paths with Granville during his natural life. And the details about Granville fit.

He played a nocturne.  The only piano nocturnes recorded on Victrola records were Chopin’s.

Granville was a pianist.

And so it is only fitting to close with a Chopin nocturne.  The one that, to me, best suited Granville was Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 1, played here by Arthur Rubinstein.

A side note:  I created the colorized picture of Granville at the MyHeritage genealogy website.  Until the end of April you can colorize your own black and white (or sepia) photos for free, as many as you would like, and download them.  Visit myheritage.com/incolor for details.

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  1. The Southern World, Atlanta, GA, March 15, 1884, p 192, via newspaperarchive.com.
  2. The Second Letters from Roy by Leon Herbert Stevens, Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1918 p 125 via hathitrust.org. Originally found on myheritage.com.


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A little Levit-y

No April Fools foolishness today.  But a little fun.

I hope everyone is staying home and staying safe out there.  After a while though, you might be wondering what to do with your time.  Here’s one idea.  This is pianist Igor Levit.  The caption is “And what’s Corona doing to you?”  If you go to his Twitter feed, you can check out his wonderful mini-concerts.

In other news, now that all the pesky humans are staying inside in Llandudno, the goats have taken over the streets. Boars are strolling through Bergamo. What could be next? Could there be trouble brewing?

Personally, I’m thinking more of Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets. Mute the above video and try it!

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A tip of the hat to Clara Parkes of The Daily Respite who blogged about the Llandudno goats video.


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Sorry, Chopin, and Thank You

Frederic Chopin

Hi readers!  I feel the need to revise this post now that I have more information on the piece presented here.  My original post is in plain text.  My amendments are in italics.

I recently saw a Twitter post that included a performance of one of Chopin’s works. Titled Largo, it was a piece I was unfamiliar with. Short, a little sentimental. Beautiful. Undeniably Chopin.*

And now the asterisk, the bane of a baseball player’s record, comes into play here.  While the style may be undeniably Chopin, the Largo that is so beautiful is a piano arrangement of Handel’s Largo.  See the video below.

And had Chopin’s wishes been carried out, we would never have heard it.

Chopin’s final request was that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed. However, his mother and sisters intervened; instead, they had Julian Fontana review the manuscripts and put together a posthumous collection. [1]

This may be why Chopin requested that his manuscripts be destroyed.  He didn’t want his noodling around, riffing on Handel, to be mixed in with his own work, some of which he may have considered unfinished, or unpolished.  Oddly, when I then listened to Handel’s Largo, I remembered it, but didn’t make the connection when I first heard Chopin’s version.  Reminds me of my Chopin+performer post, except here we have Handel+Chopin.

Among the rescued pieces are a collection of Polish songs, and a variety of piano pieces, including wonderful nocturnes and waltzes.

Here is Largo, performed by pianist James Rhodes.  The tweet reads, “Today I discovered a Chopin piece that I had never heard before.  I can’t believe it.  It’s only two minutes long, but I LOVE it.  His ‘Largo, B109.’ I hope you enjoy it.”

And here is a lovely performance of Handel’s Largo

 

So, apologies to Chopin for not carrying out his wishes, but a thank you for adding a little more beauty to the world.  Because Handel in the hands of Chopin is also a wonderful thing.

If you’d like to read about more about works almost lost to time, check out these posts about the rediscovery of pieces by Shostakovich, Vivaldi, Telemann (here too), Stravinsky, Mozart (and here), and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Thanks to weemspiano for kindly pointing out the Handel connection that I missed before posting, prompting this revision.

And thanks to all the readers along with me on this random walk I call Catapulting into Classical.

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* Not an actual footnote.  Just keep reading.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscellaneous_compositions_(Chopin).


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Free Concert Webcast Tonight:  Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

“I shall not alter a single note,” I answered, “I shall publish the work exactly as it is!”

So said Tchaikovsky after receiving blistering criticism from pianist Nikolai Rubinstein after hearing Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto a few days after the composition was completed. [1]  Rubinstein, who is known for debuting Balakirev’s insanely difficult Islamey, [2] deemed the concerto “unplayable” and “vulgar.”

It would appear Tchaikovsky was vindicated.  The first piano concerto met with great audience acclaim at its debut in Boston, and has become one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular works.  Rubinstein later came around, both playing and conducting the work he once vilified.

Tonight at 8PM EST (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free live concert webcast, which will include Tchaikovsky’s concerto.  The concert will feature conductor Dalia Stasevska and pianist Simon Trpčeski.  You can see the webcast at dso.org/live or on Facebook Live.  Here’s the program:

Julia Wolfe  Fountain of Youth (described by the composer as “a sassy, rhythmic, high energy swim”) [3]

Tchaikovsky  Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23

Sibelius  Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39.

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  1. Warrack, John, Tchaikovsky.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973 pp 78-79.
  2. Nikolai Rubinstein, wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Rubinstein.
  3. https://juliawolfemusic.com/music.


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Arirang

Globe with eighth note

When I came across this video of Stephen Hough playing his arrangement of the Korean folk song Arirang as an encore at a concert in Seoul, I knew I had to share it with you.  It is beautiful.  The audience laughs in surprise and delight when they realize what he is playing.

To call Arirang a Korean folk song is an understatement.  It is the Korean folk song, an unofficial national anthem, known by folks of all ages.  And yet it is many songs; each generation has its own version, each region has its own verses.  But the song remains.  And it is not only a national treasure:  the song’s importance has been recognized by UNESCO, and it is on the List of Intangible Cultural HeritageHere is a traditional version.

Here is a modern interpretation, still beautiful, but far from traditional, by popular singer Sohyang.  You will see people singing along in the audience.

And K-pop fans would chastise me for not including the BTS cover of the song.

The world is filled with wonderful music!

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Image attribution:  Image of globe and eighth note via Wikimedia Commons.


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Jeremy Denk

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On September 15, 2019 at 2:00 PM CST (GMT -5) the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a live webcast of a performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor featuring pianist Jeremy Denk.

Don’t miss this great program, which will also include Rossini’s Overture to La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) and Schubert’s Symphony No. 2.

Also be sure to check out the SPCO’s extensive concert library.

You can see the webcast here.


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Free Concert Webcast: Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Currier

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Saturday, April 13, 2019 at 8:00 PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will feature pianist Hélène Grimaud performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.  Also on the program are Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, and a new work, Divisions, a commemoration of World War I, written by Sebastian Currier.  Ludovic Morlot will conduct.  You can see the concert at www.dso.org/live or on Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/detroitsymphony).


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One of Those Weeks, Illustrated

Stick figure on a unicycle on a tightrope juggles a sword, flaming stick, and chainsaw while crossing water filled with sharks, alligators, and snakes while beavers, woodpeckers, and a fire-lighting camper try to destroy the supports for the tightrope. Oh, and a rainstorm is coming--with lightning.

Did you ever have one of those weeks?  One for which the word “complicated” doesn’t even begin to describe it?  Yeah, one of those.

Words failing me, I attempted to depict one of those weeks in the illustration above.  And to go along with it, I’ve selected some music:  Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1.

If you’re having one of those weeks, I wish you calmer days ahead.  And to accompany them, Grieg’s Morning Mood from the Peer Gynt Suite.