Daniel Thomson ‘Secret Fires of Love’ Album Review

As part of the new 2018 expansion of Classicalexburns, I am starting to take on reviews (of events, concerts and CDs), and I am really pleased to be writing this review on Daniel Thomson debut solo album Secret Fires of Love. 

According to the CD notes, Secret Fires of Love:

“Tells the story of intense love through songs ranging from the amorous yearnings for a country lass to the burning desires of tormented souls. This exploration of the multifaceted outpourings of lovers focuses on some of the most dramatic music written between the late 16th and 18th centuries, a time when performers prized the impassioned delivery of texts.”

The album is 19 tracks long, and each one exhibits a real sense of character, which is expertly portrayed by tenor, Daniel Thomson. Thomson is accompanied flawlessly by Terry McKenna (Lute and Guitars), and Thomas Leininger (Harpsichord). These are musicians of such a high calibre, and under the direction of Robert Toft, their mission to create a historically informed narrative of songs is certainly reached. The way that the musicians have interpreted this music is explained by Toft further:

“In Secret Fires of Love, the performers take a fresh approach to Renaissance and Baroque songs by treating the texts freely to transform inexpressive notation into passionate musical declamation. Daniel Thomson adopts the persona of a storyteller, and like singers of the past, he uses techniques of rhetorical delivery to re-create the natural style of performance listeners from the era would have heard.”

This album is clever in its concept, not least because it showcases some more unknown works, by a range of European composers from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Composers such as Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), and Tommaso Giordani (c.1733-1806) all feature on this album with many other European contemporaries. Thomson’s articulation of phrases really plays to the dramaturgy of the texts, which is then creatively accompanied by McKenna and Leininger. The musicians are sympathetic in their performance of these rather delicate songs, and the improvisation from them all is commendable, and of course, most enjoyable.

What I perhaps enjoy the most about this album is the initmacy that is created by the quality of the recordings. Recorded at the EMAC Recording Studios in London, the whole album makes you feel like you’re in the same room as the musicians, making each listen incredibly special. The handling of the theme of love really pays homage to some of Europe’s finest Renaissance and Baroque composers. I particularly enjoy track 15 What a sad fate is mine by Henry Purcell. The execution of this beautifully written work is expertly handled, and the text, which suggests that love is a crime, is certainly portrayed by Thomson’s lamenting vocals, and Leininger’s atmospheric harpsichord accompaniment.

After Daniel Thomson kindly sent me a copy of Secret Fires of Love, I have been overwhelmingly satisfied by the content. Not only is it intelligently performed, but it is also highly enjoyable, and accessible for anybody who would like to immerse themselves into the world of Renaissance music. Bravo to all involved, I cannot recommend this album enough.

© Alex Burns 2018

Want to find out more?

Spotify link to the FULL album Secret Fires of Love

Daniel Thomson’s Website

Thomas Leininger’s Website

Robert Toft’s Website


Jonathan Bates ‘Ex Terra Lucem’: From the Ground, Light

Dearest readers, we’ve come to that time again where another fantastic composer and piece are ready to be explored. The inspiration for this blog comes from a recent new experience for me. In the last couple of months I have been playing with the South Yorkshire Police Brass Band, and a couple of weekends ago we competed in the Regional Championships. The band came second, and we’re off to the Finals this coming September! The test piece that we played, Ex Terra Lucem, really has made an impression on me, and I am so very excited to be writing about it today. This composition for brass band is by the young, and incredibly talented tenor horn player (and composer in his own right), Jonathan Bates. I hope you enjoy this latest instalment on Classicalexburns!

As well as being a prolific young solo tenor horn player, Jonathan Bates is a composer in demand in the brass band world. His keen interest in composition from an early age has helped him in receiving commissions from contests, bands and other artists. Perhaps his first important, and successful, commission was when he composed a tenor horn solo that was premiered as part of the prestigious Black Dyke Brass Arts Festival. In his short, yet fruitful career thus far, Bates has been taught by the likes of Philip Wilby, Bramwell Tovey, and Edward Gregson.

Bates has composed other test pieces, including his extended work Within the Paths of Righteousness, which was premiered by the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. In 2012, Bates become the youngest composer to receive a premiere of a work at the Royal Northern College of Music’s Festival of Brass, as well a being the youngest composer to be chosen for a National Finals test piece (4th Section).

His composition for brass band, Ex Terra Lucem was chosen for the 2018 second section regional contest. A short synopsis of the work from the composer is shown below:

“Ex Terra Lucem, translating to ‘From the Ground, Light’ is the motto of the Merseyside town of St. Helens, which pays homage to the rapid growth of the town during the industrial revolution. 

This motto was also a large influence on Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. Ex Terra Lucem is composer, and dedicated to Jay Hall and the St. Helen’s Youth Brass Band, following his appointment as musical director of the band in July 2016.”


I. The Brigantes

II. St Elyns Chapel

III. From the Ground, Light

Although in three movements, this work is played through, but it will become obvious when each movement starts and ends. When I began reading the programme notes for this work, it very much came to light just how clever the thought processes are for Ex Terra Lucem. The opening note reads:

“The main musical material of the work is derived from a graph on the current façade of St Helen’s Town Hall. By overlaying a musical staff onto an image of the building, the contours, peaks and troughs provide a series of notes, or a tone row, as shown below.”

Here is what the image and tone row looks like:

Image 1: St Helen’s Town Hall and Bates’ tone row.

I. The Brigantes 

Bates’ Programme Note:

“The Brigantes were a Celtic tribe who settled in an area covering much of the North of England across the counties that would ultimately form Lancashire and Yorkshire. Where St Helen’s currently sits is within this area, and the tribe were settled in this region until the 1st Century AD Roman Conquest, when nearby Wigan was selected as a place for a new Roman settlement, and the Brigantes became subjugated. Throughout this movement, there is a strong feel of the traditional ‘Celtic’ musical elements, with an almost dance-like feel to much of the rhythmic work, and light-footed solo playing.”

