Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Pianos for People" non-profit provides music making for lower income people in St. Louis area

NBC Today this morning featured a story about a non-profit in St. Louis, “Pianos for People”, which “connects people who need pianos with pianos who need people.”  People donate pianos, and apparently piano tuners donate labor. The Today show report mentioned recipients in Ferguson.

There has also been an interest in public pianos for anyone to play.  For a while there was a public piano near the True Food Restaurant and Angelika Mosaic movie theater in Merrified VA.  Composer-Pianist Timo Andres wrote about such a project in LA and NYC back in 2012, here.
I gave away my old Kimball spinet piano in Minneapolis (in the family since 1952) in 2003 before moving back to Virginia (as Mother’s last days would approach).  Now I use the much less bulky Casio (for composing). It sounds just about as sharp as a “real” Yamaha.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

59th Annual Candlelight Carols service at First Baptist in Washington DC

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 59th Annual Candlelight Carols service today at 4 PM.

There was an organ and instrumental Prelude (30 minutes) comprising Organ (two J.S. Bach chorale preludes), then “Il Est Ne” by Robert Leech Bedell, and “Good King Wencelas” as adapted by Virgil Fox, and “Bring a Torch Janette Isabella” as adapted by Keith Chap,man (Kevn Biggins as guest organist for these three pieces), and then a rather impressionistic sounding setting of Adeste Fideles by Sigfird Karg-Elert.   There were also six carols for brass quartet adapted by Jim Lucas.
The Runnymede Singers performed “Caroling” by Alfred Burt, “Baloo Lammy” by Norman Luboff, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” arranged by Sally Ford.

The Combined Choirs performed the major anthem "Christmas Day: Choral Fantasy on Old Carols" by Gustav Holst, and “The Angels’ Song” by Paul Tschennokov (which was surprisingly simple and brief).

The First Baptist Church choir performed “God Is Born Among Us” by Malcolm Archer.

Organist Lon Schreiber also played “In Dulci Jubilo” by Marcel Dupre as an offertory (for “SOME”, So Others Might Eat).  Remember “Cortege and Litany”>

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Another anthem by Jane Marshall for Advent

Today, the Second Sunday of the Advent season, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC performed another Jane Marshall (Dallas composer) anthem, "He Comes to Us".

Some versions online seem longer and end loudly, but as performed today the anthem ended quietly.

I found another version of  "Our Eternal King" performed in 2009 by Schuler's Hour or Power in the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, CA, link here.  The Cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic diocese in 2013.  I had visited it in person in May 1986, and in a communion personal prayer, I offered that i was (at the time) an assistant buddy for some persons with AIDS (when living in Dallas), and the celebrant responded that he thought I was taking a real risk! Medically, the answer was no, I wasn't.

Also performed at FBC this morning was a gentle hymn "Still" by Jac and Kathy Whatley  (I knew someone by that female name in Dallas). The organ prelude was "O Come Emmanuel" by Leo Sowerby and the offertory was the "Song of Peace" by Jean Langlais.

The pot-luck brunch was followed by a children's Christmas story based on Matthew and Luke, in the Fellowship Hall,

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Brahms: the Piano Concerto #1, with its monumental first movement, influenced my musical ear throughout high school

Marc Piollet and the Youth Symphony of Berlin play the Brahms Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor with score on youtube  provided by composer and Pianist Francois Weigel.

I got to know this work in 10th grade from an old Angel recording (I think the pianist was Arturo Michaelangeli).  I was quite taken by the majestic character of the first movement in particular.  The melodramatic music did influence the style of composition of my own D Minor Sonata at age 16.
The first and second movements are both in 6/4 time, unusual – and truly sextuple in nature (not triple). The slow movement is in the parallel major of D, which would normally seem trite, but it works out well here.  (Chopin did the same thing in the E Minor concerto.)

The harmonic style of the first movement is noticeable for many pivot points among various tonalities, with a tendency to hang in the dominant of each tonality.  The majestic opening theme starts in B-flat, then migrates to A, before we figure out that this is the dominant of the main key. D Minor.  The recapitulation of the first movement will state the same motive a tritone away from B-fat – E Major, before naturally going back to D Minor through the dominant A.   The first movement is also very formal in its adherence to strict and easy-to-follow sonata form.  Brahms was 25 when he composed most of this.  Sometimes early works of romantic composers tend to be long, but follow conventions of sonata form laid out by their predecessors.  As they grow mature, they experiment with form (as did Beethoven). At a couple of points, Brahms previews Mahler's later style of dissolving tonic major into parallel (Picardy) minor.

The first movement has a particularly violent close.

The second movement is like a prayer, with part harmonization that seems crude yet is effective.

