Thursday, November 16, 2017

Frank Bridge's "Summer"

Composer, conductor, and violist Frank Bridge (1879–1941) is most famous for teaching Benjamin Britten, who attempted to get the word out about his beloved teacher by writing his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge. This work is based on the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet. Bridge received an exemplary education at the Royal College of Music and even had the opportunity to study with Charles Stanford.

Why look at Frank Bridge today? Well, he wrote a piece titled Summer and “summer” just happens to be the Clef Notes theme this week! Listen to Bridge’s depiction of summer here


Can you imagine the sounds of nature and the warmth in the air on a hot, summer day as you listen to this work? The piece begins with strings that sound like the leaves stirring in the breeze. This is followed by an oboe solo, long and lazy, just like summertime. What other references to summer do you hear Bridge express in this work?  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Mendelssohn Summer

This month, Clef Notes is traveling through the seasons of the year and this week, it’s summer!

Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) wrote his famous Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was just 17 years old? Growing up in a well-to-do family, young Mendelssohn was exposed to music early on and given excellent musical instruction from Carl Friedrich Zelter. His parents often hosted performances in their home, inviting society’s rich and famous to attend. It was at one of these in-home performances that Mendelssohn first performed his overture, playing it as a piano duet with his sister, Fanny. Shortly thereafter, he orchestrated the work and it became quite successful.

Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was conceived as a concert overture, not originally intended to accompany the play. It is likely that Mendelssohn first encountered Shakespeare as it was read aloud or acted out at some of the performances his parents held in their home.

Over a decade after the completion of his overture, Mendelssohn was approached by the King of Prussia who desired incidental music for a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was at this time that the remaining music came to be. You can listen below. Can you hear love, adventure, fairies, and even a donkey in this setting?



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Springtime with Copland

This month, Clef Notes explores seasonal music and today, it’s springtime! Let’s take a look at Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1943–1944), a piece that won him a Pulitzer Prize.

Appalachian Spring was originally written as a ballet for dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. The ensemble consisted of only thirteen musicians. It wasn’t until later on that he arranged the piece into the orchestral suite most people are familiar with today.

One famous medley in Appalachian Spring is taken from the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple. Copland then varies this theme throughout the work. In an attempt to evoke images of rural, American life, Copland uses wide sonorities and open fifths and octaves, a trait commonly used to express American ideas in music.

Here is a performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring by the Ulster Orchestra. Also, check out this great arrangement by John Williams that was performed at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration.