Monday, October 25, 2021

Have you heard of the Dies irae?

In light of Halloween this weekend, let’s talk about deathly sounds found within the classical music world:

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 this excerpt, note 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 (above) Liszt saw while visiting Pisa. Created by Orcagna, the fresco was entitled The Triumph of Death

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.

Lastly today, let’s listen to Rachmaninoff’s haunting Isle of the Dead. This piece is based off of the painting by Arnold Bocklin (above) 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.

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?

Do you have a favorite use of the Dies irae? Let us know in the comments below and happy Halloween!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Cincinnati Asian Arts Festival 2021

by Elaine Diehl

The Cincinnati Art Museum is collaborating with local Asian community groups to jointly present the Cincinnati Asian Arts Festival 2021.

Composed of two parts, Hello Cincinnati and the East Meets West Concert, this free one-hour event will begin streaming at 3 p.m. on October 24, 2021 from the museum's website.

This event is sponsored by ArtsWave. WGUC's Elaine Diehl chatted with Russell Ihrig of the Museum about the event.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Toscanini: The Maestro, My Father And Me

By Brian O'Donnell

Samuel Antek was first violinist in the acclaimed NBC Symphony Orchestra for 17 years under the baton of the legendary maestro Arturo Toscanini, widely considered the greatest conductor of the mid 20th century. In his musical memoir, Antek shares his keen observations of Toscanini’s singular approach to music making, his unpredictable moods, his passions, his relentless demands on himself and his musicians, and his unwavering dedication to faithfully interpreting composers’ works.

Antek’s daughter, former TV producer Lucy Antek Johnson brings this stellar work back into print with this new and expanded edition, This Was Toscanini: The Maestro, My Father And Me, making Toscanini’s legacy available to new generations of students, musicians, music historians and classical music fans.

I spoke with Lucy about her father, Toscanini, even a bit of baseball with the NBC Symphony Orchestra:

Monday, October 4, 2021

Latin Grammy Winners FLOR DE TOLOACHE Coming to Xavier Gallagher Theatre October 9

There should be fireworks named after this band, for all the intensity and color and life that bursts forth from Flor de Toloache.” - Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, NPR's First Listen

One is German, another a New Yorker of Egyptian descent. Others are Cuban-American, Colombian, Dominican and Argentine. They are a mariachi band that has collaborated with John Legend and Miguel, and their massive repertoire includes covers of AC/DC, No Doubt and The Bee Gees. They are FLOR DE TOLOACHE and on October 9 at 8:00pm, they will put their stunning artistry onstage at Xavier University’s Gallagher Theatre, as part of the 2021-2022 Music Series.

Flor de Toloache began their run as New York’s first and only all-female Mariachi band in 2008 when founder Mireya Ramos, the daughter of a mariachi musician and her friend, singer/vihuela/guitarist Shae Fiol teamed up and began busking in the subways of NYC to work on the music and to get their name known. Julie Acosta, trumpet and vocals joined along with guitarrĂ³nist Eunice Aparicio. Their sound is flawless, effortless, immaculate and perfect – a relaxed tightness and sublime blend that can only result from playing thousands of gigs, rehearsing endlessly and perfecting their live presentation. Some of those gigs include NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, a collaboration with rock group The Arcs that landed them on Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and BBC 2’s Later with Jools Holland and Harry Connick, Jr’s show.

Flor de Toloache says their influences are all over the musical spectrum – jazz, hip-hop and of course the mariachi music they so cherish. They dress in traditional costume with one not-so-subtle difference - rather than the mariachi skirt with bolero jacket typically work by women, Flor de Toloache wears slacks and jackets. Mireya Ramos said she gets a small, subversive thrill from donning a costume like the one her father used to wear. “Wearing the suit, it’s kind of empowering,” she said. “You’re like, ‘I can wear this suit, too.”

Winners of a Latin Grammy Award in 2017, the group is clearly having a blast! Relentless touring musicians, they’re as likely to toss in a “bom-bom-bom-bom (ala the girl group classic, “Mr. Sandman”) as some “sha-la-la-la,” evocative of En Vogue. They are wildly talented instrumentalists and world class singers. The new album, Indestructible was nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album, and Flor de Toloache says, “a testament to the indestructability of Women.”

I was in college when Linda Ronstadt released her albums, Canciones De Mi Padre and Mas Canciones. The sound was shocking to my then-limited ear- I couldn’t imagine what Ronstadt was doing after being a superstar in the worlds of country, rock, Broadway star and singer of standards with Nelson Riddle. Now I hear what she must have heard as a child, the joy, energy, passion, raw emotion and incredible musicality of this genre. It is fitting that when Kennedy Center Honored Linda Ronstadt in 2008, it was Flor de Toloache who was selected to perform at the ceremony, honoring Ms. Ronstadt’s Mexican heritage and her devotion to bringing that music to the rest of the world.

Flor de Toloache performs on Saturday, October 9 at Xavier. More information is available at Xavier University Music Series.

Flor De Toloache's appearance at the Xavier Music Series is sponsored by the Xavier University Women of Excellence Grant.

By Elaine Diehl