Beginning with a flourish from the cornets, Ex Terra Lucem establishes a quick tempo in a short amount of time. A driving rhythm from back row cornets and horns are passed around the band throughout the work, and create a syncopated feel. When the solo cornets enter again, they play a rather Game of Thrones-like melody, which resembles the tone row that is shown above. As the programme note suggests, this first movement is rather dance-like in its portrayal of rhythms, and this is what adds to the character of the work. A lyrical sections sings out, with the flugelhorn playing a diluted version of the cornet melody beforehand. This all leads up to the band coming in together for a welcome resolution section, that has risen in dynamic. A march-like section can then be heard, and the subtle dissonances used here resonate throughout the band. A light and bouncy euphonium solo takes us back into the dance-like feel, with the 12/8 time signature really driving the tempo and rhythmic structure of this movement. This first movement is fiery, full of complex rhythmic structures, and quick moving harmonies. The segue into the second movement comes from a large dissonant chord, which then resolves into a much quieter dynamic as instruments begin to die away. The short minims played by the muted cornets perhaps shine a small ray of light as we go into the second, much slower, section.

II. St Elyns Chapel

Bates’ Programme Note:

“The name of St Helens dates back to 1552, with the first documentation of a chapel of ease dedicated to St Elyn in Hardshaw (near the site of the current pedestrianised Church Street). The Chapel was said to be the crux of the four townships of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle. These civil parishes were what eventually became the borough of St Helens. As a reflective and tranquil core to the work, I decided to pay homage to two composers from both the orchestral and brass band worlds, who’s music I find emotionally engaging: Arthur Bliss and Eric Ball.”

Interestingly, if one looks closely enough, there are some very similar correlations between Bates’ second movement, and the second movement from works by Bliss and Ball. For example, the second movement from Bliss’ Dances From Checkmate, show similar motivic gestures, parallel chord movements, and shapes of melodies (see example below – skip to 4 minutes in):

The cornet solo from Bates’ second movement is also resonant of that of the cornet solo from Bliss’ Kenilworth (see example below – skip to about 2 minutes in):

This tranquil section requires much control from all instruments, as it is incredibly quiet throughout. The flowing melodic lines go hand in hand with the luscious accompanying lines from the bottom end of the band. The extra quiet bit near the end of this section shows real control in the cornets and horns, who are muted and marked ppp. This tranquil section offers some stasis to the movement. The delicacy of the note placement gives it a feel of floating, which is perhaps what Bates means by emotionally engaging with the music.

III. From the Ground, Light

Bates’ Programme Note:

“Until the mid-18th Century, the towns and local industry was mainly based on small-scale home-based initiatives such as weaving and light extraction. Sitting on the South Lancashire coalfield, the town was physically and metaphorically built on coal, and it was this reason that the council’s coat of arms bear the motto ‘Ex Terra Lucem’. The phraserefers to both the abundant and winnable coal resources (which can be burnt to produce ‘light’) in addition to their use in local industries, such as glass (through which light passes). The motto of the town and larger borough was changed in 1974 to ‘Prosperitas in Excelsis’ (Success in the Highest, or, Flourishing Well), which is included on the arms of the Metropolitan Borough Council, but following it’s inspiration of the Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremony in 2012, residents felt the original motto was more appropriate to the town’s history and had a greater meaning for the local people representing hope for the future, and the motto was changed back to it’s original. Like the coal industry, the music is a ‘slow-burner’, gradually building from a quiet, high minimalist-esque figure in the cornets at the outset through to the thunderous clunks and clangs of machinery towards the end of the movement. The majority of the movement has a sense of minor tonality, before the light emerges from the depths at the close.”

The cornets begin this movement with a very minimalist approach, with neat motor rhythms that create two halves of a semiquaver throughout the bar between the parts. These driving rhythms lead into the louder and ‘clunkier’ section, which Bates states represents machinery. The thunderous end to the work sees a wonderfully dissonant chord built up through the instruments, from lowest to highest, and this it what creates the ‘goosebump moment’ in this piece. All of the energy spent developing the themes of this work comes down to the last sixteen bars or so of the work, and my word is it worth it!

To be able to play this work has been such a great experience for me as I have learned a lot from this music, which has inspired my own playing. The clever narrative ties in to the complex rhythmic structures and this creates a very well-rounded piece of music. A great entertainment piece for brass bands, I would recommend this work twofold!

I’d like to thanks my new friends at the South Yorkshire Police Band for welcoming me in, and nourishing my abilities in the band. I have really loved playing with you all, and I look forward to our next musical adventures!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording (This is the South Yorkshire Police Band playing Ex Terra Lucem at the National Championships 2018 – can you spot me?)


Ola Gjeilo ‘Ubi Caritas’: Let Us Rejoice!

My dearest readers, welcome (or welcome back) to Classicalexburns – the No. 1 Classical Music Blog. Ahead of Classical Sheffield’s Festival Weekend (March 10-11th 2018), I am writing this blog on Ola Gjeilo (pronounced ‘yay-loh’), and his wonderful composition for choir – Ubi Caritas. 

Ola Gjeilo was born in 1978, in Sandvika, Norway. From an early age he was exposed to a range of different genres of music, but he took a special liking to both jazz and classical choral music. Gjeilo began playing piano, and gravitated towards jazz improvisation. Gjeilo mainly learned music by ear, but did learn how to read music from age 7. His keen ear enabled him to be experimental in his compositional style from a young age.

After high school, Gjeilo received lessons from composer and pianist, Wolfgang Plagge, which then lead him to receive formal composition education at the Royal College of Music in London. After this, Gjeilo then moved to New York to study composition at the prestigious Julliard School, where he graduated in 2006. Gjeilo’s wide breadth of styles and his formal training all feed into his ever-developing choral style of composing, which is what he is perhaps most well-known for now.

It is said that Gjeilo’s earlier choral music was a lot more conventional in terms of the classical style it often resembled. Ubi Caritas is an interesting work as it is an impressive work for choir, however, it is still accessible for ensembles ranging in experience and standards. Ubi Caritas became one of the first breakthrough works for Gjeilo in America, with Randall Stroope commenting that:

“It is a beautiful, lyrical piece, with very attractive harmonic colours.”

Gjeilo’s style is still being found to this day. His use of improvisation, jazz and classical conventions amalgamate to create some truly stunning pieces of music. Gjeilo talks at length about ‘finding your music voice’, and how it is a common barrier for composers:

“I think it is real easy to get caught up in external factors and questioning oneself. What does my teacher want me to do? What are others expecting from me? Is my music modern enough? Is it too pretty? Is it too cerebral? We get caught up in these things and distracted from the core question – what is it that I really love?”

