Friday, December 9, 2016

Schubert's Schwanengesang

As a theory teacher, it is rare that I get to sit and enjoy an entire song cycle. I hear them in single songs, bits and pieces, used only to reflect the music theory topic du jour. So it is quite the experience to listen to an entire story from beginning to end. 


Today's Nash Library Vinyl is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert's Schwanengesang (swansong). This song cycle contains 14 songs. Through the performance of the songs, the following story emerges (basically): Man loves woman who breaks his heart. Man fleas town where he and his love interest live. Man feels wretched. Man tries to persuade a fisher maiden to make love to him. Man returns back to town and is still miserable and alone. Man sings about a carrier pigeon.

The fourth song, Ständchen (serenade), is part of the undergraduate vocalist ouevre and was also turned into a piano solo. But my favorite song iDer Doppelgänger (the double). This is the song sung when the man returns back to the town where he and his love lived. This piece is used in undergraduate theory as an excellent example of the Neapolitan harmony. But I can't help myself. I want to scream from the rooftops how amazing this song is to my students so we have to review and analyze the text and listen to the whole thing. I don't care that the Neapolitan harmony can be pointed out in 10 seconds. WE HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE WHOLE THING!

The translation of the text is (thanks, lieder.net!): 


"The night is calm, the avenues are quiet,
My sweet one lived in this house;
She has already left the city long ago,
The house certainly still stands, in the same place.

A man is standing there, too, staring up into space,
And powerfully wringing his hands in torment.
It horrifies me, when I see his countenance,
The moon shows me my own form.

You my fearful double, you pale partner!
Why do you ape the pain of my love,
That has tortured me here in this spot
So many a night, in times long ago?"

The song is laboriously slow, with a tempo indication of "sehr langsam" (very slow) and a piano accompaniment of slow, rhythmically stagnant chords. You can easily picture the sickly man, stalking by his ex's house, shoulders drooping, and hands almost dragging to the ground. The singer hovers on a single pitch for much of the beginning, as the man cautiously enters the house. As the music and story unfold we realize that the doppleganger is not another person in his love's old house- the narrator is simply seeing a reflection of himself.  I only use Fischer-Dieskau's recording when I teach this song to my students- his deep mellow voice and his haunting interpretation of the piece are unparalleled.  Go listen to it! Go listen to it now!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Add some Janáček to you life!

There is just not enough Janáček in our lives. On the turntable today is Leoš Janáček's Slavonic Mass.
 
Janáček (1854-1928) was Czechoslovakian. He was the son of a Moravian schoolmaster and organist. He founded and was the first director of the Brno Organ School. It took him 30 years to really get rolling with his composition, but eventually he developed a unique style, incorporation Moravian folksong, and pitch inflections and rhythms of his native language (and bird songs, dog growls, wild animal cries, rustling leaves...). He was best known for his operas and organ music. Because of my background, I am more familiar with his string music so I thought this would be a nice change of pace.

The Slavonic Mass involves choir, soloists, orchestra, and organ. His style is deeply unique and "hard to explain." While his harmonies are quite usual his rhythms and melodies are short, angular, and striking. The use of speech and language pitches and rhythms makes his music immediately strange but familiar.

Janáček exuded Nationalism and, like Beethoven, his mass was never meant for the church.  The notes from the vinyl jacket read: "The Slavonic Mass, for all its flaming ardor, was not intended to be a religious work, but a national one. 'I wanted to portray the faith on the certainty of the nation, not on a religious basis but on a basis of moral strength which takes God for witness'...The Mass is based upon the text of the ancient Glagolitic rite, brought to Moravia in the ninth century by the Saints Cyril and Methodius, and extinct in the churches of that country since the fifteenth century."

Sources
Griffiths, Paul and Jan Smaczny "Janáček, Leoš." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison LathamOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb8 Dec. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t114/e3526>.

Janáček, Leoš, Helga Pilarczyk, Janis Martin, Nicolai Gedda, George Gaynes, and Leonard Bernstein. Slavonic Mass: (mša Glagolskaja). Columbia, 1965. Sound recording.

John Tyrrell"Janáček, Leoš." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb8 Dec. 2016. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/14122>.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gustav Holst's Psalm 86

Today's Nash Library Vinyl contains three works by Gustav Holst: "A Choral Fantasia," "Psalm 86" and "Dies Natalis." While "A Choral Fantasia" and "Dies Natalis" are lovely, I will focus on "Psalm 86." This absolutely transported me. I hadn't heard it before and the tonal colors of the choir made me stop what I was doing and just...listen... I realized that the harmonies, especially in the middle section, reminded me very much of those in Rachmaninoff's "Bogoroditse Devo," a piece I have performed several times, most recently in the soprano section of the USAO Concert Choir.

Imogen Holst, the daughter of Gustav Holst, wrote the notes on the back of the album and also directed the works on the album along with Gerald Finzi. "Psalm 86" is written for chorus, string orchestra, and organ. It was written in 1912 and is based on a hymn-tune first heard from the Genevan Psalter of 1543. Imogen writes: "There are beautifully expressive passages for the strings: the solo tenor's chanting has the freedom of plainsong, and the unaccompanied sopranos and altos join him at the end of each line of his prayer, gathering his words together and lifting them into the measured serenity of their harmonies." I couldn't have said it better.

Psalm 86 (as set by Joseph Bryan):

To my humble supplication
Lord, give ear and acceptation;
Save Thy servant that hath none
Help nor hope but Thee alone.

Send, O send relieving gladness
To my soul opprest with sadness,
Which from clog of earth set free
Winged with zeal, flies up to Thee.

To Thee, rich in mercies treasure,
And in goodness without measure,
Never failing help to those
Who on Thy sure help repose.

Heav'nly Tutor, of thy kindness,
Teach my dullness, guide my blindness,
That my steps Thy paths may tread
Which to endless bliss do lead.

Friday, November 4, 2016

They can't all be good...

It's been a little while since I posted. I have to be honest that I've gotten stuck on listening to my own copy of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's album "Time Out." I also had a series of disappointments when it came to my Nash Library Vinyl experience.

Disappointment 1: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection," the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter.

A Mahler symphony is to be revered. You need to set aside special time to listen to it. Do not make any other plans. Just play the Mahler symphony and sit in the dark and question your life choices.

It was difficult to carve out a block of time, but when I did my Mahler experience was ruined. One word: piccolo. The piccolo player on this recording is abhorrently out of tune.

Disappointment 2: Moussorgsky's "Pictures at and Exhibition" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Cappriccio Espagnol," the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Two of my most favorite pieces in the whole world! I have fond memories of performing both of these works at George Mason University under the direction of Anthony Maiello. I tend to love Bernstein's tempos; they are always a bit faster than logically possibly. This recording was not bad, but it was not as vibrant as I want my Russian composers to sound.



Disappointment 3: J.S. Bach "Magnificat in D" and "Cantata no. 51."

This recording was lovely! But just prior to the final cadence of the Magnificat there is a skip in the record. You are left in a perceptual realm of unresolved harmony. No amount of cajoling the needle will get this to jump to the final chord. I am still an incomplete human.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Charles Ives: Pieces for Chamber Orchestra and Songs

From an early age, Charles Ives learned about musical experimentation from his father, George Ives, who was the bandmaster in Danbury, CT. His father often experimented with sound and included Charles in his experiments. For instance, his father would ask him to sing a song in one key while it was being played in a different key on the piano. A fun interactive website that demonstrates some of George Ives' musical experimentation can be found here

Charles took the musical experiences of his childhood and incorporated them into his own compositions, creating a unique (albeit oft-considered strange) musical voice. He worked predominantly as an insurance salesman and composed on the side. His efforts won him the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1947.

This album features works that are far less familiar than pieces such as "Three Places in New England," his "Variations on America" for organ, or "The Unanswered Question." It includes performances of smaller chamber works, songs for voice, and a piano sonata.  I recommend this album for when you need to feel highly uncomfortable.

Sources:
J. Peter Burkholder, et al. "Ives, Charles." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb4 Oct. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/ grove/music/A2252967>.

Ives, Charles, Harold Farberman, Corinne Curry, Luise Vosgerchian, and Bentley Layton. Chamber Pieces: Songs ; Piano Sonata. Wellesley, Mass: Cambridge, 1963. Sound recording.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Antonio Vivaldi

October 3, 2016. Today's @NashLibrary vinyl is a recording of some of Antonio Vivaldi's works performed by the Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra of Vienna (now known as the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria).



