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classical-music.com | Fri, 22 Feb 2019 10:59:05 +0000
How good is your classical music knowledge? Don't be sheep-ish - have a go at our specially themed quiz. You'll find the answers at the foot of the page.
1) The aria ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ appears in which Bach cantata?
2) Which leading British conductor spends much of his time rearing and managing a flock of over 1,000 sheep?
3) Music’s gain was sheep-farming’s loss when one composer, born in 1811, decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps as a sheep accountant (ovium rationista), but instead dazzle European society with displays of piano pyrotechnics. Who was he?
4) Written in 1984, the opera Yan Tan Tethera is named after a method of counting sheep. Who is the composer?
5) Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1997, almost exactly 100 years after which composer completed his Dolly Suite for two pianos?
6) Which British composer invited us to Rejoice in the Lamb in 1943, setting the poetry of Christopher Smart in an anthem for choir and organ?
7) ‘All we like sheep’ sang a choir to the good people of Dublin on April 13, 1742. What was the occasion?
8) Whose setting of ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ provided the theme tune for The Vicar of Dibley?
9) The Frenchman Jean de Hollingue (1459-1522), composer of many fine motets, is better known under a name that has a certain sheep-like ring to it. And that is?
10) Which composer is said to have been banned from practising his trombone in a Cotswold field after the farmer accused him of causing the ewes to lamb too early?
classical-music.com | Fri, 22 Feb 2019 07:59:43 +0000
Often performed today at weddings, Bach's 'Sheep may safely graze' is one of the great German composer's best loved arias. But what is it all about? Here is our quick guide to this rather lovely celebration of ovine security…
Where does 'Sheep may safely graze' originally come from? It is a soprano aria that appears in Bach's secular cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! or, as it is usually referred to, the Hunting Cantata. The aria is sung by the character Pales, a goddess of crops, pastures and livestock.
What is the aria all about? The words say that 'Sheep may safely graze where a caring shepherd guards them. Where a regent reigns well, we may have security and peace and things that let a country prosper'. You probably get the picture here. Flattering royalty never did a composer any harm, as Bach well knew…
And whom was he flattering? Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weissenfels, a man of big ambition and, by all accounts, an ego to match. He was a passionate hunstman, and Bach and his librettist Salomo Franck wrote the Hunting Cantata probably to mark his birthday on 23 February 1713.
What happens in the rest of the cantata? In terms of plot, not a great deal. Much of it involves an extended celebration of the joys of hunting and the glories of the countryside in general. As well as Pales, other characters to join in this homage to all things pastoral include the goddess Diana and god Pan.
How is the aria scored? Originally, the soprano soloist is accompanied by the distinctive sound of a pair of recorders and continuo. At most church weddings, however, the organist has to make do with a well-chosen stop for the former.
classical-music.com | Thu, 21 Feb 2019 10:00:50 +0000
As a student, Tippett decided that classical music in England was too much in thrall to the remnants of Romanticism. He found a way forward in the rhythmic invention of vocal part-writing in Tudor and Elizabethan madrigals.
Tippett would surely have shunned the idea that his music connected with English ‘pastoralism’, but he loved the countryside, and aspects of its idealised musical tradition, including modes and drones, feature in his works.
Discussion of Tippett’s music generally focuses on its rhythmic counterpoint derived partly from the madrigal tradition, partly from Beethoven. But in the works up to the mid-1950s, there is an underrated gift for melody and an expressive harmonic sense.
Wider musical worlds
Tippett looked to draw on idioms from foreign cultures, particularly American blues. The Javanese gamelan sounds in his Piano Sonata No. 1, and the spirituals inA Child of Our Timeare two further examples.
His ten symphonies contain some superb music but, in truth, not all of their movements are of consistent quality, musically and aesthetically. So – here’s a quick guide to the six best movements to hunt out.
