Monday, December 24, 2018

Todd Rundgren, with the Tin Foil Hat, and his comic music about Baby Trump and a gender-bending Putin

A Facebook friend sent me the link for this video from Cleopatra Records of Todd Rundgren, the Tin Foil Hat with Donald Fagen.

Now this little mashup is about Baby Trump trading places with Kim Jong Un and sleeping with Vladimir Putin, fascinated with the latter’s boobies as he undergoes transition. Steven Bannon gets into the act, too. But I didn’t spot Milo.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sowerby: "Love Came Down at Christmas"

Leo Sowerby’s “Love Came Down at Christmas” sung by a Mennonite Choir in California.

There is a traditional Irish Melody that sounds very similar.
The anthem was sung today at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.  Also played on the Austin organ were A Christmas Rondel, and An English Carol, by Charles Callahan.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Music Modernization Act passed in October; public needs to become familiar with what it means (in terms of access to copyrighted content online)

Recently, in October, the president signed an “Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act” regarding the licensing of various music recordings, which George Thurnoyi describes in a blog post on the Library of Congress site here

Of some special controversy is the matter of recordings made before 1972. But it appears that bars and other venues can play these without a license. 

What is not clear is whether this would affect the continued availability of a lot of classical music on YouTube, which could also be challenged in practice if the EU Copyright Directive starts getting implemented in 2019.  It would not appear to have much practical effect on the commissioning of new works, which is controversial in some quarters.
Note the video above by Leonard French, copyright attorney.

Monday, December 10, 2018

61st Annual Christmas Candlelight Carols at First Baptist in Washington DC

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 61st Annual Christmas Candlelight Carols service at 4 PM EST Sunday December 9, 2018.

Kevin J. Biggins, Jr. was guest organist for some pieces.  Lon Screiber directed the full choir.

The organ prelude featured “In Dulci Jubilo” (BWV 729) by J.S. Bach, and Noel; Novelet’s adaptation of Michael McCabe’s “Now the Green Blade Riseth”.  Later, Keith Chapman’s “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella”.

The Runnymede Singers performed “Ding Dong Merrily on High” (Lojeski) and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: (Haman).

But there were three major works for combined church choirs.

Christmas Day”, by Gustav Holst, featured Deborah Miller as soprano and Alex Mc Keithen as bass. It ends quietly.

The “Alleluia” by Arthur Honneger featured modal harmonies and ended with a shout.
The other anthem was John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music”.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Gay Mens Chorus of Washington DC performs Holiday Show, pays tribute to LGBT people who serve in or are veterans of the military

The Washington DC Gay Men’s Chorus held its first “The Holiday Show” at the Lincoln Theater on U St. in Washington DC last night.

OK, yes, the beefcake pictures on p. 7 of the program are sexy. (The Blade has a wider shot on p. 30 of the Dec. 7 issue, including the orange tights.) You see a lot of this in Fort Lauderdale.  (Sorry, the pic is copyrighted.) 

The entire Gay Men’s Chorus was supplemented by subgroups: “Potomac Fever”, “Rock Creek Singers”, “Seasons of Love”, “GenOUT Chorus”, and “17th Street Dance”.

Part One emphasized some popular carols.  One of the most interesting was “Silver Bears” based on “Silver Bells” (the 2005 CBS Hallmark TV film which my late mother liked).  Then Potomac Fever continued with “Silent Night”, with Kevin Thomason as a soloist.  There followed a dialogue about (gays in the military) Army soldiers on watch in Afghanistan.  Then there was an adaptation “12 Days of Christmas/Africa” with a retrospect of volunteer (faith-based or university research) work in Africa, which reminded me of Jack Andraka’s summer in Sierra Leone as a Truman Scholar. It also reminded me of Trinity Presbyterian (Arlington – a congregation that gave an early warning in 2016 on the asylum seeker problem) and its youth projects every summer in Belize.
After the intermission, the GMC performed the only original classical work of the evening, the “Ad Amore” (a cappella) by Lee R. Kessleman, text by Dante Alighhierl. Soloist William Boyce followed with Stephen Schwartz’s “The Chanukah Song”.  Then speaker Romm Gastongay narrated “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as a tribute to veterans, and asked all veterans in the office to stand by service branch.  I did so as having been in the Army.  This seemed like a delayed tribute to the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” under Obama in 2011.  There was no direct reference to the issue of Trump’s attempted transgender ban in the military, but the indirect implication of the exercise is clear.
At the end, we passed another informal drag show in the Lincoln Theater lobby where GMCWDA sold CD’s, $20 cash a piece.  I’ll review one soon.

It is common for "Gay Mens Chorus" groups to record certain works with international orchestras, especially Liszt's "A Faust Symphony" and Shostakovich's Symphony #13. 

(Note: non-flash photo-taking without recording music was permitted.)

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Could 3-D printing of musical instruments help schools, and the disabled?

The Smithsonian Magazine reports that artist Kaitlyn Hova is working on a project to use (open source) 3-D printing of musical instruments, specifically to assist schools that have cut music budget programs for STEM (the successor of “no child left behind”, probably).

This would sound feasible with woodwind and maybe brass instruments.  I can’t imagine this with James Pavel Shawcross’s (Aug. 30) pianos and organs (although maybe his percussion could be printed).  However, the video below shows a 3-D printed melodica, which is a small keyboard instrument.

The article explains Hova’s synesthesia, where one sense stimulates another.  She “hears” colors (although that seems to bear on a discussion of perfect pitch (Nov. 29).

Thursday, December 06, 2018

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the funeral service for George H. W. Bush (via PBS)

Here is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” from the funeral of George H. W. Bush today in Houston, TX, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics in 1861 to overlay “John Brown’s Body”.

The music was composed by William Steffe in 1856.  The key is B-flat Major.

When I was in Mixed Chorus in Ninth Grade at Swanson Junior High School in March 1958, we sung it at a festival of music with the combined choirs of all the middle schools at the time.  (We got the concert in before a blizzard a couple days later.)  The audience is invited to sing along the final refrain.

The music certainly reaches for the heavens, like the end of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.
The service also offered “Onward Christian Soldiers”, which sounds rather militant on the right today.  Bu that hymn was used near the end of the film “A Canterbury Tale” (Movies blog, March 15, 2011) to great effect (a music score which quoted the Third Symphony of Havergal Brian, also, as adopted by Allan Gray).

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Guitar teacher helps students with special needs, and a "dueling guitars" video goes viral

CBSNews has a story by Caitlin O’Kane about how Robert Mullen helps people with special needs by teaching music, especially guitar.

In this example, a young man with Down Syndrome plays guitar. In these “dueling guitars” (like the dueling banjos of “Deliverance”), with voice, the pair plays “Chasing Cars”.
There have been other reports here about music therapy and autism.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Why adults don't develop perfect pitch

Rick Beato explains why adults cannot develop perfect pitch.

The first thousand days of a child’s life (starting with conception) are critical for the developing brain’s ability to identify objects in a swarm of random occurrences.  Recognizing a pitch is similar to recognizing a color.  It is also comparable to recognizing a phoneme.

English uses only 44 out of about 2000 possible phonemes.  Tonal languages, common in the Orient, use more.  A child learning a tonal language is more likely to retain perfect pitch.  It is also well known that it is easier for children to become fluent in multiple languages simultaneously than it is for adults.  As children become teens, the brain starts "pruning" into what it will be good at. Beato's comments also invoke the advice that young children should not exposed to too much screen time with fast moving images. 
After about age three, musical training (ear training) will result in the development of relative pitch, but not perfect pitch.

Beato says that exposure of children to unpredictable music (jazz, because it is improvised, or Bach fugues, because of their chromaticism, or maybe some complex post-romantic and early modern music – not sure about Schoenberg or something like the Bruckner 5 finale – helps train a plastic brain to recognize pitches.

There has been some speculation as to whether the drug Valproate could assist adults in developing perfect pitch.

There is the idea that key signatures in classical music have “personalities”.  It is compromised by the fact that Baroque music was often pitched a half-step lower.  But Beethoven’s Fifth definitely belongs in C Minor, and the Ninth in D Minor.  Likewise, the Brahms symphonies have personalities very closely related to their keys (F Major is “pastoral”).

I felt that I had partial perfect pitch as a child, as I could usually identify the key signature of a previously unheard work (say a Haydn symphony because there are so many of them) on the radio.  

As an older adult, that seems lost.  Now, my brain sill sometimes perceive a piece as a whole step higher than it is, unless I “cheat” and am told the key.

I just tried the beginning and end of the Franz Lizst “ad nos” organ Fugue on YouTube.  The beginning sounds like C Minor to my ear, and the end is tricky:  The fugue is all over the place with modulations.  I fakes an ending in E Major before crashing back to C Major.  Is this the complexity Beato is looking for?  Or maybe the spooky B Minor Sonata, where all modern music starts?  (The modulations at the beginning are really un predicable.)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Popular Thanksgiving Hymn by Hubert Parry based on theme from Third Symphony

Here is the hymn “O Praise Ye the Lord” by Sir Hubert Parry.  It was the offertory anthem at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Nov 19 on a commitment Sunday. 

