Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year from Your Friends at 90.9!

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 2015 and enter the new year, we need your help. First, what were some of your favorite posts/topics discussed on Clef Notes in 2015? Second, are there any specific topics you would like to learn more about in 2016?

Thanks for your input and have a wonderful holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas from 90.9 WGUC!

Needing some great music to accompany your holiday activities? Tune into 90.9 WGUC for excellent classical Christmas programming. You can also join us for several specials on the following days:

Monday, December 21, 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.

Tuesday, December 22, 6:00 PM
In Italia: A Renaissance Christmas from Venice, Naples, Milan, and Beyond: In the sixteenth-century, the splendor of the Renaissance blossomed across Italy as a new Holy Roman Empire stretched its wings from the Urals to the Atlantic. This special holiday edition of Harmonia brings listeners wonderful sixteenth-century Christmas music from the Venetian world of Giovanni Bassano and Gioseffo Zarlino, moving westward to the Milan of Franchinus Gaffurius, and southerly to the Naples of Diego Ortiz.

Wednesday, December 23, 7:00 PM
VAE Candlelit Christmas: Step inside from the bitterly cold Cincinnati winter to be enveloped in song and the warm glow of candlelight. VAE is proud to welcome Anton Armstrong of the world-famous St. Olaf Choir as guest conductor for a program featuring newly invigorated Christmas classics and stunning renditions of familiar favorites.

Thursday, December 24, 10:00 AM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: A live service of spoken-word and music (choral and organ) 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. Hosted by Michael Barone.

Thursday, December 24, 6:00 PM
A Chanticleer Christmas: A one-hour program of holiday favorites, new and old, presented live in concert by the superb 12-man ensemble known as "an orchestra of voices." Hosted by Brian Newhouse.

Friday, December 25, 6:00 PM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: ENCORE

90.9’s Christmas programming is also available on our website or with the free mobile app for those tuning in from out of town or if you’re traveling during the holidays!

From all of your friends at 90.9 WGUC, have a very merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Birthday Beethoven!

Happy Birthday, Beethoven! In honor of this legendary composer’s special day, 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 No. 3

Piano Sonata #8 "Pathetique"

Piano Sonata #17 "The Tempest"

Violin Concerto

Choral Fantasy

Check back later this week for some more Beethoven fun! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rachmaninoff's Etudes-Tableaux

Though not considered an innovative composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff had a knack for keeping the traditional in music fresh. His music combines Western influences with those of his native Russia. Though he made his primary living as a pianist, his compositional output is outstanding, ranging from works for piano, orchestra, and voice!

It is understandable why Rachmaninoff favored the piano in many of his compositions. He did not enjoy writing in a complex way, excluding other musicians. Rather, he made it a goal to explore the piano’s full capacity. One example is his Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 and 39 that he likely performed as showpieces. The first set of etudes (Op. 33) was completed in 1911 and the second (Op. 39) in 1917. Sadly, neither set was published during his lifetime. Listen below and note how they display the composer’s passion for the piano and its potential:

What is your favorite of Rachmaninoff’s piano works?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stars on the Stage: Sergei Rachmaninoff

Over the last several weeks we have looked at several composers who were also virtuosos of their time. Do you have a favorite who perhaps wasn’t mentioned? This week, let’s wrap things up by looking at the talented pianist and composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943).

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During his time, Rachmaninoff was known as a precise pianist whose interpretations of many of the great virtuosic pieces of the nineteenth century were superb. He found it difficult to simultaneously put his full self into both composing and performing, so often he would focus on one thing at a time. Below you can listen to Rachmaninoff perform one of his own works, Elegie Op. 3, No. 1. What a treat to be able to hear a piano roll of a true master!

Rachmaninoff began his studies with piano under his mother’s tutelage. He later went on to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he remained until his parents separated, causing his grades to suffer. At that point, he moved to the Moscow Conservatory where he lived and studied with Nikolay Zverev. He met Tchaikovsky during this time, who would have a great influence on the young musician.

Join me next time as we learn more about Rachmaninoff as a composer! 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Clara Schumann Rediscovered

Clara Schumann was a piano virtuoso of her time, performing publicly beginning at age nine. Today, we also know Clara by her lovely compositions which, unfortunately, were forgotten following her death and not re-discovered until the twentieth century.

Nineteenth-century Germany was not exactly supportive of its women composers and Clara once wrote in her diary ‘I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?’

That being said, Clara did write quite a few reputable works that she likely performed during her career. Today, let’s look at her Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 7—a work composed when she was just 13 and premiered at age 16 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn. Robert Schumann, who was studying with Clara’s father at the time, helped the young girl with some of her orchestrations for this lyrical piece. You can listen below:

Can you believe this is the work of a child? 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Stars on the Stage: Clara Wieck Schumann

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896) was the daughter of Friedrich Wieck who may have been instrumental in his daughter’s success, encouraging her as a virtuosic pianist from an early age. Her first public performance was at the age of nine and she was recognized as a leading pianist in Europe by the age of twenty. Unlike many performers at the time, Clara focused more on being true to the composer’s work rather than simply giving a showy performance. Touring throughout Europe as a child prodigy, Clara had many admirers including Goethe, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Paganini, and her future husband, Robert Schumann. 

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Robert Schumann met Clara when he began taking piano lessons from her father. Early on, she was actually the better known of the two! They were eventually married despite objections from Clara’s father. Amazingly, the talented Clara was able to continue to perform and compose while managing her eight children. After Robert passed away, she quit composing and focused on teaching and performing, promoting her late husband’s work.

Next time we’ll look at one of Clara’s own compositions that she likely performed publicly

Friday, November 27, 2015

The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours

Looking for a great gift for that classical music-loving friend or relative? You need not look any longer. Deutsche Grammophon just released The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours. This 24-disc set (yes, 24!) walks avid music lovers through the history of classical music from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, providing top-notch performances and online liner notes to accompany the listening experience. If you enjoy learning the history of music on Clef Notes, then this is the perfect CD set for you! For more information, check out this link or stay tuned as we may just be offering this great set in an upcoming fund drive!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from 90.9!

90.9 WGUC offers you a variety of special programming this week that will provide the perfect backdrop to your Thanksgiving holiday. Here’s a schedule of what you can expect:

Wednesday, November 25, 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 26, 10:00 AM
Feast for the Ears: Traditional music and American composers take center stage as host Mark Perzel presents a warm, heartfelt celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s the perfect accompaniment for your Thanksgiving morning activities.

Thursday, November 26, 6:00 PM
Giving Thanks 2015: With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Remember, no matter where you’ll be for Thanksgiving, you can always enjoy these beautiful specials. Listen on-air at 90.9 WGUC, streaming on our website, or download our free mobile app to your smart phone or tablet so you never miss a note!

From all of your friends at 90.9, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Liszt's "Un Sospiro"

Last time we looked at Franz Liszt as a virtuosic pianist. Did you know he was equally gifted as a composer? Known for his innovations in form and harmony, Liszt wrote a variety of works and even invented the symphonic poem! For today’s purposes, let’s take a look at one of his virtuosic piano works: Un Sospiro “A Sigh.”

Un Sospiro was composed in 1848 as part of “Trois etudes de concert.” Being a virtuoso himself, it makes sense that Liszt would incorporate challenging techniques in order for the pianist to essentially show off for his/her audience. Below you can watch a video clip of Lang Lang performing this work. Notice how the piece calls for hand crossing in such a way that the audience would never know just to listen. He also writes the melody surrounded by arpeggios in a way where nearly no two successive notes are played by the same hand!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stars on the Stage: Franz Liszt

We cannot discuss virtuosos this month without mentioning Franz Liszt (1811–1886). Liszt could be considered the most well-known virtuoso of his time, beginning studies with his father at age six. Once apparent that the young boy had great talent, he went on to study piano and theory with other prominent musicians including Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri.

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The picture above depicts Liszt’s “star” status during his day. His ability to stretch boundaries and develop new techniques made him stand out among his contemporaries and the public loved him. Liszt spent much of his life as a touring pianist, pioneering the idea of a solo recital that has remained popular to this day. He also memorized his music and played a wide repertoire from various eras—methods common today but revolutionary during the nineteenth century. When he first moved to Paris as a youth, Liszt was given a new seven-octave double escapement action piano that allowed quicker repetition of notes. He became one of the first pianists to master this virtuosic technique.

Liszt stopped performing in 1848 and decided to devote the rest of his days to teaching, conducting, and composing. Next time, we’ll look at one of his virtuosic piano compositions! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paganini's 24 Caprices

Last time we looked at violin virtuoso Nicolò Paganini and his rise to stardom. Today, let’s focus in on Paganini as a composer. Did you know that he was known to write challenging works that he could then learn to play for his own concerts?

Paganini’s famous 24 Caprices is for solo violin and acts as a set of etudes, each displaying a different skill. The works are quite challenging and have influenced many violin students since their completion. Several composers have even used the 24th Caprice as inspiration for their own works. Below, you can listen to Paganini’s original, followed by a Brahms’ and Rachmaninoff’s variations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stars on the Stage: Nicolò Paganini

There are quite a few classical music “stars” throughout history—men and women who not only mastered the art of composition but were known as virtuosos of their time. Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840) is one man whose virtuosity paved the way for generations of performing artists who followed.

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 Considered by some to be the greatest violin virtuoso in history, Paganini began his music studies on mandolin at five years old and switched over to violin two years later. He first studied under his father, who was quite strict, threatening to take away the young boy’s food if he didn’t practice enough! At twelve, Paganini went to study with the great Alessandro Rolla. After hearing the boy play, Rolla sent him away, explaining that there was nothing more to teach, encouraging him to pursue additional musical avenues including composition.

Paganini was technically superb and became known for ricocheting his bow (bouncing notes on one bow stroke), using left-hand pizzicato (plucking the strings with the fingers or thumb), and playing double-stop harmonics (multiple notes at the same time). Paganini was also known for his skill at sight-reading. Often times he would sight-read any piece placed in front of him at the end of a concert.

The virtuosic Paganini became quite skilled as a composer in addition to performing the violin. Sometimes he would write a challenging work that he could learn to play for his own concerts. Next time, join me as we look at Paganini’s famous 24 Caprices, and learn how they inspired composers in later generations. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488

Last time we looked at W. A. Mozart as a child prodigy. As you know, Mozart had a large output of compositions, many written for the piano so that he could perform them in his own concerts! Today, we’ll look at one of these: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K 488.

Mozart wrote in a style that pleases the average listener and impresses the experienced critic. His K 488 was written in 1786 and one of many that uses the concertos of J. C. Bach as a model. This concerto was one of fifteen written between 1782 and 1785 while Mozart was living in Vienna. This particular piece was written during an especially fruitful season in which he also worked on two other concertos and his famous opera The Marriage of Figaro. Did you know that the three concertos written during this season were his first to incorporate the clarinet? You can listen below:

Next time, we’ll look at virtuoso violinist and composer Nicolò Paganini!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stars on the Stage: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

There are many composers throughout music history who were equally famous as virtuosos during their lifetime. This month, Clef Notes takes a closer look at a few notable stars who found success through both composition and performance! We’ll get things started with the ever-famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791).

Did you know that Mozart was a child prodigy? His father, Leopold Mozart, was a celebrated violinist for the archbishop of Salzburg during his day but ended up sacrificing advancement in his own career when he discovered that his children, Wolfgang and Maria Anna (also nicknamed Nannerl), possessed great musical talent.

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Leopold toured Western Europe with his children during the 1760s, exposing them to a variety of cultures and music. Both children were keyboard virtuosos and Wolfgang also quite proficient on the violin. The musical experiences during this time period effected Wolfgang’s compositional style, creating a universal approach to his writing. One composer whose style influenced the young prodigy was that of J. C. Bach, whom Wolfgang met in London. By listening to both men’s concertos, you can note that they follow a similar approach. Wolfgang even arranged three of Bach’s sonatas as piano concertos!

Next time, join me as I look at a piece Mozart composed to perform himself at a concert during the 1780s! 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween from 90.9 WGUC!

Happy Halloween from 90.9 WGUC! Don’t forget to tune in tonight at 6:00 ET 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

Dvorak, Noonday Witch

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Creepy Classical Music

Going along with our spooky sounds of Halloween this week, today let’s listen to a few pieces that are associated with creepy stories that you may or may not be familiar with. First up is Dvorak’s Noonday Witch. Inspired by the poem “Polednice” by Karel Jaromir Erben which was based on the noon demon “Lady Midday” found in Slavic mythology, the story behind the music relates to a mother who warns her young son to behave or she will summon the noon witch. When he continues to misbehave, the witch appears, terrifying the mother. In fear and attempts to protect her child, the mother holds the boy close, accidentally smothering him to death. You can listen to Dvorak’s musical interpretation of this terrifying tale here:

Another haunting story comes from Goethe’s poem “Erlkonig” that Schubert (along with many other composers) set to music. This piece for voice and piano tells of a father and son riding on horseback through the night. As the son cries out in fear of the approaching, yet enticing Erl King, the father hushes him to silence, not believing the boy’s story. When the horse arrives to their destination, the father finds the boy dead in his arms. Schubert does an excellent job at conveying the different characters in this poem. The Erl King who is an enticing character, sings in a major key in order to sound positive and convincing. The father too sings in a major key, ignorant of the impending doom of his child. The boy and the narrator, on the other hand, aware of the ultimate fate, sing in an eerie and sorrowful minor key. You can listen to Jessye Norman sing this magnificent piece here. Can you hear the racing of the horse’s hoofs in the piano?

