Sunday, September 25, 2011

More British music at Arlington VA church accompanies biting "political" sermon today scolding partisan Congress

Today, I wrote a posting on the issues blog about the substance of a sermon by Dr. James Atwood at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington. The music today was also interesting.

The organ postlude, played by Carol Feather Martin, was an adaptation – Variations and Fugue on the Welsh folksong “Llanglofan” by Aaron David Miller.  The sound was a little reminiscent of the organ lessons that emulate Bach – pieces actually by Krebs – here baroque, with a taste of polytonality and pastoralism, yet countrapuntal.

The anthem, from the youth choir, was a gentler fare than the choice on 9/11: here, it was “May the Mind of Christ” – music by Cyril Barham-Gould (1925, England), text by Kate Wilkinson (link) , adaptation by David Giardiniere. There is a performance online [website url] here).

Is there a hidden message -- we need "parliamentary" government?

This somewhat popular British piece could have wound up in the Royal Wedding – or was it there and did we overlook it?   Look in your hymnal, at all the references to Sir Hubert Parry (“I Was Glad”; “Oh Jerusalem”). 

Here's an odd story: Pastor Tim Lucas at the Liquid Church in New Jersey reversed the collection, handing out money to churchgoers, hoping they will practice personal charity with it (rather than depend on others or "the church").  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Foggy Bottom Morris Men dance in Ballston (Arlington VA)

Today (Saturday Sept. 24) I chanced a view on Wilson Boulevard in the Ballston Section of Arlington VA of the “Foggy Bottom Morris Men”, who perform “stick and hankie” dances from “Cotswolds” villages in England like Bampton and Bledington.  The dances resemble what you would see at a Renaissance Fair.

I did not have my camera with me to make a video or photo, but here is the website

They have several YouTube videos, such as this one of the Ampleforth Sword Dance.

I used to attend the Renaissance festivals in the late summer south of Minneapolis only highway 169. There were plenty of shows like this, as well as (always) a simultaneous chess exhibition from a local International Master.  I remember one particular loss, to the “English Opening”. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My own basement turns up remnants of a "lost" piano pre-career

So, look what I found last night rummaging through paper records in my basement, which barely escaped the floods of Robert E. Lee (at least in Virginia).

Here’s a courtly (heterosexist  and perfunctory) Minuet in E Major, dated about 1957, which actually won a composition contest.  I don’t think it “deserves it” as much as some other more recent stuff.

Now, I also found some handwritten comments by the judges for my  Piano Sonata in D Minor (1959).  I was somewhat under the spell of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, and the writing, out of superficiality perhaps, lingers too much in the dominant key, as with the opening of the Finale.  Later, I tried to pencil in some modulations.

One of the judge’s comments is rather moot, as to ennui with the thematic material.

The other’s is a little more positive. Note how the judges look for neatness in handwritten manuscripts in these pre-computer (pre-Sibelius) days. 

I still remember another typewritten comment, missing now, suggesting that I look at the short pieces of Bartok, Bloch, and Kabalevsky.  Why these?  How about Robert Schumann? 

The “cyclic” work of several movements where at least one movement had a full Sonata form interested me as a youngster. It seemed to take one on a journey.  It’s odd that a formal Symphony (or Concerto), with no connection of themes between the “movements” conveys as sense of an adventure (although connecting the themes of different movements became more common during the 19th Century, perhaps starting with Cesar Franck, or before – Brahms did it with his Op 5 Piano Sonata, and Beethoven actually did it opening the finale of the 9th Symphony).

I do hear a lot these days, though, about the virtues of “miniature” pieces.  Actually some of that became popular with expressionism and atonality: Schoenberg, Berg and Webern all wrote suites of “pieces”.  But Alban Berg’s early “Three Pieces for Orchestra” is practically a short post-Mahler symphony.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9-11 Concert at Kennedy Center features movement from Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms"

On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, the Washington National Cathedral presented “A Concert for Hope” (“A Call for Compassion”) at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, hosted by Anderson Cooper. The venue was moved because of the earthquake damage situation at the Cathedral.

President Obama spoke.

The musical highlight of the evening (just one hour, on ABC) was the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (Psalm 23), solo part by a young person from Washington National Cathedral.  The musical style has always sounded to me like an outgrowth of the music in the Kaddish Symphony, with the Psalm 23 movement somewhat resembling the slow “song” section of the Kaddish. (The longer finale of Chichester is Psalm 131.)

Included also was the string orchestra version of the famous Adagio from Samuel Barber’s String Quartet (second movement, Op. 11).

There was also a rendition of “Amazing Grace”.  Also included were Alan Jackson and “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” and Patti LaBelle with “Two Steps Away”.

Here is a link describing the artists in the concert.

Here is another blogger post giving the text of the President’s speech, link.  

I have a recording of Chichester Psalms with James Litton performing with the American Boychoir and American Symphony Orchestra, dated 1990, on the MusicMasters label.  The CD notes say this is the first recording of Bernstein's "original version." The CD also has a setting of a piece by Charles Davidson with a curious title, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”, orchestrated by Donald Fraser.   There is a lot of a cappella and spoken text, and a musical style like that of John Rutter.  The text deals with conditions in the ghettos during the Holocaust.  (As for the title: Tiny Tim’s “OGAB” maybe.) 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Arlington VA Church presents new work in memory of 9/11; some notes on the effect of twelve-tone music

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA held a contemporary service at 10:30 in the gym, and after the sermon performed a handbell composition, about five minutes, “Prayer for Peace” by Michael Helman.

The composition opens with four twelve-tone chords, which on the score look overwhelming. (Handbell scores apparent print their notes without vertical lines.)  Helman writes “The four opening chords of the piece represent the four planes that crashed that day. The chords include all twelve tones of the chromatic scale to symbolize the effect that terrorism has on everyone”.  He also says the introduction, played today, is optional. The rest of the piece is a moderately tempoed medley, very tonal.