He goes on further to state that:

“This should be the benchmark of all that we composers are looking for. It is so important in music. If we don’t enjoy our own music – audiences won’t either. So, this is the principle I work with now. I started to write more music that reflected what I listen to. It made me happier. I felt a lot less creative doubt, and I just began to enjoy composing in a new way.”

Gjeilo composed Ubi Caritas in 1999, after singing, and being influenced, by Maurice Duruflé’s a cappella work for choir with the same name. Gjeilo takes inspiration from the traditional chant that Duruflé also used, but then added his own twist to the text to make it come alive in a different way. Ubi Caritas is entrancing, to say the least, and Gjeilo’s use of crunchy harmonies and choral colour are so very effective. The text that is at the centre of the work can be seen below:

Latin Original

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.

Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.

Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.

Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.


English Translation 

Where charity and love are, God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.

Let us fear, and let us love the living God.

And may we love each other with a sincere heart.


As one of his most performed and popular works to date, Ubi Caritas was originally scored for SATB choir, but in its developments there are now Men’s TTBB and Women’s SSAA arrangements. The work is dedicated to Lone Larsen, who was the conductor of the Swedish choir, Voces Nordicae, who performed the American premiere of Ubi Caritas in 2007.

The text, which is related to the Eucharist, is widely known as the antiphon for the first communion, and the washing of the feet from the Mass for Maundy Thursday. Gjeilo states that the work is comprised entirely of original material, but the music is very reflective of Gregorian chant tradition, which in turn “pays homage to the text’s ancient history.” Opening with a flowing soprano solo, and then closing with an alto solo, Gjeilo immediately showcases his ear for colour and timbre in the different voice types. The opening chant is then concluded by the soprano and alto lines coming together, solidifying the F# minor key.

The opening chant is then presented again, but this time with all SATB in unison. Instead of concluding the phrase, Gjeilo instead provides a harmonic shift, which provides some welcome dissonance. The middle section begins following a neat modulation to A major. Gjeilo creates a more jubilant atmosphere here, which can be heard through luscious harmony, accelerating tempos, and ever-expressive dynamics. Throughout the work, to create effective dynamics, Gjeilo writes delayed resolutions, which conclude phrases just that little bit after you’re expecting it to. A modulation to B major is heard at the end of this middle section, which comes when the choir are singing the final line of text.

The final section of Ubi Caritas begins at a delicate dynamic. Similar to the opening section, the soprano voice carries the initial melodic line. However, instead of the voices being in unison here, they are in full SATB harmony, which is absolutely glorious. To support the movement and stresses in the text, Gjeilo writes phrase cadences, complex harmonic progressions, and meter changes to emulate the opening section, whilst also developing the text.

The concluding ‘Amen’ is perhaps my favourite part of this whole work. Gjeilo cleverly changes meter twice before completing the work, to prolong the tension in the final cadence. Whilst the alto voice sustains an F# (tonic), the tenor and bass voices descend in stepwise motion, with the soprano voices ascending in the same manner. In the last two bars, the bass and soprano land on the tonic and dominant of F# minor. Differently, the alto and tenor provide the concluding delayed resolution, with them eventually landing on the third and dominant of the F# minor chord. A delayed, but worth the wait ‘Amen’!

So, there you have it – Ola Gjeilo’s fantastic rendition of Ubi Caritas. Although only around 3 minutes in length, Ubi Caritas is full of clever choral writing, complex harmonic progressions, which all offer a creative and effective use of this traditional Latin text.

If you want to hear this live, then you’re in luck because Sheffield choral group, Octogenesis, will be performing it on Sunday 11th as part of the Classical Sheffield Festival.

Until next time, classical music fans!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Classicalexburns Spotify Playlist


Carl Maria von Weber ‘Bassoon Concerto’: A Triumphant Bassoon

Dearest readers, I apologise for the lack of blogs in the past month, I am still trying to find a golden balance with my work load. I feel like I am nearly there now, so hopefully blogs will return to being published more regularly. To celebrate the next Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra concert this coming Saturday (10th March), I am writing this blog on Carl Maria von Weber, and his Bassoon Concerto. 

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was born in 1786 (and died in 1826). He is now known as one of the first significant composers of the original Romantic school. Weber’s music, especially his operas, influenced the development of composers such as Mendelssohn, Wagner and Meyerbeer. As well as being a forefront figure in Romantic Opera (Romantische Oper), Weber was also a great pianist. He composed sonatas, concertos and a concert piece for piano, which was further acknowledged and interpreted by the likes of Liszt and Chopin.

Weber is remembered for his forward-thinking compositional style. His Concertino for Horn and Orchestra asks the soloist to use multiphonics (producing two notes simultaneously), which is a technique that is not only very difficult, but rarely used in classical music of this time. Weber wrote concertos for clarinet, bassoon and horn, all of which are popular with instrumentalists today.

Homage has been paid to Weber from popular 20th Century composers, such as Debussy and Stravinsky. Mahler also completed Weber’s unfinished comic opera Die drei Pintos. Paul Hindemith also composed the popular concert piece Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber – which you can read all about here.

Weber’s ever-popular Bassoon Concerto in F Major was originally composed in 1811, but was later revised in 1822. Whilst visiting Munich in 1811, Weber was asked to put a concert on for the Queen. After impressing the court with his Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra, Weber was on the lookout to write a new concerto. Weber took interest in German bassoonist, Georg Friedrich Brandt, and composed his Concerto for Bassoon. It took Weber a mere four days to compose the work, and the first performance took place on 28th December, 1811.

The revisions took place four years before Weber’s death. He made a deal with Schlesinger (a music publisher) to publish some of his older works, the Concerto for Bassoon being one of these. Not huge changes were made, but an expansion of some orchestral sections, and some re-scoring were made.

It is often noted that Weber’s father wanted his children to become ‘the next Mozart’, and perhaps this was not the case. However, Weber followed in Mozart’s footsteps when it came to composing outstanding bassoon concertos. Both Weber’s and Mozart’s bassoon concertos are among the most popular in bassoon repertoire.

