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.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Pianos for People" non-profit provides music making for lower income people in St. Louis area

NBC Today this morning featured a story about a non-profit in St. Louis, “Pianos for People”, which “connects people who need pianos with pianos who need people.”  People donate pianos, and apparently piano tuners donate labor. The Today show report mentioned recipients in Ferguson.

There has also been an interest in public pianos for anyone to play.  For a while there was a public piano near the True Food Restaurant and Angelika Mosaic movie theater in Merrified VA.  Composer-Pianist Timo Andres wrote about such a project in LA and NYC back in 2012, here.
I gave away my old Kimball spinet piano in Minneapolis (in the family since 1952) in 2003 before moving back to Virginia (as Mother’s last days would approach).  Now I use the much less bulky Casio (for composing). It sounds just about as sharp as a “real” Yamaha.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

59th Annual Candlelight Carols service at First Baptist in Washington DC

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 59th Annual Candlelight Carols service today at 4 PM.

There was an organ and instrumental Prelude (30 minutes) comprising Organ (two J.S. Bach chorale preludes), then “Il Est Ne” by Robert Leech Bedell, and “Good King Wencelas” as adapted by Virgil Fox, and “Bring a Torch Janette Isabella” as adapted by Keith Chap,man (Kevn Biggins as guest organist for these three pieces), and then a rather impressionistic sounding setting of Adeste Fideles by Sigfird Karg-Elert.   There were also six carols for brass quartet adapted by Jim Lucas.
The Runnymede Singers performed “Caroling” by Alfred Burt, “Baloo Lammy” by Norman Luboff, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” arranged by Sally Ford.

The Combined Choirs performed the major anthem "Christmas Day: Choral Fantasy on Old Carols" by Gustav Holst, and “The Angels’ Song” by Paul Tschennokov (which was surprisingly simple and brief).

The First Baptist Church choir performed “God Is Born Among Us” by Malcolm Archer.

Organist Lon Schreiber also played “In Dulci Jubilo” by Marcel Dupre as an offertory (for “SOME”, So Others Might Eat).  Remember “Cortege and Litany”>