Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Beethoven - The Menuhin Festival Orchestra ‎– The Creatures Of Prometheus, Op. 43

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

This week’s Cover 2 Cover share is a 1970 Angel LP of Beethoven’s 1801 ballet music for Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò. It is the only full length ballet by Beethoven.

The original scenario of the ballet is lost, making it difficult to establish the precise context of many of the sixteen numbers of the score and leading to different treatments of the music by various choreographers since. Nevertheless a broad outline of the story can be gathered from a surviving theatre-bill for the first performance at the Hofburgtheater on 28th March 1801:

The basis of this allegorical ballet is the fable of Prometheus. The Greek philosophers, by whom he was known, allude to him thus—they depict him as a lofty soul who drove ignorance from the people of his time, and gave them manners, customs, and morals. As the result of this conception, two statues that have been brought to life are introduced… and these, through the power of harmony, are made sensitive to the passions of human life. Prometheus leads them to Mount Parnassus in order that Apollo, the deity of the arts, may instruct them. Apollo gives them as teachers Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to instruct them in music; Melpomene to teach them tragedy; Thalia, comedy; Terpsichore and Pan, the latest Shepherd’s Dance which the latter has invented, and Bacchus, the Heroic Dance of which he was the originator.
The punishment of Prometheus, who had stolen fire from Olympus to bring to life his “creations” and was, at the command of Zeus, the King of the Gods, chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver was daily eaten by vultures, is omitted.

Rarely performed as a complete ballet, we are familiar with the overture and Bacchus’ Heroic dance in the finale - which Beethoven reused later as the “theme” for the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations for piano.

As I’ve opined before in these pages, ballet music sometimes stands alone well in the concert hall without dancers, though many composers typically assemble suites of highlights from their ballets for concert use. Maybe Beethoven should have followed that model; as a stand-alone piece of concert music, Prometheus lies somewhere between a curiosity and a piece of programmatic music (in the romantic vein) with a hard-to-follow story line.

Still, it’s worth the 50-odd minute investment. The performance is light and velvety, which is in itself something of a departure from the traditional German sound we typically associate with this composer.

Happy Listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827) 
Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, op. 43
Ballet in two acts with an overture, after Greek mythology

The Menuhin Festival Orchestra
Yehudi Menuhin, conducting
Angel Records - S-36641
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo

Details - https://www.discogs.com/Beethoven-Ye...elease/3386479

Internet Archivehttps://archive.org/details/TheCreaturesOfPrometheusBallet

Friday, April 6, 2018

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

No. 276 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.


Music is the Soind of Life

I wish I had come up with that one - it's so true. The quote comes from today's feature composer, Carl Nielsen, who stands atop the composers of his native Denmark,  a lot like SIbelius does for Finnish composers.

We have featured some of Nielsen's music in the past, notably his symphonies no 2 and 5. Today's post - feeding future listener guides in our Project 366 - begins our attempt at completing his complete cycles of symphonies, by adding today his 3rd.

Nielsen wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia Espansiva"between 1910 and 1911 following Nielsen's tenure as bandmaster at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Nielsen himself conducted the premiere of the work (along with the premiere of his Violin Concerto) on February 28, 1912 with Copenhagen's Royal Danish Orchestra.

The character designation of the first movement (Allegro espansivo) serves as the symphony's subtitle, but it is not clear what Nielsen meant by 'espansiva'. It has been suggested that it implies the "outward growth of the mind's scope".The symphony is unique in Nielsen's symphonic  output for having vocal parts, specifically wordless solos for soprano and baritone in the second movement.

In 1921, Nielsen heard the Copenhagen Wind Quintet rehearsing some music by Mozart. He was struck by the tonal beauty and musicianship of this group, and he soon became intimately acquainted with its members. That same year, he wrote his Wind Quintet expressly for this ensemble. Nielsen planned to write a concerto for each of the five players. Only two of these compositions ever came into being. For Gilbert Jespersen, who succeeded Paul Hagemann as flautist of the Copenhagen Quintet, he wrote his Flute Concerto in 1926; two years later, he composed his Clarinet Concerto for the group's clarinettist, Aage Oxenvad.

