Thursday, November 29, 2018

Why adults don't develop perfect pitch

Rick Beato explains why adults cannot develop perfect pitch.

The first thousand days of a child’s life (starting with conception) are critical for the developing brain’s ability to identify objects in a swarm of random occurrences.  Recognizing a pitch is similar to recognizing a color.  It is also comparable to recognizing a phoneme.

English uses only 44 out of about 2000 possible phonemes.  Tonal languages, common in the Orient, use more.  A child learning a tonal language is more likely to retain perfect pitch.  It is also well known that it is easier for children to become fluent in multiple languages simultaneously than it is for adults.  As children become teens, the brain starts "pruning" into what it will be good at. Beato's comments also invoke the advice that young children should not exposed to too much screen time with fast moving images. 
After about age three, musical training (ear training) will result in the development of relative pitch, but not perfect pitch.

Beato says that exposure of children to unpredictable music (jazz, because it is improvised, or Bach fugues, because of their chromaticism, or maybe some complex post-romantic and early modern music – not sure about Schoenberg or something like the Bruckner 5 finale – helps train a plastic brain to recognize pitches.

There has been some speculation as to whether the drug Valproate could assist adults in developing perfect pitch.

There is the idea that key signatures in classical music have “personalities”.  It is compromised by the fact that Baroque music was often pitched a half-step lower.  But Beethoven’s Fifth definitely belongs in C Minor, and the Ninth in D Minor.  Likewise, the Brahms symphonies have personalities very closely related to their keys (F Major is “pastoral”).

I felt that I had partial perfect pitch as a child, as I could usually identify the key signature of a previously unheard work (say a Haydn symphony because there are so many of them) on the radio.  

As an older adult, that seems lost.  Now, my brain sill sometimes perceive a piece as a whole step higher than it is, unless I “cheat” and am told the key.

I just tried the beginning and end of the Franz Lizst “ad nos” organ Fugue on YouTube.  The beginning sounds like C Minor to my ear, and the end is tricky:  The fugue is all over the place with modulations.  I fakes an ending in E Major before crashing back to C Major.  Is this the complexity Beato is looking for?  Or maybe the spooky B Minor Sonata, where all modern music starts?  (The modulations at the beginning are really un predicable.)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Popular Thanksgiving Hymn by Hubert Parry based on theme from Third Symphony

Here is the hymn “O Praise Ye the Lord” by Sir Hubert Parry.  It was the offertory anthem at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Nov 19 on a commitment Sunday. 

The melody resembles the theme of the finale of the Parry’s Symphony #3 in C, a theme and variations in the style of Brahms (look it up on YouTube, several performances).  How many people in a congregation would recognize it?

Good music for November. By now, we know who survived Halloween.  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Deutscher's Violin Concerto

Alma Deutscher also plays the violin.

Here is her Violin Concerto in G Minor (2017), same performers in Vienna as for the Piano Concerto (yesterday's post).

The first movement (Allegro Maestoso) actually offers an introduction on the solo violin, before the orchestral exposition. The development has a nice fugato.  Some of the violin work sounds a bit Paganini-like. 

The slow movement (Romanza) is in the unusual (for violin music) key of E-flat. 

The finale (Allegro Scherzando) is, like the case with the piano concerto, lighter in tone, but offers a big cadenza and a boisterous end, all in Picardy G Major.
She also has a full length opera (and short opera) which I will take up later. 
I wanted to take a moment to encourage artists in Europe (who may happen to find this blog post) to pay attention to the “debate” going on with the Copyright Directive, especially Article 13, being implemented by the EU Parliament.  Although it purports to protect royalty earnings for artists, it could in practice seriously hinder newer artists getting their stuff out there.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Introducing Alma Deutscher and her Piano Concerto in E-Flat

Here is the Piano Concerto in E-Flat by Alma Elizabeth Deutscher, b. 2005 (age 13). The name is German, but she was born and raised in England.

She performs it with the Joji Hattori conducting the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, at the Carinthian Summer Festival in Austria. 

The style of the work is classic to early Romantic, rather like Chopin in some places, perhaps. That is remarkable, when you consider how much commissioned work today is hyper modern and “useful” and clever (and commissioning is turning into a political controversy of its own). This has bearing on my own circumstances, which I will get back to later. 

The first movement (Allegro, 17 minutes), opens with a full orchestra ritornel (with a somewhat noble and majestic theme), and the second subject is rather quiet.  The coda suddenly becomes majestic and builds up to a large climax on a pivot chord.   

The second movement (Adagio, 10 min) is in the dominant key of B-flat minor and is a bit sentimental.

The finale (a rondo, Allegro giocoso) starts out with a theme that is almost Mozartean. The conclusion is not as convincing as the climax of the first movement – to my own post-romantic ear, at least.

The obvious comparison will be Amy Beach.

Of course, there are various other examples of young composers since Mozart.  Eugen D’Albert’s first Piano Concerto (patterned after Liszt) was composed largely at age 19 and perhaps (in the enormous fugue and coda) comes across as an expression of white hot cis male virility. Shostakovich wrote his first Symphony at 19.  And James Pavel Shawcross, 18, entertains us on YouTube with his presentations of different pianos, organs and percussion – and I just found out he comes from an area exposed to the California wildfires.  I’ll check further.  “The young people will win.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Complete analysis of the gigantic fugal finale of Bruckner's Symphony #5

Richard Atkinson has a 44-minute analysis of the immense fugal finale if Anton Bruckner’s Symphony #5 in B-flat Major.  The work was composed at almost the same time as Brahms Symphony #1.

The fugue (about 20 minutes) has been compared to the Beethoven Grosse Fugue in B-flat (originally a finale to the B-flat String Quartet).

Despite the formal setup as a fugue, the movement still has a clear sonata form, with slow introduction based on previous material, and an exposition, development and recapitulation based on three theme groups, all derived from prior movements.  Atkinson explains inversion and augmentation.  He uses color codes on the scores to identify the thematic group components.

The “coda of all codas” never actually combines all the thematic pieces at once.  Furtwangler concludes is first symphony with very similar effects borrowed from Bruckner.  John Williams seems to have derived “The Force Be With You” from one of the motives highlighted in the coda.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Homeless man gets record contract for piano playing; music community weighs in on politics a little

A homeless veteran who used to play flute in a Marine Corps band just got a record deal for his outdoor piano playing.

That’s Donald Gould in Sarasota, FL

The video is also on Facebook Live, url
He describes the homelessness in terms of family stability and emotional problems.  I would see this on a “Community Assistance” project in Arlington VA a couple of years ago – a lot of mental illness. It seems as though some people are a lot better prepared to be alone than others.
The piano itself reminds me of the out-of-tune job in Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” which I saw in NYC at the Met in 1974.
I also thought I would share a post-election perspective from another (classical) musician I have presented here, Gabriel Kahane, on Facebook.  Usually, I don’t see a lot of commentary on political issues from the music community in NYC, but this one is worth a read.   I think I’ve discussed Book of Travelers here before, but I’ll have to check.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Vaughn Williams, "For All the Saints", to honor those who survived Halloween costume parties unscathed

I don’t think I’ve ever presented this hymn online, “For All the Saints”, on “All Saints Day”, on Nov. 1, with music by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

When November comes to the DC area, it is usually mild for another week or two, and the leaves have finally changed, and you know that the calendar year is winding down.
And the costume season is over.  You find out who survived Halloween with their bods intact.
Saints are not the same thing as angels.  Saints have really sacrificed.
Gender fluidity goes back down a little bit.