Thursday, December 21, 2017

"Symphony for a Broken Orchestra", to raise money for new instruments for kids

Rob Blackson of Temple University in Philadelphia got composer David Lang to write a symphony for “broken instruments”, up to 1500 of them. The NBC news story from Kristin Dalgren.  It’s called “Symphony for a Broken Orchestra”.

The New York Times story, by Ted Lios from Nov. 6,  is here. 


This seems to be the ultimate “gebrauchmusil” – music written for economic utility or charity.  It’s often what composers have to do for commissions.  But film music is the ultimate example of what Paul Hindemith started.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Stagecraft at Christmastown, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg

I did a walkabout through Busch Garden's Christmas Town Sunday night and didn't have time for any of the lines for the stage shows ("Scrooge" was playing at the Globe Theater replica) but I did get to the FestJall in the Germany section, where there was a considerable Christmas stage show, vaudeville style.

It takes about four hours to do the walk,  Note the Pompeii alien landscape exhibit, too.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mystery choral work about "angels" on YouTube -- is this Rachmaninoff? Russian orthodox church?

I attended the 60th Annual Christmas Candlelight Service at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, and that experience is described now on Wordpress, here.

But I wanted to add a comment about the Rachmaninoff Vespers.  In looking for the YouTube complete performance (the work lasts over an hour and I heard it once in a Catholic Church in Greenwich Village in the 1970s) but I found this curious video "Voices of Anges" on YouTube when I looked for it.   It does sound a bit like the Vespers

Who is the composer? Von Bingen?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Mahler's "minimalist" Symphony #4 in G Major (ending in E)

I got my first two stereo records for Christmas in 1962. One was Klemperer’s 1957 recording for Angel of the Beethoven Ninth (with some Fidelio exceprts, a set); the other was a 1960 (I think) recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, 1899-1900, in G Major.

This is true “G Major” music, in the first movement and slow movement (third).  The slow movement ends on the dominant after a Sunrise passage.

The Finale, which wanders to the distant E Major to end quietly with one of Mahler’s songs, always leave me feeling that the work is incomplete. There are stories that Mahler originally had intended this movement to be the finale of the Third;  instead the majestic Adagio there is fine as it is.

The YouTube video above shows the San Francisco Symphony with Micheal Tilson Thomas. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

ABC GMA presents prodigy pianist and organist, Daniel Colaner

This morning ABC GMA presented 12 year old pianist Daniel Colaner, who played part of the C# minor Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66, whose middle section generates the song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”.

Colaner had just performed at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Colaner also plays the organ.

The video below shows him playing Copland’s “The Cat and the Mouse”.  


He recovered from an aggressive cancer as a child, as detailed in this Akron Ohio newspaper story

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Try some quarter-tone music by Haba or Ives (or is this "old hat"?)

Tried some quarter-tone music this morning, Alois Haba Suite for Quarter-tone piano and clarinet, #1, Op. 24, about 5 minutes. 

It sounds impressionistic, not as radical as I expected.

You can try his piano sonatas on YouTube.  But the effect is seeming to be out of tune.

You can try Charles Ives’s 3 quarter tone pieces, where he explains how the pianos are tuned in a paper (needs two pianos, a quarter tone apart)

There are also quarter-tone or “microtonal” jazz combos on YouTube.

This kind of stuff was viewed as very avant garde in the 1950s when I was taking piano. 

Here's a video on some microtone theory. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

When a Bruckner "finale" becomes a fantasy

You can entertain yourself with a 30-minute “Finale” of the Bruckner Symphony #9 by Peter Jan Marthe.

This is more like a Symphonic Fantasy on Themes of Anton Bruckner than a true attempt to reconstruct a legitimate finale (which was almost 90% complete at least in sketch).
True, the descending tetrachord theme of the finale appears, as do some descending fifths as in the Beethoven 9 (or Bruckner #3).   The ending is appropriately bombastic, more elaborate than Bruckner usually is.  This sounds like Hollywood movie music, as from the 40s and 50s. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

More Papa Haydn: what happens when a piano sonata begins with a minuet

I wanted to revisit Papa Haydn again.  This silly little 2-movement Piano Sonata in G, HOB VCI 40, that starts with a simple Minuet.

I heard it on WETA on a day trip on Nov. 2, somewhere around Frederick MD.  The second movement’s passagework trails off to end on a single note, pianissimo, unusual for Haydn.The piece seems very matter-of-fact, almost like Scarlatti 

I see that on Sept. 1, 2015 I had already analyzed another Sonata that starts with a Minuet, #22 in F Major by Beethoven, with its little game of “Mother May I”. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The "chills and fever" endings of post-romantic symphonies and piano concerti

I discovered the effectiveness of the “chills and fever” ending of a large romantic work probably when I was around 14 years old. 

