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).