Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist

Uncategorized

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Erik Satie

December 7, 2017

 

(1866-1925)

 

I recently researched the life and works of Erik Satie.  He was a fascinating, confusing, whimsical, serious man.  Satie was fairly famous in his lifetime. He had numbers of devoted fans and followers. Even Claude Debussy, one of the most influential composers at the time, orchestrated Satie’s most famous work, adding to his popularity. After Satie’s death, his fame waned for over twenty years. It was not until the late 1940’s, when a new biography about his life and music revived interest in his works, particularly in the UK and the USA. In the 1950’s and 60’s, his works influenced popular music and film scores. He is best known for the piece I’m focusing on in this blog post.  Even if the title doesn’t ring any bells to you, I’d be willing to be that you have heard this piece before.

 

TITLE: Gymnopedie #1

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: This is a character piece, or in other words, a relatively short piece for solo piano.  As with other works by Satie, the title of this piece may very well be a made-up word.  Satie did not seem to imply that this work is programmatic at all.  He simply liked the sound of the word “gymnopedie.”

Here it is:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CUhakq1q-I&index=1&list=PLm-T8aAINJXpDkuEel7fOExkN9XUqR0Ak

 

One of the things I love about this work is the unexpected forte.  Here’s the first few lines of the piece:

 

gymnopedie

Note the “f” indication on the 2nd line (it stands for forte which means LOUD).  Here’s how most people perform it:

 

 

Quite a subtle difference.

 

And here’s how it should be performed:

Now that’s a forte!

 

As mentioned earlier, Debussy orchestrated this work because he was so impressed with Satie’s skill.  In fact, this and one other Gymnopedie are the ONLY works by another composer that Debussy orchestrated.  Here is Debussy’s orchestration of Satie’s simple piano work. I really think it is interesting to hear which instruments Debussy used, particularly his addition of the cymbal within the first few seconds and the use of the horn to provide the fortes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUlZylqILKI&pbjreload=10
As a side note, the rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears won the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1970 for their self-titled album on which was a single that won the Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance Grammy award.  The name of that single?  Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie.  Here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6f_uj6qCFM

 

Nice, but I much prefer the original.

 

HIGHLIGHT: For me, the highlight is the simplicity of this work.  The haunting melody over an extremely simple bass line.  It almost sounds like a ground bass, but it is not.  It changes pitches enough over the course of the piece that it can’t be considered a true ground bass.

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY SATIE?: Not as much as you would assume.  He actually wrote relatively little.  I may have already listened to his complete oeuvre, but I’ll not consider myself “done” until I’ve created blog posts for each of his works.

I’m Listening to Everything by Respighi

April 30, 2015

I already did a post about Respighi’s “The Fountains of Rome” a few years ago after returning from a brief trip to Rome.  But now that I have re-visited Rome, I was able to ACTUALLY visit two of the fountains that I have never seen previously.  This is the one that inspired the first movement–it is located just a short walk from the front of the Galleria Borghese in the Villa Borghese park. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6P0GgIyEJQ&feature=youtu.be

And here’s a link to a video of the fountain that inspired the 2nd movement–Triton Fountain on the Piazza Barberini.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcY3pSB34cM&feature=youtu.be

As for the third movement, well, the Trevi Fountain is surrounded by scaffolding due to a restoration project.  But I took a short video of it anyway.  Probably NOT what inspired Respighi.

 

watch?v=bu0LmBiBp_4&feature=youtu.be

And here’s an awkward selfie of me with the fountain that inspired the fourth movement.  It’s not much to look at, but imagine it at dusk (which, as you can sort of tell in the photo, is just starting to occur), ignore the sounds of traffic and the calls of vendors from the nearby Spanish Steps…and it comes to life in the way Respighi intended.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Kurt Weill

March 23, 2015

(1900-1950)

 

TITLE:  Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny)

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:

This is a nihilistic opera.  In a nutshell, it is about some people who decide to build a new city (sort of like Las Vegas) where people can drink and party and gamble.  It grows in popularity and becomes quite the city, then, when a natural disaster threatens it, some of the citizens pray and others state that there is no God.  When the threat is over, most of the people decide that life is short and there is no God, so they should just party even more.  (Note: to any purists reading this very haphazard summary, I realize I may be a bit off, but that’s the gist of it.)

