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.




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Seasonal Music

It’s November and if you live in Cincinnati like I do, you know that this means the days are growing shorter, the air is getting cooler, and the trees are getting brighter! Autumn has always been my favorite season. Perhaps it’s the pumpkins or the falling leaves, or maybe Thanksgiving. As I reflect on what this season means to me, I can’t help but think of the many classical composers who wrote lovely music based on the changing of the seasons.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is probably the most iconic “seasons” piece. Having over 500 concertos to his name, Vivaldi wrote many of his works for the young ladies at the school where he taught throughout his life. Some pieces, however, were written for his own performance purposes or for a patron. It is likely that The Four Seasons was composed for these last two reasons. They are accompanied by sonnets, likely written by the composer himself.

So you probably knew Vivaldi’s musical depiction of the seasons, but what about Glazunov’s? He wrote a magnificently orchestrated ballet in 4 scenes, one for each season.

In 1875, Tchaikovsky was asked to write his own set of character pieces for the St. Petersburg music magazine. He composed twelve short works for piano, one for each month of the year. Since their conception, there have been many different transcriptions of the various months.

Perhaps you prefer choral music? Then you likely favor Haydn’s reflections on the seasons in his oratorio, The Seasons. The libretto was adapted by Baron Gottfried van Swieten from a poem by James Thomson. The piece quickly became quite popular and was even printed in multiple translations!

What is your favorite “seasons” piece?


This month, Clef Notes will look at a few favorites for each season, including a special Thanksgiving playlist!  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Toscanini at Music Hall

Did you know that one of the most acclaimed conductors of the past century, Arturo Toscanini, conducted a concert at Music Hall in 1943? On the program was Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony #2, music from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and more.


The Music Hall celebratory concerts wrap up next weekend with the ensemble for whom the hall was originally built – the May Festival Chorus. They will collaborate with the CSO in a program including Bach’s Magnificat, Brahms’ Triumphlied, and a world premiere by Julia Adolphe. Concerts are Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

John Adams at Music Hall

Today’s star is one you very likely have seen inside Music Hall yourself, as this famous composer and conductor has appeared in Cincinnati multiple times in recent years! One recent appearance was in 2015, when Adams conducted the CSO premiere of his “Scherherazade.2” written for and performed by violin soloist Leila Josefowicz.

What’s happening this weekend at Music Hall? The Cincinnati Ballet has their opening weekend inside the newly-renovated space. They present Romeo and Juliet alongside the CSO. Performances begin tonight at 7:30pm, followed by Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm and 6:30pm. More here

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Saint-Saens at Music Hall

In celebration of the re-opening of Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall after an extensive  renovation, Clef Notes is spending the month of October looking at many of the “big names” who have performed in the hall over the years. So far, we’ve mentioned Mstislav Rostropovich, Richard Strauss, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Igor Stravinsky.

Can you name another star who made an appearance in Music Hall during the early twentieth century? What about Camille Saint-Saens, who came to Cincinnati as conductor and soloist in his Second Piano Concerto in 1906?



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Stravinsky at Music Hall

Another classical music sensation, Igor Stravinsky, graced the Music Hall stage multiple times during the twentieth century. At one such concert in 1965, the famous composer and conductor is remembered conducting his own composition, The Fairy’s Kiss.

What’s happening this weekend at Music Hall? The CSO and Cincinnati Opera join forces in the final installment of the Pelleas Trilogy with director James Darrah. Naomi O’Connell, Philip Addis, Russell Braun, and Nancy Maultsby are soloists. Concerts are Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rachmaninoff at Music Hall

This month, Clef Notes is taking a look at a few of the international stars who have performed inside Music Hall throughout its rich history. We are also highlighting the various celebratory performances that take place in the hall as part of its grand re-opening events this month.

