Max Richter ‘Dream 13 (minus even)’: A Sentimental Style

Today’s blog, dearest readers, is on an absolutely stunning piece of music called Dream 13 (minus even) by contemporary classical composer, Max Richter. In all honesty I had never listened to any of Richter’s work before, and I stumbled across this piece earlier today and I won’t lie to you all, I absolutely cried my eyes out at how stunningly simple, yet so touching it is. The piece is part of his latest 2015 album Sleep, which is an album that is eight hours long (the length of a healthy amount of sleep), and it’s aims are to aid with more peaceful sleeping routines. This particular piece is actually on the sister of this original album, which aims to help with peaceful thinking in the daytime.

Dream 13 (minus even) is scored for cello, piano and synths and is a wonderful harmonic landscape, that instantly evokes memories and happy times for me. The asymmetrical rhythm creates a wonderful atmosphere that is so calming and just so very nostalgic. Due to the purpose of this piece within the album, there is very little variation on the main harmonic structure, but I believe this is what makes it so pure and so beautiful. The cello part is incredibly simple, yet for me it sounds like taking a massive breath and exhaling slowly over time. Musically I don’t have lots to say for this piece, other than reasons why I absolutely adore it and have listened to it at least twenty time today alone.

As many of you probably know I am coming to the end of my undergraduate degree at The University of Sheffield studying my absolute passion – music. I think part of the reason this makes me very emotional right now is that, truthfully, I am not ready to finish my degree and say goodbye to so many people who I love (even though I am staying in Sheffield next year studying an MA in Musicology). This piece gets me right where I’m very vulnerable at the moment, and for this reason alone I love it. Three years has gone insanely fast, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with better people.

Therefore, this blog is dedicated to my amazing year group at Sheffield, who, without you all I probably wouldn’t be half the person I am today. I want to give you all confidence that you can finish this degree and all make brilliant lives for yourself, and I hope we can stay in touch. Its taken me all day to finish this blog as I keep getting upset (even though I’ve tried to keep it in for so long!). So a massive thank you to you all, you are all stars and I will miss you all dearly if you’re leaving Sheffield this year. I hope you can find comfort in this piece like I can and if any of you ever need a chat or hugs, I am most certainly here for you. Happy listening and lets smash these last couple of weeks! x x

Recommended Recordings:

P.S – Please do not mention this blog to me in person because there’s a 100% chance I will get teary!

Ernest Bloch ‘Five Sketches in Sepia’: A Tainted Photograph

Today, dearest readers, I am going to tell you all about a wonderful solo piano work entitled Five Sketches in Sepia by the Swiss composer, Ernest Bloch. This work may not be for everyone, but all I ask is that you give it a chance as I think it’s incredibly calming and very resonant of Debussy and Ravel. But first some biography of Ernest Bloch.

Bloch was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1880 into a non-musical family, but he started to take an interest in learning music and playing violin at the age of ten. It is also worth noting that Bloch was born into a Jewish family, and although he travelled around Europe a lot as a young man, a lot of his music have various characteristics of Jewish music. Bloch started to build up his rapport as a composer, with his first Symphony in C# minor (1902) described as “vigorous, passionate and wonderful to think that is his first work.” Bloch taught at many conservatories in Europe and the USA, including Geneva, Paris, Boston and Cleveland. Bloch composed a range of different works for large orchestra, chamber orchestra, solo piano and opera and he generally received a positive reception for his work.

In the midst of the 1920’s, Bloch wrote several works for solo piano. These works are seldom performed, but they are a wonderful way to hear the intensely diverse style that Bloch offering. Bloch was heavily influenced by his contemporaries such as Debussy, Mahler and Mussorgsky, in addition to this he was also very much influenced by his life experiences through travelling and teaching. A lot of his piano works are programmatic, containing several character movements within them under different names. Five Sketches in Sepia was composed in 1923 in Cleveland, and within it are five short character pieces. This particular work presents strong links to French impressionism, Western musical traditions and Jewish Music. Although Judaism and Jewish music was a firm influence for Bloch, he commented that he did not directly quote sacred Jewish music “In all those compositions of mine which have been termed Jewish, I have not approached the problem from without, i.e. by employing more or less authentic melodies, or more less sacred oriental formulas, rhythms, or intervals…It was this Jewish heritage as a whole which stirred me, and music was the result.”

One of Bloch’s main stylistic features in his piano works are based around his music being tonal, but with strong allusions to modality. Essentially, he uses modal melodies which he harmonises with traditional harmonic language. Bloch also relies a lot on irregular and free rhythms within his compositions, he uses reversed dotted-themes to create the ‘scotch snap’ effect. Bloch makes ecological use of meter and tempo fluctuations, which aid to create very atmospheric and mood-driven solo piano works.

Five Sketches in Sepia is heavily reliant on impressionism. This whole piece is based around atmosphere, moods and subjects and it also reflect Bloch’s love for photography, as many photographers in this time finished their prints in sepia. Bloch very much liked this technique and the visual effect it gave so he split this work up into five short pieces to form a musical analogue to this. The five sections are as follows: Prélude, Fumées sur la Ville, Lucioles, Incertitude and Epilogue. All five of these sections are wonderfully haunting and each present a plethora of different, complex compositional techniques that create such a vivid effect.

Prélude 

The beginning of this first movement is marked Con fantasia and the fantasia style is depicted through Bloch’s use of irregular rhythms and fermatas (pauses). The constant tempo changes here create a really colourful sound and his extensive use of quintuplets is prevalent here. The centric pitch of this movement is B, with F# also being at the forefront (as it is the dominant of B). The movement can be split into three different sections, effectively creating an A-B-A’ form. The first section is linear, thin in regards to texture and based around the note F#. Bloch uses a range of different intervals to create this eerie atmosphere, including: augmented seconds, perfect fourths and tritones. This leads into the second section which is based more around B and E. The pitch is a fifth lower than the first section, which creates a mirror effect, although it has been altered slightly. The third section is based on the motives from the first section, and it develops those throughout the rest of the movement. One of my favourite parts of this movement is Bloch’s incessant use of parallel thirds, sevenths and quartal patterns. Each of these create a very different effect, for instance quartal patterns create a very tranquil and atmospheric effect, whereas the parallel sevenths create a more ‘moving forward’ feeling. A culmination of all of these techniques creates a very beautiful and nostalgic movement.

Fumées sur la Ville (Smoke over the Village)

This movement is depicting the image of smoke floating over a small country village. According to his wife, “Bloch was inspired by the skies of Cleveland, a city whose soft coal smoke stacks left a constant pall in the skies.” To portray this image, Bloch uses techniques such as chromaticism, softer dynamics and rubato. The centric pitch in this movement is C#. This movement can also be split into three sections making it A-B-A’ – which Bloch further creates a symmetrical image. Both the first and last sections are based on the octatonic scale – C#-D-E-F-G-G#-A#. Bloch writes many disjunt melodies within this movement and there is definitely a ‘inner voice’ heard throughout this section. Bloch, again, uses parallel chords to create a desired effect, so within this movement he utilises chromatic octaves in as parallel chords. I very much enjoy his use of the pianos range within this movement, as the very low range is incredibly effective in its portrayal in the smoke clouding over the skies.

Lucioles 

This movement is depicting fireflies, and is the fastest movement of the five. To illustrate the fireflies fast movement, Bloch writes an unrelenting quaver sequence, which frequently changes meter to highlight the unpredictability of the fireflies. The piece fluctuates between 7/8 and 6/8 time chiefly, although other rhythmic patterns emerge. The centric pitch here is A, and again the form can be split into three sections: A-B-A’. Bloch uses trichords to create a colourful ambience. This movement is very interesting as while I’ve tried to analyse the score I have realised that although the centric pitch is A, there is no A major chord until the last two bars of the movement. When the A major chord occurs, it is at the same time as a B half-diminished seventh chord, which creates a dazzling flash of colour for the end of the movement. How incredibly clever!

