Friday, March 31, 2006

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)


The father of atonal music and developer of the twelve-tone system, Arnold Schoenberg is arguably the most influencial of any 20th century composer. After Schoenberg, the centuries-old necessity of a tonal base was thrown out the window. Schoenberg, however, began his career following the footsteps of Mahler and Strauss, and in 1898 created one of the most beautiful pieces of late Romantic music with Verklarte Nacht (Transfigued Night, inspired by a poem of the same name.) This piece was avant-garde without being atonal; the extreme modulations and heavy dissonances- sometimes flirting with atonality- make it clear that Schoenberg didn't intend to stay on Mahler's path. However, this piece for string orchestra is a lush, melodic, and profoundly lovely farewell to the Romantic world.

Op. 4- Verklarte Nacht- von Karajan and the Berlin Phil.

Schoenberg progressively began experimenting with atonality after Verklarte Nacht, and by 1908 was composing completely without key. This 1928 piece, Varitaions for Orchestra, is a perfect example of a twelve-tone work. Each of the nine short variations has a very different character to it, from sparse and hushed to bombastic and brash. It's never easy to listen to atonal music for the first time, but I think that this would be a good piece to begin with. It may be incomprehensible, but is not chaos.

Op. 31- Variations for Orchestra- von Karajan and the Berlin Phil.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wotr- Poll #2

A new update is below this.

You know the drill; we'll post tons of stuff from the winner of this poll. So who do you want this time?

Pick your favorite!
Franz Liszt
Camille Saint Saens
Peter Tchaikovsky
Richard Wagner
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Free polls from Pollhost.com


The deadline will be next Sunday.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Shostakovich Quartets Two and Three


These string quartets, written within two years of each other (1944 and 1946), are amazing examples of Shostakovich (Right, not to be confused with Harry Potter) in his prime. He was churning out amazing works like the piano trio around this time, and sadly, these early quartets are underappreciated, but in many ways, they are equals to his eighth and tenth. The quartets can be seen as reflections on World War II. The second movement of the second quartet is especially mournful and powerful; the long droning chords of the lower strings remind me of the chilling third movement of Bela Bartok's fourth quartet.

Fitzwilliam Quartet- Shostakovich String Quartets 2 and 3
*Note- the last movement of the second quartet sounds a little weird, with a few pops and scratches here and there; my computer didn't rip the CD properly. I'll get a good version of that movement up soon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

War of the Romantics Part X: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 - 1908)


Unlike many of our previous Romantic Composers, Rimsky-Korsakov did not begin composing immediatly. Although he did you considerable musical genuis in his early ages, he was shipped by his aristocratic parents to a Navy school in Saint Petersburg before eventually joining the Russian Navy. In his twenties he met a man named Mily Balakirev, who encouraged Nikolai to compose. Thus began the career of a great composer.

I have to be honest and say that I do not know much else about Rimsky Korsakov, only that I've had the privilage of playing two of his most famous works, Capricco Espanol and Russian Easter Festival Overture. Both pieces are fun to play and fun to listen to, Capriccio Espanol especially. His other really famous piece, the symphonic suite Scheherazade, is a piece that I do not know personally, but sounds nice from what I've heard so far.

Just as a side note ,Rimsky-Korsakov taught many composers who would later become famous, including Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev, and Igor Stravinsky. Expect to see music from these composers very soon.

Happy Listening Everyone:

Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade, Capriccio Espagnol, and Russian Easter Festival Overture

Comments or Requests? Dont hesitate, email me at mattmasterfade@gmail.com

Thursday, March 23, 2006

War of The Romantics Part IX. Richard Wagner (1813-1883)



"I love Wagner...but even more, I love the sound a cat makes when it's hung outside a window by the tail, and it tries to stick to the glass with its claws." The poet Baudelaire said this about who was probably the greatest operatic composer of all time. Wagner revolutionized the realm of German music, taking it beyond where it was with the earlier romantic composers.