Vivaldi is a master of the concerto (a work for one solo instrument and orchestra) and the concerto grosso (a work for several soloist instruments and orchestra). The selections on this album were chosen for their unorthodox use of instruments. There is a concerto grosso for two lutes, a concerto for guitar, a concerto grosso for "diverse instruments" (2 flutes, oboe, English horn, 2 trumpets, 2 violas, violin and 2 harpsichords), and a concerto grosso for two oboes and two clarinets.

The concerto grosso for two lutes is brilliant. Since most of the music on the album is in the major mode, it is a welcome, and spirited way to begin the day or to enjoy with a learned cup of tea in the afternoon.

One interesting fact is that the Concerto grosso that features two oboes and two clarinets would have been one of the first pieces ever composed that specifically called for use of the clarinet in a solo and virtuoso manner. Other composers at the time were still unwilling to accept it.


Sources:

Janet K. Page, et al. "Clarinet." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press.Web3 Oct. 2016. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52768>

Michael Talbot"Vivaldi, Antonio." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb3 Oct. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/40120>.

Antonia Vivaldi, Edgar Seipenbusch, Antonio Vivaldi, Antonio Vivaldi, Antonio Vivaldi, and Antonio Vivaldi. Concerti for Lutes, Guitar, and Diverse Instruments. New York, N.Y: Musical Heritage Society, 1967. Sound recording.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Modern Jazz Quartet & Orchestra

September 30, 2016. Today's @NashLibrary vinyl is by The Modern Jazz Quartet & Orchestra (Atlantic Records, 1961). I love that the front of this album emphatically declares that it's in STEREO.

The original members of The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) first performed together as part of Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1946. The group went through various membership iterations, but the longest-standing membership included John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Connie Kay on drums, and Percy Heath on bass. 

The works on this recording are the result of third-stream composition, that is, a composition that synthesizes the essential techniques and characteristics of contemporary Western art music and other musical traditions. In this case, "classical" music is fused with jazz. The first person to coin the term "third-stream" was the composer, conductor, and writer Gunther Schuller during a lecture at Brandeis University in 1957. One of Schuller's works, the "Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra," is performed on the B side of the album. Schuller also conducted several of the works on the album.

One of the oddest arrangements is "England's Carol" by John Lewis. It is a combination of jazz and classical orchestra for an arrangement of the tune that most of us know as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

As a flute player, the third-stream example that instantly comes to mind is Claude Bolling's "Suite for Jazz Piano Trio". Guess what? Nash Library has vinyl of that piece too!

Sources:
Gunther Schuller"Third stream." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb30 Sep. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/
grove/music/27850>.

Thomas Owens"Modern Jazz Quartet." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb30 Sep. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/
grove/music/18837>.

Gunther Schuller. The Modern Jazz Quartet and Orchestra. New York: Atlantic, 1961. Sound recording.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

More Prokofiev!

Yes. I'm on a Prokofiev kick. My craze with the Nash Library vinyl began when I was researching recordings of the Prokofiev flute sonata. Hopefully my research paid off. Today's Prokofiev features Isaac Stern performing the first and second violin concertos. I first experienced the playing of Isaac Stern during a summer job in college. I worked at a women's clothes shop in Old Saybrook, CT. We would play CDs to create lovely, ambient clothes-shopping music. One of my favorite recordings was Isaac Stern performing famous violin works from movies, like the piece Pour Una Cabeza (a.k.a. the tango from Scent of a Woman).



I love that the notes for this recording begin with a physical description of Prokofiev: "He was tall and bald-headed and looked exactly like a well-to-do business man. His suit was a conservative English tweed; his tie a small-patterned foulard. His unremarkable face was clean-shaven. Prokofiev sat eating and talking with a minimum of motion and without changing his poker-face expression . . . Judged by his looks, Prokofiev might have been the author of the President's Annual Report of the Consolidated Utilities Corporation. There was an air of authority about him and the evidence of seasoned judgement in his remarks. Prokofiev is a man who know exactly what he wants, formulates his aims with absolute clarity and has the talent, healthy vitality, and capacity for hard work to achieve them."

The premier of the First Violin Concerto took place in 1923 under the direction of Sergei Koussevitzky, with Marcel Darieux as the soloist. The reactions of the press were mixed. Unfortunately Prokofiev's style straddled the line between too modern and too traditional. This often led to criticism from both sides of the tonal argument. The Second Violin Concerto is quite different, with clear tonality and the echoes of Russian folksong.

In this recording, Isaac Stern is accompanied by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

Sources: 
Dorothea Redepenning"Prokofiev, Sergey." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb29 Sep. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/ grove/music/22402>.