â¨ 1. Toccata from Symphony No. 5
Let's begin with the French composer’s most famous piece, if not the most well-known piece in the whole organ repertoire. Symphony No. 5 is a beautifully constructed masterpiece, the opening movement a set of gorgeous variations, the second a charming, lyrical quasi-salon piece.
But it’s the Toccata that steals the show with its moto perpetuo right-hand (sometimes left-hand) figuration and punchy accompaniment chords. And that descending pedal melody, simple as it is, leaves the listener breathless.â¨â¨
Back to the start of Widor’s Symphony cycle for our second choice. The Marche Pontificale is a processional piece par excellence. To our minds, it makes an even better wedding exit piece than the Toccata from Symphony No. 5 (see above).â¨â¨â¨
Symphony No. 3 also contains an outrageous march – packed full of pomp and ceremony. It’s the definite highlight in a symphony where the first movement doesn’t quite take off, the second movement Minuetto rarely strays from the slightly fey and the finale is a bit of a damp squib. But hearken unto the Marcia, and it’ll bring a smile to your face. Our YouTube clip features Daniel Roth at the console of Widor’s organ at St Sulpice, Paris.
4. & 5. Allegro and Intermezzo from Symphony No. 6
Forgive us if we skip Symphony No. 4 and head straight to No. 6, a symphony that has few weak spots. The first and final movements of No. 6 are staggering in their technical demands and sheer impact, and the Intermezzo is a thrilling gem. So we’re going to go with the first and third movements of this glorious work. First, here’s Olivier Latry kicking things off with a brilliant performance of the first movement from St Joseph’s church in Bonn.
And then we fly over to Michigan and hear Matthew Dempsey on the Skinner organ at the university’s Hall Auditorium for the Intermezzo.
classical-music.com | Wed, 20 Feb 2019 10:00:00 +0000
Defining ‘contemporary classical’ music is fraught with complications: should we include film music, for example, and what about music that uses amplification? From AdÃ¨s to Zimmer, the canon is thrillingly diverse, and features various nooks and crannies within which exciting sounds emerge. It’s a soundworld that listeners are just as likely to encounter via curated streaming platforms as in major venues, on the small and silver screen, and in clubs as well as concert halls.
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (2012) is a key example of this collision of classical-electro-ambient music, a strange juxtaposition of old and new, high versus so-called ‘low’ art. It is akin to listening to a Cubist version of the Vivaldi classic, with fragmented melodies that are looped and overlaid, shared between laptop and strings. Richter is one of a new school of composers who combine multiple stylistic ideals.
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons
Various names have been given to this particular branch of contemporary music: alternative classical, neo-classical, post-classical. In a digital world, life becomes easier if we can define a searchable genre. But when a style is in its infancy, this can be restrictive.
‘Generally I say that I write classical music using electronics,’ says Poppy Ackroyd, a pianist-composer based in Brighton. ‘It usually requires at least three sentences of explanation.’ Ackroyd recently signed to One Little Indian, a label founded 30 years ago by members of an anarchist punk band, and her current disc features violin, piano, flute, cello and clarinets. ‘I would be practising KurtÃ¡g and then listening to Aphex Twin,’ recalls Ackroyd of her musical development. ‘I wondered how these things would sound if I arranged them together.’
Other descriptions of the music include ‘reimaginations’ and ‘recompositions’. ‘I like the term “reimaginations”,’ says Tomek Kolczynski, who looks after the electronic elements within chamber group bachSpace, which includes pianist Tamar Halperin and violinist Etienne Abelin, who is also a member of the renowned Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
bachSpace blends Baroque with electronica. ‘I think of the electronic parts of bachSpace as contemporary commentary on Bach,’ explains Halperin. ‘All electronic sounds on the album are created from direct synthesis of the acoustic sounds of piano and violin. Ultimately, it’s a dialogue between two different centuries and cultures.’ Abelin suggests the label: ‘transbaroque’.
