Classical musicians and classical music topics.

Feb 272011

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) is one of the most important figures (if not the most important and influential figures, in all of Western Music. Yet, as often can be the case, by the end of his career, many considered him “old hat”. At the end of the Baroque period, the Classical style. Haydn was nearly an adult, and Mozart and Beethoven would be dominating the 2nd half of the 18th century.

(He) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. – Donald Grout, (1980), A History of Western Music.

Feb 112011

ffAlexandre Lagoya (1929 – 1999) and Ida Presti (1924 – 1967)

Lagoya was already established as an A-list classical guitarist when he met and subsequently married Ida Presti. They became one of the most remarkable duos ever. The English critic and musicologist Tony Cornwall gives some insight into their particular magic in following quote:

In these tawdry times where great emphasis is given by the media to celebration of the purely physical side of humanity—sport, models, etc.—questions of the mind and heart are often given short shrift. At a time when intimacy between adults is most often identified with the sexual act, it is refreshing and invigorating to hear proof of the narrowness of this view and the possibilities that exist. If you listen to any of Lagoya-Presti’s playing—not just hearing, but actively engaging with the music—you will hear conversations of such intimacy that one at first feels embarrassed at being privy to them. It is hard at times to believe that two people could communicate so intricately. Given that both are playing classical guitars makes it all the more extraordinary– Tony Cornwall

Cicking the mp3 link below, you’ll haer their own arrangement for two guitars of Debussy’s Clair De Lune. The original piano piece is in Db Major. However, they have moved it up to D Major. One guitar is tuned to D (or Drop-D); the other in standard tuning. This allows a rich bass for the home key, when the ‘D’ guiter plays its lowest note. One of the signature parts of the song is a ii minor (here it is an ‘E’) that occurs early on, when the melody moves from a minor 9th, then root, then minor-major 7th, a minor 7th,all the while over a sustained E note. On a piano, the low note is sounded using the sostenuto pedal; on the guitar, the bass note is allowed to sustain. Here the note is played as low E on the standard tuned guitar. You will hear this at 1:10 (open E); then at 2:03. An open D (D also played in many other places in the song). Also notice the creative use of harmonics from 3:00-3:24. This technique effectively extends the sustainable range of the guitar.

Feb 042011
Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming (1959 - )

Renee Fleming (1959 – ) is primarily a classical musician, although her interests in music and singing span a wide field. Her resume of opera appearances and roles is exhausting, reflecting a busy career of many years.

Her musical pedigree is stellar. Both of her parents were music teachers. She studied at both the Eastman School of Music and at Julliard. It is no wonder that a talented and dedicated singer such as her got to be an A-List opera singer.

However, unlike most of the “old-school” classical musicians, she has always applied her musical interests towards the performance of all kinds of music. While at the Eastman School of Music, she sang in a jazz trio, and later, at Julliard, played gigs to help pay for her schooling. It is not surprising that she has expressed an increasing desire and preference for performing concerts, rather than operas. From a recent Wall Street Journal interview, she said

It’s unlikely I will learn any more operas than I already do”.f
Commenting on the classical music “traditionalists” vs. those who reinterpret the opera standards. “I’m not a reactionary. I’ve loved some of [these productions] when they’ve been well thought out. I have no problem with edgy, as long as it’s not vulgar or disrespectful of the piece.

In addition to numerous Classical and Operatic recording, she has also recorded with many well-know popular and jazz artists including Elton John, John Bolton, lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and others. In the movie, “Lord of the Rings” she sang a song in an imaginary language. She has recorded albums in her name covering songs by Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, and others. She sings on Yo Yo Ma’s CD/DVD on 2009. (Yo Yo Ma is another classical musician unafraid to venture into other genres). On this album, she sang “Touch the Hand of Lover”, written by jazz singer, pianist and composer Blossom Dearie.

On that particular DVD, Yo Yo Ma also collaborated with Diana Krall on one song, James Taylor on another, and so on. In 2009, Renee sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, at the Presidential Inauguration, where Yo Yo Ma and many other popular and classical musicians also played.

Renee Fleming (Wikipedia)

Jan 112011
The Young Glen Gould

The Young Glen Gould

“The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations.The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” – Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) Genius, articulate, reclusive, asperger’s syndrome/OCD, 4-time Grammy winner, writer, documentarian, iconoclast, alchemist, and revolutionary. He is, or has been called all of those things. He used to stay up all night and play piano and then call friends on the phone. He enthusiastically embraced recording technology. Continue reading »

Jan 082011

Young Franz Schubert

What makes a melody beautiful, interesting or memorable?

I wish I knew the formula to make that happen. Of course, there is no “formula” (fortunately). But we can all look back at songs we know of and make these sorts of assertions.Here we will look at examples of melodies and deconstruct them for the purpose of shedding light on the craft of songwriting.

On a big poster you could write the names of all 600+ songs Franz Schubert wrote in his 31 years on the planet, throw a dart and hit a gem. Let’s look at his song An Die Musik. The song was once sung (really well) by Garret Morris on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (The gag was joke text scrolling by as he sang).

The song is an homage to music, as you can see in the english translation (it doesn’t translate very well from the original German):

Oh lovely Art, in how many gloomy hours,
When life’s fierce orbit entangled me,
Have you kindled my heart to warmer love,
have you carried me away into a better world!

How oft’ has sighs, flown from your harp–
A sweet, sacred chord from you–
Unlocked for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you for this,
You lovely art, I thank youI

Looking at this song from a compositional standpoint, let’a see if there are any clues as to why the song works so well. There is just enough intro (2 bars) to establish the key and to set the singer up, that is, enable the singer to get the beginning in his/her head. The bass in the piano does that, and the pattern is echoed throughout the rest of the song. Then the intro resolves to home key in the 1st beat of the 3rd bar, Now it’s the singer’s turn. When it goes to the IV chord, the piano’s high note changes, and “clues” the singer for the chord change (bar 7). It goes the the relative minor after that, and back home, setting up the piano. The piano then does an interesting sequence to get to the I, where the singer comes back in; but that line is mostly on the V chord, and the piano is right there with it. Shortly, the piano part plays an obvious build-up to move the the IV chord, which soon becomes B minor, the climax of the song. Then the vocal line’s movement brings us to the end of the 1st verse. The piano interlude, bringing us around to the 2nd verse is memorable. It even briefly includes a lydian mode IV chord, and later, an E min/maj 9th chord.

Wikipedia->Franz Shubert

Dec 152010

Lang Lang at Carnegie Hall

Lang Lang (1982 – ) classical pianist, seems to have been “on a roll” since birth. He is a superstar in the world of classical music. In China, much of the youth culture really loves classical music. I have seen the video where Lang Lang returns to Beijing triumphantly from the studying and touring in the U.S. It was reminiscent of the Beatles arriving in the U.S. at the height of their popularity.

Although some critics have panned him in various ways, audiences go wild over his often sold out performance. Major conductors such as Christof Eschenbach, Daniel Barenboim, Seijii Ozawa, and Zubin Mehta have either championed him or sought him out.

In the following video clip, he plays a Chopin etude in E Major. Towards the end, he plays so quietly and delicately that it seems to transcend possibility of how this can be done. Although he is quite unlike Glenn Gould, he seems to share the tendency to rotate his body in a clockwise motion.

This if from a DVD of his Carnegie Hall debut. Here he plays Liszt’s “Liebestraum” as one of the encore pieces.

Here is evidence of what he might do at a concert, not your father’s concert. He plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” on an iPad, just for fun.

Lang Lang’s website

Lang Lang on Wikipedia