Monday, December 30, 2013

Local church gives solo jazz interpretation of Christmas music; was Busoni a teen prodigy?

The combined service at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA on Sunday, December 29, 2013 featured special jazz music by Robert Stocks, who usually organizes the early morning contemporary service.  This music comprised mostly Christmas carols played on a solo saxophone, sometimes with electronic piano keyboard, sometimes with accompanying guitar, and at least once case (“The Little Drummer Boy” on an unusual drum and percussion apparatus that I haven’t seen before. 

For a little more material, I looked up my 1988 CD of piano music of Ferruccio Busoni, played by Bruce Wolosoff, and see that I had reviewed the Piano Sonata earlier (Oct. 25, 2011).  So today, I played the much more "modern" Seven Elegies, which run 42 minutes. The Second of the elegies ("All'Italia") has passage work that anticipates the slow movement of the mammoth Piano Concerto in C.  The Third, "My Soul longs and hopes for You", somewhat recalls the Christmas carol "What Child was this?"  The Fourth invokes the familiar tune "Greensleves" (aka, "What Child?" and even more obviously now) and is called "The Boudoir of Turandot".  The Fith is called "The Nightly" as if to anticipate "The Night Jaunt" in Timo Andres's "Shy and Mighty".  The last, "The Vision" is said to be the best known. Each elegy ends quietly, and some have a sudden tonality shift at the very end.

I've recently discussed the Liszt "ad nos" variations from Meyerbeer (Nov. 25);  Busoni transcribed that for piano.  

I like it better for organ, still.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve (is over): Vaughn Williams and Britten rule

On Christmas days in the past, I used to play two particular works by CD.  One was Hodie ("This Day"), the Christmas cantata by Ralph Vaughn Williams, almost an hour, a 1969 performance by David Wilcox on EMI-Angel.  The ending is rather virile, and calls to mind the conclusion of the Eigtth Symphony. The other was an RCA recording with the St. Louis Symphony and the Tchaikovsky complete Nutcracker.

The Tchaikovsky really sounds hackneyed to my ear now.  The best moment is not at the very end (in B flat), but another fast passage near the end that crashes down in G Major.  I remember hearing this climax play one day at the old Crossroads Market in Dallas (at Cedar Springs and Throckmorton). The Nutcracker sounds less effective to my ear than “Swan Lake”, which was realized so well in the 2010 film “Black Swan”.  And remember how director Paul Thomas Anderson used the finale of the Brahms Violin Concerto so effectively in the end-credits of his 2007 Christmas-season film "There Will Be Blood"?  A teenager sitting next to me made his whole family stay to hear the complete movement before leaving the theater.  
And don't forget Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve Suite", a favorite of a high school friend my senior year.

There is actually a piano solo Christmas hymn by Franz Liszt, in D-flat major, in an old hardbound anthology that I would have to hunt for.  It's bombastic and rather resembles "St. Francis Walking on the Water". 

There was some notable a cappella vocal music at the Christmas Eve 11 PM service last night at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA., some rather modal arrangements of familiar carols, followed by some Britten (one piece from the Ceremony of Carols), and Rutter, and anthems by Jonathan Willcocks, John Leavitt, Bob Chilcott, and Daniel Kantor (“Night of Silence”). 

As we sung the carols, I noticed that Ralph Vaughn Williams has his own setting for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that nobody uses.

The pre-school at the church has some artwork in the hallway, with one of them a visual comparsion Mozart (fast, with violins) to Tchaikovsky (slow, with flutes).  
Christmas celebrations this year seem a little less elaborate than in years past.  It’s not so much recession (not in this area); it’s more that people seem to be moving back into their own personal spaces.  That’s common in large cities, and it’s happening a little more in affluent suburbs, too.  I think as we become more “self-sufficient” we think we need to do less together.  There’s the whole idea of “Alone together”, like on Facebook.  It’s funny, because from my Twitter feed I can tell that a friend some hundreds of miles away is watching “The Hobbit” to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Why the Chimes Rang" (Dinda-Alden) presented by DC Church on new organ for Christmas

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held a short Christmas celebration with the small Wednesday night congregation sitting in the chancel, facing the organ, on Dec. 18.

The highlight of the program was the 25-minute narrated organ piece, “Why the Chimes Rang”, with music by Robin Dinda, performed by Lawrence P. Schreiber on the Austin Organ, with Rev, Deborah Cochran reading the children’s story by Raymond MacDonald Alden (1909). 
The story presents a fantasy setting, with a huge cathedral at the entrance of a walled city, and a spire thousands of feet high, with chimes that no one remembers hearing.  The descriptions of the countryside rather remind me of one of the dominions in Clive Barker’s “Imajica” (or perhaps of Toilken). A little boy helps a homeless woman outside the city, and takes her donation to the service which, given after all the gaudy gifts in the style of the Magi, is met by the chimes ringing.  It is a setting of the “widow’s coin” parable.    The music has some fugal settings of carols, but ends with a very French-sounding triumphant close in E Major, after the organ plays the mysterious chimes. 
The service had started with an intermixing of two organ preludes based on “In Dulci Jublio” by Marcel Dupre and Paul Manz.  The Dupre was not as loud as the composer usually is, and the Manz again played with a fugue.

Earlier there was a supper with mushroom soup!  

Update: Dec, 22, 2013

The Trinity Presbyterian Service today in Arlington Va. offered the Trinity Brass Players with the Giovanni Gabrielli piece "Hodie Christus Natus Est", in a transcription by S. Drummond Wolff. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Kennedy Center offers a stirring Brahms First, some interesting Mozart

I hadn’t been to the Kennedy Center since the web snafu last February forced me to go to a broker for an ordinary ticket.  But last night, after some more minor website problems in the morning, I went to a reminiscence of Mozart and Beethoven.