The Clarinet Concerto was conceived during the most difficult period in Nielsen's life. He was sixty-three, and had achieved considerable renown throughout Scandinavia; yet he was disappointed that his music had not reached a wider audience, he was deeply concerned with the unsettled state of the world, and he knew that his days were numbered. Perhaps this accounts for the bitter struggle which occurs throughout this concerto—a war between the tonalities of F major and E major. Every time hostilities seem to be at an end, a snare drum incites the combatants to renewed conflict. Another explanation for this is that the clarinetist for whom he was writing the concerto had a bi-polar disorder. Therefore, the concerto was poking fun at his constant mood swings.

To complete today's montage, I added two short works. The Helios Overture stems from Nielsen's stay in Athens which inspired him to compose a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea. At the Bier of a Young Artist for string orchestra was written for the funeral of the Danish painter Oluf Hartmann in January 1910 and was also played at Nielsen's own funeral.

I think you will love this music too!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Project 366 - Hooked on Haydn

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

After a series on Mozart, this month’s installment of our Time Capsules through the Repertoire take an extended look at Joseph Haydn, who represents one of the main characters in the evolution  of the Classical style in music during the 18th century. He helped establish the forms and styles for the string quartet and the symphony. - he stars in all but one of our listener guides this month, but you'll notice how much he overlaps with his contemporaries.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Franz Joseph Haydn was recruited at age 8 to the sing in the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where he went on to learn to play violin and keyboard. Haydn soon became an assistant to composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons, and in 1761 he was named Kapellmeister, or "court musician," at the palace of the influential Esterházy family, a position that would financially support him for nearly 30 years. Isolated at the palace from other composers and musical trends, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original."

While Haydn rose in the Esterházy family's esteem, his popularity outside the palace walls also increased, and he eventually wrote as much music for publication as for the family. Several important works of this period were commissions from abroad, such as the Paris symphonies (1785-1786) and the original orchestral version of "The Seven Last Words of Christ" (1786). Haydn came to feel sequestered and lonely, however, missing friends back in Vienna, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so in 1791, when a new Esterházy prince let Haydn go, he quickly accepted an invitation to go to England to conduct new symphonies with German violinist and impresario Johan Peter Salomon. He would return to London again in 1794 for another successful and lucrative season.

The Hoboken catalog (Joseph Haydn, Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis)

Anthony van Hoboken created a catalog of the complete works of Haydn, which is the go-to reference.  . It is intended to cover the composer's entire oeuvre and includes over 750 entries. The Haydn catalog that now bears Hoboken's name was begun in card format in 1934; work continued until the publication of the third and final book volume in 1978.

Our Hatdn time capsules are presented here in the context of the Hoboken catalog.

Category I – The Symphonies

Listener Guide # 164 – Classical Symphonies. This opening listener guide features three classical symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Spain’s Arriaga. (ITYWLTMT Montage #216 – Feb 26 2016)

Listener Guide # 165 – The Paris Symphonies. The Paris symphonies are a group of six symphonies commissioned by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, music director of the orchestra the Masonic Loge Olympique. This listener guide presents two of these symphonies, one of which was dedicated to Marie-Antoinette. (ITYWLTMT Montage #104 - 10 May 2013)

Listener Guide # 166 – The London Symphonies. Sometimes called the Salomon symphonies after Johann Peter Salomon who introduced London to Joseph Haydn, the London Symphonies can be categorized into two groups: Symphonies Nos. 93–98, which were composed during Haydn's first visit to London, and Symphonies Nos. 99–104, composed in Vienna and London for Haydn's second visit. This listener guide contains three of the 12 – Symphonies 97, 102 and 103. (Once Upon the Internet #57 – 13 June 2017).

