Tuesday, October 09, 2018

"Voicing" in piano playing, especially of jazz

Watch “What Is Voicing?” video by G;enn Zaleski, with Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, and Bill Evans.

The video explains piano playing of homophonic materials to bring out the intended melody by playing one note in every chord louder than the others.

This what piano teachers mean by “top notes”. 

The technique seems particularly appropriate for jazz, where there may be multiple paths that create melody.

But intentionally polyphonic music or counterpoint would not work out here.
The technique seems important in guiding a “singable” (like a hymn) experience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Atkinson: the most beautiful passage in each Mahler symphony

I played one of Richard Atkinson’s meatiest videos on YouTube, “Most Beautiful Passage in Each Mahler Symphony”

Playing this video made me relive a lot of my young adulthood, almost as if from the Monroe Institute.

He spends a lot of time on the second theme of the finale of Symphony #1 in D (1888).  The “Titan” is notable for its opening, quoting the opening of the Beethoven Ninth.  It’s buoyant first movement is rompish, almost Haydn-like.  I think the whole symphony works better when the “Blumie” movement is included. 

The Finale is interesting for its time for its stormy opening in the distant key of F Minor. The second theme of the finale generates the “beauty” and illustrates Mahler’s tendency to linger a moment, perhaps in a remote key (Schubertian modulations).  The conclusion of the symphony is remarkable for the sudden resolution to D Major at the end, and the quote of Handel’s Messiah (and “He shall reign…”). I remember hearing a lunch-time performance (break from work) at the Minnesota Orchestra maybe in 2000.

From Symphony #2 (the “Resurrection”) he chooses the opening of the first vocal movement, in D-flat, “Primal Light’.  The finale of this work is very complicated as to form (again, the main theme starts in F Minor, for a symphony in C Minor;  there is a “sunrise” introduction to it;  the second theme is a march which becomes the great, and very singable hymn, at the end.  I have always wondered why Mahler ends in the relative Major of E-flat rather than the Picardy C Major.  I heard this performed in NYC in Carnegie Hall in the 1970s.

For Symphony #3 in D Minor, he chooses the passage that prepares for the climax at the very end.  The slow movement finale (25 minutes) is one of the few big symphonic slow movements that actually ends loudly. I heard the Minnesota Orchestra play this, I think in 2002 when I was working there part time. 

For Symphony #4 in G, he choses the modulations after the “Sunrise” at the end of the slow movement, which ends on the dominant D.  The last movement is a song which starts in G and ends in E Major, quietly, an odd exercise in progressive tonality.  (Among Mahler, the 4th, 6th, 9th, and 10th as completed end quietly.)  Some observers claim that Mahler had considered making this a seventh movement to the Third, which a high school chum would have liked (I remember a specific discussion of on my senior year Mt. Washington trip in 1961). 

My “ear” had learned the familiar Mahler by the time I graduated form high school, but I think I got my first records of it at the end of 1961 (the Vox Box with 1 and 9 and Horenstein), and stereo recordings of #4 and #2 for Christmas in 1962.  This was a turbulent time in my own life, which this music marks.

For Symphony #5, he chooses the end of the famous Adagietto in F.  That movement was played repeatedly on the radio on WGMS in Washington the weekend that John Kennedy was assassinated.  The first movement, a funeral march in C# Minor, uses the opening rhythm of the Beethoven 5th.  There follows a conventional sonata allegro in A Minor, a Scherzo in D, the Adagietto, and a fugal finale in D.

For Symphony 6 he chooses a wistful passage in the slow movement, itself in E-flat, a tritone away from the home key of A Minor.

For Symphony 7 he picks a particularly Wagnerian passage with the second theme of the first movement. 

For Symphony 8 in E-flat, he picks the prep for the final chorus.  This time, the triumphant choral ending is in the tonic key for the entire work.  But, compared to the closing of the Second, the closing hymn is much less stanza-oriented in its structure.  After playing this video, I just had to play Bernstein’s closing on YouTube.

For Symphony 9 in D Minor – the first movement, with its near atonality in some passages, sounds like the beginning of the whole sequence of expressionism that Schoenberg and Berg would complete. But the slow movement finale is in D-flat, and seems very resigned, and Atkinson picks a passage near the end.
I'm a little more impressed with the harmonic inventiveness that he points out in the early works than mid and late works. 

He does not cover Symphony #10 in F# (which I heard earlier this year at the National Symphony). I like the massive dissonance toward the end of the first movement. I think he could do a similar video for Schoenberg, and discuss especially Pelleas et Mellisande and then the Gurre-Lieder. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cat tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu (which the composer didn't want published!)

In China, a young woman tries to play the Chopin Fantasie-Imprompu in C# Minor, Op. 66, and her cat wants to join in.

The work is controversial because Chopin regarded it as an experiment and didn’t want it published. He based the passagework on similar material in the fast finale of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. This is not my favorite Chopin.