The concert, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, started with the Overture to “The Magic Flue” (“Die Zaungerflote).  This majestic E-flat late Mozart overture became part of my memory in the early 1970s. I can remember driving out to West Virginia to tour strip mines with a previous grad school roommate (an episode that I elaborate in the story “Expedition” in my upcoming book) and the piece came on to the car radio as I left town, early from work and a pow-wow on a friend’s last day at work before leaving for a new job. The music seemed to represent that friend.  The performance here was a little unsteady at the very beginning, as there seemed to be a slight tuning problem in the strings on the opening chords.

The second work was the Violin Concerto #4 in D, K. 218, with violinist Nurit Bar-Josef. She wore a form-fitted blue gown, bringing to mind the title of a particularly controversial film (Movies, Dec. 3).
Again, this brings back that troubling time in my coming of age.  After returning “home” from my William and Mary “expulsion”, I (in 1962) bought a Parliament (cheap) recording of this work with the Bassoon Concerto on the other side.  The first movement is typical enough, and the program notes characterize the slow movement, with its gentle scalar themes, as “moonlight-tender”, as if had inspired a particular episode of “Modern Family”.  The finale sounds like playful fluff, and the concerto ends simply and quietly, as if to invite a response.  I don’t recall if any of the other Mozart violin concertos end like this, but on December 1, 2012 Jonathan Biss played an early Piano Concerto that does.
I didn’t know that Johannes Brahms had started to compose his Symphony #1 in C Minor at age 22. He didn’t finish until over 40.  This work really penetrates when you sit on the fourth row, with Eschenbach’s deliberate, Klemperer-like tempos.  The harmonies sound rich and adventurous.  In the first movement, Eischenbach kept a “moderato” pace for the formal allegro and slowed down at the end of the development, before announcing the recapitulation.  Note that the movement ends quietly, on a Picardy Third.  The second movement shows how Brahms can make complex triple-meter interesting with syncopation and complex rhythm. The third movement seems like a relaxing respite (getting to the remote key of B for the trio) before returning to reality in the famous finale.
In the finale, the Introduction is almost like another slow movement in itself.  (Brahms introduced the finales of a couple of his big piano sonatas with long slow introductions, sometimes recalling the material of earlier movements.)  The program notes, after noting the famous C Major hymn theme, state that the movement has no development section.  I don’t perceive it that way.  After the hymn is introduced, the music gradually shifts to G Major and then E Minor for an adventurous second subject.  That was the music playing mentally on an evening in high school during a small event important to my coming of age, as I describe in my upcoming book.  Yes, this brings back those days of being a senior at Washington-Lee in 1960-1961.  The hymn theme returns to start what seems like a development.  After reaching a tremendous climax, the move slows with some of the adagio-material, and then enters what seems like a recapitulation, but only of the venturous second theme.  It comes to a false ending in C Minor, before embarking on the Coda, which turns in a development and almost a cadenza for orchestra, before finally homing in on the “Big Ben” trombone motive, ready to crash down in C Major triumph.
It strikes me as interesting that German romanticism (following baroque and classic periods) split into two paths.  I tend to put Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms in on bucket in my own mind.  In fact, there is a lot of counterpoint in the Brahms First.   The other path seems to comprise Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, with Struass, Wagner and Liszt nearby.  (Liszt actually worked with counterpoint, as he proved in “ad nos”.)  Eschenbach’s conducting style brings all these styles together.
Seated up close, I could see the musicians, often female and not necessarily young.  Eschenbach is active with the baton and seems to make eye contact with the musicians.  You can hear the cellos playing pizzicato and see it.  I wondered what makes someone want to play bass as a primary instrument (usually young men).
The embed above shows a Bernstein performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1981. 

Note the discussion of the Brahms Symphony 2 on Jan. 13. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

CD by Houlihan showcases Vierne; the music of Amy Beach

I did purchase a CD of organist Christopher Houlihan, after the concert on Nov, 24 in Washington DC.   Here Houlihan is performing at the Trinity College Chapel in Hartford, CT, on another Austin Organ, Op. 2536 (from 1971).  The CD is Towerhill recording TH-72018.
The main course on the CD is the Organ Symphony #2 in E Minor, Op. 20 (1903), by Louis Vierne, who was legally blind.  The music, despite what the program notes say, doesn’t sound so far from Franck.  There are five movements.  The first movement and finale end in a triumphant Picardy Third in E. There are two slow movements.  The “Choral” has a surprise loud ending, but the Cantabile is quiet, as is the preceding scherzo, which the organist had used as an encore.
The CD adds the “Carillon de Westminster” as performed in the Nov. 24 concert.
The CD includes the Widor Sixth Symphony Allegro, and adds the Andante Sostenuto from the “Gothic Symphony” (sorry, no relation to Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony).  I’m not a fan of performing separate movements.  But Widor endorsed the practice, linking the Allegro and Finale of his Sixth along with the Andante of the Second to form a “Symphony for Organ and Orchestra.”  I seem to remember hearing some Widor at a church in Charlotte as a boy on a family trip in the 1950s.
At the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Sunday (Dec. 1), there was a communion anthem “Sleepers, Wake, A Voice Is Calling” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Saint Paul”, with Austin organ.
I’ll mention that we had a “handbell” music lesson at the monthly potluck, to accompany some carol singing.  Some of the bells had notations of the pitch and diagrams.  The other church that I often attend in Arlington (Trinity Presbyterian) often performs musical numbers with bells. 