Wagner has been known for his extraordinarily long operas, large orchestras, and of course his strange personal life and bad case of anti-semitism (his music was banned in Israel for some time). His operas were often based on German mythology i.e. Tannhauser and Lohengrin, and he viewed them as part of a new music of the future, which he took credit for developing. His arrogance irritated virtually every composer who was alive at the time, and most did not like him or his music.

Still he made major contributions to opera such as the Leitmotif (short musical themes that go along with specific characters in an opera) and a new operatic form that dispatched with the aria-recitative-aria formula of other composers. There were also numerous developments in orchestral composition thanks to Wagner and his use of large orchestras, offstage instruments, new instruments such as the Wagner Tuba, and new theaters designed specifically for the performance of his operas.

The Prelude to Act One of Lohengrin is a work that does not fit the description of the composer, yet it is typical of Wagner's more lyric works. It is slow and beautiful, with not a hint of arrogance, anti-semitism, or tortured cats that may have been suggested by this introduction.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think! I have some more Wagner that I can post if you like.

Lohengrin, Prelude to Act I- Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti - Decca

Prelude to act III- New York Phil.

Much more conventional, catchy, and upbeat than the first prelude.

Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral - Chor der Bayreuther Festpiele; Orchester der Bayreuther Festpiele

You will recognize this one as the most popular wedding song "Here comes the bride"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

In another detour from the war of the Romantics, I take you now to a French great of the next generation to follow: the Impressionists. Maurice Ravel studied with the French masters of his era, (Faure, Satie and others) and the early 1900s, he had well established himself as a notable composer. His pieces are well varied, as any composer, from chamber music, to ballets, to concertos, to works for full symphony orchestra. I personally am most familiar with his chamber works, and thus this blog will focus mainly on two such pieces as well as one of his most famous pieces for symphony.

Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major was his one and only string quartet and while today, it is looked upon as his first great masterpiece (written at age 28), it was not as well received at first. The quartet was dedicated to Ravel’s teacher, Faure. Faure, however, was not so impressed. In his words, the fourth movement is “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” The judges of the Grand Prix de Rome, a prestigious French award rejected the quartet in another of his five failed attempts at the prize. Others at the time were more approving. Ravel’s friendly rival, Claude Debussy wrote to Ravel, pleading Ravel, “In the name of the Gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.”

As I have heard it, the quartet is full of luscious melodies and harmonies, (my favorite being the pizzicato section in the second movement.) Today, it is heard in frequently in performance. An excerpt from the second first movement can also be found in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and is one of the several classical pieces on the soundtrack. Others have incorporated the Quartet into their own music as well. Mike Marshall arranged part of it for guitar quartet. (This link will take you to the free downloads section of amazon.com. There are thousands of artists that have posted their work on Amazon for free downloads. There’s a huge variety of stuff so check it out, if you have some time. It’s a little hit and miss and not everything you download will be good.)

A few years after the somewhat failed quartet, Ravel debuted another chamber work that became an instant success. It is a septet for entitled Introduction and Allegro for Harp, String Quartet, flute, and clarinet. The harp becomes the star of the impressionistic work. I was astounded when I first heard it, at a live performance, to see the harp actually playing harmonics. The piece as a whole is practically a miniature harp concerto. The strings and winds are no less important, with equally beautiful melodies but the harp easily steals the show. Ravel blends the seven instruments seamlessly, using the harp particularly effectively both as a melodic instrument and to lighten the overall texture with its characteristic glissandi. The overall effect is magical. This is "impressionist" music without a hint of vagueness; it is bright, fresh, and never less than perfectly clear.

As a conclusion to this brief introduction to Ravel, I will leave you with his mesmerizing ballet, Bolero. Written as a joke, it is a simple Spanish melody repeated over and over again. The story goes that someone bet Ravel he couldn’t write a piece without music that everyone would love. The resulting work was Bolero. In many aspects, there is very little music to it. It is a repeated melody. Supposedly, it is a wonderful piece to listen to in concert but to play it can be the most boring fifteen minutes of your musical life if you aren’t a soloist. The melody bounces around soloists and employs several rare instruments such as the oboe d’amore and piccolo trumpet. For the accompanying orchestra, the music is less than pleasing. The snare drum, for example, repeats a two bar phrase for the duration of the piece. The effect is to create a hypnotically mesmerizing work that really is musicless music. The biggest irony is that audiences, unaware of Ravel’s bet, immediately fell in love with Bolero and it became an instant hit.