Incertitude (Uncertainty)

This movement is based around the centric pitch of C, and as the title suggests, Bloch’s harmonic language is incredibly uncertain. It has taken me a little while to look through this score and work out what he is actually doing, but here’s some of my thoughts on it. The movement can be divided into two parts: A-B. To create this mood of uncertainty, Bloch uses quartal harmonies in triadic combinations. For example, in bar 19 he uses a G major chord together with an F# major chord and as these two chords are related by a minor second, this creates the basis of the harmonic function within this movement (please somebody correct me if I am wrong!). This creates a chromatic effect and Bloch’s use of the octatonic scale again (though this time starting on C) is a prevalent addition to the musical uncertainty that Bloch is desiring.

Epilogue 

The final movement of this wonderful work is entitled Epilogue and it is the longest work of the set. This movement brings together previous motifs from the other movements, and can also be split into three main movements: A-B-A’ and a coda. This movement is by far the most tonal of all five sections and this can be heard from the beginning where you can hear E minor arpeggios (with an F# at points). The right hand plays a very simple melody, played in parallel fifths (of course) and the melody is an outline of the E-Dorian modal scale. This first section ends in A major, which is the subdominant of E minor. The second section quotes from the second, third and fourth movements with slight variations on these melodies. Bloch switches between major and minor triads which creates a swaying feeling. The movement ends with a few alternations between an E major and a D major-minor seventh chord. There is a resolution of C and A which lands on a clear E major triad.

Sound qualities are at the heart of this work and Bloch uses a range of different tonal, harmonic and rhythmic techniques to create a variety of different mood templates. Five Sketches in Sepia is very obviously influenced by impressionism and the different sound qualities are made with the different attack one can make on a piano. This is supported by the various speed changes that Bloch indicates on the score. Bloch wrote fundamentally tonal music, which had a strong affiliation with modality. He also started to break away from traditional western harmony by extensively using parallel chords, octatonic scales and unconventional chord progressions. I absolutely love this work as it is uniquely expressive and it represents its themes in such an idiosyncratic manner. This blog is full of analysis and I hope you could all follow my general meaning throughout – if I have made any mistakes please do let me know, I would be very interested to know how to improve! I hope you can give this work a chance, it’s not that long and is well worth your time!

Happy listening!

 

Recommended Recordings:

One of the few recordings of this work – its a very clean recording!

Camille Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival of the Animals’: A Grand Zoological Fantasy

My offering to you, my wonderful readers, is on a brilliantly funny suite of music by the French composer, Camille Saint-Saëns. I think it is fair to say that this time of year is very intense for students (myself included) and may this blog make for a fun and relaxing break to any of you that are still working hard (keep going, you’re all doing great!).

With Saint-Saëns being a fairly serious composer of his time, you may have guessed that the suite I am referring to is Le carnaval des animaux (or Carnival of the Animals for us English folk). Saint-Saëns wrote this whilst in a small Austrian village and he always referred to it as ‘mais c’est si amusant!’ (‘Such fun!’). Interestingly, this piece was never published in Saint-Saëns’ lifetime as he didn’t want it to taint his ‘serious composer’ image, and instead this work was played privately, with the exception of one of the movements – ‘The Swan’. The first private performance was on Tuesday 9th March 1886.

Carnival of the Animals is scored for two pianos, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute and piccolo, clarinet, glass harmonica and xylophone. The pianos play a particularly main role throughout all fourteen movements of this suite. I will be looking at the whole suite within this blog as some of the movements are particularly short, and also they’re all so good that one must listen to them all!

I. Introduction et marche royale du lion (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)

This movement is scored for both pianos and strings and it starts with a stately tremolo from the pianos which sets the scene for the bold strings to enter. To end the introduction both of the pianos play a contrary motion scale and the ensemble end on the tonic chord. The next section, which depicts a royal lion’s march, is fronted by the pianos, which play a simple march motif. The strings play a simple quaver melody, which is embellished by the pianos with trills and march themes. The pianos then play a fast-moving triplet theme, which represents the roar of the lion. The main theme returns in the first piano in a very high octave, which proves the presence of the lion and that the lion is at the top of the social scale in this instance. The movement ends with the ensemble ending on the tonic chord after another ‘roar’.