But the Rondo Finale, in 2/4, has always seemed a bit of a letdown.  It is a little bit like the finale of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, with a touch of Hungarian flavor.  The harmonic manner is a but trite, with overuse of posturing on the dominant, especially toward the end, and no “big tune” yet.

The piano writing, with lots of chords and arpeggios, and trills at times, but without the elaborate virtuosity of, say, Chopin.  Some scholars feel that the Brahms piano concerti are rather like symphonies with piano (although Brahms waited until he was 40 to compose his first “true” symphony).  Nevertheless, Brahms is quite difficult to play, and the Second Concerto in B-flat is considered even more difficult.

Monday, November 21, 2016

PBS explores how sampling is used to build hip-hop and disco (and sometimes classical); there are legal issues

PBS Independent Lens has presented a film “Copyright Criminals” concerning Sampling in Hip=Hop music.  The link is here. Actually, the documentary (tonight, Monday Nov. 21, at 10 PM), despite the title of the “lesson plan”,  did not focus very much on copyright infringement per se, but discussed sampling as a way for mixers and DJ’s to build new musical entities, mostly in hi-hop.

It appears that some composers in the classical “electronic” era use sampling in some cases.  “All composing involves some copying.”  Transcriptions, medleys, re-arrangements, and adaptations are common in modern music.  Sometimes songs are developed by some sort of permutation on a classical music theme.  Sometimes motives from other composers are quoted at strategic points.

But the documentary used mostly popular sources, including some Bee Gee’s material from “Saturday Night Fever” for examples.

But the documentary said that established artists do charge huge royalties for sampling licenses, so beginners have a hard time being able to afford the licenses the way established artists can.  This seems to be a much bigger problem in “pop”, where revenue streams for artists are huge and where lawyers abound (as on Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds) than in modern classical music, where adaptation is becoming common in commissioning new works.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Some more music of Parry

Some more music of Sir Hubert H. H. Parry at First Baptist Church if the City of Washington DC this morning.

One is a Chorale Prelude in A Major on “Martyrdom”, played by organist Lon Schreiber,  Of course this raises the question of reviewing Debussy’s hour-long choral setting (St. Sebastian).

Another is the 3-stanza hymn “O Praise Ye the Lord” (B-flat”), as performed here in England (before Brexit). .
“O Jerusalem” was also sung this morning, before the Thanksgiving Dinner.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Jean Sibelius: The "Karelia Suite" could suddenly have international political importance now (with Trump president)

I dug out a single piece, the “Karelia Suite” by Jan Sibelius, an early work.  Here’ s performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Karelia is an area spanning eastern Finland and a little piece in adjoining Russia, near Lake Lagoda. Some of it was ceded to Russia (then the Soviet Union) at the end of WWI.  The area is the setting of the Russian film “The Return” (Movies, Dec. 28, 2011).  An important incident in my novel Manuscript “Angel’s Brother” occurs in an early chapter, involving bringing an item related to Russian nuclear waste back across the border into Finland, and an attempt by Russians to follow, which could cause a grave incident were it to ever happen.

The 17-minute suite has 3 movements:  a brief Intermezzo in E-flat, a slow Ballade in A Minor (a tritone away) and a March in A.

I got to know this piece when I was a senior in high school.  I also got to know the first two symphonies.  I remember the big tune at the end of the Symphony #1 in E Minor, which is in the dominant B Major, as the work reverts back to E Minor for a tragic ending – playing through my head as we climbed Rattlesnake Peak near Bear Camp Pond in New Hampshire Memorial Day weekend on a Science Honor Society trip.  I also recall the brooding D Minor slow movement of the Symphony #2 during the snowy winter of my senior year of High School, when I was initiated into the Science Honor Society in my own basement.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Music therapy works in many areas

Dridge Project Director Alex Block and guest blogger Gracy Liura write about the expanding value of music therapy in a variety of areas, here.

The therapy works with improving reading and math skills and lower income children.  In high school, music participation is well-coordinated with academic achievement in other areas (especially math and science), but that has been long none.  Music (as does drama) provides high school students with  “real world” achievement and social contacts to counteract over-dependence on the Internet and social media.  Music therapy is also helpful medically in areas ranging from hypertension to dementia in the elderly.

The type of music varies with the circumstances.  Popular music (jazz, guitar, spirituals) may be more associated with sociability, but classical music (especially rigorous compositions by Bach and Mozart) may be more connected to developing skills in math.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Anton Rubinstein's "perfunctory" Piano Concerto #4 is still a masterpiece

Let me discuss a minor potboiler and old warhorse, the Piano Concerto #4 in D Minor, Op. 70, composed in 1864 by Anton Rubinstein (note spelling).

In this performance, Raymond Lewenthal plays the work with the London Symphony conducted by Eleazar de Carvalho.