The concerto consists of three movements:

I. Allegro ma non troppo (F Major)

II. Adagio (Bb Major)

III. Rondo: Allegro (F Major)

The first movement is in classical sonata form. It is in 4/4 time, and is in the tonic key of F major. There is an orchestral introduction, which focuses primarily on the tonics and dominants of F major. The melodic material is taken from the first and second themes, which come later in the movement. The march-like introduction could be argued to be a dramatic build up to the soloist entering, which highlights Weber’s flair for opera and theatrics. Two bars before the soloist enters, the timpani is left playing an F at pianissimo, creating an expectancy of the soloist. The bassoon then enters triumphantly with the militaristic first theme.

The dotted rhythms throughout the first movement characterises the bassoon, and it is a skill that Weber has become known for. The virtuosity of the solo part is built up on theatrics also. With long scalic runs, jumping from high and low registers, and tricky trills and arpeggios, this bassoon concerto is difficult for even the modern bassoon. The final cadence, for instance, in the first movement sees the bassoon ascend to a high D, which was, at the time, the highest note a bassoon could reach (the modern bassoon can now go higher, but not without a lot of effort still!). It is often argued that the style of this first movement is resonant of both classical and romantic styles, to which Weber is known to be a significant figure in both.

The second movement, Adagio, is in the subdominant key of Bb major. This movement has been likened to that of slow arias from opera, especially Italian operas, due to its stylistic features. The bassoon melody is perhaps on the of the most beautiful melodies written for the instrument. This movement is less about the virtuosity of the soloist, but the overall colour and texture of the work. There is a small section in the middle where Weber experiments with the solo bassoon playing in a three-part texture with two horns. It is unusual, but also rather poignantly placed in the movement. This movement ends with the only cadenza in the concerto, which Weber wrote out for the soloist.

The third movement returns to the tonic of F major, and is a lighthearted rondo. The quick pace of the this movement makes it very exciting to listen to. The soloist must have keen dexterity, however, as again, there are many scalic passages, with tricky key changes. The humour of this movement is certainly my favourite characteristic of this work, and this, for me, is what makes it the most exciting. The finale is perhaps one of the most virtuosic to ever be written for bassoon. A flurry of scalic passages and arpeggios showcase the musical dominance of the bassoon.

I do hope you have enjoyed exploring this wonderful concerto with me today. If you fancy seeing it live (with me also playing the orchestra – bonus!), then come on down to see Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra play on Saturday 10th March. May Weber’s music live on for many years to come!

Happy reading!

Recommended Recording:

Classicalexburns Spotify Playlist

Jóhann Jóhannsson ‘Flight From the City’: A Loving Tribute

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog for you all today. It has recently been announced that Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson has passed away, age 48. He was perhaps best-known for his original film soundtrack for the 2016 blockbuster, The Theory of Everything. As well as film soundtracks, Jóhannsson also worked on solo albums, and other exciting collaborations. This multi award-winning composer offered so much to the contemporary classical music world, so this blog is in honour of his memory and music – R.I.P.

After studying Languages and Literature at university, Jóhannsson began playing guitar in Icelandic Indie-Rock bands. This lasted for a short time before he began being seriously interested in creating minimalist music, and ambient structures for classical instruments. Jóhannsson worked for many years on creating a sound world where both electronic and acoustic sounds could blend naturally. Experimental collaborations are what Jóhannsson thrived from, and his compositional style developed also.

Jóhannsson has worked with musicians such as the ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble), Marc Almond, Tim Hecker, and Pan Sonic. His style is incredibly versatile, and his projects have spanned across theatre, dance, cinema, and concert hall. Jóhannsson’s style is a unique blend of electronic and classical forms, which draws heavily on the principles of minimalism. However, in saying this, it is also hard to push Jóhannsson’s music into one genre box, as it never properly settles into any pre-defined genre, making it that little bit more exciting.

Today, Jóhannsson is perhaps best-known for his last few years in the music industry, as a film score composer. His scores for both The Theory of Everything (2014), and Sicario (2015) were nominated and won prestigious awards. As well as his highly acclaimed film scores, Jóhannsson’s discography is full of incredible music, that is both experimental, yet accessible for all. Between 2002-2016, Jóhannsson released 8 solo albums, with the latest being Orphée, which has become particularly popular. The focus on this blog is on the piece Flight From the City, which can be found on Orphée. 

It came as a welcome surprise, that after focusing on film scores for so long, that Jóhannsson returned to composing his own solo music again. Released in September 2016, Orphée takes inspiration from the various tales of the Greek prophet, Orpheus. The album deals with musings on changes in the world, destruction and creation, and the motion of life. Jóhannsson explains further:

“Orphée is, for me, about changes: about moving to a new city, leaving behind an old life in Copenhagen, and building a new one in Berlin – about the death of old relationships, and the birth of new ones. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I was drawn to the Orpheus myth, which is fundamentally about change, mutability, death, rebirth, the elusive nature of beauty, and its sometimes thorny relation to the artist. The album, my first solo record for six years, is an oblique reflection on personal change.” 

The six-year gap that Jóhannsson took to before releasing another album, was also spent slowly composing and developing the music that is now on Orphée:

“I spent a lot of time shaping these ideas into different versions and variations. They slowly mutated over a long gestation period of several years, and were transformed and transfigured into the individual pieces on the album.”

Flight from the City is the first track on the album, and is perhaps my personal favourite. The principle idea of this work is to allow the listener to self-explore themselves, to find inner peace. A simple piano melody, with a slowly-built up string accompaniment, nods its head towards minimalism, and composers such as Glass and Reich. Jóhannsson further comments that:

“Making Orphée has been a true labour of love, one that has been a part of my life for six years, and yet the music always remained fresh – it was constantly in a state of flux and renewal.”

This principle can certainly be applied to Flight From the City, with the music pushing you forwards, and yet, you remain within a stillness, watching the world go by. The addition of electronic bell sounds, also adds to the otherworldly atmosphere that Jóhannsson is going for. This composition allows you to remove yourself from the overwhelming world, just for six minutes, but it is a powerful tool for one to find some real inner peace.

From darkness to light, Orphée has a mesmerizing sonic palette, that is showcased through every track on the album. Such a wide scope of Jóhannsson’s talents is shown on the album, with Flight From the City showing the minimalist influences of his compositional style. To grasp a real true sense of the kind of composer Jóhannsson is, I urge you to listen to the album in its entirety.