 

Despite the storyline, it’s got some great music and when I was in Vienna a few years ago, I went to see numerous productions at the Staatsoper but this was my favorite one (in terms of theatrical interest/quality of production/overall effect); a number of our students also went and one of them listed it as his favorite as well.

 

My favorite elements within this opera are the unique instruments included in the orchestra, such as the banjo.  Here is a cool moment in the opening number in which the banjo first becomes apparent:

 

 

And continuing on from that, jazzy trumpets join in:

 

 

HIGHLIGHT:  The Alabama Song—This is sung by a madame of sorts and her fellow prostitutes as they express their life goals—drinking, money, and men.  It is one of two songs in the opera that are sung in English while the rest is in German.

Here’s the beginning of it, as performed by one opera company:

 

 

And here’s the second verse, performed by a different opera company:

 

 

Here’s a YouTube link of the whole song:

 

 

When I first saw this opera, the Alabama Song was my instant favorite.  In fact, when I got back to our apartment (in Vienna) I got online to find other versions of it and discovered that it has become a favorite of cabaret singers and pop singers.

 

Here’s a brief excerpt from a version by Marianne Faithful

 

 

And here’s a YouTube link to the best cover of this tune (in my opinion).  It’s a cover by The Doors.

 

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY WEILL?: A bunch.  I had seen his best-known theatre piece—“The Three-Penny Opera”—when I was an undergrad, but I hadn’t heard a lot of his classical works until I saw “Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny.”

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Francis Poulenc

February 12, 2015

(1899-1963)

 

Listen to this sound:

 

 

There is something so chilling about that sound…  the sound of the guillotine.

 

This is from a certain recording of one of my favorite pieces of music.  Poulenc is one of those composers who is almost always in my “top ten favorite composers” list.  Part of the reason for that is the final scene of his best-known opera “Dialogues des Carmélites.”  I’ve never seen this opera live, but I just listened to it from start to finish (over the course of several days) and I loved it.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.

 

TITLE:  Dialogues of the Carmelites

 

The basic story line is as follows:

During the French Revolution, an aristocratic young woman decides to become a Carmelite nun (Sister Blanche) because she believes she will be safer there than in her home, despite the fact that the revolutionaries are not only anti-nobility, but are also anti-cleric.  The mother Superior explains to Blanche that she is not necessarily out of danger by joining the holy order.  But Blanche feels that she is in the right place.  As the revolution escalates, the nuns realize that they are indeed in danger and they decide to take a pledge of martyrdom (as opposed to hiding).  They all take the pledge, but Blanche runs away and takes a job as a servant (again, to hide).  The nuns are all arrested and condemned to death.  At the execution, the nuns are executed one by one.  At the last minute, Blanche shows up and takes her place with the nuns.  As she climbs up onto the scaffold, she sings the Catholic hymn traditionally used when taking vows in a religious community and offering her life to God.

 

HIGHLIGHT:  The final scene, of course.  I find the faith of the nuns inspiring, especially in the face of certain death.  And musically, it is amazing.  You hear the nuns begin to sing the “Salve Regina” as they, one by one, climb the scaffold to face the guillotine.  Each time the guillotine falls, one less voice is heard.  The choir gets smaller and smaller until only a few nuns are left, then two, then Blanche.  Depending on the recording, the effect is quite harrowing, especially if they include a convincing “blade” sound.

Here are some links to YouTube videos that are good (for different reasons):

 

In this one I really like the singers voices.  Plus, I think the stylized deaths are effective (but I prefer to see a little more literal interpretations).  Start it at about 2:50.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2ubBODy4N0

 

This one is definitely more literal in its depiction, the sound effect is good, but the light effect is not great.  Start it at 3:24

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkOK3aXzMpc
There are a few full length versions of the opera, but none had English subtitles.

 

Take a listen!  It’s totally worth it.  (My kids get mad at me when I play it in the car.  Last time I started it, one of them said, “Dad, I don’t want to hear a bunch of nuns get killed!”)

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY POULENC?:  Tons, but, since he’s in my top ten list of favorite composers, I’m sure I’ll succeed at listening to them all.

 

 

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by György Ligeti

May 28, 2014

(1923-2006)

 

György Ligeti was born in Transylvania on May 28, 1923.  So…Happy Birthday, Ligeti! If he were alive today, he’d be 91.