I’ll mention a couple more adventures on YouTube.  I found the Symphony in E Minor and Piano Concerto in C# Minor by Amy Beach (probably Aemrica’s most important female composer before modern times) on YouTube, along with the Piano Quintet in F# Minor.  All are examples of late "German" Romanticism, with a taste of Brahms.  The E Minor Symphony has a restless first movement that ends abruptly, but the big tune in the Finale is based on an Irish folk song. It’s on Chandos. It will sound familiar. The Piano Concerto has four movements, heavily rhythmic, and a spectacular, pre-Rachmaninoff conclusion to an otherwise playful finale.  I also found Eugen D’Albert’s Piano Concerto #1 (the “Everwood”) on YouTube, but I’m not sure how legally.  I commented on the work anyway there.  I’ve discussed the work  (inspired by the Liszt B Minor sonata) in detail here before.  

Update: April 16, 2016

Here is a YouTube video that shows the Amy Beach Piano Concerto score as it is played.  The first movement, 18 minutes, is noteworthy for its very expansive sonata structure. The finale "scioltezza" means with agility.  The music is noteworthy in sounding laid back but erupting into powerful, even violent, climaxes.  The work has more orchestral passages than usual for a piano concerto, almost as if a "concerto for orchestra with piano".  The piano writing has some similarity to Brahms and Liszt, but looks ahead to Rachmaninoff.  Beach has a way to take mundane, almost pedantic or perfunctory themes (which sounds like an odd thing to say because she often uses her own songs or other folk songs in her large works), and make them interesting.  In her music, the "development" is everything  Although this concerto is hardly every played, it is easy for the "ear" to learn and sounds familiar after two or three playings;  like D'Albert's big works, it has its own internal logic that seems quite compelling. .
A male pianist should play this work with the New York Philharmonic the weekend before the general election, if we wind up with Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump.  Performing the work could make a political statement.
But every Easter, this work gets attention, as below:

Update:  April 16, 2017

That video with the sheet music isn't available now, so try this performance by Joanne Polk and the English Chamber Orchestra, link.  Movement timings are 19:16, 25:24, 30:14.  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Homeless man in Vancouver plays piano by ear as a gifted pianist

A shop called “Second Hand Solutions” in Vancouver BC has hosted the homeless pianist David Allen Welsh, who is said to be a prodigy and plays by ear but does not know how to read music and never had music lessons.
The CNN story link is here.
A friend of David, James Maynard, contributed to the report.
Welsh can play with good technique despite fingers numbed from outdoor life in the cold as a homeless man.

David played a distant transcription of the hymn “Amazing Grace”. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Vancouver picture.  My only visit was in Dec. 1966.   

Friday, November 29, 2013

Country singer from Maryland and then Tennessee organizes non-profit to engage foster children in music

While on a day trip Black Friday, I picked up a Frederick MD newspaper and found this story by Susan Guynn of the News-Post about local native Jaime Fox, who moved to Nashville and became a country singer, but also founded a non-profit called “We Will Rise Nashville” (link ) , to provide opportunities in the arts and athletics for foster children. 
The story (link) rather speaks for itself.  She also wrote a song for the National Foster Parent Association (link).
By the way, it isn’t necessary for YouTube to “correct” her spelling to “Jamie Foxx”.  On entering a second time, you can find her there. 

The main song there (“The Heart of Me”) disables embedding, but it is allowed for “Love Me Wrong”. 

As for the day trip, I had been in Harpers Ferry, WV earlier today (have written about it before back in July), and stopped at a luncheonette down the steps from Washington St called “Coffee Stop”.  It seems not to be on the Web, but is very popular with the locals and always packed.  So the day had a taste of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Nashville picture (my own visit, 1988).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Washington National Cathedral on Thanksgiving Eucharist offers music by Stanford, Neswick

Today, Thanksgiving Day, I attended the Holy Eucharist at the Washington National Cathedral. 
I had heard the Beethoven Missa Solemnis there in the 1990s, and also heard former president Jimmy Carter speak there.
The music in the service was noteworthy of review.

In the Carillon prelude there was an organ transcription of the St. George’s Windsor hymn “Come, ye thankful people come” by Edward M. Nassor (1957) so softened by impressionism that it was unrecognizable.

The organ voluntary was the Virgil Fox setting of J. S. Bach’s “Now Thank We All Our God” from the Cantata #79.

The Song of Praise was “Glory to God” by Robert Powell.

The featured musical work for the service was performed by the choir and organ during the offertory.  It was the “Te Deum” by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (better known for his often energetic symphonies -- especially the Fifth -- and Irish Rhapsodies).  The work, in C, is somewhat episodic, and not quite as attention-grabbing as, say, Parry’s “I Was Glad”. Stanford's style is often pensive and majestic, even "Germanic" and follows that or Brahms, and perhaps Elgar. 
The Communion Anthem was “Let the peoples praise you, O God” by Bruce Neswick (1956-).  The work started with a long organ prelude, quiet and impressionistic, and became more dissonant and biting during the choral part.

The postlude was the familiar “Now thank we all our God” by Sigfrid Klag-Elert.
The great organ was installed by Skinners and Sons in 1938.  The organists are Christopher Betts and Benjamin Straley.

The service appeared to have assistance from students at the high school (St. Albans) which often appears (and usually wins) on "It's Academic". 
I decided to embed a performance of the Irish Rhapsody #4 by Stanford, with its well known folk song, and its towering climax in A at the end.  I have a Chandos of this with Handley, and got to know the work in the 90s, when the military gay ban first was being debated.

After the service, I took the elevator to the observation deck, open despite earthquake repairs.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christopher Houlihan performs Liszt, Bach, and Greene at third major concert for FBC Austin organ

The concert series of distinguished organists in celebration of the new Austin Organ at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC continued Sunday November 24, 2013 with Christopher Houlihan, graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut and then Julliard in New York. 

