Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New Year from WGUC and Clef Notes!

Happy New Year from Clef Notes and 90.9 WGUC, Cincinnati’s Classical Public Radio! If you’re looking for great music to accompany your New Year’s Day morning, join us from 11am until 1pm for the annual New Year’s Day from Vienna.

As we close up 2014 and enter the new year, we need your help. First, what were some of your favorite posts/topics discussed on Clef Notes in 2014? Second, are there any specific topics you would like to learn more about in 2015?

Thanks for your input and have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from WGUC and Clef Notes!

Merry Christmas from Clef Notes and 90.9 WGUC, Cincinnati’s Classical Public Radio! What will you be listening to today as you spend time with the family and take part in holiday festivities? Do you have any favorite Christmas melodies?
Don’t forget that tonight at 6:00 we are featuring an encore presentation of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on 90.9 WGUC – the perfect accompaniment to your holiday activities! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

O magnum mysterium: Settings of an Ancient Christmas Text

In light of Christmas this week, I thought it would be appropriate to contemplate the beauty and meaning in an ancient Christmas text, O magnum mysterium. Below you can read the English translation of this text and then I’ve followed it with five musical settings. Which is your favorite, or do you have another favorite that is not listed here?

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Morton Lauridsen

William Byrd

Tomás Luis de Victoria

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Francis Poulenc

Here is a list of upcoming Christmas specials on 90.9 WGUC to accompany your holiday activities!

Tuesday, December 23, 7:00 PM
St. Olaf Christmas Festival: A service in song and word that has become one of the nation’s most cherished holiday celebrations. The festival includes hymns, carols, choral works, and orchestral selections celebrating the Nativity and featuring more than 500 student musicians who are members of five choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

Wednesday, December 24, 10:00 AM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hosted by Michael Barone, this is a live stereo music and spoken-word broadcast from the chapel of King's College in Cambridge, England. The 30-voice King's College Choir performs the legendary Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service of Biblical readings and music.

Wednesday, December 24, 6:00 PM
A Chanticleer Christmas: Nothing signals the beginning of the holiday season like 12 men singing in beautifully blended harmony. A Chanticleer Christmas is American Public Media's one-hour celebration of the season as told through the glorious voices of Chanticleer, the San Francisco-based men's choir.  The program spans the globe and the centuries — from England in the 1300s to new arrangements of classic and contemporary carols to Chanticleer's popular Gospel medley of Christmas tunes.

Thursday, December 25, 6:00 PM

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: ENCORE

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best of Beethoven Playlist: What's Your Favorite?

In light of it being Beethoven’s birthday week, I thought it would be fun to gather a list of some of my favorite Beethoven works. This was more difficult than I anticipated, however, because really all of his works are great! Therefore, I limited myself to ten favorites. What would you add to the list?

Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”

Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”

Symphony No. 7

Symphony No. 9 “Choral”

Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”

Leonore Overture

Piano Sonata #8 "Pathetique"

Piano Sonata #17 "The Tempest"

Violin Concerto

Choral Fantasy

Want even more of Beethoven? Check out Spotify for a Beethoven’s Birthday Playlist

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?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sibelius' Finlandia

Over the past several weeks, we have looked at various composers and their use of nationalism. Many of these composers found that using folk music from their homeland helped to forge a connection between their music and national pride. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius went about composing his famous Finlandia in a different way. Finding inspiration in the nature surrounding him as well as in the Finnish epic Kalevala, Sibelius created his own melodies and wound up accidently composing Finland’s folk anthem when he completed Finlandia.

During the 19th-century, Finland lacked a sense of national identity as it was a part of the Russian Empire and culturally saturated with influences from Sweden. Finlandia was composed during a period of political unrest in Finland as the Russians sought to draft Finns into their own military. Sibelius’ iconic work was first performed under the heading Finland Awakes at a national event in Helsinki.

You may have heard this piece performed with lyrics at some point. Did you know that Sibelius did not actually write lyrics to his work and was angered by the fact that others did so? Here’s a listening clip of Finlandia. Can you see why the Finnish people felt so much national pride when listening to this work?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Villa-Lobos and Music in Brazil

Today I would like to talk about Heitor Villa-Lobos, the 20th-century Brazilian composer known to be South America’s most famous. There is quite a lot that could be said about Villa-Lobos and his music but, due to the constraints of one blog post, I must limit myself to mentioning only a couple of his works.

At the time of Villa-Lobos’ birth, Brazil was embedded in European musical tradition and virtuosi from Europe and America received greater accolades than those natives from Brazil. Loving music from an early age, Villa-Lobos longed to modernize a Brazilian musical style. In the year 1900, the young composer set off to wander the inaccessible regions of Brazil for ten years, observing folk, geographical, and musical influences. Culturally diverse Brazil became his inspiration for composition rather than the rules and formulas taught at the conservatory.

One of Villa-Lobos’ earlier pieces is below. Amazonas was written in 1917 and shows his early unique style. In this work, the composer uses primitivism and folklore ideas he gained from his travels as inspiration. At the first performance of this work, the violinists actually tied handkerchiefs to the end of their bows in protest, refusing to create the sounds Villa-Lobos wrote into his music!

Spending time in Paris later in life, Villa-Lobos began to appreciate European traditions as well as Brazilian. In many works, we can see a fusion of these two traditions as he became a less abrasive nationalist composer. The Bachianas brasileiras (1930-45) is an excellent example of one of these later works. It consists of a cycle of nine suites written for various combinations of instruments and voices. In it, Villa-Lobos adapts Baroque compositional procedures to Brazilian music. You can listen in to the first of these suites below. Notice the unique instrumentation he uses: an orchestra of cellos!  

Join me next time as we travel to Finland and listen to the music of Sibelius!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from WGUC!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are interested in a playlist to accompany your festivities today, please see my last post that features a list of famous, American works.

As you stop to celebrate this important American holiday, why not take the time to reflect: what are you thankful for?

Just a reminder that we have several Thanksgiving specials airing on 90.9 WGUC today to accompany your holiday activities! Below is the schedule:

 10:00 AM: Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

 6:00 PM: Giving Thanks 2014: Maya Angelou & Nikki Giovanni

With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Thanksgiving Music Playlist

This week we gather with our loved ones and remember our nation’s history, reflect on what we’re thankful for in life, and eat good food! Have you ever thought about what music best exhibits an American national sound? In honor of this great American holiday, let’s talk about composers who succeeded in creating American nationalism in their music. Below, I list several American composers with example works but the list is by no means exhaustive. What other works/composers can you think of? Please provide examples of your favorites!

William Billings, Chester

Stephen Foster, Old Folks at Home

George Chadwick, Symphonic Sketches: Jubilee

Henry Mancini, Moon River

John Philip Sousa, Stars and Stripes Forever

Irving Berlin, God Bless America

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

Ferde Grofe, Grand Canyon Suite

Charles Ives, Concord Sonata: The Alcotts

Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring

William Grant Still, Afro-American Symphony

Cole Porter, Anything Goes

Duke Ellington, Satin Doll

Scott Joplin, The Entertainer

Erich Korngold, Violin Concerto

Mark O’Connor, Appalachia Waltz

This week on WGUC we will offer several Thanksgiving specials to accompany your festivities. Below is a schedule of our offerings!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 6:00 PM
Thanksgiving with Cantus – Cantus is one of the premiere men’s vocal ensembles, and with Alison Young, they talk about the holiday, music and food.

Thursday, November 27, 10:00 AM
Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

Thursday, November 27, 6:00 PM
Giving Thanks 2014: Maya Angelou & Nikki Giovanni
With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Russian Nationalism: Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture

Last time we looked at Russian nationalism in the music of Alexander Borodin and discussed “The Mighty Handful.” Today, let’s talk about another member of this Russian group of composers: Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

Rimsky-Korsakov helped ensure that distinct Russian music carried on into the future by editing, completing, and orchestrating works of other Russian composers. He also taught key composers including Alexander Glazunov and Igor Stravinsky. Like Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov had nationalistic tendencies. One example can be found in his Russian Easter Festival Overture. This particular piece incorporates four themes from the Russian Orthodox book of canticles. It’s no surprise that Rimsky-Korsakov chose this holiday to depict in music as it’s known as the nation’s most significant holiday and the composer most likely had memories of it from growing up in Russia. You can even hear Easter bells toward the end of the work!

Here is a clip with Russian Easter Festival Overture. In your opinion, does it sound Russian?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Russian Nationalism: Borodin's "Polovstian Dances"

Music transcends borders and has a way of speaking to everyone across the globe in some way. Many composers over the past centuries, however, have found inspiration within their homeland. Whether that inspiration stems from racial tensions within their society or nationalistic pride for the country, these composers found a way to pull from ethnic influences when writing their music.

Today, let’s look at a 19th-century Russian composer who allowed nationalism to influence his work. Alexander Borodin is one of the members of what has been dubbed “The Mighty Five,” a group of composers living and working within 19th-century Russia who were enthusiastic about the progression they witnessed within the Western music world. Using progressive ideas in their own music, they sought to incorporate Russian folk music amongst other elements in their work. Besides Borodin, the group also consisted of Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov (who we will discuss further during my next post!)

Though holding a career as a chemist, Alexander Borodin somehow still managed to successfully find time to compose. One of his famous, though unfinished, works is his opera Prince Igor. The work was later finished by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov following Borodin’s death. The opera tells the story of Prince Igor and his son who go on military campaign against nomadic Polovtsi tribe. They end up captured but are treated surprisingly well by the nomads. Later in the opera, Prince Igor escapes, leaving behind his son who has fallen in love with a girl from the tribe. In order to prepare for this composition, Borodin actually researched the folk music of Russian nomadic tribes! You can hear the “Polovstian Dances” from Prince Igor below. Listen for the robust rhythms and the Russian-folk feel in the video clip below. Do you find this piece to exhibit Russian nationalism?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Racial Tensions Surrounding West Side Story

Last time we looked at how the racial tensions happening in America during the early 20th-century manifested themselves in Show Boat, the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Today, let’s continue this theme by using Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story as the example.

