Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Free Webcasts: Operas by Hindemith, Schoenberg, Schreker

This weekend The Opera Platform is presenting a trio of 20th-century one-act operas from the Opéra de Lyon.  All performances are at 20:00 CET (2PM EDT).

Friday, October 7, 2016 – Die Gezichneten [The Stigmatised] by Franz Shreker

Saturday, October 8, 2016 – Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith

Sunday, October 9, 2016 – Von Heute auf Morgen [From Today To Tomorrow] by Arnold Schoenberg.

See the links for more information about the operas and the performers.


Berlioz Ho Ho Ho


This weekend one of the choirs I sing with presented a program of seasonal music.  The selections included a sweet lullaby by William Byrd, Schönberg’s Friede auf Erde with its surprising and beautiful chromaticism, and The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz.  I’ve talked about this interesting character before.  There is a great story associated with The Shepherds’ Farewell.  At the time people were…how shall I put this…not thrilled with Hector’s work.  Ok, a lot of people hated it, just his name being on it made them hate it.  So in 1850 he had The Shepherds’ Farewell performed but attributed it to some made-up 17th century composer named “Ducré.”

Well, they loved it.  One woman said, “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré.” [1]

That must have been sucré [sweet].

Here is The Shepherds’ Farewell.

Here’s a brief commentary on L’enfance du Christ by Sir Colin Davis.



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Second Viennese Schooled

It’s a new choir season, and I was listening to the music that we would be singing and looking at the sheet music, following along.  So I see this piece in German, and I’m reading it…and it’s getting more and more chromatic, and I find myself thinking “who wrote this?!”

So I page back.

Arnold Schoenberg.  Oh!

I wasn’t expecting Schoenberg.  In my head I’m hearing Monty Python’s “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  Or Arnold Schoenberg for that matter.


Arnold Schoenberg was one of the key members of the Second Viennese School of composers, which also included the composers Alban Berg and Anton Webern and others.  Here’s a somewhat cheeky overview of the Second Viennese School (with examples) and a more straightforward description.

Schoenberg (1874-1951) is best known as the father of the 12-tone method  (sometimes called serialism), in which all 12 notes in an octave are used equally, and no one note has dominance over another.  This is very different from traditional music, which is written in a particular key, in which certain notes carry more “weight” than others, and there is a tendency to return to the “home” note of the key (e.g., C in the key of C).  The 12-tone method is a topic which engenders strong opinions and reactions because it is so different from what one typically expects in music.

So there aren’t many 12-tone lullabies (which I then Googled; but here’s one, and here’s a 12-tone Mary Had a Little Lamb).

Which in turn led me to this: the composer of the 12-tone Mary has a long YouTube video (30 minutes) on 12-tone composing and its history that is interesting and quirky (stick figure Stravinsky?).

But back to the unexpected piece in my choir binder.

Schoenberg didn’t start out writing 12-tone music.  His early work was consistent with the style of the late Romantic period (think Brahms and Wagner).  One of his best known early works is Verklärte Nacht (in English Transfigured Night, Op. 4, composed in 1899).  Here is a performance by the Emerson String Quartet.

The music in my binder is Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth, Op. 13, composed in 1907), a piece which was written as Schoenberg was making the transition from the harmonies of the Romantic period to something new and unexplored.

The transition is new and unexplored for me as well, but I’m sure it will be fascinating.


Image attribution:  Arnold Schoenberg by Man Ray [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


B@ch’s blog

I was reading a post on Schubert in Jeremy Denk’s blog (another here) when I got to thinking.  What if classical composers had blogs?

Schubert would almost certainly be writing his from a pub with wifi, and given the sheer volume of songs that he produced, he probably would have been a prolific blogger.  The question is, how many people would hide him on Facebook due to his dark postings?

Bach probably wouldn’t have had time to blog, with those weekly cantatas he had to write, and all those children.  He might have been more of a microblogger.  @JSBach “This Sunday: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.  Don’t miss it! #bachcantata #SDG”.  SDG is Soli Deo Gloria [Glory to God alone], which Bach wrote on his compositions.

Mozart would most definitely be Not Safe For Work (NSFW), judging from the contents of his occasionally lewd and scatological letters.

I’d love to see Beethoven take on a troll (or would he just turn a deaf ear to him…sorry, bad joke).  Anyone who can write a piece with the title Rage over a Lost Penny could take down a cranky poster.  Here’s a blisteringly fast performance by Evgeny Kissin.

If Schoenberg could restrict himself to a 12-tone row, he could handle the Twitter character limit (I can’t–maybe you’ve already noticed; in my profession I get paid by the word, and it shows).

Can you imagine Glenn Gould’s blog?  It would be a perfect venue for his unique perspectives, interactive, and yet not.  Comments would probably be turned off.

I wonder if the pattern of their words would be reminiscent of their music, if the ebb and flow of phrases would match the cadence of their characteristic musical phrases.

Whose blog would you love to read?