Monday, December 30, 2019

Beethoven Piano Sonata #16 in G, light and playful?


Ashish Xiangyi Kumar has posted sheet music and detailed analysis of form of the Beethoven Piano Sonata #16 in G Major, Op. 31 #1   There are two performances by Kovacevich and Goode.


The work seems playful and studious and almost a meta-essay on the Sonata from itself, with the expected key relations (how he handles the Dominant key is interesting).  The slow movement in C in 9/8 sounds a little perfunctory and a little like Haydn, but it picks up interest.

The finale is a laid back Allegretto rondo, that gets into finger virtuosity and feigns a big climax before dissolving into nothing.

I had at one time imagined composing two piano concerti.  One would be in C# Minor, and the Amy Beach concerto is a bit like what I imagined.  The second would be in G Major, which I imagined as an airy key, and it would end in nothing. Once in a while, a soft ending.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Eve Service at Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA -- and a bonus from Vaughn Williams


Last night for Christmas Eve I returned to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA for Christmas candlelight service.

Some of the music items have been covered here, before, but I’ll add a bonus at the end of this post.
    
There was a solo flutist to accompany the singing. 

An early hymn was “On This Day Earth Shall Ring” by Gustav Holst, based on a Latin chant in Dorian mode (d minor).  There was a curious device where phrases ended with sustained repeated notes.

The Trinity Chorale Ensemble – I know some of the singers personally – performed several anthems. First there was “As the Bells Ring” by Bob Chilcott, “The Blasts of Chill December” by James Bassi, and the more familiar “Night of Silence” by Daniel Kantor, to be followed by Silent Night with our holding candles (after communion).
  
There was another hymn "The Snow Lay on the Ground" by Leo Sowerby.
   
During the Offertory. Carol Feather Martin (director of music and known as a concert organist) performed a curious modally harmonize hymn on the piano, about 5 minutes, that sounded like a development of the Gustav Holst hymn presented earlier. I don’t know who composed the actual piece (not in the notes).  But the 4/4 rhythm was punctuated with extra half-beats once in a while (like a measure of 5/4 – not quite the 4/20 that Adam Neely describes in a posting here Nov. 26 – an effect common with rock bands and percussion! )


I’ll close with an embed of a Tim Keyes Consort performance in 2013 of Ralph Vaughn Williams ‘s short cantata “Toward the Unknown Region”, which I’ve had on Varese Sarabande, I think, and it is also on Angel with Dona Nobis Pecam.  (I had covered “Hodie” here Dec. 26, 2014). The piece is in F Major, unusual for effects of this nature, but the conclusion matches the effect of the end of Mahler’s Resurrection, for example.  Vaughn Williams is often considered a composer of gentle pastoral modal music, but he can be virile and loud sometimes.  Note the overpowering conclusion even with a chamber orchestra performance. This work seems to belong in a Christopher Nolan movie (maybe "Tenet").
   
I remember playing this in my NYC apartment in the spring of 1978 before catching a flight to Phoenix to go to one of Dan Fry’s “Understanding” conventions.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Rachmaninoff's "Cello Sonata", and why it is interesting to me, at least



Natalia Gutman (cello) and Elisso Versaladze (piano) play the Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19 (1901) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  


The work is titled as such as the idea of “cello sonata” would diminish the role of the piano.  Here, the 35-minute work is so much a piano virtuoso sonata that it overshadows the cello, which sounds like an obligatto.

The work has four movements, and the first movement offers a slow introduction and even exposition repeat (with the second theme in dominant major instead of relative).

The scherzo (C minor) is wicked, but the slow movement (E-flat) is opulent post-romanticism on steroids.

The Finale is entirely in the Picardy G Major.  It has some piano passage work that foreshadows the Second Piano Concerto.  Before the end, there is a fake slow-down as if it would end quietly, and then there is a prestissimo rush to the final fortissimo.

My “music friend” at William and Mary that lost fall of 1961 played the cello was well as piano and invited me to write him a cello sonata.  I have a sketch of a slow first movement in B-flat in handwritten notes, I still have it.  The finale was supposed to be a kind of tarantella. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

FBC Washington DC 62nd Annual Christmas Candlelight Service


On Sunday, December 15, 2019, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 62nd Annual Christmas Candlelight Service at 4 PM.

Musicians included the FBC Chancel Choir, the National City Christian Church Chancel Choir, the Runnymede Singers. Two trumpets, a French horn, Trombone, timpani, cymbals, and organ with Lawrence Schreiber and Kevin Biggs.