As aforementioned, Jóhannsson sadly passed away in February 2018, at just age 48. This blog is in honour of his life, music, and the legacy he has left behind. May his music live on for many generations to come.

Happy Reading.

Recommended Recording:

Giuseppe Verdi ‘Dies Irae’: A Dramatic Decision

It is time, dearest readers, for us to explore another composer for my Alphabet Challenge. We have come to Day ‘V’ and for this blog I shall be delving into the world of Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi, and the Dies Irae, from his Requiem. I do hope you will enjoy this blog, as this is another fantastic composition, which I am sure many of you will recognise instantly!

Born in October 1813, Giuseppe Verdi grew up in Le Roncole, a small village in Italy. After learning the organ, Verdi showed a real interest in learning music, to which he parents acknowledged and bought him a spinet for the family house (a spinet is a small harpsichord). Verdi also served as an altar boy in the local church choir, and when the village schoolmaster, Baistrocchi died, Verdi (aged 8-9) became the official paid organist of the church. In 1823, Verdi’s parents enrolled him to attend a boys school in nearby Busseto. Aged 12, he began music lessons with Ferdinando Provesi, who was the director of the municipal music school. Throughout his early years, Verdi composed a wealth of different pieces, from marches, to concertos, and chamber works. These works were soon to be performed publicly, and from here Verdi became the local music prodigy.

After finishing school, Verdi began teaching, performing and composing – with all of his efforts going into music. Verdi applied to study at the prestigious Milan conservatory, but was unsuccessful in his application. Instead, he became a private student of Vincenzo Lavigna. Whilst in Milan, studying with Lavigna, Verdi was able to hear operas by Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, and this is where he began making important connections. Verdi then conducted the Philharmonic for a few months, before returning to Milan once more, where he then became the director of the Busseto school. In 1836, he married Margherita, and they eventually had two children, both of whom died very young. Further to this, when Verdi was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, Margherita died at the age of 26. Naturally, Verdi was devastated by the deaths of his wife and children, and after the flop of Un giorno di regno, Verdi claimed he would never compose again.

It is recorded that it was Librettist, and manager of the La Scala Opera House, Bartolomeo Merelli who persuaded Verdi to start composing again. Verdi began composing the music for Nabucco, which has ended up being one of his most famous works. Verdi is most well-known for his operas, for which there are 29. Listed below are a selection of his operas:

Nabucco (1842)

Attila (1846)

Il corsaro (1848)

Rigoletto (1851)

Il trovatore (1853)

La Traviata (1853)

Don Carlos (1867)

Aida (1871)

Otello (1887)

Falstaff (1893)

After many prosperous years composing, and becoming an internationally recognised composer, Verdi undertook a number of charitable acts in his last years. This included planning, building and endowing a resting home for retired musicians in Milan. The last major composition that Verdi composed was his choral set Four Sacred Pieces. Whilst staying at the Grand Hotel, Verdi suffered a stroke on January 21st, 1901. He survived the stroke, but it made him incredibly week, and a week later on 27th January, Verdi passed away, aged 87.

Although most well-known for his operas, Verdi also composed songs, sacred works, and instrumental works. For this particular blog, I have decided to look into the Dies Irae, from his Messa da Requiem (1874), as it is an exciting and instantly recognisable work.

Messa da Requiem was premiered on the 22nd May, 1874, and it is composed for four soloists, double choir and orchestra. The work is in memory of Italian poet, Alessandro Manzoni, and at one point the work was often called the Manzoni Requiem (however, it changed back to its original title soon after). Requiem has also been dubbed as the most frequently performed major choral work, which may or may not be true!

Originally, Requiem was composed by a collection of different Italian composers in memory of Gioachino Rossini (who died in 1868). Verdi submitted his contribution, which was the Libera me movement (at the end of the Requiem). During the following year, Verdi had compiled Messa per Rossini, however just before its premiere on 13th November (the first anniversary of Rossini’s death), the organising committee of the concert abandoned the work. After not being performed, Verdi became frustrated with the outcome of this decision. This was until May 1873, when Alessandro Manzoni died, that Verdi vowed to complete a Requiem, in his memory.

The layout of the Requiem are as follows:

I. Introit and Kyrie 

II. Dies irae 

  • Dies irae (chorus)
  • Mors stupebit (bass)
  • Liber scriptus (mezzo-soprano, chorus)
  • Quid sum miser (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor)
  • Rex tremendae (soloists, chorus)
  • Recordare (soprano, mezzo-soprano)
  • Ingemisco (tenor)
  • Confutatis Maledictis (bass, chorus)
  • Lacrymosa (soloists, chorus)

III. Offertory 

  • Domine Jesu Christe (soloists)
  • Hostias (soloists)

IV. Sanctus (double chorus)

V. Agnus Dei (Soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus)

VI. Lux aeterna (mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass)

VII. Libera me (soprano, chorus)

  • Libera me
  • Dies irae
  • Requiem aeternam 
  • Libera me

The Dies irae is perhaps the most well-known section of this particular Requiem, with its powerful nature creating intensity, whilst representing the ‘Day of Wrath.’ The original Latin text and (literal) English translations can be seen below:

Dies irae – Day of wrath
dies illa – that day
Solvet saeclum in favilla: – Earth will be in ashes:
Teste David cum Sybilla. – As David and Sybil witness.
Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Quando judex est venturus – When the judge comes
Cuncta stricte discussurus! – To examine everything strictly!
Dies irae – Day of wrath
dies illa – that day
Solvet saeclum in favilla: – Earth will be in ashes:
Teste David cum Sybilla. – As David and Sybil witness.
Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Quatdo judex est venturus – When the judge comes
Cuncta stricte discussurus! – To examine everything strictly!

Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Dies irae, dies illa – That day is a day of wrath
Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Dies irae, dies illa – That day is a day of wrath
Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Quantus tremor est futurus – How great the tremors will be
Quando judex est venturus – When the judge comes
Cuncta stricte discussurus! – To examine everything strictly!
Cuncta stricte – To examine everything strictly!
Cuncta stricte – To examine everything strictly!
Stricte discussurus – Strictly!

