Friday, June 30, 2017

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

No. 252 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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Tomorrow, we will be celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, and though I expect a great deal of overt security measures in and around Parliament Hill and Ottawa’s downtown core, our city will no doubt throw an epic Birthday party!

I thought it was fitting for me to share a podcast to celebrate Canada’s birthday and I decided to focus on one of Canada’s most famous exports.



Every mooring around 6:30, my bus drives along Albert st. in Ottawa and I get to see the statue of the Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) on the South-West corner of Canada's National Arts Centre. The statue shows Peterson as if he had just finished playing and had turned toward his audience.

The life size statue includes a space for visitors to sit next to him. More often than not, at the time I go past the statue, some construction workers share their morning coffee sitting next to Oscar – I don’t think he’d mind!

Peterson grew up in Montreal’s Little Burgundy, a predominantly black neighbourhood where he found himself surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early 20th century. His father, Daniel Peterson, an amateur trumpeter and pianist, was one of his first music teachers. As a child, Peterson studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of István Thomán, who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt. At the age of nine Peterson played piano with control that impressed professional musicians.

Peterson also credited his sister—a piano teacher in Montreal who also taught several other Canadian jazz musicians, most notably Oliver Jones—with being an important teacher and influence on his career. We’ll get back to Daisy a little later in my commentary.

In 1940, at fourteen years of age, Peterson won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After that victory, he dropped out of school and became a professional pianist working for a weekly radio show, and playing at hotels and music halls. Called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, Peterson released over 200 recordings through a career that spanned 6 decades, won eight Grammy Awards, and received numerous other awards and honours. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists, and played thousands of concerts worldwide.

One such concert took place at the Orpheum theatre in Vancouver, August 8, 1958, and featured Peterson with the most familiar formulation of his Trio, with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis.
From that concert, I retained a number of tracks for today’s montage, some Jazz standards, others featuring original compositions by the members of the trio including The Music Box Suite, a piece inspired by Peterson’s sister, Daisy. The selections include Peterson’s audience banter between tracks, including his narrative for the Music Box Suite, a fitting display of his obvious admiration for his sister.

My profession has taken me to every part of the world, none of them more beautiful than where I live. As a musician, I respond to the harmony and rhythm of life, and when I’m deeply moved it leaves something singing inside me. With a country as large and as full of contrast as Canada, I had a lot of themes to choose from when I wrote the Canadiana Suite. This is my musical portrait of the Canada I love.

The second part of the montage is a complete performance of the Canadiana Suite, probably his best known composition. Commissioned by the CBC in 1963, it is a collection of eight short tableaux that moves its listeners across the Canadian landscape on a conceptual railway journey, starting in the Maritimes (Ballad to the East), sweeping through the Laurentian Mountains (Laurentide Waltz) to Montreal (Place St. Henri), Toronto, (Hogtown Blues) Manitoba (Wheatland), Saskatchewan (Blues of the Prairies) Calgary (March Past) and ending in British Columbia (Land of the Misty Giants).
The performance, recorded for Limelight Records on September 9, 1964 (nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for best jazz composition) features yet another incarnation of the Oscar Peterson Trio, this time replacing Ellis with drummer Ed Thigpen.


I think you will love this music too!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Schubert Symphony No. 9 ("The Great") - Tate


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


The untimely passing of Sir Jeffrey Tate threw a wrench on my programming plan for this month. This week’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge planned to begin a series of posts dedicated to an old 5-LP set of Mozart Piano Concertos – I intend to take that project on when I return from summer hiatus. Stay tuned!

It’s unfortunate that we too often pigeon-hole artists (and especially conductors) as “specialists” of a particular portion of the repertoire. Though it is sometimes unfair to do so, we cannot deny that Tate was indeed well-known for his recordings of the great Classical-era composers, especially his English Chamber Orchestra collaborations of Mozart and Haydn. Later this year, I plan to dedicate a Friday Blog and Podcast to Tate’s excellent renditions of Haydn’s London Symphonies.

In a podcast I published this past Friday, I shared music from Classical-era composers, and in my commentary discussed how we view the Classical period as covering essentially the 18th Century, noting that there is some “spillage” into the early 19th. As well, I noted that some composers we associate with the Classical period, most notably Beethoven and Schubert, can be thought of as bona fide precursors of the Romantic era.

Both Beethoven’s and Schubert’s Ninth symphonies are indicative of how forward-looking these two geniuses were; these are mammoth works, double the length (and breadth) of what their teachers and contemporaries dared to put to paper. In fact, for many years, Schubert’s Ninth was deemed “too difficult” and “unplayable”. Ten years after Schubert's death, and under the able direction of Felix Mendelssohn and his Leipzig orchestra, the “Great C Major” symphony was finally premiered. To this day, it is considered a major piece of the symphonic repertoire – whether we view it as late Classical or early Romantic.

I cherish Tate’s performance (which is part of my analog collection along with an old VOX cassette of the same symphony by Thomas Schippers and the Cincinnati Symphony ) and find that still today it stacks up well against some of the versions I have in my digital collection (Muti/Vienna Philharmonic and Abbado/Chamber Orchestra of Europe). His vision for the work is clear, and its main quality is its sense of forward propulsion that resonates so much with me.

Conductors generally live long lives and Tate’s passing in his early 70s in some ways means he “died young” - in spite of the ailments that plagued him throughout his life. I hope you will enjoy this fine performance!


Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Symphony no. 9 in C major, D. 944 (‘the Great’)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Sir Jeffrey Tate, conducting
EMI / Angel 38336 (Vinyl DDA)
Recorded at Studio Lukaskirche, Dresden, Released 1986.

 

Internet Archive URL – https://archive.org/details/JeffreyTateStaatskapelleDresden1986SchubertSymphonyNo.9
(Thanks to On The Top of Damavand for ever)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Classical Showcase

No. 251 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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A few weeks ago, we shared a montage of Baroque music by composers other than the usual suspects, and this week we are doing the same, this time for the Classical period.

When we think of classical music periods, we have to look at them in the context of the aesthetics of their time, and not necessarily in terms of a hard time box. As a case in point, consider the Romantic period – in music, this period covers most of the Nineteenth century, yet we could argue that some of Mozart’s late symphonies and piano concerti (dating from the latter part of the Eighteenth century) certainly presage Romantic traditions Ditto for the music of Rachmaninov, who was active well into the Twentieth.

The same applies to the Classical era, which we could simplistically assign to the Eighteenth century, but certainly spills over to the 1800s. Also, “late baroque” music can be thought of as “early Classical”. The inclusion of Georg Christoph Wagenseil, William Boyce and Charles Avison who all were active in the first quarter of the 1700s in today’s montage is indicative of this fact.

The works of our montages’ composers provide good examples of music composed following the tradition well-established by the likes of Haydn, Mozart and Salieri. One can find some of their influence in the concerti by Meridante and Cramer.


I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Project 366 - What's in a Name?

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.


Indeed, what’s in a name?

As in any field of endeavor, some words are “reserved” – they typically are used in a very specific context to mean something very specific.

On a past post ion this anthology series, we discussed the meaning of the term concerto, which has evolved from being merely a concert (to meaning the specific form of a work that involves a soloist playing with an orchestra, sometimes as protagonists, sometimes as antagonists. Yes both Robert Schumann and Charles Alkan felt so strongly about piano sonatas they wrote that they compared them in breadth to a piano concerto without an orchestra.

Ditto for works by Charles-Marie Widor, Igor Stravinsky and Edouard Lalo, that in their own way evoke aspects of what “old French” called a symphony – a piece of musical circumstance rather than a “sonata for orchestra”.

Oh, better yet, how about a piece of music that is meant to be sung – a lied – but without any words? Both Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn explored that idea of composing music (euther speculatively,m or just for atmosphere) as “songs without words”.

These are a few examples of words being misleading… Among the music montages I retained, there’s also some “Family Name” confusion (which Bach, which Schumann) and even the further exploration of what it means to leave a work unfinished – should it be left “as is” or should we try and “finish it off”?

Your Listener Guides 


Listener Guide #103 - "You call that a Symphony?"They are all symphonies, at least by name… Works by Mozart, Widor and Lalo. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 103 - 3 May 2013)



Listener Guide #104 - "Concerto solo"We have here a pair of concerti for piano without orchestra by Alkan and Schumann. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #189 - 13 Mar 2015)



Listener Guide #105 - "Schumann & Schumann" Piano works by the husband and wife duo of Robert and Clara Schumann.(ITYWLTMT Podcast # 123 -  20 Sep, 2013)



Listener Guide #106 - "In the name of BACH"Compositions from members of the Bach Family Tree - Johann Bernhard, Wilhelm Friedemann, CPE, JC and… PDQ. Read our commentary Januar y 31st @ , details @ https://archive.org/details/pcast239-Playlist (ITYWLTMT Podcast #239 - 31 Jan 2017)



Listener Guide #107 - "Lieder ohne Worte"A selection of pieces from Mendelssohn's eight books of Songs Without Words. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #182 - 23 Jan 2015)



Listener Guide #108 - "Unvollendet"An extended play montage features works left unfinished by their composers: Schubert, Mahler, Borodin and Tchaikovsky.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #250 - 9 June 2015)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SCHERCHEN / The 1950s Haydn Symphonies Recordings


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



Everyone wants to know me. I had to dine out six times up to now, and if I wanted I could have an invitation every day; but first I must consider my health, and second my work. Except for the nobility, I admit no callers till 2 in the afternoon.
These words, from private correspondence to a friend, describe Haydn’s welcome in London in early 1791. Haydn’s presence in the English capital had been arranged by the violinist-cum-impresario Johann Peter Salomon; Haydn’s secluded life as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had hardly prepared him for the feverish musical and social activity in London.

Haydn’s fame in England, as in France, was based above all on his symphonies from the 1770s and 1780s, and the main part of his lucrative deal with Salomon was the composition of six new symphonies (Nos 93–98) over two seasons, for which he would receive £300—equal to approximately £25,000 today.

There are 12 so-called London Symphonies, and they 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. Every London Symphony, apart from one (No. 95), has a slow introduction to the first movement.

This week’s share takes us back to my Once Upon the Internet series, and some downloads from the Japanese site Public Domain Classic and the Italian site LiberMusica – the latter still active.

Today’s featured conductor, Herrmann Schechen, was one of the 20th-century’s great new-music conductors yet he recorded an unusually wide range of repertoire, from the baroque to the contemporary.

Recorded in mono for the Westminster company between 1950 and 1953 Scherchen’s recordings of the 12 London symphonies with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Symphony are pioneer performances because, at a time when precious few took these works seriously, Scherchen granted them the time and care they deserved. The result is not just a worthy acknowledgement of Haydn’s historical importance, but a true realisation of his greatness. Scherchen turns out to be a classicist of humanity and warmth.

From these I retained three of the London symphonies – nos. 97, 102 and 103; 8 of the remaining 9 can be found on LiberMusica.

Happy Listening!


Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.97 in C Major, Hob.I:97
Symphony No.102 in B-Flat Major, Hob.I:102 (*)
Symphony No.103 in E-Flat Major ('Drum Roll'), Hob.I:103

Wiener Symphoniker
Hermann Scherchen, conducting
Source: Public Domain Classic and LiberMusica (*)



Friday, June 9, 2017

Unvollendet

No. 250 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast250



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Today, I’m proud to share the 250th montage in our ongoing series. As I typically do when we hit a major milestone, I have programmed an “Extended Play” podcast that exceeds my self-imposed 90 minute limit.

