Monday, July 16, 2018

Miniatur Wonderland: the World's largest Model Railway, and you can live inside it (in Germany)

I used to put model railroad exhibits on this blog. When I can visit one I make my own video. 
Here is the “Miniatur Wonderland” in Hamburg, Germany, Business Insider

This is probably the first model railroad in the world with a Google Street View, where minicams are mounted on train cars or other model items to simulate what you would see if this were a real place and you “went small” and lived there, like in “Downsizing”.
Attribution for NASA photo of Hamburg.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Youth CUE Nation's Capital Festival Choir performs at major DC church

The nationwide choral group "The 2018 YouthCUE Nation’s Capital Festival Choir" performed at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday, July 1, 2018.

During the Choral Prelude the group performed, with piano accompaniment, “Hallelujah Amen” by Handel (very brief Messiah excerpt), “In the Middle of a Journey” by Randy Edwards, and “Exsultate, Jubilate Deo” by Ruth Morris Gray.  Then there was a brief setting of the Zambian folksong “Bonse Asa”.

This may be the arrangement of Victor C. Johnson.  I made a brief recording but did not post it on YouTube out of copyright concerns (instead I embedded a performance already posted and vetted, probably by ContentID).  There is a good question to answer when folk music is used.  The actual tune is usually in public domain;  but adaptation of folk music is very common in classical music and the adaptation is usually transformative enough to warrant copyright protection.  This issue becomes even more important now that the European Union is seriously considering tightening its Copyright Directive with mandatory automated screening of videos before posting (the Article 13 issue). 
The group joined the FBC choir with an anthem, “An Awakening” by Walker Robson, and later a Choral Offertory adapted by Greg Gilpin, “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” (the Lion’s Den).  There were two Communion Anthems, “The Plans I Have for You” and “Prayer of St. Francis”, both by Allen Pote.
The Church now publishes a detailed acknowledgement of every hymn used in the service, crediting both the composer (or transcriber) of the music and author of the words. 
The church music industry is actually quite strict on copyrights and has a system of collecting royalty payments for hymns that appear in hymnals. I believe the organization that runs this is in Cleveland (I’ve seen it mentioned in some church service programs in Texas).  It is common for many hymn tunes to come from classical music (especially English composers, like Parry).  This is also common in Hollywood;  quotes of obscure classical works used to have a way of winding up in film scores, or they used to, until Leonard Bernstein came along in the 60s and made less commonly played symphonies by Mahler, Nielsen, Prokofiev, etc. more common to the public.  It’s rather common for an obscure postromantic work (by someone like D’Albert, Dohnanyi, Stenhammar, Amy Beach, or even Schoenberg) to sound familiar at first hearing, and I suspect that is one reason.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Church anthem seems based on well-known Copland work, but that in turn uses an Irish folksong

Sunday, June 24, 2018, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC performed an a capella anthem “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter, arranged by David Willcocks.

But the theme seemed to be the prominent ritornel from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet (1944).  Paul Hume used this theme in the 1950s to introduce evening symphony every weeknight on WGMS radio in Washington DC when I was a boy.

It occurs at 20:06 in the New York Philharmonic performance by Leonard Bernstein back in the 1960s.

The sound on these early stereo Columbia recordings is still super.

The entire ballet (about 45 minutes) for chamber orchestra is also widely available on YouTube.
Copland is also known for his “Fanfare for the Common Man” which he uses to introduce the massive finale of his Third Symphony.

Copland did experiment with the twelve tone technique later in life. But in his last years (he died in 1990 at age 90) he started so show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease (link).  

Further checking shows that this tune is an Irish folk tune.  I wonder if Stanford (well known Irish composer) could have considered it for his Irish rhapsodies.  On YouTube, Carter's treatment is available, such as here

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Stenhammar Symphony #2: imagine putting Brahms and Sibelius together

Here is a performance of the Symphony #2 in G Minor, Op. 34, of Wilhelm Stehhammar.

The Stockholm Philharmonic is conducted by Sig Westerberg.

At first glance, the work seems “simpler”, leaner, and more neoclassical than the “abandoned” First.
And it may, with all the woodwind work, sound a little more Nordic and “Sibelian”.

Yet, it runs 47 minutes and offers four very fully development movements, culminating in a 17-minute fugal finale of the scope and complexity of other fugues like Beethoven’s Grosse, or the conclusion of Bruckner’s Fifth. And the overall harmonic and rhythmic flavor reminds one of – you guessed it – late Brahms.

