Friday, March 31, 2017

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

No. 244 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

A third Friday in March is the opportunity for me to program a third montage this month, building upon this past Tuesday’s post of music by George Frederic Handel.

Due cori (literally : "two choirs"), means in fact that two distinct ensembles of wind instruments are deployed, each composed of a bassoon, two oboes (and, for the concerto HWV 333, two horns), along with a contingent of strings and the basso continuo.

Handel wrote three such concerti, to be performed as interludes during certain oratorios in English, following the example of his organ concertos. Their composition dates back approximately to the years 1747-48. The concerto I chose to open the montage, HWV 333, is made up of 6 movements, four of which recycle music from other works (you will recognize a few, I’m sure!).

Handel's keyboard suite no. 5 in E major, HWV 430, was one of the first works for harpsichord published by Handel and is made up of four movements. The final movement (Air and variations) is better known for its nickname, ”The Harmonious Blacksmith”. There have been a number of explanations proffered as to why this movement gained that nickname, and by whom We know the nickname was not given by Handel and was not recorded until early in the 19th century, when the movement became popular on its own. Alicia de Larrocha performs the entire suite on a modern piano in our montage.

The Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351) was composed in 1749 under contract of George II of Great Britain for the fireworks in London's Green Park on 27 April 1749. The fireworks display was not as successful as the music itself: the weather was rainy and in the middle of the show the right pavilion caught fire.

At the King’s behest, the original performance was scored for a large wind band consisting of 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and a contrabassoon, nine natural trumpets, nine natural horns, three pairs of kettledrums, and side drums "ad libitum”. Handel later re-scored the suite for full orchestra and for a performance a month later. Handel noted in the score: the violins to play the oboe parts, the cellos, and double basses the bassoon part, and the violas either a lower wind or bass part. The instruments from the original band instrumentation play all the movements in the revised orchestral edition except the gentle Bourrée and the first Menuet, which are played by only the oboes, bassoons, and strings alone.

Psalm 110 (also known under the Latin name Dixit Dominus), refers in the general sense to a King ruling over the enemies of the Israelites and is regarded by Jews and Christians as referring to the Messiah. Though they translate this Psalm similarly, Christians and Jews interpret its meaning very differently—Jews as referring to a righteous king favored by God to rule over Israel on earth and smite her enemies in battle, and Christians as referring to Jesus literally sitting at God's right hand in heaven as a divine being of equal stature to God.

Handel set this psalm to music in 1707 while Handel was living in Italy. The work was written in the prominent “Italian” style and is scored for five vocal soloists (SSATB), five-part chorus, strings and continuo. It is most likely that the work was first performed on 16 July 1707 in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto, under the patronage of the Colonna family.

Because this Psalm is prominent in the Office of Vespers, it has particular significance in music. In addition to Handel, other composers gave set this text to music: Marc-Antoine Charpentier (in 1689), Claudio Monteverdi (1610 and 1640), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1779 and 1780), Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1732), Alessandro Scarlatti (1700), Antonio Vivaldi (twice in 1715); Richard Rodgers composed a partial setting of the psalm for the opening sequence of The Sound of Music, using verses 1, 5, and 7.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Shellac's Revenge

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

It is our custom during Lent to program organ music, and this year I have two posts (this one, and another next week) where we will explore baroque and renaissance organ repertoire, performed (unashamedly, might I add) with “big organ” bombast.

Before getting started with this week’s post, I want to “plug” a blog that I have encountered last year, The Shellackophile, which presents “Recordings of classical music from the 78-rpm era (mostly)”. Today’s musical shares and some of the commentary come from this fine effort by a like-minded music collector and enthusiast.

George Dorrington Cunningham (1878 - 1948) was an important English organist and teacher, who counted among his students the two other eminent British organists on deck this week, E. Power Biggs and George Thalben-Ball. There is no doubt that there is a long tradition of organ music in Britain, and it probably dates back to one of the great organ composers of the Baroque era, Georg Fredertic Handel, who elected to become a British subject in 1726.

The Handel organ concertos, composed in London between 1735 and 1751, were written as interludes for performances of his oratorios. They were the first works of their kind for organ with chamber orchestra accompaniment and served as a model for later composers.