Friday, September 28, 2018

The potential of percussion alone

Here’s an example of what can be done with percussion only at the Foggy Bottom Metro Stop near George Washington University in Washington DC today.

Nearby was an amateur chess game, painful to watch.  Neither player wanted to face me as an opponent.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Soulfire" performs at Westover Market in Arlington VA

The group “Soulfire” performed late Saturday afternoon Sept. 15 in the Beer Garden of the Westover Market on Washington Blvd in Arlington, VA.

The event was supposed to be sponsored in part by the Trinity Men’s Fellowship at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

I’m not sure if this was the same group as Robert Snuhgie Stocks ‘s group or is connected to it, as often presented here earlier.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Conservative vlogger takes aim at "modern music" and it's not what I expected

“Economic Invincibility” (“EI”, a pseudo-anonymous conservative vlogger) lays it on the line with this little video “The Problem with Modern Music”.

I was hoping for a critique of modern expressionism (atonality), or even gebrauchmusikl – a culture of commissioning composers to write “program music” around some cute artistic object of concept. This is a big issue with young composers right now. 

No, he is talking about the lyrics of popular music, especially women who won’t walk away from abusive men. He finally gets around to talking about Shawn Mendes.

And he is very photogenic. Conservative young men are often handsome. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Scriabin's "Divine Poem": was this inspired by the Lizst B-minor Sonata?

Here’s another piece that seems inspired by Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and tries to solve the problem of how a layered cyclical work like this should end.

It’s “The Divine Poem”, the Symphony #3 in C Minor, Op. 43, composed 1902-1904 by Alexander Scriabin.

Here’s a performance with a lot of commentary by Igor Golovshin and the Moscow Symphony (video recently replaced).

The official documentation of the work list it as having four sections:  A slow introduction, then a first movement (“Struggles” or “Luttes”), a slow movement (“Delights” or “Voluptes”) and “Divine Play” (“Jeu Divin”, call it “Godly play” if you want).

The first movement has three subjects, with the third of these more or less comparable to the Liszt Grandioso theme.  The movement winds down after a violent climax in the brief recapitulation to the slow movement which is like the central section of the Liszt Sonata. Then the “Finale” (the “play”) does further development, some of it fugal, and builds up to a tremendous coda combining all the themes of the work.  The very end bears a curious resemblance to the way D’Albert ends his Piano Concerto #1 and Scriabin probably knew this work.

In fact, after a pivot on the submediant, Scriabin hold the orchestra on a sustained C Major chord while the Wagner Ring arpeggios play underneath and then Scriabin offers three conclusive crashes on C to end.
The style of the work, from a Russian composer, seems both French (with some impressionistic harmonies in the quieter passages) and German (almost Wagnerian).  The cyclical structure, of course, had been tried by Cesar Franck and his D Minor Symphony. But in his piano music, Scriabin would experiment with bizarre new effects and his own form of atonality. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Scott E. Brown: a muscular white "preppy" does hip-hop to send a political message (and counter Trump-ism)

Scott E. Brown has a YouTube channel of politically-oriented music.

The Trump Legacy” has Scott, a clean-cut, southern, preppy “white man” performing hip-hop rap in order to make fun of Trump and offer support for past Obama social policies. 

Here is a case of music and politics coming together.

Scott has some namesakes, so I had some trouble at first finding him.
There’s nothing wrong with white teens wearing hoodies to show support, or make a statement against excessive police profiling.  I see some teens do this intentionally.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor, and there is controversy over the ending (and the beginning -- is it atonal?)

The Sonata for Piano in B Minor, completed in 1853 when composer Franz Liszt was 41, sometimes strikes us as the very beginning of postromantic expressionism. Is this work where the world of Arnold Schoenberg got started? 

I bring an embedded video of a performance by Krystian Zimmerman.

The work, as a sonata, is revolutionary; yet is was somewhat inspired by the Schumann C Major Fantasy, which in turn is a kind of “Beethoven Sonata #33” (not exactly "33 Variations").  It has an internally recursive form of a “sonata within a sonata”.  Running thirty minutes, the first section corresponds roughly to an Exposition.  After considerable reluctance, it migrates to a slow movement, “Andante Sostenuto” in ¾ time, often referring back to some descending motives in the exposition that never go away.  There follows a fughetta based on the opening motives serving as a scherzo, and then “Recapitulation” comes back, and finally a coda based on slow movement material (in the most accepted version). The piece is said to be an example of “double-function” sonata form.

Now it’s important to note the many components of the Exposition. The work begins on two repeated notes G, and a descending figure that sounds atonal, almost like a Schoenberg tone row to generate an entire work.  But the logic of the chromaticism takes us to B Minor, with several figurines forming the thematic material, finally leading to the famous chordal “Grandioso” theme in the relative D Major (with many interesting modulations built into the theme harmony).  This may be the most heroic (and most “masculine”) theme of all of piano literature. Teenage male pianists love to bang it out to show their own machismo.  Yet, in the usual rhetoric of hymnology, the normal cadence structure of the theme is never completed.  It migrates to other lyrical ideas in the Exposition, which probably could be viewed as “development”.

