Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Musical Reflections of Autumn

This month, Clef Notes is looking at music for the four seasons and today, we finally make it to the current season, autumn. What music moves your mind to reflect on the colorful sunsets, falling leaves, and crisp temperatures we experience during autumn in Cincinnati? Today, we’ll look at one piece that uses “autumn” in its title, and another that is more appropriate for Thanksgiving, a very autumnal holiday.

One would think that Edvard Grieg wrote his In Autumn sometime between the months of September and November, but in actuality, he composed the work during the winter of 1865 and 1866 while visiting Rome. At first, he was not pleased with his orchestration for the work so he only published a piano duet version. He later re-orchestrated the piece in 1887. In Autumn contains three sections with a unifying theme. Part of this concert overture comes from a song Grieg wrote in 1865 titled The Autumn Storm. He also pulls from folk elements including a dance from his native land, Norway. Do you find that Grieg’s piece musically reflects the way you picture autumn? If not, do you have another piece you prefer?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not only does it occur in autumn, but there are plenty of autumnal characteristics that surround it. Joseph Curiale wrote his Prairie Hymn as a prayer of thanksgiving, perfect for this time of year. The piece was inspired by Ted Kooser’s poem “So this is Nebraska.” Curiale dedicated his piece to Kooser upon its completion in 1995.

What else reminds you of autumn? Perhaps Halloween? Join me next time for my “Horrifying Music of Halloween” playlist in honor of the upcoming spooky holiday!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What season is it?

We’re looking at music for summertime here on Clef Notes this week. What are some of your favorites?

Today, let’s listen to Delius’ Summer Night on the River, the second of his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (the first is his On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring discussed earlier this month). As you listen, try to picture the view of the Loing River from Delius’ garden in Grez.

What about Hugo Alfven’s most remembered work, the MidsummerVigil? This piece found inspiration in a Scandinavian summer solstice festival and uses Swedish folk tunes, depicting peasants dancing.

With that, we come to our current season—autumn. Join me next time for a few fall favorites! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Remembering Summertime with Gershwin and Kodaly

We’re celebrating the summer solstice here on Clef Notes this week for those folks who aren’t quite ready for the chilling temps outside! What summery pieces warm you up inside?

One of my favorites is George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from his 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess. This opera is based on a novel by DuBose Heyward, and is set on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. While Ira Gershwin often gets full credit as the lyricist for “Summertime,” George collaborated with Heyward himself on much of this project.

Many performers have done arrangements of “Summertime” over the years. Here’s one by a mandolin ensemble. Do you have a favorite arrangement? 

Zoltan Kodaly’s Summer Evening was written for chamber orchestra in 1906. While the title insinuates a program, Kodaly made it known that any programmatic tie does not go beyond the connection to the composer writing the work on summer evenings. Inspired by his meeting with early ethnomusicologist Bela Bartok, this piece uses Hungarian folk idioms. It was later revised for a performance with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1930. 

We’ll talk more about music for summer next time! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Reflections on Springtime

It may be autumn outside but on Clef Notes this week, it’s springtime!

Jean Sibelius’ Spring Song, originally titled Impromptu for Orchestra, premiered in 1894 and left the composer disappointed. His father-in-law attended the concert, which contained performances by Sibelius and his brother-in-law. When the later received higher praise for his work, Sibelius decided to revise his piece, reworking it and giving it the title we know today. The piece is well-loved today, and often heard in springtime concerts across Finland.

Frederick Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is the epitome of seasonal music. It comes from his two pieces for small orchestra along with Summer Night on the River. In it, he uses the theme from Grieg’s Norwegian Folk Tune, Op. 66, No. 14. Can you hear the cuckoo calls played by the clarinet?

What are some of your favorite pieces for springtime?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Is it spring yet? Music by Schumann and Rodrigo

For those of us in colder climates, we begin longing for spring’s arrival not long after the first of the year! Robert Schumann was no different, nicknaming his First Symphony Spring when he wrote it in January of 1841. Clara Wieck instigated the composition, writing Schumann and persuading him to uses his talents to explore symphonic music. The piece took just four days to sketch, and originally contained spring-related titles for each movement. Those were later discarded for publication, but there is no doubt that the butterflies and birds of springtime were on the composer’s mind when he wrote the Symphony No. 1.

What about Joaquin Rodrigo’s reflections of springtime in his Berceuse de printemps? This lullaby for spring of 1928 is perhaps different than the Rodrigo you are used to hearing. Known for his Concierto de Aranjuez and other works for guitar, this piece is actually originally written for solo piano! The piece exudes the happiness of the season for which it was written, and is written to resemble a music box.

Next time, we look at a few more pieces for the vernal equinox! 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wintertime with Lauridsen and Tchaikovsky

This month we are looking at seasonal music on Clef Notes and this week brings us to the dark, cold months of wintertime. But perhaps winter could be a little less bleak if accompanied by the sounds of seasonally appropriate music such as Morten Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs.

Morten Lauridsen is known for his choral music works that move the soul. Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, Lauridsen was commissioned to write a piece for the school’s centenary in 1980. Mid-Winter Songs was the result, originally composed for choir and piano. He later wrote a version for orchestra and chorus.

Students in Lauridsen’s classes enjoy beginning each class with poetry read out loud by their professor. Poetry inspires Lauridsen’s work and it was the work of poet Robert Graves that provided the perfect winter imagery for the composer’s Mid-Winter Songs.

Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #1 “Winter Dreams” is another wintery example that comes to mind, although the piece is not exactly programmatic for the season. It’s possible that when the composer gave it this nickname, he was symbolically referring to his current season of life. The First Symphony took Tchaikovsky quite a while to complete, causing him much stress, insomnia, and even a nervous breakdown! He feared criticism from his former teachers and felt that composing a symphony was quite an undertaking (and I would have to agree!)

Do you have a favorite piece to accompany your hot cocoa on snowy, winter days? Let me know by commenting below! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Seasonal Music

It’s October 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, ending the month just in time for Halloween and a spooky-music playlist!