Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Leave a comment

Haiku Wednesday: Autumn Nocturne

Photograph of lake viewed through autumn leaves

The sky is slate gray
Dead leaves crunch beneath my feet
Or skitter away.

Collar turned up, I
Shove my hands in my pockets
Against the cold wind.

I walk along with
Furrowed brow, lost in thought, with
Even measured steps.

Looking up, I see
Autumn’s rich, vibrant colors
Surrounding the lake.

More than the cold, it
Takes my breath away–there is
Beauty everywhere.

Here is Stefan Jackiw performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor as a violin solo. Exquisite.

Here you can find a haunting piano solo performance of the nocturne by Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story became known worldwide in the movie “The Pianist.”

References

  1. About the nocturne:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_Op._posth._(Chopin)
  2. Sheet music:  http://imslp.org/wiki/Nocturne_in_C-sharp_minor,_B.49_(Chopin,_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric)

_____
Image attribution: Lake view through autumn leaves by http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Looking_through_tree_autumn_leaves_lake_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Free Webcast Concert: Berlin Phil, Mehta, Zukerman Play Tchaikovsky and Elgar

On Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 3PM EDT (8PM in Berlin, UTC -4) the Berlin Philharmonic will present a free concert on its website.  The concert will feature Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman, and the program will include Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Elgar’s Violin Concerto.   The concert is a benefit concert for UNICEF.


1 Comment

Happy Birthday, Chopin!

Frederic Chopin

Piano works are
What he’s known for, but there’s more
That you need to hear:

Concertos, duets,
His versions of Polish songs,
A stirring trio.

Get to know Chopin
In a whole new dimension
In non-solo works.

Now let us all say
Happy birthday to the great
Frédéric Chopin.

It is Chopin’s birthday today! Church records list his birthday as February 22, 1810, but since Chopin and his family celebrated his birthday on March 1, it is considered the correct date.

Where does one begin to write about Chopin?  He was brilliant.  His works revolutionized the piano repertoire, and enriched the world of music forever.  His mazurkas and polonaises captured the soul of Poland, his nocturnes and preludes plumbed the depths of human emotions.  Countless words have been written about his piano solo works.

So I’m going to write about his other works.

Did you know that Chopin didn’t write solely for the piano?  Certainly, there is a piano present in all his works (and he wrote a piece for two pianos, Rondo in C for Two Pianos, Op. 73, Op. posth.), but lesser known are his compositions that include other instruments.

Chopin wrote two concertos for piano and orchestra (Op. 11 and Op. 21).  There are many wonderful videos of the concertos performed at the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, and you can find them here.  You can also hear and see Piano Concerto No 1 performed by Evgeny Kissin (Zubin Mehta conducting) or Martha Argerich (Jacek Kaspszyk conducting)Here is a link to Piano Concerto No 2 performed by Arthur Rubinstein (conducted by Andre Previn).

Cello fans will enjoy this video of Chopin’s Cello Sonata (Op. 65) performed by Natalia Gutman and Sviatoslav Richter, or this performance of the Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major (op. 3) performed by Daniil Shafran and Anton Ginsburg.

Here is Chopin’s Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (Op. 8), a wonderfully stirring piece of music.

Chopin also set several poems in Polish to music.  Here is one of his Polish songs for voice and piano.

And now, since it is Chopin’s birthday, here is a fun tribute to him, the song Happy Birthday in the style of Chopin, with some added improvisation.


3 Comments

That Jokester Joseph Haydn!

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy

The last post was kind of heavy, so I thought I’d lighten things up.  And what better way than with a joke?

In particular, Joseph Haydn’s string quartet Op. 33 No. 2, known as “The Joke.”

In this string quartet, Haydn plays with the listener’s expectations of what a string quartet “should” sound like, what the listener expects to hear.  And when we are surprised by what we hear, sometimes we laugh.  And sometimes we jump—this is, after all, the same man who wrote the “Surprise” Symphony (No. 94)You can hear the symphony’s famous second movement here (headphone/earbud listeners might want to pull them away from their ears before time stamp 0:40).