The melody resembles the theme of the finale of the Parry’s Symphony #3 in C, a theme and variations in the style of Brahms (look it up on YouTube, several performances).  How many people in a congregation would recognize it?

Good music for November. By now, we know who survived Halloween.  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Deutscher's Violin Concerto

Alma Deutscher also plays the violin.

Here is her Violin Concerto in G Minor (2017), same performers in Vienna as for the Piano Concerto (yesterday's post).

The first movement (Allegro Maestoso) actually offers an introduction on the solo violin, before the orchestral exposition. The development has a nice fugato.  Some of the violin work sounds a bit Paganini-like. 

The slow movement (Romanza) is in the unusual (for violin music) key of E-flat. 

The finale (Allegro Scherzando) is, like the case with the piano concerto, lighter in tone, but offers a big cadenza and a boisterous end, all in Picardy G Major.
She also has a full length opera (and short opera) which I will take up later. 
I wanted to take a moment to encourage artists in Europe (who may happen to find this blog post) to pay attention to the “debate” going on with the Copyright Directive, especially Article 13, being implemented by the EU Parliament.  Although it purports to protect royalty earnings for artists, it could in practice seriously hinder newer artists getting their stuff out there.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Introducing Alma Deutscher and her Piano Concerto in E-Flat

Here is the Piano Concerto in E-Flat by Alma Elizabeth Deutscher, b. 2005 (age 13). The name is German, but she was born and raised in England.

She performs it with the Joji Hattori conducting the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, at the Carinthian Summer Festival in Austria. 

The style of the work is classic to early Romantic, rather like Chopin in some places, perhaps. That is remarkable, when you consider how much commissioned work today is hyper modern and “useful” and clever (and commissioning is turning into a political controversy of its own). This has bearing on my own circumstances, which I will get back to later. 

The first movement (Allegro, 17 minutes), opens with a full orchestra ritornel (with a somewhat noble and majestic theme), and the second subject is rather quiet.  The coda suddenly becomes majestic and builds up to a large climax on a pivot chord.   

The second movement (Adagio, 10 min) is in the dominant key of B-flat minor and is a bit sentimental.

The finale (a rondo, Allegro giocoso) starts out with a theme that is almost Mozartean. The conclusion is not as convincing as the climax of the first movement – to my own post-romantic ear, at least.

The obvious comparison will be Amy Beach.

Of course, there are various other examples of young composers since Mozart.  Eugen D’Albert’s first Piano Concerto (patterned after Liszt) was composed largely at age 19 and perhaps (in the enormous fugue and coda) comes across as an expression of white hot cis male virility. Shostakovich wrote his first Symphony at 19.  And James Pavel Shawcross, 18, entertains us on YouTube with his presentations of different pianos, organs and percussion – and I just found out he comes from an area exposed to the California wildfires.  I’ll check further.  “The young people will win.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Complete analysis of the gigantic fugal finale of Bruckner's Symphony #5

Richard Atkinson has a 44-minute analysis of the immense fugal finale if Anton Bruckner’s Symphony #5 in B-flat Major.  The work was composed at almost the same time as Brahms Symphony #1.

The fugue (about 20 minutes) has been compared to the Beethoven Grosse Fugue in B-flat (originally a finale to the B-flat String Quartet).

Despite the formal setup as a fugue, the movement still has a clear sonata form, with slow introduction based on previous material, and an exposition, development and recapitulation based on three theme groups, all derived from prior movements.  Atkinson explains inversion and augmentation.  He uses color codes on the scores to identify the thematic group components.

The “coda of all codas” never actually combines all the thematic pieces at once.  Furtwangler concludes is first symphony with very similar effects borrowed from Bruckner.  John Williams seems to have derived “The Force Be With You” from one of the motives highlighted in the coda.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Homeless man gets record contract for piano playing; music community weighs in on politics a little

A homeless veteran who used to play flute in a Marine Corps band just got a record deal for his outdoor piano playing.

