Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Peter Tchaikovsky, Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan ‎– Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty Suites

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

Vinyl's Revenge digs out an old vinyl from my collection with a distinctive cover - it is faux-metallic, with a fkowery design in the front (see the picture below, which is pretty representative...)

As I stated in a blog post in June 2014, Herbert von Karajan, has left behind a good umber of "classical favourites" recorded more than once - with the Philharmonia Orchestra (in the 50's for EMI) and with the Berlin Philharmonic (over 4 decades on DGG). The post suggested a third orchestra - the Vienna Philharmonic - in performances of the three Tchaikocsky ballet suites. Here, from my vinyl collection, only two are present - Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty with the Berlin Philharmonic, in a studio recording from the early 1970's.

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite is the only suire from one of his ballets to have been published under his authorship. The other two have different origin but similar stories.

In 1882 Tchaikovsky considered creating a suite from the music to Swan Lake, but it was only seven years after his death that such a suite was finally published as "op. 20a", and it is unknown who made the selection of numbers.

Tchaikovsky first considered the idea of creating a concert suite from The Sleeping Beauty in February 1890, shortly after the ballet's première. In the event he was unable to settle on a selection of numbers, and in 1899 a suite of five numbers from the ballet compiled by an unknown person was published as "Op. 66a".

Happy Listening!

Pyotr Ilich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake (Лебединое озеро), Suite, op. 20a (TH 219)
The Sleeping Beauty (Спящая красавица), Suite, op. 66a (TH 234)
Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert Von Karajan, conducting
Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 2530 195
(Vinyl, AAA)
Studio, 1972

Friday, July 22, 2016

Curtain Raisers

No. 226 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast226

This week’s montage is wholly inspired by a YouTube Playlist I assembled a few years backfor a Tuesday Blog, where I tried to gather a series of concert overtures.

I make the distraction between a these and overtures to stage woirks – mainly operas – that are often played in concert. My aim was to try and showcase works that are intended for the concert stage, and not to accompany a stage performance.

TYwo of the pieces in the montage were, at least at one point, meant to be opera overtures. Les francs-juges is the title of an unfinished opera by Hector Berlioz written to a libretto by his friend Humbert Ferrand in 1826. Berlioz abandoned the incomplete composition and destroyed most of the music. He retained the overture, which has become a popular concert item. This was the first work Berlioz wrote solely for orchestra and it is the earliest of his compositions to retain a place in the repertoire today.

Like for the Berlioz piece, Antonín Dvořák’s Tragic Overture (also called the Dramatic Overture) was intended as the overture to his first, never published, opera Alfred.

Staying in the Slavic/Russian vein, I retained works by two of Dvořák’s Russian contemporaries – Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimskys’ overture’s full title is Russian Easter Festival Overture: Overture on Liturgical Themes and was composed in tribute to the passing of two of his contemporaries (Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin) who were part of the group of St-Petersburg-based composers we often refer to as “The Mighty Handful”, Russian composers that were instrumental in composing very nationalistic music (the other two being Mily Balakirev and Cesar Cui).

To complete the program, two overtures by Canadiab composers – Sir Ernest MacMillan’s non-descript Overture is one of few works for orchestra the well-renowned conductor left behind, and André Gagnon’s Petite Ouverture opens his album Projection, one of a long series of formulaic releases of short “pseudo-classical:” works that culminate with a major composition that provides the album’s title.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Project 366 - Team Sport

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

Music is a study in balance: balancing voices, balancing colours, balancing ideas and balancing musicians. If “four” is the Magic Number of voices (and players) where this great balance is achieved, then why do we have quintets, octets and nonets?

Like I wrote a few chapters back when discussing the organ and how it somehow fulfills our deep-rooted need of achieving bigger, greater sounds, we don’t have to search long to get our answer. For whatever reason we want more: more voices, more colours, more ideas and – yes – more performers.

As I tried to plan out this first set of chapters, you can see that we are working our way up to music for full orchestra. There is a difference in scale but also a difference in organization and structure when it comes the sort of music a given compliment of players performs. There is “method” behind why I chose to treat “small chamber groups” (2, 3 and 4) and “large chamber groups” separately, as they are indeed “transitional” in many ways. It’s not quite “chamber music” (though it very well can be) and not quite “orchestral music” (though in other cases it appears that it’s a “scaled down” version).

The Quintet Conundrum

They say “there is no ‘I’ in TEAM” but in most team sports, we do have a dominant team member. In American Football, it’s the quarterback, some will argue it’s the goalkeeper in ice hockey, for example. 

The most common quintet configuration adds an instrument to a string quartet. For example, there are many piano quintetsSchubert’s Trout quintet is an excellent example of that. Mozart, Brahms and Carl Maria von Weber write clarinet quintets; Boccherini wrote some string quintets that add a second cello to the string quartet.

These configurations provide an interesting opportunity – one instrument (piano, clarinet or cello in the above cases) “partnering with” a string quartet, in the same way a violin partners with a piano in a duo sonata.

Thus, we have the “quintet conundrum”: some quintets are more “democratic” than others. In some cases, one instrument dominates the others, while in others all five instruments play an “equal role” in the piece, where there isn’t an instrument that stands out. 

Chamber Vs. Orchestra

Let’s suppose you have ten instrumentalists performing music together. How is that different from an orchestra? I don’t think there is a “hard and fast” rule that says an orchestra has to have a minimum or maximum number of players…

An orchestra is “organized” a certain way – it has sections: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments. Inside these sections, some instruments can be represented once, twice, even eight or ten times. An orchestra “scales up” by adding multiple similar instruments but has this idea of “sections”.
There’s nothing “democratic” about an orchestra if you ask me – the potential for anarchy when you have tens of players is undeniable and without a strong “singular vision”, the composer’s intent may not get justice. Thus we have a conductor.

There is, however, a difference between a small orchestra and a gaggle of, say, eight or ten musicians performing music and it has a lot to do with the idea of “democracy at play”. It may be most simply explained as "no conductor required"...

I think you have to look at “large chamber combinations” as a group of individual players rather than as a “single team” playing as a group. Many of the examples I retained to illustrate this – and in particular groups that aren’t scaled-up string quartets, tend to provide opportunities for specific players to shine, taking their turn.

There are, however, some pieces like Mendelssohn’s Octet or Schönberg’s Verklarte Nacht which give more the impression of being really scaled-down orchestral music. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear those pieces played by string orchestra – a not-too-subtle segue into our next section.

Orchestral Vs Ensemble Repertoire

In French, the word “ensemble” literally means “together”, though in music an ensemble is one of those things that is synonymous with orchestra – in fact, we tend to use ensemble to denote a group of musicians that don’t quite constitute an orchestra.

Rather than explore “ensemble repertoire” as something unique and distinct, I’d rather explore it in opposition to orchestral repertoire. When we did our ABC montages, I provided two examples of “transcriptions” of works intended for full orchestra that were “adapted” for wind band. If you have the opportunity to hear the same works in their original form – like say the overture to Wagner’s Rienzi – you’ll find that not much gets lost in the translation, and there’s good reason for that.

From a tonal perspective, a transcription can look at passages assigned to certain stringed instruments – like the violin – and “assign them” to an instrument that falls roughly in the same tonal range – like a clarinet or a flute. The result stays generally true to the original work, as orchestral music doesn’t really rely much on “virtuoso colours” like bowing technique. In cases where virtuoso colours are important, the passages can be assigned to instruments where a fac simile technique – or a replacement technique – gets the nod.

Wind band repertoire also addresses a “practical problem” – the outdoor gazebo-style concert. In venues that don’t provide natural (or man-made) amplification, wind instruments provide the level of volume naturally. And let’s not get started with marching bands (there’s a “classic” Woody Allen skit of him as child playing the cello in a marching band, moving his chair after every note…). Wind band music is therefore rich with military music and outdoor festive music.

At the other end of the spectrum is the string orchestra, anywhere between 13 string players to the “101 string” players of the aptly-named ensemble. Their repertoire often looks at chamber music and “scales it up” for the purpose. A quartet maps easily to sections of the string orchestra, delegating more isolated passages to first chairs. With the addition of a harpsichord and bass to provide the “basso continuo”, string orchestras are well-suited for most of the baroque orchestral repertoire. 

Exploring the large chamber repertoire - Some Listener Guides

Listener Guide #20 - "Piano Quintets": Our look at quintets features two piano quintets by Pierné and Schubert. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #215 - 12 Feb 2016)

Listener Guide #21 - "Clarinet Quintets": Our look at quintets next features quintets for clarinet with strings by Weber, Brahms and Coleridege-Taylor. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #213 - 15 Jan, 2016)

Listener Guide #22 - "Music from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston": Recital of chamber works by Carl Nielsen, Peter Tchaikovsky and Arnold Schoenberg. (Pierre's Tuesday Blog - May 10 2016)

Listener Guide #23 - "Octets and Nonets": A monyage featuring octets and nonets for all sorts of instrument combinations, Works by Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Gouvy and Gounod. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 223 - 10 June 2016).

Listener Guide #24 - "Daniel Barenboim, ECO - Dvořák & Tchaikovsky Serenades For Strings". Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky share a Slavic heritage and so this coupling of works highlights that connection, as well as a more “spiritual” one. (Vinyl's Revenge #18 - 26 April 2016)

Listener Guide #25 - "Harmonious Winds": A montage featuring music for wind band by Mozart, Vaughan-Williams, Sousa, and Beethoven. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #224 - 24 June 2016)

Listener Guide #26 - "Nothing but Strings". A montage featuring music for string ensembles by Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss and Talivaldis Kenins, (ITYWLTMT Podcast #225 - 8 July 2016)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wolfgang Schneiderhan (1915 –2002)

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

In past Once Upon the Internet posts, I have shared parts of recordings featuring first chairs of the Vienna Philharmonic such as Walter Barylli and, more recently, Leopold Wlach. Today, I add a third post featuring a longtime member of the famed orchestra, violoinust Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

Schneiderhan was born in Vienna where he primarily studied under Julius Winkler. At age 10 he publicly performed Bach's Chaconne in D minor. The next year he made his debut in Copenhagen playing theMendelssohn Violin Concerto. In the late 1920’s, he moved for a time to England before returning to Vienna to become the first Concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra from 1933 to 1937, and from 1937 to 1951 led the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. He nevertheless maintained his career as a soloist in concerts and recordings - He was the soloist in the Viennese premiere of Elgar's Violin Concerto in 1947, and in September 1952 he made his benchmark Deutsche Grammophon recordings of all ten Beethoven violin sonatas with Wilhelm Kempff in the Konzerthaus, Mozartsaal, Vienna.

He held teaching posts in Salzburg, Vienna and Lucerne. In 1956 he founded the Lucerne Festival Strings together with Rudolf Baumgartner. He gave the 1959 premiere of his friend Karl Amadeus Hartmann's revised Concerto funebre.

Today’s post features tracks I downloaded a few years back from the old Japanese site Public Domain Classic. The main feature is a “famous reference performance by Schneiderhan with Paul van Kempen conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recorded with true audiophile sound quality of the BrahmsViolin Concerto in D, probably sometime in 1952.

To complete the post, I added a pair of Beethoven sonatas from the 1952 set he recorded with Wihelm Kempff.

Happy Listening!

(All tracks feature Wolfgang Schneiderhan, violin)

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto For Violin And Orchestra In D Major, op. 77
Berliner Philharmoniker
Paul Van Kempen, conducting

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.8 in G Major, op. 30, no. 3 
Violin Sonata No.10 in G Major, op. 96 ('The Cockcrow') 
Wilhelm Kempff, piano

Friday, July 8, 2016

Nothing But Strings

No. 225 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast225


We complete our survey of music for "not quite orchestra" with music for string orchestra. A string orchestra, as the name suggests, consists solely of a string section. The instruments of such an orchestra are most often the following: the violin, which is divided into first and second violin players, the viola, the cello, and the double bass. String orchestras can be of chamber orchestra size ranging from between 12 ( = 12) and 21 musicians ( = 21) or consist of the entire string section of a large symphony orchestra which could have 60 musicians ( = 60);

The repertoire for string orchestra goes from the baroque to the modern. Sometimes works originally written for string quartet, quintet, sextet etc. are arranged for string orchestra.

We begin our montage with one of Felix Mendelssohn's string symphonies (pr string sinfonias). It wasn't uncommon for Mendelssohn's compositions to be played at home with a private orchestra for the associates of his wealthy parents amongst the intellectual elite of Berlin. Between the ages of 12 and 14, Mendelssohn wrote 12 string symphonies for such concerts. These works were long ignored for but are now recorded and played in concerts.

Born in Latvia and educated in France, Talivaldis Kenins moved to Canada in 1951 to assume duties as organist and music director at St. Andrews Latvian Lutheran Church in Toronto. He joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto the following year, teaching composition and contrapuntal techniques there for over 30 years. The work I chose to program is one for string ensemble, which unites his modern technique and his Lutheran faith.

To close the montagem I chose Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, a study for 23 solo strings scored for ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three double basses. It was composed during the closing months of the Second World War, from August 1944 to March 1945. The piece was commissioned by Paul Sacher, the founder and director of the Basler Kammerorchester and Collegium Musicum Zürich, to whom Strauss dedicated it. It was first performed in January 1946 by Sacher and the Collegium Musicum Zürich.

I think you will love this music too!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Programming for July, August and September 2016


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. Ag; eain this quarter, I don't foresee a return to opera posts, but I sense we may resume these in the Fall.

I plan three new installments to Project 366;e xpect that once a month, on a Sunday, I will issue an installment of that project. More on the Project 366 page.

  • To feed Project 366, I plan podcasts that are aligned with forthcoming installments. These include:
  • Vinyl's Revenge: Ballet suites by Tchaikovsky (PTB) and Prokofiev (PTB).
  • Once Upon the Internet - Brahms Violin Concerto with Wolfgang Schneiderhan (PTB), two Schubert symphonies (PTB) and the Kairros Quartet (PTB).
  • A special Tuesday Blog dedicated to the Last Night at the Proms (PTB)
  • The return of OTF with a look at Schubert's WInterreise (OTF)

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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