Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Beyond–Bach in Interstellar Space

Poster showing the outline of the Voyager spacecraft against a blue and black painted background representing space

Beethoven, Mozart,
Bach wrote music for all time,
And now, all of space.

Bach traveled on foot
Over two hundred miles to
Hear great music, learn.

Now his music flies
Beyond the sun’s reach, into
Interstellar space.

This week NASA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft.  When Voyager 1 and 2 were launched, each carried a golden record containing images and the sounds of Earth.  Along with greetings in over 50 human languages, whale song, and sounds of nature, there was a selection of the world’s music, including classical music.

One of the spacecraft has now left our solar system and is in interstellar space; the other will be there soon.  And as they travel through the dark and empty space between the stars, our “silent ambassadors”1 carry the story of who we are.  Here are the classical selections chosen for the record:

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor.

Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from Partita No. 3 in E major for violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux

Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No. 1, performed by Glenn Gould, piano.

Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor.

Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by the Budapest String Quartet (read more about the Cavatina here).

Holborne, “The Fairie Round”, performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London.

Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, No. 14, performed by Edda Moser, soprano and the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor.

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, performed by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor.

Bach walked 250 miles to hear the music of Dieterich Buxtehude and learn from him. The Voyager spacecraft are now 10-12 billion miles from Earth and are outward bound at around 40,000 miles per hour.  They’re still sending back fascinating and valuable data. Like Bach, they have traveled a long way in the pursuit of knowledge.  And the results have been glorious.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft.

Image of Saturn, its rings, and two moons taken by the Voyager spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

What music would you select to represent all of us?

References

  1.  https://www.space.com/37860-voyager-mission-40-years-ed-stone-interview.html
  2.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/voyager-nasa-exploring-unknown-1.4267178
  3. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/whats-on-the-record/music/
  4. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/index.html
  5. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

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Image attribution:  Like the image? Download it (and more) for free at https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/

Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/images-voyager-took/saturn/.

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Free Live Webcast:  Tchaikovsky’s 5th, Stravinsky, and a New Work by Wynton Marsalis; or, Cossacks, Elephants, and a Hootenanny

On Friday, June 2, 2017 at 10:45AM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free live online concert that will include a new work by Wynton Marsalis featuring violinist Nicola BenedettiHere is her official website.  Here’s the program:

Stravinsky: Circus Polka
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5.

The circus polka was composed for a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  It was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas.  Balanchine said he phoned Stravinsky:1

“I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me,” Balanchine said.
“For whom?”
“For some elephants.”
“How old?” Stravinsky asked.
“Very young,” Balanchine assured him.
There was a pause.  Then Stravinsky said gravely, “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.”2

I have to hear this now.  By the way, the elephant ballet was only performed for a short time, after which it became popular among solely human dancers.

I’m also eager to hear Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto.  From the reviews I’ve read, it is a thoroughly American concerto, with movements titled Rhapsody, Rondo, Blues, and Hootenanny.  Marsalis packs the work to overflowing with musical ideas and notions, and the work you hear on Friday may differ from previous performances—it seems to be a work in evolution.  A documentary has been created, The Making of a Concerto, which you can see at the link.  Here is the trailer.

Rounding out the program is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in which Tchaikovsky wrestles with the concept of fate.  And in the finale, the wrestling becomes fierce.  Check out this wild review from 1892, written by William Foster Apthorp, who was no great fan of “modern” music:8

In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes.  The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker.  Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!9

Wow.  Elephants, a hootenanny, and pandemonium.  Don’t miss it!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Polka
  2. Krista, Davida. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner Publication, p 72.
  3. http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/01/500059901/the-transatlantic-collaboration-behind-wynton-marsalis-new-violin-concerto
  4. http://wyntonmarsalis.org/news/entry/nicola-benedetti-performs-wynton-marsaliss-violin-concerto-los-angeles
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/nso-offers-exuberant-marsalis-concerto/2016/10/27/b5c1c3cc-9cb9-11e6-b4c9-391055ea9259_story.html?utm_term=.f1f925b105e4
  6. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-cso-marsalis-review-ent-0714-20160713-column.html
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/08/london-symphony-orchestra-nicola-benedetti-james-gaffigan-wynton-marsalis
  8. http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/Tchaikovsky-Symphony-No-5-in-E-minor.aspx
  9. Boston Evening Transcript, October 24, 1892 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._5_(Tchaikovsky)


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Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song”, Lost for 107 Years, To Be Performed

Cover of Stravinsky's

Stravinsky’s Funeral Song, long thought to be lost, has been found, and will be performed for the first time in 107 years on December 2, 2016.

Stravinsky wrote Funeral Song in 1908 as a tribute after the death of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov.  It was last performed in January 1909, with Felix Blumenfeld conducting.  The piece was never published, and was considered lost in the chaos and upheaval of the Russian Revolution.  Stravinsky said that Funeral Song was the best thing he had ever written before The Firebird, but, unfortunately, he could not remember the music to reconstruct it.  In memoirs written in 1935 Stravinsky said,

I no longer remember the music, but I recall very well my idea for the work.  It was like a procession of all the soli instruments of the orchestra, coming in turns to each leave a melody in the form of a wreath on the master’s tomb, all the while with a low background of murmuring tremolos, like the vibrations of bass voices singing in a choir.