Of course, using orchestral instruments or a classical motif doesn’t automatically make music classical; however, most post-classical – a catch-all term that will be used hereafter – music is firmly rooted in the traditional classical idiom. ‘I’m classically trained: I have a masters in piano performance,’ Ackroyd says, ‘but there’s as much non-classical influence as there is classical. How I make music – acoustic sounds via electronic means – isn’t typically classical. But every sound is created by instruments; nothing is artificial.’
The members of bachSpace also combine a wealth of conservatoire experience with an ‘interest in urban sounds’. Halperin, who wrote her Juilliard dissertation on Bach, outlines her ‘unfathomable love’ for the music, along with a desire to share it not only with ‘classical music connoisseurs, but really everywhere, with everyone’. Like Ackroyd, Halperin, Abelin and Kolczynski seek connections. ‘Since I don’t feel whole when life experiences are fragmented, my mind intuitively looks for ways to integrate them,’ says Abelin. ‘So I feel most at home when my different worlds collide in a meaningful way. Meaning for me has more to do with coherent dramaturgy and less with coherence of a particular musical language.’
Critics of this soundworld claim that many of the pieces are unimaginative pastiche. Writing in The Wire, Philip Clark asked ‘how you would feel if visiting Tate Modern you found the Rothkos, Matisses and Picassos had been replaced by Athena poster art’, in the context of Deutsche Grammophon’s decision to include the likes of Richter, Karl Jenkins and Ludovico Einaudi alongside its starry back catalogue of 20th-century composers. Perhaps it’s more that the gallery has added additional wings – the discerning visitor can pick and choose from established exhibits and the new collections.
DG continues its commitment to this music with the recent re-release of Richter’s 2004 The Blue Notebooks, with words adapted from Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks, and the upcoming release of Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach – The Cello Suites, which follows in Richter’s footsteps.
Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach - The Cello Suites
Another example is Dustin O’Halloran, who scored Amazon show Transparent, for which he won an Emmy Award. O’Halloran is also one half of duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen who performed at a BBC Prom co-curated with BBC Radio 6 Music in 2015 – another indication that boundaries are shifting.
Dustin O'Halloran's soundtrack to Transparent
There are cultural differences between post-classical and classical worlds, too. Straddling different industries means that post-classical artists have to be versatile. They also have to adapt to the differing language of various sectors: when Ackroyd is asked to recommend an entry-point for newcomers to her work, confusion ensues: ‘Do you mean which album?’ Music is referred to in tracks, not movements; performances are gigs, not recitals. (Incidentally, Ackroyd suggests her piano collection Sketches.)
While historically post-classical music was the preserve of smaller, independent labels – such as FatCat and Erased Tapes – the last few years has seen greater interest from larger-scale organisations. In the spring, Sony Classical announced that it had signed German pianist-composer Volker Bertelmann – known to fans under the moniker Hauschka – with a collection of solo piano works in the pipeline. Hauschka is part of a group of performers who are re-energising interest in prepared piano, adding modern-day extras – ping-pong balls and pegs – to change timbres and bringing newcomers to the world of John Cage.
In 2017, Decca Records launched Mercury KX, an imprint for post-classical music. ‘I felt that a new label, with no specific ties to any one genre, was the best way to achieve the best possible environment for these artists to thrive and to speak to their specific audience,’ says Alex Buhr, Mercury KX founder.
The freedom encourages experimentation with technology in ways that artists may not have been able to with more traditional routes. Mercury KX artist Arnalds has just started working with his Stratus Pianos: two self-playing, semi-generative player pianos that are triggered by a central piano played by Arnalds himself, using custom-built software created by the composer and audio developer HalldÃ³r EldjÃ¡rn.
Ãlafur Arnalds and HalldÃ³r EldjÃ¡rn
As well as Arnalds, Mercury KX has three further composer-pianists on its roster: Sebastian Plano, Luke Howard and German artist Lambert. The variety of approaches attracts a diverse audience. ‘You have classical music fans that approach this music as an extension of the classical music space,’ says Buhr. ‘But equally you have fans of other genres who come at this from a very different perspective. I think it will keep growing and I think we will see ever more diverse kinds of artists and music thriving in it.’
Like any musical movement – particularly one so new – there is huge variation in styles and structure. And no one is more respectful of their musical foremothers than the musicians themselves. ‘We do not pretend to be a “new Bach” of any sort,’ says Abelin firmly. ‘Bach himself has done something similar with music by Vivaldi, for example. So we’re just being faithful to Bach’s own free spirit.’ This is the lynchpin of post-classical music: respecting the past while creating works for the future.
classical-music.com | Tue, 19 Feb 2019 10:00:45 +0000
Beethoven String Quartet No. 15: III. Molto adagio. Andante
This incredible movement bears the title ‘Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der Lydischen Tonart’, which translates to ‘Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian mode’.
Beethoven composed this music after he battled with a terrible illness, fearing he would never recover. The music is both haunting and hopeful, and features faster sections marked ‘With new strength’ which repeatedly return to the profoundly moving chorale sections, sending the listener into an ever deeper emotional state.
Smetana completed the composition of this quartet after he became deaf. Each movement is a sketch of different moments in his life, giving glimpses into his past youth, conveying the emotion and transcendent power of love, and, tragically, his fast-developing hearing loss.
Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 ‘Death and the Maiden’: II. Andante con moto
This piece is named after a song composed by Schubert in 1817, with the song’s main theme forming the basis for the recurring motif in this movement of the quartet.
The song is set to a poem by Matthias Claudius, in which the maiden begs the terrifying figure of death to stay away, allowing her to enjoy her life peacefully. ‘Death’ replies, asking her to allow him to take her into his arms, for he is a friend and wishes for her to take courage and finally come to rest.
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1: I. Allegro con brio
The second movement of Beethoven’s First String Quartet is said to be inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, namely the scene in which Juliet awakens from her drugged slumber to find that Romeo has killed himself in order to be with her in the afterlife.
Beethoven uses D minor to present the tragic story, opening with the three lower instruments pulsing as a heartbeat while the first violin sings a plaintive, desperate line. We get glimpses into happier times with a nostalgic waltz-like figure, but the desperation returns, and the movement ends with a final, tragic sigh.
Fagerlund HÃ¶stsonaten, Act 1: charlotte Andergast! Vilken konstnÃ¤r! (Krista Kujala, Mari Sares, Jere Martikainen, Jarmo Ojala, Finnish National Opera Chorus, Finnish National Opera Orchestra/John Storgards
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen)
Zemlinsky Albumblatt (Erinnerung aus Wien) (William Youn)
Schreker The Birthday of the Infanta: Suite I. Reigen (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta)
Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 K.207: III. Presto (Nikolaj Znaider, London Symphony Orchestra)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons, Op. 37a, TH 135: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Holst In the Bleak Midwinter (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason)
classical-music.com | Mon, 18 Feb 2019 09:00:00 +0000
The Southbank Centre announced a new project today, in which newcomers to classical music will be able to attend a concert accompanied by a leading musician or composer, completely free of charge.
Conductor Marin Alsop, percussionist Colin Currie, violinist Nicola Benedetti, pianist Stephen Hough and composers Mark-Anthony Turnage and Nico Muhly are among those who will be involved in this new ‘Encounters’ scheme.
Hundreds of concert newcomers will be invited to attend one of the concerts at the Southbank Centre in its 2019/20 season. They will then, in turn, be asked to invite another concert newcomer with them to the next concert, also free of charge. And each of those second group of invitees will, it is hoped, then do likewise, thus opening the door to a whole new generation of concert 'first-timers'.
The programme will initially be open to charities and local community groups, including Streetwise Opera, the Irene Taylor Trust and Coin Street Community Builders, as well as local businesses.
‘Classical music concerts so often seem like a close door (or several) to those who have never attended one,’ says pianist Stephen Hough. ‘A stuffy private club: elitist, pompous and inaccessible. Encounters is a brilliant, simple idea to destroy this perception and to fling those doors open.’