The work is notable because of its brute-force effectiveness with rather perfunctory, declamatory thematic and harmonic elements. Rachmaninoff used to play this, and it probably influences Rachmaninoff’s own writing (especially for the late Third Concerto).  But the work is a generic mixture of mid-Romantic styles, acknowledging Liszt, late Chopin, and late Brahms.  The folksy ground-bass theme that sets up the Finale is said to be a Russian dance, but the overall flavor of the work tends toward German romanticism.

The harmonic style has a habit of hanging on the dominant A Major, with the opening theme before it resolves into a march, and again as the folk-dance Finale opens.  The most original melodic writing occurs in the ¾ slow movement, which has the effect of an advanced Chopin-like nocturne (maybe with a hint of early Scriabin).

The 2/4 finale is largely monothematic (almost -- there is a tetrachord second theme that isn't used as much as it could be), and substitutes an impressive arrays of arpeggios and scales on top of the underlying bass instead of supply a “big tune” at the end.  The arpeggios may have inspired a similar effect toward the end of “Flirtation Avenue”, the ninth piece in the huge two-piano suite “Shy and Mighty” by Timo Andres (May 20, 2010).

As with the opening, the music tends to hang on the dominant (A), even secondarily to E, which could sound trite.  Nevertheless, the finale works because of its singlemindedness, like a perpetual motion machine, finally coming to a climax at the very end. There is a lot of harmonic posturing for the D Major triumph at the end, but because of the monothemism, there is no separate big theme; just a virtuoso elaboration of scales and trills on top of the “Snowpiercer” engine.

My own D Minor Sonata (1960), if orchestrated, might sound a bit like a Rubinstein concerto. I have similar harmonic nuances (that sound a but juvenile) but I do migrate to a big tune in the Finale, which is more like a traditional Rondo (and I bring back a cadenza-like development from the first movement before introducing the big tune, just like in Rach 3).

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Washington DC church offers Halloween organ concert

Friday evening. Oct. 28, 2016, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 4th Annual Halloween Organ Spectacular, on the new Austin organ.

S’Oniece Dillard narrated as a parade or organists and a pianist performed.

Kevin Biggins started with the Introduction to the Suite Gothique by Leon Boellman.

Carol Feather Martin, from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, followed with the Roulade (Op/ 9 #3) by Seth Bingham, a rather playful work.

Martin followed by playing “Kitten on the Keys” on the Steinway piano, by Zez Confrey.  I think I heard a high school student play this a few years ago at Trinity.

Ted Gustin followed with the Intrada by Grayston Ives, and a Toccata in D Minor buy Gordon Balch Nevin.

The heart of the concert was provided by ‘Jason” aka Irvin Peterson. He played his own Improvisation, which was hyperchromatic, venturing into  functional atonality with Scriabin-like mystique chords. The same “Black Mass” mood continued with “In a Medieval Monastery” by Walker Baylor, and with a reharmonization of the theme from “Jaws” by John Williams. (The Gay 90s in Minneapolis used to play the attack scene from this movie in the upstairs lounge above the disco.)   He concluded the section with the Funeral March from the Chopin Piano Sonata #2.  (He could have tried Beethoven’s Sonata 12 funeral march).

Lon Schreiber played a Trumpet Tune by Nicholas Bowden, and then the first movement (Prelude, “Allegro Maestoso e con fuoco”) from the Organ Sonata #3 in C Minor by Alexndre Guilmant.

Here’s a performance from Spain of the complete work . The second movement is an Adagio in A-flat, very reverent. The Finale is a broad fugue on a scalar theme and it does not go back to major.

The concert concluded with Rubrics V by San Loclair, performed by Kevin Biggins.

The organist who was to perform the notorious (in all horror movies as well as in Eugene Ormandy’s transcription) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, of J. S. Bach, did not appear.  But here’s a good recording.  Note the conclusion, which stays in minor, practically gives us a tutorial on all the rules of western music harmony.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Local church presents baroque, and and special transcriptions, on a Baldwin grand while organ is rehabed

Today, Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA offered some interesting music at the 11 AM service, from a Baldwin Grand Piano while the organ is being rehabbed.

The Voluntary was “The Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Seans, played by cello and piano.   The video below is a little more substantial, the Cello Concerto, still on the light side.

There was an anthem with children’s choirs, soloists and piano “Lord, Listen to Your Children” by Ken Medema.

There was an offertory “O. My God, Bestow Thy Tender Mercy” by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, a cappella.   I remember rehearsing the Ave Maria in tenth grade back in 1958.

The Postlude was Purcell’s Sinfonia in D Minor, transcribed to piano, performed by Steven K. Shaner.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Purcell played on a modern piano before.