Various attempts had been made over the years to find the piece, all in vain.  However, during building repairs at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, after removing pianos and tons of scores from a music library, a small, previously inaccessible storage area was uncovered.  Chillingly, the music was supposed to have been destroyed.  Luckily, librarian Irina Sidorenko called musicologist Natalia Braginskaya, a Stravinsky expert who had been seeking the work at the conservatory, to tell her Funeral Song had been found.

In all, 58 orchestral parts of the 106-measure piece, which is in A minor and marked with a tempo of Largo assai, were found.  Braginskaya and a team of experts at the conservatory worked to reconstruct the full orchestral score of the piece, which will be published by Boosey and Hawkes.  It is stated that the piece is marked by a romantic style uncharacteristic of later Stravinsky works, although some of the harmony and instrumentation is reminiscent of The Firebird.

Funeral Song will be performed on December 2, 2016 at 2PM by the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev.  A live webcast of the performance of Funeral Song may be seen on Medici.tv (see link for details).

For a glimpse of the score, here is a link to a Russian-language video about the discovery. English subtitles are provided.  The score may be seen beginning at time stamp 5:45.

References

  1. http://www.medici.tv/?utm_source=Mainlist&utm_campaign=f922db39eb-353_20161124_insc_en&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ae558c6ab2-f922db39eb-320041237#/valery-gergiev-stravinsky-chant-funebre
  2. http://conservatory.ru/node/4043, Возвращение Погребальная песни Игора Стравинского [The Return of Igor Stravinsky’s Funeral Song]
  3. https://mariinsky.tv/1066 and https://youtu.be/fB6Cj-m_pMY [with English subtitles]
  4. https://mariinsky.tv/1067 and https://youtu.be/lPyZODmsxCI [with English subtitles].


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Stravinsky, Sibelius, Kuusisto

On Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hannu Lintu will perform the divertimento from Stravinsky’s one-act ballet, The Fairy’s Kiss,” and Sibelius’s Second Symphony.  The program will also include the DSO debut of Jaakko Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto, which will feature violinist Elina Vähälä.

An hour before the concert starts there will be an informal interview with composer Jaakko Kuusisto, who is also a conductor and an award-winning violinist.  He plays a 1702 Matteo Goffriller.2  Elina Vähälä plays a 1780 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini.5  You’re welcome, violinists!

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon–don’t miss it!  You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.

References

  1. http://www.jaakkokuusisto.fi/index.php?LanguageID=3
  2. Karlson, Anu, The two lives of Jaakko Kuusisto, Finnish Musical Quarterly, 2/1997. http://www.fmq.fi/1997/06/the-two-lives-of-jaakko-kuusisto/.
  3. http://www.hannulintu.fi/
  4. http://www.elinavahala.com/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elina_V%C3%A4h%C3%A4l%C3%A4


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Detroit Rach City: Free DSO Rachmaninoff/Stravinsky Webcast

On April 16, 2016 at 8 PM EDT (GMT-4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free live webcast, titled “Ravishing Rachmaninoff.”

The program will include Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 1, featuring French pianist Lise de la Salle, and conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero of the Nashville Symphony.  Also on the program is Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and the world premiere of Something for the Dark by Sarah Kirkland Snider, a winner of the DSO’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for female composers.

You can see the webcast at dso.org/live.

PS For those who didn’t recognize it, the title is a play on the song Detroit Rock City by the rock group Kiss.  You now know how old I am.  Rach on!


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Haiku Wednesday – Carlo Gesualdo

Carlo Gesualdo“Mr Gesualdo,

How do you plead to murder

Of wife and lover?”

“Guilty, your honor.”

“And to chromaticism

And strange harmony?”

“Guilty as well, sir.

May I be remembered for

All I have done here.”

And so it was.  Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) is remembered for both the salacious events of his life and for the strange beauty of his music.  For those interested in the lurid details, I leave you to your own devices.  I’m trying to keep it PG here.  By the way, the above exchange never would have occurred because, as nobility (he was Prince of Venosa), he was exempt from prosecution.

Gesualdo is known for his secular and sacred music.  He wrote six books of madrigals, and the later books show greater and greater experimentation with chromaticism.

Here is a Gesualdo madrigal, Moro, lasso, al mio duolo

His most well-known sacred work is the Tenebrae Responsoria, which is lavish in its use of chromaticism, unusual harmonies, and abrupt shifts in tempo.

From the Tenebrae Responsoria, O vos omnes

The level of chromaticism used in Gesualdo’s work was very unusual at the time, and was not used to that great an extent until modern times.  Stravinsky was especially taken with his work, and wrote Monumentum pro Gesualdo, which incorporates an arrangement of one of Gesualdo’s madrigals (Belta, poi che t’assenti).

A theme used in Stravinsky’s Monumentum, Gesualdo’s Belta, poi che t’assenti

And in Stravinsky Monumentum

I leave you with this sweet confection from Gesualdo:  Ave dulcissima Maria