Back in the 1950s, music critics wrote about twelve-tone music as expressionistic and somewhat designed to convey emotions that are “morbid and terrifying”.   But sometimes twelve-tone music naturally grows out of Romantic chromaticism, originating with Liszt and Wagner, but very apparent in some music by Schoenberg but especially Alban Berg (as in the opera “Lulu”, which sounds like romantic opera now).

In my own 1962 Piano Sonata, which I have discussed plans to transcribe into modern software, I experimented with taking the C Major theme of the opening and converting it to a twelve –tone row in the Development section. The effect is that of hyperchromaticism, while fugal, and still sounds a bit postromantic
Two pages reproduced here.

Later, in the Scherzo middle section, I have a cadenza that sounds almost random in the choice of notes for trills and figures (like in the “diplomacy” music I reviewed on Aug. 24.   

In the slow movement, I open with a twelve-tone row “harmonized” in E-flat minor, but then go to F# minor, Bb-minor, and B Major with some very tonal, however meandering, music.

A NIH in 1962, the psychiatrists had written about me, “He had been an adequate piano player since childhood and developed considerable interest in music. He learned some composition and began to compose a series of piano sonatas based on a 12 tone scale. These were compositions that he did not hear in his head but rather were worked out on a prearranged formula.”  Hardly a ringing endorsement of a music future, but also quite inaccurate on what I had composed.  I’ve described the NIH experience in some detail on the “BillBoushka” blog.

Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt preached a sermon “Living Life, Living Faith”, references Genesis 50:15-21 and Matthew 18:21-35.  The sermon was on forgiveness, which is the basis of Grace.  It’s hard to separate individual forgiveness issues with the collective grief of 9/11 and the need for “justice”.  It seems that Grace and forgiveness are the only “intellectual bridge” between the need for a society to sustain itself “collectively”, requiring flexibility and sacrifice from its citizens, and still aim toward individual rights and abstract “equality” for everyone.  Without forgiveness in many cases that abrogate personal responsibility, Grace is not possible.  But its hard to separate the issues with, say, upsidedown mortgage debt and the forceful expropriation attempted by flash mobs – or the nihilism of terrorists.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

PBS airs Met's 2009 "Madame Butterfly"; will be reperformed this season

Tonight some PBS stations aired the Anthony Minghella production of Giacomo Puccin’s “Madame Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009.  The best link is here. The production will be repeated in December 2011
The Met version is the three act version, directly by Gary Halvorsk. Patricia Racette sings the lead role.

The plot (story by John Luther Long) may seem disturbing if put in a modern context.  A US Naval officer has engaged to marry a very young Japanese bride (it wouldn’t be legal today) but to divorce her when he finds an American wife.  The story hardly encourages “family values”, or even stable marriages between equal adults, capable of raising children to adulthood. 

The production used a mannequin for the child, which looked a bit odd, especially in the tragic last scene where the princess puts a knife at her own throat.

The music, like most Puccini, mixes post Strauss-Mahler schmaltz with some whole-tone effects more common in French music. There is one major soaring theme that revolves around a few notes.

At the tragic end, the music seems ready to crash on B-minor octaves (almost like Tchaikovsky in "Black Swan")  when instead it leaves us dangling on a non-tonic chord.  I went to the Casio piano and played one loud B octave to conclude.  (Remember the note B in Wozzeck?) 

Sorry, the story doesn't invoke "OGAB", a favorite saying of my Army buddies back in 1969 at Ft. Eustis (that is, "Oh, go way Butterfly!", from Tiny Tim).

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Progress report on Logic, future music scoring plans; here's the score of one "Polytonal Prelude"; More on Schumann with his Triple-time marches

Well, today, I photocopied the four pages of an original polytonal prelude (D Major, E Major, sometimes F#), dated back to about 1973.  (It looks like page 2 really starts over in the middle.)

In early August, I took a “lesson” in Apple Logic Express at an Apple store in Arlington. Most of my files would not play except with the USB to the Casio piano.  We took one file and converted it to play directly. The techs ("geniuses") were Googling around to solve the “problem”.  We wound up creating a new track and converting the IO to “ESS24” if I can follow the notes.

The upshot of this is that I will need to do two things: first, to score my Sonatas and other pieces, I’ll need a more score-specific product like Sibelius or Finale, which are expensive.  The other thing is that I’ll have to wade through the Logic booklet and do everything even though much of the mixing and editing doesn’t apply to what I want to do (it would be used more by rock bands).   I expect to have this done by the first of October and be reading to purchase and use a product like Sibelius for my own compositions.

With some of my music, there is the possibility of “orchestration”, probably for classical chamber orchestra sounds. 

As with any product, it seems as though you need to learn to do everything in order to do what you want, exactly.

Here are the other pages of the Prelude: 2

Page 3

Page 4

Here’s a YouTube of a few seconds of the 1956 Sonatina in Moog.  (File 2011 is correct; File 2007, on YouTube, didn’t record any sound.)

Here’s a crude rendition of the complete Minuet from the A Major Sonatina, dated 1957 (hey, that’s the year of “Atlas Shrugged”!) 

Today, I played the Angel EMI CD (1989) of Youri Egorov playing Schumann.  The Carnaval, Op. 9, ends with that odd March in ¾ time, an oxymoron (the Davidsblunder against the Philistines).  The Toccata in C, Op, 7, opens with a familiar pattern, and comes to a curious quiet close. The Arabesque is familiar, and Bunte Blatter (“Many Colored Leaves”, Op. 99), carry Schumann’s concept of miniaturization as far as possible, within larger movements.