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. 36 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.

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.