Here are a few highlights:

Two chorale and brass settings by Jim Lucas were Venu Emmanuel (Zoltan Kodaly also composed one), and “Angels We Have Heard on High”   The latter hymn seemed to be modified to 5/4 time, of possibly an abbreviated extra beat called 4/20 (Nov. 6).


The National City Church performed “Every Valley” by John Ness Beck.  (Embedded performance is from the 2019 Flint (MI?) Festival of Carols).

The Runnymede Singers performed “Vamos Todos a Belen” by Noe Sanchez.
  
The closing anthem with two sopranos, bass and organ was Gustav Holst’s “Christmas Day”.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Do big time musicians crowd out smaller creators with YouTube's quasi payola system? A social media lawyer thinks so


Ian Corzine explains how big artists pay for ads and for views of their ads which can count as full views.  YouTube is changing the rules so that for the first 24 hours the ad views don’t count as full views?


This reminds me of “payola” in the old radio music world.

It sounds as if big music producers not only enforce copyright aggressively, they try to keep smaller musicians from competing with them and joining the club.

I don’t know if this could affect the classical world, where commissioning of works is a big way composers make a living, so new technologies could become disruptive.

Corzine has another video on music copyright that I’ll look at soon.
  
The Case Act, creating a small claims court in the Copyright, might be capable of creating new issues for musicians within a year or so.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Christmas choral music season starts at First Baptist DC


The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC offered some interesting choral Christmas music for the brunch Sunday.

The choir performed, as the main anthem, Movement 5 from “Hope of Israel” by Daniel E. Gawthorp, called “Emannuel”.

Here is a similar recording, performed by the Salt Lake Singers, conducted by Jane Fjelstad.

For the offertorium they performed Philip Brunelle’s setting of Paul Manz’s “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come”, with a setting for Clarinet and Organ and choir.


The performance above is from Morningstar Music.
  
At brunch, there was a Children’s play “Wow”, a setting of the Nativity.  I happened to sit on a table with a college student familiar with YouTube and free speech controversies, and he knew this was what the FTC would mean by “made for kids” if it were a video.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

How classical and jazz musicians compare in interpreting complicated rhythms


Adam Neely explains “How and why classical musicians feel rhythm differently”


He discusses concepts like “phase lock” and “flams” which matter a lot in percussion bands, especially with music of western African origin. European music traditionally had more gradual beats, when played by ensembles and orchestras.

However some composers have tried to introduce jazz and African rhythm concepts into solo or ensemble music with piano. I don’t know the details, but some of their software to handle these problems is quite sophisticated.

Neely shows examples of how “9/8” time, as in a hymn (“Blessed Assurance”) is 3+3+3, but in African music is often 2+2+2+2+1.
  
Neely plays short passages from Ravel’s String Quartet, and from the opening trumpet solo of Maher’s Symphony #5 (the rhythm derived from the Beethoven 5th).  The Ravel happens to be used by Neutraton and Sibelius Photoscore software as a sample.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Stanford, Symphony #5, with its curious Brahmsian passagalia for a finale


I want to share one more symphony of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Symphony #5 in D MajorL’Allegro ed il Pensieroso”, Op. 56 (1894).


The Ulster Orchestra is conducted by Vernon Handley. I have the Chandos CD.

I played this a lot around the end of 1989, when I was changing jobs, leaving Lewin-ICF and going to Uslico (to become Reliastar, ING, Voya).
  
The finale is an interesting Passacaglia in the minor key (D minor) that goes back to D Major for a sunset and then quiet coda. It sounds like Brahms. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Stanford's vivacious Symphony #4 in F Major



Here is the score, along with the Chandos recording with Vernon Handley from the 1990s, of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Symphony #4 in F Major, Op. 31, 1888.


The key signature is usually associated with pastoral music (like Brahms Symphony #3), but this work is a joyous romp, especially the finale.


I can remember becoming familiar with this work in the early 1990s, when I would go on a lot of Adventuring hikes, living on an upper floor of the Country Club Towers in Arlington VA, with a view of the golf course across Glebe Road. Then things would change as Bill Clinton came into office and introduced “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Does a 4/20 as a time signature make sense?


I like to introduce topics I haven’t covered before on my blogs, and I am actually contemplating finishing a life-long big classical composition project (it’s actually about 3 projects if decomposed) of music that would revive post-romanticism with new ideas.

  

So I countered Adam Neely’s video about non-dyadic time signatures, specifically 4/20 – where the denominator is not a power of 2.  (Borodin used 1/1 for a scherzo of a symphony, but 1 is 2 to the 0 power). The extra measure is blended into the score (4/4 followed by a 4/20) by a technique called “metric modulation” with “rhythmic warps”.  I’m reminded of the effect of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, but this carries the idea further.