Here's a very chromatic hymn in B-flat by British composer Erik Routley "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (1960) that I noticed in the hymn book.  Very interesting modulations.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"James Bond Piano Concerto"

At James Pandolfi’s recent piano recital in Washington DC, I did buy his CD performance of the “James Bond Piano Concerto” by Simon Proctor, with the McLean Orchestra.

I was a little surprised when iTunes told me it could find only 22 minutes of music on this CD.  When I collected LP records in the 1950s and 1960s, trying to get over an hour on a record was a goal.  I had a Brahms Third with Wiengartner that ran 29 minutes by itself.

The piece itself is a medley of tunes from the many James Bond movies.  And instead of the more recent films in the franchise, I found myself reminded of the earlier films, which I saw in my somewhat troubled college days.  I remember particularly “Dr. No”, “From Russia with Love”, “Goldfinger” (most of all), “Thunderball”, and later, “For Your Eyes Only.”  Although I don’t recall hearing the “three blind mice” with which the very first film begins.

In the video above, pianst James Flemming plays a James Bond concert etude.  The beginning otive of a descending major third (the James Bond theme opening in all the motives) catches your ear, because that’s how Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata ends, and how Sonata #31 begins. (It also occurs to start the second theme in my own Sonata).

Monday, October 17, 2016

DC teacher will travel to Africa to study native music -- theory and performance

An elementary school teacher from Washington DC is heading to Botswana, in Africa, to study tribal and native music and help develop more curricula for grade school students, as reported by WJLA-7 today.

Needless to say, composers and university music departments will be interested in what she finds.  The familiar diatonic (and chromatic) music scale with its facile mathematical ratios is not necessarily apparent to all cultures.

This reddit discusses the issue of the “naturalness” of scales to the human ear.     Animal calls and bird songs don’t necessarily fit our scales.

However, there is a theory which explains why western harmonies (evolving out of Bach’s counterpoint and later Mozart, Beethoven, and German-European tradition) work so well – they have to do with strong and weak overtones (which are especially important on piano and some strings; not so much so in voice).  Does overtone theory explain why late Beethoven (quartets, sonatas) is so effective?

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Local church holds Soulfire 70s concert to benefit refugees

Late Saturday afternoon, October 8, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington held a rock concert by the group SoulFire, to raise funds for the church’s participation (along with another church in McLean) on assisting a future immigrant refugee family, under the supervision of Lutheran Social Services which works directly with DHS and the Department of State.

The concert featured popular disco music from the 1970s and 1980s, especially “China Grove”, “The USSR” and “Hey Me, What Do You Want to Do?”

The concert was moved indoors to a gymnasium due to the outermost bands of Hurricane Matthew.  An Indonesian food truck was available.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Rachmaninoff's masterpiece: His Piano Concerto #3

Let me recommend playing with the score visible, the Piano Concerto #3 in D Minor, Op. 30, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.   The work was composed in 1909, the same year as Mahler's Ninth Symphony, and likewise represents a culmination of post-romanticism going modern.

The performance is by Alexis Weisenberg on RCA Victor back in 1968, with the Chicago Symphony under George Pretre.

A high point of the work is the cadenza at the end of the Development section of the first movement.  Weissenberg plays the version that starts “leggiero”, and builds up to the famous chordal climax.  I think this is really the more difficult of the two.  But I grew up with the Ossia, played by Van Cliburn with Konrashin in 1957 on RCA. .

The piano concerto, besides one of the most technically difficult in the literature, is remarkable in the way Rachmaninoff interrelates the themes from the three movements, finally justifying the “big tune” in D Major at the end, which has evolved from everything that came before. The opening starts with a very simple melody in common time that gradually gets more elaborate.  Very quickly the theme comes to a pianistic climax on the dominant A Major, which could run the risk of sounding trite. The concerto constantly uses Rachmaninoff’s personally colored harmonies, layered on top of what sounds like folk song.  The heavy use of accidentals and passing tones and progressive half-step modulations overlays what could otherwise be a hackneyed and obvious tonal scheme.  The “Ossia” cadenza comes to another big climax on the dominant before its pronouncement in the original d minor.

The slow movement is said to start in F# Minor, but the music actually languishes in D minor and seems to be transitioning to the dominant A Major (relative to the first movement) before an extensive middle section in D-flat Major, resembling one of Rachmaninoff’s late preludes.

The Finale, Alla Breve, starts with a natural interplay between d minor, dominant a minor, than then secondarily relative C Major and minor.  The famous “scherzando” middle section in E-flat has its own “middle of the middle” in E with a “prelude-like” slow section, based on previous materials, anticipating the big tune at the end.