The program opened with the opening Allegro from the Organ Symphony #6 in G Minor by Charles-Marie Widor.  I like to hear complete works, but the movement is filled with melodramatic rhetoric.
He followed with one of the featured works of the concert, the “Steel Symphony” of Massachusetts composer Patrick Greene (b. 1985).  The three brief movements are titled “Putto 4 over 4”, “Lincoln”, and “Armour Boys”.  The movements are inspired by steel sculptures in the deCordova Sculpture Park and Garden in Lincoln, MA, by Michael Rees, Dewitt Godfrey, and Laura Ford, the last piece comprising men wearing masks who appear to have fallen in battle.  The work is dissonant and rather declamatory.

Houlihan then performed the early Bach work, the “Toccata, Adagio and Fugue” in C, BWV 564.  The first section has a famous passage for pedals; the Adagio has a famous A minor melody, and the Fugue is rather playful, as if to invite jokes.  I had an old Columbia recording of this with Biggs (with the Schubler Chorales on the back) given to me in 1961 by a friend from William and Mary after my “expulsion” in November 1961, which I have written about extensively elsewhere on these blogs.  So this work has been in my musical ear for years.
After the intermission, Houlihan played the “Carillon de Westminster” from the “24 Pieces de Fantasie” by Louis Vierne.  This piece is a fantasy on the “Big Ben” theme that Brahms also used in his “Academic Festival Overture”. 
The program concluded with the massive 30-minute “Fantasy and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam'”, S. 259 by Franz Liszt, based on an aria motive from Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophete”.  Wikipedia discusses the work here  It is quite a melodrama itself, with the fugue serving as a recapitulation of what is like a one-movement Sonata.  They key seems to be C Minor.  There are many quiet passages in the middle, which serves as a slow movement (somewhat in the suoer-legato style of the middle part of the Faust Symphony) but the conclusion, after the violent counterpoint of the fugue, is truly majestic. 
As an encore, Mr. Houlihan performed a scherzo from Vieren’s second organ symphony.
The organ console is rolled out into the chancel, and it is so large that it tends to make an organist of even moderate or average height look short and small by comparison.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"A Little Jazz Mass", by Bob Chilcott: the world's shortest?

The “Chancel Choir and Friends” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA today performed the 13-minute work “A Little Jazz Mass” by Bob Chilcott, with choir, piano, and bass, and percussion.

As shown above, there are some other performances on YouTube. 
The work is marginally in E Minor, and seems more daring in the first two movements (of five: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei) than later, where it becomes a bit French and impressionistic and a bit like Gershwin, maybe some of the harmonic styles of the Piano Concerto (previously discussed here). The Gloria was quite lively indeed.  This is happy stuff, not the jazz of Alan Berg and Lulu, for example.
The choir also performed a choir setting of “Ride On King Jesus” by Moses Hogan (pretty much in the style of the 1982 film “Say Amen, Somebody”)
There was a prelude with a choral jazz rendition of “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” by Brad Nix.  It was much more daring, “modern”, and improvisatory in effect.

For the Postlude, Carol Feather Martin (who tells me she studied at Oberlin College, near where I spent my boyhood summers) played “Swing Five on ‘Erhalt uns, Herr’” by Johann Matthias Michel. The work sounded sharp on the small pipe organ here;  I wondered how it would sound on the Austin organ “downtown”.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recalling the classical music played on WGMS in Washington 50 years ago right after JFK's assassination: lots of Mahler, Verdi

I recall well the weekend following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 2013.  I had been at work at the time (at the old National Bureau of Standards at the site of what is now UDC).  I took the two busses home in Arlington, wondering if a nuclear attack could happen.  On Sunday, I was riding in the back seat of the family car with my parents on 17th Street, a few blocks from the First Baptist Church, probably approaching K Street, when I heard Jack Ruby’s gunshot live over the car radio, with the words “He’s been shot.”
The major networks (there were not so many then) played news coverage for four days, until the funeral Monday, without commercial interruption. The classical music station in Washington at the time was WGMS, I think it was 570 on AM. 
I remember the music of the weekend well.  I heard a lot of it on the Zenith family radio downstairs, which no longer works.  I can also remember listening to a lot of Washington Senators baseball defeats on the radio (particularly Sunday double-dippings on the road).  We also had a black portable Zenith radio that I often kept in my room.
Sometime in the middle of Saturday afternoon, the station played the famous F Major Adagietto from the Symphony #5 by Gustav Mahler.  The movement is often played on its own (as is sometimes the “Blumie” movement left out of the First Symphony, which I think works better with the movement included).  The Fifth is the first of the “middle period” Mahler symphonies, and for me it has never been the most satisfying.  It is nominally listed in C# Minor, but only the first movement funeral march, rather like an introduction, is in that key.  It uses the three-note motive from the Beethoven Fifth (also to figure into the close of Havergal Brian’s Third Symphony, also in C# Minor, probably deliberately, music which found its way into the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale”).  The Mahler Fifth is in three “Parts”, and most of Part I is taken up by a major sonata allegro in A Minor, following the C# minor introduction, a movement not as effective in my mind as the opening of the Sixth, really in A Minor (March 7, 2013 on this blog).  Part II is an overloaded scherzo in D Major (a full 20 minutes), and Part III comprises the famous Adagietto, followed by a D Major finale, most of which is a lively double fugue.  I have a London CD with Solti performing the work with the Chicago Symphony (late 1980s).
WGMS also played the Mahler Symphony #2 in C Minor, the Resurrection, over the weekend, and to many listeners it may be Mahler’s best known work, with its thrilling conclusion.   I’ve heard the Second in concert once, at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1977. Remember the tremendous unresolved dissonance at the end of the development section of the first movement (no doubt inspired by a similar dissonance from Beethoven's Eroica)?  Structurally, I’ve always had an issue with it.  To start a work in a minor key and end in the relative major (C Minor to E-flat Major) a few movements later gives a trite feel to my own ear.  I would have liked an ending in C Major.  (But Maher had begun to experiment with progressive tonality.  The finale of the first symphony starts its final allegro in F Minor before returning to the home D Major.)   The Eighth Symphony (Feb. 18, 2012 here) starts and ends in E-flat and has an ending with comparable chills and fever.
WGMS also played, as I recall, the Verdi Requiem, maybe the most famous of all the major romantic requiems, with the notorious G Minor Dies Irae, and the wonderful major Offertorium. I have the Telarc with the Atlanta Symphony with Robert Shaw.
Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, completed in January 1962, sometimes was performed with homage to President Kennedy.  The work makes a lot of use of the “triton” interval (C to F#) to give a sense of tonal ambiguity.  It is said that Mahler wanted to compose a requiem mass if he had lived long enough.  Britten’s work is probably the closest that repertoire music comes to what Mahler might have composed (had he lived past World War I).  I heard the Britten performed by the Dallas Symphony with chorus in 1980.  The other work that maybe approximates what Mahler could have done is Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony”, the second part of which is rather like a requiem.
  I see that on July 2, 2008 I discussed Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony ($3, more or less in the key of A), which again is rather Mahler-like and contains text that questions the intentions of God.  Bernstein condensed the work slightly for his DG recording with the Israel Philharmonic; I prefer the original uncut 1964 NY Philharmonic recording on Columbia Records and Sony, which was dedicated to JFK.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

British composer John Taverner passes away; here's a choral piece

I wanted to pass along a friend’s recommendation for a modal choral piece by British composer John Taverner, “God Is With Us”, in C major, with a lot of whole-tone harmonies.  It’s largely a cappella until some loud organ chords punctuate at the end. The piece seems to end on the dominant, and begs for resolution.
It’s performed by the Kings College Choir.

According to Wikipedia, Taverner passed away Nov. 12 at the age of 69.  

Update: Nov. 17

Today, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Lawrence Schreiber performed the postlude "Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals" by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, with heavy use of the trumpets in the back of the sanctuary, the first time that I have heard them used.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Washington Church dedicates its new Austin organ; Parry hymn performed

I got to the church on time – just in time, as I did dwaddle this morning over some computer problems – to hear the huge Austin organ scream out the opening of Sir Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me”, as sing this morning by the Chancel Choir of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC with organ.  I reviewed that May 14, 2011 as part of a set of Parry anthems with organ, but we all know the magnificence of it at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011, with full orchestra.  But the final C Major chords screamed out from the organ with mighty trumpets from the back.
Parry wrote five symphonies, and the best known may be the Third, the English, whose last movement, a C Major Theme and Variations telescopes and ends with a mighty stretto, reminding one of Brahms. (Try it on YouTube here ).
The church performed a Dedication of the Organ at the 11 AM service.
The service included two organ pieces by Dennis Janzer (1954-), and a postlude apparently composed by organist Lauren P. Schreiber himself, a Fantasia on the St. Anne theme, richly chromatic with lots of weighty chords suggestive of the music of Arnold Bax.  The fantasy is loosely based on the hymn tune for “Oh Lord Our Help In Ages Past”, also sung right before communion this “All Saints” Sunday, and in the past always sung the first Sunday in January every year.
Schreiber also composed a hymn “In a City Just Beginning” in 2002, in G Major (third verse harmonized in G Minor), with words by Jim Sommerville. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ken Cowan has CD on "Pro Organo": Major works by Willan and Karg-Elert

At the reception last Sunday after Ken Cowan’s organ concert, I did pick up his CD for $20, on the Pro Organo label (CD 7253). Cowan plays at The Great Organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
The biggest work on the CD is the last one, the 17-minute “Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue” (in E-flat Minor according to my Casio) by Healey Willan, a British composer who wanted to prove he would write an organ piece more overwhelming than anything by Max Reger.  The conclusion is loud and brazen, recalling orchestral conclusions from Arnold  Bax and Havergal Brian, proving that English music can be loud and virile when it needs to be (like at a royal wedding). Yet the conclusion is a bit static, without the daring harmonic adventures that might have even added a little more sense of apocalypse.
The other big piece on the CD is “Fuge, Kanzone und Epilog" (from “Dritte Sinfonische Kanzone”) by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 12 minutes, Op. 85 #3, with Lisa Shihoten, violin and two sopranos (Anna Lenti and Madeline Apple Healy), Mary Ann Hewlett as mezzo-soprano, and Elizabeth Hermanson as alto, conducted by Paulo Bordignon.  The vocal parts are wordless, and the Epilogue is quiet, again recalling the quiet epilogues on about three of the Bax symphonies.  The CD also offers the Karg-Elert piece “The Soul of the Lake”, Op. 96 #1.
There are “Deux Esquisses”, Op. 41, by Marcel Dupre (neither as striking as the Cortege that I learned).  Also, there are two pieces by Maurice Durufle, the “Prelude sur ‘Introit de l’Epiphanie”, Op. 13, and the “Fugue sur le theme cu Carillon des heures de la Cathedrale de Soissons”, Op. 12.  I’ve sometimes written about the 1994 epiphany in Colorado that led me to write my first book.
I was somewhat impressed with “Tue es petra” (“Thou Art the Rock”) from the “Byzantine Sketches” by Henri Mulet, and the “Grand Choeur Dialogue” by Eugene Gigout.
The “Elegy” by George Thalben-Ball is very familiar, and the Paganini Variations were mentioned as an encore Sunday.
The CD opens with an organ transcription of the Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner. 
Remember the days of Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs, all the way back in the 1960’s? 