 

Ligeti is best known for his unusual effects like this (from a piece called “Lux Aeterna”):

 

 

Of this type of music, he said:  “My idea was that instead of tension-resolution, dissonance-consonance, and other such pairs of opposition in traditional tonal music, I would contrast ‘mistiness’ with passages of ‘clearing up.’”

 

Here’s another example of this type of music, from his piece for orchestra entitled “Atmospheres.”

 

As a woodwind player, I first became acquainted with the music of Ligeti through his most-played wind quintet piece—

TITLE: Six Bagatelles

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:

This piece (composed about ten years before “Atmospheres” and “Lux Aeterna”) does not feature his “mistiness moving towards clearing up;” instead, it’s more traditional in terms of tone color usage.  However, the way he uses the tone colors of the wind quintet is quite interesting. Sometimes you forget that you’re listening to a mere five instruments.

 

Here is a link to a fantastic YouTube video of a group that understands the importance of appearance when performing.  Note, they are standing, they are active, they are not using music stands, they are choreographed—it is extremely engaging and exciting to watch.

I. Allegro con spirito (fast with spirit!)

This movement is fast and virtuosic and JUST about dissonant enough to offend the ear (if you abhor any sense of dissonance) but not quite dissonant enough to turn the average listener away.

II. Rubato. Lamentoso.

2nd movement starts at 1:34 in the video.    Note at the ending we get a hint of what he achieved with his later works when the last dissonant chord “clears up” into a major chord.

III. Allegro grazioso

 

3rd movement starts at 4:34 in video.  Note that the clarinet and bassoon begin by passing off septuplets (seven notes to a beat) while a lovely, almost Celtic-sounding melody floats on top.  The instruments switch roles here and there so that the overall effect is almost orchestral.  One of my favorite movements to listen to (Note: I said “listen to”; I don’t enjoy playing it—those septuplets are deadly).

 

IV. Presto ruvido

 

4th movement begins at 6:54 in the video – fast and very difficult to put together as a group.  Every so often Ligeti changes the meter so that a single sixteenth note will be left out which means everyone has to be superb at changing meters, or very adept at “skipping” a note.

 

V. Adagio. Mesto – Belá Bartók in memoriam

 

5th movement begins at 8:02 in the video – very much like a funeral march.

 

VI. Molto vivace. Capriccioso

 

Final movement begins at 10:24 in the video – another extremely difficult and fast movement for a group to put together.  Overall this is an astounding piece and the group in this video is amazing.

 

HIGHLIGHT:  As I mentioned above, I’m quite fond of the third movement.

 

As you may know about me, I enjoy taking photos of famous composers’ graves, statues, homes, etc.  And usually I like to be seen popping out from behind the tombstone in my photos.  That might sound irreverent or disrespectful, but I prefer to think of it as taking a candid playful photo with a friend.

 

When I first saw Ligeti’s grave in Vienna, Austria, I wasn’t sure how to hide behind the tombstone.  Here it is:

 

Friedhof Vienna 068

 

 

 

 

 

But I think I managed quite nicely.

 

Friedhof Vienna 069WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY LIGETI?:  A lot, but I’ll do it!

 

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by George Frideric Handel

May 13, 2014

(1685-1759)

 

A few weeks ago was Easter, so I guess the resurrection was on my mind.  In addition, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had just broadcast a pretty great complete performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”  So I decided to check out another oratorio by Handel that he wrote earlier in his career.

 

TITLE: La Resurezzione

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  This is one of Handel’s many oratorios (the most famous of them—“Messiah”—seems to have eclipsed all his other oratorios).  It is in Italian, which is already noteworthy since Handel spoke German and his best-known work is in English. This was the 2nd oratorio Handel composed, written in 1708 when he was 23 years old.

This oratorio depicts the events occurring between, and including, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The characters in the oratorio are Lucifer (bass), Mary Magdalene (soprano), an Angel (soprano), St John the Evangelist (tenor), and St Mary Cleophas (alto).

 

There is a really cool YouTube video of the entire work (and if you click on the “See More” tab underneath the video, you’ll see a listing of all the individual sections within the oratorio with timings).  It appears to be using period instruments (recorders, gambas, etc.)