That’s Donald Gould in Sarasota, FL

The video is also on Facebook Live, url
He describes the homelessness in terms of family stability and emotional problems.  I would see this on a “Community Assistance” project in Arlington VA a couple of years ago – a lot of mental illness. It seems as though some people are a lot better prepared to be alone than others.
The piano itself reminds me of the out-of-tune job in Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” which I saw in NYC at the Met in 1974.
I also thought I would share a post-election perspective from another (classical) musician I have presented here, Gabriel Kahane, on Facebook.  Usually, I don’t see a lot of commentary on political issues from the music community in NYC, but this one is worth a read.   I think I’ve discussed Book of Travelers here before, but I’ll have to check.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Vaughn Williams, "For All the Saints", to honor those who survived Halloween costume parties unscathed

I don’t think I’ve ever presented this hymn online, “For All the Saints”, on “All Saints Day”, on Nov. 1, with music by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

When November comes to the DC area, it is usually mild for another week or two, and the leaves have finally changed, and you know that the calendar year is winding down.
And the costume season is over.  You find out who survived Halloween with their bods intact.
Saints are not the same thing as angels.  Saints have really sacrificed.
Gender fluidity goes back down a little bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"We Are the Church Alive": a 1980 hymn became known during the AIDS crisis to follow soon

Here is a performance of the hymn “We Are the Church Alive”, composed in 1980 by Jack Hoggatt St. John (lyrics by David Pelletier), shortly before the AIDS crisis would become public.

The hymn was performed this morning at MCC Nova in Fairfax VA.  I think it had been performed at MCC Dallas in the early 1980s when I was living there (Rev. Don Eastman).  At the time, Danny Ray, who lived in the same condo complex in north Dallas where I owned a property, was becoming well known as a hymn composer.

Here is a related sermon from the SunCoast MCC in Venice FL (West Coast) from January 2015. 
Picture: Science rally in DC 2015 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How "Negative Harmony" is used in many romantic composition conclusions

Negative Harmony, Explained”, by “Creativity eXplained”, or “Why does this chord sound so good?”

The video starts with the opening of a Chopin Nocturne in A-flat. But pretty soon it explains the roles of dominant and subdominant chords in western music.

He gives a chart based on symmetry around the dominant chord that explains the relationship between natural major and minor modes.
Very often, triumphant conclusions of major symphonic works use a subdominant chord with the sixth note of the scale flattened, to a subdominant minor, before the final loud tonic major.  A good example is the end of Scriabin’s “Divine Poem” (Sept. 14, 2018).  The video explains this effect with the concepts of “modal interchange” and “negative harmony”.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

"Voicing" in piano playing, especially of jazz

Watch “What Is Voicing?” video by Glenn Zaleski, with Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, and Bill Evans.

The video explains piano playing of homophonic materials to bring out the intended melody by playing one note in every chord louder than the others.

This what piano teachers mean by “top notes”. 

The technique seems particularly appropriate for jazz, where there may be multiple paths that create melody.

But intentionally polyphonic music or counterpoint would not work out here.
The technique seems important in guiding a “singable” (like a hymn) experience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Atkinson: the most beautiful passage in each Mahler symphony

I played one of Richard Atkinson’s meatiest videos on YouTube, “Most Beautiful Passage in Each Mahler Symphony”

Playing this video made me relive a lot of my young adulthood, almost as if from the Monroe Institute.

He spends a lot of time on the second theme of the finale of Symphony #1 in D (1888).  The “Titan” is notable for its opening, quoting the opening of the Beethoven Ninth.  It’s buoyant first movement is rompish, almost Haydn-like.  I think the whole symphony works better when the “Blumie” movement is included. 

The Finale is interesting for its time for its stormy opening in the distant key of F Minor. The second theme of the finale generates the “beauty” and illustrates Mahler’s tendency to linger a moment, perhaps in a remote key (Schubertian modulations).  The conclusion of the symphony is remarkable for the sudden resolution to D Major at the end, and the quote of Handel’s Messiah (and “He shall reign…”). I remember hearing a lunch-time performance (break from work) at the Minnesota Orchestra maybe in 2000.

From Symphony #2 (the “Resurrection”) he chooses the opening of the first vocal movement, in D-flat, “Primal Light’.  The finale of this work is very complicated as to form (again, the main theme starts in F Minor, for a symphony in C Minor;  there is a “sunrise” introduction to it;  the second theme is a march which becomes the great, and very singable hymn, at the end.  I have always wondered why Mahler ends in the relative Major of E-flat rather than the Picardy C Major.  I heard this performed in NYC in Carnegie Hall in the 1970s.

For Symphony #3 in D Minor, he chooses the passage that prepares for the climax at the very end.  The slow movement finale (25 minutes) is one of the few big symphonic slow movements that actually ends loudly. I heard the Minnesota Orchestra play this, I think in 2002 when I was working there part time. 

For Symphony #4 in G, he choses the modulations after the “Sunrise” at the end of the slow movement, which ends on the dominant D.  The last movement is a song which starts in G and ends in E Major, quietly, an odd exercise in progressive tonality.  (Among Mahler, the 4th, 6th, 9th, and 10th as completed end quietly.)  Some observers claim that Mahler had considered making this a seventh movement to the Third, which a high school chum would have liked (I remember a specific discussion of on my senior year Mt. Washington trip in 1961). 

