Teresa Carreño ‘La Fausse Note’: A South American Scherzo

Here we go again readers, day 12 is upon us and this blog is looking into the brilliant Venezuelan composer, Teresa Carreño and her fabulous piece for piano: La Fausse Note. This will be another exciting venture for us all, so without further ado…

Teresa Carreño was born in Venezuela 1853 into a musical family. She began piano lessons with her father and in 1862 her family emigrated to New York City. She was seen as a child prodigy when she was young, and after the move she began taking lessons with Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In 1862 she made her debut at Irving Hall playing piano and the age of 8. The next year Carreño performed at the White House for Abraham Lincoln. After making her mark at such a young age in America, Carreño moved to Europe to take up lessons with Georges Mathias and Anton Rubinstein. She began touring Europe and she had many teachers wanting to have a lesson with her, including the Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt. Carreño declined lessons, and kept on touring. She returned to Venezuela in 1885 so she could rest for a short period before making her way back to Europe to do more touring before settling for some time in Berlin.

Carreño married three times during her lifetime and her marriages usually broke off because of her commitment to performance. She performed several times at Henry Wood’s promenade concerts, and Wood was a big champion of Carreño’s music. He describes her as ‘a queen among pianists, and she played like a goddess.’ A lot of the information about Carreño centers around her performance career, however, she was also a teacher and composer. One of her first compositions was for piano and was called Gottschalk Waltzshe (names after one of her piano teachers). She mainly composed for piano, writing over 40 works for solo piano, 2 for voice and piano and at least 2 for chamber ensembles with a piano. After her busy and fruitful career, Carreño’s health began to deteriorate and she died on June 12, 1917 in New York City.

For this blog I have chosen to look into her piano work Op. 39 La Fausse Note (‘The Wrong Note’). Composed in Paris, 1872, La Fausse Note is a solo piano work that has a duration of around 5 minutes. The piece is waltz-like, though it initially begins in 5/4 time. The first 16 bars act as an introduction of the main theme. With the use of very quiet dynamics and grace notes, the introduction builds up both the melodic and tonal foundation for when the main theme enters later on. After the first 16 bars the main theme plays and is present for the next 16 measures of the piece. There are lots of chromatic passing notes that embellish the tonality of the piece, which rapidly changes throughout each bar.

The piece has a developmental section as well as proclaiming the main theme numerous times. Carreño’s style is full of Venezuelan zeal and this waltz was perhaps composed to show Venezuelan pride whilst she was in Europe touring. This particular waltz is very pretty, and is very lyrical throughout. It has been analysed that Carreño uses three different ‘Venezuelan Waltz’ motifs throughout the piece. Each of these have their own mini developmental section which then ties them all together at the end of the piece. The piece is colorful harmonically and Carreño uses the piano to create different soundscapes in the accessible medium of a waltz. The piece ends with a strong chord progression of Ab major, F minor and Eb major. The last two bars are comprised of three ff chords back to the ‘home’ key of Ab major.

The aspect of ‘The Wrong Note’ comes in the form of the unexpected modulations throughout the piece as well as the arpeggiated half-tone interval at the beginning of the main theme section. It could be fair to say that identifying an evolution of her style is difficult because Carreño hit her peak at around age 11. Her style is certainly complex and challenging for the performer, and that is consistent throughout her career. Her high-level of musicianship is still sought after today, and her legacy lives on through her music. Carreño came to represent courage for being a woman who lived and traveled to different places in the world. Through her diary writings it is clear that she was a survivor, not a victim when times got hard. Her individuality as a performer, composer and educator shines out and she has left such a successful legacy behind.

Join me for the next composer in the penultimate blog for my Female Fortnight Challenge!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Jennifer Higdon ‘Percussion Concerto’: A Technical Triumph!

Dearest readers, I must apologize for having gone awol the past couple of days, life has happened and I’m now catching up on my Female Fortnight Challenge so do bear with me! For day 11 I am writing about the incredibly popular American composer, Jennifer Higdon and her very exciting Percussion Concerto – enjoy!

Born in Brooklyn in 1962, Higdon soon moved Atlanta, Georgia, before then moving again to Seymour, Tennessee. A mostly self-taught music student, Higdon learnt the flute and percussion and started playing in school ensembles. She went on to study flute performance at Bowling Green State University with Judith Bentley, who soon encouraged Higdon to explore composition. She came into classical music much later than most music students at university and says that because of this she was more interested in contemporary music. Throughout university Higdon composed many pieces, and met conductor Robert Spano, who was a champion of her work. Since graduating, she has had an incredibly fruitful career in music and her work has been conducted by the likes of Leonard Slatkin, Christoph Eschenbach and Marin Alsop. Under the tutelage of George Crumb, Higdon earned her MA and PhD in composition from the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded an Artist’s diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Loeb and worked closely with virtuoso violinist, Hilary Hahn.

She currently teachers composition at the Curtis Institute where she holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Compositional Studies. She works with a range of professional orchestras with her many commissions, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her tone poem for orchestra, blue cathedral (2000) was written in response to the death of her brother, and has been one of the most performed modern orchestral works by any living American composer. Higdon has also recorded works for more than four dozen CDs. Her works are largely orchestral and chamber works. However, she has also composed for voice and in 2015 composed her first opera Cold Mountain. Her music is considered ‘neo-romantic’ which show her style to be free from form, with intensity in dynamic and performance markings to portray her musical aesthetic. Her music has been considered to be engaging, accessible and generously rich with textures, timbres and tonality.

Higdon has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts and many other awarding bodies. Most recently she was awarded the Distinguished Arts Award by Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett. Higdon has been featured at many festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood and Cabrillo. Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy award for ‘Best Contemporary Classical Composition’ in 2010. Her Violin Concerto also received the 2010 Pulitzer prize in Music (a very successful year it seems!). Throughout her fruitful career, Higdon has never stopped being commissioned and that really highlights the extent that people want to stretch her creative core. Her Percussion Concerto is one of the most exhilarating works I think I have ever heard and I’ve been so very excited to share it with you in this challenge.

Composed in 2005, Higdon’s exciting Percussion Concerto has received very high acclaim from the media and from audiences around the world. Throughout the 20th Century and beyond, the growth of the percussion section is far more vast than any other section within an orchestra. Higdon writes in her program notes that the concerto follows the standard dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra, however Percussion Concerto goes that step further by accentuating the relationships between the soloist, the orchestra and the percussion section. Having the player’s within an orchestra be able to play the same levels as the soloist is very special and Higdon uses this to her advantage and makes the percussion section part of the ‘solo’ part.

This particular concerto was written for percussionist, Colin Currie, and the work is also dedicated to him. Higdon claims that the use of percussion opens up a lot of possibilities for a composer. She uses instruments such as the marimba, vibraphone, drum kit, chimes and cymbals which give many dimensions to the work. The mix of pitched and non-pitched instruments also makes this concerto incredibly exciting as some sections focus on the pitch aspect, for instance when the vibraphone is playing. However, there are some sections which go the opposite direction and focus on timbre and rhythm, for example the drum kit. There is more than just the music in this concerto though, with all of these instruments comes hundreds of decisions from the soloist. What sticks to use, how to move around the many instruments and being able to perfect all of the instruments is such a massive challenge.

The work begins serenely with only the marimba playing. A dialogue is then established between the soloist and the percussion section. Only after this conversation is established does the orchestra enter. With luscious melodies and a menagerie of movements from the soloist, the work goes from being accompanied by a full orchestra, to just being a dialogue between the percussionists. There are many twists and turns within this concerto which is what makes it the most exciting for me. There is a slower lyrical sections, which requires a lot of communication between the strings and soloist. The fast section returns before the outstanding cadenza section, which showcases the soloist and percussion section. The extensive use of non-pitched percussion instruments are used, with the drum kit being at the forefront. An explosion of sounds and timbres are heard before the return of the orchestra, who bring the beginning theme back until the eventual conclusion of the work.

Percussion Concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and was first performed in 2005, with Colin Currie as the soloist. An incredibly diverse, musically rich and exciting work – thank you Jennifer Higdon! I do really urge you all to listen to this work and other works by Higdon as she is an absolutely fantastic composer!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

https://play.spotify.com/user/11101571136/playlist/2Yar9AQYE8RCe14RWHmXqo – There’s a great version on my ‘Classicalexburns’ Spotify playlist!

Dana Suesse ‘Concerto in Three Rhythms’: An Exotic Fusion

Good afternoon classical music lovers, happy Thursday! It’s day 10 of my Female Fortnight Challenge and I have such a treat to share with you today! To take things in a new direction I am looking into a composer who is often called the ‘Girl Gershwin’ – it’s the absolutely fabulous Dana Suesse! For this blog I shall be looking into her work Concerto in Three Rhythms which is for piano and orchestra. This work is brilliant, so I do hope you enjoy this blog!

Dana Suesse was born in 1909 in Kansas City. There is not much information on Suesse’s earlier life, but we know that whilst she was still young she travelled around the Midwest Vaudeville circuit, performing both on the piano and dancing. In 1926 she and her mother moved to New York City. She was interested in combining different techniques from genres (i.e jazz and classical), to create hybrid works which were incredibly charming, but also virtuosic and complex. She, from a young age, learnt how to improvise, so when she was performing she would ask the audience to suggest a theme, which she would then improvise around.

Once in New York, Suesse learnt piano with Alexander Siloti (a surviving pupil of Franz Liszt). Exposed in New York to the jazz world, Suesse began studying the art of jazz composition with one of Gershwin’s teachers, Rubin Goldmark. She is known for being able to churn out compositions at a very fast pace, and this began after she started studying with Goldmark. Her works filled a void in New York City that was built for classical and jazz fusion works. In 1928, age 19, Suesse published her first instrumental work Syncopated Love Song. It was received positively and many orchestras recorded it, and Suesse slowly became a household name. Suesse composed a range of songs in her lifetime, as well as instrumental compositions, which are perhaps more well-known today.

After the birth of tin pan alley, Paul Whiteman (a very influential orchestra leader), commissioned Suesse to compose her Concerto in Three Rhythms, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1932. She also worked in Broadway and she wrote “Moon About Town”, which was featured in Ziegfeld Follies. Suesse collaborated with many people in both the classical and popular domains, which made her an incredibly wealthy woman at a very young age – a big achievement for anybody at this time. She had her hands in many different pies (so to speak), and wrote incidental music for plays, as well as compositions for theatre, the concert hall and for live gigs.

After saving enough money, Suesse travelled to Paris for three years to study with the amazing Nadia Boulanger. Upon her return to New York, Suesse devoted a large amount of her time to orchestral music. Her orchestral works have been featured on the Met, Carnegie Hall programs and Madison Square Garden. She is the only composer other than George Gershwin to have been invited to perform on the General Motors Symphony national radio broadcasts. Suesse never stopped composing, writing and educating throughout her whole lifetime. She was halfway through a new musical when she passed at age 76 in 1987.

As much as I want to talk about all of Suesse’s music in this blog, I will just be discussing her Concerto in Three Rhythms (though more blogs on her will arise soon!). After a youthful Suesse had been commissioned to compose for Paul Whiteman, she offered him her Concerto in Three Rhythms. She eagerly wanted to impress Whiteman and she recalls that whilst composing this work she:

“Locked myself in my apartment and wouldn’t see anybody for ten days. I wrote the Concerto in Three Rhythms. It has three different styles blending together. First, there is the foxtrot, basically a sonata. Then, there is the blues style, basically an adagio. Finally, there is the jazz, the Italian fugue. You can imagine how I rushed to get through it in ten days…and it takes twenty minutes to play.”

Suesse’s work was premiered in an annual experimental concert put on by Whiteman, which highlights some of the best American composers at that point. Other composers such as Gershwin and Grofé also appeared in the 1932 programme. The reception of this concert focused a lot on Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms, which seemed to steal the show. Larry Spier, who was Suesse’s publisher, told her to go to Chicago to participate in this concert. So once Suesse had made it to Chicago, she was greeted by Whiteman, who was incredibly pleased with the music she had offered for the concert. For the purposes of the concert, the concerto was named into three sections: 1. Allegro 2. Adagio and 3. Scherzo.

The work is very reminiscent of the Broadway style, as well as introducing the jazz-classical fusion that Suesse was aiming for. When asking for the commission Whiteman asked if Suesse would compose a ‘Rhapsody in Blue-like work’ – which then earned her the “Girl Gershwin” nickname, that sadly stuck with her for the rest of her career. The first movement has two slower themes which are very reminiscent to Rhapsody in Blue, and could even be considered as a parody of Gershwin. The next movement entitled ‘Blues’ is going back into the jazz roots, with the likes of Duke Ellington being intertwined throughout the music. The final movement is like ragtime, with the orchestra playing off of each other with the solo piano at the forefront. The piano is virtuosic, rhythmic and exciting with what Suesse has composed, with the orchestra acting as a rhythmic and harmonic support for the various changes. The extensive use of brass, saxophones and clarinets really brings out the jazz influences of Suesse. The different sections really highlight the variations in Suesse’s young and bubbly character, and the work as a whole is incredibly exciting.

Concerto in Three Rhythms is an absolutely fantastic work that combines influences from jazz, Broadway and classical music. Dana Suesse contributed so much to both the classical and popular music industries in the 20th Century – may her legacy live on! I do hope you enjoy this work, Suesse is well worth a listen!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Ursula Mamlok ‘Concerto for Oboe’: Perfect Musical Clarity

Hello dearest readers, here we are on day 9 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0! For today’s blog I will be looking in the late avant-garde composer, Ursula Mamlok and her fantastic Concerto for Oboe – enjoy!

Born on February 1st, 1923, Ursula Mamlok was born in Berlin, Germany into a primarily Jewish family. Her biological father, Hans Meyer died when she was a baby, but her mother remarried fairly soon after. Mamlok composed and performed as a child in Berlin, however, once the Nazis started taking away music programs and other schooling off of the Jews, Mamlok’s parents began teaching her at home. In 1938, the family fled from the Nazis and went to Ecuador where they had some relatives. Due to the lack of high music education in Ecuador, Mamlok asked her mother to ask the American consul if a petition could start to allow music conservatories in the USA to accept Mamlok in to study. Soon this was accepted and Mamlok enrolled on a full scholarship to study composition at the Mannes School of Music.

In 1940, Mamlok travelled on her own, at the age of 17, to New York to begin her studies. Her parents followed her the next year. Whilst at Mannes she studied composition with George Szell, who taught he about the nineteenth-century Romanticism style. In 1944, she wanted to learn more modernist techniques, so she studied with composer Ernst Krenek at Black Mountain College. Throughout her early stages of composition education she studied under composers such as Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe and Ralph Shapey. In the 1950s, Mamlok became an American citizen and also received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. After graduating, Mamlok continued to compose as well as teach in institutions such as City University New York and Temple University. Her style is thoroughly avant garde and she has written a range of works for a number of different-sized ensembles such as vocal, chamber and solo instrumental pieces.

Mamlok’s style often employed the techniques found in serialism, although a lot of her music also does not fit into this restrictive category. She was influenced by the likes of Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, and her music can reflect this a lot. Her use of textures and timbres really shine out and is at the centre of her musical style. Although very dissonant and harsh at times, her deliberateness of textures, wit and rhythm are clear and bring a new sense of clarity to her works. She once said that:

“My music is colourful, with the background of tonality – tonal centres. I can’t shake it completely!”

Mamlok has received an array of awards for her music and contributions to education including a Fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation (1995) and Grants from the Fromm Foundation (1994). After returning to Berlin some 10 years ago, Mamlok died on Wednesday May 4, aged 93.

Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra was composed between 1974-1976, and was originally for solo oboe and large orchestra. Throughout her life, Mamlok arranged it for different ensembles including chamber orchestra and oboe solo, as well as for oboe, two pianos and percussion. For the purposes of this blog I will be referring to the chamber orchestra version. As aforementioned, Mamlok’s handling of textures sings out in this piece, with individual lines shining out above others, making this particular concerto incredibly exciting. The playful nature that runs through the veins of this work can be heard both from the extended techniques from the solo oboe, but also from the accompanying ensemble. Mamlok uses the traditionalist idea of the ensemble acting as the foundation for the soloist, although at points this could be (and has been) disputed. With a plethora of leaping angular melodies as well as the stamina and virtuosity required from the soloist, this concerto is not for the faint-hearted. Rhythmic variety creates excitement throughout the parts, and each part is able to have its ‘moment’ within the work.

This concerto was composed for the virtuoso oboist, a champion of extended techniques for the oboe. Throughout you can hear the use of multiphonics, shakes, trills and flutter-tonguing. The placing of rhythms is very precise and the musical gestures need to be characterised clearly so that the playful nature of the music speaks through. Below the surface of all that has been mentioned above, the music itself is based on Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, which makes this piece sound more serialist. So when the orchestration becomes more dense, the tonality (or atonality) becomes harder to fathom, it is the placement of textures that make this piece stand out.

Every musician was important to Mamlok, and that cannot be denied after hearing her music. A wonderful composer who has only recently left us – thank you for your wonderful contribution to avant-garde music Ms. Mamlok! I do hope you have enjoyed this blog today readers – join me tomorrow for day 10 of the challenge!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

Francesca Caccini ‘Lasciatemi Qui Solo’: “Soften my Weeping”

Good evening dearest readers – welcome to day 8 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0! For today’s blog I am taking you way waaaaaay back in time to find out about one of the most important women in the Baroque era: Francesca Caccini. I will be looking into her wonderful aria for voice and harp, Lasciatemi Qui Solo – enjoy!

Francesca Caccini was born in Florence in September 1587. Her parents were both musical, so she grew up in the artistic community of the Medici court (one of the most cultured in all of Europe). At a very young age, Caccini, taught by her father, began learning to play the guitar, lute and she also learnt how to sing. She grew up receiving a humanistic education (Latin, literature, mathematics and modern languages). Due to her language training, Caccini sung as a part of a family ensemble called ‘Concerto Caccini’, and they sang before the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de Medici. She began catching the attention of others for her musical talents and she began singing as part of a soprano trio comprised of Francesca, her sister and the famous Italian singer, Vittoria Archilei. Through singing in both chamber ensembles and operas, Caccini became famous and was recognised around Italy for her virtuosi and technique.

Between the years 1604-05, the Caccini family travelled to France, at the request of Maria d’Medici. The king was impressed by the family ensemble, but especially took a shine to Francesca Caccini. He asked her to stay at the French court and proclaimed that “La Cecchina sang better than anyone in France!” She was not able to leave the Tuscan service, so she declined the kind invitation from the king. In 1607, Caccini married singer Giovannibattista Signorini in Florence. During the next few years she began composing music for events for the courts around Italy. It has been shown that Caccini was the first woman to write and publish an opera – which is a massive achievement in such a competitive business.

In 1618, Caccini had her first volume of works published – Il primo libro delle musiche. A lot of her works sadly have not survived, but a large proportion of this collection has been saved and archived. There is a lot of literature on Caccini’s father, Giulio who taught her everything she knew about music. A lot of works in Francesca’s Il primo libro reflect the characteristics of her father’s music. One of the main things that Caccini took from her father’s music was the use of vocal ornaments to embellish the melody. Although on the manuscripts there are no clear direction for these ornaments, Caccini uses words such as ‘trillo’ and ‘passaggi’ to infer a vocal trill of some sort. If we look back at Giulio’s music, he uses a technique called ‘gorgheoggiao’, which consists of stopping the vocal sound by the quick opening and closing of the vocal folds whilst air is passing through. The technique is tricky to master as it requires a lot of breath and vocal control to create the desired effect. The effect is often called referred to as ‘trembling of the voice’, which lies on a single note, and often ends as a cadential ornament. There are some notable differences in their compositions, however, for example most of Caccini’s father’s music were more song-like, whereas Francesca’s collection reflects an early attempt at recitative style.

Il primo libro is a big indicator to how the Florentine musical style was shaped over this period. The book is divided into two sections (and is absolutely massive!). The first section, ‘spirituali’ is characterised by sacred texts, thus includes sonnets, madrigals, arias, motets and hymns. The second section, ‘temporali’ consists of secular texts and lighter melodies. Lasciatemi Qui Solo is number 12 in the book, and is an aria. Here is the text (with translation) below:

Stanza 1

Lasciatemi qui solo – Leave me here alone,

Torante augelli al nido – Return, birds, to your nests,

Mentre l’anim’e ‘l duolo – While my soul, and my pain

Spiro su questo lido – I give up on these shores.

Altri meco non voglio – I want no one else with me

Ch’un freddo scoglio – Other than a cold rock,

E ‘l moi fatal martire – And my fated death.

Lasciatemi moirire – Leave me to die

 

Stanza 2

Dolcissime sirene – Sweetest sirens

Che’n si pietoso canto – Who with such merciful song

Raddolcite mie pene – Sweeten my sufferings and 

Fate soave il pianto – Soften my weeping

Movet’ il nuoto altronde – Go elsewhere to swim

Togliete all’onde – Dampen the waves’

I crudi sdegni, e l’ire – Cruel scorn, and their ire

Lasciatemi morire – Leave me to die.

 

Stanza 3 

Placidissimi venti – Calmest winds

Torante al vostro speco – Return to your cave

Sol miei duri lamenti – I ask that only my harsh laments

Chieggo che restin meco – Remain with me 

Vostri sospir non chiamo – I do not call upon your sighs

Solingo bramo – Alone I wish 

I miei dolor finire – To end my sufferings 

Lasiatemi morire – Leave me alone to die.

 

Stanza 4 

Fekicissimi amanti – Happiest lovers

Torante al bel diletto – Return to your beautiful pleasures

Fere eccels’o notanti – Wild beasts, whether birds or fish

Fuggite il mesto aspetto – Flee from this sad countenance 

Sol dolcezza di morte – Only the sweetness of death

Apra le porte – Should open its doors

All’ ultimo Languire – To this final languishing 

Lasciatemi morire – Leave me to die.

 

Stanza 5 

Avarissimi lumi – Most avaricious eyes

Che su ‘l morir versate – That on point of death spill 

Amarissimi fiumi – The bitterest rivers

Tard’e vostra pietate – Your pity comes too late

Gia mi sento mancare – Already I feel myself fail

O luci avar’e – Oh eyes, stingy 

Tarde al mio conforto – And slow to comfort me

Gia sono esangu’e smorto – I am already bloodless and lifeless. 

 

Some consistencies can be found throughout these lyrics, and that is the last line of all but the last stanza which reads ‘Lasciatemi morire’ (‘leave me to die’). The emphasis of this line runs deep throughout the veins of this aria, which make it an incredibly effective piece of music. It seems that Caccini was very meticulous and particular as to where syllables of words were placed in coherence with the harmonic development. Her use of ornaments, especially the ‘gorgheoggiao’ technique can be heard throughout the aria, which alludes back to the style that both dominated her father’s music and the musical style within Florence. Full of vocal melismas, Lasciatemi Qui Solo powerfully communicates every single word that Caccini has placed. The beautiful harp/lute/continuo accompaniment is a mere harmonic tool, so that the voice can stand out and take centre stage. This hauntingly beautiful aria is an absolute diamond, and it has been such a pleasure to look into it in more detail.

Throughout the rest of her life, Francesca Caccini composed music for courts around Italy and also around Europe, which makes her one of the most successful women composers to have ever lived. There is no record of when Caccini actually died, although it is certain to be after 1641, as that is when she left Medici service. Throughout her life, Caccini achieved many things: composition, teaching and performance opportunities, as well as being regarded as a woman who has given more to early Baroque music than most.

This blog is dedicated to the fabulous soprano and queen of early music, Annie Page. Annie suggested to me about writing a blog about Francesca Caccini, as well as teaching me about certain vocal techniques in compositions such as these in a presentation she gave last year in a university module (see I do listen!). Thank you for your wonderful choice!

Join me tomorrow to see what lies in store for us on day 9!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

 

 

Pauline Oliveros ‘A Love Song’: A Deep Sound Experience

Hello readers! Here we are at day 7 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0 – the halfway point! Today’s blog is about the late composers Pauline Oliveros, who we sadly lost in November 2016. Amongst the extensive catalogue of her works I have decided to talk about her work for accordion and voice, A Love Song – enjoy!

Born in May 1932 in San Francisco, Oliveros began participating in music at a very young age. In the 1940s she received her mother’s accordion, as they were fairly popular at that time. Whilst at school she also learnt the tuba and french horn, but after the age of 16, Oliveros decided she wanted to focus on composition. She studied at the Moores School of Music at The University of Hudson, where she read for a degree in composition. Oliveros is known for her extensive use of electronics and tapes, and she was one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre. She was a pioneer of electronic music on the US West Coast during the 1960s, and her music has been incredibly influential for a lot of musicians.

Oliveros worked in a variety of universities throughout her lifetime, holding positions at University of California and The University of San Francisco. Oliveros is perhaps most well-known for coining the term ‘deep listening’, for which she composed a wealth of music under this umbrella term. The aesthetic here is to train anybody to listen and respond in musical situations. It is something that is based on the principles that improvisation, teaching, ritual and electronic music can all coexist effectively in a singular musical entity (i.e a composition). Furthermore, Oliveros is also associated with the phrase ‘sonic awareness’ which is the ability to focus consciously upon musical sound in a given environment. This state of consciousness requires the listener to be alert and concentrated at all times. The music that Oliveros composes has a strong tonal centre, which is surrounded by complex sound masses. In performance, Oliveros used her accordion and re-tuned it into two different systems of intonation, so that the addition of electronics would alter the sound of the instrument and would effectively explore the individual characteristics of any given room.

As well as composition, Oliveros has also written books, alongside teaching. In 2009, she won the William Schuman award and then in 2012 she won the very prestigious John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Her resounding success is reflected in the amount of artists she has worked with, the amount of awards she has won, and the popularity she has gained across the globe. Her composition for voice and accordion A Love Song was composed in   1985 and was part of her album, The Well and the Gentle. 

The composition itself is something that I urge you all to listen to whilst in a quiet space so you can take in every aspect of what Oliveros is trying to achieve with sounds. Her mantra was simply this:

“Listen all the time and remind yourself when yourself when you are not listening.”

This creative work is other-worldly in sound, and is concerned with finding the meditations within the earth. This is represented by the droning accordion and the sultry voice. The work is reflective, pensive with dark undertones through the use of harmonics and electronics. Oliveros’ ambivalent attitude towards technology in general is somehow calming and when listening to a work such as A Love Song, it is clear that her techniques lie within environmental improvisation. With no boundaries or limits, her works are free within the world and when listening to them you can feel whatever you want (which is actually really nice!). Using instruments such as bass trombones and the human voice, Oliveros was able to experiment and find new sounds to apply to her compositions. To present art that aids in imagining sound and remembering past sounds whilst thinking about future sounds is incredibly clever and one of the many reasons why I absolutely love Oliveros and the work she offered into society.

Whilst listening to A Love Song, listen with intent, with meaning and literally deeply listen to it, otherwise the full effect may not be reached. This is a fantastic example of how sounds can be manipulated in a range of different ways to create a new and vibrant way to experience music. An incredibly sad loss, R.I.P. Pauline Oliveros – thank you for your sounds and wisdom.

Many thanks for reading this blog – I hope you have enjoyed it. We have hit the halfway point, so entering the second half of the challenge tomorrow…who could it be? If you have any comments about this challenge or my blogs so far feel free to contact me – details are on the home page!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Sarah Fuller Flower Adams ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’: The Angelic Dream

Good afternoon readers! Here we are at day 6 of the Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0, what lies in store for you today I hear you cry? Well we’re going back in time to relish in some wonderful Christian hymns, with the ever-popular Nearer, My God, To Thee being the focus for this blog. To accompany this I shall be writing about the writer of the hymn, Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, who is also sister to composer, Eliza Flower. It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the blog!

Sarah Fuller Flower Adams was born on February 22nd, 1805 in Sussex. She was the youngest of two, with her older sister being the wonderful composer, Eliza Flower. Adams was an English poet and she is renowned for her writings during the mid-nineteenth century. As an Unitarian (a sub-division of Christianity), Adams wrote several hymns. The most famous of these hymns is the mesmerizing Nearer, My God, To Thee (c.1840) which has become well-known for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps most pertinent is that it is the alleged last song the band played on the RMS Titanic before the ship sank. Although the verse was written by Sarah, it was actually set to music by her sister Eliza Flower.

This Christian hymn retells the story of Jacob’s dream, from Genesis. The story is as follows:

“So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

From this Adams created these lyrics for the hymn:

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;

Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,

 

Chorus: Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

 

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,

Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;

Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Chorus

 

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;

All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;

Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,

Chorus

 

Then with my walking thoughts bright with Thy praise,

Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;

So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Chorus 

 

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,

Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,

Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,

Chorus

 

The source of the titanic legends come from various accounts from passengers and the musicians themselves, who enjoyed the hymn very much so they arranged it for string quartet. It has also been found that the band leader, Wallace Hartley, loved this particular hymn and wished to have it performed at his funeral. As well as this, Nearer, my God, to Thee has been associated to other hymn tunes such as Horbury by John Bacchus Dykes, which names a village near Wakefield where Dykes found much peace and comfort. The original music to this hymn was composed by Eliza Flower, however there have been many renditions of this hymn arranged. For example the 1872 version by Arthur Sullivan is popular among British Methodists.

This particular hymn has been quoted musically by other composers such as Carl Nielsen. It has also been played at a range of famous funerals such as President William McKinley, Gerald R. Ford and Warren G. Harding. As the tale goes, the dying words of McKinley were the first couple of lines of the hymn. Nearer, my God, to Thee has also made it onto screen with it being played in the films, Nearer, my God, to Thee, San Francisco, Le Plaisir and Titanic. The hymn has been covered extensively by the media including CNN, who claims when the world is ending, they will cover it live, whilst playing Nearer, my God, to Thee. 

From a simple Christian hymn to one of the most symbolic hymns ever written, Nearer, my God, to Thee is encompasses wonderful lyrics, music and meaning to create comfort for those in need, and a look in to the Christian faith through music. With the combined efforts of the Flower sisters, this hymn has been set for many different ensembles, although the choral version remains the most popular among most. A wonderful work, written by two very talented sisters. I hope you have enjoyed this blog – keep your eyes peeled for tomorrow’s blog!

I’d like to dedicate this blog to my parents as it is their 23rd wedding anniversary today – you guys are fabulous! I love you very much.

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recordings:

 

 

Dobrinka Tabakova ‘Whispered Lullaby’: A Hypnotic Daydream

Good afternoon readers! Here we are already on day 5 of my Female Fortnight Challenge and what a treat I have to share with you all today. A composer who composes deeply moving music on both small and grand scales – today’s blog is on the phenomenal Bulgarian composer, Dobrinka Tabakova. For this blog I will be sharing with you her stunning work for viola and piano, Whispered Lullaby. 

Dobrinka Tabakova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria to a music-loving family in 1980. At age 11, Tabakova moved to London and his since stayed there. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department, specialising in composition, piano and conducting. From there, Tabakova earned her place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), where she received distinctions in her BMus and MMus degrees. After graduating, she was appointed composition fellow at GSMD and she continued being actively involved in many musical activities. Tabakova has worked and studied with esteemed composers such as Diana Burrell, John Adams and Iannis Xenakis.

Throughout her career, Tabakova’s music has been extensively recorded with different record labels including ECM. Due to this, Tabakova has been invited to many places to compose pieces for soloists, ensembles and events. She has travelled all over the world to compose music for music festivals such as the Julian Rachlin in Dubrovnik and the Lockenhaus Festival in Austria. She has been nominated for Grammy awards and also for various ‘Composer of the Week/Month’ competitions. Whilst pursuing her successful career in composition, Tabakova also took studied for a PhD in 2008 at King’s College London.

Whispered Lullaby is a short work for viola and piano that was composed in 2004, and first premiered in 2005. Tabakova says in her programme notes for this work that:

“This musical sketch was inspired by a passage from Goethe’s Faust, where The Spirits paint a nocturnal picture of a still lake reflecting a glistening full moon.”

The work is incredibly atmospheric and Tabakova’s spacial awareness is reflective through this piece, which highlights the nocturnal elements in the programme notes. The beginning of the piece is based on an overtone technique that was developed by violist, Maxim Rysanov (who also premiered this piece in London, 2005). This technique gives the start of the work a slightly uneasy feel, which is then resolved by the jazz-like piano entry. The dark woody timbre of the viola complements the lower range of the piano in a very magical way, which Tabakova utilises. To then change this she put the viola’s motif into the next octave up, which brings lots of colour to the music. The simplicity of this work is at the heart of its function – to depict nocturnal reflections. Both the viola and the piano parts are relatively simple, yet require much control and energy to fully show the emotional background of the music.

The piano plays arpeggiated chords, whilst the viola holds high long notes, creating suspense and hope within the work. The extensive ranges used on the viola creates so much colour in this short work, which gives so much to the timbre and tonality. A short interlude by the viola as it creeps up to the top range, where the piano joins in to reiterate the recycled motif. This climax is certainly felt, as the viola and piano unify to play a short descending figure, to then end on the tonic chord. The delicate nature of this work is very emotive and the fade out at the end of the piece accentuates this.

Although seemingly simple, Tabakova’s work is full of many complex emotions, as well as difficult control and the use of the overtone technique at the beginning. An absolute gem of a piece and a composer – Dobrinka Tabakova you are so wonderful! Apologies for the shortness of this blog, but I really feel to get the most out of this particular work, one must sit and listen intently instead of reading every intricate detail from me. I do hope you have enjoyed this blog – it has been an absolute pleasure. I wonder what day 6 has in store for us?

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recordings:

 

Dora Pejačević ‘Two Piano Sketches’: To Thee!

Day 4 is upon us classical music fans and what better way to celebrate than with another fabulous female composer! It’s so difficult to choose one composer per day as there are so many to choose from. For the purposes of this blog I try to pick a range of different composers to cater for many tastes! So for today’s blog I will be looking into actually one of my personal favourite composers, Croatian composer – Dora Pejačević. Out of all the fantastic pieces by Pejačević I have chosen to look into her work Zwei Klaviserskizzen (Two Piano Sketches). Enjoy!

Dora Pejačević was born in Budapest on 10th September 1885, and her family descended from the old Croatian noble Pejačević family. Her mother, Countess Lilla Vay de Vaya was a very competent pianist and she gave Pejačević her first piano lessons when she was a young girl. After mastering the art of performance, Pejačević began composing music by age 12. Although mainly self-taught on both piano and violin, she did receive some private music lessons in Zagreb and Munich. Pejačević began learning composition under German-English composer, Percy Sherwood, who was able to teach her the fundamentals of composition.

It’s been widely noted that Pejačević led a fairly lonely life, out of the public eye and did not spend time with her husband or family. However, because of this Pejačević composed a considerable amount of music (106 compositions to be exact), which has created her legacy as a major Croatian composer. Her catalogue shows the various different genres she composed in, which are largely in late-Romantic style. From songs to chamber music and to large orchestra compositions, Pejačević covered a lot of her ground in her short lifetime. Sadly, Dora Pejačević died in 1923, age 38, due to complications during childbirth.

Dora Pejačević has been said to have brought Romantic orchestral forms to Croatia, and for that she is marked as one of the leading figures in Croatian classical music. A majority of her music has yet to be released on CD or even been published, however the Croatian Music Information Centre is trying to change that by paying to have some of her works published. If any of my readers are fluent in Croatian language then there is a biographical film on her entitled Countess Dora which goes through her life.

Instead of discussing one of her larger-scale works for this blog, I’ve decided to look into the very short, but full of musical treasures for us to behold. Pejačević composed her Zwei Klavierskizzen (Two Piano Sketches) in 1918 and dedicated them to Anny von Lange. There isn’t a wealth of information on these particular sketches, but what we do know is that both of these sketches are intimate meditations in which Pejačević is intensely thinking about a person who she is very fond of (probably Anny von Lange). The sketches aim to represent profound emotional states, even though together they amount to just over 2 minutes in length. The two sketches are as follows:

  1. An Dich! (To Thee!)
  2. Vor Deinem Bild (Before Thy Picture)

The music is incredibly eerie yet it keeps moving through the use of quavers and dotted notes. Pejačević’s harmonic language is profound and it reflects not only the late-Romantic style, but it also foresees some of the 20th Century language that is used later on in the century. Her use of hemidemisemi quavers and the arabesque form give parts of these sketches such a Debussy-esque aura. There is something incredibly beautiful about these two sketches and Pejačević’s use of harmony and texture amplifies the different emotional states she was aiming to convey. A lullaby-like section followed by a more eerie and frantic section make this piece such an exciting thing to listen to as it highlights the Croatian style at this time. Although only just over 2 minutes, this work has said all it needs to, and is truly an autobiographical account within music, like it is from an intimate diary. The work of Pejačević can be heard in the style of other composers around that time like Debussy and Scriabin, and it highlights just how important Pejačević was and still is within classical music.

Two Sketches for Piano is a breathtaking work which will surprise you in many ways. From Pejačević’s mature harmonic language, to her use of various styles and emotions all in a short space of time will have you excited for her other compositions. I absolutely adore Dora Pejačević as a composer and I really urge you to listen to some more of her works (I will of course write about more soon!). I do hope you have enjoyed this blog, although it has been slightly shorter than previous ones. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for what I write about for day 5 of my Female Fortnight Challenge!

This blog is dedicated to my best friend, Chris Bell as it is his 22nd birthday today! Happy birthday, I hope you enjoy this work – its fabulous just like you! Lots of love on your special day!

Happy reading!

Recommended Recording:

Chen Yi ‘Ge Xu – Antiphony’: Atmospheric Antiphony

Day three is upon us dearest readers, and today’s female treat for you is from Chinese composer – Chen Yi. She is an absolutely wonderful composer of classical contemporary music and I will be discussing her orchestral work Ge Xu – Antiphony for this blog!

Chen Yi was born in Guanzhou, China in 1953. She was born into a very talented family of both doctors and musicians, and so from a young age Yi began learning violin. Her siblings were known as child prodigies within musical performance, so Yi had a lot to live up to. Whilst learning violin and piano, her biggest influences were from Western composers such as Bach and Mozart. After a tumultuous childhood, Yi’s musical education was stopping and starting until she was a young adult. As her family moved around a lot due to the cultural revolution, so it wasn’t until 1970, when she returned to Guangzhou that she began working as a concertmaster for the Beijing Opera Troupe. In 1986 she moved to the USA.

She began studying at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing from 1978, where she earned an MA in composition. She was the first woman to be awarded an MA in composition from this particular institution – a massive achievement which is still talked about today. After her MA, Yi studied at Columbia University under Chou Wen-Ching and Mario Davidosky, where she received her DMA with distinction. Throughout her long career, Yi has been awarded many honorary doctorates from institutions such as University of Portland (2009), University of Wisconsin (2002) The University of New York (2010). Further to this, Yi has won many competitions around the world, however she is perhaps the most well-known in China and the USA.

As well as composition, Chen Yi has also taught in various institutions on the works of Claude Debussy and she has also run masterclasses on composition. She has had a long and prosperous career in music, and her compositional style is said to be pushing the boundaries of contemporary classical styles. It was difficult to pick just one of Yi’s compositions, but for this particular blog I will be sharing with you her fantastic orchestral work Ge Xu – Anthiphony. 

Composed in 1994 Ge Xu – Antiphony is an incredibly spacious and uses a range of developmental techniques to create particular atmospheres. During the time of composition Yi had a three-year residency in San Francisco, through the brilliant Meet the Composer’s New Residencies program. Whilst working within this program, Ge Xu was subsequently commissioned by the Women’s Philharmonic. I sadly could not find the original programme notes for this work, however I found information on the work’s inspirations:

“The work is inspired by the vividly competitive antiphonal singing of the Zhuang minority and folk dancing tune of the Yi.”

Breaking this down more, antiphonal usually encompasses the interaction between choirs or voices, which come together to create a call and answer-like situation. The ethnic group Zhuang typically reside in the south of China, and they are within an autonomous region within this province. So this work is about their religious antiphonal music, which is highly competitive between voices, hence the colourful description. Lasting around 8 minutes, Ge Xu is a fascinating work with many layers of musical techniques and I will try to explain what I believe is going within the work (I have no score for this either).

The piece begins with a simple melody in the upper register of the violins, which is soon embellished by the woodwinds. This is then repeated again, although this time it is more developed and uses a range of different harmonic structures until it culminates in a growth of sound on a dissonant chord played by the whole ensemble collectively. The atmosphere drops back once more and the harmonics from the gong can be heard, whilst the upper strings play in extreme octaves. A menagerie of woodwind sounds are heard together, creating quite a frantic aura, and the muted trumpets also add to the bitterness of this. A rhythmic pattern played by the drums gives the piece some more drive, and a whirlwind of sounds can be heard from wind instruments. The use of dynamics are prevalent here as Yi uses very loud dynamics to signal impending fright, whereas she uses silences and very quiet passages to create and build tension.

The mixture of simple and compound time also makes this work very exciting as the changes typically signal the changes in tempo too, which makes the work erratic and unpredictable. Fanfares from the brass lead into a percussion cadenza. Led by various drums, this section releases a lot of the tension that was felt in the previous section. The woodwinds enter again, all playing sporadic melodies which again create a frantic atmosphere. A syncopated melody is played by brass and strings which proclaims some of the material played thus far. This train of thought leads us to the end of the movement where the instruments play in unison in different groups, which reaches a climax and quickly goes silent before a static upper string motif is heard. The bassoon then appears from within the orchestra and starts playing a new melody. There is embellishment from the vibraphone at this point, as well as the static strings, which develop into a tremolo. The harp plays a very haunting arpeggiated motif which fades away and the piece is then over.

Ge Xu is an exciting work that is enjoyable to listen to as it transports the listeners into a new realm where atmospheres are incredibly intense and where you can hear various voices clashing against each other. Chen Yi is a fantastic composer who has contributed so much to classical music and is an inspiration for many. If you like what you hear make sure you check out her other compositions – they’re truly fantastic! I do hope you have enjoyed today’s instalment – join me tomorrow for the next instalment of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording: