Schubert: Der Erlkönig
Violin arrangement by Heinrich Ernst (Moravian, 1812-1865)
As promised, the version of Der Erlkönig for solo violin. This is insanely complicated and difficult to play, but when done well, you can hear all the voices you heard in the song--narrator, father, son, and Erlking...PLUS the piano accompaniment!
Franz Schubert: Der Erlkönig (poem by Goethe)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore
I chose this for Schubert's birthday (which is tomorrow) precisely because it is so disturbing and terrifying. Music can do that too! This is one of Schubert’s most famous songs, because it has such a gripping story, and because the characters are so clearly represented in the music. This singer does a masterful job of changing his voice and face for each character. When I made the mistake of watching this on the Amtrak last week I had tears streaming down my face! (I get emotional about Schubert. Also, I was sleep-deprived...) Tomorrow, we will watch an amazing version of this for solo violin; you can hear the characters in that as well.
This video has subtitles but I’ll summarize: It starts with the narrator describing a father and son on a frantic nighttime horseback ride. The father asks the child why he appears frightened; the son replies that he sees the “erlkönig” and is afraid of him. (The erlkönig is some kind of demon/fairy king, which we can tell is the hallucination of a sick child.) The father tries to comfort his son, explaining that he is mistaking natural phenomena for this creature. Then the erkönig himself appears, trying to tempt the child to come with him, and we realize he represents death, which the child is trying to resist. Finally, the child cries out that the erlkönig has hurt him, the father fears the worst, and when they reach their destination, the child has indeed succumbed to death, as if he had been unable to resist this horrible creature’s advances.
Amazing piano playing in this too—it must be exhausting!
Antonio Vivaldi (Venetian, 1678-1741): Concerto in E minor “Il Favorito,” mvt. 2 Andante
For some reason Ella Fitzgerald and Monica Huggett remind me so much of each other, even though on the surface their art is quite different. They share a total mastery of their craft, complete ease onstage, love of what they do, and an ability to communicate directly and personally with an audience.
Vivaldi wrote about 500 concertos (!), of which about 200 were for violin!! For much of his life he taught violin for at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for girls in Venice, and many of his concertos for all instruments were written for the girls to perform. Judging from the difficulty of Vivaldi’s compositions (vocal and instrumental), the girls’ skill must have been extraordinary, but they had to perform from behind screens on the balcony, because it was considered inappropriate for girls to be seen playing instruments and singing.
Vivaldi was nicknamed, “The Red Priest,” because he had striking red hair and had been ordained as a priest. But shortly thereafter, he claimed he had asthma and therefore couldn’t say the entire mass. Hmmm... Seems more likely he just preferred writing and performing music!
“It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”
Stuff Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.
I’m mildly obsessed with Ella Fitzgerald, so I was very happy to find this old video of the great jazz violinist Stuff Smith performing with her! I know almost nothing about jazz so I won’t try to lecture you about it. Enjoy!
Violin solo about 1:38-3:00 but I personally cannot stop watching at that point...
Mozart (born January 27, 1756): Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, mvt. 3 Rondeau--tempo di menuetto
We have already learned about cadenzas, and about rondos. You will hear both in this movement, which features a special kind of cadenza called an "eingang" (German for "entrance"). As you remember, rondos have the form "ABACADA..." The eingang happens at the end of each interlude and leads us back into the familiar "A" theme. Eingänge are usually short, with just a bit of filler material, but in this performance they are much more elaborate than they probably would have been back then! (During Mozart’s time, cadenzas were generally not written down by the composer, and they were often improvised. Here, the soloist has written the cadenzas, but is not improvising for the most part.)
This concerto has been nicknamed the "Turkish" concerto, because of the dramatically contrasting middle section, which switches from a major to a minor key, and from triple to duple meter--i.e. it is counted in two, unlike the rest of the movement which is counted in three. It is thought to have an exotic, Turkish flavor to it.
(Turkish section at about 3:18)
Arcangelo Corelli (Italian, 1653-1713): Sonata in F Major, Opus 5 no. 10
Corelli is a composer all violinists should know about, whether or not you end up playing much of his music. He deserves credit not only for developing violin techniques and genres (such as the sonata and the concerto grosso), but also, because he traveled so widely throughout his life, for disseminating his contributions. Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel, among others, were all influenced by Corelli.