YouTube has a few performances by Cowan, such as above where he plays a transcription of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” on the Quimby Pipe Organ in San Diego.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tudor Domink Maican: his website offers many works, brings his audience up to date (at least to 2012)

I found a definitive website for young American composer Tudor Dominik Maican, link here. I last covered one of his compositions at Dumbarton Church concert on this blog, from a concert on April 11, 2010. 
The website bio says that he has returned (from undergraduate work in multiple majors at Indiana University) to composition and has several commissions.  The time currency (relative to today) is not totally clear. The website has some interesting artwork that appears to portray the inner connections in the human brain. 
Today I did play three more of the compositions from the website, under the Works link on top.
The most recent piece that I could find was a 2011 composition “Imaginary Letter to Gershwin for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet”, in three movements, totally about 24 minutes.  The style of the work reminds me of French impressionism, with the improvisatory jazz somewhat incidental.  It sounds lighthearted and Parisian, as if one were eating outside at a cafĂ© in late spring, maybe with Anthony Bourdain getting ready for more “Parts Unknown”.  (My own last time in France was May, 2001; but the 1999 visit to Bayeux was certainly interesting.)   The leisurely first movement has a three-note “whippoorwill” bird-call theme in the clarinet.  There is a tendency for the whole-tone scales and harmonies to blur the tonalities, which seem to shift constantly.  The brisk ending of the Finale checked out as F# on my Casio.     
Dom mentions a commission for a Requiem for the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (in Romania?) which has been completed.  The website offers an earlier 5-minute “Requiem for Mixed Choir a cappella” (2006) which is harmonious and easily accessible to the ear.  It sounds familiar, as if I had heard it at church (but maybe without the composer’s name being printed?) or in the movies.
Another work to note is his three-movement 15-minute Sinfonietta for Strings, 2003 (composed when he was 14 – if my recollection of a Dec. 7, 1988 birthdate in Koln, Germany is right).  He writes that the work was motivated by 9/11.  I think that Britten started out his career with a Sinfonietta , and Reger used the term for a 52-minute orchestra “symphony” in A which is more or less like middle Mahler, with a crunching, devilish scherzo that still is easy to remember.

The website mentions many works, including two more “Imaginary letters” (one to Enesco). 
On May 14, 2009, I attended a solo piano concert at Strathmore, in Rockville, MD, given by Timo Andres;  Maican was also to play at that concert but could not because of a minor injury accident, according to reports.  Since then, I have become familiar with Timo’s music which, as a matter of comparison, seems unfold in miniature forms (like Schumann) more than does Maican’s, from what I can see.  My own mother had a stroke a few days after that concert.  At the end of 2010 (Dec. 11), I made a one day trip to NYC to hear a premiere of another of Timo’s works, one day after attending a DC Capitol rally that would lead to the eventual repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  My own mother would pass away in a hospice three days later, ending what had been a long and difficult period.  Yet, the passing of family is not a reason to stop; instead, it seems to lead to new beginnings.  My own mother lived just long enough to see life-long initiatives of mine come into fruition.
Perhaps a combination concert with Maican and Timo or others will happen some day now. 
I need to mention one other little matter mentioned in his bio.  He reportedly has written a science fiction novel that was to be completed in 2012.  I vaguely remember talking about something like this at one of the Dumbarton concerts, maybe it was to someone else who attended, though.  What comes to mind immediately is Christopher Paolini’s novels (one of them became the movie Eragon).  A warning: I lay my real estate claim on all the surface area of Saturn’s moon Titan (just not the subsurface ocean that, as with Europa, probably exists). 

I’ve mentioned a number of musical prodigies (as if from "Smallville") on this site before, including Eugene d’Albert, whose first piano concerto is a teen composition but an overlooked masterpiece, summing up the entire tradition of 19th Century piano music, filled with familiar themes (for such an obscure work), and including a colossal fugue as a piano cadenza before the triumphant close – the very last pages of which predict the similar climaxes to appear later in Rachmaninoff’s concerti (especially the Third).  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ken Cowan gives concert on the new Austin organ at First Baptist in Washington: Baxh, Roger-Ducasse, Laurin, Sowerby, Liszt, and Reger

On Sunday, October 20, 2013, organist Ken Cowan, an assistant professor at Rice University in Houston and with a graduate degree in Sacred Music from Yale, gave the second concert in Celebration of the New Austin Organ, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington D.C.  Mr. Cowan has a website with Ken McFarlane Artists, here.
The concert opened with the Toccata in E Major, BWV 566, by J. S. Bach.  This is said to be an early work, but it shows how “modern” and grand baroque music could become.  The opening “toccata” theme is followed by a fully developed fugue which is a bit playful in nature.  The a brief slow section follows, and then a much grander instantiation of the fugue, which brings back a chorale tune from the toccata for a majestic close.  Later composers would have called this 15-minute wok a “sonata”.
The next work was the Pastorale by Jean Roger-Ducasse, which as a whole was rather Ravel-like, with some agitation in the middle section but a quiet, even simple close.
Mr. Cowan followed with the second of two big concert etudes by French Canadian composer Rachel Laurin (1961-), the “Etude-Caprice”, Op. 66, subtitled “Beelzebub’s Laugh”, composed and published recently.  This is the first work in the concert to make heavy use of the pedals.  It’s scherzo-like, and ends quietly but with a touch of Halloween.  Dukas comes to mind a little.
The first half of the concert concluded with the Pageant by Washington DC composer Leo Sowerby (1895-1968).  Again, there was an element of French impressionism and ceremonial practice, with a lot of show in the pedals, and a rousing close.
The second half of the concert began with Cowan’s own transcription of Franz Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz”.
But the climax of the work was the Concert Fantasy in E Major on the Bach Chorale, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme” (“Awake the Voice Calls Us”), by Max Reger, Op. 52 #2.  Reger was himself Catholic but was inspired by Lutheran hymns. It seems that this ought to be an opus unto itself.  It is a huge 25-minute work, as much a “Sonata” as a “Fantasy”, maybe inspired even by Schumann.  The opening does start with the chorale theme (with the uptick “awake” 2-note motif), and builds it into a theme and variations, becoming agitated at times.  As a first movement, it follows a practice already sometimes used by Mozart and Beethoven in piano sonatas.  The “saved” are rising and arise at a staging area in Heaven.  The “second movement” is the communion, and is a reverential adagio, almost echoing Bruckner.  The finale is a massive fugue (rather following Beethoven, as in the Hammerlavier, and Brahms sometimes), with the chorale theme gradually re-entering, as Reger builds up to an overwhelming climax at the end.   Even with an organ work, Reger seems inspired by the latest Beethoven sonatas and quartets, and the famous Schumann piece. 

