Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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!


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

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Live Concert Webcasts: La traviata, Bruckner, Brahms and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Today, May 24, 2019, at 19:00 CET (2 PM EDT, UTC -1), OperaVision will present Verdi’s La Traviata from the Icelandic OperaYou can see it here.

Tomorrow, May 25, 2019 at 8PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3Kent Nagano will conduct, and the program will feature pianist Beatrice RanaYou can see it here.

On May 31, 2019 at 10:45 AM (GMT -4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.  Also on the program is Webern’s Passacaglia, and Haydn’s Concerto for Two Horns.  You can see it 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 or on Facebook Live (

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Free Live Concert Webcast:  Prokofiev, Elgar and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Sunday, October 7, 2018 at 3:00 PM EDT (GMT -4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, will present a free concert webcast.  You can see the webcast at

Here’s the program:

ErbThe Seventh Trumpet

ProkofievViolin Concerto No. 1, Gil Shaham, violinist.

Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme (also known as the Enigma Variations)

If you’d like to learn more about Elgar’s variations (and see a cute animal video while you’re at it) see my post about Variation XI and Bulldog Dan here.

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Haiku Wednesday: Toccata

Flashing fingers fly
And dance across the keyboard
Weaving their magic.

Feet too join the dance
Executing bass figures,
Sliding as on ice.

The word toccata
Means to touch—fingers, yes, and
Heart and soul and mind.

The toccata is by nature a flashy piece of music.  It typically includes fast runs of notes, and can sound like an improvisation.  It is a showcase for a musician’s skills.  Toccatas are typically written for a keyboard instrument, but that’s not a requirement—toccatas have been written for string instruments, and even for orchestra (the prelude to Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo is a toccata).  While the form had its heyday in the Baroque period, with Bach, master improviser, at the summit (Toccata in D Minor, the toccata everyone knows), the form never entirely went away.

Schumann wrote a Toccata in C (Op. 7) which he believed was the most difficult music at the time.  In this video, you can follow the sheet music, which will give you an idea of the complexity.  Liszt also gave it a whirl (Toccata, S. 197a).

Ravel included a toccata in his Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes is a toccata as well.  One can also look to the finale of Widor’s Symphony No. 5 for a fine example of a toccata.  You can find some videos of the finale here, including Widor himself playing the toccata.

Khachaturian wrote a toccata that became very popular (the suite it came from is nearly forgotten).  The link features pianist Lev Oborin, who was the first to perform it.

For some real flash (and the piece that prompted this post) check out Prokofiev’s Toccata Op. 11.  Here it is on a piano.  Now add feet:  here is the same toccata on an organ.

Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto begins with a toccata.  The last movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 8 contains a toccata.  Also check out John Rutter’s Toccata in 7.

And now for the strings!  The last movement of John Adams’s Violin Concerto contains a toccata, and Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 5, a viola concerto, also contains a toccata (he also wrote a Toccata for a Mechanical Piano, meaning a player piano, which you can see here).

If you’re ever having a blah day, and need a quick pick-me-up, try a toccata!

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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.



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Veterans Day

Veterans Day poster of silhouettes of soldiers against a sky

Today we remember those who have served in the armed forces; in some parts of the world this is called Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.

I have already written about the music written for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Music has also been written for those who survived, but who paid a terrible price.

In The Wound Dresser, John Adams sets the poetry of Walt Whitman, who as a volunteer nurse cared for Civil War soldiers.  You can hear John Adams talk about his composition here.

The pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm in World War I.  He approached a number of composers, commissioning works written for the piano using the left hand alone.  Ravel wrote the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.  Erich Korngold wrote a piano concerto that Wittgenstein liked so much (Op. 17), he commissioned a second, a suite for two violins, cello, and piano (Op. 23).  Benjamin Britten’s Diversions for piano left hand and orchestra (Op. 21) was also written for Wittgenstein, as was Prokofiev’s Concerto No 4.  In all, Wittgenstein commissioned around 40 pieces for piano left hand.

Frank Bridge wrote Three Improvisations for his friend Douglas Fox who lost his arm in World War I.

Leoš Janáček (Capriccio for Piano and Winds) and Bohuslav Martinů (Divertimento for Piano and Chamber Orchestra) wrote music for Czech pianist Otakar Hollman, whose right hand was permanently injured in World War I (Hollman plays in the links given above).  For more on the genre of piano left hand music, see the articles referenced below, and the lefthandpianomusic YouTube channel.

The music I want to feature today is by George Butterworth, considered one of the promising composers of the early 20th century.  I was surprised in my research to find film of Butterworth dancing—he was a Morris dancer.  The film dates from 1912.  Butterworth was cut down by a sniper’s bullet during the Battle of the Somme in World War I.  Here is Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow.

A heartfelt thank you to all those who have served, and may all those who now serve come home safely.

Freedom isn’t free.