So there you have it, the short introduction to the music Maurice Ravel. And in a completely unrelated segment, here is my addition to the winner of our War of the Romantics poll. I have had some computer difficulties recently but finally, I have Beethoven’s First Symphony ready to download. And on another side note, the link to the Martinu quartets is finally up and working so I suggest you check those out as well.

Ciao.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Couple of Encores


Bach Organ Preludes and Fugues, Volume 1- Anthony Newman

Includes the "Great" A minor fugue, Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor (Not the famous one. The better one.) and much more. Recorded on a monstrous Rieger organ similar to the one above.

Beethoven- six songs- Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano, Andras Schiff, piano

These are all Canzoni, or Italian songs. A very obscure set of Beethoven works; his lieder are hard to come by. Includes Op. 82 1-4, WoO 124 and WoO 133.

By the way, happy 20,000th hit to us! We've had visitors from 43 countries, and many seem to be coming back; it makes us glad to see such a large, and growing, community of masterfaders.

Dexter Gordon and Another AEoC


I rediscovered an old best friend last night: Dexter Gordon. Though I've never met him, and he's not even an old friend in the sense that I've listened to his music for a long time, it feels like he plays his sax just to make me smile; like he's giving me a pat on the back and a warm smile every time he blows. A pioneer of the bebop movement, Dexter will never be mentioned as often as his contemporaries John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. It's appropriate, I suppose, because there is nothing revolutionary in the way Mr. Gordon plays, but it doesn't mean he's made music of any less caliber. The album I've uploaded for you masterfaders, "GO!" is simply irresistible. You'll notice the little lines Dexter quotes in his solos: the church bell notes, nurserey rhymes, etc. Normally, it'd be a little corny, but Dexter's huge tone and swing keep everything cooking.

Dexter Gordon: GO!


Also, just as a little bonus here's another Art Ensemble of Chicago record for ya'll. (See my earlier poast on AEoC below for "Les Stances A Sophie") It's a fantastic record for you fans of free jazz out there; pick it up if you're curious as to what a jazz basson solo sounds like. (It sounds cool).

The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force


Just a reminder: none of us here have a rapidshare premium account, which means that if a file has been un-downloaded for 30 days, it will be deleted! So, if you're new here, please dive into our archives before the links start to die; we've got some great stuff back there.

Happy B- Day Johann!


Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the most famous and influential composers of all time: Johann Sebastian Bach. Born some 321 years ago in Eisenach, Bach's music has elevated him to be known to some as the "Immortal God of Composers". Any musician cannot go through his or her career without playing some Bach, and those who play violin or cello most likely will end up coming across either his Sonotas and Partitas for Violin or his Solo Suites for cello. These pieces, when played correctly, exibit incredible emotion unlike anything that has ever been written for a solo instrument. I have incredible recordings of both the Violin and Cello Suites; Nathan Milstein, arguably amoung the best who ever played, plays the Violin Suites, and Yo Yo Ma, of course one of the best, plays the cello suites.

Here is Solo Bach at its best; do yourself a giant favor and download both of these. You wont regret it.

Sonaten & Partiten for Violin, Sonata No.1 - Nathan Milstein

The Cello Suites - Inspired By Bach: Suite No 1 - Yo Yo Ma

If you want to know more about Bach and hear more Bach, look in our archives.
Oh, and like always, i hope you enjoy the music.

Questions? Comments? Anything? Email me at mattmasterfade@gmail.com

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928- )

I'm happy that you Masterfaders like Stockhausen and want more music from the late 20th century, but the truth is, none of our libraries have enough of it to devote that much time to Stockhausen, Cage, Litegi, etc. I'll post what I have, which isn't a lot. But don't despair... there is a new music blog that seems to have what you want. Check out http://leroisamuse.blogspot.com/ for some good modern stuff.