E Major seems to be popular on the organ, maybe because the position of the black keys makes it easier to play virtuoso music.
For the encore, Mr. Cowan performed a little of “A Study for the Pedals” from the “Variations on a Theme of Paganini” by George Thalben-Ball.  Brahms, Liszt and Rachmaninoff also wrote Paganini settings, but here there is no “18th Variation”.
On the pedal issue, I can recall my organ lessons for one semester at the University of Kansas in Lawrence back in 1966.  I remember that the teacher said that organists would need exercises to strengthen their legs.  Today, that would easily be accomplished at LA Fitness.

I had actually taken a little organ at First Baptist Church in 1965, before leaving for graduate school, from William C. Evans, who had been hired as the organist at the church while a freshman at Peabody in Baltimore at age 18, a most unique situation.  Later Evans would create some controversy in the congregation with music that was more modern and concert-oriented for services than a lot of people were ready for.  One of his favorites as Marcel Dupre’s “Cortege and Litany”.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Prokofiev's film music for "Ivan the Terrible" really shows grandeur; also, Brahms Horn Trio

I pulled out an old CD of Prokofiev’s “Oratorio”, “Ivan the Terrible” (71 minutes) by Alipi Naydenov  conducting the “Rousse Philharmonic” with the Danube Sounds Choir from the 1984 International Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria. There is a narrator (Boris Morgounov), and the work opens with spoken narration. The mezzo-soprano is Vesella Zorova and Dimiter Stanchev is the bass.

The oratorio is a derivative work (arranged by Abram Stasevitch)  from the music score that Prokofiev composed for the films by Sergei Eisentein.  Only the second of the two films is in imdb, and it was delayed until 1958 for political reasons; the first had come out in 1945.

Even as an arranged film score, the music has the sweep and grandeur of the Prokofiev of the 5th and especially the 6th Symphony.  There is grating dissonance, yet lots of stirring chorus.  The 23rd track contains the same Russian hymn that Tchaikowsky had adopted for his 1812 overture – exactly the tune that the National Symphony starts with at July 4 celebrations. 

Ivan was a controversial 16th century czar.  Still, in times like these, it’s probably interesting to ponder music written about the early days of Communism, like the second and third symphonies of Shostakovich.  Wealthy landowners had their estates expropriated as they were thrown into poverty, unable to stop the march of revolution from an angry outside world, which would then implement its own systems of special privileges.  Wasn’t the Civil War in the US rather like that for the South?\
Today, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, there was a performance of the last two movements of the Horn Trio in E-flat, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms, with piano, violin and horn.  Actually, it’s the first movement that has an odd form. The Brahms Trio Prague plays the entire work on YouTube, 2007.  

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

My own music, from my own troubled college years (around 1962), posted, "as good as it gets" for right now

I have posted some more of my “earlier” music on “” (link that I gave on the September 4, 2013 posting on this blog).   These are three piano sonatas and a sketch for a Symphony in E Minor.  All the additional documents are PDF’s.

