Saturday, September 23, 2006


JS Bach: WTC I, E Minor Fugue

Hello all,

It will help if you have read the post:

Significance of the number nineteen

We are looking for the dynamic symmetry in JS Bach's WTC I, E Minor Fugue. This is a two-voice fugue, which could have been named an invention, but qualifies as a fugue. The agent defining the symmetry is lengthy consecutive parallel intervals and the number 19. Counting measures, we have the first 19 meassures ending with a measure of consecutive parallel octaves. The second 19 measures also ends with a measure of consecutive parallel octaves. These 38 measures (2x19) lead to a four-measure coda yielding the total 42 measure fugue.

Any odd number has a central number that divides two equal portions. Thus it behooves us to observe the midpoints of our two 19 measure leads. Measure 10 mediates the first 19 with consecutive parallel sixths. Measure 29 mediates the second 19 with consecutive parallel thirds.

Sixths and thirds so highlighted might lead the contrapuntalist to suspect Double Counterpoint at the octave. A simpler understanding might be gained that the combination of a sixth to a third will span an octave. (C up to A = sixth [C,D,E,F,G,A]; continuing A up to C = third [A,B,C]; overall the resulting C up to C is an ocatve [C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C].

The parallelisms are distinguished by length of consecutiveness, minimally nine sixteenths, and the full measure of twelve sixteenths for measures 19 and 38. Thus the two midpoints of the 19 measure portions have combined meaning for the overall middle 38 measure lead to the coda. Indeed, measure 20 continues with four more sixteenths to perfect the middle of the 38 measure lead to the coda.

Thus the fugue is organized by the number 19 with significant intervalic parallelisms yielding dynamic symmetry.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Proportions: The Number 19

The number nineteen is a favorite number used by Bach. I will be using analyses of the number 19 in Bach and Beethoven. So first, here are some sites on the number nineteen.

The proportions for the number nineteen are:

3:2:5:7:12:19:31:50 etc.

Beginning with the numbers 3 and 2, adding consecutive numbers yield the next number in the sequence. Maybe the most frequently and maybe least noticed proportions from the series are the seven days of the week, from which we separate two weekend days and five work days; and 12 is used twice to count the number of hours in a day, and 12 months divide a year. Less formally astrology is planned in 19 year cycles.

Cheers, and happy counting

Monday, April 03, 2006



Artur Schnabel: "You may find this hard to believe, but Igor Stravinsky has actually published in the papers the statement, 'Music, to be great, must be completely cold and unemotional'! And last Sunday, I was having breakfast with Arnold Schoenberg, and I said to him, 'Can you imagine that Stravinsky actually made the statement that music, to be great, must be cold and unemotional?' At this, Schoenberg got furious and said, 'I said that first!'"

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Friday, March 31, 2006


Richard Strauss: Don Juan

by Andrew Clements
Friday January 12, 2001
The Guardian

Don Juan was the work that made the 25-year-old Richard Strauss a star when it was first performed in Weimar in 1889 - and with good reason. An epoch-making score, it redefined the parameters of musical potential. No composer had previously used orchestral forces with such flamboyant audacity, and the history of sonority would never be quite the same again.

In his picture of the famous womaniser, Strauss also placed a hitherto unimagined emphasis on erotic hedonism, which remains startling more than a century later. The result has always been a firm favourite with players and audiences alike, though Don Juan is much more than a virtuoso musical porn show, and the whole thing can come adrift if conductors fail to probe its deeper ambiguities. Strauss took as his source an unfinished play by the deranged poet Nikolaus Lenau, in which the Don is very much portrayed as the prototype of the Nietzschean figures to whom Strauss was later drawn - an amoral being "beyond good and evil" whose sexual exploits form a psychological defence against his own destructive nihilism. A sense of jittery, existential danger needs to be added to the glamorous sexiness of it all if the piece is to succeed.
Several of Strauss's own performances survive, of which the finest - measured in speed but relentless in intensity - is his 1944 radio broadcast with the Vienna Philharmonic (Preiser). A similar spaciousness, rather than superficial glitter, pervades Wilhelm Furtwängler's majestic 1954 version with the same orchestra (EMI). The usually great Bruno Walter was never quite at his best in Strauss's music and his 1952 version with the New York Philharmonic (Sony) finds him occasionally ill at ease. Leopold Stokowski, ever the wizard when it comes to orchestral flamboyance, generates tremendous, visceral excitement.

Among the next generation of interpreters we find versions by Karajan (DG), Solti (Decca), Boehm (DG) and Rudolf Kempe (EMI), all great, all radically different. Karajan's lushness contrasts sharply with Solti's nervous edginess. Boehm is all romantic radiance and warmth, while Kempe, with the Dresden Staatskapelle on glorious form, is deeply humane, portraying the Don very much as a man whose emotions, though transitory, are sincere.
More recently we have Neeme Jarvi controversially and brilliantly turning the Don into a Sadean brute as part of his Chandos Strauss cycle with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, very fierce with the Vienna Philharmonic yet again (DG); and Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony, almost matchless when it comes to exposing Strauss's gorgeous palette of orchestral colour (Decca - the sound is astonishing).

But there's one version that towers above the rest, namely the 1954 RCA recording with the Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner. The work has never sounded quite so electrifyingly raunchy or so dangerous as it does here, while the downbeat ending is shockingly, devastatingly sad. The playing is stupendous and the whole thing knocks you sideways. It ranks among the most stunning performances ever committed to disc - an absolutely unmissable achievement.

Key recording: Fritz Reiner (RCA)

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Tchaikovsky: Instrumentation and nationalism

Tchaikovsky wrote this: Letter to Mme von Meck, Clarens, March 5 (17), 1878

You ask how I manage my instrumentation. I never compose in the abstract; that is to say, the musical thought never appears otherwise than in a suitable external form. In this way I invent the musical idea and instrumentation simultaneously. Thus I thought out the scherzo of our symphony [Fourth Symphony] at the moment of its composition---exactly as you heard it. It is inconceivable except as pizzicato. Were it played with the bow, it would lose all its charm and be a mere body without a soul.
As regards the Russian element in my works, I may tell you that not infrequently I begin a composition with the intention of introducing some folk melody into it. Sometimes it comes of its own accord, unbidden (as in the finale of our symphony). As to this national element in my work, its affinity with the folk songs in some melodies and harmonies comes from my having spent my childhood in the country, and, from my earliest years, having been impregnated with the characteristic beauty of our Russian folk music. I am passionately fond of the national element in all its varied expressions. In a word, I am Russian in the fullest sense of the word.

* * *


Rimski-Korsakov: Formal Study

From a letter to Semyon Kruglikov, November 9, 1880 Nikolai Andreyevitch Rimski-Korsakov (1844-1908) wrote:

One can learn by oneself; sometimes one needs advice, but one has also to learn, that is, one must not neglect harmony and counterpoint and the development of a good technique and a clean leading subject. All of us, myself and Borodin and Balakirev, but especially Cui and Moussorgsky, neglected this. I consider that I caught myself in time and made myself get down to work. Owing to such deficiencies in technique Balakirev writes little; Borodin, with difficulty; Cui sloppily; Moussorgsky, messily and often nonsensically; and all this constitutes the very regrettable specialty of the Russian school.

Like his colleagues in the "Big Five," Rimski-Korsakov was a musician by avocation, at least at the inception of his composing career. By profession he was a naval officer, following in the tradition of his family. His first large scale work, a Symphony in E-flat minor (Opus 1), was composed under Balakirev's influence and guidance, while he was still ignorant of even the names of chords and the elementary rules of part writing.

Unlike his colleagues, he devoted himself assiduously to the formal study of harmony, counterpoint and form, study which aroused cynicism in Moussorgsky (who dubbed it "routine, lifeless, and reactionary" and skepticism in Tchaikovsky (who spoke of "contrapuntal intricacies"). Nevertheless, it was this study which enabled him to revise and polish Moussorgsky's at times awkwardly written and often unfinished works after the latter's death, to orchestrate Dargomijsky's Stone Guest and with his pupil, Glazounov, to finish and orchestrate Borodin's Prince Igor.

Numbered among his many gifted students were Glazounov, Ipolitov-Ivanov, and Stravinsky.




Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), an outstanding and leading figure in the music of Russia, an eminent master of orchestral expression, a fervent devotee of Beauty in music, and preponderantly true to the spirit and idiom of his nation. His whole active life was devoted to the promotion of the musical art of his native land. Though not the oldest nor the first Russian master, there is something patriarchal in Rimsky-Korsakov's position; he is cited as the father of Russian school of orchestration; and, as teacher of many later celebrities, his strong and beneficent influence was far reaching.

In addition to his superb orchestral Suite Sheherazade (from the Arabian Nights), Op. 35, I would recommend his the Oriental Suite Antar ("Poet and beloved Hero of the Desert"), Op. 9 (1881). Both of these consist of four Movements, though the latter are not strictly analogous to those of the Symphony. In their character they show that, despite his devotion to Russian folk-lore and folk-song, he had a decided taste for the Oriental in music, and caught its idiom most successfully.

Antar is generally listed as Rimsky-Korsakov's Second "Symphony," though the title Suite is more accurate. The story runs thus: Antar rescues the Fairy Gul-Nazar (as a gazelle) from the pursuit of a giant bird. As a reward, she promises him three great Delights of Life: Revenge, Power, and Love. These episodes form the basis of the four Movements, of which the Finale is the best---the exceeding skillful combination of the Fairy-theme and an Oriental Dance.

The Symphonies of this master (not to mention the Suites) are three in number: the First, in E major (1865); the Second,in C, and a Symphonietta in A minor---all admirable, but not on a plane with the Suites.


Saturday, March 25, 2006


Pioneers of the Romantic School

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) is generally regarded by historians as the founder of the Romantic school of musical expression; and he was undoubtedly the earliest distinguished forerunner of the great master minds: Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. The most important and popular of Weber's Symphonies was the second, in C.

But there were a number of other pioneers who did significant work, paved the way for coming achievements; they were not "Masters" in the broader historical sense, but they were Masters in their day and generation, as compared with a host of less renowned composers; and they richly merit honorable mention here.

Nor were they the very first: the workings of a Romantic spirit may be recognized as far back as history reaches. There probably never was a human who, in trying to express something in tones, did not vaguely essay to express the self. Thus we conclude that there is no incompatibility between the Romantic and Classic spirits, nor is there any overt antagonism there; those with romantic incentives have always admitted and respected the necessity of law and order, and, conversely, the classical-minded surely always claimed the right to say, in tones, under surveillance of the law, what they felt. Schumann and his adherents called themselves Neo-Romanticists, and were a bit more clamorous in their call for freedom. And these were succeeded by the Futurists, Polytonalists, Atonalists, and by the mid twentieth century, by the Ultra-Futurists, Cacophanists, and Exoticists who simply go still farther in their disregard of the older conventions.