Sadly, this video does not have subtitles, but who needs ‘em.  Just sit back and enjoy the music.  It’s pretty astounding.  Here’s the link for the video:

 

 

And if you like to follow along with the score, try this link:

 

http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/0c/IMSLP18901-PMLP44669-HG_Band_39.pdf

 

It opens with an overture that features quite a bit of imitative polyphony and there are moments in it that sound like Vivaldi (but maybe I’m just thinking that way, since the oratorio is in Italian), but there are also definite moments that sound very much like Handel.

 

The first aria is quite amazing; here’s just a brief clip:

If you liked that, you’ve got to watch the entire aria.  Use the YouTube video link I provided above; start the video at 4:45.  She sings the extremely fast melismas effortlessly and when the da capo occurs (at 7:30) she sings the same melismas AND she improvises extra notes, different melodies—it’s great.  She’s great.  Seriously, watch this number, then continue to watch the entire oratorio. It’s worth it.

 

HIGHLIGHT:

One of my favorite arias in this oratorio is sung by Mary Magdalene.  Here is the English translation of the words:

 

Fold thy wings, and o’er my eyes fly not, unwelcome sleep!

If thou wouldst presume to dry my tears of sorrow let me first weep as full a stream as that shed by my God in blood when He died for me.

 

It’s a lovely message of the atonement that Christ undertook for us all.

 

So here is the first A section (follow along with the score—link above; p. 18 in the score/p. 36 in the pdf)

 

And here’s the second A section.  In the Baroque Era, it was important for the singer to improvise extra notes, ornamentations, trills, runs, etc. during the second A section.  In this example, she doesn’t do much (you can follow along with the score again to see what she DOES add);

 

She didn’t do much beyond a few tiny little ornaments/grace notes.  But then I found another recording in which the singer does a LOT with the second A section.  Check it out (and follow along with the score to see how much she adds!).

Amazingly cool!  If you’d like to hear a third version, check out the YouTube link (above) at 22:53.  This performance is at a faster tempo and she does do some cool improvising on the 2nd A section.

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY HANDEL?  Oh my, tons.  But I’ll do it!

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Béla Bartók

April 2, 2014

(1881-1945)

 

TITLE: The Wooden Prince

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  This is a short ballet (about an hour) with a fairly normal fairy-tale story.  Here it is: while walking through the forest a handsome prince spies a princess dancing and falls in love.  A fairy nearby doesn’t want him to fall in love with the princess, so she causes the various parts of the forest to come to life—trees, the river, etc.—to convince the prince to stay. When the prince can’t get the princess’s attention, he builds a wooden dummy that looks like him.  It comes to life and she falls in love with it.  Then it breaks and she sees the real prince, who is sad that she fell in love with the dummy and not him.  She consoles him and the ballet ends with the two of them falling in love.

 

Yep, it’s a tad odd.  But when you think about it, it’s not outside the realm of normal fairy tale weirdness either.

 

In the “Dance of the Waves” section, there is a moment where the saxophone plays a soloistic role (something relatively rare in classical music).  Most professional orchestras don’t even bother to keep a saxophonist on their roster—they just hire them as needed–that’s how rare saxes show up in classical music.

Here’s the part featuring alto sax and tenor sax in octaves:

 

 

I also enjoyed the “Dance of the Princess and the Wooden Prince.”  I enjoy the rapidly changing moods throughout.  Here’s an excerpt (you’ll hear at least five or six different themes/moods):

 

 

The opening of that excerpt reminded me of another ballet—“Gayaneh” by an Armenian composer, Aram Khachaturian.  See what you think…This excerpt first plays the part from Bartok’s ballet, then Khachaturian’s, then back and forth one more time.

 

 

Hmmm…I wonder which one came first?

 

HIGHLIGHT:  For me, the opening few minutes are enchanting and magical.  Then again, perhaps I always feel that way with any quality piece of music when I’m listening to it for the first time.  In this case, the hushed strings, plucked harp chords, and mellow trombone solo, make me feel as though I’m right there in the enchanted forest. Here’s an excerpt:

 

 

The music is so lovely throughout, I’m not sure why this isn’t performed more frequently.  Seek it out and listen to the entire thing.

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY Bartók?: a lot, but I’ll do it!

 

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Francis Poulenc

January 7, 2014

(1899-1963)

 

Happy Birthday, Francis Poulenc!  Born 115 years ago today!

 

I’m a huge Poulenc fan.  Here I am at his grave in Paris.