The first work that I came to associate with that effect was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor, Op. 18, actually barely into the 20th Century as completed in 1901. The famous tune from Frank Sinatra’s “Full Moon and Empty Arms”, originally introduced in the relative E-flat Major as a second theme of a rondo, announces the climax of the work with a Picardy C Major chord as the theme is recapitulated at the end. The work would end with Rachmaninoff’s signature 4-note motif.

I heard the work on a car radio the other day during a day trip and it brings back memories.
However, the idea of ending a cyclical work in a minor key with a parallel major incarnation of a second theme had occurred much earlier.  Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor had done it in 1868, and Tchaikovsky had done the same with the Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor in 1875.
In fact, Felix Mendelssohn had done this with the Symphony #3 in A Minor, the “Scotch” was completed as early as 1842.

I wore some records out by playing the conclusions of these favorite works on an old record player with a sapphire needle back in the 1950s. When I got a VM stereo, the piano tone in the inner grooves would be severely distorted.

It had been common for composers to end works minor-key works in major keys before.  But in Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, and in Brahms’s First Symphony the entire finale (except for a slow introduction) is in the Picardy major key.   Brahms had an opportunity to do this with his first Piano Concerto, but the concept of the conclusion has never been that convincing for me.
And the end of the Bach B Minor Mass is quite thrilling, but it is in the relative D Major, not the Picardy B.

Eugen d’Albert’s Piano Concerto #1 in B Minor, covered on this blog before, was completed in 1884 and probably largely composed at ages 18 and 19. It would seem to be one of the most brilliantly conceived large compositions by any teenager since Mozart.  Patterned after the Liszt B Minor Sonata (but adding techniques from large and mature Chopin works like the Op. 61), it tacks on a huge fugal (and almost dodecaphonic) cadenza and brilliant B Major “big tune” coda with may have been known to Rachmaninoff and even Scriabin, who uses a similar concept to build the final climax of his “Divine Poem”.  This is one of those works that is rarely performed and obscure but sounds so familiar even at first hearing. 

Anton Bruckner might be considered the master of thrilling endings, but most of them are based on an opening or primary theme, not the secondary.   There is controversy, covered before, over whether he intended to end the Ninth with a “Hallejuh” theme from the Scherzo, or really intended to superimpose the descending figure from the Beethoven Ninth and the rising theme from his Seventh onto the coda.

Mahler’s Second Symphony actually ends on a relative E-Flat Major, and the Third does end in the Picardy D Major.  Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder starts in E-Flat by ends in a triumphant C Major.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New York Times honors pianist Martha Argerich

The New York Times has a collage by Joshua Barone, “Hear the Martha Argerich recordings that inspired 8 young pianists”.

One of them is Bartok’s Piano Concerto #3 (the very end was completed by Szery). 

Other works include the Lizst B Minor Sonata (an inspiration to d’Albert), Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” and “Kinderszenen”, and particularly Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #3 in C. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Papa Haydn revisited

Here’s a 15-minute Haydn Piano Sonata in a Minor Key, C Minor, #20, as played by Charles Rosen.

There is a typical drop-roll figuration the base at the beginning.

The music sometimes predicts early Beethoven more than it would resemble Mozart.  Some scholars give Haydn credit for inventing the idea of a real “development” section in a Sonata structure.

The slow movement sounds like it is in G.  Note the abrupt ending of the finale. 

There is a Haydn Sonata in C# Minor that I remember learning as a teen, with a middle scherzo in A Major and a Minuet as a curious finale.

Here’s a comparison of Haydn and Mozart. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

John Rutter's Psalm 150

A Facebook friend shared a performance of John Rutter's Psalm 150.

The 8-minute composition seems to be in the unusual key of F# Major. It is performed by the St. Paul Cathedral Choir in London.  The music is somewhat modal at times, and is suggestive particularly of Ralph Vaughn Williams.

I presented Bruckner's treatment of the Psalm here Jan. 25, 2014. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Houston pastor plays his piano in flooded home; Yamaha will replace it (AC360 CNN)

A Houston pastor plays the piano in his flooded home to show his son the piano still works.

Anderson Cooper interviewed Vanessa Carlton on AC360 to help Eric and his family (seven kids). 

Yamaha will replace the piano, according to AC360 Friday evening.
If you’re a musician, the piano is an essential item.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

More Amy Beach: the huge Violin Sonata

Monday Night, WETA FM broadcast a March 22 concert from the National Gallery of Art, “Three By Three: The Music of Amy Beach”.   The cellist was Rachel Young, with Alexandra Osborne, violin and Lisa Emenheiser, piano (older writeup). 

The program started with the Five Pieces for Cello and Piano, which are “La Captive”. “Berceuse”, “Dreaming”, “Pastorale”, and “Mazurka”.  On YouTube, I-Hsuan-Hsieh plays them.

Then they played the massive Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op. 34, in four movements, composed in 1896. The style is Brahmsian, and wants to be a full violin concerto.  The work runs 33 minutes, with four movements.  The Largo, in the dominant E Minor, is the third movement, and is a massive post-romantic slow movement. The Finale has an intricate fugue before a triumphant conclusion on the tonic A Major.

The YouTube video above was filmed at Indiana University in Bloomington with Justin Bird, piano; the violinist is not identified.
The concert also played the Piano Trio, but that was reviewed here May 23, 2016. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beethoven's "The Heavens Are Declaring", from another work?

On Sunday, August 13, 2017 the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC performed an anthem by Ludwig van Beethoven, “The Heavens Are Declaring”,  in C Major, with Lon Schreiber directing the Chancel Choir and soloists Kelly Curtin and Aurelio Dominguez.

I cannot find an opus number for the work or any indication that it is extracted from a larger choral work.  The most definitive reference is here

Later Schreiber played an independent Scherzo by Beethoven, not obviously extracted from any larger work (Sonata or Symphony), no opus number.

But both pieces are familiar to my ear, even since boyhood.

By comparison, Haydn's "The Heavens Are Telling" does come "The Creation". 

The First Baptist Church has been offering breakfast Sunday mornings in August for the “Faith in Action” series of common Sunday school lessons.  The teacher had been to Charlottesville Saturday.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

100 year old pianist performs at retirement center in Seattle

Here is a 100-year-old pianist, Randolph Hokanson playing Scarlatti and Chopin at a retirement center in Seattle.

He also has a CD,
The CD seems to come from the University of Washington.

Wikipedia attribution link for Seattle picture. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Vox releases short film explaining Hans Zimmer's music composition techniques

Vox Media and Ezra Klein posted a 6-minute video explaining the compositional techniques of Hanz Zimmer in some of his scores, especially the recent film Dunkirk, here

The video explains some compositional techniques like the Shepherd’s Tone.

These are probably used by other younger modern composers.  I sent the link along to the Metropolis Ensemble in New York City.

The music is particularly interesting in Christopher Nolan’s films, which often deal with ambiguities in time and reality layer.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sebastian Letocart's Prelude and Fugue in G for Organ

Here is Sebastian Letocart’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major for Organ,  played by Edward Vanmarsenille at the Bruckner Organ of Saint Florian in Austria.  

The embedded video is a recent 2017 recording.  There is an older 2011 recording.   The Prelude has a fast section, and the Fugue starts at about the 4 minute mark.  The Belgian composer has said that in some of his music he was influenced by Vaughn Williams (sort of the world of the Fourth Symphony), but there is a density here that suggests Reger and also shows the composer’s (he calls himself “Tracotel” on Facebook) work with Bruckner.

Sebastian has some YouTube postings of some other Bruckner symphonies with “appropriate tempi”.  Here is the Fifth, taken a bit faster, with some new inner voices at the very end.

Here’s a video about the largest pipe organ in the world, in Donald Trump’s Atlantic City. 

Update: Sept. 11, 2017

Here is Letocart's Fugue in 5/4 Time for solo piano, in C Major.  It sounds like a take-off on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. He now calls himself "Abes Tracotel" on Facebook. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bowden's very British-sounding Trumpet Tune

Charles Higgs plays Atlanta composer Nicholas Bowden’s Trumpet Tune in D-flat Major.

The piece sounds very British to me, almost like an Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March.
Lon Scrhreiber played it as a postlude Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Washington DC. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

An interesting concert overture (or "Symphonic Prelude") attributed to Anton Bruckner

Here’s curious piece: a Symphonic Prelude in C Minor, 7 minutes long, conducted by Neeme Jarvi with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, believed to be composed by Anton Bruckner as a young man in his 20s.  Already it has the daring chromaticism of his later works, and outlines his compositional output.

However brief, this piece is a complex Sonata structure with three themes (like the symphonies) anticipating motives in his symphonies.

The piece is paired on a Chandos CD with the Mahler Symphony #6 in A Minor.  I have two recordings of that work, an RCA record with Leinsdorf from the late 1960s, and a Sony CD with Maazel (paired with #7). I’ll come back to this work later, but it didn’t become respectable until Bernstein started playing it in the 1960s. When I was in the Army at Fort Eustis in 1969, one of the other guys (from Berkeley) was familiar with the work. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

An audience participation movie in Gatlinburg

I’ll write a little blurb about this attraction in Gatlinburg TN as a “stage” event, maybe because I don’t have a recent post here.  It’s the “Shoot ‘em’ Up Cinema”, where people mount a mechanical horse, take a six-shooter, put on VT 3-D glasses, and ride through a movie experience where they can shoot outlaws.

