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.