Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Programming - April 2015

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Monthly Theme

With the exception of our Good Friday post, our Tuesday and Friday blogs will complete our look at concertos. We will also host another hubub to capture our concerto series and related past posts.

Friday Blog and Podcast


Pierre’s Tuesday Blog
Once or Twice a Fortnight


NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Organ Concertos

No. 191 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast191



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Our last post for March adds another chapter to our look at concertos, and also adds another installment to our yearly Lenten organ series, by proposing concertos for organ and orchestra. All three works programmed today were composed within the same 12 year period – 1926-1938, and involve two very familiar names, and a third more obscure composer who left us a monumental work. 

The montage opens with Francis Poulenc’s concerto for organ, strings and timpani which, according to the internet, is one of the most frequently performed concerti for organ not from the Baroque period. The work was commissioned by Princess Edmond de Polignac, herself an organist and a musical patron. Born Winnaretta Singer, she was the twentieth of the 24 (!) children of Isaac Singer (the man who perfected the sewing machine). Born in America, she lived most of her adult life in France. The concerto was composed at a time of particular religious devotion for the composer who at that time had rediscovered his Catholic roots. Interestingly, Poulenc was openly gay and his patron was also gay – though married to Prince Edmond de Polignac who turns out was himself a gay amateur composer. Although it was a mariage blanc (unconsummated marriage), or indeed a lavender marriage (a union between a gay man and a lesbian), it was based on profound love, mutual respect, understanding, and artistic friendship, expressed especially through their love of music.
Poulenc had never composed specifically for the organ before, and so he studied great baroque masterpieces for the instrument by Johann Sebastian Bach and Dieterich Buxtehude; as reflected by the work's neo-baroque feel.

Paul Hindemith composed a series of eight Kammermusik (Chamber Music). With the exception of the second piece (Kleine Kammermusik, op. 24 no. 2 for wind quartet), the titles are simply Kammermisik No. 1 to No. 7. Most of the works are not 'chamber music' in the traditional sense of the word, as they require larger forces than normally understood by the term. indeed, six are effectively concertos (Hindemith's subtitles say as much). However, in contrast to the much larger forces (and sounds) Hindemith previously employed, the works are very much chamber-styled if not truly chamber works. Kammermusik No. 7 features E. Power Biggs as soloist.

We come “full circle” for our last work, a sinfonia concertante for organ and orchestra. Marie-Alphonse-Nicolas-Joseph Jongen was a Belgian organist, composer, and music educator. From his teens to his seventies Jongen composed a great deal, including symphonies, concertos (for cello, for piano and for harp), chamber music (notably a late string trio and three string quartets), and songs, some with piano, others with orchestra. Of a body of work of well-over 200 works, only his output for organ is performed with any regularity, much of it solo, some of it in combination with other instruments.

His Symphonie Concertante of 1926 is a tour de force, considered by many to be among the greatest works ever written for organ and orchestra. Numerous eminent organists of modern times (such as Virgil Fox, today’s soloist) have championed and recorded it.


The work was commissioned by Rodman Wanamaker for debut in the Grand Court of his palatial Philadelphia department store, Wanamaker's. Its intended use was for the re-dedication of the world's largest pipe organ there, the Wanamaker Organ. As part of a series of concerts Rodman Wanamaker funded with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Wanamaker's death in 1928 precluded the performance of the work at that time in the venue for which it was written, but it was finally performed for the first time with the Wanamaker Organ and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2008.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Concertos without a soloist

No. 190 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast190



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This week’s montage picks up where last week’s thinking left off, in a sense. Indeed, last week considered concertos without orchestras, and this week’s looks at concertos without a soloist.

In many ways, the pieces considered thios week follow more or less the formula of the concerto grosso, where the melodic interplay occurs between the orchestra and a detachment of players within the orchestra (known as the concertino). This formula is exemplified by the selected concerti by Vivaldi and Corelli, both masters of the genre in their era.

The other two pieces retained are 20th Century compositions, which find their inspiration from the old baroque formula. The concerto in E Flat by Stravinsky falls within one of his many “compositional perio” where he flirts with specific formulas or currents. At that time, he turned his sights into baroque music – a great example of which would be his ballet Pulcinella, where he liberally borrows from Pergolesi. This concerto (along with another one he will compose for American sponsors, the Dumbarton Oaks concerto) are designed to be “modern” concerti grossi, intended for small chamber ensembles.

Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra doesn’t pretend to borrow from the baroque – it sits squarely within the modern language of the 20th Century, as do most of his major orchestral works. The different movements of the concerto single out specific sections of the orchestra for concertino duty, which explains why Leonard Bernstein called it “most democratic”.

I think you will love this music too.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Concerto solo

No. 189 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast189


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So far, we’ve considered concertos in the spirit and context that took shape in the Classical era – that is to say, pieces for soloist and orchestra.

The term concerto, however, is literally “a concert”, and on the strictest of terms needs not involve a soloist (or a small soloist group) and a larger orchestra. Indeed, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a good number of “concertos” for solo keyboard, some for organ and many for the harpsichord (later taken over by the piano) – one such example is his Italian concerto


Today’s podcast takes a pleasant departure from the classical setting of the “solo concerto” and looks at a pair of – shall I say – mammoth pieces for solo keyboard that have earned the subtitle “concerto for solo piano”, beginning with a “cruelly taxing” piano work by Charles Alkan.

The three pieces that make up this “concerto” are part of a 12 piece cycle entitled Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs (12 Studies in the Minor Keys), published in 1857  With sections marked "Tutti", "Solo" and "Piano", the piece requires the soloist to present the voices of both the orchestra and the soloist. The pianist Jack Gibbons comments: "The style and form of the music take on a monumental quality—rich, thickly set textures and harmonies ... conjure up the sound world of a whole orchestra and tax the performer, both physically and mentally, to the limit."

How’s that for sheer length: the piece, including all 3 movements, is 121 pages long and takes about 50 minutes to perform. The first movement on its own, comprises 72 pages and takes over 29 minutes to play (Jack Gibbons comments that "the first movement has more bars in it than the entire Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven").

Alkan authorized the piece to be truncated to make "un morceau de concert, d'une durée ordinaire" (a concert piece of normal duration). It may be that the composer himself performed the first movement (alone) in such a shortened version. Pianist John Ogden, himself known for taking on obscure and taxing works (such as Busoni’s Piano Concerto), is our soloist.

Robert Schumann’s piano sonata output – and numbering – can be confusing. The Piano Sonata in F minor (Op. 11) and the Piano Sonata in F minor (Op. 14) are numbered 1 and 3 respectively. He he later wrote Three Piano Sonatas for the Young Op. 118. Because it was published before the F minor sonata, it was given an earlier sequence number (No. 2) but still kept its later opus number (Op. 22). This has caused confusion, and recordings of the G minor Sonata have sometimes been published as "Sonata No. 3". There was also an earlier sonata in F minor, which Schumann abandoned; this is sometimes referred to as "Sonata No. 4".

The Dritte grosse Sonate, Opus 14, was completed a year after the first, in June 1836, and dedicated to the pianist Ignaz Moscheles, and not to Clara Wleck (whom he would later marry). This is probably indicative of the tense relationship between the couple and Clara’s father.

In F minor, the work was first published with only three of its original five movements, which had first included two scherzos and a different finale. Schumann revised the sonata in 1853, including the second of the two scherzos and revising the first movement. Due to its length and complexity it earned, presumably at the instigation of its publisher Haslinger, the subtitle Concert sans orchestre. The sonata was given its first public performance six years after Schumann’s death by Brahms, while no listing of the sonata is found in any of the programmes of Clara’s own concerts. It is performed today by Vladimir Horowitz.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

J.S. Bach - Ton Koopman‎ - Organ Works


This is a past Tuesday Blog from Mar-10-2015 . 




Over the course of a forty-five-year career Ton Koopman has established himself as a leader in the “authentic” movement. He trained in Amsterdam, where he studied organ, harpsichord and musicology and was awarded the Prix d'Excellence for both instruments. 

From the beginning of his musical studies he was fascinated by authentic instruments and a performance style based on sound scholarship and in 1969, at the age of 25, he created his first Baroque orchestra. In 1979 he founded the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra followed by the Amsterdam Baroque Choir in 1992.

As an organist he has performed on the most prestigious historical instruments of Europe, and as a harpsichord player and conductor of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir he has been a regular guest at prestigious venues in Vienna, London, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Rome, Salzburg, Tokyo and Osaka.

Koopman's extensive and impressive activities as a soloist, accompanist and conductor have been recorded on a large number of LPs and CDs for labels like Erato, Teldec, Sony, Philips and DG, besides his own record label “Antoine Marchand”, distributed by Challenge Records. 
According to his discography, he has recorded either complete or significant portions of the entire J. S. Bach organ catalog for his own label and for others. It turns out that Koopman was very unfortunate with his attempts at producing a series of recordings of all Bach's organ works. Two series (for Deutsche Grammophon and Novalis) were broken off before their completion, and the successful third attempt (for Teldec) disappeared quickly from the market before it had time to establish itself.

