Friday, November 17, 2017

Project 366 - Time capsules through the Musical Eras

For Part One of Project 366, click here.

Part Two - Time capsules through the Musical Eras
A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire

In Part One of Project 366, we launched a comprehensive look at the Classical Music repertoire through a series of thematic Listener Guides. So far, we have shared 122 of these, and launch in Part Two a second tranche of 122 guides following a long arc that will take us to the end of 2018.

Part One consisted of a series of chapters exploring different musical genres – from solo instrumental music, to Grand Opera and everything in between. In Part Two, we will start fresh, and intend to traverse the repertoire along a timeline that will feature musical eras, musical traditions and some of the great composers that marked these eras and traditions.

Layout of Part Two

500 years of Western Classical Music can be depicted along a simple timeline:


(Source: Hope of Detroit Music, http://hdamusic.com/archives/454)

There are four “great” classical music periods, which mirror the evolution of most art forms. The choice of the dates shown on the timeline is somewhat arbitrary; the dates 1600, 1750 and 1820 don’t represent anything specific or eventful as far as I can see. I view those as guide posts – call them timeposts – that allow us to provide a periodic context, nothing more. I will extend the Baroque to “the left” of the timeline by including renaissance and ancient music along with baroque under an “Early Music” era.

Each of the four main eras will be explored over several chapters, with a focus on four “significant” transitional and transformational figures: Johann Sebastian Bach (Early Music), Ludwig van Beethoven (classical), Peter Tchaikovsky (Romantic) and Igor Stravinsky (Modern) who will get chapters exclusively dedicated to them. We will meander more in the classical era, allowing us to showcase two of its significant architects – Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – to get significant airtime along with other contemporaries and pupils.

The final caveat I want to leave you with is that, though we will progress along the timeline methodically, I make no pretense to keep things in perfect chronological order (sometimes, music from other eras may intrude into some listener guides, for instance). I intend to keep to the spirit of this time-based approach, but not to the letter!


Early Music
Ealy Music Time capsules123-133
Bach Gets my GOAT134-143
Haydn, Mozart and the Classical Period
Time Capsules, Part 1144-153
Time Capsules, Part 2154-163
Time Capsules, Part 3164-173
Beethoven Floats my BOAT174-184
The Romantics
Time Capsules, Part 1185-194
Time Capsules, Part 2195-208
Time Capsules, Part 3209-217
Peter Tchaikovsky218-227
The Moderns
Contemporary Time Capsules228-237
Igor Stravinsky238-244





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rachmaninov on Vinyl


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge considers two orchestral works by Sergey Rachmaninov, emanating from two different periods in his composing career.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 was written in 1906–07. The score is dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer, teacher, theorist, author, and pupil of Tchaikovsky. Alongside his second and third Piano Concertos, this symphony remains one Rachmaninov's best known compositions.

Parts of the third movement were used for pop singer Eric Carmen's 1976 song, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again", which borrowed the introduction and main melody of the third movement as the song's chorus and bridge, respectively. The melody was also used by jazz pianist Danilo Pérez as the main theme of his tune "If I Ever Forget You" on his 2008 album Across the Crystal Sea.

The premiere was conducted by the composer himself in Saint Petersburg on 8 February 1908. Today’s performance is by Lorin Maazel and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Completed in 1940, the Symphonic Dances are Rachmaninov’s last composition. The work is fully representative of the composer's later style with its curious, shifting harmonies, the almost Prokofiev-like grotesquerie of the outer movements and the focus on individual instrumental tone colors throughout (highlighted by his use of an alto saxophone in the opening dance).

The Dances are an exercise in nostalgia for the Russia he had known; the opening three-note motif, introduced quietly but soon reinforced by heavily staccato chords and responsible for much of the movement's rhythmic vitality, is reminiscent of the Queen of Shemakha's theme in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel, the only music by another composer that he had taken out of Russia with him in 1917.

They also effectively sum up his lifelong fascination with ecclesiastical chants. In the finale he quotes both the Dies Irae and the chant "Blessed be the Lord".

The version I retained – am old Melodiya recording by Evgenii Svetlaniv from the same ABC Classics reissue that contained Tchaikovsky’s Suite no. 4 shared earlier this year – has been posted on my YouTube channel for a while and (to my chagrin) misses the first few bars. I did remedy the situation by digging through my digital copies, and have rectified the situation in the Internet Archive (audio only) version.



Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No.2 in E Minor, Op.27
Berliner Philharmoniker
Lorin Maazel, conducting
Deutsche Grammophon ‎-- 2532 102 (ADD, Released: 1983)


https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...j2MPR5iwPZ7VdL

Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
USSR Symphony Orchestra
Yevgeny Svetlanov conducting
ABC Classics AY 67032 (AAA, Recorded 1973)




Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/05RachmaninovSymphonicDancesFI

Friday, November 10, 2017

John Field (1782-1837)

No. 264 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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Before Liszt, before Chopin, there was John Field, probably Ireland’s most notable export before Guinness Stout. Field was very highly regarded by his contemporaries and his playing and compositions influenced many major composers, including Chopin, Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann.

John Field was born in Dublin into a musical family, and received his early education there, in particular with the immigrant Tommaso Giordani. The Fields soon moved to London, where Field studied under Muzio Clementi. Under his tutelage, Field quickly became a famous and sought-after concert pianist. Together, master and pupil visited Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg.

Ambiguity surrounds Field's decision to remain in Russia from 1802 onwards, but it is likely that Field acted as a sales representative for the Clementi Pianos. Although little is known of Field in Russia, he undoubtedly contributed substantially to concerts and teaching, and to the development of the Russian piano school.

Field is best known as the instigator of the nocturne – 18 in total plus associated pieces such as Andante inedit, H 64. These works were some of the most influential music of the early Romantic period: they do not adhere to a strict formal scheme (such as the sonata form), and they create a mood without text or programme. A handful of these open today’s podcast.

Similarly influential were Field's early piano concertos, which occupy a central place in the development of the genre in the 19th century. One interesting trait of his piano concertos is their limited choice of keys: they all use either E-flat major or C major at some point (or both, in the last concerto's case). Composers such as Hummel, Kalkbrenner and Moscheles were influenced by these works, which are particularly notable for their central movements, frequently nocturne-like. I programmed his concerto no. 5 in today’s montage.

To close, I included an homage to Field by his fellow Irish countryman Hamilton Harty. Harty's career was mostly as a conductor, notably of the Halle Orchestra of Manchester, during which time he made it one of the best orchestras in Europe, and was part of the early rediscovery and promotion of Baroque music by creating orchestrations of Handel's music that were popular until the Period Instrument movement. Harty orchestrated some of Field's pieces to create a "John Field Suite" to promote the composer who had been mostly forgotten. Harty himself, however was an Edwardian composer who followed the example of contemporaries like Holst and Vaughan Williams and incorporated folk music into these pieces to make them practically the only Irish sounding works in the entire Classsical repertoire.


I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Symphonic Stravinsky

No. 263 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Tuesday Blog. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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Today’s “Fifth Tuesday” installment of the Tuesday Blog features one of our montages and this one is dedicated to the music of Igor Stravinsky, and specifically to three of his five symphonies.

To begin, we note that we’ve programmed in past montages his Symophony of Psalms and his Symphonies of Wind Instrukments – the latter being a sort of play on words; in the title of this piece, Stravinsky used the word "symphonies" (note the plural form) not to label the work as an essay in the symphonic form, but rather in the word's older, broader connotation, from the Greek, of "sounding together".

The remaining three symphonies are part of this week’s montage beginning with Stravinsky’s “Opus one”, a Symphony in E-flat major, composed in 1905–07 during his apprenticeship with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; it is also his first composition for orchestra. Of classical 4-movement structure, it is broadly influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov, GlazunovTchaikovsky and Wagner. The score bears the dedication "To my dear teacher N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov". A private performance was given on 27 April 1907 by the St. Petersburg Court Orchestra . Stravinsky later recalled that both Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov considered the orchestration "too heavy”. A revised version was conducted by Ernest Ansermet on 2 April 1914.

The Symphony in C is representative of Stravinsky's neoclassical period, which had been launched by his ballet Pulcinella (1919–20), the opera Mavra (1921–22), and Octet for winds (1922–23). It was written between 1938 and 1940 on the heels of a turbulent period of the composer's life, marked by illness (tuberculosis) and deaths in his immediate family (Stravinsky's daughter Ludmilla and wife Catherine died of the illness). Stravinsky was still mourning the deaths of his family members when World War II forced him to leave Europe. He had written the symphony's first two movements in France and Switzerland. Stravinsky wrote the third movement in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the fourth movement in Hollywood, after his emigration to the United States. The symphony was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Stravinsky on November 7, 1940.

Unlike the prevous two symphonies that follow a traditional, four-movement structure our final symphony spans only three movements. Stravinsky wrote the Symphony in Three Movements from 1942–45 on commission by the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York and is considered Stravinsky's first major composition after emigrating to the United States. It uses material written by Stravinsky for aborted film projects. Stravinsky conducted its premiere with the New York Philharmonic on January 24, 1946.

Happy Listening!