One of the weirdest composers out there is also one of the most influencial in recent history. I believe that anyone who uses electronics in music is directly influenced by and indebted to Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen began composing in the early '50s with avant-garde compositions influenced by Stavinsky and Webern, and just kept getting more experimental. Among his eccentricities is a distaste for gravity; he arranges for performers to be swung from the recording studio ceiling when they record his works and he has written a string quartet to be played with each member in his own helicopter. And of course, you can't be avant-garde without being controversial. The latest row over something Stockhausen did was when he called the September 11th attacks "Lucifer's greatest work of art".

Stockhausen has always been able to pick up on technological developments very quickly. He was among the first composers to arrange for his works to be recorded on CD, but more importantly, he was the first major musical figure to take advantage of the advent of electronics. The first noteworthy work of classical music that involves electronics is his Kontakte (1959) for piano, percussion and electronics. Not only does he successfully utilize tape loops to make otherwordly sounds that pan in and out, seemingly randomly, but he merges it with the acoustic instruments in such a way that it doesn't seem forced at all. The keyless, meterless, 34-minute piece has very sparse and unpredictable writing for the piano and the percussion; the electronics are certainly the star of the show. And it is amazing what sounds he was able to produce from such primitive equipment. Listen around 27 minutes through for a majorly intense electronic freak-out moment. If you are a fan of the avant-garde to any degree, or even if you want to learn more about the only composer that the Beatles put on the Sgt. Pepper's cover, please check out this highly important work of music.

Kontakte: James Avery-Piano, Steven Schick-percussion, Jaap Spek- electronics engineer
Spek has collaborated with Stockhausen so he knows what he's doing.

Feedback? Requests? Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

War of the Romantics Part VIII: Tchaikovsky


This will be Masterfade's third post on Tchaikovsky already, but if anyone deserves that much attention, it's Tchaik. I just hope you guys like him as much as we do.

Tchaikovsky was kind of a musical loner in the Romantic Era. Though his music could be very Russian in character, it was too European for him to be accepted by the "Mighty handful" of Russian nationalist composers. It was too Russian, though, for him to join any European school of music. And even if he was invited to join Brahms' school, he probably wouldn't. He hated Brahms' music and he thought Beethoven was just mediocre.

With his musical uniqueness, his severe depression, and his closeted homosexuality, it is an understatement to say that Tchaikovsky had a hard time fitting in. In 1893, with his torment becoming unbearable, and having already attempted suicide, Tchaikovsky wrote his greatest piece of music, the emotional behemoth of a symphony called the Pathetique. He dispensed with the traditional fireworks that open and close symphonies, opting instead for moments of total despair to bookend the piece. The modulations and harmonies in this piece are beyond anything else Tchaikovsky wrote; violent dissonances abound. Tchaikovsky loved this symphony, but the critics didn't. It recieved lukewarm reviews at its premiere. Nine days later, Tchaikovsky was dead.

Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique"- Evegny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Phil.

Feedback? Requests? Feel free to leave a comment

Sunday, March 12, 2006

New Beethoven



Howdy, Masterfaders, here are more links to the poll's winner, Ludwig van Beethoven.

As requested- Piano Sonatas 28, 29 (The famous Hammerklavier is 28)- Richard Goode

Two outstanding overtures- Prometheus and Corolian overtures- Andre Previn and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Mp3 format

Heifetz plays the timeless Violin concerto in D

Piano Concertos 3 and 5- Alexander Sandler, piano ; Orchestra "New Philharmony", St. Petersburg ; Sergei Uruvayev, piano ; Orchestra "Classic Music Studio," St. Petersburg ; Alexander Titov, conductor.

If you download only one thing here, my recommendation is:
Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano- Mstislav Rostropovich; David Oistrach; Sviatoslav Richter; Berliner Philharmoniker; Herbert Von Karajan

This very interesting concerto is an earlier work, written around the time of his third symphony, and shows his mastery of writing for all three instruments. The first movement is 18 minutes long, reflecting Beethoven's use of "increasingly 'meaty' sonata-form structures" (From lvbeethoven.com)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Announcements

First off, sorry about that little episode. You had caught me at a bad time. From now on, you respect me, I'll respect you, and we'll all be friends.

The War poll is closed. Thanks to those who voted. The winner: Beethoven

We have plenty of Beethoven on tap, so if you want anything in particular of Beethoven to be posted, let us know.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

War of the Romantics VII - Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)



Here for the seventh installment of the War of the Romantics is one of my personal favorites: Camille Saint-Saëns. Like most of the composers we have covered, Saint-Saens' musical life started early, giving his first piano recital at age five.
His life nearly covered the whole period of Romanticism, and he began to see the early signs of the period's demise as he died in the early 2oth century.

I have not heard a good portion of Saint-Saen's repertoire, but I have liked all that i have heard so far. His concertos are beautiful, inspiring, and considered by many critics to be technically flawless. Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals", undoubtedly his most famous work ever, brings together both passionate melodies and fun melodies to create an amazing picture of, just that, a Carnival of Animals. The funniest part about the Carnival of Animals is that Saint-Saens hated it and thought it would damage his "serious" reputation.

However, I'm not going to post either his concertos or his Carnival of Animals tonight. Don't worry, you will see them soon, but I want to post a relatively unknown piece buy Saint-Saens: His Introduction to Rondo and Capriccioso for violin.
This piece is a showpiece, and like most of Saint Saens' music, is a perfect balance between fast and technically amazing passages and slow and passionate melodies. Like I said in my Bach post, single tracks do not come often, only when something truly special comes along. I hope that you agree that this piece is incredible.

And before i post the link there's just a few things I need to add:

Thanks to everyone who appreciates what we do here at Masterfade. We really enjoy this and we want you to enjoy it as well. However to further make this blog better and to your specifications we need you to do a few things:

1. Comment, Comment, Comment: There's nothing better to us then feedback, as long as it is put in a nice way. Sam always gives you guys his email and i will start doing so as well.
2. If you havent already, download the songs below. These links expire if they are not used within a certain amount of time. All the newcomers should take a look at the bottom, theres some really good stuff down there.
3. Vote in the poll below, its just one click of the mouse.

More votes and more comments means we have a greater chance of knowing what you guys want. We are all for requests and comments....it's just that lately we really have had little or none of either.

Enough of that, Here's what you really want: Introduction to Rondo and Capriciosso - James Ehnes

Hope you enjoy it.

Listen Up.

The only comment on my Liszt post reads:

Anonymous said...

You do a disservice to the performers when you don't even mention them.



I could do a bigger disservice to you by not posting anymore. If the only comments we get scold us like we're little servant-children for making honest mistakes, this blog will not be fun for us anymore. We are not making money. We can quit anytime. Would you all like that?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

War of the Romantics, Part VI- Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Before I get started, remember to vote in the poll from a couple posts ago- it will be open for a few more days. Beethoven is ahead by three votes as I write this.

Here is where the War gets interesting. Franz Liszt had a long and prolific career in which he met both Beethoven and Debussy; he had the last real connection to the old Classical style, but was the most radical of any of the Romantics at the end of his life. Liszt, a child-prodigy-turned-superstar, was perhaps the greatest pianist who ever lived, and his showmanship attracted audiences from across the world. Pieces like his Hungarian Rhapsodies and his famous Liebstraum had emotional climax after emotional climax, giving Liszt a chance to show himself off and impress the ladies. He also broke new musical ground, using the chromatic scale extensively and being one of the first to study and use folk melodies in his music.

Liszt and his friend Richard Wagner (Wagner married Liszt's daughter) were part of a group that rebelled against the conservative and classically structured nature of Brahms and his friends. They ceased to use sonata form, and gave their pieces backgrounds and incorporated other forms of art to help contextualize their music. Liszt created the symphonic poem and other program music to achieve this.

Personally, I can not get into early, showman-extrordanaire Liszt. However, as Liszt aged and became more reflective, he began to write what I believe was some of the most outstanding music of the 19th century. He abandoned the breakneck virtuostic passages of his early work, and instead focused on profoundly beautiful and avant-garde harmonies and melodies. Bela Bartok said Liszt was the first modernist, and the clear influence of his late works on Debussy, Schoenberg, and Bartok himself help prove that notion. I submit that late Liszts are the most underappreciated of any classical works.

This solemn masterpiece is called Via Crucis: Stations of the Cross, and it blows me away every time I hear it. It is a piece of subdued and sparse dialogue between a chorus and a piano that gives you something new each time you hear it. The chorus sings a single line of melody, like a Gregorian chant, for the first three minutes of the piece. When the harmony does appear, sometimes it verges on atonality, while at other times it reminds me of a sublime Bach chorale. If all you know of Liszt is his Liebstraum era, I highly recommend you try Via Crucis. This is not Liszt the rock star, but Liszt the master composer.

Liszt: Via Crucis- Reinbert de Leeuw and the Netherlands Chamber Choir
Sorry if Megaupload won't work where you live, but the file is too big for Rapidshare. Would someone be willing to split and upload this album on Rapidshare?

Feedback? Requests? Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)


Martinu was born into a Czech village, the son of the village bell-ringer/watchman. From his youngest days, he spent time among the bells, high above the town in the watchtower. As a young boy, he was introduced to the violin and bounced between several music schools as an adolescent. He had always some interest in composition but generally lacked the funds for tuition and manuscript paper to study the craft. However, through he generosity of his townsmen, Martinu found himself sent off to the Conservatory in Prague to study composition. Martinu did not adjust to his studies very well and he was fialing several classes when he left the Cponservatory to continue his studies by himself. Eventually, Martinu learned to be a master of composition. His Czech Rhapsody for solo, chorus, and orchestra was given a performance by the Czech Philharmonic, (in which he played second violin) in 1919 and was favorably received.

From Prague, Martinu found himself drawn to Paris to continue his studies with Albert Roussel. During this time, Martinu continued to compose vast amounts of music: orchestral suites, operas, ballets and chamber music. But with the outbreak of the Second World War, Martinu’s time in Paris came to an end and he narrowly escaped to America. Even during these very trying times Martinu continued not only to compose daily, but also succeeded in writing music that is full of strength, vitality, hope, and joy.

Following in the footsteps of another great Czech composer, Dvorak, Martinu did his best to to establish himself in the New World. In America, Martinu honed in his skills as a symphonist, if you will, writing a total of six symphonies in his career. After the war, he was able to return to Europe after spending time working at Tangelwood, Princeton and Curtis. He settled in Nice and later Switzerland where he died of cancer in 1959.

Martinu’s music has a distinctive sound; the harmonies and melodies take on a combination of modern and romantic ideals. I have had some experience playing a short set of Variations on a Slovakian theme for Cello and Piano. As a student cellist, it was unlike anything I had ever played. For example, the opening theme doesn’t have a time signature, it only says rubato. The measures are divided into segments of two or three beats each; but the total number of beats for each measure varies between seven, eight and nine beats. The remaining variations are filled with syncopations, haunting melodies and several changes of time signature within each movement. While the key signature remains constant throughout without any sharps or flats, the key modulates several times. For a student musician, it was an entirely new genre of music.

Martinu’s string quartets were written over a period of nearly twenty years. On this album, the Martinu Quartet has recorded his Fourth (1937), Fifth (1938), and Seventh (1947) quartets. In the Fourth, Martinu’s work has been described as “Drawing on Czech and Moravian sources of inspiration, absorbed in a musical language.” This quartet as well as the Fifth was lost and forgotten for nearly twenty years, only to be rediscovered in the late 1950s. Martinu’s Seventh and last quartet represents a further development of Martinu’s style, which now tended toward greater classical simplifications. It specifically has been seen as drawing from the works of Franz Joseph Haydn.