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:

Coming up next week, let’s continue looking at music and ethnicity only this time, in Russia!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social Issues and Show Boat

For the next few weeks, Clef Notes is talking about music and ethnicity. Going along with this theme, this week let’s look at how ethnicity plays a role in various 20th-century Broadway musicals including Show Boat and West Side Story.

During the 20th century, some composers sought to touch on American racial tensions in their work. One example of this can be found in the first authentic musical written, Show Boat (1927). Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat deals with serious social issues such as racism and miscegenation, both major issues during the time this musical was written.

When Show Boat first premiered, it resulted in a shock from the audience following the opening lines “'Niggers all work on the Mississippi/Niggers all work while de white folks play.” This shock continued throughout the musical as it also openly mentioned mixed-race marriages, which was still illegal in many states during the 1920s. African Americans were treated in a sympathetic way rather the comic, foolish way of the black-faced minstrels, something quite new for the time.

Below you can watch a clip of the famous “Ol’ Man River” from a later version of Show Boat. Notice that at this point, the word “Nigger” is exchanged for “Darkie.” This was also changed to “Colored folk” in additional versions of the musical.

Join me next time as we look at racial tensions found in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nationalism and The Ring of the Nibelung

For the next few weeks, Clef Notes is taking a look at music and ethnicity including nationalism. This nationalism may show up in the form of folk song influences in music or even aural depictions of the visual setting of one’s homeland. Last time, we discussed one negative form of nationalism, Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Today, let’s look at how this shows up in his music.

Richard Wagner took great pride in his German heritage, much of his music displaying a sense of nationalism. One example of this is his cycle of four music dramas, The Ring of the Nibelung, which takes its plot from stories found in medieval German epic poems.

But how does Wagner’s anti-Semitism show up in his music? This topic is debatable but some scholars find that he alludes to what he considered Jewish characteristics in several characters found in his dramas. In his book The 'Jewish Question' in German Literature, 1749-1939:  Emancipation and its Discontents, Ritchie Robertson states, “Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg represents the philistine, uncreative Jew, the castrated Klingsor in Parsifal represents the unmanly Jew, Kundry the sensual and Oriental Jewish woman, Alberich in the Ring the Jewish capitalist. The clearest case is Alberich’s brother Mime. Mime’s very name implies the imitativeness of the Jew…”

What do you think? Can you think of any other examples in music history when a composer shows anti-Semitic views? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wagner and Anti-Semitism

Throughout history, nationalism has affected the music of many composers. Defined as “devotion and loyalty to one’s own country,” nationalism takes on many guises in music. While some composers use folk songs from their native lands, some may write music to reflect the visual images of their homeland. A pride in one’s homeland can also convey itself in negative ways. One such example we will discuss today, the German-nationalistic Richard Wagner, and the anti-Semitism result.

In addition to his musical output, Richard Wagner is known for his writings. Throughout his life, Wagner wrote many essays on subjects ranging from music, literature, drama, politics, and morality. A true German nationalist, Wagner believed that German art was pure and true and only people who shared ethnicity could be part of a nation. Jews, he believed, could not be German because Hebrew (a dead language) was their real language. He claimed the Jewish people mimicked other European nations in speaking their languages as foreigners.

In his 1850 essay Judaism in Music, Wagner attacks the Jewish people, specifically his former friend and influence, Giacomo Meyerbeer. Though Meyerbeer had helped Wagner get his start, this anti-Semitic writing attacks the Jewish composer, claiming that because of his Jewish heritage, he is weak and lacks a nationalistic style. According to musicologists, this writing was sparked when a critic wrote that Wagner’s music had Meyerbeer influences, a statement that offended the independent composer. Wagner also went on to attack Mendelssohn’s Jewish roots although, like Meyerbeer, Wagner once admired his work.

During the 20th-century, Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings gained popularity among the Nazis and Hitler. His views supporting Hitler’s own, Wagner became his favorite composer.

Next time, join me as I continue looking at Wagner’s anti-Semitism by exploring where it appears in his music. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Horrifying Music of Halloween Playlist!

Happy Halloween from 90.9 WGUC! Don’t forget to tune in throughout the day for some of your favorite spooky classical sounds and then tonight at 6:00 for Tunes from the Crypt with Mark Perzel. If you’re looking for a few additional pieces to enhance your eerie day, I’ve compiled a “Horrifying Music of Halloween” playlist for your reference. Enjoy!

Tchaikovsky, “Swan Theme” from Swan Lake

Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring: Sacrificial Dance

Grieg, Peer Gynt: In the Hall of the Mountain King

Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique: Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath

Bartok, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

Mozart, Requiem

Rachmaninoff, Isle of the Dead

Schubert, Erlkonig

Mahler, Kindertotenleider

Wagner, Ride of the Valkyries

Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre

Orff, Carmina Burana

Bach, Toccata and Fugue in d

Bantock, Witch of Atlas

Stravinsky, Firebird: Infernal Dance

Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice: Dance of the Furies

Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals: Aquarium

Holst, Mars-Bringer of War

Bazzini, Round of the Goblins

Shostakovich, Symphony #10: Second Movement

Gounod, Funeral March of a Marionette

Chopin, Sonata #2: Funeral March