He presents a catchy riff was a rock band with percussion and sax (like Bill Clinton, maybe) and has an electric keyboard with only two octaves (my Casio has all 88 keys, not sure how he uses it).
  
You could call this extreme syncopation.  In classical music, Beethoven, in the early Sonatas (which Jonathan Biss is writing about a lot on Facebook) discovered the value of syncopation and constant rhythmic variability.  Brahms, later on in the 19th century, would take this further (particularly).  In modern music, we think of Bartok and Stravinsky.  But you can imagine, say, a piano concerto (or solo sonata), with perhaps a last movement with this kind of syncopation in the solo part, yet consolidating, slowing down, and building up to a majestic climax at the end (or maybe dissolving into nothing – Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #7 is a good example). 

I wonder if Sibelius or Finale (with Photoscore or NotateMe) or other music writing software (like Dorico) accommodate such time signature. 

Neely walks on a street that looks like Brooklyn NY (is it near BAM?)
   
I know the folks in the Metropolis Ensemble (I last went to an event in January 2019), and I think I’ve heard of Neely there.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Max Bruch's very graceful Symphony #3 in the courtly key of E Major



Here is the Symphony #3 in E Major, Op. 51 (1887) by Max Bruch.


There is a considerable time gap between this work and the two earlier symphonies.  I have a Philips CD set of them somewhere. The Cologne Philharmonic is conducted by James Conlon.

E Major is supposedly the “courtly key” and is somewhat less common than, say, E-flat, in large works.

The work is rather gracious and jocular.  I got to know the work in the late fall of 1989, about the time I was leaving a job in a consulting company (a rather interesting experience in retrospect) and moving to an environment where I would work for twelve years and become an “author”.  The work tends to leave a peculiar imprint in one’s musical ear.
  
The finale is particularly self-referential. There is a reference to a similar passage in the finale of Schubert's Symphony #4 in C Minor, the "Tragic". 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Taylor Swift apparently told she can't perform all her old music live because she sold the copyright


Can musicians lose the right to perform their own music (or use it in a film or video)?


Taylor Swift claims this has happened to her, in a “feud” with Scooter Braun, who bought former licenser Scott Borchetta’s “Big Machine” and apparently she is not allowed to perform some of her older songs live.
  
Amy X, Wang discusses this in Rolling Stone, and there are denials from Borchetta. Corinne Reichert has a similar story for CNET.

This could get interesting in the EU, where now (as the Copyright Directive gets implemented) copyright filters aren't supposed to allow you to upload anything you don't own, and that might even include your own music. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Frivolous lawsuits over "plagiarism" of musical elements still trouble the popular music world


British musician David Bennett is reporting an increasing number of lawsuits in the popular music world over “plagiarism”.  Most of them are instigated by large music publishers and studios (public companies that have to maximize profits for shareholders – our form of capitalism), not original artists.


Bennett talks about the difference between plagiarism and “influence”, and gives 18 examples.
The “I-IV-V” sequence is so basic it can’t be copyrighted. What about riffs and syncopation patterns?

Popular songs are often written by whole teams now, he says. 

He talks about “One Direction” a lot.

He also explains a composition technique called “interpolation” from other songs.
  
Some of these riffs could have worked as motives in early Beethoven piano sonatas.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

"Bebop, as Digested by a Classical Musician" : how expressive effect changes radically (for me, at least)


Andre Sol explains “Bebop, As Digested by a Classical Musician”.


She has the assistance of a charismatic Glenn Zalesku abd Aimee Nolte.

She explains that bebop (like jazz) works from “mood sheets” and improvise from rhythm and chord patterns.

She uses Mozart (Sonata 15, C) and Chopin (Fantasie Impromptu in C# Minor) as examples of how bebop would elaborate the chord progressions (like 2-5-1) and harmonies.  She presents the 8-note scale.

The result sounds more like impressionism to my ear, and is rather unemotional.

She plays “All the Things You Are” in the style of a Chopin nocturne, as an experiment.

She describes various musical genres as like “tourism”.

The video appears to come from midtown Manhattan.
  
There was an AOL user back in 2000 named “BebopBob4” who gave me a hard time for a movie review of “The Perfect Storm” on AOL’s now defunct board “MovieGrille”. He didn't like the economic injustice of the movie and blamed me for commenting on it. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

How many of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas end quietly? How many have only two movements?





How many of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas end quiety?

By my count, 13:  That is 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 25, 27, 30, 32. 