(More Haydn Symphonies in Listener Guides # 28, 31 and 86)

Category VII – Concertos

Listener Guide # 167 – The Cello concertos. This listener guide the two cello concertos, wioth the Symphony no. 44 as filler. (Once Upon the Internet #13 – 14 May 2013).

Listener Guide # 168 –Haydn at the keyboard. This time capsule presents Sonatas 48, 49 and 50 along with a pair of piano concertos. (ITYWLTMT Montage #249 - 30 May, 2017)

(More Haydn Symphonies in Listener Guides # 41)

Listener Guide # 169– Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross (Categry XX) The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross  was a commission made in 1786 for the Good Friday service at Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave Oratory) in Cádiz, Spain. Published in 1787 and performed then in Paris, Berlin and Vienna. The composer adapted it in 1787 for string quartet (here) and in 1796 as an oratorio (with both solo and choral vocal forces), and he approved a version for solo piano.(Cover 2 Cover # 7 - March 13, 2018)

Categories XXI and XXIV – Cantatas, Choruses and Arias

Listener Guides # 170-171 – The Seasons. Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation, which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe. The libretto for The Seasons was prepared for Haydn, just as with The Creation, by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, based on extracts from the long English poem "The Seasons" by James Thomson (1700–1748), which had been published in 1730. (Once or Twice a Fortnight - March 17, 2017)

(L/G 170)

(L/G 171)

Listener Guide # 172 – Mini Operas. A set of short, one-aria operas meant to stand alone in concert, and in some cases sound like they’re taken out of a larger (contemporaneous) operatic work, inspired by a character from literature. (ITYWLTMT Montage #253 - July 14, 2017)

(More Haydn Vocal works in Listener Guides # 102)

Franz Joseph Haydn was among the creators of the fundamental genres of classical music, and his influence upon later composers is immense. Haydn’s most celebrated pupil was Ludwig van Beethoven, and his musical form casts a huge shadow over the music of subsequent composers such as Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

Listener Guide # 173 – Classical Keybiard. This last time capsule completes our look at some of the great composers of the Classical era, with a specific focus on solo piano music. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 272 - February 23, 2018)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Tchaikovsky Waltzes

No. 275 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.


This week, I postponed my usual early-morning post of our Friday Blog and Podcast, as I didn’t feel irt was right for me to provide light music on Good Friday. I view this more as an Easter share.

When one thinks of the waltz, two names spring to mind: the Viennese Waltz King (Johann Strauss) and Poland’s greatest composer (Frederic Chopin). However, as today’s podcast suggests, we shouldn’t overlook Russia’s Peter Tchaikovsky. Today’s playlist gathers several waltz movements and stand-alone waltzes from Tchaikovsky’s symphonic, stage and piano catalogues.

When one thinks of a Symohony, it is generally expected that one movement will be dance-themed. In the classical symphony, that form is that of the minuet, in the early Romantic, the minuet is replaced by the scherzo which can be thought of as a caricature of the minuet. It isn’t uncommon for late Romantics to explore different dance motifs – think of Mahler and the rustic Ländler. In Tchaikovsky’s Fifth symphony, he inserts a waltz between his unformgettably lyrical adagio movement and the procession-like finale. The waltz, in the requisite ¾ time, follows the deliberate leitmotiv-like principal line of the symphony. Another example (which I left out of the montage) is the 5/4 time near-waltz of the Pathetique symphony.

More “symphonic waltzes” I have retained include that from the serenade for strings, two waltz movements from his symphonic suites and the valse-scherzo for violin and orchestra
Three of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known waltzes come from his three ballets. A fourtyh “stage waltz” is  from the opening ballroom scene of his opera Eugnene Onegin.

The last works on the montage come from Tchaikovsky’s (under-appreciated) piano catalog, including one that was deftly adapted by Canadian conductor and trombonist Alain Trudel for his own use (accompanied at the piano by another Canadian conductor who we rarely hear as a pianist…)

I think you will love this music too.