Cuncta stricte – To examine everything strictly!
Cuncta stricte – To examine everything strictly!
Stricte discussurus! – Strictly

Below is the English translation that is not as literal as above:

The day of wrath, that day

Will dissolve the world in ashes

As foretold by David and Sibyl!

How great the tremors there will be,

when the judge comes,

investigating everything strictly!

The Dies irae is a fiery and dramatic opening to the section of the same name. With four shrieks from the orchestra, the choir enter with the powerful ‘Dies irae’ phrase. The layering of the voices here becomes the staple melodic framework for the piece. The mighty thwack from the bass drum has become iconic, and it sets the choir to come back in again with the ‘Dies irae’ theme. Like with his operas, Dies irae is full of vigorous rhythms and powerful dramatic contrasts throughout. All voices are utilised in this work, with the sopranos soaring above, and the tenors and basses creating a dark and ominous undertone. The screaming trumpets and violins accentuate the rhythmic variations in the melodic framework.

The Dies irae comes down dramatically in dynamics, with tension building within both the chorus and the orchestra. The strings are playing fast tremolos, and the winds are interrupting the low rumble from the chorus and strings. The piece comes to a resolution at the end, which then goes straight into the Tuba mirum. Verdi’s application of word-painting is incredibly effective throughout the Dies irae, and it really plays to the dramaturgy of the work. Traditionally, the Dies irae text refers to the Last Judgement, and summoning the dead to God, before he decides with they will be saved or cast into hell. Therefore, one could suggest that the trumpets and bass drum represent the summoning calls, and the choir tell the story of the Last Judgement.

A dramatic and now-iconic work from Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi, Dies irae is now a staple in choir and orchestral repertoire (alongside the rest of the Requiem). I do hope you have enjoyed this instalment. Join me very soon for an exciting Day ‘W’ in my Alphabet Challenge!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Erich Urbanner ‘Emotions’: A New Historical Code

Day ‘U’ is upon us, dearest readers, and it is always a task to find a composer with a name that begins with U! Saying this, however, I have decided to write this blog on the marvellous Austrian composer, Erich Urbanner, and his work for saxophone quartet – Emotions. I hope you enjoy this latest instalment in my Alphabet Challenge!

Born on March 26th, 1936 in Austria, Erich Urbanner has had a fruitful career in music and composition. Studying at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, between 1955-1961, Urbanner was able to work with a wealth of different composers. He studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky, piano with Grete Hinterhofer, and composition with Hanns Jelinek, Karl Schiske and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Between 1961-1969, Urbanner taught at the university, both in score-reading, composition and harmony and counterpoint. Urbanner also began specialising his classes in twelve-tone music and Electro-acoustic and Experimental music.

Urbanner’s catalogue of compositions spans many decades and genres, including concertos, chamber music, orchestral work and solo instrumental works. Urbanner has also composed one opera, one musical burlesque, and one monodrama. For many of his works, Urbanner has won composition prizes, such as the Composition Prize of the City of Innsbruck (1980), and the Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria (2001).

Emotions for saxophone quartet was composed as a commission from the Raschér Quartet, in 1984. The compositional processes that Urbanner took to compose Emotions, are more unconventional than you’d expect. With the idea that each saxophone is an emotion or ‘voice’, the work has largely been composed as if it were for only one instrument. What Urbanner has done is take the focus off of the melodic content, and instead put the emphasis on the structures within the inside of the composition. Essentially, he has composed this from the inside out, which makes Emotions all that more complex. In Urbanner’s detailed description of Emotions he states:

“Rather than seeing to their mere clever variation, or even their musical ‘destruction’, it seems to me more artistic to allow the structural elements in the musical material to blend into each other; not by their mere juxtaposition as unaltered pieces in a collage, but by allowing for their reciprocal and simultaneous mutual influence in digital space. Various influences were blended into this music. It is narrative music in which the destinies of chords and melodies are described, as well as the destinies of moods, and their correlative experiences. This is not composing based upon ‘historical’ music, but rather composing based upon the historical ‘codes’ of music, which become broken open, newly combined and conglomerated with new sounds. Thus, something new is described, new ‘tonal histories’ are created.”

As you will be able to hear from the recording of the work, each saxophone has its own purpose and destination, which, in due course, brings the whole ensemble into one. Each part is so in tune (if you’ll pardon the pun!) with one another, that each small phrase is perfectly encapsulated by each member of the ensemble. The effectiveness of the piece lies in many different areas of the score, perhaps most notably the accents, and how they create different atmospheres for each phrase. The different sections of Emotions, which can be heard through tempo changes, represent the different emotions that are being pinged around the ensemble. Throughout the different sections there are more solo-lead passages, however the work as a whole places its emphasis on the whole ensemble moving as one unit, making it a very effective and complex work for a saxophone quartet.

Urbanner was able to create his own ‘historical code’ of music to work with whilst composing Emotions. A highly intelligent work that lies its values in the past, present and future, Emotions is worth your time, so do give it a listen if you are into avant-garde chamber music!

That’s all from Day ‘U’ of my Alphabet Challenge, join me very soon for Day ‘V’ of the challenge. We are nearly at the end of the challenge, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all my readers for spurring me on to complete this. There will be some big announcements coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Toru Takemitsu ‘Requiem for String Orchestra’: ‘Death is a Part of Life’

Welcome to Day T of my alphabet challenge! Today’s blog will be on Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu and one of his more well-known works, Requiem for String Orchestra. Regarded as one of the most influential composers from Japan in the twentieth century, I hope you will find this blog as exciting as I will!

Toru Takemitsu was born in 1930 in Tokyo. At a very young age (from around 14), Takemitsu was called into military service. However, during his time in the military, Takemitsu became aware of Western classical music. During the post-war U. S. occupation of Japan, Takemistu was taken ill for a long period of time. Bed-ridden, Takemistu took this opportunity to listen to as much Western music as he could on the U. S. network. He said, much later in his life, that he began to distance himself from Japanese music, because it reminded him too much of the war.

Although completely self-taught at this stage, Takemistu began to compose at the age of sixteen, by using influences from the Western classical music he had heard whilst ill. In an interview, Takemistu suggested that music ‘clarified’ his identity, because “after the war, music was the only thing left.” Throughout his fruitful career, Takemistu only studied under Yasuji Kiyose for a brief time, but largely he was a self-taught composer and musician.

