Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting into the air recording old piano compositions into Sibelius 7

Well, I’m getting going somewhat with Sibelius 7.  Today, playing an 88-key Casio, I recorded  (from “Record” from Note Input) a piano prelude (about 4 pages) from 1974, mostly jumping from the keys of D and E.  I also recorded (and reconstructed) a lost piece called “Waterfall” from 1973, which I once played at Morris County GAA in New Jersey.  Something funny happened on that one.  When I went to append some material to the “coda”, it recorded over the linear opening and created some polyphony.  I rather liked how it came out!  The Sibelius “Flexi-Time” does a reasonable job of deciphering normal rubato into predictable measure.

 On one file that I entered by hand, Sibelius playback plays only the Treble Clef; I don’t know why.

I do need to play these pieces better.  When I play them in my head, the progressions of dissonances weaving in and out sound like part of my own DNA. But they're performed more crisply in my imagination than my rusty technique can muster.  Teaching older fingers to play?  Need a real pianist? 

I’ll have to work on how to make the .sib files into .mpg’s and get some material uploaded into YouTube or Blogger.  Right now, I don’t know how this logistics works out, since my infrastructure is split between PC and Mac.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Local church youth concert adds unusual organ piece by John Rutter

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA continues its program of music, and today offered a combined Youth Choir service, merging with a similar choir from Ardmore Presbyterian Church near Philadelphia, directed by Gary Garletts. 

The height of the service may have been the “duet organ postude”, “Variations on an Easter Theme”, by John Rutter, better known for his “kinder and gentler” Requiem.  The duet was played by Gary Garletts and Carol Feather Martin.  The piece is boisterous, with a bit of polytonality, not as sweet as a lot of Rutter’s other music.

The highlights of the youth music probably were the setting of the traditional Zambian “Bonse Aba”, which does not have the vocal clicks but is definitely African.

There was an  ensemble piece for two flutes, piano, guitar and choirs, “Guardame, Senor” as Benediction. 

There were five anthems:  “Where You Need Me”, by Mark Patterson;  “Praise the Rock of Our Salvation”, by Fanny Crosby and Aaron David Miller; “Blessed Are They”,  by Phil Speary and John Leavitt; “Lord of the Dance”, by Sydney Carter and Donald Waxman;  and “God Is Our Refuge and Strength”, based on Psalm 46, by Jay Johnson and Allen Pote.

Trinity says that it supports mission work in the South Sudan, the Congo, northern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

I couldn’t find my Rutter Requiem CD quickly, but I pulled out the Chandos 1989 recording with Margaret Fingerhut, piano, and Vernon Handley conducting the Ulster Orchestra and the Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.  It’s filled with familiar themes and is said to be inspired by Rachmaninoff’s 2nd in the same key, although the piano writing is more Brahmsian. The piece is long, 39 min. Stanford does adopt the Rachmaninoff concept of combining scherzo and finale, and borrows the slow movement subject again in the finale; but he does not build a “big tune” out of a second subject, instead preferring to take the scherzo theme itself back to major. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"John Thompson" at the piano followup; "more" Chopin nocturnes

I’ve blogged about John Thompson’s piano courses before (Jan. 26, 2011). The other day, I spotted the Fourth Grade book lying around in a family bookcase, don’t know how it had escaped my notice before. The diamond on the red cover reads “something new every lesson” and has a price of $1, from the Willis Music Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1950.

The book has three of John Thompson’s own compositions: an Etude, an Impromptu, and a Nocturne (for left hand alone, a lot simpler than Chopin – a little bit “John Field-like”). He has a lot of orchestral transcriptions of themes, such as the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and the book ends with a setting of the 5/4 second movement theme from the Pathetique Symphony.  He also has a setting for the theme from the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, where Thompson writes, curiously, “Not always is a ‘chills and fever’ rendition most effective.”  That phrase stuck in my mind for years. Well, doesn’t that wait for the Finale? 

Late in the book, Thompson offers the first movement of Beethoven’s first piano sonata, in F Minor, with the famous “Mannheim Rocket” theme. Thompson gives a complete discussion of “Sonata form”. It seems odd that it would take until the fourth course to get to that important topic.

I found an “online copy”  (purchase link) of a Columbia Masterworks (monaural) record that I wore out  (with heavy tracking tone arm and sapphire needles) in high school, Eugene Istomin playing ten of the Chopin Nocturnes, but only ten of them, through Op. 32.  I remember playing this “record” during amateur chess games with high school chums, in the days when I thought it was clever to “play for the fork” in the opening.  My favorite among these was the iconoclastic, binary G Minor nocturne (in the “outer grooves” of side 2.)

There’s been some attention on the web recently to the two “late” Op. 62 nocturnes of Chopin (thumbnails link for all of them).  The first of these uses the key of B Major for a third time. There’s also an Op 72 of an earlier Nocturne. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter service on the "mount": some Franck, some modern polytonality, some controversy among the accounts in the Gospels

This morning,  at 7 AM EDT, I hiked up a 60-foot “mountain” (actually, an uplift along the Piedmont Fall Line) to the Easter Sunday sunrise service at 7 AM at Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA, to one  of the higher spots in Arlington (maybe 450 feet above sea level). As I approached, I could hear the congregation sing the main theme from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony finale, but my camera didn’t pick it up very well.

I’ve always thought that it didn’t make sense that the observed day for Easter should vary with the position of the Moon.   That sounds pagan.  It seems to me Palm Sunday should always occur the first Sunday in April, which would make the range for Easter observance April 8 to 14.  

The main service started with an organ and brass rendition of Cesar Franck’s “Grand Choeur in C” (transcription by Craig Garner). The main rollicking theme is really in C Minor, and the piece sounds episodic, like a rondo. There followed an Antiphon by David Conte, “O filii et filae” (brothers and sisters) by Wilbur Held, and a rather polytonal “Easter Fantasy” by John Gardner.

The main anthem was “Three Days Had Passed” by John Thornburg and Joel Martinson. It was really more like a day and a half.  But the title of the anthem reminds me of David Day’s famous 1981 sermon at Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, “It’s Friday but Sunday is coming.”  The offertory was “Jubliate Deo: Come Away to the Skies” as adapted by David Ashley White.

The Postlude, the popular, loud and modernist “No Thank We All Our God”  by Sigfried Karg-Elert. The congregation remained seated (as it should during "real" postludes) and applauded. 

The sermons focused on the accounts of the Resurrection in Mark and John. In Mark, the reader is left hanging. In John, Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus.  The revelations are made to women first, however, and angels are involved.  Wikipedia has a comparative synopsis here.  Screenwriters have long tried to piece together the surface contradictions in the several accounts.  I think it's interesting to try to identify the "angels", too. 

Here’s a brass-organ performance of the Franck Choeur from Italy in 2009, link.
When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, the Dallas Symphony always held a free pops concert in Lee Park near Turtle Creek on Easter afternoon.  I don’t know if it still does. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

Arnold Schoenberg's "Pelleas und Melisande" takes "chromaticism" to the ultimate

Last night, I followed up on previous discussion of Arnold Schoenberg by playing my 1974 by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic of Schoenberg’s “Pelleas und Melisande” (a DG CD in ADD format). 

The tone poem is structured rather like a huge one movement sonata structure but follows the story of Maeterlinck’s play  (“Pelleas and Melisande”) with a tragic love triangle between Golaud, his brother Pelleas, and Melisande.  Fratricidal rivalry for women doesn’t sound like an idea that applies today, but it fascinated composers and playwrights in the 19th Century.

Schoenberg’s compositional style follows that of “Gurre-Lieder” (this blog, Feb. 22, 2012), which he had already started.  The tone poem was completed in 1902, when Schoenberg was a virile 28. It takes chromaticism (mainly associated with Liszt and Wagner but really starting with late Mozart) to its ultimate limits.  There was no place to go after this but outright atonality. There is a yearning, constantly modulating love theme (more or less a second subject in Sonata talk) in track four. The music constantly moves among adjacent tonalities, such as C#-Minor, D#-Minor, and the central D Minor.  One of the most stunning passages, a descending figure harmonized in a way to sound just plain strange, occurs in the next to the last track. There's lots of snarling in the brass, an effect learned from Mahler but encapsulated into the rest of the orchestra.  

Last night, having listened to this, I dreamed about “the last day of the world”, bringing in elements of Lars van Trier’s film “Melancholia”.  This music would have fit as well as Wagner’s “Tristan”.

Schoenberg was not aware of Debussy’s opera  (“Pelleas et Melisande”) composed about the same time, as with this clip here.  Schoenberg actually used 9th and 11th chords and whole tone effects himself, but the effect is totally different, sounding much more challenging. Debussy's music on this material, by comparison, sounds rather gentle.  

The CD contains the string orchestra version of three of the pieces from Alban Berg’s “Lyric Suite”. I think the original version for string quartet of all six movements works much better.

Here’s a 5-minute YouTube tutorial on Schoenberg’s 12-tone system.  Some of his music composed in this technique, like the Piano Concerto, sounds amazingly lush:

I used to say that "modern music" begins with the first movement of the Mahler Ninth.  That may be a stretch (how about "The Rite of Spring"?)   But one could make that claim about this 1902 tone poem of Schoenberg.