Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony no. 45 "Farewell" mvt. 4
For most of his adult life, Haydn was employed by Prince Nicolaus (the Magnificent) Esterházy. He kept a roster of some of the finest musicians in Europe at the ready to satisfy his demands and whims. The prince maintained two residences--one in Eisenstadt, Austria, and one at the extravagant castle at Esterháza, in Hungary. After its completion, he began to spend more and more time at Esterháza, putting on lavish productions, but without expanding the living quarters for the musicians, which meant they had to leave their families behind in Eisenstadt. One year, frustrated musicians convinced Haydn to take action, so he, ahem, "orchestrated" a protest. (I'm sure I'm not the first person to use that pun!) He scored the conclusion of this mostly fairly standard symphony in a special way, and included stage directions. The prince got the message and gave the musicians their vacation...at least for that year.
Watch what happens here. This is definitely the funniest performance I found!
Vienna Philharmonic ("Farewell" section starts at 3:04 and goes for about 5 minutes)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Moravian/Austrian, later American, 1897-1957): Violin Concerto, mvt. 1
I was so thrilled when I saw that Korngold had a May birthday! It would not have occurred to me to include him in the challenge, but it should have—though he is not best known for it, he wrote an absolutely ravishing violin concerto. These days he is primarily associated with his film scores for Hollywood, but if this concerto and Korngold's other traditional classical compositions sound to you a little like movie music, you actually have it backwards: Korngold established that sound. Movie music sounds like Korngold, not the other way around.
Live performance by Stefan Jackiw (Careful, the camera work on this made me a little seasick, but it's quite a beautiful performance if you don't watch him too much...)
Fritz Kreisler (Austrian, later American, 1875-1962): Caprice Viennois
Yesterday we heard Paganini and Heifetz, violinists known primarily for their ability to perform unspeakably difficult pyrotechnics on the violin so perfectly and brilliantly it boggles the mind. Fritz Kreisler, an early 20th century violinist, could also execute technical feats with the best of them, but it was the warmth and sweetness he drew from the instrument which made him so beloved. He was also a gifted composer, so much so that he wrote many "fake" pieces in the style of other composers, hoping that people would be more likely to come to his concerts if the program included works by familiar names. (He eventually admitted that he wrote the pieces himself.) But today's selection was never meant to be anything other than vintage Kreisler. It is said to embody the idea of "gemütlichkeit," a German word which here represents some combination of coziness, nostalgia, and the charm of the old style Viennese waltz.
This is a VERY old recording of Kreisler himself playing, but despite the quality of the recording you can still get a sense of his gentleness and (bitter?)sweetness. In this case, I recommend listening to the Spotify version, because the sound is remastered and much cleaner...unless scratchy records are your thing, which they are for some people!
Scratchy version on YouTube
Cleaner version on Spotify
Here is a video I took in Vienna of someone playing a Viennese waltz on a very special instrument called the "zither." Apologies on it being sideways--if and when I figure out how to fix it I will!
Niccolò Paganini (Italian, 1782-1840): Caprice no. 24
Anniversary of his death on May 27
We heard Tartini's famous "Devil's Trill" sonata last week, but the violin has been associated with the devil throughout history. A century later, another Italian violinist was also said to have made a deal with the devil, because nobody could imagine how else he could have acquired such apparently inhuman skills. Paganini also composed music which used the new techniques he invented, and violinists struggle with them to this day. But if there was a 20th century whose skills could be described as fiendish, that would be Jascha Heifetz. He is well-matched to play the 24th and most famous (though, incredibly, NOT the most difficult!) of Paganini's caprices. Many say he was the greatest violinist of all time, at least that we have recordings of, so don't ask me to demonstrate this in your lessons! Particularly the part at 2:41--diabolical indeed! (I agree that he in some music Heifetz is utterly unequalled, but in other repertoire I don't care for his playing as much. Which is how it should be--it would be very boring to listen to one violinist play everything all the time.)
Heifetz on YouTube
William Bolcom (American, 1938- ): Graceful Ghost Rag
I have something very special for you today...
Today's birthday composer William Bolcom has written in many genres, and his music incorporates many different styles, including 20th century classical, bluegrass, country, soul, folk vaudeville, rock, musical, and reggae. I mentioned in week one that my late teacher Sergiu Luca was involved in the commission and premiere of many new works for the violin, and Bolcom was a composer with whom he had a particularly long and close relationship. Bolcom wrote his violin concerto for Luca--it is on YouTube and Spotify and you should listen if you are interested. He also wrote music for violin and piano which the two of them performed together, but as far as I can tell the recording is out of print, so I got this file from a fellow Luca student who has it on LP. This is a rag Bolcom originally wrote for solo piano but arranged to include a violin part. I hope you like this short, sweet, and, as the title indicates, "graceful" little gem. I once saw Luca perform it at a memorial service, and it was perfect.
This illustration by Bolcom appears on the album cover, and also the cover of the sheet music for his second sonata. It shows him and Luca, which I find very funny, because by the time I met Luca he had white hair!
J.S. Bach: Cantata 198, "Trauerode" ("Funeral Ode") mvt. 1 and 4
I had something different planned for today, but a number of people told me they enjoyed the Bach cantata from last Friday, so I thought I'd share another one. This is the complete opposite: that was joyful and religious, and this is mournful and relatively secular. It is so beautiful, I always say I want it performed at my funeral!