When I watch the score I marvel at how Rachmaninoff (or any great composer) wrote down such a masterpiece entirely by hand.  I wrote out my second Sonata by hand in my junior year in high school on a kitchen table on snow days – I’ve come back to this again soon on Wordpress.  Given the pressure of today’s young composers to make a living on commissions and be clever, I wonder if any composers have the time to come up with a postromantic masterpiece on the scale of the Rachmaninoff Third.  Yes, they can be clever.  Have they lost interest in the tradition of romantic music turning modern, and blowing itself up with its grand scales?  Or is it, even with modern software tools like Avid Sibelius, becoming an impossibility to pull off?

The Concerto gets a lot of attention in the 1996 film "Shine" and then the biography "Hello, I am David", both about pianist David Helfgott.

Update: Dec. 26

Here's some sheet music for the Ossia cadenza, starting at 10:00.  Note the Rachmaninoff "gets away" with some repeating harmonies in a 3+1 pattern, or sometimes 2+2.   Here's a source on which cadenza pianists perfer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Spirited organ variations on "Immortal, Invisble", a spiritual, and Beethoven's idea of reunion

Sunday, September 25, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington offered a mix of most interesting music and items.

Organist Carol Feather Martin performed the Introduction Variations 1, 2, 3, and 10 on St. Denio by Hans Hielscher.  I wish she had simply played the entire work as a prelude (probably about 25 minutes).  The hymn is “Immortal. Invisible”, and the style reminds me of British composer Havegal Brian (although the composer is German).  The last variation ends with a tremendous C Major climax. But the work reminds me of a few comparable works that use hymns:  the last movement of Brian’s Symphony $3 in C# Minor (which also uses “Nearer My God to Thee” and works up to a tremendous climax on the Beethoven Fifth (and Mahler Fifth) four-note motto surrounding the hymns.  The second movement is rather like Vaughn Williams and the third movement is a pure Mahler scherzo, and the first movement is a set of variations with a piano obligato (like Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”).  I’m reminded of the tremendous orchestral epilogue for the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale”, with materials built from “Onward Christian Soldiers

 and “Immortal, Invisible”, and again, the Beethoven 4-note motto.  Then there is the way Sir Arnold Bax mixes this material with “The Old Rugged Cross” to conclude his Fifth Symphony (also C# Minor) triumphantly, but very British.  And the “Immortal” theme occurs in the big tune that concludes Ernst Von Dohanyi’s first Piano Concerto (E Minor), no doubt an inspiration to Rachmaninoff.

Ms. Martin also performed an offertory on Wareham by Emma Lou Diemer.

The Chancel Choir performed a cappella a spiritual “Poor Man Lazrus” adapted by Jester Hairston.

Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt gave a sermon “Letters to a Young Disciple: About Money”.  This time, she asked for comments from the congregation (which been a practice at the nearby Clarendon Presbyterian Church under David Ensign).  Two people, including me, mentioned childlessness and not having dependents.  Financial security sets up a moral paradox:  one can afford to “refuse” unwanted intimacy from others based on any arbitrary conditions in the person’s mind.  When this gets too acceptable for the whole herd, well, someone like a candidate whose name was not mentioned can become a presidential candidate and get a lot of traction, and threaten to bring back fascism to replace the moral paradoxes of freedom.

I’ll close this post with Barenboim’s playing the third movement “The Return” from Beethoven’s 26th Piano Sonata, “Les Adieux” (the Goodbyes).  It’s a riddle, not too hard to solve by the sentient, especially fans of the early years of "Smallville".  .

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Deadly Conservatism": well, even with liberalism, it sometimes has to get personal (sermon notes)

I don’t know if a church sermon normally would qualify as a stage media event for this blog, but I wanted to mention three sermons in August at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC by Julie Pennington-Russell, “Deadly Conservatism”, “Deadly Liberalism”, and “Deadly Me-Ism”.

All three fit into Mel Gibson’s 2002 film “The Passion of the Christ”.  The “liberalism” was about the Sadducees , although the Catholic church regards the Sadducees as an established conservative orthodoxy among the Jews (source ).  The pastor here seemed to compare them to the “corrupt” liberal establishment, its ties to Wall Street, its willingness to allow corruption and conflict of interest, and willingness to sell out one of its own to save its leadership.  So much for Hillary?

“Me-ism”, though described in terms of Pilate, amounted to a description of Donald Trump without mentioning his name.

But the most interesting sermon was probably about “Conservatism”.  The Pharisees are the conservatives, although Pennington says the sermon is about conservatism, not good conservatives (like Andrew Sullivan).  Conservatism likes to build elaborate, fetish-like rules and beliefs around the periphery to protect the faith.  Sometimes it does appeal more to “the masses” in terms of rituals.