As well as his orchestral and chamber works, Takemistu is also remembered for his ideas regarding electronic music technology. In 1951, Takemistu was one of the founding members of the anti-academic group called ‘Jikken Kōbō’ (‘experimental workshop’). This was an artistic group that was established for multidisciplinary collaboration on ‘mixed-media projects.’ Takemistu composed many works throughout this period, and he also composed some works with the aid of electronic tape recording, such as Relief Statique (1955), and Vocalism A.I (1956). At this point, Takemistu’s music was largely kept in Japan and the surrounding area, that was, until the late 1950s, where, by chance, he hit international fame. When Requiem for String Orchestra was premiered in 1957, it was received well. In 1958, by chance the great Igor Stravinsky heard this work on his visit to Japan. It has been noted that NHK (a Japanese broadcaster), had organised the latest Japanese music for Stravinsky to hear on his visit, and by mistake Takemistu’s Requiem was put on. NHK tried to turn the piece off, but Stravinsky wanted to listen to the end, saying that he admired the work for its ‘passionate writing’ and ‘sincerity throughout.’ After this, Stravinsky invited Takemistu for lunch. Takemistu then received a commission for a new work from the Koussevitsky Foundation, which he assumed had come from Aaron Copland, via Stravinsky’s recommendation. For this commission he wrote Dorian Horizon (1966), which was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Aaron Copland himself. 

Throughout his rise to international fame, Takemistu’s style gradually developed. He began meeting some influential composers, which deeply affected his music, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Peter Sculthorpe. More avant-garde compositions such as Waves (1976) and Quatrain (1977) highlight Takemistu’s shift in compositional style. It was around this time, in the 1970s, that Takemistu began incorporating traditional Japanese musical ideas into his compositions. Works such as In an Autumn Garden for gagaku (1973) and A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977) emphasise this effectively. His later works show the dichotomy between Eastern and Western traditions even more so, which is perhaps why Takemistu became such a tour-de-force in the twentieth century.

Towards the last years of his life, Takemistu began to collaborate on an opera with novelist Barry Gifford, and director Daniel Schmid. Whilst writing the plan for the musical structure between 1996-1996, Takemistu passed away in February 1996 due to contracting pneumonia, whilst undergoing treatment for bladder cancer – he was 65.

Since his death, Takemistu is often regarded as one of the most important composers that Japan has ever produced. He was the first Japanese composer to be fully recognised and accepted in the West, and still remains an important figure for younger generations of Japanese composers.

Takemistu’s style, although uniquely his own genre, was, of course, influenced by others, including the likes of Claude Debussy, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen. From early on his career, Takemistu bent the rules of Western music, and instead of following lots of formulas and calculations he ‘let the sounds have the freedom to breathe’ further commenting that ‘one cannot plan his life, neither can he plan music.’ One could really go on and on about all the techniques and influences Takemistu had throughout his time, so this is why I am ending the biography part here, and will now be moving onto his popular Requiem for String Orchestra. 

Composed as a tribute to his mentor, Fumio Hayasaka (also a composer), Requiem highlights Takemistu’s avant-garde style of composition, with heavy influences from the Second Viennese School). There has been discussion on this piece and how it sounds very ‘Western’, rather than a mix between the two traditions. For me, however, I feel like one must look under the surface to see the Japanese flavour within the score. Although the tonality and orchestration is very reminiscent of Western culture, it is, perhaps, the atmosphere that is more reminiscent of Japanese culture. The sense of ‘staticism’ and ‘speechlessness’ is very much in the lanes of Japanese aesthetics ‘mono no Aware’. Described in the novel, The Tale of Genji by Japanese philosopher, Motoori Noringa, ‘mono no aware’ exhibits what is seen as traditional Japanese aesthetic consciousness. ‘Aware’ portrays misery and sadness, ‘mono no’ thus shows the ‘aware’ to the world, usually in the abstract sense. This, in Japanese tradition, represents ‘fleeting beauty’ and signifies a sad, yet unwavering beauty. Are you still with me? This is a very complex idea, but if you keep this in mind whilst listening to Requiem, you may understand better what this thought represents for Takemistu.

Requiem is in an ABA structure (Lent-Modéré-Lent). The structure adds to the intensity of the work. Starting out quietly, with muted strings, the dynamics gradually appear, and the ensemble sound both hollow and thick with homophonic texture – playing to the idea of ‘mono no aware.’ The passages of crescendo and decrescendos mark the inhales and exhales of a singer, making the work even closer to the listener. Takemistu describes the use of monotonic change of a single note as a ‘River of Sound.’ For Takemistu, the blending of all of these sounds creates a link between them, hence the idea of a ‘river of sound.’

Requiem has a rich tonality throughout, which is accentuated through the largely-homophonic texture, and monotonic changes. The second section (Modéré), is even tenser due to the shift into a slightly faster tempo. The luscious syncopated passages are said to represent the grievances of loved ones. This is emphasised by the changes in texture, with some passages utilising all parts, and others only some of the ensemble.

The final section recalls the opening of the work, however it is shortened somewhat. The recap to the first section is noted to be a reminder of the past, which brings the beauty of sadness. This perhaps represents Takemistu’s struggle for life against illness. The idea of ‘mono no aware’ also runs prominent here, with this quote summing up the work quite neatly:

“Mono no Aware is a sentiment towards nature and life, that life is part of death, and death is a part of life.”

Therefore, one must recognise the truth of the soreness of life (which is momentary), if one may achieve a peaceful mind: a natural realm of eternity. Here is where I believe Takemistu’s Japanese heritage is placed in Requiem. Japanese aesthetics are complex, and yet, when listening to Requiem it all becomes so simple: when East meets West, an eternal beauty can be created.

Takemistu has left behind many works for an array of different ensembles, and each work is completely different from one another. His unique compositional style is still sought after today from students and composers alike. I do hope you have enjoyed this blog on Toru Takemistu and his work Requiem for String Orchestra. Join me very soon for Day U of my Alphabet Challenge!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:

Jean Sibelius ‘Kuolema (Death) No. 2 ‘Scene with Cranes”: Flying towards Freedom

Welcome to Day ‘S’ of my blogging alphabet challenge! For today’s instalment I shall be delving into the exciting world of Jean Sibelius. Instead of picking one of his more well-known works, I have decided to choose my personal favourite work by Sibelius, which is the second movement from the Kuolema suite ‘Scene with Cranes’ – enjoy!