Did you know that the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff performed on the Music Hall stage not once, but three times? In 1910, he performed his Second Piano Concerto alongside the CSO. He returned the following season and years later during the 1937–38 season. He even was offered the position of music director in 1918, but politely declined. He preferred to further his career as a traveling virtuoso.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Leonard Bernstein at Music Hall

Did you know that famed conductor, composer, and pianist Leonard Bernstein made his Cincinnati debut on the stage of Music Hall in 1945? He was just 26 at the time! He would appear again multiple times over the years in Cincinnati, in the 40s, and again in the 70s.

What’s happening this weekend as part of the grand re-opening events at Music Hall? John Morris Russell leads the Cincinnati Pops in music by John Williams including Star Wars! Audiences will also enjoy a world premiere of an unpublished work by Williams – the theme from Schindler’s List adapted for orchestra and solo cello. Concerts are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Aaron Copland and Music Hall

Did you know that Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was premiered by our very own Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra back in 1943 on the stage at Music Hall? The conductor at the time, Eugene Goossens, commissioned eighteen composers to write fanfares as a contribution to the WWII war efforts. One of these fanfares began each concert of the CSO’s 1942–1943 season. Of these fanfares, Copland’s remains the most famous today. Prior to its premiere, Copland wrestled over the title, considering Fanfare for the Spirit of Democracy, Fanfare for the Rebirth of Lidice (a town in Czechoslovakia that the Nazis had destroyed), and Fanfare for Four Freedoms (in Roosevelt’s 1941 speech he mentioned four freedoms including the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.) In the end, Copland settled on Fanfare for the Common Man, saying “it was the common man, after all, who was doing all the dirty work in the war and the army. He deserved a fanfare.” Other composers who wrote fanfares for Goossens’ project included Paul Creston, Morton Gould, Howard Hanson, Darius Milhaud, Walter Piston, Bernard Rands, William Grant Still, Deems Taylor, Virgil Thomson, and Goossens himself. The CSO also presented the world premiere of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait in 1942.

Music Hall has a rich history. Let’s explore another major composer, conductor, and pianist, who performed on Music Hall’s stage multiple times during his lifetime. Join me next time to find out who this may be!



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Richard Strauss at Music Hall

In celebration of the grand re-opening of Cincinnati’s Music Hall following an extensive renovation, Clef Notes is spending the month looking at a few of the international stars who have performed on its stage since its doors first opened in 1878.

Did you know that legendary composer and conductor Richard Strauss led the CSO in a concert of his own works during the 1903–04 season? The program included Don Juan, several songs, and his tone poem Tod und Verklärung. Strauss’ wife, Pauline de Ahna Strauss, appeared as the vocal soloist.

Don’t have a ticket to the grand re-opening concerts this weekend but still interested in taking a peak at the “new” Music Hall”? ArtsWave will provide a free community open house with tours of Music Hall on October 7 from 10am to 3pm. And don’t forget to tune into 91.7 WVXU or 88.5 WMUB this Saturday at 8pm for Music Hall: Welcome Home, a special radio broadcast celebrating Music Hall’s past, present, and future. Hear commentary from Louis Langree, John Morris Russell, Paavo Jarvi, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, and more, along with plenty of music! The special will also be archived at wguc.org.

Join me next time as we continue looking at stars from Music Hall’s past!




Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Rostropovich in Cincinnati

Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall closed its doors in 2016 for an extensive and much-needed renovation. This was the first time a project like this had taken place in the hall since the mid-twentieth century. This coming weekend – October 6–7 – marks the grand re-opening of Music Hall. Music lovers will gather inside the newly-restored building for a celebratory concert featuring the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Louis Langree, and guest pianist Kit Armstrong. 90.9 WGUC featured a special radio broadcast this past weekend, informing listeners of these opening gala events, along with educating them on the hall’s past and the renovation process. If you missed this broadcast, it will repeat on 91.7 WVXU and 88.5 WMUB on Saturday, October 7 at 8pm. It will also be archived at wguc.org.

