Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Schubert–Last Hope, Last Leaves of Autumn

Stick figure looks at the last leaf on a tree in autumn

Here and there upon
The trees, many colored leaves
Remain, and often,

I stand there and think.
I spy one leaf, and upon
It, I hang my hopes.

The wind stirs the leaf.
I shake. If it falls, I’ll fall,
And weep for lost hope.

The haiku above is a rendering of the words of Wilhelm Müller’s poem Letzte Hoffnung [Last Hope], which was set to music by Franz Schubert as part of his Winterreise song cycle.  Here is Letzte Hoffnung, performed by tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch.

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Image attribution: Drawing by C. Gallant, 2017.

The painting that is the background in the YouTube video is Abandoned by Jakub Schikaneder.  He was known for his paintings of lonely figures–a perfect choice for Winterreise.

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Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations Outtakes Released

Photograph of Glenn Gould, pianist

Photo by Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation

Glenn Gould was not only a great pianist, he was also well-versed in the art and technology of audio recording.  He was the final arbiter of what appeared on his released recordings.  Any retrospective look at his 1955 and 1981 recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations will mention the countless alternate versions of individual variations that Gould discarded in favor of the performances that ultimately were released.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to wonder what those outtakes were like.  The difference between his 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Variations is stunning.  What alterations were occurring in 1955 that we didn’t get the chance to hear?  Some outtakes were made available in the retrospective A State of Wonder recording that included both the earlier and later renditions.  But it was only a small sample.

Finally, it is possible to hear them all.  Sony has released a box set containing all of the alternate versions that were recorded in the 1955 sessions.  There are five CDs of outtakes.  The box set also includes a coffee table book that includes audio engineering notes and the score, the 1955 and 1981 recordings on CD, the 1955 recording on vinyl, and a poster.  You can see the box set here.

Or should we perhaps trust Gould’s meticulous selection of variations, seamlessly spliced together, as representing his vision of what the Goldberg Variations should be, as he saw it in 1955?  I will leave it to you to decide.

Here is a video of Gould playing some of the variations in a television broadcast from 1964.

 

References

  1. Siegel, Robert and Huizenga, Tom, “The Gould That Didn’t Glitter: New Box Set of ‘Goldberg Variations’ Outtakes” Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical, October 25, 2017.  http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/10/25/559611543/the-gould-that-didnt-glitter-new-box-set-of-goldberg-variations-outtakes?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=classical&utm_term=music&utm_content=2052
  2. Clements, Andrew, “Goldberg Variations, Complete Sessions CD Review—Glenn Gould’s Obsession, Meticulously Assembled” The Guardian online version, September 13, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/sep/13/goldberg-variations-complete-sessions-cd-review-glenn-gould

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Image attribution:  Photograph of Glenn Gould by Don Hunstein / Glenn Gould Foundation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glenn_Gould_1.jpg


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Haiku Wednesday: Sitka Spruce

Photo, looking up at a group of sitka spruce trees

Sitka spruce photo by Peter Pearsall/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Once the wind would howl
Around your supple branches.
You stood, majestic,
Among the tall trees.
A silent sentinel, you
Looked out on the world.

That was not your fate.
To be cut down in your prime
Seems all too bitter,
But keen eyes picked you
To help others see and hear
A whole inner world.

And now the sound swirls
Like snowflakes, landing softly,
Hushed and whispering;
Or hits you like hail,
Ferocious, unrelenting.
You pay it no mind,
As you once did on
An Alaskan hillside; but
Now, Sitka, you sing.

Sitka spruce is the wood most commonly used for piano soundboards due to its resonance, flexibility, and great strength.  Piano soundboards resonate and propagate the sound generated by the strings of the piano.

Today’s haiku was inspired by a documentary.  Sitka traces the restoration of the Steinway grand piano at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  The soundboard of the piano at The Phillips Collection had cracked, and this had adversely affected the sound.  Piano fans will enjoy seeing the inner workings of the instrument, and the meticulous work involved in restoration process.  The soundtrack is provided by Joseph Haydn (performed by Olivier Cavé).

And now, here is Sitka.

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Image attribution: Sitka spruce photo by Peter Pearsall/US Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cape_Meares/wildlife_and_habitat/sitka_spruce.html


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Haiku Wednesday: Spanish Dance

The candles flicker,
The music swells; a dancer’s
Skirt swirls as she spins.

The faint tap of heels
Echoes against the dance floor
As two move as one,
Each seeing only
Their partner.  They dance, and hope
It will never end.

Today’s musical offering is from Enrique Granados.  Granados wrote a collection of Spanish dances for piano in 1890 (12 danzas españolas, Op. 37, H. 142, DLR 1:2).

During a visit to the US, Granados recorded some piano rolls of his music. Here is Granados playing Danza Española No. 5, Andaluza.  The original piano rolls are reproduced using a Steinway grand piano, so the sound is sumptuous.  In the piano roll Granados takes some lively liberties with his composition; he is clearly not meticulously following the score.

You may also enjoy Granados playing the haunting Danza Española No. 2, Oriental.

 

References

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

http://www.pianola.org/reproducing/reproducing.cfm

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232823598_Piano-roll_recordings_of_Enrique_Granados_A_study_of_a_transcription_of_the_composer’s_performance


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Discovery!  Unknown Viola Work by Shostakovich Found in Archives

Photograph of new Shostakovich viola work

Courtesy of mos.ru.

The Strad reports that a previously unknown work for viola and piano written by Dmitri Shostakovich has been found in Moscow.  The discovery was announced on the composer’s birthday (25 September).

The piece is titled Impromptu Op. 33 (Shostakovich later assigned the number to another work).  It was found among the papers of violist Vadim Borisovsky of the Beethoven Quartet.  It is believed it was written for violist Alexander Ryvkin of the Glazunov Quartet.  The duet was written, apparently in one sitting, in 1931.

We do not yet know what this newly-found work sounds like.  Shostakovich wrote one other work for the viola, the Viola Sonata (his last composition), which was written in 1975.  You can listen to it here.

Read the article in The Strad here.

References

https://www.thestrad.com/news/a-new-work-for-viola-by-shostakovich-discovered-in-moscow-state-archives/7151.article#.WctqF1zRpVU.twitter


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Haiku Wednesday: Autumn Nocturne

Photograph of lake viewed through autumn leaves

The sky is slate gray
Dead leaves crunch beneath my feet
Or skitter away.

Collar turned up, I
Shove my hands in my pockets
Against the cold wind.

I walk along with
Furrowed brow, lost in thought, with
Even measured steps.

Looking up, I see
Autumn’s rich, vibrant colors
Surrounding the lake.

More than the cold, it
Takes my breath away–there is
Beauty everywhere.

Here is Stefan Jackiw performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor as a violin solo. Exquisite.

Here you can find a haunting piano solo performance of the nocturne by Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story became known worldwide in the movie “The Pianist.”

References

  1. About the nocturne:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_Op._posth._(Chopin)
  2. Sheet music:  http://imslp.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_B.49_(Chopin,_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric)

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Image attribution: Lake view through autumn leaves by http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Looking_through_tree_autumn_leaves_lake_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg


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To Sing on the Water

Photograph of the rippling, shimmering water of a lake as seen from a kayak

Sometimes, you have to get out of the office. Way out of the office.  Or just away.  To a place where there are no computers, no connectivity, no cell phone coverage.  No chargers, no chatter, no cable.

The middle of a large body of water is optimal.

Sunshine and breezes on a beautiful day can go a long way toward recharging your own battery, and the shimmer of a beautiful lake, the splash of water as your boat travels along are incomparable antidotes for the noise and bustle of a busy life.  And we’re all busy, too busy, always aware of the ticking clock, the march of time.

All this hustle and bustle might seem to be a modern phenomenon, but really it’s not.  People have been escaping to nature for a very long time.

Schubert, ah Schubert!  He knew; of course, he knew.  In his song Auf dem Wasser zu singen. Schubert sets to music a poem of Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg-Stolberg that describes a boat trip at evening and reflects on the passage of time.  The piano ripples like the water, and the play of light and shadow at evening is reflected in Schubert’s characteristic shifts between major and minor keys.  The poet also notes the passage of time: each day time escapes, flying away.  But he is not disturbed, as he says that he will take wing and escape from time someday.

Here is Schubert’s Auf dem Wasser zu singen, performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

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Image attribution:  Photograph by C. Gallant, 2015.