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!