Part of Music Hall’s rich history includes providing a performance space for international stars. For over a century, the world’s best classical musicians have traveled through Cincinnati, performing on Music Hall’s stage. This month, I’d like to look at just a few of these stars, providing you with some fun facts about each. Feel free to comment about some of your favorites who may not be included here!

Mstislav Rostropovich was considered one of the greatest cellists during the twentieth century and Cincinnati had the great fortune to host him at Music Hall four times! This video gives a glimpse of this impressive Russian cellist.

Did you ever have the opportunity to see him perform in concert?


Who else has performed at Music Hall? Find out next time!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Music Hall: Welcome Home

As you are probably well aware, Music Hall opens its doors once again next week after an extensive renovation. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performs their season opener on October 6 and 7 with a special community open house taking place on October 7. October will be a month of celebration for the hall, with many of Cincinnati’s arts organizations celebrating their return home.

On October 1 at 8pm, WGUC will join the celebration with a special broadcast that looks back on Music Hall’s historic moments. It also will explore the renovation, why it took place, and what audiences can expect following the grand opening. The program will offer music, interviews, and memories from many special guests including Louis Langree, John Morris Russell, Paavo Jarvi, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Carmon DeLeone, Evans Mirageas, and more! Then beginning next week, Clef Notes will spend the month of October reflecting on the many stars who have performed on the Music Hall stage throughout its history.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Missy Mazzoli

This past summer, the Cincinnati Opera presented its first opera composed by a woman. Song from the Uproar by Missy Mazzoli finds inspiration from the journals of early 20th-century explorer Isabelle Eberhardt. The chamber opera was performed in collaboration with concert:nova and you can re-live the experience on 90.9 WGUC on November 26 at 8pm.

Missy Mazzoli is a successful composer whose music has been performed by many major artists including the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, Emanuel Ax, the New York City Opera, the LA Philharmonic, and many more. She recently founded Luna Lab, a mentorship program for young female composers. You may recognize her work if you’ve seen the Amazon TV series Mozart in the Jungle - she wrote and performed some of the music for this series! That’s right, Missy is also a performer. She plays piano and often performs with Victoire, a band she founded in 2008 that focuses on performing her works.


Did you have the opportunity to see Missy’s Song from the Uproar this past summer? Did you enjoy it? 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata

This month, Clef Notes looks at women composers. This week, we’re focusing on composer and violist Rebecca Clarke, an English musician from the early twentieth century.

Though her gender made a career in music difficult, Rebecca did not lose her drive to compose and perform. She was known primarily for her songs, choral works, chamber music, and solo piano pieces. She wrote around 100 pieces, however only a handful were published during her lifetime and later forgotten about.

Today, let’s listen to Rebecca’s Viola Sonata. This work tied for first prize in a competition in 1919, but the prize ended up going to Ernest Bloch. Sadly, following the competition, a reporter commented that it was impossible for a piece like the Viola Sonata to be written by a woman! Her knowledge of the viola is evident as this is a beautiful addition to its repertoire. What do you think?



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979) was an English composer and performer who lived during the early twentieth century, and our next woman to spotlight this month in Clef Notes. She began her music studies early, being forced along with her siblings to perform on demand for their father. She received her first formal education from the Royal Academy of Music, but her father forced her to withdraw after he received word that one of her teachers proposed marriage.

After withdrawing from the Royal Academy of Music, Rebecca went on to become Charles Stanford’s first female student at the Royal College of Music. He encouraged her to switch her instrument from violin to viola, which she would later go on and tour internationally.

Though Rebecca was thrown out of her home in her twenties, she did not despair. Instead, she used the opportunity to focus more on her musical studies and performance schedule. Some of her notable accomplishments include becoming the first female to play with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra as well as founding her own female ensemble – the English Ensemble piano quartet.


Next time, let’s look closer at one of Rebecca’s compositions – the Viola Sonata!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Wreckers

This month, Clef Notes is looking at music by women composers and this week, we explore the life and work of English composer Ethel Smyth. Known for her chamber music, orchestral works, vocal scores, and opera, Ethel Smyth was a strong woman who advocated for women’s rights and pursued a career in music during a time when such a task wasn’t so easy for a woman. Today, let’s look at one of her most successful operas, The Wreckers.

Known as Strandrecht at the time of its premiere in Leipzig in 1906, The Wreckers contained a libretto originally written in French and later translated for its German premiere. The production was well-received but after the conductor refused to compromise on the cuts he made to Ethel’s score, she took her score and left Leipzig. The opera was later performed in London. It is said that Smyth used Wagner and Sullivan as inspiration for her work. What do you think?



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ethel Smyth

It’s possible that you have not heard the name Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), although she was a respected English composer of her time known for her chamber music, orchestral works, vocal scores, and opera.

Ethel was born into a successful family who didn’t understand why she sought to follow her ambitions to become a composer. At that time, it was uncommon for women to pursue a career in this way. She studied for a period at the Leipzig Conservatory and then left to study privately. Her work met the approval of big-name composers of her time including Brahms, Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky. An advocate for women’s rights, Ethel sometimes would allow her political views to seep into her work. She lost her hearing later in life, and at that point devoted herself to writing prose.


Though Ethel Smyth is respected as a woman who fought to obtain her desired career, some scholars admit that she never really found her own personal voice in her composition. Her powerful Mass in D of 1893, for instance, is said to be reminiscent of Beethoven. Her opera The Wreckers of 1906 is said to find inspiration from Wagner and Sullivan. What do you think? Join me next time as we dig a little deeper into Ethel’s successful opera. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Amy Beach's Gaelic Symphony

Last time we discussed Amy Beach and her impact on women composers to follow her lead. Living during a time when women were thought to be incapable of creating large-scale works, Amy sought to prove the theory wrong by writing many large-scale works including one we will look at today, her Gaelic Symphony (1896).

Finding inspiration in Dvorak’s New World Symphony which used plantation songs and Native American melodies, Amy decided to write something drawing from her Celtic heritage. The Gaelic Symphony contains four traditional Irish tunes as themes. Can you hear them?

In total, Amy Beach wrote over 300 works, also including many songs and piano works. Do you have a favorite? 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Happy Birthday Amy Beach!

This month, Clef Notes looks at important women composers throughout history. Let’s get started with Amy Beach (1867–1944), who celebrates her 150th birthday today! Amy grew up in Boston during an era when women were just starting to gain a few rights including the right to attend college and hold a public job. That being said, it was still quite difficult for her to break through in the music world, despite her incredible talents. 

Amy Beach was a child prodigy who studied privately early on and taught herself how to compose. By the time she turned 18, Amy was appearing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and publishing her early compositions. After marrying a wealthy doctor, however, she gave up her concert appearances due to his view that it was not respectable for a woman to hold such a position. He did encourage her to focus her efforts on composition, which led to a period of many outstanding works. Following his death in 1910, Amy took up touring again, performing her own works.


At the time when Amy lived, women were thought to be incapable of composing larger works (such as symphonies or concertos). Amy decided to prove this theory wrong by writing quite a few major works including her Mass in E-flat, Gaelic Symphony, Piano Concerto, and Piano Quintet. She ended up being an inspiration for many women to follow in her footsteps. Next time, we’ll look at one of her major works, the Gaelic Symphony. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What is your favorite era for the symphony?

Now that we’ve spent the last month watching the symphony progress over time, what would you say is your favorite era for the symphony? Do you have a favorite symphonic composer or piece?

My favorite era has to be the Romantic period (roughly the 19th-century). As far as a favorite piece, I always say you cannot go wrong with Beethoven! However to avoid sounding cliché, I will go with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” I enjoy Dvorak’s ability to create nationalistic music and, though not from America, I believe he creates an outstanding American idiom in this piece.  