Photograph of the blogger's father as a soldier, 1945

My father, 1945

Wounded Warriors Family Support

Fisher House Foundation

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

Image attribution: Detail of poster created for Veterans Day 2008 by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

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Free Berlin Phil Concert Now Available Online

If you happened to miss the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert for refugees, “Welcome among us,” you can now see it at your convenience, free.

The concert has been made available in the Berlin Philharmonic’s archive at  Once you sign up for a free account, you may watch the concert, as well as an array of concerts for children (typically with a Christmas seasonal theme), and a large number of interviews with guest artists and conductors.  Also available for free is a concert of Symphony No 1 by Brahms and Symphony No 1 by Schumann.

Here is the trailer for the concert.

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Free Concert Webcast: Berlin Phil Welcomes Refugees

Silhouette of refugees walking

On Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 12 noon EST, the Berlin Philharmonic will present a free live webcast of a concert for refugees, their families, and those helping refugees, “Welcome Among Us.”  Register for a free account to see the concert at  Here’s the program:

Mozart: Piano Concerto in D Minor K 466, Daniel Barenboim conductor and piano, Staatskapelle Berlin

Prokofiev: Symphony No 1 in D Major Symphonie classique, Iván Fischer conductor, Konzerthausorkester Berlin

Beethoven: Symphony No 7 in A Major, movements 2 and 4, Sir Simon Rattle conductor, Berlin Philharmonic

Here’s a non-musical resource:  if you are considering making a donation to help refugees (or for any other cause), you may find the Charity Navigator website useful.  It provides detailed information on the performance of a large number of charities, many in the US, but some with an international component (for example, the International Rescue Committee or UNICEF).  The information on the website can help you to make sure your donation is being used efficiently and effectively.   Here is their listing of highly-rated charities focusing on the refugee crisis.


Image attribution:  Refugees, public domain via



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TGIF! Boisterous Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev


Rock on, Ludwig!

The weekend is here, finally, and there is definitely a fun, Friday night vibe in the program of tonight’s free live webcast by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with pianist Ingrid Fliter (8 PM, GMT -4).

First up is Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”).  He said, “If Haydn had lived to our era, he would have retained his compositional style but would also have absorbed something from what was new.”1 So what we have is a classical era symphony with unmistakably modern harmonies and voicings (some way higher than Haydn would have dared,2 and 2-octave leaps!3). This symphony has been called “intentionally rude but wonderful fun” and a “joyous romp.”4  Sounds like a great Friday night symphony!

Next on the program is Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Mendelssohn wrote it in 1831 after falling in love with a beautiful young pianist while traveling to Italy.5  It’s youthful, flashy music, and a delight to hear (and watch!).  The piano can’t wait to get the party started–it jumps right in before the orchestra can even state the first theme!6

The tempos of the movements tell the whole story: Molto allegro con fuoco [fiery!]; Andante (a sweet theme); Presto; Molto allegro e vivace [lively].  It’s a fun bit of music!

The concert will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, written in 1813.  The words used to describe this symphony sound more like rock than Beethoven:  “hard-driving,”7 “loud, ferocious outbursts alternating with soft, light responses,” and “raging demonic energy.”8 Wow!  Listen for the rhythm patterns that give the symphony that driving sound (heavy/light/light in movement 1 and long, short/short, long, long in movement 2).9

Can you imagine Beethoven conducting it?  Here’s a firsthand account by violinist Ludwig Spohr:

At this concert I first saw Beethoven conduct.  As often as I had heard about it, it still surprised me very much.  He was accustomed to convey the marks of expression to the orchestra by the most peculiar motions of his body.  Thus at a sforzando [strong accent] he tore his arms, which until then had been crossed on his breast, violently apart.  He crouched down at a piano [soft section], bending lower as the tone decreased.  At a crescendo [gradual increase in loudness] he raised himself by degrees until at the forte [loud section] he leapt to his full height; and often without being conscious of it, would shout aloud at the same time.10

Mosh pit Beethoven!

Even without the shouting, I’m sure it’s going to be a great concert, and I hope you’ll be there online.  If you can’t be there, DSO offers their DSO Replay program.

If you can’t make it, or if you can’t wait to hear this music, here are some performances to watch.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Ilya Yakushev

Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, Valery Gergiev conducting

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Ivan Fischer



1, 2. Libbey, Ted, NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection.  NY: Workman Publishing, 1999 pp 129-130.

  1. Berger, Melvin, The Anchor Guide to Orchestral Masterpieces. NY: Anchor Books, 1995 pp 228-229.
  2. Libbey, Ted, Op. cit.

5, 6.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. p 180.

  1. Smith, Tim, NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music.  NY: Perigee Books, 2002 p 90.

8, 9, 10.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. pp 43-44.

Image attribution:  Try as I might, I could not find a source for this image, but thanks, Artist!  The sunglasses are mine though.