It’s interesting that several of them are early, like #5 in C Minor, just three before the Pathetique.  Note the cute motive in the finale, and how the music winds down at the very end.


Some of the early sonatas seem to explore playfulness, and building themes out of the interplay of simple figurations or motives.  Yet as themes develop, a lot more seems to “happen” than did with Mozart and Haydn.

The idea of building up a work to a thrilling climax at the end was not common until the romantic period, and probably Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was a prime early example. Then works in minor keys would do this with a second theme in a Picardy major key in the finale, which became more common with piano concerti.

This is hard to do with piano alone. Brahms manages to do it in Sonata 3.  Rachmaninoff did it with his second piano sonata, particularly (covered before).

Some composers, like Timo Andres, have said that quiet endings are more considerate of the listener.
   
Six of the Beethoven sonatas have only two movements:  19 and 20 ("two easy sonatas"), 22, 24, 27, 32. That doesn’t count slow movements which serve as extended introductions to finales (as in 21);  these still have the effect of being separate movements.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is classical music in trouble? NPR says, well, it's complicated. I agree -- business model problems




Northwest Public Broadcasting has an interesting perspective saying that the 2010’s have become classical music’s “decade of reckoning”, by Tom Huizenga and Anne Midgette.
  
That’s an apparent reference to a recent episode of “All Songs Considered” on NPR. 
  
  
Classical music seems bifurcated.  I’ve worked in development (fund raising) for the Minnesota Orchestra back in 2002-2003, and briefly selling ticket subscriptions through Arts Marketing (from Toronto) for the National Symphony late in 2003.
  
Symphony orchestras and to some extent large opera companies work somewhat as businesses.  They use conventional salesmanship culture and sometimes manipulation to sell subcriptions and get donors.  The Kennedy Center, at least, has uniformed volunteers. Like my karma says I should take my turn and serve a hitch as one. 

On the other hand, most younger composers write in an electronic and gimmicky style that seems like a fad to me.  But they have to live off of commissions. 

I have an idea to bring back some more postromantic music (although there is plenty of it on YouTube – some of it could be in trouble because of EU Article 17 eventually).  Actually, there is a body of music that is my own and I think actually has some historical value.  New technology in composition software, which I will have tested in the next few days, may well enable making this performable.  But since it is done without commission, I can imagine some “political” controversies.  (There is a correlated post on my “BillBoushka” main blog Oct 23 that mentions a similar concern.)

Picture:  Oakwood pts on Marquette in Minneapolis, near the symphony, where I worked for the Minnesota Orch on the second floor 2002-2003.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

You can show with measure theory (in real variables analysis) why the chromatic scale in music works



"3Blue1Brown" has an interesting video on “Music and Measure Theory”.


In graduate school in math, you study measure theory as part of real variable analysis.

The video explains that the notes on the chromatic scale have pitches that are related as multiples of the square root of 12.  It so happens that the square root of 12, when multiplied by a whole number, usually gives a multiple very close to a multiple by a rational number with a low denominator.

He also shows a trick in number theory that demonstrates that our brains don’t process geometric and algebraic intuition the same.
  
The musical keys don’t quite sound the same to me, and here is a site that sheds light on it.   Why does F Major work as a key for Brahms’s Symphony 3?

This topic seems to relate to the controversies of tuning scales during Bach’s time, leading to the composition of the “Well Tempered Clavier”.  This seems like a complicate topic in history, worth coming back to later.

The “math problem” solved in the video could well show up on an undergraduate math exam in an analysis course.  Maybe it could be on an AP test.  Or maybe a master’s orals.
  
You could look at Tibees’s YouTube channel for problems like this  (for example).  Maybe John Fish will take it up soon.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"Introducing Mozart's Fortepiano"


Steven Devine, for the “Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment”, demonstrates how the fortepiano in Mozart’s time worked.


The white and black shadings of the keys are reversed (hence pianoforte today). 

The music still sounds clangy to modern ears (the plays a little of the opening of a Mozart G Major Sonata near the end).

He also demonstrates the “pedals” which were used for sound effects, not to reinforce legato.
  
What’s interesting is you can imagine being thrown into a time machine and having to experience music as it was at a particular time, in some sort of sci-fi scenario where you have been captured.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Beethoven's playful Piano Sonata #7



Although Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata (#8) is well known, the understated Sonata #7 in D, Op. 10 #3, is a rather typical example of how Beethoven makes his early piano music “interesting”.

  
In the performances above by Lortie and Jando.  Notice the speed and compression of the spirited themes of the first movement, with a bit of triumph at the end (alla breve).  The slow movement is a dirge in the parallel minor in 6/8.  The third movement is a Menuetto recently quoted in the movies (I think it was “Goldfinch”) that had me fooled into thinking it was Mozart.  The Finale is a conversation of starts and stops and virtuosity before dissolving away into nothing.

Jonathan Biss has written a lot about this work on Facebook in November 2019. He describes the finale as a musical Q and A, and considers the slow movement a precursor to large slow movements Beethoven would compose later (like for the Hammerklavier). 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Negative time signatures"?


Composer Adam Neely gives a spirited discussion of “negative time signatures”, like negative 4/4.


There have been other ideas like “negative harmonies”.

Neely talks about metric accents (strong and weak beats), dynamic accent, and agogic accent (held notes).  The over all impression is that his discussion applies to jazz and some pop, where off-beats make the music interesting, but the same thing happens in good piano writing, like in some of the early Beethoven sonatas.

Making rhythms interesting and part of the theme is what help build up to great music.  The handling of accents also matters when building to climaxes.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Alban Berg's post Liszt Piano Sonata Op 1 in B Minor


Maria Yudina plays Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, Op. 1, composed around 1907, 10 minutes.


The work actually has a formal repeat.  It is extremely chromatic with dense inner piano voices and rather Brahmsian triple time rhythms. It may be inspired by the longer work in the same key by Liszt.  It builds up to quadruple fortissimo near the end, then to die away (as does the preferred version of the Liszt).

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Earliest draft of Bruckner's Symphony 8 has some surprises



I found a video of the earliest draft, 1887, of Bruckner’s Symphony #8 in C Minor on Youtube. 
  
  
The first movement in this version ends loudly and in the Picardy C Majo (14:20).  All other the versions have the first movement end quietly (the only Bruckner symphony whose first movement does so).
  
The finale, in the coda after the final Pivot, actually has one dimuendo before building back again to the last blazing C Major chord, and the three notes “E D C” played in octaves now, are not performed.

The tempos in th is recording are faster.
  
Dmitri Shostakovich based the coda of his Leningrad symphony (#7) on recasting the opening theme of the Bruckner 8, in defiant and martial fashion. 
   
The Third Symphony also has an earlier alternate ending.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A visit to an important historical site (about Lincoln) and a mishap


Yesterday, Saturday, I did a foot visit to the Petersen House on 10th St NW Washington DC, where Lincoln died after being shot in the Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, after being carried to a back bedroom of the house.

You have to get a free ticket across the street (donations voluntary) at the Ford Theater.  This is NPS property.

It was a convenient activity while waiting for a film showcase from Filmfest DC to start at Landmark S Street around the corner.

The back room is furnished in quaint quilts and bedspreads, and that leads to a room with the coffin and pictures of the train tour for burial in Illinois, as well as the legacy controversy of the surgeon in Maryland who treated John Wilkes Booth.

   
But for me there was another controversy.  There is a book tower in the back part of the museum with a spiral staircase of several floors.  I took a cell phone picture and I fumbled it trying to slide it into a shirt pocket and it disappeared.  Fortunately we found it on the next landing and it wasn’t damaged. It maybe have bounced off the book stack and that could have destabilized it, but it seemed all OK.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Alban Berg, early piano prelude in C# minor, very tonal


Here is a little early piano piece in C# minor, composed 1907-1908, played by Simona Hrananoiva, piano, 3 minutes.

   
The tonality is a bit ambiguous at the beginning, but the piece settles into a ternary form with a harmonic style that sounds post Brahms, very tonal (1907). The ending is very declamatory.

How often did Berg write in a tonal style early in his creative life.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Arnold Schoenberg's "Erwartung": is this what the afterlife promises?



Here is a presentation of the score of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), 1909, a one-act monodrama or opera for solo soprano and large orchestra, with German libretto by Marie Pappenheim.


A woman is lost in the forest looking for her lover.  First she mistakes a tree trunk for him, then she finds that he is expiring, and she wonders what to do with her life.  It’s as if the rest of her life would go into suspended animation and waiting for what is not hers to have.

Stumbling on to thinking about this piece is like a step in a Pokemon Go treasure hunt (in front of the Angelika Mosaic Theater in Fairfax VA in 2016).


The music style is atonal, but Schoenberg would not develop his full twelve-tone system until the 1920s.  The music is also said to be athematic, and it is hard to grasp what that means.  I thought I detected fragments of a theme being developed.  There are many chromatic scale passages and glissandi, especially near the end.  There are a few places where the music resembles some passages in the first movement of the Mahler Ninth (written also in 1909).

He was a “bad soldier” during World War I, foreshadowing moral controversies about conscription to occur in later decades.
  
The work is often paired with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” for performance, and I saw it that way in Washington in the 1990s.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Beethoven Piano Sonata #4, where the paradoxes in his early style become manifest



I thought I would share something simple today, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #4 in E-flat, Op. 7.


I played this work a lot (from a Chandos CD) in the 1990s when I was working on my first DADT book. The video above is an understated performance by Artur Schnabel from the 50s.

  
The rhythmic and harmonic inventions of early Beethoven already show. The Largo, in ¾, is truly a meditation with internal complexities.  The idea of a finale was an “Allegretto Gracioso” seems understated, but the finale goes on all kinds of little adventures, constantly giving itself permission.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The music of Daryl Davis (boogie woogie), who deradicalized members of the KKK


Since Daryl Davis spoke at the Minds conference in Philadelphia, it seems appropriate to present some of his music, the Boogie Woogie.


NPR has a typical account (2017) of how he deradicalized 200 Ku Klux Klan members. 
  
He also has a band that has played on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Jazz has always had to fight off racism


I usually don’t encounter politics on this “media review” blog concerning the arts, but Truthout (far Left) has a provocative article by Anton Woronczuk “White Supremacy Tried to Kill Jazz; The Music Triumphed”.
   
Woronczuk interviews Gerald Horne, author of “Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of Music”.  The author makes the point that being a (black) jazz musician was indeed very dangerous in the first half of the 20th Century in the US.  But then it was exported by media moguls for profit.


It is true that jazz caught on as a sub-idiom in classical music.  That’s not just George Gershwin.  It’s some of the music in Alban Berg’s expressionistic twelve-tone opera “Lulu”.

When I worked as a civilian for the Navy in 1971-1972, I had a co-worker friend who played jazz piano and explained that it was all about improvisation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Is opera in trouble? How about classical music as a whole?



I wanted to share an op-ed by Olivia Giovetti in the Washington Post today, “To save opera, we have to let it die.” 

The article is critical of the inertia of the way classical operas are presented, with the box office appeal of established stars, in a winner-take-all world, even in the arts, even for marketing companies that sell season tickets to the general public (as opposed to other musicians).  Indeed, some people with music degrees wind up selling this for a living.

The article describes a recomposition of “Madame Butterfly” that I am not familiar with.
     
The article also paints a dismal picture for the future of classical music, since younger composers seem to feel they need to remain experimental to get commissions.  This is a sensitive issue, and if I somehow pull off completing my two big sonatas, I could challenge the system, maybe.


I did see the real performance of Puccini’s Turandot in 1980 in Dallas, right after Reagan won the election.  We accept the idea that this work was completed by another composer, Franco Alfano, as was the Mozart Requiem, yet we resist accepting the much less radical completions of the finale of the Bruckner Ninth. The completed ending of Turandot aims to outdo Mahler, with the final chorus (in D), with a melody that recalls the Schubert “Great” opening,  as one of the most colossal in the literature.

Monday, August 19, 2019

More Mendelssohn organ music, and some Jean Berger; what is a "covenant"?


Yesterday, Lawrence Schreiber played the Andante Con Moto from the Organ Sonata, Op. 65 #5 in D Major by Felix Mendelssohn, as offertory.

The work starts at about one hour into this video.


The tempo is more like an Allegretto than a slow movement. He took it fast, Toscanini-like.

I’ll come back to some of these again. Numbers 1 and 6 look interesting.

He also played the Prelude and Figure in G, Op. 37 #2, which I had covered March 18, 2017 here. 

But his performance of the finale seemed louder and more dissonant-sounding than the YouTube performances. But organ playing, especially fugal counterpoint, is often more about “levels of sound” than continuously nuanced dynamics as in piano. I remember that from organ lessons at KU back in 1966.

The anthem was Jean Berger’s “This Is the Covenant”, the subject of David Gushee’s (visiting) sermon and Sunday school.  I can’t find the anthem on YouTube, but the piece is mentioned in a pdf inventory (from the University of Colorado) of his compositions, dated 1972.



I note that I had called Part 1 of my unpublished 1969 novel (handwritten in the Army) "The Proles", "The Covenant".  Like everyone was obligated to serve, or else....  The chapters of the novel were like movements of a music requiem. 
  
Picture: sketch of me in Sunday School 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Jim Crean's "Broken" as filmed by Ford Fischer


Ford Fischer has directed a short film “Broken” comprising Jim Crean’s rock music skit. (5 minutes) from Visionary Noise Records (2019) and Double Trouble Productions. It is published on Crean's YouTube channel. 