At the end of the work, if comes back one last time, in B Major, and works to a final climax in F#.  But it never completes itself.  Instead the accepted version of the music offers a coda starting with the slow movement material, as the protagonist of the music slowly withdraws from engaging his own self-chosen battles in his life.  The work ends quietly with bell-like B-Major chords.  There is one last low B, “ppp”. 

This is not so much the idea of a soft ending letting the listener contemplate her experience.  It is simply that the work of the music is done and wants to quit when it is ahead and exit honorably.
Yet Liszt actually wrote an alternate loud ending, where the Grandioso completes itself unconvincingly.  Here are three videos, the second showing where it fits the Grandioso, the third showing Liszt’s original handwriting crossed out.  (Composers in those days did not provide neat manuscripts to submit to contests like I had to.)

I could imagine a revision, letting the accepted soft coda almost finish, to the final bell-like chords, and then suddenly exploding by inverting the descending note and making it rise up for a 15-second flourish.

As I know from looking at completions of the Bruckner Ninth, if you want to solve the problem of the ideal coda of a complex sonata-like work, compose one yourself.  Then you can throw all the music of western civilization into the last two minutes of your final peroration (like Shostakovich does by quoting Bruckner at the end of his Leningrad Symphony – however politically incorrect to do so in a Communist regime).   
I wanted to mention here also the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61, a piece with weird effects, which winds down and withdraws toward the end, until there is one last loud A-flat chord.

Update: Sept. 13

Along the lines of writing your own solution to the B-Minor Sonata dilemma, it strikes me that this is what Eugen D'Albert did with his first piano concerto. The first section is an exposition and development.  The sweet second theme corresponds to the "grandioso" but D'Albert saves the heroics for later. I'm pretty sure that theme became a popular song in the 40s and got used by Hollywood (which loves to loot rarely performed works for themes). The "slow movement" even quotes Beethoven's Funeral March Sonata at one point, and the "finale" is a recapitulation of the opening material, even quoting Brahms's Piano Concerto #1 at one point. The "finale" ends quietly (as does the Liszt) but then D'Albert adds a gigantic coda with a fugue for solo piano on one of the opening themes, making it practically atonal; then a "scherzando" (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 sneak preview) leading to a gigantic conclusion on the second theme, which turns into a Liszt-style "grandioso", and then a mad-dash Prestissimo final crash. D'Albert could wait to show his virility until the end, which means he must have been some charismatic teen, composing this at age 19. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Pianist Jan Liseicki, continuing my "young people will win" thread

I’m trying to cover some other pianists and various musicians, especially from the viewpoint “The young people will win.”

Jan Lisiecki, now 23, from Canada (Calgary, Alberta), was interviewed on CBS at around age 14 in 2010 as a prodigy. 

I looked for more recent videos, and I found an interview of him by Mexican conductor, Alondra de la Parra.

In the following video he plays the Mozart Piano Concerto #9 in E-flat, the “Jeunehomme” (K 271) or “Young Man”.  No, this music doesn’t quite describe David Hogg. The work is more mature than one is expecting.  By the K200’s the mature Mozart was appearing (works under K100, like the B-flat Cassation that a college friend gave me a record of, don’t make so much of an impression). He follows with a Chopin Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, #1.

He also discusses using a Schumann Reverie as an encore with her. He talks about simplicity in music.  Examples: the opening theme of the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 is marked “Andante Semplice”.  (The middle section is anything but…)   When I think of semplice, I think of Erik Satie, in so many movies.  I like complexity, for example fugal finales of postromantic works.  But something like the finale of the Beethoven Hammerklavier is not “simple”. 

Here is the “following” video I just mentioned.

I’ll cover some of these artists again as I come across work closer to my compositional interests.  If anyone is coming to DC (or say Baltimore, Philly, NYC) for a concert, make a comment here and let me know.

Picture: this crow was watching me this morning and making eye contact.  Weird. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The tangent piano (and C.P.E. Bach)

Cleveland Johnson explains the “tangent piano” on p. C5 of the Saturday New York Times, here

Johnson then offers, online, some excerpts from the music of son CPE Bach on this instrument, which he says provides an unpredictable experience.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"The Piano Forever": Teenager James Shawcross demonstrates pianos, organs, percussion

There is a YouTube series called "ThePianoforever" by James Pavel Shawcross, who is now about 18, in which the performer demonstrates various pianos, organs, and even percussion.  There are also presentations of some electric pianos disguised as true wood concert.  The series seems to be filmed around Berkeley, California.  James made one of his earliest videos at age 11 and by 14 was able to make very professional presentations.