Today’s offering from my personal collection of vinyl records features Koopman on the restored Rudolf Garrels Organ of the Grote Kerk, Maassluis, Netherlands in the early 1980’s and is from the ill-fated DG project, issued under Archiv Produktion, a label begun in 1947, devoted mainly to early and Baroque music, which has evolved as the premier label for period or authentic performance.

Rudolf Garrels built the organ in the great church of Maassluis in the years 1730-1732. It was a gift of Govert van Wijn, a rich citizen of Maassluis, ship owner and former treasurer of the fishery committee. The organ was first used on the 4th of December 1732, the day on which Govert van Wijn turned 90. This makes it an instrument of Bach’s era. However, in the course of time the organ of Maassluis could not be spared from changing musical tastes of several organ builders and organists. Jacobus Robbers (1772-1773), Andries Wolffers (1789-1801), Abraham Meere (1805), Jonathan Bätz (1840), Michael Maarschalkerweerd (1881) and two generations of Van Leeuwen (1938-1965) restored the organ according to their own view. A first restoration, intended to go back to the original situation of 1732, took place in the years 1956 until 1965. It soon appeared that the organ required a more radical revision. In 1975 the former churchwardens took the decision to begin a solid restoration and to restore the Garrels-organ into its original splendour so that it could be preserved for the posterity.



Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major BWV 564
Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 538 »Dorisch« 

Ton Koopman, Organ
Recorded in Maassluis, Grote Kerk, 1983. 
Organ built 1730-1732 by Rudolf Garrels.
Label: Archiv Produktion ‎– 410 999-1 
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album







Friday, March 6, 2015

Sinfonie Concertanti

No. 188 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast188


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Concerto or symphony – what can we make of the sinfonia concertante?

In the Baroque period, the differences between a concerto and a sinfonia (the forerunner of what would become the "classical symphony") were initially not all that clear. As we hinted to in our last couple of montages, Antonio Vivaldi wrote "concertos" both for soloists and for “concertino” detachments, the latter being stylistically more or less indistinguishable from his "sinfonias" – these are more aptly referred to as concerti grossi; and we will get to those a couple of Fridays from now.
By the Classical period, both the symphony and the concerto had acquired more definite meanings, and the concerto grosso had disappeared altogether. This led in the last decades of the 18th century to attempts to combine the two genres, such as those by Johann Christian Bach (the so-called "London Bach" and youngest son of Johann Sebastian). He published some symphonies concertantes in Paris from the early 1770s on.

The Sinfonia Concertante genre is, thus, a mixture of the symphony and the concerto genres. It is a concerto in that soloists are on prominent display, and a symphony in that the soloists are nonetheless discernibly a part of the total ensemble and not preeminent. Among the most performed piece in this genre is by Mozart, for violin and viola (K. 364).

Today’s podcast presents three sinfonie concertanti from three different eras. Joseph Haydn, the acknowledge “perfecter” of the classical symphony wrote symphonies with long soloist parts, especially early in his career, such as the "Time of Day" symphonies (Matin, Midi et Soir, nos 6, 7 amd 8). These are, however, rightfully considered symphonies rather than sinfonie concertanti. Haydn did leave us with a Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello, Oboe and Bassoon, dating from his visit to London, in a friendly challenge to his former student Ignaz Pleyel, who also stayed in London at the time, and whose works in the genre were highly popular. This explains why the piece is assigned a number from Volume I in the Hoboken catalog (No. 105, right after the last of the “London” symphonies).

Few composers still called their compositions sinfonia concertante after the classical music era. However, some works such as Berlioz's Harold en Italie (for viola and orchestra) approach the genre. Beethoven did not write anything designated as a sinfonia concertante, although some feel his Triple Concerto qualifies as one. By the end of the 19th century, several French composers had started using the sinfonia concertante technique in symphonic poems, for example, Saint-Saëns uses a violin in Danse macabre . Edouard Lalo's best known work, the Symphonie espagnole, is in fact a sinfonia concertante for violin and orchestra. A work in the same vein, but with the piano taking the "concertante" part is Vincent d'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Air, which is part of today’s podcast.

Composed soon after the War Requiem, Britten’s Cello Symphony is a concertante work devised for the great Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. As the title suggests, throughout the work the soloist and orchestra are treated on equal terms, sharing all the important melodic material. Although the cello is omnipresent, the final two movements are linked by an intricate cello cadenza.


I think you will love this music too.