The attraction now describes itself as 7-D.   I know that the Newseum in Washington has 4-D – I think odor, earthquake, maybe moisture count.

It was an interesting experience, to see how well the commercial part of Gatlinburg has recovered from the surrounding wildfire of Nov. 2017.

Nearby Pigeon Forge has a lot of “model world” attractions, like a replica of the Titanic and a model of Hollywood (like a little Vegas).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gibson's "The Four Pillars": music on a single note, for meditation?

This work is so unusual I feel I cam make a short blog post about it without playing much of it. It is Randy Gibson's “The Four Pillars Appearing From the Equal D Under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in the Midwinter Starfield.”

The New York Times story Saturday June 17 on p C2 by Seth Colter Wallas is “It’s Not One Note if There’s All That Texture”.  Well, texture can fascinate me visually, as I learned as a teenager. Online the article is “Listening to Three Hours of Music, from a Single Note”.

Don’t know where this was performed, but I can imagine the Poisson Rouge, or maybe the 9:30 Club n Washington.

Of hand, the music reminds me of hemi-sync from the Monroe Institute in Virginia, but I haven't ever had a session long enough to tell if that is really the intention, to provide connective meditation to cosmic consciousness, Rosicrucian style. (I did attend a "Rosicrucian Feast" in a New York City hotel on March 21, 1977, a chilly Sunday night as I recall, when living there.)

Arthur Honneger has a very French symphony “The 3 D’s” and I’ll have to go back and listen to it soon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stanford's Irish Rhapsodies, one of them an inspiration to singer Josh Grobah

The symphonies and orchestral rhapsodies of Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, largely recorded on Chandos, got my attention during the late 1980s and all of the 1990s, when CD’s were all the rage.

The rhapsodies often use Irish folk songs as second subjects, developing them as symphonic material. The Irish Rhapsody #1 in D Minor presents the song “Danny Boy” as a second subject at about the 5 minute mark.  The work does not bring the tune to the triumph that it might have.  But singer Josh Groban would do so with the song “You Raise Me Up” in 2010, the last year of my own mother’s life.
But my favorite of the Irish Rhapsodies is #4 in A Minor, Op. 141, “The Fisheman of Lough Neah and what He Saw”, here on Chandos with Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra.  The fisherman may have seen the Second Coming.  The Rhapsody takes another folk song and builds it up to majestic shouts at the end.  This work was a favorite on mine in the 1990s, as I worked on my first DADT book during the debate on “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Stanford wrote six symphonies, in the vein of Brahms and Elgar, which we’ll return to later.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Sebastian Letocart's Mass in D

Sebastian Letocart is known for his completion of the Finale of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, (he calls himselt Tracotel on Facebook), has a number of other compositions.

One of these is a five-movement a cappella Great Mass in D.

The work sounds like it comes from the Renaissance era to my years, the days of Leonardo da Vinci, with the harmonies and counterpoint somewhat more dense and even more modal.

I can find three of the five movements on YouTube, sung by the Matthew Curtis consort.
The Kyrie

The Gloria and Agnus Dei are also available.

I've never been a personal fan of a cappella.  My ear wants the overtones of instruments.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Author Pam Daniels provides historic rock mixes on new YouTube channel

Author Pam Daniels has compiled a rock mixer channel, with a typical video “Rock Time Warp: Foreplay “ Long Time” with lyrics by Boston Pam and Tom Sholz.

Daniels, a trangender woman (to female) and literature professor and author, has authored the biography of Robert Le Blanc in connection with the repealed “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. 

Picture: Mine, at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, 2012. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Is Randall Thompson's "The Testament of Freedom" an example of musical populism?

So, today, here’s a “populist” work rather than a typically classical one, “The Testament of Freedom”, by Randall Thompson, composed in 1943, the year of my birth (my existence started in 1942).   The work was originally intended for chorus and piano and later orchestrated. It was performed by the Boston Symphony and Serge Koussevitsky in 1945, shortly before VE Day.   The piece was originally written for the Virginia Glee Club when the composer was teaching at the University of Virginia.

The four movement work corresponds to four texts: “The Rights of British America”; “The Declaration of Causes and Taking Up Arms” (middle movements), and a letter to John Adams.
The texts tend to emphasize that freedom is not free.

I had a Mercury Wing recording of this in my college days, I think with Dorati.

The movements are in F Major, B-flat, G and F.  The second movement and finale start out as if they were “slow” movements.

The embedded performance is with the Northern Virginia Chorale.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter service at local Methodist church provides hymnology and harmony lessons

Better late than never, they say.  Easter Sunday service at Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA (following community service Saturday, which I did not attend this time, and numerous sunrise services – I went to the Lincoln Memorial) featured a lesson in hymnology – several lesser known Easter hymns with some modernisms in harmonies.

The hymn “This Is the Feast of Victory” by Heilert and Charles Callahan, in D Major, has an interesting twist of harmony:  It goes to the relative B Minor, and then to F Major, which would be relative to D Minor, with an odd and fresh effect.

The performance above is at a new organ in Antioch Ill, at the Faith Lutheran Church on the “Rogers 361”.

I could use this effect in my own 1960 D Minor Sonata, maybe to further freshen the harmonies at the long progression that builds up three times (1st movement development, transition to finale, and again transition to big tune at the end, or maybe in the runaway train coda).

There was also Gweneth Walker’s “A Hymn of Resurrection”, with Brass (YouTube from Plano, TX, north of Dallas on 175).

Try “Lamb of God” from the “Mass of Creation” by Mary Haugen, here.

Then there is the “Festival Alleluia, Christ Is Risen by James Chepponis (a favorite, it sounds like Vaughn Williams to me), performed in Columbia, SC. .

And let’s try “Alleluiah The Strife Is Over” by Leonard Bobrowski

I covered a New York Philharmonic concert where Johnathan Biss plays Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto, whose cadenza inspires the "gulf" of Timo Andres's Third Piano Concerto, "The Blind Banister", on Wordpress, here

Friday, April 14, 2017

Furtwangler Symphony #1 (1908-1941) needs new performances

Having become interested in the completed Bruckner Ninth in recent years, I went back and took a look at the Furtwangler, whose Second Symphony I discussed here in February 2012.
But now the attention is on the Symhony #1 in B Minor.  Furtwangler conceived of the work in 1908 (one year before the Mahler Ninth, and six years before Germany started WWI)), when he was 22.

  Now, Wilhelm Furtwangler is better known as a conductor to many people, and his actions during WWII created controversy given the Nazi regime, which Wikipedia pretty well summarizes.

In 1908, in fact, Furtwangler composed a symphonic movement called “Largo”, which he reworked as the first movement of the 1941 Symphony #1, composed as Nazi power was reaching its most ferocious, before America would be pulled into the War by Pearl Harbor.  In fact, the 31-minute first movement (one of the longest purely orchestra individual symphonic movements in literature) is a rather conventional but expansive sonata-allegro, and “Moderato” would have been a more appropriate marking. There are three theme groups, with the second and third themes spawning what sound like familiar melodies.  The last theme will gradually morph into the “big tune” in the finale.  The movement has an extended, quiet epilogue with some militaristic effects which anticipate Shostakovich.

The Scherzo, only 9 minutes, is even elfish, and will grow familiar quickly, in the home key of B Minor.

The Adagio, at 16 minutes, in G Major, has a noble four-note hymn-like motive that will sound familiar. One expects something that sounds like a great Bruckner Adagio, but the music is somewhat gentler and kinder.  The harmonic palette is about as close to Brahms as to Bruckner – again a curious mixture (as with Rheinberger).

But it is the 26-minute finale where Furtwangler’s compositional techniques really do seem influenced by Bruckner.  He weaves the motives from the first three movements (especially a 4-note fugal motif) to rebuild them into new themes.  Even the final “big tune” at the end seems to be constantly reinventing itself and modulating.  Furtwangler prepares a final pedal point in B Major in a manner resembling the wat Bruckner concludes his own Symphony #5 (in B-flat), and though here the final chorale theme keeps transforming itself into the final drumroll and tonic chords.

The performance above is by Gerd Alexander Albrecht and the Staatskapelle Weimar.  I have the CD advertised above from Amazon.

Would an Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic look at this work and consider giving ti a performance?  It might be "politically" controversial, but the music is inspiring?
This does sound like appropriate "Good Friday" listening.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Messian started his "Quartet for the End of Time" as a prisoner of war in 1940

ON Palm Sunday, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell mentioned the composition “Quartet for the End of Time” (or “Quatour pour la fin du temps”) by Oliver Messiaen, for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano.

The composer began work on the piece (as a short trio) while imprisoned in a German concentration camp in 1940, at age 31. There was a violinist and cellist in the camp, and a clarinet player in transit. The 45-50 minute work would be performed outdoors in rain on Jan. 15, 1941.

The work comprises eight movements. Only four of the movements are for full quartet.  The concluding movement (“The Immortality of Jesus”) is a rather impressionistic meditation for violin and piano in E Major, that ends quietly; many of the other movements end loudly after extreme dynamic contrasts between pppp and ffff (even in the solo clarinet).  But much of the music has quasi-unison passages with 16th notes in slow tempo and melodic lines built around “modes of limited transposition”, that often sound serial and nearly atonal, even if they have impressionistic harmonies.  There could be some similarities to some of late Scriabin. The title of some movements refer to the acts and substance of angels.

There is a little theme in my “Third Sonata” (1962) that one of the passages reminds me of.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Josef Rheinberger's Symphony #2 bridges Bruckner and Brahms, if you can imagine that

Josef Rheinberger, well known for choral and organ music, may be somewhat a bridge between Bruckner and Brahms.

The Symphony #2 in F Major, the “Florentine”, is a massive work (53 minutes), and seems to be fairly youthful.  The first movement and finale are a bit Mendelssohn-like – and let us remember that F Major is a key that seems to usually have a more pastoral personality (like the Beethoven #6, or even the Brahms Third).

But the 18-minute Adagio, in D Minor, is indeed monumental, anticipating Bruckner (especially the Fifth Symphony Adagio in the same key).  There is a second subject that sounds like a familiar church hymn tune, that raises to ecstatic climaxes twice.  The harmonic palette is closer to Brahms than Bruckner (Rheinberger hadn’t learned the value of unresolved dissonances yet), but Brahms’s slow movements tended to be simpler and more Andante-like.

The Third Movement is a Minuetto,in A Major,  rather than a scherzo, but is quite extensive – but again a little bit Brahmsian, and well worked out.

The Finale has a race to a jubilant finish that rather reminds me of Berwald, and perhaps Stanford (the Fourth Symphony, also in F).

Note the art work in the video, a vista on another planet, with a spindle city enclosed in a dome to provide a breathable atmosphere.

I have the OW CD with the Northwest German Radio Orchestra with Alun Frances.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Some Mendelssohn fugues -- going back to Bach

Last Sunday, Lon Schreiber, at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC played the second of the three Prelude-and-Fugue pieces from Op. 37 by Felix Mendelssohn, the Prelude and Fugue #2 in G Major.  I remarked afterward that it really does sound like Bach.  Screiber let it end fortissimo, but this YouTube performance ends it quietly.

 I found that Op. 35 was the set of six Prelude-and-Fugue for Piano.

 When I was a senior in high school, I was able to play #1, in E Minor.  The fugue breaks out into a heroic chorale in the Picardy E Major toward the end.  Serkin ends quietly, but I seem to remember bringing the volume back for the close.

When I was in graduate school in the mid 1960s at KU, my roommate had  a record player and one classical record, a Columbia of Biggs playing, among other things, the Bach G Major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 541..

Picture: McCollum Hall, on top Mt. Oread at KU, is where I lived 1966-67.  It has now been demolished, to be replaced by more modern housing.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Beethoven's Tempest Sonata (#17); why it mattered more to me as a boy than I realized

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, that is, Piano Sonata #17 in D Minor, Op. 31 #2, turns out to be more important to my own musical background than I had thought until recently.  I have to thank pianist Jonathan Biss for reminding me of this on his Facebook page on his Beethoven series.

The YouTube video below shows the music

Allan Schindler actually gave the work its nickname as he took the goings-on in the music (especially the slow movement) as evocative of the characters in Shakespeare’s play (“The Tempest”), which I saw put on by a college group in Dallas (on an arena-like stage somewhere around Greenville Ave. or SMU) in the mid 1980s.  I remember the eclectic plot, and the incipient mild homoeroticism of how the men (the male actors and dancers) had to be prepped to live in this comic paradise ruled by Prospero the Magician.

The music is remarkable for its elegance and simplicity. The first movement exposition starts on a dominant A major chord and sets up a question-answer paradigm in slow-fast alternation.  The music tends to hang on the dominant a lot, but intersperses harmonic adventures through the relative F major and its own dominant C.  But the second subject is (in Haydn fashion) a continuation of the first. Kempf doesn’t take the repeat, but he should

The slow movement, in a slow 3/4 with dotted rhythms, is indeed pensive enough and more harmonically adventurous (influenced by the counterpoint-generated harmonies in Bach).

The finale, a gentle Allegretto in the bare-bones time signature of 3/8, has always made me think of a winter sleigh ride (maybe Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on his visit to homophobic Russia, complete with birch forest).  I would say the same about the last movement of Sibelius’s Symphony #4 (in A Minor).  Here there is the same harmonic unpretentiousness, lots of use of dominant-dominated rhetoric, even in the twinkly grace.  The recapitulation (as with the first movement) gets more elaborate and is prepared by a cadenza-like passage, but in the end the music dies away pianissimo with a descending arpeggio.  This sounds like a work that is supposed to end softly and it does.

My second piano teacher wanted me to read this in my senior year of high school, as I best remember. At the time, I didn’t “like” the ending, although I do now.  But the harmonic gestures influenced my own Sonata #2 (spring of 1960), as had Brahms First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Third.  But I did not have the full background in harmony that I needed to assimilate it all, so some of my own writing (in the cadenza like passages), still wound a but trite and hackneyed, and I am working on revisions of these.

Update:  Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

It strikes me now, how the "Mannheim Rocket" slow introductory phrase (Beethoven Sonata 1, Mozart Symphony 40 finale), climbs to a plateau, and then when the music accelerates the listener is up on a pedestal for a ride that has gone since the beginning of time.  This is an odd, almost cosmic effect.  The harmonies would sound routine and perfunctory, but here the effect is stunning. Then there is the disarming simplicity of the "sleigh ride" in 3/8 time in the finale. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Furman Singers perform at First Baptist Church in Washington DC

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC today offered special music from the Furman Singers.

The group performed a cappella, “As the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners”, by Williametta Spencer (text by English poet John Donne).  It followed with an offertory anthem “It Is Nothing to You” by Robert J. Powell.

There followed the chorus “How Lovely Are the Messengers” from St. Paul, oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn.

There followed “Thou wilt keep him In perfect peace” by Samuel S . Wesley.

Then there was the riskier “Daemon irrepit callidus”  (“The Demon. Speaks Expertly”) by Gyorgy Orban.

The Sweetheart of the Sun” by Eric William Barnum apparently refers to The Story of Ruth (which became a film in 1960, which I have just ordered from Netflix). Ruth, it will be recalled, was willing to make sacrifices, including arranged marriage, out of an unusual sense of family responsibility, and therefore became and ancestor of David and eventually Jesus.

The singers also perform (although not in this service) a song cycle called “Prayers from the Ark” by Ivor R. Davies.  The movements include “Noah’s Prayer”, and prayer from the Little Bird, the Cat (very feline words), the Mouse, the Raven, and the Dove.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Arthur Bliss: A big piano concerto, and other piano works

The Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor (1938, 39 minutes) by British composer Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) is sweeping, with a curious mixture of post-Romanticism and English pastoralism.  The style sounds like a combination of Rachmaninoff and Ralph Vaughn Williams (when in his loud and virile moments), with the latter contributing the modal harmonies and clashing dissonances based on half steps and tritones.

There is a sense of menace, and yet defiance and denial.  The first movement (like the concerto in the same key y Tchaikowsky), Allegro con brio, ends in its own Picardy major triumph. The Adagietto is centered a tritone away, in E.  The finale (Andante maestoso introduction; then Molto vivo)  brings back the sweep of the first movement, with a Rachmaninoff-style big tune in B-flat just before the rush toward the end and the final crashing octaves.   At the very end, the clashing chords remind one somehow of the conclusion of an Alfred Hitchcock international spy murder mystery.

I’m supposed that the work isn’t booked more often. It would be a real crowd pleaser.

The Naxos CD, with Peter Donohoe at the piano and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (2002, 22 minutes), offers the Sonata for Piano, which seems to be in A Minor, but is very chromatic and toccata-like.  It has three movements (Moderato marcato Adagio sereno< Allegro) and picks up momentum after a serene slow movement.

There is a sense that a concerto for two pianos and orchestra should sound “bigger” than a conventional piano concerto  That doesn’t seem to hold here. The Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor (12 minutes) has three short interconnected movements: Allegro giustp, Larghetto tranquill, Vivace  There is some of the same effect as in the piano concerto but it doesn’t come across as heroic here.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bartok's last String Quartet, with its pianissimo finale

Recently I posted a scored recording of the Vaughn Williams Sym, 6, and now I have another somewhat similar work, the last of the string quartets by Bela Bartok.

There is no key signature, and the tonality is very chromatic and modal and influenced by Hungarian folk dances, but the underlying tonal center seems to be D.

Each movement starts with a slow theme in 6/8. Mesto, before going to the main movement.  The first movement is a more conventional allegro;  the second is a Mahlerian march, with the famous theme in intervals of a fourth.  The third is a burletta, with the famous string effects on repeated notes.  The last is the concluding “pianissimo”.  But Bartok, unlike Vaughn Williams, has some expression marks;  rising to mF, then F, and then FF in the violin on the last page before returning to pianissimo.  Some commentators do think that Bartok was trying to portray the desolation of war., lie Vaughn Williams and Shostakovich.