Just where these will land us, Heaven no doubt knows, but no mortal can foretell what Music (?) will be, a thousand years hence. The present storm will clear up---as surely as the sun emerges after devastating turmoil of the elements; and the results will mean real Progress, to the joy and benefaction of humanity.

It may be harking too far back to include G.J. (Abt) Vogler (1749-1814) in this list, but he was the author of at least one Symphony (in C) which was exceedingly popular; and he exerted a powerful influence as teacher---Weber and Meyerbeer were among his many pupils; furthermore, he outlived Haydn and Mozart.

Then came Peter von Winter (1754-1825) author of nine Symphonies, one of which, The Battle (with Chorus) appeared in 1814.

Ignaz J. Pleyel (1757-1831), who produced twenty-nine Symphonies, much admired for their grace.

Next followed in chronological order:

Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), an illustrious master of dramatic music, in France, and celebrated also for his contrapuntal erudition. On a visit to London in 1815 he wrote a Symphony for the Philharmonic Society, his only work of that type, and one that has historic interest alone.

Etienne Mehul (1763-1817), another outstanding representative of the dramatic side of musical art in France, author of many Operas, and four excellent Symphonies.

Then the cousins, Andreas Romberg (1767-1821), the composer of ten Symphonies, the best of which is one in D; and Bernard Romberg (1767-1841), who wrote a least one noteworthy Symphony---a tribute "Upon the death of Queen Louise."

Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858), pupil of Haydn, an enormously prolific and popular composer, among whose works was a Heroic Symphony, written 1818---thirteen years after the creation of Beethoven's Eroica.

George Onslow (1784_1852), composer of four Symphonies, one of which, in A major, possesses positive merit.

Luwig Spohr (1784-1859), famous violinist, author of nine noteworthy Romantic Symphonies, the best known and admired, though not the most distinguished of which is the celebrated Fourth, in F (1834), The Consecration of Tone (or Tones); it is an example of straightforward program music, mirroring in succession: "Chaos, without Tone; Awakening; Cradle song; Dance; Serenade; Martial music; Funderal music; and Comfort in Tears"---a work of no little originality, and melodic and harmonic charm, but wholly wanting (in consequence of its descriptive purpose) in symphonic compactness and structural logic. In its day it was sure of a place on orchestral programs, and was everywhere heartily applauded; but, in company with many another meritorious production of the above-listed symphonists, it is now overshadowed and eclipsed by the preeminent creations of true, genuine Masters , from Haydn to Brahms---and of later time.

Finally, Johann W. Kalliwoda (1801-1866), who produced seven Symphonies, the third of which, written in 1831, exhibits qualities of substantial worth, deserving of sincere recognition. Like the others, it is now forgotten.



The Enlightenment: The Salon

Although the leading figures of the Enlightenment were all men, the social context was the highly-civilized "salon", usually presided over by a women with some independent wealth.

On Julie de Lespinasse

From Memoir of Baron de Grimm

Her circle met daily from five o'clock until nine in the evening. There we were sure to find choice men of all orders in the State, the Church, the Court,-military men, foreigners, and the most distinguished men of letters. Every one agrees that though the name of M. d'Alembert may have drawn them thither, it was she alone who kept them there. Devoted wholly to the care of preserving that society, of which she was the soul and the charm, she subordinated to this purpose all her tastes and all her personal intimacies. She seldom went to the theatre or into the country, and when she did make an exception to this rule it was an event of which all Paris was notified in advance.... Politics, religion, philosophy, anecdotes, news, nothing was excluded from the conversation, and, thanks to her care, the most trivial little narrative gained, as naturally as possible, the place and notice it deserved. News of all kinds was gathered there in its first freshness.

From Memoir of Marmontel

The circle was formed of persons who were not bound together. She had taken them here and there in society, but so well assorted were they that once there they fell into harmony like the strings of an instrument touched by an able hand. Following out that comparison, I may say that she played the instrument with an art that came of genius; she seemed to know what tone each string would yield before she touched it; I mean to say that our minds and our natures were so well known to her that in order to bring them into play she had but to say a word. Nowhere was conversation more lively, more brilliant, or better regulated than at her house. It was a rare phenomenon indeed, the degree of tempered, equable heat which she knew so well how to maintain, sometimes by moderating it, sometimes by quickening it. The continual activity of her soul was communicated to our souls, but measurably; her imagination was the mainspring, her reason the regulator. Remark that the brains she stirred at will were neither feeble nor frivolous: the Coudillacs and Turgots were among them; d'Alembert was like a simple, docile child beside her. Her talent for casting out a thought and giving it for discussion to men of that class, her own talent in discussing it with precision, sometimes with eloquence, her talent for bringing forward new ideas and varying the topic-always with the facility and ease of a fairy, who, with one touch of her wand, can change the scene of her enchantment-these talents, I say, were not those of an ordinary woman. It was not with the follies of fashion and vanity that daily, during four hours of conversation, without languor and without vacuum, she knew how to make herself interesting to a wide circle of strong minds.

From Letter of Julie de Lespinasse to the Comte de Guibert.

I love you too well to impose the least restraint upon myself; I prefer to have to ask your pardon rather than commit no faults. I have no self­love with you; I do not comprehend those rules of conduct that make us so content with self and so cold to those we love. I detest prudence, I even hate (suffer me to say so) those "duties of friendship" which substitute propriety for interest, and circumspection for feeling. How shall I say it? I love the abandonment to impulse, I act from impulse only, and I love to madness that others do the same by me.

Ah! mon Dieu! How far I am from being equal to you! I have not your virtues, I know no duties with my friend; I am closer to the state of nature; savages do not love with more simplicity and good faith.

