Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Performance from WGBH Boston

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

As I scrape the drawer for Once Upon the Internet material, I thought I would share some music I downloaded from podcasts produced by WGBH in Boston, one of the flagship stations of the American Public Broadcaster, NPR.

The works on the playlist are from some of your favourite composers, and played by musicians based in the North-Eastern US and (in the case of Jonathan Crow, long-tome associate concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony and now concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony) Eastern Canada .

The Beethoven string quartet was part of a past Tuesday Blog, where I had only shared the link. Many of these podcasts have since been removed from the station's roster, so they are worthy of our "departed site" treatment in that sense... The Brahms horn trio falls loosely in our earlier look at "odd trios" of Brahms.

The Chopin polonaise and Kreisler "works in the stuyle" aren't heard as much, so for that reason, worth sharing.

As this is the last PTB of 2016, Happy New Year, and look for a new addition to our "content rotation" in the new year.


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet #3 in D major, op. 18, no.3
Harlem String Quartet

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in E-Flat Major, op. 40
William Purvis, horn
Jonathan Crow, violin
Mihae Lee, piano

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Introduction and Polonaise in C Major, for cello and piano, op. 3
Bion Tsang, cello
Anton Nel, piano

Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Tempo di minuetto (in the style of Pugnani) [1910]
Andantino (in the style of Padre Martini) [1910]
Nikolaj Znaider, violin

Deborah DeWolf Emery, piano

Friday, December 23, 2016

Year In Review, 2016 Edition

2016 is coming to a close, and as I do each year at this time, I will indulge in a long-winded editorial about what happened in our many platforms this past year, and discuss what I plan for next year. At the end, as a pale form of compensation for my readers, I will share my yearly YouTube mashup of quips and quirks amassed throughout the year.

2016 Highlights

Under my new “reduced workload policy”, we provided our fewest number of Friday montages yet for a calendar year – 24 in total. As many of you noticed (I hope) though there weren’t specific “thematic arcs” exploited this year in any of our platforms, we did introduce montages and playlists that “fed” our long-term Project 366.

As I will get into later, this long-term project serves as “prime motivation” behind the montages and playlists I assemble. By doing so, in an admittedly biased way, I am trying to provide a more “holistic” view of the repertoire, rather than focus on more spontaneous offerings.

The reduced workload has meant cutting back on Tuesday blogs, reducing those to twice a month and mostly focused on two main “series”: Once Upon the Internet and Vinyl’s Revenge. This formula will morph somewhat over the next year, primarily because I am running out of OUTI material.

Opera (and lyric selections) has made a return in the fall, and for the foreseeable future, I plan to issue monthly OTF posts on OperaLively. For those, I will continue “mining” the Public Domain sites LiberMusica and the MQCD-Musique-Classique library of old vinyl recordings.

In terms of readership, listenership and social media feedback, I can tell we have a few “avid followers” because I can recognize the names on Facebook! Our page views and plays/downloads on our different platforms are consistent, which is heartening to me. I’m always humbled and at times surprised by the response to posts and music shares, and I thank all of you for taking the time to sample our wares as it were, and provide your reactions.

A couple of noteworthy (and surprising) things I stumbled upon… One of our montages from 2016 was used as background music for a lengthy YouTube video (LINK) and I saw one of my posts “recycled” on one of the sites I often consult, discogs (LINK). There may be more, but these are a pair I am aware of. Don’t be shy to spread our material, that’s what it is meant for! All I do ask is to get some form of “attribution” for the material…

Coming in 2017

As I said earlier, Project 366 serves as the main motivation for most of the stuff we have planned for this coming year. For the record, I have planned out the entire series, which will take us all the way to December 2018 – that is, of course, if I hang on doing this for a couple more years…

I plan on sharing more montages this year, and to do so, I will be trying something new: on months where there are 5 Tuesdays (four times a year), I plan to post a first-run montage as part of the Tuesday Blog. I’ve always posted those on Fridays (with very few exceptions) but never on the TalkClassical site. However, since I’ve been doing dual-posts of Tuesday Blog contents for the last couple of years, I think this isn’t something I consider out of character… My first such “Fifth Tuesday” podcast will be in January.