My “ear” had learned the familiar Mahler by the time I graduated form high school, but I think I got my first records of it at the end of 1961 (the Vox Box with 1 and 9 and Horenstein), and stereo recordings of #4 and #2 for Christmas in 1962.  This was a turbulent time in my own life, which this music marks.

For Symphony #5, he chooses the end of the famous Adagietto in F.  That movement was played repeatedly on the radio on WGMS in Washington the weekend that John Kennedy was assassinated.  The first movement, a funeral march in C# Minor, uses the opening rhythm of the Beethoven 5th.  There follows a conventional sonata allegro in A Minor, a Scherzo in D, the Adagietto, and a fugal finale in D.

For Symphony 6 he chooses a wistful passage in the slow movement, itself in E-flat, a tritone away from the home key of A Minor.

For Symphony 7 he picks a particularly Wagnerian passage with the second theme of the first movement. 

For Symphony 8 in E-flat, he picks the prep for the final chorus.  This time, the triumphant choral ending is in the tonic key for the entire work.  But, compared to the closing of the Second, the closing hymn is much less stanza-oriented in its structure.  After playing this video, I just had to play Bernstein’s closing on YouTube.

For Symphony 9 in D Minor – the first movement, with its near atonality in some passages, sounds like the beginning of the whole sequence of expressionism that Schoenberg and Berg would complete. But the slow movement finale is in D-flat, and seems very resigned, and Atkinson picks a passage near the end.
I'm a little more impressed with the harmonic inventiveness that he points out in the early works than mid and late works. 

He does not cover Symphony #10 in F# (which I heard earlier this year at the National Symphony). I like the massive dissonance toward the end of the first movement. I think he could do a similar video for Schoenberg, and discuss especially Pelleas et Mellisande and then the Gurre-Lieder. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cat tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu (which the composer didn't want published!)

In China, a young woman tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Imprompu in C# Minor, Op. 66, and her cat wants to join in.

The work is controversial because Chopin regarded it as an experiment and didn’t want it published. He based the passagework on similar material in the fast finale of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. This is not my favorite Chopin.

Update: Oct 7
This related video is even better, it shows the cat opening the door twice to get to the piano. Cats can definitely open unlocked doors. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The potential of percussion alone

Here’s an example of what can be done with percussion only at the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop near George Washington University in Washington DC today.

Nearby was an amateur chess game, painful to watch.  Neither player wanted to face me as an opponent.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Soulfire" performs at Westover Market in Arlington VA

The group “Soulfire” performed late Saturday afternoon Sept. 15 in the Beer Garden of the Westover Market on Washington Blvd in Arlington, VA.

The event was supposed to be sponsored in part by the Trinity Men’s Fellowship at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

I’m not sure if this was the same group as Robert Snuhgie Stocks ‘s group or is connected to it, as often presented here earlier.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Conservative vlogger takes aim at "modern music" and it's not what I expected

“Economic Invincibility” (“EI”, a pseudo-anonymous conservative vlogger) lays it on the line with this little video “The Problem with Modern Music”.

I was hoping for a critique of modern expressionism (atonality), or even gebrauchmusikl – a culture of commissioning composers to write “program music” around some cute artistic object of concept. This is a big issue with young composers right now. 

No, he is talking about the lyrics of popular music, especially women who won’t walk away from abusive men. He finally gets around to talking about Shawn Mendes.

And he is very photogenic. Conservative young men are often handsome. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Scriabin's "Divine Poem": was this inspired by the Lizst B-minor Sonata?

Here’s another piece that seems inspired by Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and tries to solve the problem of how a layered cyclical work like this should end.

It’s “The Divine Poem”, the Symphony #3 in C Minor, Op. 43, composed 1902-1904 by Alexander Scriabin.

Here’s a performance with a lot of commentary by Igor Golovshin and the Moscow Symphony (video recently replaced).

The official documentation of the work list it as having four sections:  A slow introduction, then a first movement (“Struggles” or “Luttes”), a slow movement (“Delights” or “Voluptes”) and “Divine Play” (“Jeu Divin”, call it “Godly play” if you want).

The first movement has three subjects, with the third of these more or less comparable to the Liszt Grandioso theme.  The movement winds down after a violent climax in the brief recapitulation to the slow movement which is like the central section of the Liszt Sonata. Then the “Finale” (the “play”) does further development, some of it fugal, and builds up to a tremendous coda combining all the themes of the work.  The very end bears a curious resemblance to the way D’Albert ends his Piano Concerto #1 and Scriabin probably knew this work.

