Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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To the Sun:  Classical Music and an Exciting NASA Mission

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

The Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

Many composers have written music to evoke the mood of seeing the rising sun, and I thought I’d bring some of this music to you today because an exciting new scientific mission is about to begin.  Early Saturday morning, NASA, the American space agency, is sending an unmanned spacecraft closer to the Sun than ever before to study its many mysteries.  It is the Parker Solar Probe.

NASA has wanted to implement this mission since the dawn of the space age, but it is only now that the technology is available to make it possible.  Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield will withstand temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1377 Celsius) while the measuring instruments in its shadow will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

You can see live coverage of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, named for pioneering scientist Eugene Parker, at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#public starting at 3:00 AM EDT (GMT-4) on Saturday, August 11, 2018 (the launch window begins at 3:33 AM).

And now to the music.  We must start with an excerpt of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, iconic sunrise music if there ever was any.

You can see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the entire piece with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra here.  And here is an audio recording of Richard Strauss conducting his own piece in 1944 with the Vienna Philharmonic.

For a calmer start to your morning, I suggest Grieg’s Morning Mood.

Here is the beautiful and haunting On the Nature of Daylight (Entropy) by Max Richter.

You may also enjoy Aulis Sallinen’s Sunrise Serenade, Op. 63 for two trumpets and orchestra.  And here is Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, Op. 17.

Reaching back in time, here is Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in B flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4 “Sunrise.”

Finally, here is the oldest surviving music about the sun, nearly the oldest surviving written music, the Hymn to the Sun by Mesomedes of Crete, second century CE.

Wishing NASA the best of luck with its pioneering mission, and wishing all of you sunny days ahead!

 

Previous space-related posts you may enjoy

Haiku Wednesday:  Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Beethoven’s Cavatina–The Universe in the Palm of Your Hand

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Haiku Wednesday: Music That Gets Stuck in Your Head

What can you do when
Music gets stuck in your head?
I guess it depends.

If it’s some horrid
Tune, ill conceived or performed,
You must replace it.

But a fine tune can
Resonate through the day, a
Personal soundtrack.

It’s happened to all of us: something sparks the memory of a tune, or you hear a snippet on the radio, or from a passing car.

And suddenly it’s stuck, your brain rehearsing the notes in an infinite loop.  If you’re lucky, it’s more than a few lines.

Some people call it an earworm, a uniquely unappealing term, though I suppose it’s apt if the song in question is something you probably didn’t want to hear the first time you heard it.  For me, there is an abysmal song from the 80s that, once sparked, will.not.go.away until I Berlioz-blast it from my brain.  I won’t tell you what it is, because that would be wrong.

But sometimes, the sticking of a tune can be a delight, and that happened to me yesterday.  I’m not saying I want it to get stuck in your head, but I think you’d like to hear it.

I was checking out some Deutsche Grammophon listings on Spotify (Essential Liszt, Essential Bach), when I saw Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist.  So I started clicking.

Everything stopped when I played Tchaikovsky’s Romance in F Minor (Op. 5) performed by Joseph Moog (here’s the album listing from the record company).  It caught my ear.  It stayed with me all afternoon, and I was ok with that.  It begins with a sentimental minor-key melody that reminds me of a thought-filled walk along a riverside in the fall, the ornaments glistening like sun sparkling on the water.  The middle section is suddenly lively, as if one had to cross a busy intersection before continuing along the river.  The middle section gradually subsides into calm and returns to the main theme.

This is Opus 5?

Then I found out Tchaikovsky had written a cantata, overture, symphonic poem, symphony, and two operas before he got around to writing the Romance.  But he was so exacting that he destroyed the poem and the operas, and probably winced every time someone brought up the cantata, overture, and symphony.  But he kept the Romance, and it is a well-loved piece.

Here is Moog’s performance on YouTube for those of you who do not have Spotify.

Of course, before I found this YouTube video, I found two other interesting performances, by Mikhail Pletnev and Sviatoslav Richter, that I thought you might enjoy.

You can find the sheet music here.

References

  1. Leonard, James, Romance, for piano in F minor, Op. 5, Allmusic.com, http://www.allmusic.com/composition/romance-for-piano-in-f-minor-op-5-mc0002659624
  2. Jakubowski, Kelly, “Earworms: why some songs get stuck in our heads more than others,” The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/earworms-why-some-songs-get-stuck-in-our-heads-more-than-others-68182
  3. Kelly Jakubowski, Sebastian Finkel, Lauren Stewart, and Daniel Müllensiefen, “Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features and Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, November 3, 2016, http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/aca-aca0000090.pdf


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Throwback Thursday Quote – Robert Schumann Gives Advice

Robert Schumann 1850

What is it to be musical?  You will not be so, if your eyes are fixed on the notes with anxiety and you play your piece laboriously through…. But you will be so…if you have not only music in your fingers, but also in your head and heart.

The composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) wrote Advice to Young Musicians (Musikalische Haus- und Lebensregeln) to provide useful tips and guidelines for beginning music students.  It was published in 1850 in Schumann’s journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (find the original German publication here).  An English translation (by Henry Hugo Pierson) followed by the original German has been made available via Project Gutenberg.  It is also available at imslp.org.

It’s a quick read with many thought-provoking considerations whether you’re a newcomer or an old hand, and also contains some advice that I find humorous.  For example,

Play strictly in time!  The playing of many a virtuoso resembles the walk of an intoxicated person.  Do not take such as your model  (in other words, lay off the rubato and ruby port)

From vocalists you may learn much, but do not believe all that they say.

Never help to circulate bad compositions; on the contrary, help to suppress them with earnestness.  You should neither play bad compositions, nor, unless compelled, listen to them.

Don’t pull any punches there, Schumann!

Here is Wilhelm Kempff playing Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet.  [Note: the video is no longer available.]  Here is Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet played by Maria Joao Pires.

Those who speak French can practice in the presentation on Schumann which follows the piece.  An interview with Wilhelm Kempff (in French) on Schumann can be seen here.  [Video no longer available.]  The Melo Classics Les Grandes Interpretes channel on YouTube has great historical musical videos of pianists, violinists, and singers (wow, Sviatoslav Richter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau rehearsing Hugo Wolf’s Der Feuerreiter ‘Sehet ihr am Fensterlein’.)