Johann Joachim Quantz ‘Concerto No. 129 for Flute’: Fantastic Flute!

Dearest readers, here we are at Day ‘Q’ of my Alphabet Challenge! A notoriously difficult letter in the alphabet to work with, we are lucky to have a few composers with names beginning with Q. Last year, we discovered the gem that is Roger Quilter, and this year we will be looking into flute maestro, Johann Joachim Quantz. It has been very difficult to choose just one work by Quantz, due to his catalogue of works being so huge. Nevertheless, this blog will be on his 129th concerto for flute – enjoy!

Born in Oberscheden, Germany in 1697, Quantz was a prolific flautist, Baroque music composer and educator. It wasn’t until his early teens when Quantz began to study music, first with his uncle, and then with organist (and his cousin’s husband) Johann Friedrich Kiesewetter. Initially, Quantz studied composition, and studied many scores of his contemporaries to gauge an idea of style and genre. In 1718, he became oboist int he Dresden Polish Chapel of August II, although it soon became clear this was not Quantz’s calling. He then decided to pursue being a flautist and began studying with the principal flautist of the Royal Orchestra – Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin.

Between 1724 and 1727, Quantz performed as a flautist on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, which “completed” (if we can even say that), his education and training as a performer. Quantz visited cities such as Rome, Naples, Paris and London, and soon became very well-travelled. 1728 was a busy year for Quantz, as he accompanied August II to Berlin, where they met the Queen of Prussia and Frederick II of Prussia. Frederick (often referred to as ‘Frederick the Great’) took up flute performance that same year, and Quantz became his tutor.

For many years Quantz remained in Dresden, residing in the Saxon Court until 1740, where he then moved to Berlin after taking the official role of flute teacher, maker and composer at the Royal Court. Quantz stayed here until his death in 1773).

Although most well-known for his extensive catalogue of flute music, Quantz also wrote a treatise on traverso flute performance entitled Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (eng: On Playing the Flute). It is now regarded as a valuable source for 18th Century flute playing technique and style. Quantz was also an influential flute maker, with his main innovative addition to the 18th Century flute being the inclusion of the second key, making intonation clearer on enharmonics.

Most of the compositions Quantz wrote in his lifetime were not published, making it nearly impossible to pin dates down to compositions. What we do know, however, is that he composed over 200 sonatas, 300 concertos, 45 trios all for flute. Since his death, Quantz’s music has had a largely positive reaction from educators, researchers and performers alike. Many of Quantz’s sonatas are on grade syllabus’ for flute examinations around the world, and his works are often a staple for many flautists. Because I really enjoy the genre of the concerto, I have decided to look into his 129th flute concerto in E minor.

There is very little information about this particular concerto, so a large proportion of this analysis is my own observations. In traditional concerto form, this work is in three movements:

I. Allegro

II. Arioso

III. Presto

Beginning with a bouncy theme in the strings, the Allegro opening movement is full of life. With fast-moving scalic passages and strong melodic lines played in unison, this introduction lasts around one minute before the flute plays its first line. The flute plays a similar theme to that of the beginning, however with some changes, including the order of themes and harmonic progressions played. The soloist’s lines are much more virtuosic than that of the accompaniment, with unrelenting semiquaver passages and quick changes of octave. This movement poses various sections that sees the accompaniment offering interludes between the soloist’s sections, which gives light and shade to the movement. There is a noticeable difference between the two parts of the ensemble, with the flute and upper strings becoming more delicate, and the lower strings offering strong and loud bass lines. The end of the first movement sees the strings recap to the first melodic lines of the work, and close on a perfect cadence.

The second movement, marked Arioso, is the slowest of the three sections of this work. Interesting it is marked Arioso, as this term is usually associated with opera, highlighting the middle ground between recitative and arias. This could insinuate that the flute soloist is the main voice, and its message is important to the central idea of the concerto. This movement is delicate and full of decorations from the upper strings and flute, creating a rather whimsical atmosphere for the movement.