The title of our montage, unvollendet, is the German word for “unfinished” and clearly applies to work that were left incomplete for whatever reason. The most famous such work is Schubert’s B minor symphony, which was not left incomplete due to the composer’s early death, but rather left incomplete out of disinterest…

Started in 1822 but left with only two movements (though he lived for another six years), Schubert may have sketched a finale that instead became the big B minor entr'acte from his incidental music to Rosamunde. To this day, musicologists still disagree as to why Schubert failed to complete the symphony; some have speculated that he stopped work in the middle of the scherzo in the fall of 1822 because he associated it with his initial outbreak of syphilis—or that he was distracted by the inspiration for his Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, which occupied his time and energy immediately afterward. It could have been a combination of both factors.

Schubert's eighth symphony is sometimes called the first Romantic symphony due to its emphasis on the lyrical impulse within the dramatic structure of Classical sonata form. Furthermore, its orchestration is not solely tailored for functionality, but specific combinations of instrumental timbre that are prophetic of the later Romantic movement. The recording I programmed today is by the NBC Symphony under Toscanini.

Another work left unfinished is Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. Mahler had a habit of working on a symphony over two consecutive summers: one summer of sketches, and a following summer for orchestration. This was his way of balancing composition and conducting. Mahler’s untimely death in 1911 meant that he’d only completed the orchestration of one of the movements – the Adagio.
This opens up an important topic: how sacrilegious is it for another composer (or musicologist, or colleague) to complete another’s unfinished work?

Borodin completed two symphonies in his lifetime: his Symphony No. 1 was first performed in 1869 and in that same year Borodin started on his Symphony No. 2, which was not particularly successful at its premiere in 1877, but with some minor re-orchestration received a successful performance in 1879. Three years later he began composing a third symphony, but left it unfinished at his death; two movements of it were later completed and orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov collaborated in re-assembling sketches of Borodin’s only opera, Prince Igor. There are many recordings of this third symphony – one is included in today’s podcast – and there is no sense of reticence when it comes to performing that posthumous version of the work, none whatsoever.

The same can’t be said of Mahler’s Tenth, for which there exist a number of “performance scores”, largely based on the sketches and early drafts of the composer’s orchestration. According to many of Mahler’s contemporaries who tried their hands at this, only two movements could be reconstructed with any level of fidelity. In the 1940s the American Mahler enthusiast Jack Diether tried to encourage several notable composers to realize the entire work. Figures such as Shostakovich, Schoenberg, and Britten (all of whom had been considerably influenced by the works of Mahler) refused, and instead the task was taken up by musicologists: early attempts at realizing the entire work were made in America by Clinton Carpenter (completed 1949, subsequently revised 1966), in Germany by Hans Wollschläger (1954–1962, withdrawn), and in England by Joe Wheeler (1953–1965) and Deryck Cooke. The various realizations produced by Cooke have, since the mid-1960s, become the basis for most performances and recordings.


Many conductors refuse to perform any of these realizations (the performance in the podcast, from the early stereo cycle by Kubellik and the BRSO doesn’t include any reconstruction, just the Adagio movement).  Bernstein notoriously refused to perform any of the musicological reconstructions. On the other hand, Chailly in his Decca set includes the Cooke version.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony in E-flat major (also known inaccurately as his Symphony No. 7), was abandoned in November 1892 with only part of the first movement having been fully completed, and the remainder left in sketch form.

Interestingly, the work has survived through recycling in the Tchaikovsky catalog:


  • The opening Allegro brillante becoms the one-movement Piano Concerto No. 3



  • Two movements were rescored as well for piano and orchestra and became the the Andante and Finale,



  • The symphony’s Scherzo was arranged for solo piano as Scherzo-Fantasie (No. 10 of the Eighteen Pieces, op. 72).


In the 1950s the symphony was reconstructed from the manuscript sources and completed by the Soviet musicologist Semyon Bogatyrev. It was first recorded as the “Symphony no. 7” by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and presented here in a later recording conducted by Neeme Jarvi.


I think you will love this music too