II. Poules et coqs (Hens and Roosters)

This movement is orchestrated for two pianos, clarinet, upper strings and double bass. The first fast quaver theme is meant to represent the chickens pecking and the clarinet interrupts to add to this effect. The piano plays a fast trill-led theme which depicts the rooster’s ‘Cock a Doodle do!’.

III. Hémiones (animaux véloces) (Wild Asses: Swift Animals)

This movement is very exciting and it creates the image of these fast animals running and undertaking every task in the quickest way possible. It is only scored for two pianos, so the tempo is constant and is very intense for the pianists. The pianos play contrary motion scalic runs in octaves, which creates a very sparse texture.

IV. Tortues (Tortoises)

This movement is very slow and is the first completely satirical movement of the suite. It begins with the first piano playing a pulsing triplet motif, which drags somewhat to highlight the general movements of a tortoise. The strings then play a very slow version of Offenbach’s ‘Can-Can theme, from his operetta Orpheus and the Underworld. The theme is repeated and then the movement comes to a slow end.

V. L éléphant (The Elephant)

I’m a massive fan of this movement as I find it so very amusing. It is scored for piano and double bass and it is the perfect caricature for an elephant. The piano plays a quaver motif, in a waltz style, and then the double bass plays its solo above this. It is said that this movement is also a take on other composer’s work, namely in this case its Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The bass solo within this movement is heavy and of course it is very low, which perfectly represents an elephant’s movements.

VI. Kangourous (Kangaroos)

This movement is scored for both the pianos and is a very fun movement. Its main theme is disjointed and jumpy, similar to that of a kangaroos movements. The piece is based around a ‘hopping’ theme, which is in fifths. The motif gradually speeds up and gets louder and then when it descends it does the opposite. This effect makes this motif even more playful and reminiscent of a kangaroo jumping around.

VII. Aquarium 

This movement is one of the most famous and it is definitely one of my favourites. It has such a calm nature, and is such a pleasure to listen to. It is scored for violins, viola, cello, two pianos and glass harmonica and is said to be the most musically rich of all the movements. The pianos play a running semiquaver theme, which mirrors the effect that a glissando would make. The main crotchet theme is played by the flute, glass harmonica and is supported by the upper strings. This music is incredibly peaceful, and the runs on the glass harmonica (or glockenspiel) are reminiscent of a dimly-lit aquarium. This movement is incredibly pensive, reminiscent and peaceful and is such a joy to relax to.

VIII. Personnages á longues oreilles (Personages with Long Ears)

This movement is only scored for two violins and is the shortest of all fourteen movements. The violins alternate playing either excruciatingly high-pitched notes, or very low buzzing notes. This is to represent a donkey’s ‘hee’haw’. The movement is over before you know it, and its content is based on this one main motif that depicts the donkeys.

IX. Le coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods)

I really enjoy the gentle nature of this movement, as it is only scored for two pianos and a clarinet. The pianos spans very large chords, which covers a lot of the pianos range, and they play it very softly. To answer this, the clarinet plays a two-note ostinato on C and Ab. This creates a ‘cuckoo’ sound and is automatically recognisable to the ear. On the original score Saint-Saëns directs for the clarinet to be offstage. This movement is very twee and is just very cute!

X. Voliére (Aviary)

This movement is very exciting and is written for strings, pianos and flute. ?The strings play a tremolo to create a buzzing sound, whilst the flute takes the part of the bird, which Saint-Saëns has written a virtuosic part for. There is a lot of chromatic scales played by the flute, and the movement ends after the flute plays a long chromatic scale upwards.

