Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Beethoven!

Happy Birthday Beethoven! Enjoy this classic Beethoven Peanuts comic and then join me on Thursday for a Best of Beethoven Playlist in honor of this outstanding composer!

Also, check out Spotify for a Beethoven’s BirthdayPlaylist

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Czech Nationalism in Music: The Moldau

I’d like to spend our last day looking at music and ethnicity focusing on one of my favorite nationalistic pieces, Bedrich Smetana’s “Vltava” or more commonly known as “The Moldau” from Má vlast, meaning “My country.”

One of the first major nationalist composers in Bohemia, Smetana gave his people a musical identity during a time when the Czech population desperately needed some sort of national character to hold on to. Their country had been under Habsburg rule for quite some time and as a result, their Czech-connection somewhat lost. Their language, for instance, fought for survival against the dominant German tongue.

Many of Smetana’s works identified with his own pride in his homeland, thus creating a similar pride amongst his fellow Bohemians. His eight operas and many of his symphonic poems have national subjects inspired by his country’s legends, history, and landscapes. Má vlast is a cycle of six symphonic poems, one of which is “The Moldau.” The Moldau is a river in the Bohemian region. During his composition, Smetana’s goal is to leave an impression on the listener of how the river flows across the Bohemian landscape. You can listen to this lovely work here. Do you hear the forests depicted by hunting music or the village wedding conveyed by a polka?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Music and National Identity in Spain

In my last post we talked about the lack of national identity in 19th-century Finland, resulting in the population’s pride in Sibelius’ nationalistic Finlandia. A similar pride developed in Spain during the 20th century following the premiere of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The work was first performed in 1940, not long after the end of the Spanish Civil War. Inspired by Spanish classical and folk music, art, and literature, the piece is exactly what Spain needed to hold onto a sense of national pride.

Joaquín Rodigo was blind from the age of three yet showed musical talent early on, studying with the famous composer Paul Dukas. Rodrigo had a strong interest in the classical guitar, at least 6 of his 13 concertos involving the instrument. Aiming to create a Spanish ambiance in his music, the Concierto de Aranjuez references the flamenco style and Spanish folksong. Rodrigo noted that the piece was named for the royal palace located between Madrid and Toledo. Describing the concerto, Rodrigo once commented, “It should sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks, as strong as a butterfly, as dainty as a verónica [a classic pass in bullfighting].”

Below you can listen to the Adagio from this concerto. This movement is known as one of the most-recognized guitar melodies in history. Take note of the beautiful lyricism used in this work. Perhaps the piece became instantly popular following its premiere because it evokes a romanticized idea of how the composer viewed his country rather than the difficult reality they had just experienced during a civil war? What do you think?