The world, misfortunes, evils, nothing has corrupted my heart. I shall never be on my guard against you; l shall never suspect you. You say that you have friendship for me; you are virtuous; what can l fear? I will let you see the trouble, the agitation of my soul, and I shall not blush to seem to you weak and inconsistent. I have already told that I do not seek to please you; I do not wish to usurp your esteem. I prefer to deserve your indulgence-in short, I want to love you with all my heart and to place in you a confidence without reserve....

From Letters of Julie de Lespinasse, Katherine P. Wormley, trans. (Boston: Hardy, Pratt and Co., 1903), p9,. 34-35, 75.

On Madame Geoffrin

Madame Geoffrin was married to a rich man. His money seems to have been the main benefit she found in the marriage. She used it to help her philosophe friends.

From Memoir of d'Alembert

Much has been said respecting Madame Geoffrin's goodness, to what a point it was active,
restless, obstinate. But it has not­been added, and which reflects the greatest honour upon her, that, as she advanced in years, this habit constantly increased. For the misfortune of society, it too often happens that age and experience produce a directly contrary effect, even in very virtuous characters, if virtue be not in them a powerful sentiment indeed, and of no common stamp. The more disposed they have been at first to feel kindness towards their fellow creatures, the more, finding daily their ingratitude, do they repent of having served them, and even consider it almost as a reproach to themselves to have loved them. Madame Geoffrin had learnt, from a more reflected study of mankind, from taking a view of them more enlightened by reason and justice, that they are more weak and vain than wicked; that we ought to compassionate their weakness, and bear with their vanity, that they may bear with ours....
The passion of giving, which was an absolute necessity to her seemed born with her, and tormented her, if l may say so, even from her earliest years. While yet a child, if she saw from the window any poor creature asking alms, she would throw whatever she could lay her hands upon to them; her bread, her linen, and even her clothes. She was often scolded for this intemperance of charity, sometimes even punished, but nothing could alter the disposition, she would do the same the very next day....

Always occupied with those whom she loved, always anxious about them, she even anticipated every thing which might interrupt their happiness. A young man, [note: yhis young man was d'Alembert himself] for whom she interested herself very much, who had till that moment been wholly absorbed in his studies, was suddenly seized with an unfortunate passion, which rendered study, and even life itself insupportable to him. She succeeded in curing him. Some time after she observed that the same young man, mentioned to her, with great interest, an amiable woman with whom he had recently become acquainted. Madame Geoffrin, who knew the lady, went to her. "I am come," she said, "to intreat a favour of you. Do not evince too much friendship for * * * * or too much desire to see him, he will be soon in love with you, he will be unhappy, and I shall be no less so to see him suffer; nay, you yourself will be a sufferer, from consciousness, of the sufferings you occasion him." This woman, who was truly amiable, promised what Madame Geoffrin desired, and kept her word.

As she had always among the circle of her society persons of the highest rank and birth, as she appeared even to seek an acquaintance with them, it was supposed that this flattered her vanity. But here a very erroneous opinion was formed of her; she was in no respect the dupe of such prejudices, but she thought that by managing the humours of these people, she could render them useful to her friends. "You think," said she, to one of the latter, for whom she had a particular regard, "that it is for my own sake I frequent ministers and great people. Undeceive yourself,-it is for the sake of you, and those like you who may have occasion for them...."
From Memoir of Baron de Grimm

Whether from malice or inattention, one who was in the habit of lending books to the husband of Madame Geoffrin, sent him several times in succession the first volume of the Travels of Father Labbat. M. Geoffrin with all the composure possible, always read the book over again without perceiving the mistake. "How do you like these Travels, Sir?"-"They are very interesting, but the author seems to me somewhat given to repetition."-He read Bayle's Dictionary with great attention, following the line with his finger along the two columns. "What an excellent work, he said, if it were only a little less abstruse."-"You were at the play this evening, M. Geoffrin, said one, pray what was the performance?"-"I really cannot say, I was in a great hurry to get in and had no time to look at the bill."- However deficient the poor man was, he was permitted to sit down to dinner, at the end of the table, upon condition that he never attempted to join in conversation. A foreigner who was very assiduous in his visits to Madame Geoffrin, one day, not seeing him as usual at table, enquired after him: "What have you done, Madam, with the poor man whom I always used to see here, and who never spoke a word?"-"Oh, that was my husband!-he is dead."

From Baron de Grimm, Historical and Literary Memoirs and Anecdotes, (London: Henry Colburn, 1815), Vol. 3, pp. 400-405, 52­53.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006


Arnold Schönberg: Verklärte Nacht

From Julian Ribke (translation: Mary Whittall)

Schönberg found the inspiration for his string sextet in Richard Dehmel's poem 'Verklärte Nacht', which was first published in the collection 'Weib und Welt' and later incorporated in Dehmel's novel 'Zwei Menschen'. Although Schönberg expressly uses the term "programme music", in the note he wrote on the work in 1950 he makes a careful distinction: "My composition was, perhaps, somewhat different from other illustrative compositions, firstly, by not being for orchestra but for a chamber group and secondly, because it does not illustrate any action or drama, but was restricted to portray nature and express human feelings... in other words, it offers the possibility to be appreciated as 'pure' music."
Richard Dehmel confirms the effect the sextet makes as autonomous music in a letter to Schönberg (12 December 1912): "Yesterday evening I heard Transfigured Night, and I would consider it a sin of omission if I did not say a word of thanks to you for your wonderful sextet. I had intended to follow the motives of my text in your composition, but I soon forgot to do so, I was so enraptured by the music." Schönberg wrote back (13 December 1912) that he was "reflecting in music" what Dehmel's poetry "stirred up" in him.
Schönberg follows Dehmel's poem in the structure of the sextet: he divides the single-move-ment work into five sections of differing expressive character. Parts 1, 3 and 5, describing the two people and the atmosphere of their surroundings as they walk through the moonlit wood, frame two episodes, the woman's confession and the man's reply. But in spite of these divisions, the form can be understood in more ways than one. 'Transfigured night' prefigures a form of construction which Schönberg was to perfect in his succeeding instrumental works: 'Pelleas and Melisande' op.5, the D minor Quartet op.7 and the Chamber Symphony op.9. Each of these single-movement works can be regarded with equally good reason as an expanded first-movement sonata form, or as a complete symphony in which the movements are connected. In the sextet, too, the statement of themes is followed by complex developmental working, and in the fifth section the thematic complexes which have programmatic significance are brought together, so that this part of the work assumes the general character of a recapitulation. Again, the second section of the work, where the woman speaks and which itself falls into five parts, can be interpreted as the principal movement of a cyclic work; in turn the man's reply can be seen as performing the function of the slow movement in a symphony. It would be amiss, however, to interpret the form overall as a rondo with recurring refrains: although the theme from the introduction permeates all three of the "moonlit wood" sections, they are transformed in expression and function as they absorb and prolong the emotional atmosphere of the episodes. After the woman's excited outburst the theme from the introduction returns 'fortissimo' and marked "schwer betont" (with heavy emphasis), and rising quaver (eighth-note) figures make it more urgent, until the music gradually calms down and the third section dies away on sustained E flat minor chords. In the final section the theme floats radiantly in gentle 'pianissimo' above the arpeggios of the second violin: in the poem the surroundings have been transformed from a "bare, cold wood" to "high, bright night".
There is an abundance of thematic material in part 2, the woman's confession. One group after another builds up to a climax of intensity: a virtuoso display by Schönberg of Brahms's technique of developing variation. This section ends with an expressive recitative-like passage which leads without a break into the "moonlit wood" theme and the third section. Although there are thematic links with what has gone before, the second episode, the man's answer, is also complete in itself. After the anxious E flat minor ending of the third section, the establishment of D major and the powerful, introductory cello cantilena have a liberating effect. A further change in mood is created by muted F sharp major harmonics, ornamented with rapid semiquaver (16th-note) figurations, which, Schönberg wrote, "express the beauty of the moonlight" which suffuses the man's comforting words. The significance given to thematic working and the interweaving of the sections is reminiscent of Wagnerian leitmotive technique. That, and the serious engagement with the Lisztian precedent of symphonic single-movement form, show the influence that the legacy of the New German movement had on Schönberg. In the article "My Evolution" (1949) he explained which where the Wagnerian and Brahmsian elements he had incorporated in his own style in 'Transfigured Night':
"The thematic construction is based on Wagnerian 'model and sequence' above a roving harmony on the one hand, and on Brahms's technique of developing variation - as I call it - on the other. Also to Brahms must be ascribed the imparity of measures ... But the treatment of the instruments, the manner of composition, and much of the sonority were stricly Wagnerian. I think there were also some Schönbergian elements to be found in the breadth of the contrapuntal and motivic combinations, and in the semi-contrapuntal movement of the harmony and its basses against the melody. Finally, there were already some passages of unfixed tonality which may be considered premonitions of the future".

* * *

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Anton Bruckner Symphonies

I have profound respect for Bruckner's work.

Bruckner's deeply meditative music poses a challenge to listeners. The nine symphonies, most spanning an hour in length, gradually unfold over broad landscapes. Bruckner's symphonies begin quietly and take the shape of theme and variation; an opening theme is smoothly spun, which initiates a synthesis to take place over the entire work. The music is a reflection of Bruckner's Catholic faith, often taking on a medieval quality and reminiscent of church modes. Moments of high drama, quiet ponderousness, and absolute silence lie side by side, forming a coherent whole beyond the limits of earthly reality. A Bruckner symphony does not refer to concrete images, nor does it undergo a familiar style of "development"; it simply exists as a vast, autonomous body of sound. Bruckner's works were outlandish to the Viennese public, but helped propel European music into the era of Mahler, Strauss, and Debussy by further broadening the limits of symphonic time and space.

Bruckner did enjoy increasing fame in his late years, as society became accustomed to the workings of Wagnerism; by the time of his final illness, he was a former professor of the Vienna Conservatory and the recipient of a government pension for his goodwill to the Austrian Empire. Bruckner's works have found performances worldwide, due to a steady growth in popularity since his death in 1896. A lack of interference by the Nazi government, who otherwise stunted the progress of Mahler, Kurt Weill, Boris Blacher, and others, was particularly helpful, as was the dedication of conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Daniel Barenboim, and Herbert von Karajan to performing Bruckner whenever the chance has presented itself. Still to be resolved, however, are questions about the scores themselves; they were sometimes revised through Bruckner's own decision, but also through the persuasion of friends who thought his music could be made "listener-friendly." One should note the different versions of some symphonies, with unwanted cuts and alterations still being weeded out by musicologists.