XI. Pianistes (Pianists)

This movement, again, is a musical joke. The aims here are to show the audience something they would not normally see – a pianist practising their scales. Saint-Saëns goes from C-Eb and the rhythms begin to change in the scales as he modulates upwards. The scales are played more and more out of time as the movement goes on, which represents the arduous feelings towards practising scales. The movement does not end on a resolved chord either – instead it leads us into the next movement.

XII. Fossiles (Fossils)

This movement is scored for strings, two pianos, clarinet and xylophone. Saint-Saëns borrows one of the main themes from his own composition Danse Macabre (which I will write about at some point). He utilises the xylophone and the main theme (which you may recognise) evokes the image of skeletons moving and playing card games. There are allusions to some other famous pieces such as ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ which Saint-Saëns makes into a round. Also ‘Au clair de la lune’ and ‘Una voce poco fa’ are hinted at within this movement. Bernstein argues that the musical joke within this movement is that the musical pieces that are quoted are the fossils of Saint-Saëns’ time.

XIII. Le cygne (The Swan)

This is the other very famous movement of this work and my goodness it is gorgeous. Scored for both pianos and cello, this solo epitomises romanticism and general themes of love. The movement depicts a swan elegantly gliding over the water, and the repeated scalic runs from the pianos create a rolling feel, which represent the swans feet paddling under the water. This movement was the only one that was published whilst Saint-Saëns was still alive, and is now a staple of cello repertoire. The simple solo is so luscious and beautiful and is definitely one of the highlights of this wonderful suite for me.

XIV. Final (Finale)

This is the only movement scored for the whole ensemble and it begins with the same tremolo motif played at the start of the introduction. Many of the previous movements of this work are quoted throughout this movement. In true Saint-Saëns style, there are lots of ornamented sections, with heavy use of gliassandos, shimmering scales and trills. The movement ends with six musical ‘hee-haws’ and ends on a full ensemble C major chord.

This suite of music is comical, passionate and takes us on a fantastical zoological tour of the natural world. This is a great piece to relax to and enjoy over and over again. I very much admire the work of Saint-Saëns, and I feel sad that he didn’t ever want this work published whilst he was still alive, as I believe it would have made people very happy, as it does now. I love the imagery that each movement creates, espeically Aquarium and Le éléphant. I hope, if you haven’t heard this suite in full before, that you heartily enjoy everything it has to offer! And if you already know the work well, then I hope you can enjoy another round of Saint-Saëns!

This blog is dedicated to a good friend of mine, Hannah Thornton, who has been a complete angel for me the past few weeks as deadlines approach. I hope you can take a well-earned brain break and enjoy this lovely suite – thanks for being you!

Happy listening as always!

Recommended Recordings:

This recording is very precise and its good to watch the score too!

 

 

 

Sergei Rachmaninoff ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – Variation 18’: A Heart-Warming Interlude

So like every other day of this semester I have buried myself in my work in the IC, and I’m sitting here in the silent area thinking about taking a brain break, and then thought – why not just write a blog instead! Procrastination calls – and I am most definitely answering. I know I have already done a blog on Rachmaninoff (Symphony No. 2 – check it out!), but I just love his writing so much and it’s what I have been chiefly listening to recently whilst doing my coursework.

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is a concertante work (a large-scale work which uses both the symphonic and concerto forms throughout). It was written in 1934 and is scored for solo piano and a romantic symphonic orchestra. As the title suggests, this work is a set of variations, with the theme being taken from Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. Paganini’s Caprice is a work that is simple to take and to make variants of for a number of different reasons, notably that it is in the pure key of A minor. The tonal simplicity is clear, with lots of tonic-dominant movement and the circle of fifths being used to create tonal colour. Rachmaninoff takes this main theme and pulls it apart to create a mini piano concerto-esque piece, although it’s carefree unfolding of the theme really supports it as a rhapsody. This full work is scintillating and inventive, which makes it a stand out piece for me.

Due to my own time restraints today I am only looking into one of the variations, which is by far my favourite, and also the most famous of them all – variation 18 (Andante Cantibile). I absolutely love this variation, it has everything you could possibly want in 3 minutes of music – a soloist, a romantic orchestra and a whole lot of passion. This variation is based on an inversion of the main Paganini theme (which is a crotchet based movement). With most of the variations staying in A minor, this one is played essentially upside down in Db major. Rachmaninoff spoke a lot about how this was his finest variation, stating that “this one, is for my agent.”

I am certain a lot of you lovely readers will recognise this piece when you get round to listening to it, which is the beauty of writing this blog. With the variations each seguing into one-another, the starting point of this variation is with an ascending triplet movement from the solo piano, with triplets being one of the fundamental rhythmic devices that Rachmaninoff uses throughout. The famous melody is based a semiquaver step movement, which Rachmaninoff grows into fruition throughout the variation. It isn’t until bar 50 that the orchestra enter – playing the main melodic theme that the piano just played. The piano at this point plays triplet and quaver movement with very large Db major chords (a very typical Rachmaninoff composition style). The orchestra and piano shadow each other and the climaxes are so intense and passionate that it gives me the chills every time. The ranges used in both the piano and orchestra create a very dramatic feel in these climaxes, which are also heightened by the breadth of dynamic ranges that are also applied here. This variation lasts about 3 minutes, but my goodness it’s 3 minutes well and truly spent.

The variation ends with just the piano ‘recapping’ the main theme, but marked very quiet, which creates this eerie atmosphere at the end of this piece. With both hands on the piano going into bass clef, it creates a darker tone which is just so beautiful. I remember when I re-found this work a couple of years ago and I literally felt invincible and that nothing could go wrong with music like that in the world. It is perhaps one of my all-time favourite pieces of music because it’s just so full of luscious chords, romantic strings and the ‘Rachmaninoff flair’ as I shall now refer to it as. This swooning variation takes us on a real whirlwind journey through the variation form. As you may or may not have noticed, I am a big Rachmaninoff fan, and I will (when I have more time) write a blog on all 24 variations. But for now – happy listening!

This blog is dedicated to my best friend, Chris Bell, who is one of my favourite people, like this is one of my favourite pieces. I know you love a bit of Rach, take a break and enjoy – much love x

 

Recommended Recordings 

This recording is great if you would like to watch how the music goes.

My all time favourite recording of the all the variations is by the Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev.

This is a lovely recording of The Philadelphia Orchestra with Daniil Trifonov.

Edvard Grieg ‘Peer Gynt Suite No. 1’: Welcome to Norway!

As I was reading through my list of blog ideas this afternoon one particular suite of music caught my attention, and that was Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Grieg’s music was heavily reliant on nationality and the natural landscape, and this suite is no exception to that! Grieg was simultaneously nationalistic and cosmopolitan in his approach to composition and that was due to his extensive travelling around Europe throughout his lifetime (1843-1907). Grieg believed that his music represented the beauty and rural truths of the Norwegian landscape, but at the same time still represented Europe as an incredibly inclusive, cultural hub for the arts. Grieg was a true musical painter and his roots were so firmly tied within Norwegian folk music that the evocations of nature that can be heard in certain compositions is overwhelming. The first suite from Henrik Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt was first and foremost written as incidental music, and the order that they movements appear within the suite differ from that of when they appear as separate pieces within the drama.

Grieg and Ibsen first met in Italy in 1866 and after Grieg was commissioned to do Peer Gynt, it premiered in Oslo in February 1876, with the orchestra being conducted by Grieg. Therefore, Ibsen asked Grieg to write the incidental music for his drama, Grieg was very keen, but soon the doubt as to whether he could actually complete this tricky task set in. The show is packed full of intense drama, comedy and tragedy, and with all of these themes buzzing around, Grieg found it notoriously difficult to compose on the short time scale that Ibsen had set and because of this Grieg lost some enthusiasm due to the high level of complexity. Grieg commented in a letter to a friend in 1874 that, “Peer Gynt progresses slowly and there is no possibility of having it finished by autumn. It is a terribly unmanageable subject.” Within the whole play, Grieg wrote 33 separate pieces of incidental music, however the two famous suites were hand-picked by Grieg himself, and show off the highlights of the show. The outline of the story is fairly simple – Peer Gynt is the protagonist of the story and the drama is set around his travels, dreams and crimes. Thus, each act is accompanied but incidental music which compliments the theme. At first, all of the incidental music was published as a piano duet, and after Grieg’s death in 1907, the suites were orchestrated for a full orchestra, and subsequently published.

There are four movements in the first suite and each of them depict a different theme/landscape/emotion, and two of them are especially famous in Grieg’s orchestral repetoire.

Morning Mood 

The first movement within the suite is entitled Morning Mood and it is one of Grieg’s most well-known compositions. It starts with a beautiful flute solo which sets in the main theme, which is then taken over by the oboe. The strings play a simple accompaniment and the whole atmosphere is dominated by this theme of nature – it’s absolutely wonderful. The main theme is slightly manipulated, which leads to a climactic section where the strings take over in an upper octave. I love this section as it makes me feel all tingly and happy inside – which is made all the more special when the climax releases and the brass enters with a powerful transitional chord. Even without its title, this piece paints a strong sound of nature and the natural landscape, and you can really hear Grieg’s roots within the rural land. I absolutely love this movement I think it is truly wonderful and is a complete credit to Grieg’s compositional style. This piece captures the beginning of the day in the mountains and forests of Norway and everything is peaceful and positive within the drama and Peer Gynt’s dreams. I find Grieg’s blending of timbres within this movement in particular absolutely jaw-dropping as it’s just so smooth and easy on the ear and it is a clear representation of a sunny, peaceful morning. The piece ends with a reprise of the main theme from the flute and oboes, and the horns and strings delicately lead in for the final tonic chord of the piece (what a joy!).

Aase’s Death

The second movement within this suite is entitled Aaes’s Death and it is a very big shift in tone from the previous movement. So this movement, as shown in the title is about the death of Aase, who is Peer Gynt’s mother. The scene behind this piece is awfully tragic – Aase is dying alone on one of the mountains in the Norwegian wilderness and nobody is there to help her. This movement is incredibly haunting and dark, which emphasises Grieg’s more delicate hand and masterful grip on powerful, yet simple music. The movement starts with the strings playing block chords together, and this sets the dark tone for the rest of the piece. There are some beautifully timed pauses where the whole section stop and then after about two seconds, come back in with the next sequence of chords. Each time the section returns it is slightly louder, which really tugs at the old heartstrings. Although it is terribly sad, this movement is absolutely beautiful and Grieg’s masterful string writing is emphasised and utilised to the maximum here. The simplicity of this movement is where the beauty lies and I hope you all enjoy how scarily eerie, yet desperate it feels, which really highlights the scene within the drama. There are a handful of small climaxes within the movement, but nothing goes above forte which keeps it reigned in and it doesn’t feel like it overcompensates for the situation at hand. Also, by only using the string section is keeps this whole movement very sophisticated and very haunting. The movement ends on tonic chords being played with a pause in between them which creates a very creepy feel for the end of the movement, which is supposed to represent her death on the mountain.

Anitra’s Dance 

The third movement is depicting a seductive dance which emphasises the grace and beauty of Anitra, who is a daughter of a chieftain and Peer Gynt is infatuated with her. This movement acts as the fun and playful scherzo of the suite. Its in 3/4 time and has a waltz feel to it, with the pizzicato string sections creating a more chaotic and fast-paced feel to the movement. The idea of gracefulness can definitely be heard with the mix of pizzicato and acro (bowed) strings that play at the same time. This movement wants to make me sway as I listen to it, and its twee character oozes positivity and is a very playful movement to listen to. This is the shortest movement of the suite, perhaps due to its speed and the part of the story it covers. The movement ends again on a tonic chord after a fast ascending sequence by the strings which is the preceded by a short tonic-dominant ending by the basses. When you think it’s all over the strings then play the tonic chord an octave up, with the accompaniment of the triangle.