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony

The 20th-century brought more changes to the symphony. One major movement that developed is known as neoclassicism. This term refers to the attempt to reach back to older musical forms from the Baroque and Classical periods as a reaction to the dramatic, emotional compositions created during the Romantic period. Many composers used chamber ensembles to perform their symphonies (similar in size to those used during the early classical period) rather than orchestras of 200 musicians. Some used elements including counterpoint and fugue in their work, combining it with modern ideas of tonality. Stravinsky and Hindemith are examples of neo-classical composers.

Still other composers expanded on symphonic ideas by adding quotations from other popular tunes (Ives), simplifying and repeating rhythms through minimalism (Glass), using newly-invented electronic instruments (Messiaen) amongst many other new techniques.

Today I would like to take a closer look at one 20th-century symphony written by William Grant Still: his Afro-American Symphony. Living during a time when African-Americans were excluded from the classical music world, Still made great strides by becoming the first African-American to conduct a symphony orchestra in the U.S. as well as the first to have an opera produced by a major opera company. His symphonic writing incorporated many American idioms within the European symphonic design (four-movements). Several of the uniquely American characteristics Still incorporates include jazz elements and plantation spiritual references.


Listen here to Still’s Afro-American Symphony. Can you hear these distinctly American elements? 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Romantic Era Symphony

Following Beethoven’s expansion of the symphonic model, composers of the Romantic period (roughly 19th-century) sought to create longer and larger symphonies with heightened passion. The number of composers and symphonies from this period seems endless so we’ll focus on just a few major names in today’s discussion.

At this point in history, it was not uncommon to see an orchestra of over 200 people! Composers began to expand movement lengths and some even added one or even two movements to the standard four-movement model. Some composers used vocalists in their symphonies (Mahler) while some attempted to create national idioms (Borodin, Sibelius, Dvorak). Some created programmatic music that told audiences a story (R. Strauss, Berlioz), while some created what is known as absolute music, sticking to the standard symphonic tradition of music for music’s sake (Brahms, Schumann, Schubert). Some composers even added non-orchestral instruments to their works such as Saint-Saens in his Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 is a great example of a symphony from the Romantic period. The symphony is dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s best friend and patron, Mrs. Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow with whom he passed many letters but never met. It contains a program that assists audiences in following the symphony’s message.

Tchaikovsky describes the first movement of the Symphony No. 4 as having an introductory theme that represents fate. This main theme returns throughout the work. During this movement, Tchaikovsky depicts his desire to escape into daydreams rather than facing the reality of life. The “fate” theme returns, however, reminding him of the truth of his gloomy circumstances that may have included his failed marriage to Antonina Miliukov or even his questions regarding his sexual orientation.

The second movement depicts feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, pain, longing, and reflection on distant memories. The solo oboe at the beginning is meant to portray a lonely person. A march in the middle of the movement takes the listener away from the feelings of isolation exhibited thus far. The longing, lonely melody always returns in various instrumentations.

The third movement contains a series of arabesques that represent strange, unrealistic, unconnected dreams. Many of the themes show-off a particular instrument’s technique (example: piccolo solo).

The fourth movement reflects the joy that comes from surrounding yourself with other people when you are depressed (opening melody).             To help depict the sense of community, Tchaikovsky uses the Russian folksong “In the Field a Birch Tree Stood.” The reminder of fate (main theme from first movement) always returns, however, bringing you back to reality and discontentment.

Tchaikovsky considered this his best symphonic work saying, "It seems to me that this is my best work…What lies in store for this symphony? Will it survive long after its author has disappeared from the face of the earth, or straight away plunge into the depths of oblivion? I only know that at this moment I... am blind to any shortcomings in my new offspring. Yet I am sure that, as regards texture and form, it represents a step forward in my development..."

You can listen to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 here. How do you think Tchaikovsky expanded upon the symphonic model built a century earlier?



            

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Beethoven's Pivotal Ninth Symphony

Ludwig van Beethoven: a pivotal figure in music history. But why? We cannot properly discuss the historical development of the symphony without mentioning Beethoven and his contributions to the music world.

Beethoven lived during a period of change and struggle. The French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment are all things that may have influenced the composer and his work. With various changes in society came changes in music. Beethoven’s personal life exhibited its own sense of struggle as he fought deafness. Fighting to overcome this trial, Beethoven reflects this will to overcome in his Symphony No. 3, known as the “Heroic Symphony.”

Beethoven’s symphonic output expanded the length of the symphony as well as the size of the orchestra. His scores often called for piccolo, trombone, and extra percussion and strings in comparison with composers of the classical period.

His most triumphant and influential work is the Symphony No. 9. Using a chorus in the final movement, Beethoven used Schiller’s Ode to Joy as the text. The grandeur, emotional complexity, and innovativeness of this piece are what make it memorable. Nothing like the Symphony No. 9 had ever been created and, in my opinion, nothing like it has been created since. Beethoven raised the bar high for symphonic composers who followed him, making it difficult to expand on his accomplishment.

You can listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 here. It’s a long one so hang tight! After you finish listening, let me know your thoughts. Can you see how this piece is known as a pivotal point in music history?



Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Symphony by Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was another prominent composer working during the latter part of the 18th-century. Though younger than Haydn, people became accustomed to his name earlier because he toured as a child prodigy along with his father and sister.

While Mozart’s early symphonies followed the early-classical model containing a three-movement structure, his later symphonies fell into the four-movement format. Mozart’s compositional style stretched performers by creating ambitious parts for (now common) wind sections. Sometimes, he would even tag on a slow introduction to the opening fast movement. These introductions are typically written in the style of a French overture and may create suspense for audiences who have no idea what Mozart intends next. Mozart’s orchestra size was similar to that of Haydn, much smaller in number than what we are used to seeing in concert halls today.

Mozart was also known to combine his classical-era style with idioms from the Baroque period. His Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,” for instance, draws on the Baroque fugue in its final movement.

Listen to Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony here. Written for a concert in that city, it is certainly one of Mozart’s great works that exhibits the symphonic style of the late classical era. How does it compare with the Haydn symphony you heard last time?



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Haydn and his Surprises!

This month, we are exploring the development of the symphony throughout history. Entering the latter half of the 18th-century, we have prominent composers such as Haydn and Mozart who added their own individual marks to this ever-evolving orchestral genre.

Known as the “father of the symphony,” Joseph Haydn spent the greater portion of his life working for the royal Hungarian Esterházy family. This explains Haydn’s extensive output as he was expected to compose a variety of works at any given moment for court entertainment.

Following Stamitz’s model, Haydn typically employed the four-movement structure in his symphonies. He was known to create various themes that he would then develop and vary throughout the rest of the work. He also sought to create tuneful, expressive compositions. His orchestra, though perhaps a bit larger than those earlier in the century, still had no more than twenty-five to thirty-five members compared to up to one hundred found on stages today.

Haydn was known as a jokester, this quality exhibiting itself throughout many of his works. His Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” was written as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!


Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Listen here and let me know what you think! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Stamitz and the Mannheim Orchestra

We cannot discuss the early development of the symphony without mentioning Mannheim. The Mannheim court was known to have an excellent music scene, the orchestra led by composer Johann Stamitz. The orchestra at Mannheim was known for its excellent dynamic control, particularly the sudden crescendos (growth from soft to loud). As a composer, Stamitz was known to use this “Mannheim Crescendo” in his work.

Significant to the development of the symphony, Stamitz was the first composer to consistently use a four-movement structure when composing rather than the three-movement plan that was standard at the time. Adding a minuet and trio movement between the slow movement and the final fast movement became standard with many prominent composers to follow later in the era.

Another significant change to the symphony within the Mannheim court was the addition of wind instruments including oboe, horn, and even an occasional clarinet!

Listen to Stamitz’s Sinfonia in E-flat major here


What new features do you notice about this symphony in comparison with the Sammartini symphony we looked at last time? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Symphony by Sammartini

Giovanni Battista Sammartini was one of the early classical composers who worked on writing symphonies. As mentioned last time, I often find it easy to mistake an early symphony score for a string quartet.

Scored for four-part strings with a possible harpsichord, Sammartini’s Symphony No. 32 in F major has the standard three-movement structure of that time. Unlike standard symphonies of today, this work takes less than ten minutes to perform with a much smaller orchestra than what we’re used to seeing on stages today.

Here is a recording of Sammartini’s symphony. 


What are your initial impressions based on your modern-day experience with symphonies?

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Early Symphony

Listening to WGUC each day, you may notice the ample amount of symphonies played. You may also notice the extensive variety among the various symphonies, many differing from one another based on the time period during which they were composed. This month, let’s explore the history of the symphony, mapping out a timeline that will show just how the symphony developed throughout history.

The symphony is a large orchestral work that developed in the mid-eighteenth century. Divided into a specified number of movements, we will soon see that the standard number of movements changed over time. The early symphony was thought to have its roots in the Italian opera overture (known as sinfonia), which typically used a three-movement format:

Movement 1: Fast tempo
Movement 2: Slow tempo
Movement 3: Fast tempo

The symphony also was thought to resemble a classical sonata, only written for an entire orchestra rather than a solo instrument with possible accompaniment.

Looking at a musical score, I find that often it’s easy to mistake a string quartet for an early classical symphony. Why? Most early symphonies were scored for four-part strings, just like a string quartet. It wasn’t until a bit later that various wind instruments began to enter the orchestral scene.


Join me next time as I explore one of the earliest symphonic composers, Giovanni Battista Sammartini. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Music by Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman (1953) is the final American composer we’ll look at this month on Clef Notes. Known for his film scores, Elfman got a late start in composition. It wasn’t until the 1970s when he was in Paris with his older brother that the two formed a music group known as “Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.” Elfman’s work with this group made him realize that he not only had an interest in writing music, but was rather good at it.

Film director Tim Burton happened to be a fan of Oingo Boingo, and eventually became acquainted with Elfman and asked him to collaborate on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985). This was the start of a lasting relationship between Elfman and Burton, the composer writing music for hits such as Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), and Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

But does Elfman compose anything besides scores for monster and superhero films? Check out his score to Good Will Hunting (1997), one of my personal favorites.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

William Schuman's New England Triptych

Over the past month, Clef Notes has been looking at American music and composers. To kick off our final week, let’s talk about William Schuman (1910–1992) – not to be confused with Robert Schumann!

William Schuman was first introduced to music at a young age, however he was only acquainted with jazz and popular music. It wasn’t until he heard Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic that he realized his true passion was classical music and began to devote his time to composition. He studied at both Juilliard and Columbia, one of his teachers being the prominent American composer Roy Harris.

One of my favorite Schuman works happens to take inspiration from the 18th-century American composer William Billings. The piece is called New England Triptych (1956) and certainly has an American flavor. 

Schuman is known for being the first to win a Pulitzer Prize in music in 1943 for his A Free Song. Besides composing, he also had many additional career accomplishments including serving as the director of publications at G. Schirmer, Inc., serving as the president of Juilliard where he created the famous Juilliard Quartet, and serving as the president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He even received the National Medal of the Arts in 1987!

Next time, we’ll talk about a composer you’ve heard if you’re a fan of Spider Man! Check back!


Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Music of Elmer Bernstein

Last time we looked at famous American composer, conductor, and educator Leonard Bernstein. Many believe he was related to composer Elmer Bernstein (1922–2004) but in fact, the two were good friends, but no relation. 

Elmer Bernstein was a child prodigy, first coming to music through the piano. He studied at Juilliard where he pursued both piano and composition studies. Though he hoped to develop a career as a concert pianist, his dreams were interrupted with the onset of WWII. During the war, he was able to keep himself in the music world by assisting in the arrangement of American songs for Glenn Miller and the Air Force Band. He also did work for the Armed Forces Radio programs, which developed his passion for composition.

Following the war, Bernstein received an invitation to go to Hollywood and write for film. Some of the films you may know him for are The Ten Commandments (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and The Great Escape (1963). He even won an Oscar for his work as music director for Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).

What’s your favorite Elmer Bernstein score?


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is perhaps one of the most beloved American composers, conductors, and educators of the twentieth century. He studied with Walter Piston as Harvard University. He is remembered most for his time as music director of the New York Philharmonic, for his televised Young People’s Concerts, and of course, for his musical theatre work, West Side Story. Let’s spend the rest of today looking at this famous and much-loved modern telling of Romeo and Juliet.

During the mid-20th century, New York City existed in a state of unrest as Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S. Juvenile delinquency became a popular topic in the press as street gangs formed and rivalries developed between Caucasians and Puerto Ricans. Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and the team that worked behind the making of West Side Story decided to use this contemporary and real problem in society as the basis for their new musical, a show based in the Upper West Side of New York City and involving two gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Caucasian Jets.

When writing the music for West Side Story, Bernstein traveled to Puerto Rico for inspiration. The musical indeed draws on Hispanic elements in both music and dance. In her book West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical, Elizabeth A. Wells states “the adoption of a specific ethnic style in a serious and self-consciously ‘American’ work has ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, earned for the Hispanic style a level of recognition in American culture it had never before achieved.”

Two popular Latin American dance forms are found in the gymnasium dance scene: the mambo and the cha-cha. During the mambo, Bernstein chose to use bongos, cowbells, and trumpets in order to resemble a Latin jazz band. The performers yell “Mambo!” from the sidelines of the dance floor, directly referencing the flamenco tradition in which dancers are urged on by onlookers. The choreography during this scene is also based on conventions of Latin social dancing.

You can watch the “Mambo” clip from the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story here.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Eric Whitacre and Goodnight Moon

Eric Whitacre is a Grammy-winning composer and conductor based out of Los Angeles, California where he is current Artist-in-Residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He came to his passion for classical music relatively late, after singing Mozart’s Requiem while a student at the University of Nevada. He went on to study with John Corigliano and David Diamond at the prestigious Julliard School of Music. Whitacre writes orchestral works but is most known for his music composed for vocal ensemble. He has received commissions from some of the world’s top ensembles including the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chanticleer, and The King’s Singers.

What is your favorite of Whitacre’s works? I’d have to say mine is “Goodnight Moon” – a song Whitacre wrote based on the popular children’s book of the same name by Margaret Wise Brown. After reading the book to his son countless times before bed, Whitacre decided to set the song to music for his wife, soprano Hila Plitmann, to sing.



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Music of Samuel Barber

This month Clef Notes is looking at a few composers known for their work in American music history. Samuel Barber (1910–1981) is the perfect example of a composer who played a significant role in American music during the mid-twentieth century. He wrote in just about every genre and was known to create a style similar to that of the Romantic period rather than that of the modernists who surrounded him. Besides composing, he was also known as a singer and a pianist.

Barber first came to prominence in the late 1930s after Toscanini performed the second movement of his string quartet with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. That movement today is known as his Adagio for Strings and is often heard in film or settings where grief is the prominent mood.

In 1958, Barber won his first Pulitzer Prize for the opera Vanessa. Later, in 1962, he won a second Pulitzer Prize for his Piano Concerto. Do you know this work? Listen here.



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag

If you enjoy ragtime music, then you’ve most certainly heard of Scott Joplin (1867–1917). Joplin was a African American composer and pianist who was the leading ragtime composer of his day. Ragtime was a popular style in music at the turn of the nineteenth century that was known for its syncopated rhythms played against a regular bass. While it contains European aspects in its form and harmony, its rhythms are rooted in African music history.

Joplin grew up with musical parents and taught himself to play piano as a boy. He went on to organize a touring vocal group and later, a band. His first major publication and perhaps his most popular work was Maple Leaf Rag, a piano rag that most Americans have heard, whether or not they know who to attribute it to.


What’s your favorite piano rag?