Going back to Project 366 for a moment, we are well-into our first 122 “Listener Guides”. There are about 60 remaining to that first set, and these are planned to be dispatched by September 2017. As was the case this year, I plan a pause for the Tuesday Blog over the summer, but montages will continue, at the typical bi-weekly pace throughout the year.

It has been long-held policy to avoid “repeat works” in montages we share. There have been few exceptions to this policy – providing single movements vice the entire work being one that comes to mind. As we feed our long-term project, and since we’ve been at this for over 5 years and 230+ montages, I think I will be less strict in applying this policy in the future, especially if we haven’t programmed a work for a couple of tears. In the coming months some “repeat works” will find their way into montages – I hope you won’t mind…

Before I get any further into my musings, I wanted to share some of my more recent “adventures in music collecting”. I discussed earlier the fact I am mining LiberMusica for all its worth, having already posted some of the music I uncovered this past year. As I look for material for Vinyl’s Revenge, I do stumble from time to time on some surprising material on YouTube, performances from legendary performers or composers I am discovering. It should come as no surprise to many of you that there is a ton of material posted on YouTube – sometimes flagged and removed through Copyright Police intervention – and certainly worthy of discussion in these pages. I may introduce a series on “Mining YouTube” and share some of these discoveries. That may be a worthy “replacement” for Once Upon the Internet. This is just an idea, let’s see where that goes!

As I prepare Vinyl’s Revenge material, I plan to turn a few of these into a series on Mozart’s “Last Piano Concertos”, folding in some Podcast Vault selections and at least one of my 5th Tuesday montages.

Video Favourites for 2016

Before I step aside for our YouTube mashup, I wanted to thank all of you once again for reading and sharing the music we love so much. Please continue providing me your comments and reactions here and on social media!

Happy New Year 2017 from your friendly music blogger

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Project 366 - Do Not Skip This Chapter!

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.

For a time, I wanted to name this Chapter “Read This If You Want to Win $1,000,000”, but chose not to, as I did not want to be accused of false advertising…

Yes, I’ve teased this long enough, this is the chapter on opera.

Why People don’t (think they) like Opera

Here’s part of a discussion I found on the Internet about “Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera?”. I thought some points here were worth sharing… Here goes:

There's little doubt that both rap and opera have traveled with significant prejudicial (if stereotypical) baggage: Opera is for rich, white, elderly snobs; rap is made by poor, young, black thugs. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion.

I don’t know if this thought process captures the “practical reasons” why opera is disliked, though there is some merit to the social argument… Opera (and maybe less so for rap) rarely relates to everyday lives. It either recounts events that occurred generations ago (fact or fiction), or gravitate around social circumstances that people can scarcely relate to – the world of fantasy, or of lifestyles of the very rich or very poor. I think there’s merit to the fact opera plots don’t always relate to us. But the same argument applies to many films, for example, yet there isn’t as much wide-spread aversion to film, even art film.

That having been said, the very fact that operas delve into situations that are often times much more dire and exaggerated for dramatic or comedic effect is actually what makes opera an ideal escape – our everyday troubles and adventures pale in comparison to the tales of the operatic world!
If one gets past the stories, then the next stumbling block for many is the singing. It’s one thing to be a good singer (that is sing clearly, and on key), but opera singing often reaches the upper or lower limits of the singing register for a given voice tessiture, either for operatic effect, or in order to “keep up” with the music. In many ways, a good “Broadway” singer doesn’t necessarily cut it in opera, and there are very few examples of opera singers crossing over to popular repertoire or musical comedy. In a sense, it is like the difference between Formula 1 car races and NASCAR. Racing is racing, but the tactics, the circuits and the cars themselves are very different, and it explains why few NASCAR drivers “move up” to Formula 1 and from Formula 1 to NASCAR.

If the singing isn’t a problem, then maybe it’s language – the three main opera languages are Italian, German and French, though there are operas composed in every spoken language. But, if the opera you are listening to isn’t sung in a language you are fluent in, that could be a turn-off.
Finally, there’s length. Operas are perceived as being several hours long. Though this is true in some cases, most operas last about as long as a premium feature film (two to three hours), so I find that last complaint less legitimate, though I agree that three hours of focused attention, following a plot that’s hard to grasp in a foreign language can be mentally taxing and challenging, same as watching some minimalist Swedish art film.

This chapter – and the listening guides that I suggest – is meant for opera “newbies”, who are up to the task of trying this out for size.

Opera Basics

The basic building blocks of an opera production are –

The Cast – the ensemble of singers, composed of voices of different tessiture. Remember the Shaw quote about opera being about the Tenor wanting to sleep with the Soprano being foiled by the baritone… Voices and singing styles are chosen to meet the needs of the opera storyline, and the musical style of the work.

The libretto – (Italian for “book”), this is the text that is being recited or sung. Sung numbers are known as arias, and spoken dialogue is known as recitatives. Unlike the common perception, most opera isn’t “sung end to end”, though in some cases recitatives are half-sung rather than plainly spoken.

The Staging – this is the part that distinguishes opera from an oratorio. An opera is a “sung play” where singers are expected to “act”, and use the set, props and their bodies to convey the action, not simply sing. This means two things in my mind – one, that every production of a given opera is distinct, based on the stage director’s conception of the work and, second, opera is a dish best enjoyed “in person”, as the visual plays an important role. Opera is very popular on radio (a tradition that has existed for over 100 years) but has taken a large leap in recent years when the great opera companies began to stream High Definition live performances in Movie theatres.

The Style – the “style” of an opera is a multi-faceted thing. It has to do when it was composed [Baroque opera is very different that Bel Canto (Italian Romantic) opera], the kind of opera [opera seria (serious) or buffa (comic)], or even the derivative form [operetta being “less stuffy” than “Grand Opera”].

All four components contribute to the final result, and ultimately with the audience response to the performance. Some singers are better suited to certain styles than others; some material is more adaptable to different stage direction or concepts than others. And, some people like funny operas, and others only respond to tragic situations and characters. Some tragic situations can be enhanced or ruined based on the prowess of singers and their ability to deliver their lines as envisaged or required by the Composer.

Spoiler Alert – You may need a Synopsis

Like I said, most of what we would call the “opera repertoire” is suing in one of mainly three languages, and even if one is fluent in the language, it can be difficult to follow the libretto when it is sung in certain styles (or sung by singers who don’t have proper diction or mastery of the sung language). This is why, in modern opera houses; we find subtitles or surtitles – a visual aid providing the libretto, with translation in real time. If, like me, you find this is a distraction, then you are left with the old-fashioned options of either having a copy of the libretto for quick reference or you get the gist of the action beforehand so you can follow the main threads.

The Internet provides many sites where one can get libretti and synopses (a synopsis being the high-level summary of the action, broken down for each act of the opera) for many of the operas in the repertoire. In many cases, you can get the libretto in both the original language and translated into English. One such site is the Swiss site Opera Guide.

Take for example, the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. The site provides a synopsis in English, and the libretto in the original French (unfortunately, no English translation, though I’m sure you can find one somewhere else on the Web).

The drawback with taking in the synopsis rather than following along with the libretto is that you get “spoilers” – well, there isn’t a perfect solution… Besides, the action only gets spoiled the first time you take on the opera…

Recommended Listener Guides

In order to make things less intimidating, the operas I programmed for the most part are short (one act, about an hour in length). I also included some hyperlinks to the synopsis and libretto for each work.

Listener Guide #63 - Amahl and the Night Visitors (Synopsis and Libretto)
Composer: Gian-Carlo Menotti
Librettist: Gian-Carlo Menotti

Listener Guides #64 - Carmen (Synopsis and Libretto)
Composer: Georges Bizet
Librettist: Henri Meilhac, and Ludovic Halévy
Language: French
(Tuesday Blog - 6 Sep 2011)

Listener Guide # 65 - Die Fledermaus (Synopsis and Libretto)
Composer: Johann Strauss
Librettist: Carl Haffner, and Richard Genèe

Listener Guide # 66 - Cavalleria Rusticana (Synopsis and Libretto)
Composer: Pietro Mascagni
Librettist: Guido Menasci

Listener Guide #67 - Pagliacci (Synopsis and Libretto)
Composer: Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Librettist: Ruggiero Leoncavallo

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Respighi - Orchestre Symphonique De Montréal, Charles Dutoit ‎– Pines Of Rome, etc.

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

Terry Blain writes in classical-miusic.com that Ottorino Respighi falls into that unenviable category of a composer whose reputation rests unduly on a particular work, or group of compositions. In his case it is the so-called ‘Roman Trilogy’, three separately conceived orchestral pieces penned between 1916-1928, his prime creative period.

The popularity of the Trilogy has often been attributed to Respighi’s undeniable brilliance as an orchestrator, his ability to conjure a kaleidosocopic range of crowd-pleasing colours and impressions from his instrumental palette.

In writing Fountains of Rome Respighi’s prime motivation was to render the profound aesthetic impression made on him, the ‘sentiments and visions’ inspired, as he put it, by four exquisitely sculpted Roman fountains ‘contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or their beauty appears most impressive to the observer’.

Respighi wrote Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) to ‘use nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions’ of the Eternal City, and present ‘a fantastic vision of bygone glories’. His perspective, though proudly patriotic, is that of an enthralled observer of his country’s history and is intensely personal: tellingly, Respighi’s wife Elsa said that Pines of Rome was ‘one of the compositions in which the Maestro was most emotionally involved’.

Feste Romane (Roman Festivals) rounds off the Roman Trilogy in 1928. Though generally regarded as less successful than its two predecessors, Roman Festivals, with its ‘maximum of orchestral sonority and colour’, represented a culmination of Respighi’s large-scale orchestral composition. ‘With the present constitution of the orchestra,’ he wrote, ‘it is impossible to achieve more, and I do not think I shall write any more scores of this kind.’

[Church of St-Eustache and cannon ball damage from 1837 (red circle)]

For most of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra released many albums of French repertoire music and some “popular” repertoire works for the London/Decca record label. All of these were recorded at the historic Church in the city of Saint Eustache, North of Montreal. The church, made famous during the Rebellion of 1837, was renowned for its superb acoustics, however the logistics of bringing the orchestra to the church, employing City Police to prevent traffic from disrupting the recording sessions and the general disruption to the daily operation of the Church (as the pews and floor plan needed to be constantly changed to accommodate the recording engineers) made it untenable as a recording venue.

(Recent recordings of the Orchestra and its city rival Orchestre Métropolitain usually take place either at their shared concert hall or in city churches in the area, whose logistics are less onerous shall I say…).

I’m unsure if this qualifies as a “popular” repertoire offering – since the orchestra did record a second Respighi album some years later – but the orchestra committed the “Roman Trilogy” of tones poems to disc in the summer of 1982. In 2014, CBC Radio 2 compiled “The 30 best Canadian classical recordings ever” and this recording made the hit parade:

Audiophiles, this one's for you. The orchestra positively shimmers in this perfectly balanced, exquisitely engineered recording. Dutoit leads the orchestra in an exhilarating performance, exploiting the full range of brilliant orchestral effects and bold colours with panache. Crank it up — way up — and savour the sound.

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879 - 1936)
Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome), symphonic poem, P. 141
Feste romane (Roman Festivals), symphonic poem, P. 157
Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome), symphonic poem, P. 106

Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Charles Dutoit, conducting
London Records ‎– LDR 71091
Recorded: St-Eustache (Québec), June 1982
Format: Vinyl, LP

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Creation (Haydn)

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

For this installment of OTF, I thought I would continue our look at the works hosted by LiberMusica with an oratorio rather than an opera. This time of year, the oratorio of choice is Handel’s Messiah, but since we already discussed that grand oratorio a few years ago at this time, I thought I would go in a slightly different direction.

According to classical-music.com, at the 1791 Handel Festival in Westminster Abbey, Joseph Haydn was overwhelmed by the monumental sublimity of the choruses in Messiah and Israel in Egypt, performed by a gargantuan array of over 1000 players and singers. In the words of an early biographer, Giuseppe Carpani, Haydn 'confessed that ...he was struck as if he had been put back to the beginning of his studies and had known nothing up to that moment. He meditated on every note and drew from those most learned scores the essence of true musical grandeur'.

Haydn was determined to compose his own epic oratorio, based on biblical sources and just before he left England for the last time, in the summer of 1795, the impresario Salomon handed him an anonymous English libretto on the subject of the Creation which had allegedly been intended for Handel half a century earlier.

Haydn immediately saw the musical potential in the Creation text, whose main sources were the Book of Genesis, Milton's Paradise Lost (especially for the animal descriptions in Part Two, and the hymn and love duet in Part Three) and, for several of the choruses of praise, the Book of Psalms. Back in Vienna, the composer asked the Imperial Court Librarian, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, for his opinion. He swiftly encouraged Haydn to take on the work, taking on the task of translating the text to German himself.

The Creation, like Haydn’s other oratorio the Seasons, has both a German and an English libretto, both written by Swieten (Swieten's English was less fluent than he liked to think, which makes for sometimes odd phraseology). For the quotations from the Bible, Swieten chose to adhere very closely to the English King James Version. According to scholars, the German text corresponds to no known German Bible translation. Instead, it is constructed in such a way that the word order, syllabification, and stress patterns are as close as possible to the English. The first public performance was held in Vienna at the old Burgtheater on 19 March 1799. The oratorio was published with the text in German and English in 1800.

The three-part oratorio is scored for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor, and bass; there is also an incidental solo for alto in the finale), four-part chorus (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and a large Classical orchestra. For the recitatives a harpsichord or fortepiano is also used. In parts I and II, depicting the creation. the soloists represent the archangels Raphael (bass), Uriel (tenor) and Gabriel (soprano). In part III, the bass and soprano represent Adam and Eve.

The vintage performance is a MONO recording featuring the Berlin Philharmonic, the Choir of St. Hedwig's Cathedral and soloists Irmgard Seefried , Richard Holm and Kim Borg, all under Igor Markevitch.

Happy Holidays!

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Hob. XXI:2
Oratorio in Three Parts, German libretto by Gottfried van Swieten

Irmgard Seefried (Soprano)
Richard Holm (Tenor)
Kim Borg (Bass)
Chor Der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale
Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor, Harpsichord – Igor Markevitch

LiberMusica URL - http://www.liberliber.it/online/auto...ster-hob-xxi2/

Friday, December 9, 2016

Die Tageszeiten

No. 236 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast236

This is our last montage for 2016, and one that “feeds” an upcoming chapter of Project 366 (planned for March 2017) discussing “threesomes” in music.

We can highlight many fortunate instances of “musical threesomes” or sets of three related pieces of music. I remember reading once that Mahler’s nine symphonies could be viewed as a threesome of threesomes, as each tranche of three symphonies address specific periods of his life, and I think that tis brings its share of “insight” into an important corpus of the symphonic repertoire. Another such threesome is the set of Mozart’s last three symphonies (39, 40 and 41) which often get discuss and analyzed together.

