Thursday, March 31, 2016

Project 366 - A Journey of Musical Discovery

I've been teasing this - and preparing this - for a few months now, so here we go this is the grand unveiling of the ITYWLTMT "Anniversary Project".

On the music forums I visit regularly, the question “ How do I get started listening or acquiring Classical Music? “ comes up from time to time, and I’m always amazed at the answers. Music collecting, in a sense, is no different than any other form of collection: stamps, coins, trading cards…  There’s a lot of it that has to do with personal taste, and the level of obsessiveness you dare to attain.

The Myth of the Basic Repertoire

Going back to the question – that is, where to start in building a music library – we invariably come to the question: why not start with the “basics”?

OK… Most households have movie collections, or book collections, or what have you. How many of us built our movie collections by looking for “the basic films”? What is it about a film that would make it a “basic” – a film everybody should own? Is it the awards it won? Is it the popularity it had? Is it the status of the actors or the director? Is there such a thing as a “basic film”, really?

So what then are the “basic repertoire” pieces? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies? All nine, or just the Fifth?

Awhile back, I acquired a collection of 200 CDs issued as “Great Pianists of the 20th Century” (I highly recommend it.) You have there almost 100 pianists, playing everything from early music to modern masterpieces. There were some pieces that were featured several times in the lot: Chopin’s preludes, Schumann’s Carnival, several Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos and piano sonatas, some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works for solo keyboard, and the list could go on for a page or two. If you were to list all the pieces that were programmed “more than once” in that collection, and declared those as being “the basic piano repertoire”, I could probably bring up piece after piece most of us would view as equally important that didn’t make that list!

The concept of “the basic concert repertoire” is a bit of a misnomer – if it exists, then show me the exhaustive list… Or do we not mean that there are “enduring” works and works that may endure, but probably not… There are 500 years of Western Classical Music history, and to pretend that you can build from a defined set of works “outwards” is simplistic at best.

My conclusion? Simply, collecting music should be approached primarily based on taste and affinity with certain styles of works, and build out from there. Like in anything, Classical Music is an acquired taste, and some are sweeter than others, and it is over time (and trying) that one can develop a taste for other aspects of the repertoire.

ITYWLTMT can help in this process - Did You Know That
  • We have now shared 218 montages
  • We have shared over 70 complete operas with our partners at OperaLively
  • We have shared over 200 playlists between Once Upon the Internet and our YouTube channel
  • We have 515 posts and counting (between all our platforms)
That's a lot of music! We could easily have a musical playlist to share for every day of the calendar year!

And that's the challenge I am taking on - I plan to dust-up and share old - and new - material in the context of this "one blog a day, every day" concept. We will "package" 366 playlists (call then "listener Guides"), and group them together as we always do in a thematic arrangement.

In a nut-shell that's what Project 366 is all about.

It will take me more than a year to achieve this a a coherent package - and my intention is to package these eventually as eBooks - starting with the first 122 in a set I call "A Journey of Musical Discovery", where I plan to explore the "basic" repertoire by traversing it through all musical genres.

Here is the Table of Contents for Part 1 of the Project

Title
Musical Guides
Starting with the ABC’s 1-2
Journeys with a Purpose - Exploring Musical Genres
Bare Bones 3-6
The King of Instruments 7-10
A few friends 11-19
Team Sport 20-26
The Orchestra - Symphonies and More27-34
The Concerto 35-41
Sing, Sing, Sing 42-52
Music Takes the Stage53-62
Do Not Skip This Chapter!63-67
Journeys without a Purpose - Day Trips through the Repertoire
The Concert Experience 68-76
Themes and Variations 77-81
The Trifecta 82-89
The World of Transcriptions90-96
Single Works 97-102
What's In a Name 103-108
Pick Your Poison 109-117
Moonlighting 118-122

Programming for April - June 2016

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Per our new programming policy, I’m going to steer clear of “commitment dates” for my blog and podcast posts, to give me more flexibility.  So far, this has worked well, and we have kept pretty much to a bi-monthly Blog and Podcast, as well as bi-monthly Tuesday Blogs. Again this quarter, I don't foresee a return to opera posts, but I sense we may resume these in the Fall.