It’s good to see Ford presenting himself to the indie film industry as a short film director and producer.
  
I’m not as familiar with this genre of music or visual style as others are, although it reminds me of Timo Descamps “Like It Rough.” 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Church Sunday school history presentation presents early Washington DC as a lawless place with blatant racism


On Sunday morning, I attended a series of Sunday breakfasts at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, with the Sunday school program one with several speakers giving the nineteenth century of the Church, which was founded around 1802 as I recall.

Washington DC was a brutal place before the War Between the States (and would be attacked during the War of 1812, giving rise to a musically uninteresting national anthem).

The near the rivers was swampy and prone to flooding and the area (which included Arlington and Alexandria) was broken up by rivers.

There were relatively few police, and those that we had tended to become corrupt and sell blacks into slavery for income.

This all led to considerable controversy in the early church and the founding of black churches that are common in the city today.


The anthem Sunday was the medley (transcribed) by Ralph Vaughn Williams, “O How Amiable”.
 
The last hymn is “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” which used to be Hymn #1 in the older Baptist hymnal, with the original tune by Isaac Watts. In Dr. Pruden’s day it was always sung the first Sunday of the New Year in January (which included January 1, 1956, when the modern sanctuary had opened Christmas Day 1955, when I was in Seventh Grade).  I would be baptized there with my mother in late January 1956.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Hermann Schroeder, "Six Preludes and Intermezzi"




Sunday, August 4, 2019, guest organist Kevin Biggins Jr. played three of the “Six Preludes and Intermezzi” for Organ, Op. 9 (1931) by German organist and composer Hermann Schroeder (1904-1984).

The six movements are (1) Maestoso, C (2) Andante Sostenuto, b min (3) Allegro moderato, d min (4) Allegretto, G (5) Andantino, c min (6) Poco vivace, C..  Biggins played (1) as the prelude  (4) as the offertory, and the finale after the postlude.   The entire suite, which sounds coherent if played in entirety, takes about eleven minutes.


Stylistically, the pieces are like Bach inventions, with harmonies generated by the polyphony that generate a lot of chromaticism with adventures into adjacent tonalities (sometimes sounding modal, more French than German). There is effective use of time signature changes to create odd rhythmic compression effects.  The Allegretto is the one piece that may sound familiar.
  
The composer would have lived through WWII in Germany and it is not clear what he did then.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Bruckner piano music: Sonata in G Minor


So Anton Bruckner wrote piano music!

I found a cache of it on YouTube played by Francesco Pasqualotto, on Brilliant Classics.


Right now, I’ll talk about one piece, the Sonata in G Minor, WAB 245.  One movement is presented (although there are other short pieces in the collection that might have been intended as movements).

The music is a bit perfunctory and mechanical.  The second theme is a sweet but Haydn-like tune in the odd key of F Major, which would be the dominant key if the movement were in B-flat rather than G minor. This isn’t done often. The exposition is repeated.  The development is interesting but the recapitulation and ending is straightforward (back to G Minor after the second theme in G Major).
   
Stylistically, the music resembles my own (3 movement, 28-minute) Sonata in D Minor (1960), composed for a contest when I was 16.  Bruckner makes the harmonies more interesting by often modulating one half-step at a time in the development section.  In my own work, the harmonies in the Development section sound a bit trite and could use some innovation like this, but I have the device of repeating an ascending cadenza-like passage from the first movement twice, to introduce the finale and then to introduce a grandioso coda. Some new product from AVID Sibelius (Ultimate) may well enable me to make this work performable, because the piece actually would work with a virtuoso pianist.

I should respect the European Union and probably buy the CD before embedding and reviewing the other pieces.  All in good time.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Afghan pianist thankful to US troops


On July 31, 2019, NBC Nightly News presented a moving story about pianist Elham Fanous, who grew up in Afghanistan where music is forbidden (as idolatry) by radical Taliban fundamentalism.  There were only 25 pianos in the country.


On the NBC video he plays the opening of the Chopin #2 Scherzo in B-flat Minor, Op. 31.  (I’ve always thought that the ending in the relative D-flat major instead of Picardy B-flat sounds trite; this scherzo is not Chopin's best.)
   
Elham enters graduate school in September at the Manhattan School of Music and says he is thankful to US troops who gave music back to the Afghan people. A Military Times video of his interview is shown here. 