The Shellackophile writes:

[Cunningham’s] recordings of two Handel concerti, with George Weldon and the City of Birmingham Orchestra, were made late in his life, and exhibit a considerably beefier style of Handel playing than we are accustomed to today, with a big organ sound and a full symphonic-sized string orchestra accompaniment:

[George Thalben-Ball] turns in a performance of Handel's Organ Concerto in B-Flat, Op. 7, No. 3, as arranged and orchestrated by Sir Henry J. Wood. Thalben-Ball's playing is flamboyant, to say the least, and the Wood orchestration, for full symphony orchestra with brass and percussion, is certainly anachronistic but it's great fun! Handel's original ordering of the movements is also altered, and this performance interpolates not only the Minuet from "Berenice" but also a big cadenza by Thalben-Ball that takes up most of the last side.

[E. Power Biggs’] career at Columbia spanned some thirty years, but before this, he had been at Victor from 1939 to 1946, where most of his work was done on the 1937 Aeolian-Skinner organ built to Baroque specifications and located in Harvard's Germanic Museum. His recordings included collaborations with Arthur Fiedler and his Sinfonietta composed of Boston Symphony players.
The digital transfers are quite good, though we have to remember that the recording (and playback) technology would have been taken to its limits by such a tsunami of sound!

Happy Listening!

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 –1759)

Organ Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat, Op. 4, No. 2 [HWV 290]
Organ Concerto No. 4 in F, Op. 4, No. 4 [HWV 292]
G. D. Cunningham (William Hill & Sons organ, Birmingham Town Hall)
City of Birmingham Orchestra
George Weldon, conducting
[Recorded June 4, 1945; English Columbia DX 1358 – 1360]

Concerto No. 13 in F Major ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale") [HWV 295]
E. Power Biggs (Aeolian-Skinner organ, Germanic Museum, Harvard University)
Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
[Recorded March 17, 1940; RCA Victor set M-733]

Organ Concerto No. 9 in B-Flat, Op. 7, No. 3 [HWV 308]
(arr. Henry J. Wood)

Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710 –1778)
First movement (Allegro moderato) from Organ Concerto No. 6 in B-Flat (ca. 1751)
(Arr. George Thalben-Ball)
George Thalben-Ball (unspecified organ [Handel], St-Mark's Chursch, London [Arne])
Philharmonia Orchestra
Walter Susskind, conducting
[Recorded June 4, Sept. 23, and Oct. 11, 1948; HMV C 3814 – 3816]

Friday, March 24, 2017

In Memoriam - Sir Neville Marriner (1924 – 2016)

No. 243 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


In Novemberlast year , we posted a Tuesday Blog in remembrance of Sir Neville Marriner, who died in his sleep this past October at age 92. As our Friday Blog and Podcast was already committed to a number of posts in support of our ongoing projects, I haven’t had a chance to program an homage montage for Sir Neville until this week.

According to the Academy’s homage page for Sir Neville, Sir Neville studied at the Royal College of Music and the Paris Conservatoire. He began his career as a violinist, playing first in a string quartet and trio, then in the London Symphony Orchestra. It was during this period that he founded the Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, with the aim of forming a top-class chamber ensemble from London’s finest players. Beginning as a group of friends who gathered to rehearse in Sir Neville’s front room, the Academy gave its first performance in its namesake church in 1959. The Academy now enjoys one of the largest discographies of any chamber orchestra worldwide, and its partnership with Sir Neville Marriner is the most recorded of any orchestra and conductor.

As a player, Sir Neville had observed some of the greatest conductors at close quarters. He worked as an extra under Toscanini and Furtwängler, with Joseph Krips, George Szell, Stokowski and mentor Pierre Monteux. Sir Neville began his conducting career in 1969, after his studies in America with Maestro Monteux. There he founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, at the same time as developing and extending the size and repertoire of the Academy. In 1979 he became Music Director and Principal Conductor of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Südwest Deutsche Radio Orchestra in Stuttgart, positions he held until the late 1980s. Subsequently he has continued to work with orchestras round the globe in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Milan, Athens, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Tokyo.

As aptly pointed out in his obituary, the ad material for the 1984 film Amadeus read: “Only two people were qualified to conduct the score.” Below those words were two pictures: one of Mozart in powdered wig, the other of Marriner in white dickie bow. “One was unavailable,” added the blurb.
It is therefore fitting that I programmed Mozart this week, in the form of his bassoon concerto (taken from a disc that featured three of Mozart’s wind concerti). Well recognized as baroque and classical era specialists, I also programmed Haydn’s “Fire” symphony with Marriner and his ASMF.