April is when I will be launching Project 366, my long-teased new adventure. Expect that once a month, on a Sunday, I will issue an installment of that project. More on the Project 366 page.

  • To launch Project 366, and to celebrate Year 5 of ITYW:TMT< I plan an encore Blog and Podcast of our two-part Musical Alphabet. Montages no. 1 and 2 from the montage series. Few of you may have heard thses, so this will be a fun way to kick off this new project (ENCORE PODCAST)
  • To feed Project 366, I plan podcasts that are aligned with the first few installments. These include:
    • A podcast of waltzes for piano (NEW PODCAST)
    • A Vinyl's Revenge post of Daniel Barenboim conducting the Tchaikovsky and Dvorak serenades for strings (PTB)
    • Marie-Claire Alain performing French organ repertoire (NEW PODCAST)
    • A podcast featuring all sorts of quartet combinations (NEW PODCAST)
    • A podcast featuring "large chamber" combinations - octets and nonets (NEW PODCAST)
    • A podcast of music for wind band (NEW PODCAST)
    • A nostalgic return for some chamber music at the Gardner Museum (PTB)
  • A podcast celebrating Earth Day, featuring Mahler's Song of the Earth (NEW PODCAST)
  •  A pair of Tuesday Blogs will explore "the concert experience", with a vintage concert broadcast from the 1980s (PTB) and "Amateur Night" at Harvard University (PTB).
  •  More Vinyl’s Revenge – a vintage recording of Richard Strauss favourites conducted by Karl Bohm (PTB) and a vintage recording of some of the incidental music from Peer Gynt featuring Vaclav Neumann (PTB).

I will update this page if programming changes in the coming weeks, and also look for unannounced “repatriated” posts from our PTB and OTF series.


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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Auferstehung

No. 218 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast218



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This week’s Friday Blog and Podcast should really be a Sunday Blog and Podcast, as I chose to defer my bi-monthly podcast offering to coincide with Easter Sunday, and share a great work for your listening pleasure.

In past years – because we issue our podcasts on Fridays, we have had our fair share of “Good Friday” suggestions – be it Dupré’s Way of the Cross, or Beethoven’s Christ at the Mount of Olives. This year, however, I wanted to provide a more up-beat offering, one that brings to a close the Lenten season with a bang!

Gustav Mahler’s family came from eastern Bohemia, then part of the Austrian Empire. The Mahler homestead was in a village halfway between Prague in Bohemia and Brno in Moravia, in the geographic center of today's Czech Republic. The Mahlers belonged to a German-speaking minority among Bohemians, and was also Jewish – religiously, Mahler has been described as a life-long agnostic. At one point he converted to Catholicism, purely for the purpose of obtaining the directorship of the Court Opera of Vienna as it was unthinkable for a Jew to hold such a prestigious position.

Mahler may not have been a practicing Christian, but he was in many ways very spiritual, not unlike Brahms. Much of Mahler’s compositions, and in particular the latter works after the Annus horribilis of 1907 – one that saw the death of his daughter Maria from Scarlet Fever and his diagnosis of heart problems – show his humanist side. His so-called tragic symphony and the Kindertottenlieder are works that are particularly indicative of this period of personal turmoil.

In other symphonic works, Mahler does borrow hymns from the Christian faith – for example, Veni Creator is at the heart of the first movement of his Symphony of a Thousand, and a chorale by Friedrich Klopstock, "Resurrection Ode," that he heard sung at the funeral of the conductor Hans von Bülow. This ode, with additional lyrics by the composer, forms the climax of his second symphony, which is the single work on today’s Easter podcast.

The genesis for the Resurrection symphony isn’t von Bülow ‘s funeral, but rather a 1988 tone poem he called Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). Leaving it for a few months to complete his Symphony No. 1, he finished his funeral piece in September of that year. By 1893 he had decided the piece was really part of a symphony--and he found he had ideas from previous compositions to apply to it.
The third-movement scherzo is based on the theme from the song "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" (Antony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish), written for Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The fourth is another song, "Urlicht" (Primal Light), that he used in its entirety, with voice, and withheld from the Wunderhorn collection.