But the almost the first word of my short story in DADT-III  (“The Ocelot the Way He Is”, is Pharisee, who personally has the reputation for being known for much speaking – watching or spectating and criticizing others without walking in their shoes.  (link ).   (Feb 19, 2012).  The Pharisees seem to represent wanting to keep their distance and an air of superiority for following rules – as did the Sadducees, when you get down to it.  Sometimes, in a “mind your own business” society, things still have to get personal (as in a youth speech back in 2012)

Friday, September 09, 2016

Kalinnikov's two symphonies, with the brazen ending of the First

In late 1968, as best I can recall, after finishing Army Basic and being home sometimes, I got familiar with the two symphonies of Russian composer Vasily Kalinnikov (1866-1901), whose life in mother Russia seems to have been tragically abbreviated.

There were recordings on the Melodiya Angel label at the time.

The Symphony #1 in G Minor is better known, and seems to even remind one of the “Winter Dreams” in the same key by Tchaikovsky. The symphony opens quickly with a straightforward folk-like theme and develops its materials in “piano sonata” fashion.  The second movement in E-flat is a nice little meditation on descending thirds  The scherzo is a romp in C Major (with a premonition of a similar movement in the Sibelius Symphony 1).  The finale is the best known of the composer’s statements, and is even transcribed for high school bands to play. While starting out with a rather perfunctory, trivial theme based on the first movement, introduces a majestic second subject, and the Maestoso conclusion is brazen and heroic, a tribute to the Mother Russia that has been lost (and that Putin pretends he can restore, if only he could increase the birth rate).  G Major is an unusual key for such conclusions, because it doesn’t sound thick enough.  The best other example of a similar concept in the key is the ending of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. YouTube link.

The Symphony #2 in A is all major (like “all man”), and sounds a little more like Rimsky-Korsakov and less like Tchaikovsky. The themes are even more cyclic and have even more folksy harmonies and mannerisms.  The slow movement in f# minor is a nice little lullaby that recalls the past, at least mine.  The finale has a slow introduction before becoming a bacchanal. The closing climax at the end mixes the relative minor F# minor with the submediant F Major in a somewhat predictable, perhaps trite fashion.  The effect is not as breathtaking as the end of the First Symphony.

I embedded this particular performance to show the picture of a fictitious alien city.  The arrangements of the taller buildings resembles that of Manhattan (with Brooklyn to the right) viewed from the South, but other things (like the huge moon) are totally alien.  I can imagine myself living in a community in the lower rise buildings in the “Brooklyn Heights” section to the right. It looks like there is a pneumatic subway among the tall buildings.

Maybe the solar system around Tabby’s Star, similar to our sun, 1450 light years away, possibly having a Dyson Sphere, has a planet with a big city like this.  I want a luxury hotel room there with Facebook access.

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. diagram of Dyson sphere by Ed629.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The idea of "sequels" in classical music

David Allen has written a controversial column in the New York Times about classical compositions today, “Got a Classic Piece: Here Comes the Sequel”

It sounds like an idea from the movies, but it really isn’t always.  Sometimes it’s a companion piece that might well be programmed with an original piece, and that gets commissioned by an orchestra, chamber group, or even soloist, or some combination.  Usually these pieces are not conceptual rewrites or “recompositions” of the base work

I had a public premier of one of my miniature pieces recently, writeup here.  There is a quote of sorts of a familiar hymn.  There will be more of these.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Stravinsky's "Rimsky" period

Here’s a piano transcription of the ending of Igor Stravinsky’s "The Firebird" played by Francesco Piermontesi, transcribed by Anosti.

The closing pages, in the orchestral setting, are sometimes played in discos.  Note the harmonies at the end, the triton relationship between the tonic B Major, and mathematical octave mean at F Major.

I do have a CD on London of Stravinsky’s Symphony #1 in E-flat, Op. 1, composed around 1907.  There’s a lot of Rimsky Korsakov in the score.  The music is rather jocose, but there are some exotic harmonies in the slow movement.

The other symphonies are the “Symphony in C”, the “Symphony in Three Movements” and “Symphony of Psalmes”, all neoclassical.  I think I had two of these on Everest records with Goosens, and CD on Sony.    The ascending scale at the beginning of “Three Movements” comes to mind, as does the rocking rhythm of the slow movement.  I remember a trivia quiz game on “movements” of classical works on a church retreat once back in the early 1960s (maybe at Shrinemont).

Monday, August 08, 2016

Parry's "O Jerusalem" sung twice in a service yesterday; another "English Brahms"?

Sunday, the communion service at First Baptist performed the hymn ‘O Jerusalem” by Sir Chares Hubert Hastings Parry (“Oh Lord, You Are My God and King”) twice, with all its delicious chormaticism,  Here is a setting orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar.

This is a separate hymn from “I Was Glad” (Nov. 23, 2013 and May 14, 2011), another link.

