Monday, November 28, 2016

The Spanish Flavor of Isaac Albeniz

Isaac Albeniz (1860–1909) was a piano prodigy who was known for using Spanish nationalism in his music. It is only fitting that we listen to his music during our series on nationalism in music.

 After studying at conservatory and dabbling in composition, Isaac Albeniz found his musical voice after working with Felipe Pedrell, who sparked Albeniz’s interest in nationalism and writing music inspired by the folk tunes from his native country. Albeniz is primarily known for his piano works, many whose melodies, harmonies, and rhythms find inspiration in the sounds of Spain. One of his most famous works, Iberia, is a suite of twelve piano works broken into four books. Written in the early twentieth century, Iberia is not necessarily meant to be performed in its entirety, and may be played in any order the pianist prefers. The work is known for its difficulty and since its conception, has been orchestrated by various composers over the last century. Like many of Albeniz’s works, Iberia draws from Spanish influences. A piece in Book 1, for instance, is a musical portrait of Cadiz. A selection in Book 3 depicts the gypsy quartet in Granada. Let’s listen to a portion, “El Albaicin,” from Book 3.

It’s interesting to note that, while Albeniz was born in Spain and quite nationalistic, he actually spent the majority of his life living outside of his native land.

Who else can you think of who writes in a Spanish flavor? We’ll look at another example next time!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from 90.9 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! These will be available on-air on 90.9, online at, or you can take us anywhere with our free mobile app! Below is the schedule:

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

6:00 PM: Giving Thanks 2016: With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2016

American Music for Thanksgiving Week

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!

This week on WGUC we will offer several Thanksgiving specials to accompany your festivities. Below is a schedule of our offerings. These will be available on-air on 90.9, online at, or you can take us anywhere with our free mobile app!

Thursday, November 24, 10:00 AM
Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

Thursday, November 24, 6:00 PM

Giving Thanks 2016: With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Alexander Mackenzie's Pibroch Suite

Last time we looked at the music of Edward Elgar of England. Did you know he was a big fan of Scottish composer Alexander Mackenzie (1847–1935)? Mackenzie is not well known today compared to composers such as Elgar, but during his time, he was well-received. He grew up surrounded by music, beginning to play violin at a young age and then moving onto composition. He was known for his operas, oratorios, orchestral works, and chamber pieces. 

Today, let’s look at Mackenzie’s Pibroch Suite, a piece titled for theme and variation music written for Scottish bagpipes. This piece was dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate, who requested a piece that reflected Mackenzie’s native land. The piece includes Celtic characteristics including Scotch snaps and theme and variations on several traditional Scottish tunes including “There’s Three Good Fellows Down in Yon Glen.” 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Origins of Pomp and Circumstance

Clef Notes is on the road this month, traveling around the world and looking at how different composers exhibit nationalism in their music. This week, let’s stop in the United Kingdom where Edward Elgar (1857–1934) became the first English composer to really make a name for himself since Henry Purcell in the 17th century!

The son of an organist, Elgar grew up around music and learned to play violin, bassoon, and organ. He had no formal training in composition however must have been a natural because he quickly moved to prominence and will forever be remembered as one of England’s greatest composers. His Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 was written in 1901 and became the first of five marches that contained this name inspired by England’s own William Shakespeare (this phrase came from Othello). Today, most people recognize this march as the processional used during graduation ceremonies.

Elgar was a big fan of Scottish composer Alexander Mackenzie. We will look at how he used nationalism in his music next time.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Penderecki and Nationalism

Grammy award-winning composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933) provides a great modern-day example of a composer who uses nationalistic qualities in music. Penderecki grew up exposed to music, learning violin and piano as a child. His career as a composer began after he won first prizes in a contest set up by the Polish Composer’s Union in which he submitted three of his works under pseudonyms.

His Polish Requiem provides a great example of a piece with ties to his native Poland. Written for four solo voices, mixed choir, and orchestra, the requiem was written in several stages over a period of time. Penderecki dedicated the work to Poland’s suffering during the period of Martial Law.

A Polish hymn, Holy God, is used in Penderecki’s requiem. Today I’d like to listen to the “Lacrimosa” portion of the Polish Requeim, which was written earlier on in Penderecki’s career and later incorporated into the requiem. This piece was used during the unveiling of a memorial for those killed in the 1970 shipyard riots in Gdansk. 

Next week we head to England for music by Elgar and Mackenzie!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Nationalism Found in the Mazurka

We’re in Poland this week on Clef Notes, looking at how two Polish composers used nationalism in their work. Let’s begin with Frederic Chopin (1810–1849), who is known primarily for both performing on, and composing for the piano.

During Chopin’s short life, he became quite popular with high society. Many elite sought to study with him, paying high prices just so they could say they studied with this pianist who only performed in private settings. In Poland, people enjoyed Chopin’s use of nationalism in some of his music. One example would be the many mazurkas he wrote for his piano students to play. The mazurka is a Polish folk dance that eventually developed into a ballroom dance. Chopin wrote stylized versions of this dance. His Opus 7, No. 1 in B-flat major provides a great example, using the traditional mazurka meter, rhythms, as well as the use of trills, grace notes in leaps often found in this dance form.

Who else used Polish qualities in their music? Find out next time!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hungarian Influences in Dances of Galanta

This week, Clef Notes travels to Hungary, where we are looking at the use of the region’s folk music in a classical format. Last time, we looked at Bela Bartok, who worked alongside Zoltan Kodaly (1882–1967) to publish folk song collections.

Kodaly is known as a composer, teacher, and ethnomusicologist, who worked at the Budapest Academy of Music. Like Bartok, Kodaly grew up around music, supported by his parents. Many of his works contain Hungarian folk influences, including his Dances of Galanta. As a child, he experienced gypsy band music while passing through the Hungarian town Galanta. Some of these Hungarian tunes were later published in an edition and used as inspiration for this work.

Stay tuned next week as we head to Poland!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Classical Music of Hungary

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. This month, Clef Notes travels to different areas across the globe, examining how composers use nationalism in their music. This week, we begin with Hungary.

Bela Bartok (1881–1945) is known as a talented pianist, composer, teacher, and one of the first practicing ethnomusicologists. He grew up in a musical family, studying piano and composition at the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in Budapest where he later returned to teach. He had a passion for the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and the surrounding areas, and spent much of his time collecting peasant songs and dances. Many of these were edited and made into collections. Bartok also arranged folk tunes and wrote some of his own works based on these traditional tunes. 

Staccato and Legato from Mikrokosmos is just one of many examples of a piece Bartok wrote that combines folk peasant music of the region with classical tradition. It contains qualities attributed to J.S. Bach, but also a melody that mirrors ideas used in Hungarian songs. 

Bartok spent part of his life working at the Academy of Sciences as an ethnomusicologist. There, he worked alongside another prominent Hungarian musician, Zoltan Kodaly. We will learn more about him next time!