While you may disagree, I personally find his work to be fascinatingly beautiful and with any luck, I’ll get a hold of some of his non-chamber pieces to add to our here Masterfade.

Martinů: String Quartets Nos. 4, 5 and 7 -- The Martinu Quartet

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Kronos Quartet

One of the most experimental string quartets around is the diverse and successful Kronos Quartet. Founded almost 30 years ago, the Kronos not only plays modern classical music from Glass, Gorecki, Riley, and others, but the works are often written especially for them. But the Kronos never confine themselves by playing one type of music; they have played international music, movie soundtracks, and they even covered the Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze. Early Music is yet another direction the Kronos have taken. Half the CD is performances of what the title implies, some of the first polyphonic pieces in Western music. It includes transcriptions of medieval and Renaissance chants, early Baroque songs, and an interesting study on ancient Greek scales. The Greeks did not use the 12-tone scale, so in the piece the violin plays notes that you can't find on a piano. These early pieces are juxtaposed with modern music from John Cage and others, showing surprising similarities between the composing styles of the 10th century and of the 20th.

Beware though: this disc can be a difficult listen. Don't expect many exciting passages or memorable melodies. Some of the tracks are more valuable as a history lesson than as a great piece of music; when Seth heard the first piece, from the 1300s, he remarked "sounds like the guy was inventing music as he wrote this thing."

Kronos Quaret- Early Music

Due to the overwhelming positive response to our little minimalist series, I've also included a Terry Riley piece written for the Kronos called Requiem for Adam- Adam being the son of two members of the Kronos who tragically died. The first movement in particular is very beautiful, and sounds like it is indeed Ascending the Heaven Ladder.

Terry Riley, Kronos Quartet- Requiem for Adam


Requests? Feedback? Feel free to comment, or email us at grandpamoses@gmail.com.
And please remember to vote in the poll below- Brahms has a slight lead over Beethoven as I write this.

Jazz fans, don't worry. We haven't forgotten about you- Seth has some great stuff coming up, and we've invited a new jazz specialist to the crew.

War of the Romantics, Parts I-V Poll


Sam came up with a very good idea the other day: to have a real War of the Romantics, we need the viewers to help us out. Here is how it works. Below there is a poll; we will count on you guys to vote for your favorite out of the first part of War of the Romantics. After a week or so we will take a look at who is the most popular composer, and we will post more music from that composer.

So here it is. Who do you want to hear more of?



Pick Your Favorite!
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Franz Schubert
Felix Mendelssohn
Johannes Brahms
Niccolò Paganini
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com




Expect to see War of the Romantics, Parts VI- X, very very soon.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

War of the Romantics: Part V --Niccolò Paganini, (1782 – 1840)


Thought to be the first virtuoso violinist ever, Niccolo Paganini composed, played the violin, viola,guitar, and mandolin; however, he is mostly known for the violin. Paganini started playing violin at the age of seven, and began composing before he turned eight. 20 years later he had become one of the first ever touring solo artists, and made a fourtune throughout his lifetime doing so. Considered by many as the greatest violinist who ever lived, Paganini possesed perfect intonation and technique.

Here is one of the better stories about Paganini, taken from Wikipedia.org:
"A pervading myth about Paganini is that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his fearsome technique, a rumor which he delighted in and may have even started himself. During a performance his eyes would roll into the back of his head while playing, revealing the whites. His swaying stance, long unruly hair and thin, gaunt stature would add to this rumor. He played so intensely that women would faint and men would break out weeping. "

Paganini's intensity and emphasis on intonation and techinque are expressed quite eloquently in both his first Violin Concerto and His famous 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. The Caprices, over the past 200 or so years, have become a popular choice for practicing advanced technique.

What some of you might be thinking now is, " Why would anyone want to listen to exercises?" I will tell you now that All 24 caprices(played on this album by none other than Itzhak Perlman) as well as his first violin concerto( played by Salvatore Accardo on this particular album) are definitley worth your time.

Im really pumped about this whole War of The Romantics. It gives us a chance to put our five extensive music libraries together to bring the best music ever written to your computers and you ears. But then again,that is what we have been doing all along...Come back in the near future for more on the War of the Romantics.

Happy Listening:

Niccolò Paganini, 24 Caprices for Solo Violin
Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1

War of the Romantics, Part IV: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)




Brahms has been considered one of the greatest composers of all time for his achievements in symphonic, chamber, and choral music. However, he has also endured a great deal of criticism regarding his work. (Graffiti in 19th century concert halls would sometimes say "Exit in case of Brahms") He is accused of being too dissonant, as well as a copier of Beethoven. This is likely due to the roamntic harmonies and difficult rhythms that give Brahms his distinctive sound.

In many respects, Brahms is a more conservative composer than others. His works are heavily influenced by Beethoven, and he is often considered to be "less confident" in composition than Beethoven was. When a composition had modulated into a bizarre key, Beethoven would do what he felt like doing, and possibly jump abruptly to a completely different key. Brahms on the other hand was compelled by his perfectionist nature to modulate back to the tonic, afraid to deviate from the classical norm. You may see this as a negative, but in my opinion, Brahms often has more flow to his works than Beethoven, making them easier to listen to.

This trio also exibits Brahms' use of the natural horn (waldhorn), that was limited to a certain set of pitches and movement of the right hand within the bell of the instrument, instead of the valved horn, which could play an entire chromatic scale without awkward hand movements. Though valved horn was used in the time of Brahms by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Mahler, he still used the natural horn in all his works, thinking valved horns were a passing fad. This trio is the result of a stay in the mountains, the horn reflecting the majesty of the mountains and forests, as well as the hunt.

Enjoy, and please let me know what you think; this piece is often overshadowed by his other chamber masterpieces.

Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano in E-Flat, Op. 40

Myron Bloom- Horn, Michael Tree- Violin, Rudolf Serkin- Piano, Marlboro Music Festival, Sony Classical

War of the Romantics: Part III -- Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)


As the newest member of this blog, I find myself delegated to provide Felix Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony, Op. 90, commonly known as the 'Italian' Symphony. Mendelssohn wrote the work in his early twenties inspired by a recent visit to, big surprise, Italy. As a German native, his work was highly influenced by the precedents set by his classical/baroque forefathers: Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart. However, by 1825 he had developed a "characteristic style of his own, often underpinned by a literary, artistic historical, geographical or emotional connection." The Italian Symphony is such, each movement representing a different experience from his trip to Italy.

I. The opening A-major movement paints the scenery of sunny skies and landscapes of the Italian countryside.
II. The andante D-minor movement depicts a solemn "Pilgrims' March," from a religious procession in Naples or Rome.
III. Ther third movement is a moderato, a light and airy dance dominated by lyrical strings, with horns, then somewhat more martial trumpets in the trio.
IV. The work concludes with a presto Saltarello, a Roman dance with a hopping step.

Mendelssohn conducted its premiere in London in 1833 but was unhappy with his work and intended to revise it. But not long after it was written, Mendelssohn went on to Leipig to serve as conductor and music organizer for the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He kept this position until his death in 1847 and never got around to revising the Italian Symphony. Thus, the symphony was never published during his lifetime. (And for some odd reason, recieved the number 4, even though it was actually written before his "Second" and "Third" but after the "Fifth.")

So here goes my first blog here. I'll be back in a few days with three quartets by Martinu, unrelated to the War of the Romantics...

Symphony No. 4 in A Major, op.90 'Italian' - Wiener Philharmoniker and Sir George Solti

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Beethoven Updated

The Beethoven post from a few days ago has been updated with his last three piano sonatas, numbers 30, 31 and 32, performed by Richard Goode. Please continue to leave feedback and requests in the comments, and I highly recommend that you download the beautiful Strauss sonata that Joey posted.

Thanks.