There are fewer examples of “symphonic triptychs”, or a set of three symphonies purposefully composed as a group, a lot like Vivaldi’s quartet of concertos “The Four Seasons”. One such example is this trio of early Haydn symphonies known as Die Tageszeiten (The Times of the Day) with their French subtitles “Matin, Midi et Soir” or morning, noon and evening. Here is a fine introduction and analysis, reproduced here from Early Music Vancouver’s program notes.

Count Morzin was an aristocrat of the Austrian Empire during the 18th century and he is remembered today as the first person to employ Joseph Haydn as his Kapellmeister, or music director. Haydn lived at a time when aristocratic patronage was a necessity for a composer to survive and it must have been devastating for him when the Count fell upon hard times financially; Haydn’s position was one of the casualties.

When life closes one door, a new one opens, and Haydn was at the right place at the right time when Prince Paul Anton Esterházy happened to attend one of Haydn’s performances at the Bohemian summer home of Count Morzin. Haydn must have made quite an impression because when the Prince heard of his situation, he quickly offered him the position of Deputy Kappelmeister for his own court orchestra. Haydn signed the contract with the Esterházy court in May of 1761 and thus began one of the most prolific situations of musical patronage in all of music history, lasting almost exactly 30 years.

As we have written in past posts, Haydn used his situation as an opportunity to run a veritable musical laboratory. He is oft-quoted as describing his working life as such:

As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks. I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original.

Prince Esterházy spent some time in Naples as a diplomat and developed an Italian taste in music. His collection of Italian music included Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. It has been suggested that the Prince mentioned to Haydn that he should compose a similar set of pieces inspired by the different times of the day, and thus this trio of works, first performed in May or June of 1761.

Symphony No. 6 ‘Le matin’ begins with a slow introduction representing the awakening of the sun, followed by entrances of the flute and oboe evoking the pleasant chirping of birds responding to the dawning of a new day. This develops into moments of virtuosity for the entire ensemble, undoubtedly written to highlight not only Haydn’s compositional creativity but also the exceptional orchestra hired for the court’s entertainment. The second movement is more of a Corelli-inspired Baroque concerto for violin and cello than merely a symphony movement. The bass and bassoon are featured during the trio of the Minuet, with a return to the ensemble virtuosity for the Finale.

The 7th Symphony, ‘Le midi’ begins with another slow introduction which soon becomes more feverish activity as two violins and cello take over with the energized sense of purpose of mid-day. The second movement begins as a song without words for the violin by using the operatic device recitativo accompagnato (or accompanied recitative), another Italianate styling which surely pleased the Prince. The lower voices are once again in the spotlight for the Minuet and Trio, followed by a return to the fierce activity of the opening movement to close out the symphony.

As musicologist Daniel Heartz discovered in 1981, the opening melody of Symphony No. 8, ‘Le soir’, is identical to a song from Gluck’s French comic opera Le diable à quatre, performed in Vienna in 1759. It is likely Prince Esterházy saw the opera in Vienna and requested for Haydn to use it in his new set of pieces. The words of this song are quite cheeky:

I don’t like tobacco very much, I don’t use it much, often not at all, but my husband objects.  Presently, I find it tempting, if I take a little when alone, because it relieves boredom, no matter what my husband says.

The second movement, like the others, is another moment for the soloists to shine, starting with the violins, then cello, followed by bassoon. The Minuet features the woodwinds, with another bass spotlight for the Trio. For the final movement, the rapid succession of repeated notes in the violin and cello suggests the rumble of thunder during an evening storm, while the flute can be seen as either delivering lightning strikes or falling arpeggiated raindrops as an evocative ending to the evening.
The performance I used for this week’s podcast involves a “period setting” provided by the Hanover Band in their quasi-complete set of Haydn symphonies issued under the Hyperion label. These were  recorded in February 1991.

I think you will love this music too.