 

2012 April Paris Champion week 010

His slow movements often bring me to tears because there’s such a strong sense of melancholy and loss or joy and love.  His fast movements are shocking and filled with energy.  When I was a young player first learning Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, I found it dissonant and jarring, but exciting.  Now it remains one of my favorite pieces for clarinet, period!  However, I have to say that my favorite work by Poulenc is his…

 

TITLE: Sonata for Oboe and Piano.

 

Here’s a link to the entire work:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY1j_DJDOf8

 

Even if you only listen to the first 60 seconds or so, I predict you’ll hear the immense beauty in this work.

 

The fast and exciting 2nd movement begins at 5:09.

 

HIGHLIGHT:  For me the opening of the first movement is the highlight.  I melt upon hearing it every time.  The other highlight is the third movement.  Skip ahead to 9:05 on the YouTube clip and listen to the first 60 seconds and hopefully you will weep with joy.

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY POULENC?:  Tons, but, since he’s in my top ten list of favorite composers, I’m sure I’ll succeed at listening to them all.

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Adolphe Adam

December 25, 2013

 

(1803-1856)

 

 

 

Me and my youngest at Adam’s grave in the Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France.

2012 April Paris Champion week 224

 

“Who?” you might be asking. Adolphe Adam was a Romantic Era composer best known for his ballets and operas.  His most famous ballet is Giselle, which is still performed with regularity throughout the world.  Here’s a little snippet of that (so you can hear that it’s pretty cool). This excerpt is called “Retour de la vendange” (The Grape-Pickers Return) and is from Act I.

 

Or if you want to see some (or all) of it, go to YouTube and type “ballet Giselle” in the search box.  Here’s a link to the complete ballet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT4C5Sc8geA

If you read the uploaders comments you’ll find the entire plot of the ballet.

 

BUT, the reason I chose to look Adolphe Adam’s music this week is because his MOST famous composition of all time is:

 

TITLE:  Cantique de Noel

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: This piece is most commonly referred to as “O Holy Night.” Despite the fact that it is overplayed and often poorly-performed, I like this carol a lot.  I think it is quite beautiful.

 

Here is the more literal translation of the original French text (I think you’ll see that it’s quite moving, and perhaps even more powerful than the usual, more poetic, English translation):

 

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us

To erase the stain of original sin

And to end the wrath of His Father.

The entire world thrills with hope

On this night that gives it a Saviour.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith

Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,

As in ancient times a brilliant star

Guided the Oriental kings there.

The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;

O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,

It is to your pride that God preaches.

Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those that iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

 

For a contrasting opinion, please read this–http://www.signifyingsoundandfury.com/2013/12/why-i-dont-like-o-holy-night.html

written by my friend and former student, Peter Shirts. I agree with his reasons for not liking it, but I still like it!

 

HIGHLIGHT: It’s a relatively short piece, so I guess the highlight is simply when it is performed well, for instance, in this church service, during communion, at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.  The first boy soprano soloist is particularly impressive.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5YJASeJ_hQ

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY ADAM?:  Fourteen ballets and over 70(!) operas.  I’ll work my way through them over time…

 

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Max d’Ollone

November 17, 2013

(1875-1959)

 

It’s going to be a short blog post this week because I’m really tired today (I was up most of last night composing…)

 

In any event, sticking with the theme of the month, I found this gem:

 

TITLE: Novembre

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  Short French art song for voice and piano.

 

HIGHLIGHT:  The beautiful simple lyricism of this piece and the French language (sadly, I cannot find a translation of the text…).  It’s only three minutes long, so sit back and even though you may not speak French, the emotion and mood certainly come through.

Any of my readers out there speak French who’d want to try to translate this piece?

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY D’OLLONE?:  An amount that appears to be quite do-able, however, because he is a less-known composer, he is also less recorded than most, so that may prove a challenge.  But after hearing this, I’ll certainly try.

 

OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS, I ALSO LISTENED TO:

 

Bruch, Max: Violin Concerto No. 2

Dvorák, Antonin: Slavonic Dance Op 46/3

Grainger, Percy: Molly on the Shore (for piano)

Moscheles, Ignaz & Giuliani: Grand Duo Concertant pour Pianoforte et Guitare, Op.20

Ollone, Max d’: Fantaisie Orientale (for clarinet and piano)

Ollone, Max d’: Nocturne (for flute and piano)

among others…