I admit that these documents are a bit crude, but I am posting them online so others know my musical intentions, in case “something happens”.  I am 70 years old.  No, I’m not expecting anything.  But I think it’s a good idea to start communicating where my “life’s work” is to others, so that others could work with it.  I think that in an afterlife, I’ll know what is going on, even though I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. 
Oh, and guess what.  Conservatives will love this.  I don’t need the government to go on composing and working.  Shostakovich did .  The Washington Times and the Tea Party will love this comment. Oh, I do need financial stability, though.
The first new posting is the “Piano Sonata #1 in A Major”, which I wrote out in a neat black-ink manuscript, I believe in the spring of 1957 when I was in eighth grade at age 13.  The manuscript has been lost, so I have played it on my Casio and recorded into Sibelius 7.  I am definitely out of practice and seemed to have some coordination problems in my right hand yesterday.  (I may have a touch of Parkinsonism, which is so mild that so far no medication has been recommended; but it seems to affect piano.) 
There are four brief movements, and the intention might seem to resemble that of the Prokofiev “Classical Symphony” (#1 in D) although I don’t know my ear had really assimilated that piece by 1957.  The first movement, a “slow” 2/4 Allegro, is based on a perfunctory up-and-down major scale theme, almost as if practicing Hanon, followed by another simple theme in triplets (where 2/4 can be construed as 6/8).  The development plays with the scale theme in minor (remember both melodic and harmonic scales when practicing!).  The second movement is a dirge or “funeral march” in A Minor.  The third movement is a Minuet in A, which I think is more spirited than an 1956 E Major Minuet which “won” a minor composition contest.  The trio, in D, is indeed a mockumentary of heterosexual courtesy on the ballroom floor.  The Finale, in parallel A Minor, was called “Tarantella”, but was another 2/4 equivalent to 6/8 little romp.  I did not provide a Picardy Third conclusion.  Very few cyclical works in Major keys end in minor (the only two that I can think of are the Mendelssohn Symphony #4, the Italian, and the Brahms Piano Trio #1 in B Major-minor). 
During that lost 1961 fall semester at William and Mary, I did have the manuscript with me.  A friend (discussed here Jan. 8, 2013) tried to learn it, especially the first movement.  After my “expulsion” in Nov. 1961, he told me (in a snowy visit to me in Arlington at the end of January, 1962) he performed the piece at home in California over Christmas break.  (He also says he performed Liszt at the same recital.)  He was entranced with that “scale theme”.  He also said that the theme “gave me away” as gay.
The last movement ditty-like theme seemed to turn up in the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012.  Before every performance, the Tribeca info played a theme that sounds almost identical to my 1957 tarentella.  Maybe somebody heard that performance in California in 1961 and it stuck around for decades.  But that’s me.
The Sonata #2 in D Minor, I’ve discussed before.  There is one PDF of the original manuscript that was submitted to a contest in the spring of 1960 (when I was a junior in high school).  I don’t recall exactly the effort of writing it out in black ink, but I must have done it around March 1960 on the kitchen table.  The PDF shows some suggested notations of possible key modulations to make the music more venturesome. We had three big snowstorms that March and a lot of snowdays, and I think I was involved with choir at church downtown DC then – to the point that we even went in on Wednesday nights.   I remember also writing a term paper on the role of women in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels on that same kitchen table.  At the time, I was very impressed with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, particularly the famous first movement cadenza.  Every concert pianist must learn this concerto and perform it at least once.
The Sonata #3, in C, was started in December 1961 when I was home after the WM Expulsion.  The copy right now is an adobe photo of a crude manuscript, and it was difficult to preserve, as I had to darken many notes, write in clefts, and the like.  (I played it for a DAT tape recording in 1991 at a church, but I haven’t tried to work with it yet.) The first movement (Allegro) starts with a playful theme, and goes to the relative minor for a playful second subject.  (Few sonata structures do this, but the Brahms B Major Trio does.)  The development turns the first subject into a 12-tone row, and it seemed that dodecaphonic music could be surprisingly emotional.  (The psychiatrists at NIH in 1962 mentioned this in the notes, as if they thought the use of a “musical formula” like the 12-tone row showed inhibition; but it’s all silly.)   The recapitulation starts in E-flat Minor and with the first theme turned bombastic, and then goes to C Major for the second subject with a quiet close, ambiguous, going between minor and major, with one mention of a descending third theme to come back in the Finale.   
The second movement is a “Prestissimo” scherzo in A-flat, which I cannot play. There are two trios one of them march-like with changing rhythms (in F), and the second a playful little ditty based on twelve-tone undress.  The third movement, an Elegy, starts out with a twelve-tone row harmonized in E-flat minor.  There follow a couple of little episodes, including a little theme in F# Minor, which came to me when my father was recuperating at home from his “mild” heart attack in the spring of 1962, no doubt related to the stress of my William and Mary “Expulsion” and self-declared “latent homosexuality”, an idea that people found so offensive (because it meant the death sentence for a family tree if you were an only child).  There is middle section in B Major, which sounds like a Liszt consolation (that’s the Chorale theme mentioned on the file).  It’s about two minutes, very chromatic, and could work as a church prelude.   I completed the movement by hand in 1974 when living in a garden apartment in Piscataway NJ while working for Univac and traveling repeatedly to Minnesota for benchmarks.

The Finale was also sketched in 1974, and that sketch is presented here as the “cadenza”.  The finale is conceived as a rondo based on a fugato treatment of a playful theme  (Allegretto, C Major, 2/4), with various little excursions.  I’ve entered the initial theme by hand, but recorded most of the rest in Sibelius, and photocopied the manuscript into PDF for now.  There is a middle section theme in F# Major (as distant as I can get from the home key – Edward Elgar did this in his first symphony as he bounded from A-flat to D minor), a reverent “applause theme” (a name that came to me in a dream), with sliding tonality (often by relative major-minor leaps) going to E-flat, C Minor-major, A Minor-Major, F# Minor back to Major.  The theme is supposed to be singable as a hymn.  It rather slides “in the moonlight” (with no one to “do me”).  After the playful scherzando-like material returns, there is a false conclusion (which really should be quiet), to be followed by a cadenza (just suggested here), which can play with the triton descending thirds, followed by the Epilogue, a Majestic setting where the F# Major “Applause Theme” goes back to C Major to stay (through D Major, back to F#, then A-flat, then E-flat, C minor and C Minor).  The very end is supposed to play on mounting diminished seventh-ninth etc chords, before the Sonata crashes “FFF” to a close on octaves with the descending third motive.  A couple works that influenced this: The way Sir Arnold Bax closes his Fifth Symphony, and a similar idea at the end of Havergal Brian’s Third Symphony (both of those works are in C# Minor).

The “Symphony” in E Minor came to me in the fall of 1960, when I was a senior in high school.  The first movement’s themes came to mind in accelerate chemistry class, literally (especially the second subject in A-flat, which recalls the invitation to the Science Honor Society).  The first movement’s conclusion should be abrupt and violent.  The second movement is another winter dirge, in A Minor, based on rising fourth intervals.  The third movement is a “Bruckner-like” scherzo in C# Minor, with a hesitant trio and some false mock jubilation at the end.  The finale is a hymn like setting in E Major, inspired by the Mount Washington NH trip over Memorial Day, 1961.