Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday:  An Unexpected Jazz Suite

Dmitri Shostakovich with dark glasses

Tapping my toes to
Some lively jazzy music
Really makes my day.
So who wrote this piece?
Dmitri Shostakovich.
Wait…what?!  Believe it!

I was streaming some classical music, probably Bach, and all of a sudden, I realized I was listening to some jazz-like music, probably 1930s vintage, judging from the sound of it.  What was this?  Shostakovich Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.  What?!  And then the Hawaiian guitar came in.  Mind blown.

Better known for his symphonies and film music (and operas), Dmitri Shostakovich also wrote two jazz suites.  The first was written in 1934, and the second in 1938 for the Soviet Union’s new State Jazz Orchestra.  Each of the suites has three movements.  The first has a waltz, polka, and foxtrot; the second a scherzo, lullaby, and serenade.

Here you can see a performance of Shostakovich’s Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1.

The score of the second suite was lost during the Second World War, but a piano score was found in 1999.  An orchestral arrangement was created, and you can see Suite No. 2 performed here.

Prior to the rediscovery of the piano score, Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra was mistakenly believed to be Jazz Suite No. 2.  You can see the Suite for Variety Orchestra here.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._1_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Jazz_Orchestra_No._2_(Shostakovich)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite_for_Variety_Orchestra_(Shostakovich)

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/shostakovich/music/jazz-suites/

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Image attribution: Dmitri Shostakovich in the audience at the Bach Celebration of July 28, 1950. Photo by Roger & Renate Rössing, retouched, Deutsche Fotothek (By Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0002792_002_Portrait_Dmitri_Dmitrijewitsch_Schostakowitchs_im_Publikum_der_Bachfeier.jpg: Roger & Renate Rössing, credit Deutsche Fotothek. derivative work: Improvist [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons).  Lenses modified by C. Gallant.


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Free Concert Webcast: Bach, Shostakovich Jazz, and New Jazz from Michel Camilo

Dmitri Shostakovich with dark glasses

Am I hip yet?

On Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 8 PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert webcast.  The program includes orchestral transcriptions of Bach works, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 1, and the world premiere of Michel Camilo’s Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra (his official website is here).  The orchestra will be conducted by Leonard Slatkin.  You can see the concert here.

Be there or be square.


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The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Celesta

‘Tis the season for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and one of the most well-known pieces from that work is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So how do you get that magical tinkling sound?  The celesta.

The celesta is a keyboard instrument that produces its sound through the striking of metal plates with little hammers connected to the keys, in the same way that pianos strike strings.

Here is a video from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic introducing the celesta.

If you are interested in a more in-depth treatment of the mechanics and the manufacturing of celestas, see this video from Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH.

Would you like to see The Nutcracker in its entirety?  You can!  EuroArts presents it on YouTube (with minimal commercial interruption).  You can find the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at time stamp 1:29:00.  If you would like to see a purely orchestral version, you can see The Nutcracker performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 1:22:00).

But the celesta doesn’t go back in the storage room after the Christmas season!  It is used in a number of other works, namely Mahler’s Symphony No. 6Symphony No. 8, and Das Lied von der Erde, as well as several symphonies by Shostakovich.  A wonderful use of the celesta can be found in Gustav Holst’s The Planets in the mystical final movement Neptune.

It can also be found in Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, and many operas.

Listen, and I think you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find the celesta adding that extra bit of magic to the music around you!


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Haiku Wednesday: “Got your nose!” Shostakovich’s The Nose

Bust of physicist Robert Millikan at Caltech with shiny nose

This is a bust of physicist Robert Millikan at Caltech.  Students rub his nose for good luck.

Schnozz, schnozzola, beak,
Proboscis, snout, bill, honker,
Elephant trunk, snoot.

In a candy store,
A nose by any other
Name would smell a sweet.1

“Got your nose!” is a game you can play with little kids—once.  You lightly pinch their nose, and show them the tip of your thumb between your fingers (I hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone).  You can play it once because they either a) reach for their nose and realize it’s still there, then give you a look, sometimes playing along with the joke; or b) reach for their nose, then start crying and screaming, “Give me back my nose!”  In either event, the game is rapidly over.  Chess it’s not.

But what if “got your nose!” actually happened?2  Shostakovich wrote an opera, The Nose, based on a story by Gogol about a man who wakes one morning to find his nose is missing and the absurdities that ensue, especially when the authorities get involved.  I can picture the American version of the story:

Emergency telephone operator:  “911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
Man:  “My nose is missing; someone stole my nose!”
Operator:  “…Sir, how old are you?”

However, in Shostakovich’s version, the nose remains at large, and attempts a daring escape.  This seems like a fitting spot for the finale of a PDQ Bach cantata.

You can see Shostakovich’s surreal masterpiece in English translation on The Opera Platform beginning November 9, 2016 at 2:30PM (19:30 GMT/UTC).  Click the Opera Platform link for more details on the performance.  It is a production of the Royal Opera House.

I hope you’ll get a chance to watch—this is nothing to sniff at.

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1With apologies to William Shakespeare, and, well, everybody.

2Not quite “got your nose,” but astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel.  He wore a gold and silver one to replace it.

Non-musical references
(which I found after writing the haiku, and thinking about how many nose-related English words contain schn or sn, and wondering how many other people had already used “a nose by any other name”)

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/09/12/a-nose-by-any-other-name-biology-may-affect-the-way-we-invent-words/
  2. Blasi, Damian, et al., “Sound-meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol 113 No 39, September 27, 2016 pp 10818-10823. Preprint viewable at https://www.bioinf.uni-leipzig.de/Publications/PREPRINTS/16-017.pdf