In fact, after a pivot on the submediant, Scriabin hold the orchestra on a sustained C Major chord while the Wagner Ring arpeggios play underneath and then Scriabin offers three conclusive crashes on C to end.
The style of the work, from a Russian composer, seems both French (with some impressionistic harmonies in the quieter passages) and German (almost Wagnerian).  The cyclical structure, of course, had been tried by Cesar Franck and his D Minor Symphony. But in his piano music, Scriabin would experiment with bizarre new effects and his own form of atonality. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Scott E. Brown: a muscular white "preppy" does hip-hop to send a political message (and counter Trump-ism)

Scott E. Brown has a YouTube channel of politically-oriented music.

The Trump Legacy” has Scott, a clean-cut, southern, preppy “white man” performing hip-hop rap in order to make fun of Trump and offer support for past Obama social policies. 

Here is a case of music and politics coming together.

Scott has some namesakes, so I had some trouble at first finding him.
There’s nothing wrong with white teens wearing hoodies to show support, or make a statement against excessive police profiling.  I see some teens do this intentionally.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor, and there is controversy over the ending (and the beginning -- is it atonal?)

The Sonata for Piano in B Minor, completed in 1853 when composer Franz Liszt was 41, sometimes strikes us as the very beginning of postromantic expressionism. Is this work where the world of Arnold Schoenberg got started? 

I bring an embedded video of a performance by Krystian Zimmerman.

The work, as a sonata, is revolutionary; yet is was somewhat inspired by the Schumann C Major Fantasy, which in turn is a kind of “Beethoven Sonata #33” (not exactly "33 Variations").  It has an internally recursive form of a “sonata within a sonata”.  Running thirty minutes, the first section corresponds roughly to an Exposition.  After considerable reluctance, it migrates to a slow movement, “Andante Sostenuto” in ¾ time, often referring back to some descending motives in the exposition that never go away.  There follows a fughetta based on the opening motives serving as a scherzo, and then “Recapitulation” comes back, and finally a coda based on slow movement material (in the most accepted version). The piece is said to be an example of “double-function” sonata form.

Now it’s important to note the many components of the Exposition. The work begins on two repeated notes G, and a descending figure that sounds atonal, almost like a Schoenberg tone row to generate an entire work.  But the logic of the chromaticism takes us to B Minor, with several figurines forming the thematic material, finally leading to the famous chordal “Grandioso” theme in the relative D Major (with many interesting modulations built into the theme harmony).  This may be the most heroic (and most “masculine”) theme of all of piano literature. Teenage male pianists love to bang it out to show their own machismo.  Yet, in the usual rhetoric of hymnology, the normal cadence structure of the theme is never completed.  It migrates to other lyrical ideas in the Exposition, which probably could be viewed as “development”.

At the end of the work, if comes back one last time, in B Major, and works to a final climax in F#.  But it never completes itself.  Instead the accepted version of the music offers a coda starting with the slow movement material, as the protagonist of the music slowly withdraws from engaging his own self-chosen battles in his life.  The work ends quietly with bell-like B-Major chords.  There is one last low B, “ppp”. 

This is not so much the idea of a soft ending letting the listener contemplate her experience.  It is simply that the work of the music is done and wants to quit when it is ahead and exit honorably.
Yet Liszt actually wrote an alternate loud ending, where the Grandioso completes itself unconvincingly.  Here are three videos, the second showing where it fits the Grandioso, the third showing Liszt’s original handwriting crossed out.  (Composers in those days did not provide neat manuscripts to submit to contests like I had to.)

I could imagine a revision, letting the accepted soft coda almost finish, to the final bell-like chords, and then suddenly exploding by inverting the descending note and making it rise up for a 15-second flourish.

As I know from looking at completions of the Bruckner Ninth, if you want to solve the problem of the ideal coda of a complex sonata-like work, compose one yourself.  Then you can throw all the music of western civilization into the last two minutes of your final peroration (like Shostakovich does by quoting Bruckner at the end of his Leningrad Symphony – however politically incorrect to do so in a Communist regime).   
I wanted to mention here also the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61, a piece with weird effects, which winds down and withdraws toward the end, until there is one last loud A-flat chord.