In the Hall of the Mountain King

The final movement of the suite is the ever-loved In the Hall of the Mountain King, which I am sure a big percentage of you will have heard at some point in your lifetimes. This movement depicts an unusual dance of gnomes, that in the story are actually chasing Peer Gynt, which is why when the recognisable melody is played repeatedly, it gets more and more aggressive. The melody is passed around the whole orchestra and there is barely a moment where not one instrument is playing this theme. Each time it comes back it gets more savage, which is representing the gnomes chasing Peer Gynt around the mountains. The extensive use of the bass sections of the orchestra and the high ranges of the upper winds make this a very excitable piece and the use of percussion, notably crash cymbals make ‘the chase’ even more anticipating. The whole movement is crafted from this one melodic cell and the beauty of it is that Grieg’s use of dynamic variation and orchestration makes the piece bashfully iconic in its own right. This is a great piece to finish the suite as it ends on an excitable crash from the cymbals. A brilliant piece that fits in wonderfully with the suite and indeed the themes of the play itself.

The movements that Grieg chose for this suite, as aforementioned, do not correspond to where they come in the show. Morning Mood is the prelude to Act 4; Aase’s Death is the end of Act 3; Anitra’s Dance comes from the middle of Act 4 and In the Hall of the Mountain King is heard in Act 2 of the play.

The lyrical and programmatic splendour of Grieg’s music is one of my favourite traits about his music, and this suite is at the crux of this. The simplicity of the suite really shows Grieg’s wonderful compositional style and his close links to Norway which bleed into his music. I’m a massive fan of Grieg and this suite is no exception – happy listening!

Recommended Recordings:

Berlin Philharmonic (Karajan) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyM2AnA96yE

 

Erik Satie ‘Je te veux’: Happy Reflections

Happy Monday, readers, whilst it has been some time since I have last posted a blog, it has been due to university becoming much more full on as I am trying to tie everything up. To make everyone feel good on this fairly sunny Monday afternoon, I thought there no more fitting piece than Satie’s Je te veux. An instantly recognisable tune, this twee piano waltz was originally for voice and piano, there is also a chamber orchestra setting of this melody, although it is now perhaps more well-known for the solo piano version. Translated into English, the title simply means ‘I Want You’. When composed by Satie, he wrote it for singer, Paulette Darty, who he had been an accompanist to for many years previous. There is much discrepancy as to when Satie composed this piece, but it was written between the years 1897-1902.

The piece is incredibly simple and in 3/4 which gives it the waltz-feel to the piece. The main melody is repeated throughout the piece (which is only about 4 minutes long) and this melody shadows the vocal line if that is a version you decide to listen to. Picture your all-time favourite place whilst you listen to this, it’ll become embedded in your positive thinking bank and will bring forward happy thoughts whenever you may need them. My mind is usually down in Poole, Dorset with my mum and dad when I hear this piece of music, we’re either painting pottery, eating chips on the wall or throwing stones in the sea at Lulworth Cove. This simple piece evokes such happy memories for me, and I hope it can do the same for you. The incredibly simple, but effective melodic line makes this piece the perfect sentimental waltz that can be appreciated in a wealth of different ways. I find this piece deviates from Satie’s usual melancholy sound, as this is more playful, although I do find it has an air of longing and perhaps of someone reminiscing about past romances.

This piece has been used in media in recent times, most notably the Cesar dog food advert (yes that is where you know it from!). I also think that Michael Giacchino (who wrote the music to the Disney film Up) must have taken some inspiration from Satie and works such as Je te veux while writing the Up soundtrack (if you have never seen this film or do not know the movie it is so worth the watch/listen! I will post a link at the bottom of this page). This work also reminds me of a film I used to watch when I was younger with my mum called Madeline, due to the ties with France and french art music. This piece is such a joy to listen to, happy listening!

 

 

Recommended Recordings:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbT9DeULzU4 – Piano Solo Version

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvKmBgxC_s4 – Jessye Norman Vocal Version

Married Life – Michael Giacchino