Julius Fučík ‘Entrance of the Gladiators’: Roll Up Roll Up!

[Ringmaster voice] – Roll up roll up! Come see what this blog is all about today! Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages welcome to Classicalexburns! The blog is about to begin!

Good afternoon readers – welcome to the 60th blog on the site! As well as this, it is also Bank Holiday Monday here in the UK and the sun is shining! To celebrate I’ve chosen an incredibly well-known march which is comical and is known for its uses within circus’. That’s right, this blog is on Julias Fučík’s Entrance of the Gladiators. 

Julias Fučík was born in Prague 1872, and this was a time where Prague was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus it was in Bohemia. Differently to many composers, Fučík began to learn to play the bassoon and percussion at an early age. As he began delving into composition, he studied under Czech giant, Antonín Dvořák. In 1891, Fučík joined the Austro-Hungarian Regiment as a military musician. Fučík served his Regiment for 3 years, until he left and took a place as a bassoonist at the German Theatre in Prague. In 1897 he rejoined the army, this time based in Sarajevo. It was at this time where he composed his most famous piece, Einzug der Gladiatoren (Entrance of the Gladiators). In 1900, the band that Fučík was playing in was moved to Budapest, and this allowed the composer to premiere more of his works with different ensembles. 1910 saw Fučík move back to Bohemia where he became the bandmaster of the 92nd Infantry Regiment in Theresienstadt. This particular band was one of the best in Europe, so Fučík went on tour often, giving concerts in Berlin, Prague and Hamburg. Fučík was known at this point as a very successful bandmaster and composer, with his works being well-known within the band circles. Fučík died in 1916, aged 44.

Entrance of the Gladiators was composed in 1897 and it was initially entitled Grande Marche Chromatique, which reflected the extensive use of chromatic scales. However, Fučík decided to change this due to his personal interest in the Roman Empire. In 1901, Canadian composer Louis-Philippe Laurendeau took the military march and published a version for small band called Thunder and Blazes. After this, the piece became very popular with it being known as a screamer march (a march used in a circus to get the audience upbeat and hyped within a show. Therefore they are played at a faster tempo than usual marches and the usually are very complex, especially for brass!). The work was then used in context, usually to introduce clowns and this image has stuck until the current day.

The piece can be divided into three sections – Trumpet-dominated melody, lower brass chromatic scales and the trio section. The march usually lasts about 3 minutes, although this really does differ with how fast the march is taken! For this blog I will be looking into the small band arrangement by Laurendeau.

The march begins with a fanfare, led by the trumpets. The winds play a descending chromatic scale in between. This leads into the famous chromatic melody, which is led by the trumpets. Assuming this is the main section of the work, this would be when the clowns would come out of the circus tent to begin the show. The melody is based on a chromatic scale and is instantly recognisable. The second section is led by a new theme by the lower brass, most namely trombones and tuba. The trumpets and winds play a quaver motif to accompany this. After this section is repeated, the trio section then begins. The trio is slightly slower and has a less ‘screamer march’ feel to the sound. This leads us back to a recapitulation section where we hear the second lower brass theme played by the whole ensemble. The tempo fluctuates here at points, which slowly gets faster to reach the climax at the end of the march.

Entrance of the Gladiators is an instantly recognisable march which brings lots of colourful imagery and a fun atmosphere. You may think you don’t know this piece, but I’m sure you will know even just the first theme! A fun piece for this sunny Bank Holiday!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Ēriks Ešenvalds ‘Stars’: A State of Permanent Ecstasy

Happy Sunday, readers! I hope you’re all having a restful Sunday, and I’d like to contribute to your calm states with an extremely wonderful piece of choral music by the contemporary composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds. I recently reconnected with his work, Stars, and since then I couldn’t wait to share it with you all. So I hope you’re sitting comfortable and are ready to delve into this magnificent work with me on this restful Sunday.

Ēriks Ešenvalds is a Latvian composer and was born in 1977. He studied at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary, before attending the Latvian Academy of Music where he received a Master’s degree in composition. Ešenvalds sung in the State Choir of Latvia until 2011. Since then he has held a two-year position of Fellow Commoner of Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. He now teachers composition at all levels, hoping that his expertise will help those who want to pursue a career in composition. Ešenvalds has also won a plethora of awards for his compositions, including the Latvian Grand Music Award (3 times) and the International Rostrum of Composers First Prize Award. Ešenvalds has had the pleasure of working with a wealth of different ensembles including: The King’s Singers, Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Miami University Men’s Glee Club and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Ešenvalds’ music covers a wide-range of different genres, from choral to orchestra. Due to this, he has worked with different recording labels and also different music festivals. At the 2014 World Choir Games, Ešenvalds composed the Games national anthem. His latest commission is for his second multimedia symphony, focusing on the natural phenomenon of volcanoes – which is set to premiere in 2018. Alongside his successful composition career, Ešenvalds is also a public speaker and writer.

Ešenvalds’ choral composition Stars is an absolutely breathtaking piece. It is written for SATB – with an extra addition! A lot of choral work in this style is unaccompanied, or if it does have an accompaniment it is likely to be either a piano or organ. Stars, however, differs from the norm and is accompanied by…glasses! You can make these sounds at home – find a glass, put some water in it, wet your finger, then run it around the rim of the glass. It’ll make this beautiful pure sound, which is out of this world! So to get different notes, Ešenvalds puts a certain amount of liquid into each glass, which gives a corresponding pitch. The effect of this is just heavenly! This glass effect is definitely resonant on what the lyrics reflect within the piece – stars and heaven. Ešenvalds uses the words from Sara Teasdale’s 1920 poem Stars. Below are the words:

Alone in the nigh

On a dark hill

With pines around me

Spicy and still,

 

And a heaven full of stars

Over my head,

White and topaz

And misty red;

 

Myriads with beating

Hearts of fire

That aeons

Cannon vex or tire;

 

Up the dome of heaven

Like a great hill,

I watch them marching

Stately and still,

 

And I know that I

Am honoured to be

Witness

Of such majesty.

This composition is exhaustingly beautiful and the musical language that Ešenvalds uses certainly makes him one of the most sought out choral composers of this time. As aforementioned, this work is written for an SATB choir and water-tuned glasses. I will give you a brief walk-through of the piece, but really this particular work is best left to when you have some private time, where you can close your eyes and let Ešenvalds take you to that heavenly place.

The piece begins with the water-tuned glasses playing the sequence of cluster chords, which are heard throughout the whole work. The use of the glasses creates such an evocative effect, which is both imaginative and inventive. Ešenvalds uses ‘mm’s’ and ‘ahs’ which add to the overall texture and timbre of the work. This work leaves you in this permanent state of ecstasy, and it is with Ešenvalds sonorous choral writing that this is possible. With the upper voices soaring above the cluster chords that lay below, creates this wave of sound, which makes you feel like you’re floating. Which seems to be exactly what Ešenvalds was going for. The climax of piece happens when the sopranos sing a top A, which just give so much colour to the work. It has been suggested that Ešenvalds is one of the leading composers in producing ‘musical mysticism’ which can certainly be supported by Stars. The texture is rich and the colourful timbre adds to the ‘other-worldly’ feel of the whole piece. The unrelenting cluster chords from the water-tuned glasses creates a metaphysical presence within the music. The waves of sound are also made by the fluctuating crescendos and dimminuendos, which are placed throughout the piece. The work ends with a short interlude from the water-tuned glasses, until the voices all end on a spine-tingling cluster chord. Part of this atmosphere is made by the overtones created by the glasses, which give such a heavenly and spacious sound to the work.