This brings us back to the von Bülow (who had not liked the Todtenfeier when Mahler had played it for him years earlier) and his funeral. As Mahler told a friend, "It struck me like lightning ... and everything was revealed to my soul clear and plain." Mahler took part of Klopstock's poem and wrote additional poetry to go with it, building his final movement toward this culminating text. He completed the symphony in 1894, and though he continued to adjust the score well into 1909, it was first performed under Mahler's baton by the Berlin Philharmonic in December, 1895. It was the only one of his symphonies that was truly successful in his lifetime.

Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973) met Gustav Mahler while conducting the off-stage brass at a performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, serving as an assistant to Oskar Fried in 1905. Klemperer and Mahler became friends.

Mahler wrote a short testimonial, recommending Klemperer for a conducting position at the German Opera in Prague in 1907, on a small card which Klemperer kept for the rest of his life. Later, in 1910, Klemperer assisted Mahler in the premiere of his Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand.
Klemperer went on to hold a number of positions, in Hamburg (1910–1912); in Barmen (1912–1913); the Strasbourg Opera (1914–1917); the Cologne Opera (1917–1924); and the Wiesbaden Opera House (1924–1927). From 1927 to 1931, he was conductor at the Kroll Opera in Berlin.

In 1933, once the Nazi Party had reached power, Klemperer, who was of Jewish descent, left Germany and moved to the United States. (Like Mahler, Klemperer had previously converted to Catholicism, but returned to Judaism at the end of his life). In the U.S. he was appointed Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and took United States citizenship in 1937. After completing the 1939 Los Angeles Philharmonic summer season at the Hollywood Bowl, Klemperer was visiting Boston and was diagnosed with a brain tumor; the subsequent brain surgery to remove "a tumour the size of a small orange" left him partially paralyzed. The following years of declining health and alcohol abuse came to a head in the early 1950s - a severe fall during a visit to Montreal in 1951 forced Klemperer to remain there for a year (during which he advised the Montreal Symphony). Subsequently, he needed to conduct seated in a chair.

Klemperer’s left-wing views made him increasingly unpopular with the US State Department and FBI: in 1952 the United States refused to renew his passport. In 1954 Klemperer again returned to Europe, and acquired a German passport. His career was turned around in 1954 by the London-based producer Walter Legge, who recorded Klemperer conducting Beethoven, Brahms and much else with his hand-picked orchestra, the Philharmonia, for the EMI label. He became the first principal conductor of the Philharmonia in 1959.

Klemperer’s recording of the Mahler Second, with the Philharmonia, is my choice for this week. The power of Klemperer's 1960s readings arises from constantly pressing forward with no pause for sentiment. Klemperer achieves a great sense of unity but only through a tortured psychic journey.

In closing, a small caveat. Following the opening  movement, Mahler calls in the score for a gap of five minutes before the second movement. This pause is rarely observed today. Often conductors will meet Mahler half way, pausing for a few minutes while the audience takes a breather and settles down and the orchestra retunes in preparation for the rest of the piece. A practical way of following Mahler's original indication is to have the two soloists and the chorus enter the stage only after the first movement. This creates a natural separation between the first movement and the rest of the symphony and also saves the singers more than twenty minutes of sitting on stage.

We inserted a short silence after the first movement in our podcast – under a minute.


Happy Easter!

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Schubert, Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra ‎– Symphony No. 5 & 8


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


This week, I am planning a pair of posts featuring the pairing of Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Today’s Tuesday Blog is one of our Vinyl’s Revenge segments, highlighting a favoutite recording from my old vinyl collection.

The Orchestra

It is commonly thought that the Philharmonia Orchestra was primarily formed for recording purposes by Walter Legge, a recording producer for EMI - but that was not Legge's intention. He had been Sir Thomas Beecham's assistant at Covent Garden, before World War II, and, assuming that he and Beecham would be in charge there again after the war, Legge planned to establish a first-class orchestra for opera, concerts and recordings. As it turned out, opera resumed at Covent Garden after the war under a different management, yet Legge went ahead with his plans for a new orchestra.

Legge recruited musicians still serving in the armed forces in 1945 – in fact, at the Philharmonia's first concert on 25 October 1945, more than sixty per cent of the players were still officially in the services. Sit Thomas Beecham conducted the concer, and at first Legge was against appointing an official principal conductor, inviting prominent conductors instead: Arturo Toscanini, Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Herbert von Karajan was closely associated with the Philharmonia in its early years, although he never held an official title with the orchestra, acting as its principal conductor in all but name.

In 1954, following the death of Furtwängler, Karajan was elected music director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently curtailed his work with the Philharmonia. Needing to find a new conductor for the orchestra, Legge turned to Otto Klemperer, who was officially named Principal Conductor in 1959, a position he held through the restructuring of the orchestra in the early 1960’s (when it was known for a short time as the “New” Philharmonia) until his death. Together, they leave an impressive legacy of recordings, including the Beethoven symphonies, piano concertos and Fidelio, Mozart and Wagner operas, and symphonies by the great composers including Mahler, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner and Schumann.

The two works

Schubert would be especially amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. Of all the genres in which he excelled, these fared the worst during his life. His first two were written for his school orchestra and the next four for an amateur group he was able to assemble, all intended to be heard once and then forever forgotten. Written in his teens, they gleam with dewy innocence, reminiscent of Mozart's juvenilia, with only the barest hint of an incursion of strife. Among his most enduring from that period we can single out the Fifth, a buoyant package of joy.

The most infamous of Schubert's Symphonies, his Eighth, known as the “Unfinished” has a peculiar history. In 1823, Schubert gave the manuscript to the president of a Granz music society, who never bothered to deliver it to his members but instead kept it for himself for over forty years. Schubert, typically, forgot it.

What exactly is unfinished about it? Some will quickly point out the absence of a scherzo/dance movement and the triumphant finale that usually form the latter half of a Classical Symphony. Commentators have been quite poetic describing the splendor of the two movements Schubert completed. The late conductor Guiseppi Sinopoli regarded the work as a deeply mystical dream-state of tragedy and lost memories.

Apparently, Schubert left extensive sketches for a third movement and even had begun to orchestrate it. Why did Schubert stop? Speculation abounds. Some claim that he probably did finish the work but, typical of his haphazard ways, lost the second half. Others believe that he may have reworked the remainder into other pieces. But perhaps the most likely explanation, albeit the most prosaic, is that he simply lost interest. Had Schubert lived to a ripe old age when his phenomenal inspiration flagged he might have gone back to develop ideas and fragments of the past.

In any event, the two movements of the “Unfinished” exert a powerful spell. Why harp over what might have been; acting as a bridge between the Classical and the Romantic, maybe these two movements provide a finished product in itself – his masterpiece Ninth, judged unplayable for generations, serves as a fitting template of the great romantic symphonies to come… some 60 or 70 years later.

Enjoy!


Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 5 In B Flat Major, D.485
Symphony No. 8 In B Minor, D.759

Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conducting
Studio Recording, 1963-64
Angel Records ‎– RL-32038
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album



Friday, March 11, 2016

Norddeutsche Orgelschule

No. 217 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast217



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This month’s montages continue our yearly tradition of programming Lenten music suggestions. Another tradition is organ titles appropriate for the Lenten season, and this montage falls in that category.

According to Wikipedia, 17th and 18th century German organ composers can be divided into two primary schools: the north and the south German schools (sometimes a third school, central German, is added). The stylistic differences were dictated not only by teacher-pupil traditions, but also by technical aspects such as the quality and the tradition of organ building, and by certain composers who would help spread national styles by travelling and learning from other countries' styles.

Today’s montage features three composers we associate with the north German school - the composer who is now considered the founder of this school is the Netherland’s  Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Sweelinck's fame as a teacher was very widespread (in Germany he was known as the "maker of organists"), as was his influence. A handful of Sweelinck’s works open the montage.

Later northerners like Franz Tunder, Georg Böhm and Johann Adam Reincken all cultivated a harmonically and rhythmically complex improvisatory style rooted in the chorale improvisation tradition. Forms such as the organ prelude (a multi-sectional composition with numerous flourishes and embellishments such as scale runs, arpeggios and complex counterpoint) and the chorale fantasia (a musical setting of a whole verse of the chorale text) were developed almost exclusively by north German composers. Dieterich Buxtehude's work represents the pinnacle of this tradition; the praeludia form the core of his work.  Buxtehude is also amply featured today.

As for Johann Sebastian Bach, though geographically he comes from the southern region, he must be regarded as a man who evolved his own tradition, a synthesis of these different currents and also that of the French tradition. He also met personally with many of these artists: Buxtehude which he pays a visit several weeks in Lübeck, Lübeck and Reincken in Hamburg, Böhm during his apprenticeship in Lüneburg.

Bach makes the montage with a few short chorales – well within the traditions of Sweelinck and Buxtehude, and also as more examples of the fine organ plating of the Netherlands’ Piet Kee, who is featured in all of the tracks on this week's share.
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I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

J. S. Bach - Mass in B minor / Karajan


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


Over the years, we have programmed sacred music – and especially organ music – during the Lenten season on the Tuesday Blog, and this week’s installment of Once Upon the Internet is one of those programs. No organ works this year – you’ll have to wait for our Friday Blog and Podcast later this week for your dose of organ music!

The sacred catalog of Johann Sebastian Bach includes many church cantatas, the Passions and other great vocal works, and a single complete Mass, in B Minor.

It was unusual for composers working in the Lutheran tradition to compose a Missa tota (that is, a mass that conforms to the Catholic “ordinary of the Mas”) and Bach's motivations remain a matter of scholarly debate.

After the death of Augustus II in 1733, five months of mourning followed, during which all public music-making was suspended. Bach used the opportunity to work on the composition of a Missa, a portion of the liturgy sung in Latin and common to both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic rites. His aim was to dedicate the work to the new sovereign Augustus III, a Catholic, with the hope of obtaining the title "Electoral Saxon Court Composer” (Bach eventually was made court composer to Augustus III in 1736.)

In the last years of his life, Bach expanded the Missa into a complete setting of the Latin Ordinary. Indeed, much of the Mass gave new form to vocal music that Bach had composed throughout his career, dating back to 1714 ("Crucifixus"), but extensively revised. To complete the work, in the late 1740s Bach composed new sections of the Credo such as "Et incarnatus est".

It has been suggested that Bach intended the completed Mass in B minor for performance at the dedication of the new Hofkirche in Dresden, which was begun in 1738 and was nearing completion by the late 1740s. However, the building was not completed until 1751, and Bach's death in July, 1750 prevented his Mass from being submitted for use at the dedication; the first documented complete performance took place in 1859.

I have attended my fair share of mass services through the years, and many of them – including readings and homily – typically last anywhere between 45 and 60 minutes, including standing in line for Eucharist. The parts of the Ordinary that are sung (usually in the common tongue) like the Gloria, hardly take more than two minutes.

Bach’s Mass consists of 27 sections and a performance requires over 2 hours; this is not a Missa Brevis!

The Mass in B minor is the consecration of a whole life: started in 1733 for "diplomatic" reasons, it was finished in the very last years of Bach's life, when he had already gone blind. This monumental work is a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. But it is also the most astounding spiritual encounter between the worlds of Catholic glorification and the Lutheran cult of the cross.
Italian musicologist Alberto Basso, 1999

The work was first recorded by symphonic choirs and orchestras – I would include today’s 1953 performance in that tradition. From the late 1960s, HIP proponents tried to adhere more to the sounds of the composer's lifetime, who typically wrote for boys choirs and for comparatively small orchestras of Baroque instruments. 

Recorded at Musikvereinsaal (Vienna, November 1952) and at Abbey Road Studios (London, July 1953), today’s recording is in fact the second recording of the Bach Mass in B Minor by Herbert von Karajan. The assembled forces are impressive: Wiener Singverein, the Orchester der Gesellshaft der Musikfreunde in Wien (also known as the Vienna Symphony); the Philharmonia and a quartet of soloists that includes Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Nicolai Gedda.

I found the performance on Liber Liber, an Italian Public Domain site – which is still active today. In order to make tthings easier on everybody, I assembled the sections along the lines of the traditional Mass sections, and uploaded it in two separate parts to the Internet Archive.

Enjoy!


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 –1750)
Mass in B minor, BWV 232

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Soprano
Marga Höffgen, Contralto
Nicolai Gedda, Tenor
Heinz Rehfuss, Bass
Wiener Singverein
Orchester der Gesellshaft der Musikfreunde in Wien
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conducting
Membran 221885 (Reissue from EMI)