I found a great short TEDx talk by the St. Lawrence String Quartet on the last movement of “The Joke”  that provides a fun explanation of what Haydn is up to.  When the movement ends, you can’t help but chuckle.

They also have an extended discussion that includes other movements of the string quartet, and that video can be found here.

A funny point is brought out that involves the minuet (scherzo) movement.  This minuet had already showed signs of Haydn’s tinkering:  the “graceful” minuet had some starts and stops that would make it a little difficult to dance to.  Then, (in the trio section) Haydn put an interesting fingering notation over some notes.  Editors must have scratched their heads and said, “that can’t be right—play two successive notes on the same string with the same finger?!”  What you end up with, if you play it with Haydn’s fingering, is an effect that sounds like…well, a slide whistle.  It’s a funny sound, perhaps slightly inebriated-sounding, that seems to poke fun at the stately minuet.  You can hear a wonderful example of it here.

Ah, but enough explanations!  Let’s let Haydn do the talking.  Here is this wonderful string quartet in its entirety.  Enjoy!

_____

Image attribution: Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1757-circa 1805) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJoseph_Haydn.jpg


Leave a comment

Free Live Webcast: Joshua Bell and the National Symphony Orchestra

 

Joshua Bell

On February 11, 2017 at 8:00PM EST (GMT-5), medici.tv will present a concert by Joshua Bell and the National Symphony Orchestra.  The live webcast is free.  Here is the link.

The program will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole.  The latter will include a dance performance by the Dance Heginbotham dance company.

The performance will also be streaming on the medici.tv Facebook channel.

If you won’t be able to watch the live webcast, it will be available on demand at medici.tv for 90 days.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphonie_espagnole
  3. “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5481664


1 Comment

Music is Everywhere

Here are some musicians finding music in very unusual places.  Enjoy!

First, the Triple Concerto for Faucet, Water Pipes, and Fiddle

And now, Siegfried’s Horn Call for Horn (and Chair)

And this post would not be complete without P.D.Q. Bach’s “Erotica” Variations for Banned Instruments (safe for work, despite title!).  My favorite is the lasso d’amore (the orange whirly tube).

See if you can find some unexpected music today!


2 Comments

Haiku Wednesday: Tension

Piano strings

Strings in tension strain
Against powerful posts and
Await their calling.

Vibrating, they speak,
The sound echoes out across
All of space and time.

Too tense, and they break.
Too slack, and naught is produced.
Balance is the key.

 

I read a phenomenal statement last night.

A piano can have as many as 236 strings.  Each string is under a tension of 160-200 pounds.  In a regular piano, this translates to 18 tons.  In a concert grand, it is close to 30 tons.1

Wow.

Even a violin is subjected to 50 pounds of tension across its delicate frame.2

But tension alone does not produce music; these strings must move to create sound.  Combine tension and motion, and you produce something that must be seen to be believed.  Here is the vibration of a violin string in slow motion.

You don’t have to search for very long before finding articles full of gnarly equations on the physics of vibration, harmonics, and the Helmholtz corner (here’s an equation-free article on the bowing of a violin and another, aptly named “Why is the violin so hard to play?”).  It came as no surprise then to find that physicist Richard Feynman had turned his keen mind to piano tuning.  Feynman’s letter to his piano tuner can be found here.  I hope the tuner could read equations.3

We can all be grateful for the technical wizardry of Stradivarius and Guarneri and Babcock’s cast-iron frames that would have kept Liszt from wrecking his pianos, but let’s turn again to the music that can be coaxed from these taut strings.

I hope you will enjoy Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk playing the fourth movement of Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano.

References

  1. http://www.piano.christophersmit.com/strings.html
  2. http://physicscentral.com/explore/action/fiddle.cfm
  3. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic726013.files/Piano%20tuning.pdf

_____

Image attribution:  Piano strings, photo by Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States (Music Strings) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piano_strings_6.jpg