I absolutely adore this piece, it’s calmly cosmic, yet very mysterious, mystical and spiritual. The words are sensitive and the use of the water-tuned glasses really adds another dimension to the work. I do hope you’ve found some time to listen to the piece – it’s only about 4 minutes long! This truly is one of the purest choral works I’ve ever heard. If you like what you hear I couldn’t recommend listening to Ešenvalds enough! His music is ever so clever and such a joy to listen to.

I’d like to dedicate this blog to one of my favourite people, Ben Evans. I hope that if you don’t already know this piece or composer, that you enjoy this music! You’re an absolute star yourself so enjoy your Sunday!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

 

 

 

 

George Butterworth ‘The Banks of Green Willow’: The Idyllic Scene

Good morrow dearest readers, told you I’d be back with more amazing music didn’t I?! With all the choice in the world now that my August Alphabet Challenge has been completed, it took me such a long time to pick which composer and piece to write about. Due to the sheer loveliness and just how quintessentially British this composer is definitely contributed to my choice! So this blog is on the wonderful George Butterworth and his short, but incredibly delightful orchestral work, The Banks of the Green Willow – Enjoy!

George Butterworth was born in Paddington, 1885, however soon after his birth, the Butterworth family moved to moved to Yorkshire. His mother was a singer, and she was his first major influence in the world of music. Butterworth began composing at an early age, whilst also learning the organ and playing in church services. Butterworth gained a scholarship at Eton College, where his musical promise was nurtured and grown into fruition. After he graduated from Eton College, Butterworth went to Trinity College, Oxford, where his studies in music became much more focused. Whilst there he met a wealth of inspiring people, for instance Ralph Vaughan Williams and Adrian Boult. Butterworth made a good friend in Vaughan Williams, and they made several trips into the English countryside to collect folk songs (can this get any more British?!). The answer is, yes it can! Butterworth was also known as a professional Morris dancer, and he was a member of the Demonstration Team. Butterworth’s career began with him writing for The Times, as well as teaching at Radley College, Oxford. He also began studying piano and organ at the Royal College of Music, with his tutor being Hubert Parry, however this lasted less than a year as Butterworth realised that the academic way of life was not for him.

When World War I broke out, Butterworth joined the British Army as a Private. He worked his way up the scale (no pun intended!) and became Lieutenant. 1916 saw The Battle of Somme at it’s most intense. In the night between 4-5 August, held on to their position, Munster Alley. However, the German’s made frantic attempts to recapture this position, and amid this Butterworth was shot through the head by a sniper. His men buried him in the side of the trench, and his body was never recovered for a formal burial. Butterworth was 31. After his tragic death, he was awarded the Military Cross. His 1913 composition The Banks of Green Willow became known for being synonymous with the sacrifices made by Butterworth’s generation. It has indeed become an anthem for the ‘Unknown Soldiers’.

In his short lifetime, Butterworth only wrote three orchestral works, with The Banks of Green Willow being the most well-known and most-played to the modern-day. The orchestration is for a small orchestra so this means:

2 Flutes

2 Oboes

2 Clarinets

2 Bassoons

2 Horns

1 Trumpet

Harp

Chamber string ensemble

The main melodies found in this work are based on English folk songs (a similar technique and style used by the likes of Vaughan Williams and Quilter). Whilst on a trip in the countryside with Vaughan Williams, Butterworth made recordings with his phonograph of “Mr & Mrs Cranstone” of Billinghurst and David Clements of Basingstoke. Butterworth described this work as an ‘idyll’ which implies it is perhaps a pause from real life, and these 6 musical minutes represent the ideal place to be both mentally and physically. This piece is essentially a musical illustration of the recordings he took and the in-depth knowledge he had on folk traditions. The work is also based on a folk ballad of the same name. The ballad essentially tells the tale of a farmer’s daughter who falls in love with a sea-captain, becomes pregnant and runs away with him to sea, having first stolen money from her parents. She has a difficult labour on board the ship and realises that she will soon die. She asks her lover to tie her up and throw both her and her baby overboard. Here is the folk song lyrics below (it is quite a shocking tale!):

‘Tis of a sea-captain

Down by the sea-side, O,

He’s courted a young lady,

And he’s got her by child.

“Go fetch your father’s gold

And some of your mother’s money,

And go all across the ocean,

All along with young Johnny.”

“I’ve brought my father’s gold

And some of my mother’s money,

And I’ll go all across the ocean,

All along with my Johnny.”

Now they had not been sailing,

No not miles a great many

Before she was delivered

Of a beautiful baby.

“Go and fetch a white napkin

For to tie my head easy,

And throw me right overboard –

Both me and my baby.”

Now see how she totters,

And see how she tumbles,

And see how she’s rolling

All across the salt waters.

“Go fetch me a longboat

For to row my love back again,

For to row my true love back again,

Both her and her baby.”

“For she shall have a coffin,

And the coffin it shall shine yellow,

And she shall be buried

On the banks of green willow.”

So as you can see, the tale of this story is not a nice one at all, however Butterworth seems to focus on the main idea of The Banks of Green Willow, which becomes the resting place of the young woman and her baby.

The work is in A major and is incredibly short, with it lasting about 6 minutes. The piece begins with a solo clarinet, which plays a dotted rhythm melody, which sets the pastoral scene of The Banks of Green Willow. The strings then shadow this theme, and create an incredibly idyllic, natural scene. Although the orchestra is only small, the emotive power they bring through Butterworth’s work is very impressive! This development section brings out all the wonderful musical colour of Butterworth’s theme. A new theme is then stated by the horns, which is warm, however once the strings enter, the mood is slightly more agitated. The oboe, however, changes this somewhat and brings us back to the pastoral. A to and fro musical dialogue between the winds and strings sees the two sides to this idyllic scene. The harp plays a glissando in the background, which leads us into the next development and recapitulation section. The brass and strings play a wonderfully romantic motif, which reaches a climax, and is then brought back down and slowly ‘watered down’. The flute then plays a delightful solo, with the harp as its only accompaniment, which contrasts the previous, much thicker sections. A solo violin then takes the motif and creates a variation of it, before the string ensemble return with a warm counter-melody. I find it’s incredibly easy to get lost within this work, as it is so quaint, yet so emotional. It is very clever how Butterworth creates so much emotion in only 6 minutes! The solo violin closes the piece with a wonderful solo in its top register, with the string ensemble ending on a very warm-sounding tonic chord of A major.

George Butterworth is an absolutely marvellous English composer, who was taken from us far too soon – who knows what other gems he would have composed! The Banks of Green Willow is a great example of a piece that evokes nature and the natural world around us. It is Butterworth’s most well-known and popular orchestral work and is still being recorded. I’m a massive fan of Butterworth as his songs are also wonderful (I will soon do blogs on some of these too!).

I do hope you have enjoyed this blog, I for one have really enjoyed reigniting my love for Butterworth through this blog. I am aiming to write blogs daily until my next challenge, so keep your eyes peeled for another blog tomorrow!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

Hans Zimmer ‘The Battle’ From Gladiator: A Bold Ending

Hello readers! It’s the last day of my August Alphabet Challenge *sobs* – I’ve done it! 26 brand-spanking new blogs written daily throughout August coinciding with the alphabet! That’s 26 NEW composers spanning from 1713 all the way to 2015 – what a journey it has been! I do hope you have enjoyed this challenge – watch this space as come September 1st I’ve got a new challenge for the blog. Until September 1st I will try to write blogs daily based on requests and works that didn’t quite make it into my AAC list. So to end this highly successful challenge (which I’m making an annual event now), I knew I needed to pick something triumphant and spectacular for Day Z. Of course, Z is a tricky letter, but I’m going to be writing about one of the most famous film composers of our time – Hans Zimmer! To end this challenge I will be looking into his orchestra score ‘The Battle’ from the fantastic film, Gladiator. So get ready for this adventurous journey – thanks for reading!

Hans Zimmer was born in Frankfurt, 1957, however in his early teens he moved to London. His mother was a musician, so he received piano lessons from a young age. Zimmer began his career in music by playing keyboard and synthesizer with the band Krakatoa. He is also known for working with, The Buggles. Zimmer, is most certainly best-known for his film scores however. From the 1980s onwards he began to collaborate with film directors and other film composers, most notably Stanley Myers. Whilst in the UK he also composed the theme song for the TV gameshow, Going for Gold. In 1988, Zimmer collaborated with director Barry Levinson, and he subsequently composed the music for the film, Rain Man. From the success of Rain Man, Zimmer was approached by a wealth of other directors to start writing film scores for their films. Perhaps most famously, Walt Disney Animation Studios approached Zimmer in 1993 to compose the score for the classic Disney movie, The Lion King. Zimmer won a plethora of awards for this score, including an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

From the mid-1990s Zimmer has composed scores for an incredibly long list of Hollywood blockbuster films, to name but a few:

Crimson Tide (1995)

Gladiator (2000)

Hannibal (2001)

The Last Samurai (2003)

Madagascar (2005)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Inception (2010)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Whilst composing these scores, Zimmer has worked with a handful of brilliant film composers such as Harry Gregson-Williams (perhaps best-known for his score for The Chronicles of Narnia), Steve Jablonsky (composer for the Transformers saga) and John Powell (composer of the score for How To Train Your Dragon). Most recently, Zimmer has composed the scores for the films, The Dark Knight Rises, 12 Years a Slave, Interstellar and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zimmer has won an outstanding amount of awards for his film scores including two Golden Globe Awards, four Grammy’s, four Satellite Awards and three Saturn Awards. Zimmer’s music is well-known and he has become a household name, especially when it comes to motion pictures.

Zimmer composed the music for Ridley Scott’s 2000 film, Gladiator, and it has become one of the staple scores within Zimmer’s career. The film stars Russell Crowe, Derek Jacobi and Connie Nielsen. The film centres around the character Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) and follows his journey through being a slave and seeking revenge on the corrupted Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). The film received mostly positive reviews. If you haven’t seen this film you absolutely must, it’s fantastic and a staple in my family home!

The track that I will be looking into is entitled ‘The Battle’ and as the title suggests, it is the background score for the first battle scene in the film. Like with a lot of Zimmer’s work, the music for Gladiator is very bold, strong and powerful. The score perfectly accompanies what is happening on-screen, and I feel that ‘The Battle’ is the best part of the score in the film. It is triumphant and tenacious and that is why it’s such a fantastic piece of music. If you’ve never seen Gladiator before, or you’ve not taken much notice of the score, I am sure you’ll love how dramatic the music really is!

The score begins with the horns playing the initial triumphant theme. The percussion section utilise the bass drums here to create a war-esque atmosphere. The strings are playing in their upper registers here also. The spanish guitar then plays a small interlude, which leads to a male voice, who sings an atonal line (with no lyrics). The guitar returns with the next breakdown theme. The orchestra play an aggressive stab, and the music begins to build up in texture. Interestingly, this piece has been compared to Holst’s Mars from the suite The Planets. The music starts building to a climax, which leads us into a variation of the breakdown theme. The trumpets lead this section, with a triumphant variation. The lower strings are particularly strong in this section and they build an unbreakable foundation for the horns above. The trumpets and horns then play an interlude section, which shadows previous themes. The texture here has dispersed dramatically, which adds tension. The general buzz and atmosphere then explodes into a lower brass theme. The very stable theme is emphasised here. The strings begin to play a march-like theme, which reflects the idea of war and the battle.

The use of extreme dynamics and textures is what makes this piece so very exciting! The march theme returns underneath the initial theme played by the horns and strings. The next section bursts out and we hear the next theme. Again, Zimmer has written for the horns to lead here, which gives such a pronounced character to the music. The stabs on various beats give the idea of people fighting. Soon after the texture and orchestration fluctuates somewhat, however the tenacious nature of the orchestra return in full power. The orchestra take a complete shift in feeling. We are left with just a string ensemble, which accompany a female soprano voice (in this case it is Lisa Gerrard). She sings a solemn melody, which give us a sense of the devastation left behind by the battle. It is a very poignant way to end such an exciting, yet vigorous piece of music.

Zimmer’s music is triumphant in so many ways, not least his ability to interweave music and film. I thought ‘The Battle’ was the perfect piece to end on for my August Alphabet Challenge as it is symbolises triumph, unity and excitement – all of which I’d to associate with this challenge. I would like to thank every single person who has read either 1, 6 or all 26 blogs within the challenge – without your constant support this site wouldn’t be half as successful as it is. Due to the success of the AAC, I am going to make it an annual event – every August the Alphabet Challenge shall return! In the meantime I shall be taking requests and writing blogs daily until September 1st, which is when I will start my BRAND SPANKING NEW CHALLENGE! That’s right you’ve read that correctly – I shall be undergoing a new challenge! It is not quite on the scale of this one, but it will run for the first two weeks of September and it is going to be called:

FEMALE FORTNIGHT 

That’s right, a whole two weeks dedicated to female composers, with blogs written daily to celebrate the female contribution to classical music! Exciting, right? Remember if you want me to write about a certain piece, let me know – you can contact me via the comments section on this blog, on my facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/classicalexburns/ OR on twitter @classicalexb OR even on my instagram page @classicalexburns 🙂

I’d like to dedicate my final Alphabet Challenge blog to my mum who is by far my biggest fan – I think she’s even kept up with these blogs daily! I hope you have enjoyed this challenge as much as me – thank you for always reading my blogs!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recordings:

This is the recording on the soundtrack.

This is the track used within the film.

 

 

Takashi Yoshimatsu ‘White Landscapes Op. 47a’: A Tranquil State of Mind

Good afternoon readers, here we are at the penultimate day of my August Alphabet Challenge – never fear though, a new challenge will be announced TOMORROW! But before that point, I must share with you my Y composer, who is Takashi Yoshimatsu. This blog will be on one of the cutest little suites of music ever – White Landscapes. It is a complete change from yesterday’s tempestuous work from Xenakis, so today you really can sit back and relax!

Takashi Yoshimatsu was born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan where he is known as one of Japan’s greatest Western classical composers. Interestingly, he did not learn music from a young age, in fact it wasn’t until his teens that he became interested in music at all. The symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven appealed a lot to Yoshimatsu in his mid-teens, which spurred him on to learn the keyboard and start to compose his own works. What I really like about Yoshimatsu is that he is a self-taught composer, and he helped himself by joining jazz and rock ensembles to further and better his style. He studied in the department of technology at Keio University, although he always kept music near the forefront of his life. His first work, Threnody to Toki was premiered in 1981 and received very positive reviews (it’s a fantastic work, check it out!). Since then he has written 6 symphonies, 10 concertos and a wealth of other orchestral and chamber works. His style is described in a free neo-romantic style, which centres around atonality. Yoshimatsu draws a lot of influences from jazz, rock and Japanese classical music. Yoshimatsu is also known for his writings on music and musicology essays. He is also a keen artist, which definitely explains some of his music. I find his style incredibly simple, yet very effective at the same time.

White Landscapes was composed in 1991, and sadly there is barely any information on it at all. So I will try my best to analyse this. The piece is scored for flute, cello, harp and string orchestra. The work is in three movements:

I. Divination by Snow (Adagio)

II. Stillness in Snow (Moderato)

III. Disappearance of Snow (Largo)

Just by the titles of these movements there are some interesting facts we can decipher. Firstly, the title gives this away a bit, but these titles emphasise the idea of snow and weather being a crucial theme within the work. This means that nature is also at the heart of piece, which can be heard in the music (I will discuss this in the analysis section). Secondly, the three tempo markings for the movements are all slow, which means there is no conventional fast-slow-fast framework. It’s essentially slow-slightly faster but still slow-very slow. Now I am a sucker for a good adagio or largo movement in a large-scale work, so when I came across this work and realised it was all slow I was incredibly interested. The calmness of the atmosphere is certainly emphasised by the slow tempos that are directed by Yoshimatsu.

So if we pick apart these titles, the first: Divination by Snow, perhaps is foreseeing what is coming, maybe a cold winter? Or, the way I’d like to imagine it, is that Yoshimatsu is looking out of his window as he tries to compose, snow is falling and he himself is thinking about what is going to happen to the natural land. The second, Stillness in Snow, is more contemplative and retrospective perhaps. I think Yoshimatsu is actually appreciating the snow here, seeing it as less of a nuisance and more of a blessing. Finally the third, Disappearance of Snow, is more self-explanatory, as the snow melts away, Yoshimatsu thinks about how its affected the natural world around him. I find the connectives interesting, going through ‘by’, ‘in’ and ‘of’ snow, making it a multi-dimensional thing. Of course this is just my interpretation of the titles as there is nowhere that says otherwise. Interpretation is good for your creative mind, so I would love to know what you think of the titles! Lets move on to the main event: the music!

I. Divination by Snow 

The first movement is around 4 minutes in length, and is absolutely stunning. It begins with the flute playing very quietly and growing into the F# it is playing. In the second bar the harp enters with a counter-melody, which the flute answers with a sextuplet which leads to a note bend. I see this note bend as a sign of wind, or a change in direction in which the snow is falling. The string orchestra act as an accompaniment underneath. The texture is very sparse and the next section sees the cello double with the flute with a beautiful counter-melody. Fast sextuplets are used to create texture in and around the more sparse sections. If you imagine snow falling to this music you’ll completely get what Yoshimatsu is doing here. The metre changes from 3/4 to 5/8, which gives it a rocking compound time feel. If any kind of quaint dissonance is heard, it is soon resolved. The adagio section (C), is in 6/8 and the harp plays a wonderful scalic pattern, with the flute and cello playing different simple melodies, that just seem to fit together. This section is the fastest of this movement. The 5/8 motif returns again, though this time on harp alone. The harp is usually used to modulate back to the tonic chords and release any tension. A wonderful 6/4 section begins, with the cello playing a variation of the main melody. The flute then shadows this and the motif is passed between the two ‘soloists’. The string orchestra and harp play long chords, which feel quite static, like Yoshimatsu is looking around at the natural land. The 5/8 sections returns, and is repeated first loudly, and the second time very quietly. The movement ends on the resolved chord played by the whole ensemble.

II. Stillness in Snow 

The second movement is the fastest of all three sections, however the tempo is still very slow. The strings ensemble play a static chord progression, with the harp playing the moving part within the accompaniment. On top of this, the cello is playing the very simple, but very pretty solo. I feel this movement is about the enjoyment of the snow now that it has fallen. The metre changes a lot between different compound times, although this is not always obvious. The flute then plays a variation of the solo, which leads us back into the cello solo and a reprise of the introduction. The metre goes back into a simple 3/4 and the flute has the moving part now. The texture becomes thicker and the whole ensemble have a moving part and the two soloist double each other with the main theme and variations are also heard. The 3/4 section returns, with the cello now playing the moving part. The flute then plays in its lower register on chord changes. The movement ends with a magical glissando by the harp.

III. Disappearance of Snow

The third and final movement of this mini suite is perhaps my favourite of them all. Marked Largo, this movement is definitely the slowest. It begins with the harp on its own, playing a simple melody based around an arpeggiated motif. The snow is melting and leaving the world at this point. The nervous and quiet nature is ever so beautiful here. I feel a certain sadness within this movement, like Yoshimatsu does not want this snow to leave now. After this, the string ensemble and cello enter, with the harp repeating the introductory pattern. The flute enters with a semiquaver and triplet pattern, which perfectly embellishes the rest of the ensemble. The work ends with every instrument holding a tied note except for the harp, which then plays one more quaver arpeggio before ending the piece.

The simple repeated motifs and quiet nature of Yoshimatsu’s music makes it just the easiest thing to listen to. I think his music is very touching and an absolute joy to the ears. It’s calm, yet it bears deeper messages of hope and sadness. White Landscapes is a wonderful work which I urge you to listen to – it’s only about 9 minutes long! It is so very pretty and pushes you to make you own creative interpretations. I often sit and listen to Yoshimatsu when I feel stressed or even sad, and his music always makes me feel better within myself. A fantastic Japanese gem of a composer – enjoy! Sadly, this is the penultimate day of my August Alphabet Challenge, so tomorrow is of course…day Z! Make sure you look out for the Z blog as it’ll be a corker! Some more exciting announcements will be shared with you all soon too, so watch this space!

I would like to dedicate this blog to someone who I love and admire very much – Olivia Doust. She has a beautiful soul, just like this work. I hope you love this work just as much as I do Liv – much love chica x

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

 

 

 

 

Iannis Xenakis ‘Jonchaies’: An Orchestral Cacophony

Good day, classical music lovers! Welcome back and thank you for joining me on Day X of the August Alphabet Challenge! Today’s letter was notoriously difficult to choose, and I have decided to look into the 20th Century work Jonchaies by Greek-French composer, Iannis Xenakis. Now I would tell you to sit back and relax, but I’ll be honest with you – this piece will have you on the edge of your seat! So prepare yourself for this adventurous journey!

Iannis Xenakis was born in Romania in 1922. His family was Greek in heritage and both his mother and father were interested in music. His mother especially helped Xenakis learn to appreciate traditional music, so when she died when he was 5 he was left incredibly traumatized. After this he continued his studies at a boarding school in Greece. He sung in the boys choir and was also taught Greek traditional and sacred music here. In 1938 he graduated and subsequently moved to Athens to prepare for his entrance exams to study at the National Technical University of Athens. He successfully passed the exams in 1940 (albeit to study architecture and engineering), however he still took lessons in harmony and counterpoint. His studies were cut short though due to the Greco-Italian War, which broke out in the latter half of 1940. Xenakis joined the National Liberation Front at the start of the war, where he acted in protests and demonstrations. In 1944, Xenakis was involved in street fighting against British tanks and was seriously wounded when a shell hit his face. In all honesty it was a complete miracle that he even survived the hit as it left him permanently scarred, and with only one eye.

The university that Xenakis attended was open intermittently during the war, so by 1947, Xenakis was able to graduate with a degree in civil engineering. However, in 1947 the Greek government began arresting those who were a part of the resistance (which included Xenakis). Fearing for his place in society, he fled the country and went into hiding in Italy and the France. Although an illegal immigrant in Paris, Xenakis was able to get a job in an architectural studio. He worked on many important large-scale projects whilst there. In his spare time, Xenakis would be learning more about harmony and composition, and some of his earliest works started to surface. He often used architectural concepts to help inspire him to compose, with works such as Metastaseis B being based on architecture. It has been researched that Xenakis worked through the night to improve on his style and he approached a menagerie of different teachers to help him, although most turned him away due to his ‘unenthusiastic’ music. Things were looking down for Xenakis, until he met Olivier Messiaen, who took him on as a student. Xenakis was inspired by Greek folk melodies, as well as composers such as Ravel. He then began showing interest in serialism whilst studying with Messiaen, which allowed him to explore contemporary music in more detail. It can be seen, and most certainly heard, that Xenakis’ music is largely based on mathematic formulas and complex rhythmic structures.

By 1959, Xenakis had made a name for himself within the music circle, and was starting to be seen as an important figure. Xenakis was also a top researcher in the field of computer-assisted composition, and he became a visiting lecturer at many different universities around the world. He taught composition throughout his lifetime, whilst still composing and developing his own contemporary style. By the late 1990s however, his health began to worsen and by 1997, he was unable to work. In 1999 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize “for a long succession of forceful works, charged with sensitivity, commitment and passion, through which he has come to rank among the most central composers of our century in the realm of art music.” In 2001, Xenakis lapsed into a coma and died four days later on 4th February, aged 78.

Xenakis’ music is based a lot on the outcome of sound through algorithms and other formulaic means. Thus a lot of his compositions can be analysed through successions of sonorities. Due to his education, Xenakis has been known to be a ‘sound sculptor’ which means he composes and builds on different sounds.

Jonchaies was composed in 1977, alongside another one of Xenakis’ compositions, La Légende D’eer. The latter is a composition which is  comprised of 7 tracks of electroacoustic tapes, and Jonchaies is scored for a large orchestra (specifically 109 musicians). The work is huge and lasts for about 15 minutes when played through. The work is loosely based around a single scale, which can be attributed to the likes of the Indonesian pelog scale (which is used extensively in gamelan music). The work uses a wealth of different extended techniques and unconventional rhythmic patterns, which makes it resonate that of it serialism influences. I will try my very best to give you a walk-through of the work, but it is an incredibly complex and difficult work to completely understand!

The work begins with a glissando from the strings, which slowly dies away. This leads into a very Psycho-esque hammering of the upper register in the strings. A whirling feel is then heard and the piercing strings begin play a long, monolithic evolution of sound. This is where the scale comes in, as it is used for colour, rather than pitch. Nearly every entry is irregular and the strings start moving apart until there are around 18 different string parts. It has been suggested that these kind of sounds are what it sounds like in hell (how lovely!). The pitch becomes lower and lower, with the timpani enhancing and emphasising the shift. There is a clear inner progressive evolution of sound, and throughout the whole work it unravels and becomes a single sound. The sounds you will hear are not melodic, but rhythmic (yes really) and they have all been placed there purposefully, following a graph that Xenakis created. This scale is used on the graph and then transferred onto the instruments, which makes pitch an unnecessary factor. Instead the scale is maintained as a colour and is explored in a linear manner (with the use of irregular lines etc).

About 3:45 into the work, the lower strings play a small passage which is based on a minor 2nd. The percussion add to the ever-building tension and begin playing a very irregular rhythmic cell, with the bass drum, cymbals and timpani being at the forefront. The tempo fluctuates which leaves no drive or steady tempo. The upper strings continue their suspended lines above, whilst the percussion and piccolo flute play syncopated stabs on irregular beats. Someone said to me once this section feels a little “like the music from Jaws” and you can certainly hear that kind of sound here. The music begins to tense up even more, with the strings spreading out into their higher register, leaving the percussion, brass and flutes to play the more colourful notes. My favourite description of this music is “giant sound aura” which I think successfully depicts the mad sound that is happening. The percussion begin a rhythm pattern that is much more conventional, which gives the drive back to the music. Offbeats are also utilised a lot within this section of the piece.

Dynamics are also used in abundance to create different emotions throughout the work. From extreme loudness to extreme quietness, this piece absolutely knows how to make someone feel on edge! The brass then take over and play another irregular rhythm (see a pattern forming?). It sounds nearly like to and fro offbeats, although this is not completely accurate. The temporal evolution of the sound is highlighted again, when the strings return in abundance and with determination. You can hear the brass start going absolutely mental, with pitch bending and over-blowing being a main technique. It genuinely sounds like elephants! The trumpets also use the shake to create these sounds, which they soon do when they quickly put their straight mutes in (same with the horns too). Looking at this from a conventional point of view, this next section is kind of fugue-like, although this is probably disputed! However, the layering of the brass here is very fugue-like and the rings from the tam-tam creates a very loud and destructive tone to the music. This is carried on by the lower drums such as the tom-tom.

The strings make their way up the scale slowly again, with the percussion playing in the background. The dynamic goes to extremely quiet and then fluctuates a little, creating a buzzing sound within the strings. The horns play another ‘ripping’ statement, which brings the tam-tam, brass and winds together into an amalgamation of noise. The piccolo and tuned percussion play a twinkly line, which is rather disturbing (like something from a horror movie!). At the end you just have the two piccolo flutes playing in dissonance, until they blend out. It has been suggested that the Jonchaies has exploded by this point, and the top register of the piccolo flutes is all that remains – its energy has been compressed into a single piercing screech.

Jonchaies is a single continuous movement, however you can hear a set of miniatures inside of it which explore oscillating orchestral timbres. Each textural idea that Xenakis uses is there to intensify the sound sculpture that he is creating. So from the aggressive strings to the drunken brass glissandos, this work is incredibly physical and exaggerated. Jonchaies is jammed packed full of drama, which propels it past the idea of it just being a mathematical concept of sound. The opposing sections within the orchestra clash and have thunderous consequences throughout the piece. From the stoicism of the strings, to the crashing of the percussion, the piece is completely enthralling. This tempestuous piece will not be for everyone – its only by doing this blog I have come to properly appreciate this work. Good luck with it I say! It is the penultimate day of the August Alphabet Challenge tomorrow *cries* so come back and see what Day Y has in store for us!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

Judith Weir ‘Stars, Night, Music and Light’: A Modest Opening

Happy Tuesday readers – welcome back! We have come to day W in the August Alphabet Challenge, and what a treat I have for you today – Judith Weir’s wonderful work for chorus and orchestra: Stars, Night, Music and Light. I’ve picked this particular piece today because looking back at my musical alphabet thus far, I have only done one other piece that features voice, so I think it’s high time that this changes. Judith Weir is a fantastic composer, whose work is innovative, yet somehow familiar in various ways. So I do hope you can revel in the treasures that Judith Weir can offer us!

Judith Weir was born in 1954 in Cambridge, and at a young age she began learning the oboe. Weir in her youth performed regularly with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. She studied composition whilst at school with none other than John Tavener. From here she then earned her place at Cambridge University, where she continued her composition studies. After she graduated she became heavily involved in music education in both the south of England and then Scotland. During this period she still composed, and it was mainly operas that allowed her to make a name for herself within the classical music world. During the 1990s she became the resident composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and it was at this time she wrote much more orchestral-based pieces. She also experimented by combining chorus and orchestra in many of her works.

During her lifetime thus far, Weir has been commissioned to write for some of the most professional orchestras and chorus’ in the world. She has also worked with notable conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle. Weir has travelled to the USA to work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1995 she received her CBE and then in 2007 the Queen’s Medal for Music. 2014 saw Weir appointed as Master of The Queen’s Music (after the wonderful, Peter Maxwell Davies). She now lives in London and is a visiting professor at Princeton, Harvard and Cardiff universities. She was also appointed as Associate Composer to the BBC singers in 2015 (so in short, Judith Weir is an absolute boss).

Stars, Night, Music and Light was commissioned for BBC Radio 3 in 2011 and was the opening work for the 2011 BBC Proms ceremony. The piece is for chorus and orchestra, and is absolutely sublime in my opinion. The text is taken from George Herbert’s evocative poem, Man. Weir takes 3 lines from the sixth stanza of the poem, and bases the work on those particular words. Below the full poem, the bold text represents what Weir has used within the work.

My God, I heard this day

That none doth build a stately habitation

But he that means to dwell therein.

What house more stately hath there been,

Or can be, than is man, to whose creation

All things are in decay?

For man is ev’ry thing,

And more: he is a tree, yet bears more fruit;

A beast, yet is, or should be, more;

Reason and speech we only bring;

Parrots may thank us if they are not mute,

They go upon the score.

Man is all symmetry,

Full of proportions, one limb to another,

And all to all the world besides;

Each part may call the furthest brother,

For head with foot hath private amity,

And both with moons and tides.

Nothing hath got so far

But man hath caught and kept it as his prey;

His eyes dismount the highest star;

He is in little all the sphere;

Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they

Find their acquaintance there.

For us the winds do blow,

The earth doth rest, heav’n move, and fountains flow.

Nothing we see but means our good,

As our delight, or as our treasure;

The whole is either our cupboard of food,

Or cabinet of pleasure.

The stars have us to bed;

Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;

Music and light attend our head;

All things unto our flesh are kind

In their descent and being; to our mind

In their ascent and cause.

Each thing is full of duty;

Waters united are our navigation;

Distinguished, our habitation;

Below, our drink; above our meat;

Both are our cleanliness. Hath one such beauty?

Then how are all things neat!

More servants wait on man

Than he’ll take notice of; in ev’ry path

He treads down that which doth befriend him,

When sickness makes him pale and wan.

Oh mighty love! Man is one world, and hath

Another to attend him.

Since then, my God, thou hast

So brave a palace built, O dwell in it,

That it may dwell with thee at last!

Till then, afford us so much wit,

That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,

And both thy servants be.

I personally feel that the poem shows us, through philosophic thoughts, that humans are the supreme purpose of the creation of the universe. The poem uses traditional Christian perspectives on the relationships between humankind, nature and the God who created both of these things. It has been suggested that the poem echoes the sentiments from Psalm 8. Weir has picked three very simple lines, but she has most certainly composed for the occasion!

The piece begins with a bold timpani roll, which leads us into a textural layering of the whole brass section. This amounts to a brilliant fanfare-like proclamation, before everything begins to die away, ready for the chorus to enter. The long and smooth lines from the chorus is interjected at times by the trumpet, however this sentimental feel from the chorus never falters. There is also an interlude from the organ, which gives a really lovely timbre within the orchestra. The chorus and orchestra then play a phrase all together, which creates unity and a really strong single voice (no pun intended). The line “music and light” is repeated, which gives a sense of importance. The timpani plays a roll again, which leads to a swelling of the brass and this quite bizarre organ phrase, which is made up of a two-note phrase. The brass and organ are in musical dialogue underneath the singers. The constant repetition of ‘Music and Light’ really gives it a sense of direction and like the chorus are heading towards a light. An orchestral interlude is heard, before a slow build-up to the climax of the piece, which is led by the brass. The piece ends with the organ playing a strong tonic chord. Weir’s extensive use of trumpet, timpani, organ and chorus makes this work a perfect fit for the opening ceremony of the BBC Proms. Its simple, yet completely effective in its message. Weir’s style here is modest, and does lean more towards the traditional side of classical music.

This work is not the most energetic, but I think that’s why it’s incredibly effective. It seems that at times the orchestra try to gain some momentum, but because the chorus sing these repeating lines, which are naturally very smooth, the pace is held back somewhat. I very much like Weir’s compositional style, she is certainly a force to be reckoned with! I hope you have enjoyed today’s choice – I find this piece so very refreshing and beautiful! Tomorrow is day X (dear lord) so make sure you look out for what it might be!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

This is the 2011 premiere – skip to about 2 minutes in to hear the piece!

Ralph Vaughan Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’: A Dreamy Songbird

Good day, dearest readers! I cannot believe we are in the home stretch now of my August Alphabet challenge – only 5 blogs left to go! It’s day V and there’s a composer who I’ve wanted to look into for a while now and that’s the undeniable force of – Vaughan Williams! I’ve been asked now on multiple occasions to look into one of his most loved works – The Lark Ascending. So here we go readers, I hope you enjoy this work!

Ralph Vaughan Williams on October 12th, 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire. His father, Arthys Vaughan Williams, died suddenly in 1875, and Ralph and his siblings were taken care of by his widow and their nurse. When Vaughan Williams turned 5, he started receiving piano lessons from his aunt. His talent for music was spotted very quickly – in the same year he composed his first piece called, “The Robin’s Nest” which was four bars long and for solo piano. Interestingly, he didn’t like the piano, so the coming year he began taking violin lessons. Amazingly, he completed the correspondence music course at Edinburgh University in 1880 (when he was 8) and passed. Vaughan Williams went to both a prep school in Rottingdean and a public school in his younger years. While there his musical abilities were challenged and encouraged to develop. While at public school, Vaughan Williams realised that religion actually didn’t mean anything to him, and he became an atheist (although he continued to attend church to avoid upsetting his family).

In 1890, Vaughan Williams enrolled at the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Hubert Parry. This was not the route his family wanted for him though, as they did not believe he was talented enough to make it as a composer. They ideally wanted him to stay at Charterhouse for another two years so that he could enrol at Cambridge University and gain a ‘proper education.’ So in 1892, he temporarily left RCM and entered Trinity College, Cambridge and studied history and music for three years. Vaughan Williams still received composition lessons from Parry during this time. However, when he returned to RCM in 1894, Parry had left the college, and Charles Villiers Stanford became his new composition tutor. The relationship between Vaughan Williams and Standford was turbulent – they had very different ideas of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music. Whilst at RCM, Vaughan Williams met Gustav Holst, and they became the best of friends for the rest of their days.

In his early career, Vaughan Williams worked with various choirs as an organist, and also worked with famous teachers to excel his violin technique, such as with Max Bruch. In 1899, he passed the exam for the degree of Doctor of Music at Cambridge and he was conferred in 1901. Vaughan Williams was very involved in music journalism as well as composition, and many of his writings were published. The works that were composed in this time were not his most popular, however his Norfolk Rhapsody No.1 is pretty great! After not being happy with his compositional techniques, he sought to be taught by Sir Edward Elgar, though was unsuccessful. Instead he began working alongside Maurice Ravel. Whilst working in Paris with Ravel, his style changed somewhat and his textures became lighter and his music more poignant. It was this time when he wrote his wonderful orchestral work – A Sea Symphony. When World War I broke out, Vaughan Williams was on the rise in Britain as a household name within classical music. Between 1910 and 1915 he composed some of his most famous works such as – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), A London Symphony (1914) and The Lark Ascending (1914).

In 1914, despite him being an older man (42), he volunteered for military service on the outbreak of WW1. He drove ambulance wagons in France and Greece during his service. The war left an emotional stain on Vaughan Williams, as he lost a lot of his comrades, including the young composer, George Butterworth. In 1917 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Tragically, the continual loud sounds and gun shots slowly destroyed his hearing, leaving him deaf in his later years. After the war, Vaughan Williams took some time to adjust back to civilian life before composing again. During the 1920s, Vaughan Williams’ wife became immobilised by arthritis, so they moved from London to Dorking. Here, Vaughan Williams composed more music, such as his opera Sir John in Love. During the 1930s Vaughan Williams was regarded as a leading figure in British music. In 1934, Holst died, which was a significant blow for Vaughan Williams, as they were such good friends. This decade saw some of the composer’s most aggressive works, which may have come as a direct result from his depression due to the loss of Holst. His Fourth Symphony is a prime example of this.

A distinctive aspect of Vaughan Williams’ catalogue of compositions is the wide variety of different kinds of music. He composed operas, symphonies, songs, film scores and choral works to name but a few genres. Vaughan Williams composed throughout the rest of his life until his sudden death in 1958. His influences within British classical music are still prevalent today and his techniques and style in his lifetime were seen as revolutionary.

The Lark Ascending is based on George Meredith’s poem by the same name. It is written in rhyming tetrameter and is in two long continuous sections. The poem is about a skylark and his song, and it has a very pastoral feeling about it. The poem is rather long, but I feel its important to include it within the blog so you can see where the music is originating from, so the poem is going to be situated at the bottom of this blog, below the recommended recordings.

The Lark Ascending was originally composed for solo violin and piano, however, Vaughan Williams was not happy with the outcome, and soon he orchestrated for solo violin and orchestra (which received its premiere in 1921). The work is largely based on both Vaughan Williams’ reading of Meredith’s poem and English folk song. It was first a Romance for Violin and Piano. The Lark Ascending is a prime example of English landscape painting within music. With Vaughan Williams’ smooth pastoral writing, this work exploits the joy of nature and the life of the lark.

The piece begins with warm modal chords by the ensemble (without the soloist), I think, by looking at the score that they’re based around Dorian on E, as the E pedal below is very pertinent. This is a very impressionist thing to do, which shows Ravel’s input on Vaughan Williams’ compositional style. These chords lead into a solo cadence segment, which is based around a fast trill-like figure from the solo violin. Opening the piece with this is very interesting and at the time it was very unique. This solo segment represents the lark its song. There are fast passages consisting of scalic runs, which creates intensity. The pedal plays throughout from the lower strings. The violin plays in an incredibly high register, which is when the pedal drops out and you are literally being held on by the wonderful luscious sound of the soloist. The orchestra return after some time, with their modal progressions below the soloist, who is playing a wealth of small variations based on the initial ‘song theme.’ The sound is very warm and this opening section is perhaps the most famous of the whole work. The musical dialogue between the soloist and orchestra interesting as it seems that the lark (the soloist) is talking to the world (the orchestra) about the joys of nature. The orchestra play a more climactic section, which leads to some neat double stopping by the soloist. Vaughan Williams has a wonderful stylistic feature of highlighting different instruments within an ensemble, for me the cor anglais, horn, bassoon and cellos are highlighted and emphasised brilliantly in this work.

The opening solo cadence returns once more, which acts as a transition into the next section of the work. The next section is slightly more upbeat in tempo – with it bearing obvious ties with folk song. It is introduced by a bouncy theme by the orchestra, and then is answered by the soloist. This new theme is taken and passed around the ensemble, which creates a sense of unity and harmony (no pun intended!) within the orchestra. The soloist then plays a set of trills, which is accompanied by the triangle. Certain instruments then enter one by one, creating a fugue-like section based around the soloist. This new texture is very light and the variation of this theme leads to a climax section which dies away very quickly. The atmosphere is still very friendly and the music is incredibly easy to listen to. The solo violin and clarinet have a musical conversation, which leads into another developmental section. The woody timbre of the clarinet serves as a nice foundation for the brighter sound that is made on the violin.

The solo cadence section is repeated, although this time slightly varied. The use of double stopping in the solo part creates a much more exciting texture within the ensemble. All of the previous themes heard all return and are developed to their full potential in this section. This music can so easily take you away to another realm, and before you know it you’ve listened to this work for 11:30 minutes! Carrying on, the solo violin uses a lot of vibrato, which creates dimension and density within the timbre. The orchestra die away slowly to a quaint pp dynamic, which leads to the solo cadence returning for the final time. The orchestra drop out and it is just the soloist now. The lark is singing its final song of the day, what a delight. The use of modes and the pentatonic scale within these cadences are just mesmerizing to hear. A variation of the theme can be heard, and you are literally being held on with anticipation by this dainty solo violin. The piece ends with the soloist in its top range, slowly dying away. I find this ending absolutely magnificent and incredibly beautiful.

The Lark Ascending is set out in a complex triparte system – A-B-A*-Coda. However, the use of the returning solo cadence section makes it quite easy to hear when the next section starts. The Lark Ascending is such a wonderful piece of music, and is a favourite with a lot of people! An expressive work which embodies the idea of nature and the lark itself. The impressionist nature of the solo part gives the violin a pathway away from a strong tonal centre, which is why it sounds so dreamy. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and the equally as wonderful piece – I am glad to have finally written about it! Watch this space to see what day W has in store for us tomorrow!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,         5
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,         10
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,         15
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her musci’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air         20
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d,
Impell’d by what his happy bill         25
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renew’d in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,         30
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright         35
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,         40
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives         45
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,         50
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,         55
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him rais’d,
Puts on the light of children prais’d,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,         60
Though nought be promis’d from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.
For singing till his heaven fills,         65
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:         70
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labor in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;         75
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,         80
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.
Was never voice of ours could say         85
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink:
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,         90
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns         95
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.
Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,         100
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,         105
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve and pass reward,         110
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,         115
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,         120
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

 

 

Jay Ungar ‘Ashokan Farewell’: For the Most Precious Girl

Hello readers, welcome to day U of the August Alphabet Challenge. Today’s blog is going differ from all the others as this is a tribute post for someone who taken from us far too soon – our Bryony. One year today since this beautiful girl was tragically killed by a driver on both drink and drugs. I thought it very apt that today’s post lands on U, where I can talk about Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell. Life is incredibly precious, and it’s important to remember how fragile we really are. So I hope some of you can find comfort in this piece if you’re also remembering Bry today, and if not I hope you can also enjoy this wonderful piece of music.

Jay Ungar was born in 1946 in the Bronx. He is primarily known as a folk musician and composer and he is certainly best-known for his lament, Ashokan Farewell. Ungar married fellow folk musician, Molly Mason in 1991, where they continue to still write and perform together. They perform with their band, Swingology and popular folk-rock band, The Mammals.

Ashokan Farewell was named after a town under the same name. The purpose was also for a camp named after the town, which is up in the Catskill Mountains, New York. There both Ungar and Mason have run their Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps for families, which began in 1980. Ungar has written that he composed Ashokan Farewell in 1982, when the Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps had come to an end for the season. Ungar say this about the composition process of the work:

“I was feeling a great sense of loss and longing for the music, the dancing and the community of peopple that had developed at Ashokan that summer. I was having trouble making the transition from a secluded woodland camp with a small group of people who needed little excuse to celebrate the joy of living, back to life as usual, with traffic, newscasts, telephones and impersonal relationships. By the time the tune took form, I was in tears, I kept it to myself for months, unable to fully understand the emotions that welled up whenever I played it. I had no idea that this simple tune could affect others in the same way.”

The piece now serves as a goodnight or a ‘farewell’ at the end of the seasonal camps. The work is also famous for its appearance in the television series, The Civil War. Due to this Ashokan Farewell is also sometimes thought of as a Civil War tune. The work is most-famously known as an instrumental (which is what this blog will be discussing), however there is a version with lyrics and below are the words which give a sense of what this music is all about:

The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan.

The pines and the willows know soon we will part.

There’s a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken,

And a love that will always remain in my heart.

 

My thoughts will return to the sound of your laughter,

The magic of moving as one,

And a time we’ll remember long ever after

The moonlight and music and dancing are done.

 

Will we climb the hills once more?

Will we walk the woods together?

Will I feel you holding me close once again?

Will every song we’ve sung stay with us forever?

Will you dance in my dreams or my arms until then?

 

Under the moon the mountains lie sleeping

Over the lake the stars shine.

They wonder if you and I will be keeping

The magic and music, or leave them behind.

 

There are two famous instrumental versions of Ashokan Farewell. The first is with a solo fiddle, guitar and double bass, with the solo fiddle beginning the piece alone. The second features Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family band, which uses a solo fiddle, a second fiddle, guitar and banjo (the piece still has the same layout structurally).

The piece begins with the solo fiddle playing a slow waltz around the key of D major, which is in the style of a Scottish lament (and this stylistic feature carries through the whole piece). Now because this is folk music, not one recording is the same due to interpretation, so I am going to talk musically about the family band version which I will link at the bottom of the blog. I find that this opening statement from the solo fiddle gives us vivid images of what Ashokan is like as a place, the weather that graces that land and the kind of people who go there. I find the melody incredibly kind and sorrowful, yet still full of hope. After this solo, the guitar joins the solo fiddle with a chordal accompaniment, which shadows the basic harmonic progression of the soloist. Once this is established, the banjo and second fiddle join, which creates a warm atmosphere. The solo fiddle soars over the top with the introductory melody. This then drops out to let the guitar take a solo which is based on the Ashokan melody. There is a moment when the guitar and solo fiddle come together and play the melody together, which creates unity and peace within the work (which is exactly the point of the composition!). Both fiddles then play the melody together, with the guitar and banjo acting as accompanying instruments. There is a beautiful section that slows down slightly, where the instruments of the band come together on a tonic chord and the piece ends quietly.

Although short, this piece is incredibly powerful and I could honestly listen to that one melody all day. Ashokan Farewell has become one of the most famous folk tunes to play, and has been arranged for a wealth of different ensembles, however my favourite is definitely by the Family Band.

Whilst writing this blog I found one stanza from the lyrics incredibly poignant considering what today means to a lot of people:

My thoughts will return to the sound of your laughter,

The magic of moving as one,

And a time we’ll remember long ever after

The moonlight and music and dancing are done.

 

Bry was loved by everyone, bringing laughter, happiness and vibrancy to whatever she put her mind to. She was an incredible horn player (though she never believed that!) and she absolutely adored music and the joy it can bring. So this is why this is for her, because she loved music, and found comfort in playing/listening/learning about music. I cannot believe it has already been a year, because not one day goes by where I don’t think about her and the times we spent together. She inspires me to keep going everyday, and reminds me how important it is that life must keep going. I love you fiercely and forever, Bryony – I’m sure our paths will cross again, and when they do I will make sure I have my trumpet with me so we can have a play! This farewell is only temporary.

 

Recommended Recording:

Giuseppe Tartini ‘Devil’s Trill Violin Sonata’: A Dare Devil of a Composer!

Good day readers, I hope you are all well and are enjoying the weekend! We’ve come to day T in the August Alphabet Challenge, and I think it’s high time we go back in time considerably and place ourselves in the 18th Century. Today’s blog is on Giuseppe Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Violin Sonata, which is a fantastically complex work for solo violin and continuo, which I am sure you will find just as stimulating and thrilling as I do.

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) was a Venetian violinist and composer. Born in Piran, Tartini was a part of an old aristocratic family. His parent’s had intended him to become a friar, which is why he received the musical training that he did from a young age. However, Tartini studied law at the University of Padua. Whilst he was in Assisi, he went to the monastery of St. Francis, where he took up the violin. Tartini took his violin playing very seriously, and supposedly he locked himself away to study the bow and the instrument so he could understand the capabilities of the instrument. Tartini worked as Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Paruda, which allowed him to travel to different institutions and work with various composers and ensembles. Tartini is the first known owner of a violin made by Antonio Stradivari (c.1715). After perfecting his technique and knowledge, Tartini started his own violin school, which was successful around Europe. Tartini died in 1770, and there is a statue of him in his home town of Piran.

Nearly all of Tartini’s work is for violin (c.135 works!) and these include concertos and sonatas. By far his most famous in the modern-day is his Devil’s Trill Sonata, which is what this blog is based on. According to Tartini, Devil’s Trill Sonata was composed in 1713, however, it was not published until the very-late 1790’s – more than 30 years after Tartini’s death. Tartini claims that the reason behind this work was that he had a dream that the Devil appeared to him and asked to be Tartini’s servant. He explains the story in full:

“One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to keep, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the “Devil’s Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.”

This particular sonata seems to be popular due to a myriad of factors: the technical demand of the music, the programmatic background and its musical tenacity. The technical demand needed for particular parts of the sonata are difficult even in today’s violin playing, so at the time it seemed that Tartini was way ahead of his time musically. The work runs for about 15 minutes and is broken down into 4 movements:

I. Larghetto affettuoso 

II. Allegro moderato 

III. Andante 

IV. Allegro assai – Andante – Allegro assai 

The sonata is based around G minor and Bb major, with the major key brightening the melody and the minor darkening it. The difference of shading between the keys colours the music and keeps the pace going. There are no transition sections, but instead the new key is just stated with a reprise of a theme, and then taken from there. Tartini uses lots of intriguing techniques throughout all the movements of this sonata, so by breaking down the music we will be able to understand it in a much clearer way.

I. Larghetto affettuoso 

The first movement is in a slow 12/8, which is accented with Tartini’s use of dotted rhythms. There is a feeling of repressed sorrow within this movement, and Tartini has exploited the melodic expression to fit the slow, mournful nature of this movement. There is a sense of dreaminess too, and the slow tempo of this movement emphasises this. It opens with a phrase in G minor, which essentially is there to introduce the next key of Bb major, which, when it takes over, creates a ray of sunshine within the movement. The range written is around the middle for the violin – so very comfortable. There is a lot of step motion in the melody and there is an abundance of legato phrasing. This movement has become a staple within violin repertoire.

II. Allegro moderato 

The second movement is a type of moto perpetuo, which brings more energy and drama than the previous movement. It’s in duple metre and is very brisk, with fast leaps and a constant drive within the melody. This movement is much more idiomatic than the previous and the technical demand is much more forceful. With difficult string crossings and bowing patterns, this movement is much more ambitious. Tartini uses lots of different embellishments within the work to create colour and a variation on rhythm. His trills are especially prevalent within this movement. He uses short trills to make the music sharp and concise. The excitement within this movement is then broken down by the next movement, which brings a much slower tempo back.

III. Andante

The andante is incredibly brief and lyrical, which sets us up for the fiery Allegro that comes after. The andante acts as part of the fourth movement, and at times it has been suggested that there are actually only three movements of this sonata. This andante is cantabile in style and uses the mid-upper range of the violin. There is some ornamentation used again within this movement, such as grace notes and trills, which overall give the music colour and vibrancy.

IV. Allegro assai – Andante – Allegro assai 

The final movement opens with a staccato theme, which is a complete contrast to the previous andante. G minor is the established key and Tartini begins to write more virtuosic techniques for the soloist. He begins with double stops (two voices), and this is varied and Tartini even uses dissonance to create a certain mood for where the music goes next. By about by 39, the famous ‘Devil’s Trill’ section begins. The ‘trillo del Diavolo’ is a continuous trill over a moving voice. It moves around the keys of G minor, A minor and D minor, which creates some electrifying suspense and excitement within this section. The trill ends on the dominant seventh, which leads into the andante section. This andante section nearly identically shadows and reinforces the previous andante. The allegro that comes after this begins in D minor, however it quickly moves away and starts a development-like section which uses a wealth of different modulations. Again, due to the tempo and virutosic nature of this movement, the excitement and energy levels are very high! This is soon dissolved by the last andante section which is in G minor, and this is nearly identical to the second andante section. There are shortened versions of the trill and the accompanying voice that comes with it. The end of the work is very chromatic and ends in the minor.

This sonata is especially devilish to play, which is the whole point of the work! It is animated and provocative, which makes it a true classic within violin repertoire. Tartini’s use of trills is to depict a musical theme, which was a technique that had not been done extensively. I find this sonata jam-packed full of drama, suspense and vigour – surely the perfect concoction for an exciting solo work?! I hope you have enjoyed today’s instalment – I know I have! We are on the final stretch now of the challenge, so make sure you check my facebook/twitter/instagram accounts to see what the last few blogs are based on!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Soloist – Joshua Bell