I’ll pick a recent video, the Adam Schaff Vetircal Piano.

He often plays some of the Chopin Fantasy-Impromptu in C# Minor. 

Like many very young artists he takes command of the video and connects to the viewer and displays great charisma. 
With this video, I am reminded of the upright piano my first piano teacher (in 1952) used, and of an upright in a den in the house in Kipton, Ohio where I spent boyhood summers.  A few feet away was a black-and-white TV for Cleveland Indians’ games (which we sometimes went to, in "The Mistake by the Lake").
I guess the young people are really winning.   If only I could have my past 18-year-old body back.

Picture:  The house above in Ohio has the words "C Sharp" above the garage.  A nod to Chopin, Beethoven (Moonlight), Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, maybe even Amy Beach? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

YouTube channel "aSongScout" offers piano music based on mathematical objects

The YouTube channel “aSongScout” has some interesting piano pieces.

Here a young pianist plays the Fugue in A Major by Dmitri Shostakovich, from a set such pieces.

 This one is unique in not having any vertical dissonance. The pianist speculates that Shostakovich wrote this particular fugue to answer criticism that much of his music, including other fugues in the set (composed in the 1950s) were too dissonant for political purposes in the Soviet Union.

The channel offers pieces based on the Fibonnaci Sequence, and also the digits of the number Pi.
There appear to be at least two artists, Julian Smith, and David Macdonald, on the channel.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" by Wachner highlights late summer service at FBC

Today the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC today performed the anthem “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Julian Wachner.

The music sounded somewhat modal.

During the offertory, Christina Whitehouse-Suggs, Soprano, performed an aria from the Mass of Leonard Bersntein, “Sing God a Simple Song”, with its many whole tone scales (there is a similar effect in the Age of Anxiety).

I took a young woman to a concert performance of the Mass in the fall of 1971 when I was doing my only episode of heterosexual dating.

The organ postlude was Marcello’s “The Heavens Declare God’s Glory”.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"The Impeachable Paul Stookey"

Today a Facebook friend shared the video of “The Impeachable Paul Stookey”, from Peter, Paul and Mary of the 1960s.

I do remember back in college days that friends had singles and LP’s of Paul while I collected classical records.  I seem to remember that in my stay at NIH in the fall of 1962, the Kingston Trio was popular.
There is also a touching story in the Washington Post by Petula Dvorak about a homeless jazz double bass player. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Skid row choir in Los Angeles; also, remembering Aretha Franklin

On Saturday, Aug. 18, the NBC Today show presented the “Urban Voices Project”, a Skid Row Choir in downtown Los Angeles.

Here is a descriptive link

The Los Angeles Times has a story (by Gale Holland) about the Colburn Wesley Project singers 
This goes along with the idea that music training is very therapeutic, as a recent Scientific American e-book shows (to be reviewed soon on Books).

NBC Today doesn't have the link up for Urban Voices, but it does have a video testimonial to Aretha Franklin, who passed away this week at age 76 of pancreatic cancer.  I've covered on other blogs a possible new early warning diagnostic test for early cancer (including pancreatic) blood warnings developed as a science fair project by Jack Andraka.

Update: August 19

I briefly watched a free jazz concert on the promenade at Rehoboth Beach, DE Saturday evening. They played "Walking in a winter wonderland". 

Friday, August 03, 2018

Outwrite 2018 kicks off with "Laughing Our Loud", standup comedy

The Outwrite 2018 LGBT writing festival in Washington DC kicked off Friday night with a standup comedy session ("Kickoff: Laughing Out Loud") at the Ten Tigers Parlour on Georgia Ave in the Petworth neighborhood.  Chinese food was available to order (and this was all Bourdain Parts Unknown type of food that you’ve never heard of, except for the tofu, which Twin Oaks in Virginia can make.  (Does the name “Parlour” imply a timocracy?)

The host was Chelsea Shorte, who spun a lot of material about food as a business, and said don’t compete with the children.   The other speakers were Joanna Cifredo, Camille Roberts (“bits in Paradise”), Tsaitomi Duchicela (“Thunder Bay Sy”), Anthony Oakes, and keynote Michelle Tea.

There were stop quips at white privilege, and some emphasis on gender fluidity. I believe one of the presenters was M-F trans.  There were also some interesting comments on multi-lingual capabilities. 
I befriended a stanup comedy artists who worked in a coffee place when living in Minneapolis.  The film “To Err Is Human” presents a comedian in Denver who overcame a birth-related handicap due to medical error.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Pizza delivery man near Detroit is a self-taught virtuoso pianist

In the Detroit suburbs, eighteen year old Bryce Dudal works as a pizza delivery person for Hungry Howie’s.

Recently he was invited to demonstrate his piano skills at a home with a grand piano.

He plays the finale of the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata (#14 in C# Minor, Op. 27 #2) here, on a Fox story. This movement is fast with a lot of passage work (unlike the more notorious slow first movement.) 

Amazingly, he is self-taught, since the age of seven. He performs with great virtuosity and technique.  

(By the way, why doesn't Fox news use https yet?) 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Mozart and Haydn sudden major-minor shifts, explained

Here’s another Atkinson video: “Unexpected, fleeting major-minor mode shifts in Haydn and Mozart”.

Atkinson discusses four compositions.

The K 333 B-flat Piano Major Sonata, with a subtle shift in the second subject, is familiar from my days of piano lessons.

The Haydn Symphony 100 in G, the Military, was interesting more in that the use of flutes as instrumentation for a first subject in colonial times was seen as marital.  He shows how our perceptions have changed with a quick excerpt from the scherzo of Shostakovich’s 10th.

The third example is the Symphony #96, the “Miracle” because of an accident at the first performance, which was really of #102.

These two examples remind the that the last night before I left home for the Army in February 1968 and had a friend over for chess (I think I won most of the games), I played #104 on the VM stereo – the last music I would hear before Basic Combat Training.

His last example comes from the Theme and Variations finale of the Piano Trio in G, K. 496, of Mozart. One of the variations is in the parallel minor. The cello part is remarkable for the time in that it is more than just a reinforcement for the piano bass.  That is, a trio was more than a “violin sonata”. It’s an interesting concept, of variable instrumentation for expressive purposes.  But the rest of his analysis is playful and Timo-like.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Atkinson's YouTube channel: analysis of a Bach fugue

I found a YouTube channel, by Richard Atkinson, with a lot of unusual comparative analyses from classical music.

Today I’ll start out by presenting a simple one, his dissection of a Fugue in C# Minor, a relatively slow and quiet piece, from J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, but played on the piano.

He explains the fact that there can be several subjects, and illustrates fugue components with differently colored shadings of the score.  He also explains what a stretto is.

This piece has five separate voices and three subjects, making it a triple fugue. The multiple subjects anticipate sonata form developments.
A number of major sonata-like works and symphonies have fugal finales:  Mahler’s Fifth, Bruckner’s Fifth; Stenhammar’s Second Symphony (which is quite formal);  Beethoven’s B-flat Quartet ending in the Grosse Fugue, and Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata. The major completions of the finale of Bruckner’s Ninth show the movement to be large fugal – what’s controversial is the composer’s intentions for the massive coda.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Miniatur Wonderland: the World's largest Model Railway, and you can live inside it (in Germany)

I used to put model railroad exhibits on this blog. When I can visit one I make my own video. 
Here is the “Miniatur Wonderland” in Hamburg, Germany, Business Insider

This is probably the first model railroad in the world with a Google Street View, where minicams are mounted on train cars or other model items to simulate what you would see if this were a real place and you “went small” and lived there, like in “Downsizing”.
Attribution for NASA photo of Hamburg.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Youth CUE Nation's Capital Festival Choir performs at major DC church

The nationwide choral group "The 2018 YouthCUE Nation’s Capital Festival Choir" performed at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday, July 1, 2018.

During the Choral Prelude the group performed, with piano accompaniment, “Hallelujah Amen” by Handel (very brief Messiah excerpt), “In the Middle of a Journey” by Randy Edwards, and “Exsultate, Jubilate Deo” by Ruth Morris Gray.  Then there was a brief setting of the Zambian folksong “Bonse Asa”.

This may be the arrangement of Victor C. Johnson.  I made a brief recording but did not post it on YouTube out of copyright concerns (instead I embedded a performance already posted and vetted, probably by ContentID).  There is a good question to answer when folk music is used.  The actual tune is usually in public domain;  but adaptation of folk music is very common in classical music and the adaptation is usually transformative enough to warrant copyright protection.  This issue becomes even more important now that the European Union is seriously considering tightening its Copyright Directive with mandatory automated screening of videos before posting (the Article 13 issue). 
The group joined the FBC choir with an anthem, “An Awakening” by Walker Robson, and later a Choral Offertory adapted by Greg Gilpin, “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” (the Lion’s Den).  There were two Communion Anthems, “The Plans I Have for You” and “Prayer of St. Francis”, both by Allen Pote.
The Church now publishes a detailed acknowledgement of every hymn used in the service, crediting both the composer (or transcriber) of the music and author of the words. 
The church music industry is actually quite strict on copyrights and has a system of collecting royalty payments for hymns that appear in hymnals. I believe the organization that runs this is in Cleveland (I’ve seen it mentioned in some church service programs in Texas).  It is common for many hymn tunes to come from classical music (especially English composers, like Parry).  This is also common in Hollywood;  quotes of obscure classical works used to have a way of winding up in film scores, or they used to, until Leonard Bernstein came along in the 60s and made less commonly played symphonies by Mahler, Nielsen, Prokofiev, etc. more common to the public.  It’s rather common for an obscure postromantic work (by someone like D’Albert, Dohnanyi, Stenhammar, Amy Beach, or even Schoenberg) to sound familiar at first hearing, and I suspect that is one reason.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Church anthem seems based on well-known Copland work, but that in turn uses an Irish folksong

Sunday, June 24, 2018, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC performed an a capella anthem “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter, arranged by David Willcocks.

But the theme seemed to be the prominent ritornel from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet (1944).  Paul Hume used this theme in the 1950s to introduce evening symphony every weeknight on WGMS radio in Washington DC when I was a boy.

It occurs at 20:06 in the New York Philharmonic performance by Leonard Bernstein back in the 1960s.

The sound on these early stereo Columbia recordings is still super.

The entire ballet (about 45 minutes) for chamber orchestra is also widely available on YouTube.
Copland is also known for his “Fanfare for the Common Man” which he uses to introduce the massive finale of his Third Symphony.

Copland did experiment with the twelve tone technique later in life. But in his last years (he died in 1990 at age 90) he started so show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease (link).  

Further checking shows that this tune is an Irish folk tune.  I wonder if Stanford (well known Irish composer) could have considered it for his Irish rhapsodies.  On YouTube, Carter's treatment is available, such as here

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Stenhammar Symphony #2: imagine putting Brahms and Sibelius together

Here is a performance of the Symphony #2 in G Minor, Op. 34, of Wilhelm Stehhammar.

The Stockholm Philharmonic is conducted by Sig Westerberg.

At first glance, the work seems “simpler”, leaner, and more neoclassical than the “abandoned” First.
And it may, with all the woodwind work, sound a little more Nordic and “Sibelian”.

Yet, it runs 47 minutes and offers four very fully development movements, culminating in a 17-minute fugal finale of the scope and complexity of other fugues like Beethoven’s Grosse, or the conclusion of Bruckner’s Fifth. And the overall harmonic and rhythmic flavor reminds one of – you guessed it – late Brahms.

The first movement makes a lot of a fast ¾ time that seems genuine, not waltz-like, but transparent.
The Andante, in A Minor, didn’t do as much for me, nor did the scherzo. But the Finale, with its many tempo changes and complex fugal writing, for all the open sound with winds, makes me wonder how it would sound on an organ.  The transitions are always formal, and the triumphant conclusion is quite brief and straightforward, and almost right out of Bach.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why did Stenhammar "withdraw" his F-Major Symphony #1? It is literally Brahms plus Bruckner-Wagner, combined in one style

Swedish composer-piano Wilhelm Stenhammar would turn his back on his own Symphony #1 in F Major (1903), written at the age of 32.  He called it “idealized Bruckner” but later in life as he sought a more personalized idiom (which I have said reminds me of Amy Beach) he came to think of this as a “trivial piece” for all its 55 minutes.  Wikipedia lists it as “withdrawn”.  I guess Stenhammar did perceive his entire compositional output as one continuous process piece gradually getting “less bad”.  I don’t think Stenhammar wanted to give up on German romanticism. He wanted to fuse it into an indivisible whole. (Note: he composed his first piano sonata when he was nine years old.)

Yet, I have a Records International CD somewhere with the Gothenberg Sympnony under Jarvi – and I see I discussed it a little on Oct 7, 2007 here.

The YouTube version seems to be a different performance, with some elaborations of the codas.

Does this sound more like Brahms than Bruckner?  Most of the time it does.  It frankly reminds me of the Brahms Third, in the same key – F Major is the most pastoral of keys. But the orchestration uses the horns and other brass in a manner similar to Bruckner and Wagner, sometimes even Mahler, which produces an odd effect when combined with Brahms-like syncopated triple time a lot. The first movement starts out oh so gently, finally reaching a second subject, but manages to work itself up for a triumphant coda.  The second movement in A Minor will remind you of the Allegretto of the Beethoven Seventh at first, and then the A Minor slow movement of the Schubert Great (the same rhythmic figures), before it quotes a 3-note rising theme that does come from Bruckner (forget which symphony) in the horns.  The gentleness continues in the scherzo in B-flat.

The finale seems to return to the first movement material, but with faster tempi and fugal treatment, yet sometimes sounding Schubertian. (That’s all right; a lot of the completed finale of the Bruckner Ninth has Schubert-“Great” passagework.) The modulations to remote keys get daring.  After the full sonata form, the finale seems to be dying to a quiet coda, like the Brahms third – but then the sun rises again, with the water-music theme from Wagner’s Das Rheingold (often in the background) taking over as the music grows for one last shout, as the Universe is reborn.
I wanted to hear this today.  I’ll look at my own “process piece” and try to compose the final transitions very soon before trying to package it into performable shape.  That’s a Sonata #3, started at the end of 1961, and now definitely “less bad”.  It, too, has the grandest of all codas at the end (in C).

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Stenhammar's Piano Concerto #2: An obscure work sounds so familiar

Here’s another piano concerto masterpiece (no “Cakeshop”) that everyone misses.  Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar started out as the Swedish Bruckner (in the Symphony #1) and became more like the Swedish Brahms and sometimes Sibelius.

The Piano Concerto #2 in D Minor, Op. 23, is quite a remarkable work.  I see that I mentioned it at the end of a review of #1 on May 9, 2012; but it really deserves a detailed look.  It bears a certain resemblance to the Piano Concerto of Amy Beach.

Above, Greta Ericksson, piano, plays with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Evgeny Svetlanov.

The work comprises four movements without pause, although there is quite a lot of structure within each.

The work begins modestly in triple time, with a descending figure of half-steps in the accompanying orchestra that is common to this compose. The orchestra suddenly modulates to C# minor to what sounds like a main theme, but the rest of the movement has a compressed sonata form as it tends to explore the introductory motive more.  But violence returns to close out the movement (as in the Beach, which, by comparison, has a very expanded first movement). The scherzo starts with a tarantella but has an extensive middle section with a waltz theme that will sound familiar.

The 4/4 Adagio will remind the listener of late Chopin with harmonic schemes out of Op 61 – and the theme will sound familiar (Hollywood loves to take themes from obscure classical works)  The orchestra will develop another motive that resembles a similar descending figure in the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3.  The D Major Finale is a concluding romp in compound 9/8 time, with a dance theme (a bizarre kind of Polonaise-Fantasy) that will sound suspiciously familiar (Hollywood, again). 
The work has many sudden key modulations, especially between D Minor and C# Minor, and sometimes uses some ideas that sound like they come from the Chopin Op. 61.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vivaldi Gloria excerpt highlights Pentecost service at Dallas Cathedral of Hope

Today, I attended a service at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX.

During the offertory, there was a performance of “Domine Deus” from the Gloria in D by Antonio Vivaldi. The soprano was Coretta Smith, the oboeist was Quince Holman, the organist David Moldenhauer. It was sung in Latin with the translation, “Lord God, Ruler of Heaven, God the Father almighty.
The whole work appears above.  I guess if the Metropolis Ensemble asks us to enjoy Charpentier, we should enjoy big Vivaldi choral works.
The communion included the Benedictine Plainsong Mode V (13th Century), then “Holy Spirit” by Bryan and Kate Torwall, “Sure the Presence” by Lanny Wolfe, and “Holy Ground” by Geron Davis.  

The recessional was a setting of the Sibelius Finlandia, which I will return to later. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Scott Paddock Jazz Quartet performs on Pentecost Sunday at First Baptist Church, Washington DC

The Scott Paddock Jazz Quartet performed the prelude, offertory and postlude today at the First Baptist Church of Washington DC for Pentecost Sunday.  The quartet includes piano. 
The materials included folk spirituals and some improvisations with a little more modern dissonance.
Here is the second sample video.
The Ascension would have been quite a miracle for anyone who witnessed it in person. Your life is, what it is.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Diemer's Piano Sonata #3

Jeong in-Kim plays the Piano Sonata #3 in C by Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927 in Kansas City MO, the Midwest).  I don’t have a time of composition, might have been the 1950s.

The first movement (7 minutes) is marked Serenade/Toccata but the Toccata like theme, a rising figure, seems to open the work.  The serenade is a lyrical second subject in what seems like a compressed sonata form. The movements on a loud dissonance.

The second movement is called the Interlude, seems to be in A minor, but soon presents a jazz theme that might have come from Gershwin.

The expansive finale, Tango Fantastique, is very demanding, seems almost like perpetual motion, and ends on an impressive climax in E.  (My own preference is that works end in the tonality in which they start, but progressive tonality for cyclic works came into vogue with Mahler and Nielsen.) 
The overall style is tonal but dissonant, with heavy syncopated rhythms associated with dance.  Some of the harmonies sound a but impressionistic. 

This seems like an extremely difficult work (23 minutes) to play.

Emma Lou Diemer’s output is quite varied as to form and should be heard more often.  It compares well to Amy Beach.  She has often performed her own organ works.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Church presents some music by Emma Lou Diemer

Today, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Wahington DC, Lou Schreiber played an extended Postlude, “Contrasts,” a rather dissonant march which seemed to resolve to  D Major, by Emma Lou Diemer.

A quick review of YouTube shows a larger repertoire of works by her (including piano sonatas), comparable to the output of ASmy Beach.

The anthem “Christ, whose Glory Fills the Skies” was also performed.
On April 15, the MCC Nova Music Ministry in Fairfax VA performed “Camina Pueblo de Dios” (“Go Forth People of God”) in Spanish. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Easter Service: Scott's "Joy to the Heart"

This year, Easter sunrise for me was an Easter Saturday drive to Shrinemont (Orkney Springs VA) and then Wolf Gap (Big Scloss), near Wardensville W Va.