Lastly, let’s listen to the famous “Sacrificial Dance” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
Do you remember what happens during this primitive ballet? A girl is chosen as a sacrifice and must dance herself to death. You can watch a scene from this opera here. Notice the irregular meter and frequent alterations of notes and rests in Stravinsky’s music that help to depict this scene:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Horrifying Music of Halloween: The Dies Irae

In light of Halloween this Saturday, let’s talk about deathly sounds and spooky tales found within the classical music world. Coming up on Halloween I’ll even provide my “Horrifying Music of Halloween” playlist to accompany your evening activities.

Have you heard of the Dies irae? This theme comes from the Mass of the Dead and has been used by composers for hundreds of years as an underlying message or symbol in their own work. Today, I want to share three famous examples of where this Dies irae can be heard in the music of Berlioz, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. First, why not familiarize yourself with this theme with a clip taken from a film that chose to foreshadow death through its soundtrack, The Shining.

During the 19th century, composers were fascinated with anything macabre and sought to incorporate deathly sentiments in their music. One such example is the fifth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique known as “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.” Berlioz uses what is known as the idee fixe or “fixed idea” throughout his composition. This fixed idea is a musical theme that comes back in each movement, changing each time it appears in order to match the story the composer seeks to convey through his music. 

During this finale movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” Berlioz distorts the idee fixe and combines it with the Dies irae theme in order to depict a dream of his beloved appearing at his own funeral as a witch. As you listen to the excerpt below, listen for the distorted sounds of the idee fixe in the E-flat clarinet and the Dies irae theme that Berlioz weaves throughout.

Another example of the Dies irae can be found in Liszt’s Totentanz, a work for piano and orchestra. Many musicologists believe this work was inspired by a fresco Liszt saw while visiting Pisa. Created by Orcagna, the fresco was entitled The Triumph of Death.

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Liszt begins this work with the Dies irae theme in the trombones. This theme, along with sudden shifts in dynamics and the use of low registers creates a creepy atmosphere for the listener. Listen here:

Lastly today, let’s listen to Rachmaninoff’s haunting Isle of the Dead. This piece is based off of the painting by Arnold Bocklin that Rachmaninoff first saw a reproduction of in Paris in 1907. The composer felt uneasy as he gazed at the boat holding a coffin as it approached the eerie island.

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Reflecting on this as he composed, Rachmaninoff begins his piece with the sounds of oars in water using the dark sounds of low strings accompanied by timpani and harp. The music evokes a lack of direction and a sense of urgency as it progresses, the Dies irae appearing once the boat arrives at the island. This theme seems to win out over any sounds of joy in the piece. Can you hear the Dies irae? Listen here:

Join me next time as we look at creepy stories associated with various classical pieces!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Inspiration Behind Nico Muhly's Music

You may recognize Nico Muhly’s name if you attended the CSO’s MusicNOW Festival. Born in 1981, Muhly is a rising composer writing a variety of works including chamber music, orchestral music, sacred music, opera, and ballet. Let’s wrap up our topic this month by looking at his life and work.

Nico Muhly finds a great amount of inspiration in English religious music including work by William Bryd and John Taverner. He also enjoys the repetition used by Philip Glass and Steve Reich along with the rhythms of singer-songwriter Björk. When writing music, Muhly does not think about the actual notes musicians will play but focuses on things like books, YouTube videos, etc., allowing aesthetics to influence him. He then considers the emotional journey he would like to take listeners on as they hear his work.

Below you can listen to an example of Muhly’s music. His Violin Concerto is based on Renaissance astronomy and educational videos on the solar system from the 1980s. He wrote the piece for electric violin and chamber orchestra.

You’ve had a month of modern composers. Do you feel one in particular resonates with you or do you appreciate each approach in its own way? If you have a favorite composer of today who was not mentioned this month, drop me a line! Perhaps I can talk about them in a future month!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

André Previn the Composer

Did you have the opportunity to see the world premiere of André Previn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello last fall? Today I’d like to continue our look at living composers by exploring his life and listening to his Violin Concerto.