In past posts, we have featured Marriner in repertoire other than Corelli, Vivaldi, Haydn and Mozart: we heard him conducts selections from Leonard Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free in our Blues montage from 2015. In Tuesday Blogs I shared a pair of vinyl records – one of Prokofiev with the London Symphony (my YouTube video of the Love for Three Oranges suite  has the most views on my channel) and the above-mentioned post of Stravinsky with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. To close out the montage, I chose Marriner in a third Russian composer, Tchaikovsky, part of his complete set of his four orchestral suites.

I think you will love this music too..

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Project 366 - The Trifecta

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.

Over the years, we’ve put together thematic posts having to do with musical numerology, and this month’s chapter of Project 366 explores this idea with an emphasis on the number three.

Three of a Kind

It shouldn’t be surprising that the number three has a special significance in art and art forms. The term triptych comes from the Greek adjective τρίπτυχον (triptukhon) which translates to "three-fold". You Mad magazine fans think of the “fold-in” back page, but that’s not quite what a triptych is.
A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. The middle panel is typically the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works, although there are triptychs of equal-sized panels.

Wait a minute… A single work with three parts; there are many musical compositions that follow that pattern. Concertos and early symphonies are often laid out in three movements. Tick in the box!
It turns out that the “musical triptych form” finds its way not only in pieces in three sections – like Debussy’s La mer or Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain – but also in three works that we can think of as a “trilogy” as they have a very close kinship.

A good example of this would be Antonín Dvořák’s "Nature, Life and Love" trilogy of overtures: In Nature's Realm, Op. 91 ("Nature"), Carnival, Op. 92, (“Life”), and Othello, Op. 93 ("Love").

A better known group would be Ottorino Respighi’s “Roman Trilogy” of three separately conceived orchestral pieces penned between 1916-1928: the Fountains of Rome, the Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals. Same goes for a trio of early Haydn symphonies – the first three symphonies to be composed Prince Nikolaus Esterházy known as the "Morning," "Noon" and "Evening" trilogy.

Il Trittico

One musical triptych stands out, and it is part of our listener guides this month, and it is a very special three-act opera, or should we say a collection of three one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. The work, Il trittico, received its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New-York City on 14 December 1918.

Puccini intended that the three should be performed as a set, "I very much dislike Trittico being given in bits", he once wrote. Today, it is quite common to see only one or two of the trittico operas performed in an evening, and sometimes one of them may be paired with another one-act opera by a different composer.

The trittico operas don’t have a true “common thread” – they are set in three different time periods, two are tragic and one is a comedy (Puccini’s only comedy, by the way). Though originally conceived as works inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, only Schicchi has remained true to the original intent. Other than being prototypical verismo operas, the only common ground between the trio is the presence of death – murder in tabarro, suicide in Angelica and a concealed death (and ensuing trickery) in Schicchi.

Your Listener Guides

Listener Guide #82 “Three Mendelssohn Trios”. Mendelssohn Brother and Sister combine for a trio of... trios.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #180 - 9 Jan 2015)

Listener Guide #83 “Beethoven In Berlin”. Two Beethoven works that suggest the number three, the Triple concerto and the Eroica symphony (ITYWLTMT Podcast #238 - 27 Jan, 2017) 

Listener Guide #84 “Debussy Trilogies”. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts La mer and Nocturnes, two of Debussy’s best-known triptychs (Vinyl’s Revenge - 14 Mar 2017)

Listener Guide #85 “Respighi’s Roman Trilogy”. Charles Dutoit leads the Montreal Symphony in this early-digital recording of Respighi’s three evocative tone poems  (Vinyl’s Revenge #23 - 13 Dec 2016)

Listener Guide #86 “Die Tageszeiten”. Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band perform Haytdn’s Times of the Day trilogy of symphonies (ITYWLTMT #236 - 09 Dec, 2016

Listener Guide #87 - 89 “Puccini: Il Trittico”. Created at the Met in 1918, Il Trittico (The triptych) is a collection of three one-act operas. These performances, introduced by Sean Bianco, were overseen by the Swedish conductor of Italian birth, Lamberto Gardelli conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. (Once or Twice a Fortnight - 9 February 2017)

L/G #87 “Il Tabarro”. [Synopsis and Libretto
L/G #88 “Suor Angelica”. [Synopsis and Libretto

L/G #89 “Gianni Schicchi”.  [Synopsis and Libretto

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Seasons (Haydn)

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

It’s been an interminable winter it seems – after a few weeks of dry weather, we were swamped with 20 cm of snow this past week… Thank Goodness, spring is around the corner, and I thought I’d try and spread some happy thoughts by sharing this vintage performance of Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons.

Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation, which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe. The libretto for The Seasons was prepared for Haydn, just as with The Creation, by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an Austrian nobleman who had also exercised an important influence on the career of Mozart (among other things commissioning Mozart's reorchestration of Handel's Messiah). Van Swieten's libretto was based on extracts from the long English poem "The Seasons" by James Thomson (1700–1748), which had been published in 1730.

Like The Creation, The Seasons was intended as a bilingual work; since Haydn was very popular in England, he wished the work to be performable in English as well as German. Van Swieten therefore made a translation of his libretto back into English, fitting it to the rhythm of the music. Van Swieten's command of English was not perfect, and the English text he created has not always proven satisfying to listeners. As was the case with our earlier Haydn oratorio post, the version I am posting is in German.

There is some evidence that Haydn himself was not happy with van Swieten's libretto, or at least one particular aspect of tone-painting it required, namely the portrayal of the croaking of frogs, which is found during the serene movement that concludes Part II, "Summer". Haydn was once quoted: to have said “This whole passage, with its imitation of the frogs, was not my idea: I was forced to write this Frenchified trash. This wretched idea disappears rather soon when the whole orchestra is playing […]”

As was the case for The Creation, The Seasons had a dual premiere, first for the aristocracy whose members had financed the work (Schwarzenberg palace, Vienna, 24 April 1801), then for the public (Redoutensaal, Vienna, 19 May).The oratorio was considered a clear success, but not a success comparable to that of The Creation. In the years that followed, Haydn continued to lead oratorio performances for charitable causes, but it was usually The Creation that he led, not The Seasons.

The vintage recording below, hosted on the LiberMisica site, is the earliest of two versions recorded by the RIAS/Barlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ferenc Fricsay. Presumably, this is a version that was broadcast unlike the second version for DGG which was captured in studio.

Happy listening!

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Jahreszeiten ('The Seasons'), Hob. XXI:3
Oratorio in Four Parts, German libretto by Gottfried van Swieten
Elfriede Trötschel, Soprano
Walther Ludwig,Tenor
Josef Greindl, Bass
Berlin Chor Der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale
RIAS Kammerchor
Ferenc Fricsay, Conducting

Performance URL -

Internet Archive links

Nos 1-9 Der Fruhling (Spring)
Nos 10-20 Der Sommer (Summer)

Nos 21-31 Der Herbst (Autumn)
No, 32 - Einleitung und Recitative: Seht, wie der strenge Winter flieht (From “Spring”)
Nos 33-44 Der Winter (Winter)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Debussy - Philharmonia, Giulini ‎– La Mer / Trois Nocturnes

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

This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge shares music from an old “bargain bin” disk I’ve enjoyed immensely over the years. I’m sure I’ve discussed in past shares my purchase of a handful of discs from I Grande Concerti a series by Longanesi Periodici. Founded by Leo Longanesi in 1946 the publishing house was taken over in 1977 by Italian Messagg erie.

These records, mostly reissues or studio or broadcast recordings, were in the bargain section of this old record store because the liner notes were in Italian – I’m certainly not fluent, but the lack of English notes didn’t take away anything from my listening pleasure…

Walter Legge, the Philharmonia's founder, and Karajan, then its principal conductor, had heard Carlo Maria Giulini in Milan around 1955, and engaged him to record Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Bizet's Jeux d'Enfants. In 1959 Giulini recorded two Mozart operas, Figaro and Don Giovanni, with the orchestra, the former being preceded by more than 100 hours of rehearsal.