The first movement makes a lot of a fast ¾ time that seems genuine, not waltz-like, but transparent.
The Andante, in A Minor, didn’t do as much for me, nor did the scherzo. But the Finale, with its many tempo changes and complex fugal writing, for all the open sound with winds, makes me wonder how it would sound on an organ.  The transitions are always formal, and the triumphant conclusion is quite brief and straightforward, and almost right out of Bach.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why did Stenhammar "withdraw" his F-Major Symphony #1? It is literally Brahms plus Bruckner-Wagner, combined in one style

Swedish composer-piano Wilhelm Stenhammar would turn his back on his own Symphony #1 in F Major (1903), written at the age of 32.  He called it “idealized Bruckner” but later in life as he sought a more personalized idiom (which I have said reminds me of Amy Beach) he came to think of this as a “trivial piece” for all its 55 minutes.  Wikipedia lists it as “withdrawn”.  I guess Stenhammar did perceive his entire compositional output as one continuous process piece gradually getting “less bad”.  I don’t think Stenhammar wanted to give up on German romanticism. He wanted to fuse it into an indivisible whole. (Note: he composed his first piano sonata when he was nine years old.)

Yet, I have a Records International CD somewhere with the Gothenberg Sympnony under Jarvi – and I see I discussed it a little on Oct 7, 2007 here.

The YouTube version seems to be a different performance, with some elaborations of the codas.

Does this sound more like Brahms than Bruckner?  Most of the time it does.  It frankly reminds me of the Brahms Third, in the same key – F Major is the most pastoral of keys. But the orchestration uses the horns and other brass in a manner similar to Bruckner and Wagner, sometimes even Mahler, which produces an odd effect when combined with Brahms-like syncopated triple time a lot. The first movement starts out oh so gently, finally reaching a second subject, but manages to work itself up for a triumphant coda.  The second movement in A Minor will remind you of the Allegretto of the Beethoven Seventh at first, and then the A Minor slow movement of the Schubert Great (the same rhythmic figures), before it quotes a 3-note rising theme that does come from Bruckner (forget which symphony) in the horns.  The gentleness continues in the scherzo in B-flat.

The finale seems to return to the first movement material, but with faster tempi and fugal treatment, yet sometimes sounding Schubertian. (That’s all right; a lot of the completed finale of the Bruckner Ninth has Schubert-“Great” passagework.) The modulations to remote keys get daring.  After the full sonata form, the finale seems to be dying to a quiet coda, like the Brahms third – but then the sun rises again, with the water-music theme from Wagner’s Das Rheingold (often in the background) taking over as the music grows for one last shout, as the Universe is reborn.
I wanted to hear this today.  I’ll look at my own “process piece” and try to compose the final transitions very soon before trying to package it into performable shape.  That’s a Sonata #3, started at the end of 1961, and now definitely “less bad”.  It, too, has the grandest of all codas at the end (in C).

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Stenhammar's Piano Concerto #2: An obscure work sounds so familiar

Here’s another piano concerto masterpiece (no “Cakeshop”) that everyone misses.  Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar started out as the Swedish Bruckner (in the Symphony #1) and became more like the Swedish Brahms and sometimes Sibelius.

The Piano Concerto #2 in D Minor, Op. 23, is quite a remarkable work.  I see that I mentioned it at the end of a review of #1 on May 9, 2012; but it really deserves a detailed look.  It bears a certain resemblance to the Piano Concerto of Amy Beach.

Above, Greta Ericksson, piano, plays with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Evgeny Svetlanov.

The work comprises four movements without pause, although there is quite a lot of structure within each.

The work begins modestly in triple time, with a descending figure of half-steps in the accompanying orchestra that is common to this compose. The orchestra suddenly modulates to C# minor to what sounds like a main theme, but the rest of the movement has a compressed sonata form as it tends to explore the introductory motive more.  But violence returns to close out the movement (as in the Beach, which, by comparison, has a very expanded first movement). The scherzo starts with a tarantella but has an extensive middle section with a waltz theme that will sound familiar.

The 4/4 Adagio will remind the listener of late Chopin with harmonic schemes out of Op 61 – and the theme will sound familiar (Hollywood loves to take themes from obscure classical works)  The orchestra will develop another motive that resembles a similar descending figure in the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3.  The D Major Finale is a concluding romp in compound 9/8 time, with a dance theme (a bizarre kind of Polonaise-Fantasy) that will sound suspiciously familiar (Hollywood, again). 
The work has many sudden key modulations, especially between D Minor and C# Minor, and sometimes uses some ideas that sound like they come from the Chopin Op. 61.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vivaldi Gloria excerpt highlights Pentecost service at Dallas Cathedral of Hope

Today, I attended a service at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX.

During the offertory, there was a performance of “Domine Deus” from the Gloria in D by Antonio Vivaldi. The soprano was Coretta Smith, the oboeist was Quince Holman, the organist David Moldenhauer. It was sung in Latin with the translation, “Lord God, Ruler of Heaven, God the Father almighty.
The whole work appears above.  I guess if the Metropolis Ensemble asks us to enjoy Charpentier, we should enjoy big Vivaldi choral works.
The communion included the Benedictine Plainsong Mode V (13th Century), then “Holy Spirit” by Bryan and Kate Torwall, “Sure the Presence” by Lanny Wolfe, and “Holy Ground” by Geron Davis.  

The recessional was a setting of the Sibelius Finlandia, which I will return to later.