Update: Sept. 13

Along the lines of writing your own solution to the B-Minor Sonata dilemma, it strikes me that this is what Eugen D'Albert did with his first piano concerto. The first section is an exposition and development.  The sweet second theme corresponds to the "grandioso" but D'Albert saves the heroics for later. I'm pretty sure that theme became a popular song in the 40s and got used by Hollywood (which loves to loot rarely performed works for themes). The "slow movement" even quotes Beethoven's Funeral March Sonata at one point, and the "finale" is a recapitulation of the opening material, even quoting Brahms's Piano Concerto #1 at one point. The "finale" ends quietly (as does the Liszt) but then D'Albert adds a gigantic coda with a fugue for solo piano on one of the opening themes, making it practically atonal; then a "scherzando" (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 sneak preview) leading to a gigantic conclusion on the second theme, which turns into a Liszt-style "grandioso", and then a mad-dash Prestissimo final crash. D'Albert could wait to show his virility until the end, which means he must have been some charismatic teen, composing this at age 19. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Pianist Jan Liseicki, continuing my "young people will win" thread

I’m trying to cover some other pianists and various musicians, especially from the viewpoint “The young people will win.”

Jan Lisiecki, now 23, from Canada (Calgary, Alberta), was interviewed on CBS at around age 14 in 2010 as a prodigy. 

I looked for more recent videos, and I found an interview of him by Mexican conductor, Alondra de la Parra.

In the following video he plays the Mozart Piano Concerto #9 in E-flat, the “Jeunehomme” (K 271) or “Young Man”.  No, this music doesn’t quite describe David Hogg. The work is more mature than one is expecting.  By the K200’s the mature Mozart was appearing (works under K100, like the B-flat Cassation that a college friend gave me a record of, don’t make so much of an impression). He follows with a Chopin Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, #1.

He also discusses using a Schumann Reverie as an encore with her. He talks about simplicity in music.  Examples: the opening theme of the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 is marked “Andante Semplice”.  (The middle section is anything but…)   When I think of semplice, I think of Erik Satie, in so many movies.  I like complexity, for example fugal finales of postromantic works.  But something like the finale of the Beethoven Hammerklavier is not “simple”. 

Here is the “following” video I just mentioned.

I’ll cover some of these artists again as I come across work closer to my compositional interests.  If anyone is coming to DC (or say Baltimore, Philly, NYC) for a concert, make a comment here and let me know.

Picture: this crow was watching me this morning and making eye contact.  Weird. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The tangent piano (and C.P.E. Bach)

Cleveland Johnson explains the “tangent piano” on p. C5 of the Saturday New York Times, here

Johnson then offers, online, some excerpts from the music of son CPE Bach on this instrument, which he says provides an unpredictable experience.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"The Piano Forever": Teenager James Shawcross demonstrates pianos, organs, percussion

There is a YouTube series called "ThePianoforever" by James Pavel Shawcross, who is now about 18, in which the performer demonstrates various pianos, organs, and even percussion.  There are also presentations of some electric pianos disguised as true wood concert.  The series seems to be filmed around Berkeley, California.  James made one of his earliest videos at age 11 and by 14 was able to make very professional presentations.

I’ll pick a recent video, the Adam Schaff Vetircal Piano.

He often plays some of the Chopin Fantasy-Impromptu in C# Minor. 

Like many very young artists he takes command of the video and connects to the viewer and displays great charisma. 
With this video, I am reminded of the upright piano my first piano teacher (in 1952) used, and of an upright in a den in the house in Kipton, Ohio where I spent boyhood summers.  A few feet away was a black-and-white TV for Cleveland Indians’ games (which we sometimes went to, in "The Mistake by the Lake").
I guess the young people are really winning.   If only I could have my past 18-year-old body back.

Picture:  The house above in Ohio has the words "C Sharp" above the garage.  A nod to Chopin, Beethoven (Moonlight), Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, maybe even Amy Beach? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

YouTube channel "aSongScout" offers piano music based on mathematical objects

The YouTube channel “aSongScout” has some interesting piano pieces.

Here a young pianist plays the Fugue in A Major by Dmitri Shostakovich, from a set such pieces.

 This one is unique in not having any vertical dissonance. The pianist speculates that Shostakovich wrote this particular fugue to answer criticism that much of his music, including other fugues in the set (composed in the 1950s) were too dissonant for political purposes in the Soviet Union.

The channel offers pieces based on the Fibonnaci Sequence, and also the digits of the number Pi.
There appear to be at least two artists, Julian Smith, and David Macdonald, on the channel.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" by Wachner highlights late summer service at FBC

Today the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC today performed the anthem “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Julian Wachner.

The music sounded somewhat modal.

During the offertory, Christina Whitehouse-Suggs, Soprano, performed an aria from the Mass of Leonard Bersntein, “Sing God a Simple Song”, with its many whole tone scales (there is a similar effect in the Age of Anxiety).

I took a young woman to a concert performance of the Mass in the fall of 1971 when I was doing my only episode of heterosexual dating.

The organ postlude was Marcello’s “The Heavens Declare God’s Glory”.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"The Impeachable Paul Stookey"

Today a Facebook friend shared the video of “The Impeachable Paul Stookey”, from Peter, Paul and Mary of the 1960s.

I do remember back in college days that friends had singles and LP’s of Paul while I collected classical records.  I seem to remember that in my stay at NIH in the fall of 1962, the Kingston Trio was popular.
There is also a touching story in the Washington Post by Petula Dvorak about a homeless jazz double bass player. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Skid row choir in Los Angeles; also, remembering Aretha Franklin

On Saturday, Aug. 18, the NBC Today show presented the “Urban Voices Project”, a Skid Row Choir in downtown Los Angeles.

Here is a descriptive link

The Los Angeles Times has a story (by Gale Holland) about the Colburn Wesley Project singers 
This goes along with the idea that music training is very therapeutic, as a recent Scientific American e-book shows (to be reviewed soon on Books).

NBC Today doesn't have the link up for Urban Voices, but it does have a video testimonial to Aretha Franklin, who passed away this week at age 76 of pancreatic cancer.  I've covered on other blogs a possible new early warning diagnostic test for early cancer (including pancreatic) blood warnings developed as a science fair project by Jack Andraka.

Update: August 19

I briefly watched a free jazz concert on the promenade at Rehoboth Beach, DE Saturday evening. They played "Walking in a winter wonderland". 

Friday, August 03, 2018

Outwrite 2018 kicks off with "Laughing Our Loud", standup comedy

The Outwrite 2018 LGBT writing festival in Washington DC kicked off Friday night with a standup comedy session ("Kickoff: Laughing Out Loud") at the Ten Tigers Parlour on Georgia Ave in the Petworth neighborhood.  Chinese food was available to order (and this was all Bourdain Parts Unknown type of food that you’ve never heard of, except for the tofu, which Twin Oaks in Virginia can make.  (Does the name “Parlour” imply a timocracy?)

The host was Chelsea Shorte, who spun a lot of material about food as a business, and said don’t compete with the children.   The other speakers were Joanna Cifredo, Camille Roberts (“bits in Paradise”), Tsaitomi Duchicela (“Thunder Bay Sy”), Anthony Oakes, and keynote Michelle Tea.

There were stop quips at white privilege, and some emphasis on gender fluidity. I believe one of the presenters was M-F trans.  There were also some interesting comments on multi-lingual capabilities. 
I befriended a stanup comedy artists who worked in a coffee place when living in Minneapolis.  The film “To Err Is Human” presents a comedian in Denver who overcame a birth-related handicap due to medical error.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Pizza delivery man near Detroit is a self-taught virtuoso pianist

In the Detroit suburbs, eighteen year old Bryce Dudal works as a pizza delivery person for Hungry Howie’s.

Recently he was invited to demonstrate his piano skills at a home with a grand piano.

He plays the finale of the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata (#14 in C# Minor, Op. 27 #2) here, on a Fox story. This movement is fast with a lot of passage work (unlike the more notorious slow first movement.) 

Amazingly, he is self-taught, since the age of seven. He performs with great virtuosity and technique.  

(By the way, why doesn't Fox news use https yet?) 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mozart and Haydn sudden major-minor shifts, explained

Here’s another Atkinson video: “Unexpected, fleeting major-minor mode shifts in Haydn and Mozart”.

Atkinson discusses four compositions.

The K 333 B-flat Piano Major Sonata, with a subtle shift in the second subject, is familiar from my days of piano lessons.

The Haydn Symphony 100 in G, the Military, was interesting more in that the use of flutes as instrumentation for a first subject in colonial times was seen as marital.  He shows how our perceptions have changed with a quick excerpt from the scherzo of Shostakovich’s 10th.

The third example is the Symphony #96, the “Miracle” because of an accident at the first performance, which was really of #102.

These two examples remind the that the last night before I left home for the Army in February 1968 and had a friend over for chess (I think I won most of the games), I played #104 on the VM stereo – the last music I would hear before Basic Combat Training.

His last example comes from the Theme and Variations finale of the Piano Trio in G, K. 496, of Mozart. One of the variations is in the parallel minor. The cello part is remarkable for the time in that it is more than just a reinforcement for the piano bass.  That is, a trio was more than a “violin sonata”. It’s an interesting concept, of variable instrumentation for expressive purposes.  But the rest of his analysis is playful and Timo-like.