The funeral for which it was actually written was that of the Electress of Saxony (a political position). She was something of a Lutheran heroine, because when her husband, Augustus the Strong, converted to Catholicism for political reasons she steadfastly remained a Lutheran.
The fourth movement (it is less than one minute long) is special because it is one of the extremely rare occasions in Bach's music which uses pizzicato, or plucking the strings, in the violins and violas. But those few times he does use this effect are positively bone-chilling! When I listen to the nervous plucking in the upper strings and the earthshaking pulses in the lower strings I get goosebumps every time.
Texts from bach-cantatas.com:
Laß, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl
Let, Princess, let one more ray
Aus Salems Sterngewölben schießen.
Shoot from Salem's starry vaults.
Und sieh, mit wieviel Tränengüssen
And see, with how many floods of tears
Umringen wir dein Ehrenmal.
we surround your memorial.
Der Glocken bebendes Getön
The bells' reverberating sound
Soll unsrer trüben Seelen Schrecken
shall awaken dread in our troubled souls
Durch ihr geschwungnes Erze wecken
with its vibrating bronze
Und uns durch Mark und Adern gehn.
And go through our marrow and veins.
O, könnte nur dies bange Klingen,
Oh if only this fearful sound
Davon das Ohr uns täglich gellt,
that resounds each day in our ears
Der ganzen Europäerwelt
could give to all of Europe
Ein Zeugnis unsres Jammers bringen!
A witness of our sorrow!
Live performance of full cantata, mvt. 4 at 11:09-12:00
Mvt. 4 only
Antonín Dvořák (Czech, 1841-1904): Quartet in F Major, "American," mvt. 1
From 1892-1895, Dvořák lived in the U.S., primarily employed as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He spent the summer of 1893, however, among the Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, which is where the "American" quartet was composed. (Willa Cather's novel "My Ántonia" takes place in a similar community in Nebraska.) In America, as back in his home country, he took great interest in the folk idioms of the local cultures. Particularly, he believed that the traditions of African American and Native American music could help develop a unique "American music" sound. The themes and melodies in the "American" quartet are not derived from any specific folk tunes, but they use similar figures and harmonies that are meant to reflect the spirit of these styles.
As always, in string quartet music, watch/listen to how material is passed around the quartet. This movement in particular has good stuff for everyone!
New York Philharmonic String Quartet
For those interested, here's something COMPLETELY different: a recording by Czech musicians in 1928! It it fascinating, and useful, to know something a bit closer to the sound Dvorak might have had in his ear while composing.
Czech String Quartet
Ludwig van Beethoven (German, 1770-1827): Symphony no. 8, mvt. 2
I tell all of my students to practice with a metronome--everyone knows I believe it to be an indispensable tool, when used properly. It was invented during Beethoven's life, and Beethoven became the first composer to quantify the tempos he intended for his works using metronome markings. In the second movement of the eighth symphony, however, he is believed to be poking a little fun at the metronome; the woodwinds play even, repeated staccato notes, which mimic its ticking. But some musicologists believe he uses this effect rather to create a work in which texture--or the layers of musical material which make up a piece of music--is even more important than emotional expression. I suppose both could be true...
You can hear the "texture" very clearly in these recordings. In my hearing, Norrington emphasizes the elegance of the movement while Gardiner emphasizes the humor. Interesting, because from what I've experienced from Norrington and heard about Gardiner, in personality, Norrington is VERY funny and Gardiner is very serious! (I happen to prefer Norrington here, but I LOVE Gardiner's recordings in general--and I encourage you to listen to as many of both conductor's recordings as you can!) I'm also including a link to the whole symphony in case you want to listen to the rest of it too.
Roger Norrington, mvt 2 (on YouTube)
Norrington, complete (on YouTube)
John Eliot Gardiner, mvt. 2 (on Spotify)
Franz Joseph Haydn (Austrian, 1732-1809): Quartet in C Major, Opus 50 no. 2 mvt. 4
No musician ever wants to have to choose their favorite composer, and I don't either, but if you put a gun to my head and made me do it, I might have to go with Haydn. I find his music to be endlessly original and diverse--he can be humorous and quirky as well as heart-stoppingly beautiful; noble and elegant, or down-to-earth and rustic.
Haydn's 68 innovative string quartets earned him one of his nicknames, the "father of the string quartet." One prominent musicologist claimed that "no document in the history of music is more important than [Haydn's] opus 20"--a set of six quartets from relatively early in his career. Mozart himself, after studying the quartets of Haydn, returned to the genre and wrote a collection of his own, dubbed "The Haydn Quartets." Today's selection comes from Haydn's opus 50 quartets, which might have been an answer to Mozart's answer to his opus 20.
Listen to how members of a quartet both work together in different combinations, and take turns playing different material, handing it off to one another.
Just one more full week left of the challenge!
Florin Niculescu (Romanian, 1967- )
Niculescu is a Romanian jazz/gypsy style violinist with an extensive classical background, which accounts for his fabulous technique. There are so many great selections just from this one concert! (Including a left-handed violinist, which I've NEVER seen in my life!) Here's one with an equally amazing guitar player.
Night and Day
In May 2017 I challenged my students to practice every day for 30 days in a row. In addition, I asked them to listen to 30 bite-sized musical selections I emailed daily. I collected my picks in this blog for posterity. So these are works I find particularly fun, interesting, or important, including a handful by composers who were born or who died in May. Please enjoy!