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.