Hunter College has a review of one of his concerts.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Autistic and blind teen piano prodigy performs at Madison Square Garden



Blind and autistic piano prodigy Logan Riman, 14, dazzled everyone as he performed with “piano man” Billy Joel at NYC’s Madison Square Garden, July 24, 2019.


Music definitely is somehow therapeutic and gives some people whole lives.  My own history was more moderated.

CBS News account is here

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"The Privilege of Escape": art exhibit puts people into teams with disadvantages they can't control



Jillian Steinhauer has a review of an art exhibit Oassis USA in Manhattan, called “The Privilege of Escape”, by artist Risa Puno, described in NYTimes Arts Section Wednesday July 23. 
  
   
People collect into teams and are given about 45 minutes to solve a succession of puzzles to escape.  Some teams do better than others because of luck-based elements they cannot control.
   
So you aren’t “better” than other people just because you proved you could escape.  Is this an argument against meritocracy?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

David Bennett explains the usefulness of 5/4 time or extra beats in popular music


David Bennett Piano, a British piano instructor and YouTuber, explains rhythm and syncopation and the use of occasional 5/4 in popular music, as with “Don’t let me down”.


It is common for modern composers to change meters often, particularly with quintuple meters.  An extra beat gives a melody or passage a sense of additional pulse. But Bennett explains that it is really 4/4 + ¼.  I don’t know if Sibelius allows a unary measure.  I think the Shostakovich Symphony #8 scherzo has an example of that.

5/4 wasn’t well known until Tchaikovsky showed how effective and natural it can sound with the second movement of his Pathetique Symhony #6,

Bennett then discusses 5/8 time in coordination with 4/4 in a song mocking nuclear war.
   
I remember some of these songs from the car radio in my coming of ages days in the 1970s.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

CD of Finnish piano music, most of it (except for the Sibelius Romance) obscure



Saturday I purchased a CD (old fashioned now) of Piano Music from Finland, “Pianomusiikkia Suomesta” played by Craig Randal Johnson, at the Finnish American Heritage Associate museum in Ashtabula, Ohio.

The CD, on the Tonttu label, has 26 tracks.

The first composition was Pelimannit, Op. 1, Einojuhan Rauyavaara (1928-).

The six movements have a lot of modal but decisive harmonies in loud, bell-like chords that work very well on a modern high-end “Piano Forever” like on the teen’s YouTube channel.

Next is Arnas Janefelt (1869-1958), a tender Berceuse.

There follow two pieces by Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947), “An Old Memory”, and another Berceuse.

The most popular composer, Jan Sibelius (1865-1957), follows with “The Spruce Tree”, Op. 75 #5, followed by the famous Romance in Db, Op. 24, #9, which sounds a bit like late Chopin.


There follows the longest work of the CD, “The Melancholy Garden” by Erkki Melerin, Op. 52, five pieces including a middle lullaby.

Then Martl Tuhkl (1919-2002), the first recording of the Romance Fantasy.

Joonas Kollojen is dissonant and Webern-like enough with the Five Bagatelles.
Erik Bergman (1911-) gets rowdy with the dissonance in two movements from “The Voyage of Christopher Columbus”.
  
Selim Palmgren (1878-1951) closes the disc with the quiet “May Night”, Op. 24, #4.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" on piano



July 7 was Mahler’s birthday (159). July 10 this year in my own 76th.

Given my upcoming travels, I thought I would present the sheet music piano version of the early song cycle, “Songs of a Wayfarer” (with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau).  In German, it is “Leider eines fahrenden Gesellen”.  There is an orchestral version also.

  
Two of the songs appear in Mahler’s First Symphony (in the slow movement).  Note how the first song oscillates between 2/4 and 3/8.  It’s rather interesting to look at Mahler’s composition on the piano.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

"Why Is Mozart Genius"? Because his music makes sense



Why Is Mozart Genius?


The two-part video comes from “Inside the Score”.

Mozart could start with the simple and make it inevitable, like it had always existed.

Mozart made a living mainly as a pianist and performer.  Most of his composing was freelance. I presume that means commissions, but not from one dependable source. 
     
Salieri and Haydn, on the other hand, made money on the court. Salieri, by comparison, seems trite and mundane most of the time.

The video discusses the play and movie “Amadeus” about a fictitious plot by Salieri.

The second video explains how Mozart combined chromaticism with diatonism.  Yet in a few of the late quarters and quintets, he achieved harmonic density that sounds almost Schoenbergian (like the slow movement of the D Major Quintet, or the Finale of the F Major Quartet).

A friend at that lost semester at William and Mary always said, Mozart “makes sense” and is “the real music.”
  
Mozart stopped making an income in 1789 and died in 1791.