Despite this controversy and the strife during his own lifetime, Bruckner's creative achievement endures. Whether written for church or concert hall, his music pulls audiences into a different realm, where ordinary thought is transcended. His first numbered symphonies (1, 2, 3) and his two earlier attempts (Number 0, or "Die Nullte," and the "Study" Symphony) are moving, but they are curiosities in comparison to the middle (4, 5, 6) and late (7, 8, 9). Symphony Number 4 ("Romantic") is his most medieval and most popular; Number 7 is noted for its sublimity, written in tribute to the recently-deceased Wagner; Number 8 is his farthest-reaching; while Number 9, left incomplete, assures us of Bruckner's peace in later life. The numerous masses, motets, and hymns are also unparalleled in both aesthetic and religious terms. As attention spans become narrower and values change from the spiritual to the material, musicians have feared Bruckner's music losing popularity. But it is this inherent spirituality, this certainty of faith, which makes it perhaps even more attractive in our time.


Thursday, February 16, 2006


Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Andrew Clements
Friday May 12, 2000
The Guardian

Ever since Walt Disney's Fantasia in 1940, Paul Dukas's Symphonic Scherzo after Goethe has been inseparable from the image of Mickey Mouse trying to stem the battalions of buckets marching through the sorcerer's cellar. That sequence has been a mixed blessing for the reputation of The Sorcerer's Apprentice: the piece may have become a popular classic as a result, but such familiarity has bred, if not exactly contempt, then at least a taking for granted of the work's brilliance as a piece of orchestral writing, for Dukas (1865-1935) was one of the most gifted and self-critical of all the turn-of-the-century French composers.
This intense self-scrutiny meant that, especially in the second half of his life, Dukas destroyed more music than he allowed to survive, and his reputation now rests on just 15 works, including a symphony, a ballet (La Péri), two major piano works and one unfairly neglected opera (Arianne et Barbe-Bleue, to a libretto by Maeterlinck).
The Sorcerer's Apprentice was written in parallel with the symphony and first performed in the same year (1897); some of its themes share more than just a family likeness with that work, and it has been suggested that Dukas originally intended it as the symphony's scherzo. But the bigger work is entirely abstract and, as the subtitle indicates, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is explicitly programmatic. Based on Goethe's poem of the same name, it is self-contained in its own right.
The construction is very rigorous; Dukas was essentially a conservative composer who idolised Beethoven, but tended to pursue his harmonic and rhythmic schemes to their logical conclusion. The way in which the main theme of the scherzo is remorselessly accumulated from tiny cells fascinated the modernists around him, and both Stravinsky's Fireworks and Debussy's Jeux are indebted to Dukas's method of construction. But the genius of the piece is that for all its formal rigour it seems natural and, in its dazzling orchestral colours, vividly pictorial.
Conductors, then, need to balance the rigour of The Sorcerer's Apprentice with its sheer élan, and always remember that it is a scherzo. Toscanini certainly understood that - his version (Pearl) is lightning fast, while Leopold Stokowski, who recorded it for the Disney soundtrack, brings out all the orchestral splendour (Biddulph).
Among the more recent versions, it's James Levine with the Berlin Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon) who, surprisingly perhaps, balances the athleticism and structural coherence best; Charles Dutoit (Decca) is fractionally too staid, though the Montreal Symphony's playing is superb. The only disadvantage of the Levine version is that it is coupled with Saint-Säens rather than with more Dukas, but David Zinman and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, who produce a fine-grained and intelligent performance, combine it with La Péri and Dukas's overture Polyeucte, as well as Vincent d'Indy's Symphony. A perfect introduction to a fascinating composer.

Key recording: Zinman (Philips 454 127-2)

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Tchaikovsky: Sixth Symphony, B minor, Op.74

Tchaikovsky wrote his Sixth, and last, Symphony (Op.74 in B minor) in 1893, very shortly before his sudden death. He himself called it the Pathetic, and the impression became quite general that he had been laboring under the premonition of his approaching end. Nothing could be farther from the truth; moreover, only the brief final Movement is genuinely pathetic, and that but part of the time, this pathetic mood being brightened by contrasting episodes of decidedly hopeful and consoling quality. The first Movement is tragic rather than pathetic, yet here again frequent gleams of light and warmth fall across the background of passion---in this way, to be sure, accentuating the tragic pulses by their contrast.

The first Movement is in regular, but broad sonata-allegro form. A brief Introduction (Adagio) precedes the principal Theme, based entirely upon the opening motive; and two Codettas follow the subordinate Theme. This first Movement contains a number of stirring climaxes, carried out with that logical force and sureness of aim in which Tchaikovsky was adept.

There is no authentic slow Movement, or, more correctly stated, the slow Movement is shifted to the last place in the Symphony---as Finale. The second Movement has, however, the lyric tone due at this point; it is graceful, charmingly melodious song, or dance, in swaying 5/4 meter. Its complacent, happy countenance is slightly clouded with a veil of melancholy in the Trio.

The third Movement represents the Scherzo, though it carries no title. It is anything but "pathetic," and it has a unique structural plan: an apparently unimportant motive, in striking rhythmic form, creeps in (in the ninth measure) quite incidentally---later turns out to be the index of the subordinate Theme---and then advances steadily into overpowering prominence; its ultimate complete supremacy is recorded in crashing blasts of the brass instruments, in a climax that is almost without parallel in legitimate symphonic literature. The design is sonatine-allegro (there is no Development).

The Finale, contrary to all precedent, is a slow Movement, Adagio lamentoso, that is no doubt chiefly responsible for the designation of the Symphony as a whole. Its principal Theme is profoundly "pathetic;" but the subordinate Theme is a lyric melody (in Song-form) of rich, trustful quality, that breathes hope and solace: some music lovers may regret the return to deep sadness at the end.



BBC SO to present portrait of Argentine Composer Osvaldo Golijov

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Christopher Cook are presenting a portrait concert of Osvaldo Golijov which will feature four premieres of the composer's work. Golijov's music has become familiar to audiences in the US but is still relatively unknown in the UK.

The concert, which will be broadcast by Radio 3 at 19.30 on 16th February, will feature Last Round (UK premiere); Tekyah (UK premiere); Ainadamar Arias and Ensembles (world premiere); Ayre (European premiere).

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Schumann Festival 2006

With Mozart celebrations bubbling up everywhere, we should pause to remember that Schumann died 150 years ago, 1856.

Please check out Schumann Festival.


Friday, February 10, 2006


New York Philharmonic to Make Concerts Available for Digital Downloading

February 9, 2006
New York Times

The New York Philharmonic, not known for its quick-stepping ways, is entering the new world of digital downloading under a three-year recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon, the orchestra announced yesterday.

Deutsche Grammophon, using live recordings by the orchestra, will release four concerts a year, probably through iTunes and perhaps through other Web sites, said Zarin Mehta, the orchestra's president. The first is due in about two months and will be priced at about $8 to $10, he said. It will consist of this weekend's program at Avery Fisher Hall, Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 39, 40 and 41, conducted by Lorin Maazel. Listeners will probably have the choice of downloading a movement, a symphony or the whole concert, Mr. Mehta said.

The orchestra thus finds itself in the vanguard of purveying performances through the Internet. Few others have done so, although many are contemplating the move.

Mr. Mehta also announced another recording deal, an arrangement with New World Records to release two CD's a year of new works commissioned and played by the Philharmonic in their world premieres. Those recordings, too, will be available by download, said the orchestra's spokesman, Eric Latzky.

The Philharmonic, with one of the largest back catalogs of any major orchestra, has not been releasing recordings on a large scale since a series on the Teldec label in the 1990's, when Kurt Masur was the music director. In fact, few orchestras have been recording much in recent years, citing the expense under contracts with their musicians and a decline in the market.

But an agreement with the Philharmonic players changed the fee structure, Mr. Mehta said, and allowed the moves. Instead of receiving flat fees and relinquishing rights, the musicians will share in any future revenues.

It is by no means clear whether the deals will be profitable. The New World project is going forward only because of foundation support.
As for the possibilities of making money from downloading, Mr. Mehta said: "There will be some money to be made. But in the heyday of the record industry, artists made money but orchestra institutions never made that much money. What it did was really provide income for the musicians. It made them feel worthwhile. It was a great calling card."

In the rubble of the current classical recording landscape, all sorts of experiments are being tried. Opera houses are providing online streaming. The Sydney Symphony in Australia will provide 10 streamed and downloadable concerts. The London Symphony Orchestra produces its own CD's. The Philadelphia Orchestra has a three-year deal with the Ondine label, under which it will produce its own concerts and Ondine will distribute and market them. The Milwaukee Symphony this year began MSO Classics, which offers concerts for downloading on iTunes.
"This is such a new world to all of us," Mr. Mehta said. "We don't know at this stage what the market is for it." In the Philharmonic's case, Deutsche Grammophon will market the recordings and pay the orchestra a percentage of revenues.

Billboard magazine recently reported that the downloading of digital albums grew 94 percent in 2005, compared with a 15 percent decline in album sales.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is negotiating with Universal to make its concerts available for download. Its music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, predicted the death of CD's in a recent interview, saying that his children did not go to stores for music but used their iPods.

Mr. Mehta described the recording plans during a news conference to announce the orchestra's 2006-7 season, its 165th.

Two major commissions will be played: a trombone concerto by Melinda Wagner, to be performed by the orchestra's principal trombonist, Joseph Alessi, and a piano concerto by Mr. Salonen, who will conduct. It will be his first appearance with the orchestra since his 1986 debut.

Three previously announced long-term relationships will start next season, with Riccardo Muti conducting four weeks of concerts and David Robertson and Alan Gilbert two weeks each. Colin Davis will mark his 80th birthday with a Mozart program. The early-music specialists Harry Bicket and Bernard Labadie will make their first appearances with the orchestra.

The Philharmonic will follow recent performances of "Candide" and "Sweeney Todd" with a semistaged performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." "The orchestra can swing," Mr. Mehta said.

Mr. Maazel will conduct six programs of Brahms, the first time he will have done any of the symphonies since taking over the orchestra. His predecessor, Mr. Masur, did them often and well, he said. "I felt we should have a decent waiting period," he added.

Next season will be Mr. Maazel's fifth as music director, with two more to go, and he implied that he would not be extending the contract. "By the end of my fifth season," he said, "I will start to gradually think how sad it will be to leave the orchestra after my seventh."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Friday, February 03, 2006


Inside the Orchestra

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 3, 2006; C01
"It's not drudgery," says Dick, one of the large cast of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians identified only by first name in Daniel Anker's documentary "Music From the Inside Out." But what he really means is, it's not drudgery so long as you can still reconnect with what first made music meaningful to you. Good advice for anyone who is doing what they always wanted to do and finding it a bit routine.
Anker's movie, which follows members of one of the country's greatest orchestras as it tours the world, skates around the drudgery question. We don't see lonely musicians closeted in practice rooms, and when they come together to play one of the great monuments of the repertoire -- Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony or Brahms's First Symphony -- there's no reminder that each of them has played these same pieces perhaps hundreds of times before.
Still, the musicians give enough unfiltered access to their lives to suggest the tensions and frustrations of making music as one cog in a very big, and often authoritarian, machine. For some, there is a struggle between submitting to the conductor's vision and maintaining some shred of independence or personality. There is the disappointment of those who aspired to solo careers and ended up in an orchestra. And there's a recurrent sense of loneliness and alienation that leads many musicians to take refuge in music as a bulwark against their own social isolation.
The first of the film's three sections leaves one with a rather bleak view of the great core repertoire of the orchestra. Adam, a horn player, got a jazz degree. Jazz for him is "a looser way to play," in contrast to orchestral work, which, he says, is "artistically frustrating" at times. Zack finds the same release in bluegrass and fiddling. Nitzan, a trombone player, heads off to jam in a Latin music club after his regular Thursday night orchestra performance.
The director's point, most likely, is the usual ideological one: Music is music is music, no matter what its style, purpose or supposed status in the world. But the darker message is that playing in an orchestra is so limiting that sane musicians need other outlets.
As the film progresses, that unintended message takes on grander existential implications. Although no one can quite articulate it, being part of an orchestra puts the individual in constant contact with music so grand and utopian that it can either ennoble or wreck the soul. It demands from those who make it essentially the same bargain that the religious must make with God: You submit and serve, in return for a deeper sense of participation in the sublime.
The problem is that music can't reward one in the same sense that many people believe God can. Ultimately, it is a human project, and the grandeur and sublimity it projects is simply the product of another human imagination. Submission to the divine is one thing; submission to the imagination of a deeply flawed man with a bad temper who lived two centuries ago and went by the name of Beethoven is another. The perversity of orchestral life is that it requires the yoking together of individual human beings to create music about independence, individual dignity and freedom.
The most moving stories collected in this documentary hint, in one way or another, at the importance of selflessness among the players. We learn the full name of concertmaster David Kim when we see a clip of him, in 1986, competing in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Violin Competition. He took a medal and seemed to be on the verge of fulfilling his mother's ready-made dream for him before he was born: to be a concert soloist.
"I got pretty close at some point," he says. But the gigs got smaller and further in between, and one day, after watching the movie "Jerry Maguire" -- about a man who reassesses his ambitions -- Kim gave up and joined an orchestra.
It was, he says, a liberating but difficult epiphany.
"Now I really feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the whole world," he says.
The emotional challenges many of these musicians confront would make a lot more sense if the filmmaker made a better case for why the classical music written from the early years of the 18th century through the middle decades of the 20th century is, in fact, different from other music.
For about 250 years, composers from Bach and Beethoven to Schoenberg constructed music with radically bigger ambitions than anything that had been made (in Western society) before them. Breaking free of preordained religious and political ideas about humanity, they offered a new sense, in sound, of what it meant to be and feel human. Their music suggested an unprecedented complexity and daring in the human project. It put the mortal individual at the center of the emotional and philosophical universe.

Toiling in service to such grand visions is humbling, exhilarating and
exhausting. The classical pianist who turns to jazz after a long day of playing Bach and Beethoven isn't necessarily making a case for the
equivalence of these two different types of music; rather, like a guy who does theoretical physics by day and unwinds with pickup basketball in the evening, the musician takes a break, looks for other rewards (often social) and flexes different muscles.
Orchestral musicians suffer the double indignity (or blessing) of living within the unreasonably grand visions of men such as Brahms and Mahler, and doing so as essentially anonymous worker bees. Their entire existence embodies a series of contradictions: vassals of utopian dreams, slaves to a fantasy of freedom, servants of an ideal of liberation.
Federico Fellini probably got this basic absurdity of orchestral life best in his 1978 "Orchestra Rehearsal," in which open rebellion breaks out among the members of a tyrannized orchestra. His was a brutally comic vision of the basic contradictions of orchestral life.
"Music From the Inside Out" has a softer touch, and some powerful moments, including a passage in which one of Brahms's most devastatingly beautiful melodies results from stitching together snatches of the tune from individual players. The filmmaker also got extraordinary access to the musicians, a rarity in a business perpetually hampered by paranoid public relations directors and their fatal inability to know what, in fact, is actually interesting about what orchestras do.
Is it a great film? Not quite. It flits from idea to idea too promiscuously and relies too much on the visually deadening use of people talking on camera. For some incomprehensible reason, none of the music used is identified, except in the credits -- as if it doesn't really matter what we're hearing. But among the dull passages there are some moving stories, and a very loving sympathy for the people it profiles.
Music From the Inside Out (97 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated but contains nothing objectionable even to the finest sensitivities.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Bach soothes animals at shelter

An RSCPA rescue centre has installed a £2,000 sound system to play soothing classical music to stressed dogs.
Staff at the kennels in West Hatch, near Taunton, Somerset, said they now hear Bach rather than barks.
The animals are said to respond well to the strains of Beethoven and Mozart, but are not fans of pop or dance music.
Deputy manager Anita Clarke said: "It's a very stressful environment for the dogs to be in here, so anything that can help is worth a go."
'Calming effect'
The cost of the music system was met through fundraising by the Friends of West Hatch.
Whale sounds and panpipes are also played and sometimes radio output so the animals get used to hearing people talking.
Ms Clarke said: "Music is proven to have a calming effect on both animals and people.
"It definitely works. It's quieter in the kennels now because if one dog barks when it's quiet they all start but if music's playing they don't."
Story from BBC NEWS: 2006/01/31 11:06:43 GMT© BBC MMVI


Classical website Andante shuts down

The Classical Musician has just suffered another calamity., a web site whose stated goal was to be the leading classical music site on the internet has closed down, after it's French owners Naive told members of the site that it was no longer able to provide the resources to run the site. Andante offered digital downloads of classical music as well as a large range of news and reviews.

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