I happened to stumble across this video while searching for my favorite harpsichordist, Pierre Hantaï, and was pleased to find him performing with this wonderful violinist I had never heard! One cool thing to listen for in the harpsichord: in the third movement of this sonata (about 4:25-6:40), you might notice that the sound changes noticeably (it is even more noticeable when it changes back in the following movement). You are hearing something called a "lute stop." Some harpsichords have this feature, which is created by a piece of leather pressing against the strings, muting them and making the harpsichord sound a bit like a lute. I always get excited in rehearsals when harpsichordists use the lute stop--and sometimes I even request it!--because I love the effect so much.
(Corelli from 0:00-9:22, five short movements)
Samuel Barber (American, 1910-1981): Violin Concerto--listen to at least parts of mvts. 1 and 3
It's worth returning to Barber, to hear his famous Violin Concerto. It has the same singular Barber sound as "Knoxville," which I will not clumsily try to describe again. But the last movement is a complete contrast--fast and exciting!
The young people in this orchestra do a beautiful job accompanying this concerto--I have heard professional orchestras not do as well--and the soloist is fantastic...but I confess that I hesitated to show you this video because his thumb is giving me a heart attack! Let's just say that if you play this well with your thumb like that I won't give you a hard time; otherwise, listen to me! :) (At least his wrist is straight.)
Last movement starts at about 18:11
Franz Schubert (Austrian, 1797-1828): Rondo Brillant in B Minor
Sergiu Luca and Joseph Kalichstein
Schubert is another composer whose birth we will celebrate during this challenge, but who merits more than one day. He lived a very short time--he passed away at the age of 31--but managed to write an inhuman amount of music (about 1500 pieces). He is known for very short pieces, like his myriad "lieder," or songs, and VERY long pieces, such as symphonies and piano sonatas that go on for as long as an hour! Be glad I'm not having you listen to one of those, but this Rondo definitely falls into the same category--the proportions are huge for what it is. (It's about 15 minutes.)
"Rondo" comes from the same root as "round"--the basic form is ABACADA...etc. In other words, the same theme ("A") comes "around" again and again with different interludes in between ("B", "C", etc.). This rondo is a little more complicated than most because there are a number of themes that recur, but also change a little bit with each iteration. There is also a slow introduction, which establishes the grandeur of the work. The actual rondo theme is kind of folksy and fun, and there's lots of contrast throughout the piece.
This file was made from a record my teacher recorded in 1980. I think it's the best recording, of course but if you have trouble opening it I've included one from youtube that's pretty good too.
Samuel Barber (American, 1910-1981): Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Anniversary of his death on 1/23
You probably have heard Barber's "Adagio for Strings," which is an adaptation of a movement from his string quartet. But Barber was an extraordinarily versatile musician, the only person ever to have completed a triple major at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia--in piano, composition, and voice. Besides the "Adagio," he is probably best known for his operas and other vocal works. He wrote beautiful melodies, and his style is (I think) personal and immediate; to me, a lot of his music has a distinctive warm, almost “generous” sound. (Describing music with words can be very difficult!)
Anyway, this is one of Barber’s better known works. It’s based on a text by James Agee, an experiment in improvisatory writing which, he claimed, he wrote in 90 minutes. There is a LOT of “word painting” in this, so keep your ears open. This is a version by Leontyne Price, for whom Barber wrote many of his soprano parts. She said that Agee’s prose-poem was “like painting a picture of my hometown, and that’s the way I sang it.” The recording was made shortly after the death of her father, and that too affects this performance. She was a famous opera singer but at times sings very intimately here, like she is speaking.
(I went through a phase when I listened to this piece almost every day on repeat...actually, it was a cassette tape so not really on repeat, I had to rewind it each time. Yes, I’m old. )
It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber
A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew
Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose
Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes....
Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums
On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there....They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,...with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am
Mindaugas Piečaitis: CATcerto
Nora The Piano Cat
It was a long night of travel and a long day of rehearsal. So the best thing to do, obviously, is watch cat videos (most of you know that I love cats). As far as I can remember, Nora the Piano Cat was one of the first youtube videos to go "viral" (if that was even the term then), back in 2007. Eventually, a conductor/composer saw these videos and decided to write an entire piece featuring Nora as the soloist. It's pretty silly, but so creative and so very clever. (My favorite part is the key change at about 1:46.) Enjoy!
We will get back to serious business tomorrow...