The finale movement, marked Presto is an exciting end to this light-hearted flute concerto. A pulsating repeated rhythm from the ensemble sets the scene for this finale. All instruments in the ensemble are utilised in this movement, especially the soloist, whose virtuosic lines sing out above everything else. The finale ends, like the other two movements, on a perfect cadence which is set up by a strong repetition of a phrase, which resolves quickly on a short note.

Quantz’s 129th flute concerto in E minor is quintessential of this composer’s style, and the genre of that era. Although we are unsure as to when this concerto was written, it is perhaps fair to suggest it was in the central part of Quantz’s life, due to the number (129th) and the style in which it is composed in. I hope you have enjoyed this blog on Quantz – it certainly has been quite the ride! Do join me very soon for Day ‘R’ of my Alphabet Challenge!

Happy Reading!

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Arvo Pärt ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’: Peaceful Meditation

Welcome to Day ‘P’ of my Alphabet Challenge! After the intense and powerful forces of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna, this blog is taking it down a few notches to a serene and absolutely beautiful work by Estonian composer, Avro Pärt. Spiegel im Speigel is perhaps one of Pärt’s most well-known compositions, and I am looking forward to sharing it with you all today.

Avro Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia in 1935. Dabbling with music from a young age, it wasn’t until 1954, when Pärt studied at the Tallinn Music Middle School. However, after less than a year at the school, Pärt abandoned his studies to join the military, where he played oboe and percussion in the army band. After his service in the army, Pärt attended the prestigious Tallinn Conservatory, where he studied composition with Heino Eller. Whilst studying at the conservatory, Pärt largely composed music fro stage, film and theatre.

Pärt’s musical style has been widely discussed, with most agreeing that he has played a large part in the school of minimalism, more specifically holy minimalism (similar to contemporaries such as John Tavener). Pärt’s compositional time line can be split into 2-3 sections, with the first drawing upon neo-classical influences from the likes of Bartók and Prokofiev. The second being his use of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, making his music resonant of the serialism movement. The third, and is now what Pärt is best-known for, is his choral music. Pärt studied music from the 14th-16th Centuries and began immersing himself in older musical traditions such as polyphony, plainsong and Gregorian Chant. From the 1970s onwards, Pärt’s musical output radically changed and his works became part of a period called ‘tintinnabuli’ (‘like the ringing of bells’). Compositions such as Cantus in Memoriam Bejamin Britten, Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel all demonstrate this new technique Pärt was developing. As well as smaller scale works, Pärt has also composed large-scale works inspired by religious texts, such as his St. John Passion, Te Deum and Magnificat. 

For the last five years, Pärt has been the most performed living composer in the world. He is recognised around the world for his music, and his services to the arts. He has won a plethora of awards including the Léonie Sonnig Music Prize (2008) and the Ratzinger Prize (2017). He is an Estonian national treasure, and although it took a while for his popularity to spread in his own country, his popularity around the world is immense.

Spigel im Spiegel (Mirrors in the Mirror) was composed in 1978just before his departure from Estonia to Berlin. Originally composed for piano and violin, there have been many different versions of the work, for example the violin being replaced by a cello or double bass. Known as Pärt’s most ingenious work, Spiegel im Spiegel is meditative, and its simplicity makes it part of the minimalist movement. The popularity of this work is largely down to its frequent use in film and TV soundtracks.

The title of the work, Spiegel im Spiegel translates into both ‘mirror in the mirror’ and ‘mirrors in the mirror’ which refers to the infinity of images that can be produced by multiple mirrors together. This idea is expressed through the piano throughout, with its endless fragments of accompaniments. With this work evoking Pärt’s famous ‘tintinnabuli’ style, the opening piano motif is resonant of the twilight first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’. These incredibly peaceful triplets are hypnotizing and so simple that it makes you forget that it’s even there at points! The recurring motifs of the piece come from the rising broken chords from the piano, and the long sustained notes from the other instrument (for the sake of this blog I will refer to the original instrument – the violin).

The piano parts reaffirms the melody notes from the violin and accentuates the very small shifts in tonality throughout. The piano reflects the melody line with thirds and octaves. The work is in F major, and technically stays there throughout, although there are some hints at other keys throughout. Although the ‘right hand’ part of the piano is always omnipresent, there is every so often a low sustained F played by the ‘left hand’, which, again, accentuates the tonality of the work.

As aforementioned, the ‘titinnabular’ effect is like ringing bells, which comes across from the high bell-like harmonics from the upper registers, heard in both instruments. The violin line is based on a very slow and simple ascending melodic line, beginning on a G-A scale. This develops into the melody moving in step motion, and with each new step, a new mirror appears and the idea of perfect tranquillity is reaffirmed. Unlike many other forms of classical music, minimalism often (not always) relies on atmosphere and the sonorities made by the instruments, rather than there being any real drama in the work, and this can not be more true for Spiegel im Spiegel. The work develops, but I would dare to say it doesn’t climax. The parts explore range, timbre, texture and colour, which add to the overall atmosphere of the piece.

The violin part always returns to A, and there appears to be a pattern where there is an ascending sequence (the question), and then a descending sequence (the answer), which contributes to the impression of a figure reflecting on a mirror and then walking back and towards it. The idea of the infinity of images in the infinity mirror is so very powerful throughout, and it is very easy for one to get completely engrossed in its stories.

With both parts being extremely bare and simple, it is pertinent for the performers to have faith in the composer’s ability to create this musical tranquillity, in other words not ‘over milking’ the melody lines with the use of dynamics, vibrato and such. The work is very gentle, and should be treated so.  Spiegel im Spiegel ends with a ritardando, with the music finishing exactly how it began, with the repeated triadic movement from the piano, and a sustained A in the violin.

Spiegel im Spiegel is a wonderfully serene work that has been heard in films such as Elegy, Dear Frankie and Foxtrot. As well as on screen and stage, this work is also very popular to record, with many artists aspiring to find the right balance in their recordings. Pärt’s contribution to classical music is inspiring, and so are his many works.

I do hope you have enjoyed this instalment of my Alphabet Challenge – I have really enjoyed engaging and writing about this incredible work! I’d like to dedicate this blog to my mum, who absolutely loves this work, and is always my biggest fan – lots of love. Join me very soon for Day ‘Q’ of my challenge!

Happy Reading!

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Carl Orff ‘O Fortuna’: Unpredictable Forces

Dearest readers, the time has come to present the composer for Day ‘O’ of my Alphabet Challenge! Perhaps best-known for his cantata Carmina Burana, I have decided to delve into Carl Orff’s famous piece from this work entitled O Fortuna. I do hope you enjoy this next instalment in my Alphabet Challenge!

Carl Heinrich Maria Orff was born in Munich on July 10th, 1895. After starting to study music at a young age, some of Orff’s music was published from when he was sixteen onwards. His early style was mainly focused on settings of German poetry, which likened him to composers such as Richard Strauss. Until 1914, Orff studied at the Munich Academy of Music. He then went to serve in the German Army during World War I, where he was nearly killed when a trench collapsed in on him. Coming away from the war with severe injuries, Orff came back to music, and pursued his studies by holding positions at the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera houses.

In the 1920s, Orff began formulating a new concept of music called ‘elementare Musik’ (elemental music), which based its foundations on the arts symbolised by ancient Greek Muses. The compositional process thus focused on tone, poetry, dance, image and design. Orff took very old works and adapted them for contemporary theatrical presentations, for example Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, which Orff based his German version, Orpheus on.

As well as composing and conducting, Orff was also a musical educator, specifically focusing on children and music beginners. in 1924, Orff founded the Günther School for gymnastics, music and dance. He was head of department from 1925 until his death. Here, he constantly worked with children, and he wrote many influential education papers on music education for beginners.

Due to the era in which Orff lived, there has been much speculation as to his relationship with the Nazi Party. When Carmina Burana was premiered in Frankfurt in 1937, it became very popular. With Orff’s previous lack of commercial success, this was a change for the composer. Orff was also one of the only German composers, under the Nazi regime, who responded to the official call to write new incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after the music of Felix Mendelssohn has been banned.

Orff died of cancer in Munich in 1982, aged 86. He had lived through four epochs: the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany and Post World War II West German Bundesrepublik. He leaves behind a wealth of compositions, most of which are fairly unknown to concert halls, with the exception of Carmina Burana. 

Composed between 1935-1936, Carmina Burana was described by the composer as a ‘scenic cantata’. It is based on 24 poems from the medieval collection of the same name. Carmina Burana is part of a musical triptych which also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. The first and last movements of the piece are called Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (“Fortune, Empress of the World”), and begin with O Fortuna. The cantata, in general, is considered to be influence by Renaissance and Baroque models made by the likes of Monteverdi and Byrd. However, the orchestration shows likening to that of Igor Stravinksy and his work Les noces (‘The Wedding’). Carmina Burana is scored for a large orchestra, solo voices, SATB mixed choir, children’s choir and two pianos. After its successful premiere in Frankfurt, Orff said to his publisher:

“Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”

As the opening and closing piece of the cantata, O Fortuna has become Orff’s most popular and well-known composition. The original medieval Latin Goliardic poem was written in the early 13th Century, part of the Carmina Burana collection. The poem is a complaint about Fortuna, which is the fate that rules both men and gods in Roman and Greek mythology. The poem reads below:

Latin – English                                                             

O Fortuna – O Fortune

velut luna – like the moon

statu variabilis, – you are changeable,

semper crescis – ever waxing

ait decrescis; – or waning;

vita detestabilis – hateful life

nunc obdurat – first oppresses

et tunc curat – and then soothes

ludo mentis aceim, – as fancy takes it;

efestatem, – poverty

potestatem – and power

dissovit ut glaciem. – it melts them like ice.


Sors immanis – Fate, monstrous

et inanis, – and empty,

rota tu volubilis, – you whirling wheel,

status malus, – you are malevolent,

vana salus – well-being is vain

semper dissolubilis, – and always fades to nothing,

obumbrata – shadowed

et velata – and veiled

michi quoque niteris; – you plague me too;

nunc per ludum – now through the game

dorsum nudum – I bring my bare back

fero tui sceleris – to your villainy.


Sors salutis – Fate is against me

et virtutis – in health

michi nunc contraria, – and virtue,

est affectus – driven on

et defectus – and weighted down,

semper in angaria. – always enslaved.

Hac in hora – So at this hour

sine mora – without delay

corde pulsum tangite; – pluck the vibrating strings;

quod per sortem – since Fate

sternit fortem, – strikes down the strong man,

mecum omnes plangite! – everyone weep with me!


Orff’s setting of this poem is full of drama and darkness, making it a real force to be reckoned with. O Fortuna demonstrates a strand of medieval music, with elements, such as the texture, reflecting this model. It has been said by many that Orff’s use of a full (plus more) orchestral ensemble is a metaphor of the fate that affects all people.

There are two main sections of O Fortuna, with the first lasting only four bars, and the rest of the work being ‘Part B’, let’s say. Although only four bars in length, due to there being 3 semibreves in each bar, it feels a lot longer. The opening few bars are powerful, heavy and slow, making it a real statement. The beginning words are ‘O Fortuna’, which shows the power that Fortune actually has on the men. To create a state of uneasiness, Orff starts the voices off syncopated, as the first beat heard of the work is a crash/bang from the percussion section. The syncopation, mixed with the dissonant chordal movement is desperately crying out for some sort of resolution, which comes further on in the B section.

The tempo changes dramatically at the B section, going from 60 minims per bar, to 136 per bar. The dynamic has also gone from ff to pp. The choir sing softly, however are marked ‘mezzo staccato’, which makes their chant detached and this comes across as a fairly aggressive whisper. The first two stanzas of the poem are in the style of this forceful whisper, whereas the last stanza is where the orchestra and choir come back together and proclaim the text at a powerful ff dynamic. Just when you think O Fortuna has reached its climax, the coda begins and the orchestral interlude here reiterates the duality of tonalities. Orff writes a tierce de Picardie at the end (a major chord at the end of a minor work), and this has been said to represent how unpredictable the power of Fortune is.

O Fortuna is a powerful part of Orff’s Carmina Burana, and there is no question as to why it is still so popular in the media, concert halls and recorded works. I do hope you have enjoyed this instalment, make sure you join me for Day ‘P’ of my Alphabet Challenge – coming soon!

Happy Reading!

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Patrick Nunn ‘Escape Velocity’: The Not-So Ugly Duckling

Day ‘N’ is upon us, dearest readers, and for this instalment of my alphabet challenge I shall be looking into contemporary composer, Patrick Nunn and his chamber work Escape Velocity – enjoy!

Patrick Nunn was born in Kent, UK in 1969. He studied composition at Dartington College of Arts, Welsh College of Music and Drama and at the Royal Academy of Music, where he received his PhD in composition. Nunn has a large catalogue of music which has been performed both around the UK, and around the world. Nunn has subsequently won many awards for his services to music and composition including the Birmingham New Millennium Prize for his composition Sentiment of an Invisible Omniscience (2010), the Alan Bush Prize for Transilient Fragments (2008), a British Composers Award for Mercurial Sparks, Volatile Shadows (2006), and the BBC Radio 3 Composing for Children Prize for Songs of Our Generation (1995).

Nunn has also collaborated with a number of musicians, orchestras and festivals including IRCAM (Paris), the BBC Concert Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Zubin Kanga, Piano Cicus and New London Children’s Choir. As well as a busy composer, Nunn is also an educator and currently holds the position of Lecturer in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

It was tricky to pick just one piece to look at for this blog, as Nunn’s compositional output is rather extensive! However, I have decided to look into Escape Velocity, a chamber work scored for free-bass accordion and string quartet. Composed in 2005, Escape Velocity was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Anderson. In 2007, Escape Velocity was shortlisted for the chamber category in the British Composers Awards. Alongside the ‘unconventional’ pairing of the accordion and string quartet, Escape Velocity can be explained in part by the composer:

Escape Velocity explores the conflict between integration and separation and the possibilities of transformation and individuality – a narrative that is borrowed from the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling.’

For many accordion players, their instrument can be perceived as ‘the ugly duckling’ of the instrumental palette, yet the diversity of the modern-day free bass accordion has potentially rendered such a view as somewhat dated.

In this work, it is the accordion which initially attempts to integrate with the string quartet, shifting from a dark and awkward place, often hidden, transforming with increasing bursts of energy and ultimately freeing itself from the masking constraints of the quartet.”

Escape Velocity takes between 10-12 minutes to play, and as well as exploring themes of integration and separation, the work also explores the dominant musical features, such as tone and texture. The blend of sounds between the accordion and the string quartet are colourful, and add to the overall atmosphere of the work. There is a lot of call and response between the instruments, highlighting the struggle for the accordion to ‘break free’ from the constraints of the quartet. The sporadic interjections from the accordion set it apart from the quartet, often making it the focal point of the work.

With Hans Christian Anderson’s narrative in mind, Escape Velocity can be seen as very evocative of certain emotions and states, such as distress, anger, sadness and heroic. An incredibly intricate, atmospheric and complex work – Escape Velocity is a not-to-be-missed work by Patrick Nunn! Join me very soon for day ‘O’ of my alphabet challenge (that I realise has gone into November…ah the wonders of life!).

Happy Reading!

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