Let me note the Chandos set of the symphonies with Marhias Bamert and the London Symphony.  Symphony #3  in C Major (“The English”) is here.  The work is rather like Brahms (the Fourth) or even Zemlinsky’s Second, with the finale as a Theme and Variations on what sounds like another church hymn. It also reminds me of the Brahms Haydn Variations.

Is Parry closer to Brahms than Elgar?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Some vocal "pop" music, impromptu, at an LGBTQ book fair in Washington DC

There was some incidental a cappella music at the OutWrite DC LGBT book fair today, Saturday, August 6, 2016, around lunch time,

I'm not sure I can "name that tune".  But the diva's performance brought big applause. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Stravinsky's piano sonatas; Chopin's enigmatic Polonaise-Fantaisie

I found two piano Sonatas by Igor Stravinsky on YouTube.

The Sonata #1 in F# Minor (1904) was composed at age 1903-1904, at age 21 or so, and is far from the neoclassical style to follow.  It reminds one of the Symphony #1 in E-flat.  The stylistic influences include Brahms, early Rachmininoff (especially the famous c# minor prelude) and Tchaikovsky, but most of all, late Chopin.  Young Stravinsky seems to be trying to extend the heroic world of Chopin’s big Sonatas and other large piano works.

The first movement starts out with a lot of blocked chords but introduces a nice lyrical and nuanced second them.  It dies away for a hushed end, before the A Major Scherzo, in 2.4 with a trio in ¾ follows.  This reminds me of the scherzo of Chopin’s third sonata.  The slow movement is an extended Andante in D in 6/8, which turns out to be a long introduction for a heroic finale, which will reuse some of the slow movement in rondo style, to build a “big tune”. The F# Major ending is triumphant (with a submediant final cadence).

On Youtube it is performed by Victor Sangiorgio here.  Indeed, forgotten early student works (usually written in the teens or early 20s) by renowned composers often turn out to be quite emotionally compelling.

The Sonata #2 (1924) is much shorter, just 9 minutes, in three movements (rather like the Symphony of that name) and all rather toccata-like.  The first movement seems like a perfunctory etude in C, in 2/4. The second movement is a nice Andante in A-flat with lots of leggerio in 64th notes and lot-sa, and time signature changes that play with the denominator a lot.  The last movement is a little scherzo nominally in E Minor.  All the movements end quietly, as if to give the listener a break.

On YouTube, the apparent performer is Geroge Gianopoulos, here.

I’ll mention today one of Chopin’s most addictive works, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61, in A-flat, by Frederic Chopin.

You can watch Timo Andres give a restrained performance in the Green Space in NYC for WQXR here on YouTube .  I wonder how David Kaplan would approach this work.

I’ll embed a video of this work with five “high profile” performances, by, showing the score, ending with Ashkenazy

This is a big, heroic work if a curious and meandering one.  Yes, the sudden tempo changes and modulations (often between A-flat and B Major)   The final big tune bears that waffling uncertainty, going into a big of resignation, diminishing, before one last single shout, an A-flat Major Chord, FFF, with the lowest note a C (breaking the “rules” of harmony, to great effect).

One of the major motifs is a descending fourth (which opens the work).  The Beethoven Sonata #18 makes similar use of a descending fifth, and one of the other Chopin polonaises (in A) uses a descending third, which I also use to introduce the chromatic "big tune" in the last movement of my own "third sonata".

This work has so many nooks and crannies it’s like a one-movement sonata.  Did this work inspire the late sonatas of Alexander Scriabin, most of all, the Black Mass?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Composers have to make a living: this affects both "Christian" and new secular classical music

There’s been some attention to the “low brow” nature of some Christian music, as in a July 14 article in the Washington Post by Brant Hansen, “I’m a Christian radio host: our music isn’t high art, but it’s just what people want .”  I’ve never liked the idea of holding hands in a crowd and singing the same melody over and over again, even as I pay attention to the way stanzas of church hymns are constructed in my own composition.

A LTE today gives "another reason contemporary Christian music seems clich├ęd and overproduced".  That is, composers and song writers get royalties (especially after a legal settlement in the late 1980s) and have to feed families (especially in Christian-Land).  Complexed, nuanced harmonies and rhythms aren’t singable by average congregations. It sounds like a very Timo-esque point (maybe from both Timo’s).

Classical composers have to get commissions to earn a living, which may explain why a lot of classical music today seems clever and uses ordinary objects in novel ways.  There seems to live a certain parallel with the Christian music world.

I do recall when I attended MCC Dallas in the 1980s, that Danny Ray, who attended and lived in my condo complex for a while, was recognized as the composer of a number of standard hymns. My all time favorite is Dallas-composer Jane Marshall’s “Our Eternal King”. Above is a performance in Abilene, TX.

Another link, for a performance by the First Baptist Church in Dallas (Criswell's church in the 80s).

Friday, July 01, 2016

"10 Minute Play Festival" held in Chestertown, MD

I am a film of short films, but I have never heard of “short plays”.

But the Garfield Center for the Arts in Chestertown MD (on the Delmarva, north of the Bay Bridge, on MD 213, W of US 301) is having a little drama festival in July on 10-minute plays and even one-minute skits.

The links is here. It’s called the “Short Attention Span Theater” or the “10 Minute Play Festival”.

The emphasis is comedy, even club-like.  My stuff is way too serious.

 Above is “Drugs Are Bad” from another city.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Smithsonian folklife presents Basque music

The Smithsonian Folk-life Festival starting today on the Mall in Washington DC emphasizes the culture and music of the Basque region of northern Spain, and SW France, which I had visited in April-May 2001.

Much of the material was presented in Basque language .  There also a section of California affected by immigrant culture. 

I saw a costumed folkdancing demonstration, which was mostly in waltz-like rhythms.

Then there was a 45-minute concert of folk music played by two accordions, various homemade wind instruments (used in agriculture to call animals), and unusual percussion.  The rhythms sometimes vacillate from triple to quadruple or duple, resulting in syncopated sequences of 5/4 or 7/4 time briefly.  The harmonies are fairly simple, and the themes are laid out in stanzas in straightforward fashion.  The music is tonal, and does not have a lot of modern dissonance.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Composers need to get commissions: major article in Barron's

Stacy Perman has a major article in Berman’s discussing how new classical music compositions are commissioned today.

Much of the commissioning activity happens in the Los Angeles area (rather than New York).

The article discusses a couple that has provided over $5 million in donations to commission new works.

To join the “club” sponsored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one needs a $15000 entry donation.

There is something interesting – and humbling -- about supporting the talent of someone else (very likely young, with student debt perhaps, and trying to get established), rather than proclaiming your own.  I still have my own to develop and complete (as I have been explaining on Wordpress).

However, composers need commissions to make a living, although many composers (especially violin, piano, and organ) also make income from concerts.

You can help by buying tickets to concerts and attending them, and buying music legally from sites like Amazon, BN, and now especially Bandcamp.

One issue, in my mind, is whether music needs to seem clever or gimmicky, or constitute "Gebrauchsmusik".

In the video above, composer Marti Epstein talks about getting commissions for performers whose instruments don’t have a lot of repertoire.  She also got a commission to compose the opera “Rumpelstilskin” , which I will have to look up and see if I can find online later.    (There are also other operas on that tale by Joseph Baber and Jeff Unger.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Stairway to Heaven" lawsuit could chill some composers, songwriters

There’s a lot of talk about the “Spirit v. Zeppelin” suit recently, about the claim that the introductory chords from “Stairway to Heaven” were plagiarized.

There’s a story on the trial now in Rolling Stone by Matt Diehl June 16, 2016.  But there is interesting legal analysis on how Fair Use should work with music elements in Forbes dating back to 2014.

In practice, almost all composing and songwriting involves the possibility of some copying, which sometimes is intentional. Mahler’s Third Symphony opens with a theme that sounds like a paraphrase the famous finale of the Brahms First.  And Mahler’s Fifth opens with a motto obviously related to the Beethoven Fifth.  Shostakovich paraphrased Rossini’s William Tell in one his later symphonies.  Amy Beach used folk songs in her Gaelic Symphony (although these would be traditional), as did Sir Charles Stanford.  Eugen D’Albert makes several allusions to other romantic works in his very interesting Piano Concerto #1 (especially in the slow middle section), a work that ought to be played a lot more.  Younger composers today often get commissions to develop works based on other composers output, although these are usually older sources now in public domain. The Forbes article and video above do discuss the role of transformation in affirmative defense to copyright claims.

 This case is complicated, and I may come back to it later on my new Wordpress blogs.


Ironically, right after I wrote this post, the verdict came down.  Zeppelin did not steel the riff, according to the jury, CBS story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Music from Interfaith Prayer Service for Orlando

Wednesday night June 15, 2016 at 6:30 PM. The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington DC sponsored an Interfaith Prayer Service for the People of Orlando and for Peace.

The service opened with the Nimrod variation from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, played by John Horman. Diane Bish had played the same variation at her concert at First Baptist on Sunday.

The Washington DC Gay Men’s Chorus sung two compositions a cappella:  “Make Them Hear You” by Stephen Flaherty.

Later it sang “True Colors” by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (source by songwriter, written during AIDS epidemic in 1985).

The names of 49 victims were read.  Prayers were offered from all major faiths.

The candlelight postlude was the spiritual “We Shall Overcome”.

Do I recall “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (Rogers and Hammerstein, Broadway musical and 1955 film) being performed?