CMG’s Philharmonia recordings for EMI are legendary: as well as the Mozart operas, he recorded the Verdi Requiem and Four Sacred Pieces as well as orchestral recordings including Dvorak's New World Symphony and Tchaikovsky 's Pathetique SymphonyMussorgsky's Pictures at an ExhibitionBrahms's complete symphonies and, as presented here, the much admired 1962 Debussy's La mer and Nocturnes, an album that has become highly collectable for its sensitive interpretation and atmospheric sound; according to Discogs there are 15 different reissues of this disc, not counting the CD couplings of this pair of Debussy triptychs with other Debussy and French works recorded by CMG for the EMI label.

The works themselves don’t require much introduction, other than to say they are examples of Debussy’s impressionist style and incisive orchestration – from the waves of the Sea crushing the coastline to the ethereal humming chorus of mermaids closing his three nocturnes for orchestra.

Happy listening

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La mer, esquisses symphoniques pour orchestra, L 109
Nocturnes, tryptique symphonique pour choeur de femmes et orchestra, L 91

Philharmonia Chorus (L. 91)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini, conducting

Label: Longanesi Periodici ‎– GCL 06
Series: I Grandi Concerti
(EMI Re-issue, Recording first issued in 1962)

Internet Archive URL -

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ye Olde Keyboards

No. 242 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This week’s podcast features works performed using “old keyboards” – that is to say, keyboard instruments that pre-date the acoustic “grand piano”. A brief history of these instruments (and their active principles) is in order.

The earliest known keyboard instrument was the Ancient Greek hydraulis, a type of pipe organ, invented in the third century BC. From its invention until the fourteenth century, the organ remained the only keyboard instrument. Often, the organ did not feature a keyboard at all, but rather buttons or large levers operated by a whole hand.

The clavichord and its more prevalent cousin the harpsichord appeared during the 14th century. They are plucked string instruments; the player depresses a key that rocks over a pivot in the middle of its length. The other end of the key lifts a jack (a long strip of wood) that holds a small plectrum (a wedge-shaped piece of quill), which plucks the string. As such, the player doesn’t control the “loudness” of the sound, nor its duration.

In 1440, Arnault de Zwolle described what is believed to be the first keyboard instrument which used tangent action - a small slip of wood similar in shape to a harpsichord jack (or similar to an unleathered hammer) which strikes the string to produce sound. Christoph Gottlieb Schroter claimed that he invented the new tangent piano by letting blank harpsichord jacks hit the strings, also incorporating dampers into the action.

The creation of the tangent piano, and the fortepiano, were the results of attempts to remedy the lack of dynamics in harpsichord sound. Both the tangent piano and fortepiano offered a variety of sound that was appealing to the changes in classical music, which featured more expressiveness and intensity than the harpsichord could offer.

Starting in Beethoven's time, the fortepiano began a period of steady evolution, overtaking the harpsichord in popularity by 1800. It then slowly evolved to the massive modern iron-framed giant of 88 keys we know as the modern grand piano. In its current form, the piano is a product of the late 19th century, and is far removed in both sound and appearance from the fortepianos known to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. In fact, the modern piano is significantly different from even the 19th-century pianos used by Liszt, Chopin, and Brahms.

Keyboard instruments were further developed in the early twentieth century. Early electromechanical instruments, such as the Ondes Martenot, appeared early in the century, followed by the pioneering work in analogue electronics by Dr. Robert Moog.

All of the works programmed today are concerti for keyboard and orchestra, featuring one of the harpsichord, tangent piano or fortepiano. The first selection, one of Sir Thomas Arne’s six “keyboard concerti” is performed today by Trevor Pinnock on the harpsichord.
The tangent piano's popularity lasted for such a short time that very little music was written for it. It is possible that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's keyboard concerti were written for this instrument or for the fortepiano. Miklos Spanyi released recordings of them on the tangent piano, and one of these is featured in our podcast.

Among the great classical masters who wrote keyboard concerti in the Classical period, Antonio Salieri left us with two, one of which is performed here by Paul Badura-Skoda on the fortepiano.

The 20th century harpsichordist Wanda Landowska was responsible for the composition of several contemporary pieces of music for the instrument, notably Manuel de Falla's harpsichord concerto and his El retablo de Maese Pedro. It is at the premiere of the latter piece at the salon of Winnaretta Singer, that Francis Poulenc and Landowska met for the first time. Poulenc composed his Concert champêtre in 1928 at her request. The concerto concludes our podcast for this week.

I bethink thee shall loveth this musick too