The First Baptist Church of Washington DC had the usual celebratory Easter service at 11 AM.
Everybody stands for the Hallelujah Chorus in D Major (Part 2), which actually depicts the ascension. But I’ve always liked the Amen Chorus (Worthy of the Lamb, followed by a great fugue), which raises to pre-Mahler (Resurrection Symphony 2) thrills at the very end, of Part III.  It sounds “greater” as a music concept to my ear.

Above is Hogwood’s performance. The Amen chorus represents to resurrection of the dead and the glorification of Christ in Heaven.  This is not to promote one religious interpretation of the Afterlife, and I have my own ideas about that.
Earlier, the Choir and orchestra had played K. Lee Scott’s “Joy to the Heart”, a great paean in D-Flat Major. 

A guest organist concluded the service with the Toccata finale from Widor’s Organ Symphony 5.
I missed the preludes, but here are the works. 

The famous excerpt from Telemann’s “Musique Heroique”;  "Rejoice” by Healey Willan;  a Prelude in C (from a Sonata) by Corelli, and a Paraphrase and Variations on a Theme of Handel by Alexander Guilmant.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Player pianos; making a performing version of a difficult work with Sibelius

I saw a story in USA Today about a Steinway player piano that looks like it should be shared. ‘

I am considering setting up one of the largest compositions from my youth so it could be performed with the most difficult parts being played on Sibelius (from a connected Yahama or Casio) simultaneously, according to prearranged software.  (Or they could be played from iTunes, which is probably easier to pre-program).  For the planned militant coda, it would be possible to add other instruments. 
One question would be whether the Casio would be tuned exactly the same as a concert piano.  The Casio seems very close to most modern concern recordings on YouTube.  However, digital pianos (since the frequencies are precise) may be slightly flatter in higher notes and slightly sharper in the deepest bass (assuming a full 88 keys).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Music by Julian Wachner, Patrick Doyle, on Palm Sunday

At First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018, the choir performed the Sanctus from the Messe Ancienne by Julian Wachner.

The YouTube videos are from Trinity Wall Street in Manhattan. 

As far as I can determine from Wikipedia, this may be the same work as the Missa Brevis (1987).

The music is almost a cappella, and the style is modal, somewhat like Renaissance music.

Later, for the offertory, the choir performed Non Nobis Domine ("Not Unto Us Lord"), by Patrick Doyle which seems to be same music that concludes the powerful 1996 film of “Hamlet”, for Columbia Pictures, by Kenneth Branagh. 
The postlude was a Sinfonia based on the Cantata #29 by JS, Bach, as played by Charles Pugh.
See also the Stoneman Douglas remembrance group picture Palm Sunday morning. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Young cellist was killed by one of the Austin TX bombs

One of the victims of the Austin, TX pipe bombs was a young cellist.  A Facebook friend shared this post with photo. 
His name was Draylen Mason. 

I’m not sure I can identify the solo cello piece in the video.  The Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites is a good place to start.

Unfortunately Mason was targeted by a slur from a closed-captioning company in the DFW area. I lived in that area in the 1980s, and sometimes there were problems then. 

I did attend the March for our Lives to End Gun Violence in Washington DC.  Of course, the Austin incident wasn't caused by guns, but it was caused by homemade weapons. 
We lost a violinist (Tyler Clementi) to suicide after anti-gay bullying in 2010.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Amy Beach: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor for Piano, a massive late work

Having heard a small organ piece by Amy Beach Sunday, I looked into one of her large solo piano works, the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, Op. 81, composed around 1917.

The work is hyper-chromatic, recalling Liszt and Scriabin, even in the fugue.  Beach is America’s best known post-romantic classical composer, with a style that sometimes resembles Brahms (the Piano Concerto), Dvorak (the E Minor Symphony) and then becomes more modern and dissonant – Scriabin is a good comparison.  She had command of harmony and counterpoint and piano technique equal to all the familiar great (male) composers of her time.

The fugal subject reminds me of a similar subject that generates the cadenza-fugue of Eugen D'Albert's Piano Concerto #1 (itself inspired by Liszt).
This Beach work would be a crowd pleaser.  I wonder if it has ever been transcribed for organ.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Faure Cantique, unusual organ prelude by Amy Beach played at First Baptist DC today

Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC offered the “Cantique de Jaen Racine” (Op. 11) by Gabriel Faure, with harp (Rebecca Smith), organ and choir. 

The gentle main theme, in D-flat major, will sound familiar, with its arching melodic line which transposes itself.

Lon Schreber had played the quiet Prelude on an Irish FolkTune, “The Fair Hills of Eire O”.  Later, Beach, America’s most prominent female composer in the late romantic era, would use some Irish folk melodies in her Symphony in E Minor (the “Gaelic”), which has some stylistic reminders of Dvorak.  
Later there was a rather modal Sarabande from the Suite for Harp by Lynne W. Palmer  The Postlude was “Paean” by Percy W. Whitlock.