Previn is a world-famous conductor, composer, pianist, and Grammy-award winner who was first exposed to music by his father. Coming from a Russian-Jewish background, the family moved to the US during Nazi Germany time and young Previn began playing piano in night clubs and for silent films. He completed several jazz recordings in the 1940s and went on to study composition. Writing and conducting studio orchestras in films throughout the 50s and 60s, Previn is known for contributing music to hits including Gigi and My Fair Lady. Eventually he expanded his repertoire to include more classical pieces.

Previn prefers to compose with a specific artist in mind. He wrote his Violin Concerto for his wife at the time, Anne-Sophie Mutter, whose playing he strongly admires. The piece incorporates a German children’s song (“If I were a bird and had two wings, I’d fly to you…”) in the third movement. Growing up in Germany, he knew this song as a child.

Join me next time as we wrap up the month by discussing Nico Muhly! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Elvis in Classical Music

How can I get away with talking about Elvis in a classical music blog? Today we are going to talk about Grammy award-winning composer Michael Daughtery’s (1954) Dead Elvis, one of his many works based on a popular American icon. While finding inspiration in composers such as Dvorak and Ives, Daughtery also enjoys writing works representing various people and places. Coming from a background in jazz and rock, Daughtery combines a modernist approach with popular music. Many of his works relate to American popular culture including Superman in his Metropolis Symphony and Jackie Onassis in Jackie O.

Dead Elvis (1993) is one of Daughtery’s works that a variety of people enjoy even outside classical music circles. Perhaps its references to popular culture make it more accessible? Dead Elvis is written for a chamber ensemble and a solo bassoonist dressed up like Elvis! It incorporates the Dies irae theme from the Mass for the Dead in varied forms reminiscent of 50s rock, Latin jazz, and Las Vegas shows—all aspects of Elvis’ career. Watch here:

What are your impressions of this piece? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Modern Approach of Pierre Boulez

Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez (1925) has always sought to push boundaries and look into the future musically. He is opposed to traditional music and was considered a rebel at first as he used modern methods such as 12-tone composition to help him develop new approaches to sound. 

Boulez studied mathematics early on but soon switched to music at the Paris Conservatory where Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz were among his instructors. Over the course of his life he has inspired many young musicians and even won twenty-six Grammys for recordings! Continuing his mission to pursue modern music, Boulez founded a modern music series in 1954 known as Domaine musical. The group represented music from composers including John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen, and Luciano Berio.

Above I mentioned the 12-tone method. This type of compositional approach is known as serialism and is based on a pre-determined series of pitches from the chromatic scale repeatedly used throughout a work. Boulez expanded this method into total serialism—the application of serialism to items other than pitch including durations and timbres. He was also known to provide options in some of his pieces, giving the performer the opportunity to decide the order in which to play things.

Below you can listen to Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître (1953-55). It uses a singer and chamber ensemble with various percussion, alto flute, xylorimba, vibraphone, guitar, and viola. It contains nine movements and uses settings on poetry by René Char. Notice the Sprechstimme style of singing (type of singing that sounds similar to speaking).

Next time, join me as we talk about the use of Elvis in Michael Daughtery’s work!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Arvo Pärt and Tintinnabuli

The piece above can be described as representing the “tintinnabuli” style. What’s this, you may be wondering? Arvo Pärt began using this Latin term for “bells” to describe the style of music he developed in the 1970s. The “tintinnabuli” style pairs each melody note with a note from a harmonizing chord, creating a bell-like resonance. The listening example you just viewed is Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa,” the first public appearance of this new style premiered in 1977 and creating international success for the composer. Continuing with our modern-music topic this month, let’s take a look at Pärt and listen to another one of his works.

Born in Estonia in 1935, Arvo Pärt spent his early career writing atonal, dissonant music. During the 1960s, he suddenly ceased composing, admitting that he no longer believed in the modern musical forms. Upon hearing Gregorian chant, he began to study monody and ancient melodies, inspiring him to write simple, contemplative music. His new, mature style was first seen in 1976 with a piano work titled “Für Alina”.

With his music, Pärt has reached beyond classical music audiences and impacted the popular music world. Can you see why with “Für Alina”?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna"

If you are a lover of choral music, then you must be acquainted with Morten Lauridsen’s (1943) gorgeous, soulful work.  This month we are looking at modern-day composers and their work. Today, let’s explore the moving music of this west-coast based composer.

A recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 2007 and a long-time professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, Lauridsen worked as a Forest Service firefighter and lookout near Mt. St. Helens prior to his decision to study composition at USC. When not teaching, Lauridsen spends his summers on Waldron Island off the coast of Washington state in the San Juan Archipelago. He enjoys a simple life there in his home that is a converted general store purchased in 1975. At that time, he brought a $50 piano with him over in a boat. It was on this piano that he has written some of his masterpieces! Lauridsen loves the sea and the serenity that he gets during his time on Waldron Island. It’s these moments of quiet contemplation that provide what he needs to write the beautiful, peaceful music that so many of his listeners enjoy.

Lauridsen is quite diverse in his approach to composition. While some of his works are more traditional with references to Gregorian chant or Renaissance music, other pieces sound more contemporary and have atonal elements. He loves setting texts to music and especially enjoys writing cycles on universal themes.

Below you can listen to one of his more famous, traditional pieces, Lux Aeterna (1997). This piece was written for the LA Master Chorale and Paul Salamunovich. The texts come from different Latin sources, all referring to Light.

What are your thoughts? Does this music move you?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Jennifer Higdon and blue cathedral

Continuing our look at modern-day composers this month, today let’s talk about Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-winning composer Jennifer Higdon (1962), who currently resides in Philadelphia working at The Curtis Institute of Music.

Higdon got a late start in her music training, beginning studies at 18! She later began composing at the age of 21 and soon realized she had a knack for writing a variety of genres.

Written to commemorate The Curtis Institute’s 75th anniversary in 2000, blue cathedral was inspired by Higdon’s idea of crossing paths with various people in life and how one can grow through each encounter. Around the time she was working on this piece, Higdon’s brother died and she decided to represent him with the clarinet and herself with the flute. The flute begins the duo since she is the elder of the siblings and the clarinet ends the piece by continuing in an upward motion in a journey beyond.

Did you know that Higdon’s decision to use flute and clarinet in blue cathedral was quite intentional? She plays the flute and her brother played the clarinet.

Next week we’ll look at Morten Lauridsen and Arvo Part! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mason Bates and Mercury Soul

What do you get when you combine orchestral writing with jazz harmonies and techno rhythms? Mason Bates—modern composer and DJ extraordinaire also known as DJ Masonic. This month, Clef Notes explores the music of composers living in today’s world. We kick things off with Mason Bates, a thirty-eight year old composer who strives to share music with people in a way where no one feels isolated.  

How does he accomplish this? One way is what Bates calls “Mercury Soul”—an idea that has brought classical music to thousands of people in non-traditional settings including clubs and warehouses. Mercury Soul is headed by Bates and Maestro Benjamin Shwartz who first launched it in San Francisco’s Mezzanine Club in 2008 for an audience of 1,400 people. They use modern stagecraft designed for the space in which the performance is held and incorporate lighting elements created by Anne Patterson. The end result fuses electronic dance music with contemporary classical.

Written in 2011, Bates’ Mothership combines orchestral music and electronica. In the video clip below, notice the visual presentation of the soloists and the special lighting effects. This is one way Bates may attract a younger audience. Also note the types of instruments that are used as soloists. The electric guitar and zither are not common orchestral instruments! While Mothership uses these modern elements, it also has historical roots in that it is quite similar to the symphonic scherzo, however it incorporates techno rather than waltz rhythms.

Did you notice the composer in the video clip above? Bates often appears with his laptop in the percussion section of the orchestra. Mason Bates has found great success in his approach to composition and was recently appointed the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center.

Join me next time as we learn about Jennifer Higdon!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Music Written in a POW Camp

Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was conceived in a fascinating way and is the perfect piece to end this month’s discussion on “Music and War.”

Did you know that after called upon for military service at the beginning of WWII, Messiaen was captured and taken as prisoner of war? During his time at the POW camp, he certainly did not waste any time! He wrote the Quartet for the End of Time on paper supplied by a German officer who made sure no one bothered the composer while he worked!

Messiaen only had a tattered violin, clarinet, cello, and piano at his disposal so it was for these instruments that he wrote. The work is eight movements in length and inspired by passages found in Revelation. Messiaen uses irregular meter, palindromes, and his token bird calls throughout the work. The title reflects the work’s purpose, to depict the end of time and beginning of eternity.

The Quartet for the End of Time was originally premiered at the POW camp for fellow prisoners on a cold January night in 1941. You can hear a performance of this work below:

We’ve talked about music inspired by war throughout the month. Do you have a particular favorite that moves you personally?