Sergey Prokofiev, Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Sergey Prokofiev. Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 19: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63. England: Fontana, 1958. Sound recording.

Nash Library Catalog Record

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Moura Lympany plays Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev




Record:  Moura Lympany plays the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 1 in f-sharp minor and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 1 in d-flat minor.



The obituary for Moura Lympany (1916-2005, English) can be found here.

According to the LP sleeve, Prokofiev performed his Piano Concerto no. 1 at the end of his ten-year course of study at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire in 1914. It was quite audacious to perform your own piece for your piano exam! He chose to perform his own work on the grounds that "there was a chance that my own [piece] might impress the examiners by the novelty of technique: they simply would not be able to judge whether I was playing it well or not!" His logic worked and he took first prize. The author of the sleeve notes, Leonard Duck, describes the concerto as a "vigorous, striding affair" and as "nervous, spasmadic."

Rachmaninoff wrote his Op. 1 when he was eighteen. The author of the sleeve notes for this piece, Scott Goddard, says Rachmaninoff's compositional prowess at such a young age must be due to his "unusual mental vigor." Although completed in 1891, he later revised it in 1917 and dedicated it to his previous piano teacher, Alexander Siloti.

Lympany's performances are superb.  Her clear articulation and technical ability are perfectly offset by the Philharmonia Orchestra's bombastic playing.

Sources:
Prokofiev, Sergey, Moura Lympany, and Walter Susskind. Concerto No. 1, in D Flat Major, Op. 10. Angel Records, 1958. Sound recording.


Prokofiev, Sergej S, Sergej S. Prokofiev, Sergej S. Prokofiev, Boris Berman, and Neeme Järvi. Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Flat Major Op. 10: Piano Concerto No. 4 in B Flat Major Op. 53 (for the Left Hand); Piano Concerto No. 5 in G Major Op. 55. Colchester: Chandos, 1990. Sound recording.


Rachmaninoff, Sergei, Idil Biret, Antoni Wit, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Nicolò Paganini. Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. S.l.: Naxos, 2000. Sound recording.

Nash Library Catalog Record

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bela Bartok Playing His Own Works


"Béla Bartók Playing His Own Works: Excerpts from 'Mikrokosmos'"

Released in 1952 by Columbia Records (ML 4419), the excerpts were originally recorded by Bartók (1881-1945, Hungarian) himself in 1940.  Bartók is important in music history not only for his work as a composer, but also for his research collecting, notating, and analyzing folk music from Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria.  His research is often considered to be the beginning of the academic field of musicology, and especially of ethnomusicology.  This particular disc contains 33 excerpts from his 6-volume didactic work entitled Mikrokosmos.

From the sleeve:
     "Mikrokosmis is a set of one hundred and fifty-three short pieces for the piano student, beginning with comparatively easy studies and continuing with those for more advanced pupils.  Bartók worked on it for eleven years, from 1926 to 1937.  As John Weissmann says, 'The series is not merely a graded piano-method based on advanced principles, but also--and this is perhaps even more valuable-- a collection of models in composition.  In fact, a detailed analysis of every piece would result in a textbook on the technical principles of contemporary music.'
    Nicolas Slonimsky has written of Mikrokosmos thus, 'The particular problem posed by each exercise is indicated by the titles . . . Several pieces bear titles of the particular mode they are written in.  There are pieces written in the folk style of different nations, particularly Balkan nations . . . There are descriptive pieces . . . There are sound imitations . . . There are dances- classical and Balkan national . . . "

Sources:
Malcolm Gillies"Bartók, Béla." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press.Web27 Sep. 2016. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/
40686>.

Béla Bartók. Bèla Bartòk Playing His Own Works: Excerpts from "Mikrokosmos". New York: Columbia, 1952. Sound recording.

Nash Library Catalog Record

About Me

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Since earning her Ph.D. in music theory and history from the University of Connecticut in 2014, Dr. Sekula has been a full-time faculty member with the department of music at USAO where she teaches the music theory curriculum and conducts the concert band. Sekula also serves as the coordinator for the department of music. She has previously earned Bachelor’s degrees in music education and flute performance from Lebanon Valley College and a Master’s of Music in flute performance from George Mason University. Sekula has studied flute with Barbara Divine, Dr. Theresa Bowers, Judith Lapple, and Dr. Barbara Hopkins.