The other five quartets are  more joyous.  The first starts with a Beethoven-like fugue (resembling #14) but ends in a joyous dance.  Quarters 4 and 5 have the “arch” form and “night music”;  the 5th has a hurdy gurdy theme before the end

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Vaughn Williams: Symphony #6 : the ultimate desolation in a quiet ending

I recently posted a link (although a different one, with a picture of nuclear devastation) of this work, the Symphony #6 in E Minor , composed in 1946-47 by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

I posted it to mention the 10-minute “Epilogue” finale, which is a slow fugue in the strings, played in a continuous pianissimo, “without expression.”

The performance above is by Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony.  I have a Boult recording somewhere.  The poster notes a “ray of hope” or glimpse of Eden in  a reprise of a secondary theme near the end of the first movement.

But the music grows progressively darker, with its shifting modal harmonies emphasizing the tritone (diminished fifth), sometimes suggesting polytonality (of adjacent tonalities, a half-step apart).  You get a sense that the end is coming and that the door to your room is closed on you for the last night of your life, finally alone, without love.

I mentioned the idea of a epilogue in connection with the Epilogue of the “non-fiction” part of my DADT-III book, where I summarized my own take on what personal morality comes down (DADT-IV) . The Epilogue is titled “Some Symphonies Have to End Softly”.  This one certainly does.
The whole discussions started with Steve Bannon’s reasonable idea that, at a personal level, capitalism needs to be mediated by some kind of faith, because intellect alone can rationalize anything. But it’s when he gets into holy wars that I have trouble with what he advocates

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rachmaninoff's odd little Piano Concerto #4 in G Minor (note the very ending)

Somewhere downstairs I have a CD of Ashkenazy and Previn playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos 3 and 4, and today I thought I would make some remarks about the 1968 performance by Arturo Bendetto Michaelangeli  of the Piano Concerto #4 in G Minor, Op. 40 with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London conducted by Ettore Gracis.  In fact, I think that is on an old “Blue Angel” record downstairs two that I may have gotten about the time I finished Army Basic in 1968.

The Concerto is shorter and in some ways less “pretentious” than his earlier concerti (2 and 3) and less “expansive” but in some was more eclectic.  The harmonic progressions show a little bit of influence of jazz and of impressionism, at times (especially near the opening), the music seems to “hang” around the dominant key D Major too much (it opens on the dominant).

There is a big time in G of sorts, but it is a bit truncated and sounds like it comes from 1940s “tin pan alley” a bit. The very end has 3 FF G Major chord on the piano with the descending major third interval.  That same idea dominates the “second theme” group in my own last (Third) Sonata.  But at the end I take the “hymn” theme from F# Major back to a C Major Pedal Point with a couple of “polytonal” pivot points – and a lot of unresolved dissonance – so the pianist will have to control the melodic line (playing it back, a computer connected to Sibelius can’t keep the melodic line together, only a human pianist can do that).

The finale does have the interesting harmonic effect of a middle section in D-flat, a tritone away rom the home key, an idea not found often (Elgar does this in his first symphony).

The second movement (in C) is based on the on the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice", a tune that was used in the opening of the first James Bond movie "Dr. No" (which I saw in the Cleveland Arcade back in 1965).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Nice anthem-hymm of Kelvingrove

Today, a very simple post, a special hymn- anthem, not in the regular hymnal, by Kelvingrove, “Will You Come and Follow Me?”

This embed comes from a church in Nebraska in 2014.
It was sung at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday, January 22.

The picture above is from the Refugee Ball at the Synagogue at 6th and I in Washington DC January 17, where Tibetan and African folk music was performed.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Does Bruckner's Symphony #3 (the "Wagner") anticipate the "Number Nine"?

Sergui Celibidache conducts the Symphony #3 in D Minor by Anton Bruckner, with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony.

Yes, I love the picture from the French Alps.

The Symphony has gotten my attention because I have spent a lot of time looking at various “completions” of the Finale of the 9th in the same key.

The work is called the “Wagner”, because of chromatic passages that resemble Wagner, especially toward the end.

The most important motive in the Symphony is a descending interval motive based on the opening of the Beethoven Ninth, D – A – D octave lower.  Both the first movement and finale end with that sequence of notes (although some versions of the finale omit that and simply end on the preceding fortissimo chord).

Bruckner tends to build his final climaxes on opening themes rather than “second themes”, which tend to generate “big tunes” with some composers (like Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Grieg). In this Symphony, the rather perfunctory, declamatory nature of the opening theme, and its return at the end, adds to its power.

The final climax has an extended chord on the subdominant, rather than an abrupt pivot (as in the 8th).  Then on the final pedal point there are rising “Wagnerian” motives in the brass that anticipate the Seventh and also the Samale completion of the Ninth.  The descending theme also figures into the finale of the Ninth at a few critical moments (morphing into the “octave theme”).
Celibidache tends to favor slow tempos, like Klemperer.