Jean Sibelius was born on 8th December 1865 in Hämeenlinna Finland. When he was ten years old, Sibelius was given a violin by his musical uncle Pehr, who soon became his musical tutor. A few years before, Sibelius took up piano lessons, but whilst learning his teacher (who was also his aunt), rapped his knuckles when he played an incorrect note, so he preferred learning the violin. Before studying music at university, Sibelius began to study la at the Imperial Alexander University, Finland. He soon transferred to the Helsinki Music Institute (now aptly named the Sibelius Academy), where he studied composition between 1885-1889. Further to this, Sibelius also studied in Berlin (1889-1890) and in Vienna (18901891), with Albert Becker and Robert Fuchs respectively.

Throughout his compositional career, Sibelius largely focused on orchestral music. His main influences were Anton Bruckner (whom he claimed was the ‘greatest living composing’), Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven. Perhaps most well-known for his symphonies and tone poems, Sibelius is recognised for his unwavering Nationalism, that often translates into his music. Finlandia, a tone poem, is a celebrated work of the composer, with other works such a Kullervo, En saga, Karelia Suite and Tapiola also being popular in concert halls. As aforementioned, Sibelius drew his influences from different composers, each for different genres (e.g. Richard Wagner for his operas). Above all, however, Sibelius took great inspiration from Lizst. Sibelius’ symphonic style stood in contrast to his main symphonic rival, Gustav Mahler, with both composers exploring different variations, structures and genres.

Remaining one of the leading Finnish composers to ever emerge from the country, Sibelius’ life and works still influence ensembles and composers today. English composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax, both dedicated their Fifth Symphonies to Sibelius. Although largely very popular, Sibelius has also come under much criticism from people such as Theodor Adorno and Virgil Thomson. It is seen that criticism for Sibelius stems from his unique approach to form and tonality, where he would take one path, his contemporaries would take another. Criticism did not get in the way of Sibelius, however, with him famously saying that:

“Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.”

In his old age, Sibelius was a supporter of the new generation of composers, such as Einojuhani Rautavaara, Dmitri Shostakovich, Béla Bartók and Richard Strauss. Two days before his death, it has been recorded that Sibelius:

“Was returning from his customary morning walk. Exhilarated, he told his wife Aino that he had seen a flock of cranes approaching. ‘There they come, the birds of my youth’, he exclaimed. Suddenly, one of the birds broke away from the formation and circled once above Ainola. It then rejoined the flock to continue its journey.”

This anecdote is important to remember, when we start delving into the chosen piece for this blog. Sibelius died on 20th September 1957, after suffering a brain haemorrhage, aged 91. Sibelius was survived by his wife, Aino, who lived for a further eight years before her death. She is buried next to her husband.

Kuolema (“Death”) is a set of six works which were used as incidental music for a play by the same name written by Arvid  Järnefelt. The first performance was at Helskini’s National Theatre in December, 1903. Although revised under two opus numbers after the premiere, the six original movements were as follows:

I. Tempo di valse lente – Poco risoluto (Act I)

II. Moderato (Paavali’s Song – Act II)

III. Moderator assai – Moderato (Elsa’s Song – Act II)

IV. Andante (The Cranes – Act II)

V. Moderato (Act III)

VI. Andante ma non tanto (Act III)

In 1904, Sibelius revised No. 1 as Valse Triste, which is now one of his most well-known works. This was premiered in Helsinki on 25th April, 1904. In 1906, Sibelius then revised No. 3 and 4, under the title Scene with Cranes. This was premiered on 14th December, 1906. Although the sister work to Valse Triste, Scene with Cranes has stayed on the outskirts of Sibelius’ repertory.

Scene with Cranes is scored for string orchestra, plus timpani and a pair of Bb clarinets. The work lasts for around four minutes and is 59 bars in length. Beginning with the first violins, who along with the rest of the string section, are muted, play out a beautiful melody. There is a feeling of being static in places, like one is floating, which is also enhanced by the aimlessness manner of this melody. There is no centre, or solid origin of the melody, making it just appear like it is floating in thin air. The lower strings enter shortly after with soft accompaniment, and the strings work as a unit to create a very effective and dynamic unit. At times, the orchestra go down to pp in dynamic, making it atmospheric, mysterious and slightly unnerving in places.

The clarinets, who represent the cranes, are actually only heard in eight bars of this work, but these bars are prominent, and usually lead to the next section of the piece. A series of sforzandos are heard, which the clarinets react to with six calls, which represent the cranes calling out (perhaps to death?). The second section of the work is started by a trill in the upper strings. This then, after a short pause, leads us back to the watery, atmospheric initial string motif from the beginning of the scene. The way this melody is revisited resets the tone, after the more aggressive call outs from the cranes. The lower strings then take a more prominent role, bringing the dynamic up, leading to a quieter section. Soloists can then be heard in the cellos, violas and violins, which develop the main melodic theme. There is some sense of relief here also, which makes the resolution of this work even more breathtaking. Scene With Cranes finishes with the stings slowly dying away after the small exchanges of solo lines. At this point, the timpanist also enters, for the two bars they are in, with a very soft ppp roll (although sometimes this may be hard to hear over the string soloist).

Earlier, I mentioned about a famous anecdote that was published soon before Sibelius’ death, where he returned from a walk and was met by cranes. Kuolema translates into ‘Death’, and it could be suggested that the cranes represent the freedom that death can offer. In mythology, cranes are seen as symbolising freedom and eternal youth. Therefore, that anecdote could be a nod to Scene With Cranes, with the knowledge that Sibelius wrote it with this in mind. What I believe as one of Sibelius’ more underrated works, I find Scene With Cranes outstanding in the handling of melody, tonality and structure (or lack thereof). A wonderful way to celebrate such a fine composer and a fine alphabet challenge! I do hope you have enjoyed this blog as much as I have writing it, be sure to join me very soon for Day T in my alphabet challenge!

Happy Reading!

Recommended Recording:



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!

Recommended Recording: