Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist

Uncategorized

I’m Listening to Everything that Quotes the “Dies Irae”

October 28, 2013

AND

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Well, I’ve spent the past three weeks sharing music that quotes the “Dies Irae” (in honor of Halloween) and so today, I’m going to share a few non-classical examples and then one of the most famous classical pieces that uses it.

 

First off, from the world of musical theatre, the opening number in Stephen Sondheim’s amazing work “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”  Here it is (you’ll need to skip ahead on the video to 2:24):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUH3z3eBQxE

 

Now, you may wonder where the Dies Irae was.  I’ll tell you.  Sondheim wanted this opening piece (and indeed, the entire musical) to have a feeling of dread and doom.  So he fragmented and “hid” the Dies Irae in the opening number.  Here’s how it works:

 

Dies Irae (Sondheim leaves off the first syllable and quotes just the “-es irae, Dies illa”).  The notes used for “-es irae, Dies illa” are then used for the words “the tale of Sweeney Todd” in “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.”  Here it is back and forth between the two of them:

 

In addition to these three notes, Sondheim continues to use similar intervals to reinforce the connection.

 

Now from the world of rap music, here is an excerpt from Nelly’s “Air Force Ones.”  It’s essentially a rap song all about the kind of shoes he wants to buy.  Even if you can’t catch all the words, you’ll probably recognize the first four notes of the Dies Irae.  It’s when they sing “Give me two pair, I need two pair” (pronounced “per”) that you’ll hear the Dies Irae.

 

 

And here it is, juxtaposed with the plainchant back to forth.

 

 

Next, we move to the world of film music with a song from Tim Burton’s (Disney’s) “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (music by Danny Elfman).  It’s called “Making Christmas” and I don’t even need to show you where the Dies Irae is in this one—you’ll recognize the first four notes of the Dies Irae occur constantly throughout the song.  Enjoy!

 

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

 

Finally, our classical example of the week…

 

Since you’ve now had a full month on the “Dies Irae” I don’t really need to give any intro or prep for Franz Liszt’s masterwork for piano and orchestra, “Totentanz” (Death Dance).  Enjoy!  And have a great Halloween full of dread and the “Dies Irae!”  (The video quality is not great, but it’s an excellent performance.)

 

Part one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqCEhmqsSnY

Part two:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bqmWU7SSJM

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Hector Berlioz

October 14, 2013

As mentioned in last week’s post, I am focusing each blog post in the month of October on pieces that use the “Dies Irae”—the medieval chant for the dead—to inspire dread in the hearts of the listeners. This week’s piece?…

 

TITLE: Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14

 

This is a program symphony (a multi-movement work that tells a story through music [no words]) with a pretty insane origin. Here we go: Hector Berlioz attended the theater one night to see a production of Romeo & Juliet, which starred Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Berlioz fell madly in love and began to write fan letters to her. She responded at first, but soon realized that his letters were getting a bit too forward and perhaps even a bit creepy (“how I long for the day when we live in our mountain chateau and hear the pitter-patter of feet as our children play…”). She quit opening his letters and when she had a nice big bundle of them, sent them back to him in a package. She hoped he would get the message. He took this rejection hard. To him, it was as though they had years of a relationship; the worst break-up ever. He was heartsick and decided to kill himself. He took an overdose of opium (the trendy drug in that day), but instead of killing him, the drug plunged him into a deep sleep in which he had terrible vivid nightmares. When he awoke, he decided life was worth living after all AND that his nightmares would be a great inspiration for a program symphony.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: I am including Berlioz’ own “program” here so you can read what each movement is about:

 

1st mvt. “The author imagines that a young vibrant musician, afflicted by the sickness of spirit which a famous writer has called the wave of passions, sees for the first time a woman who unites all the charms of the ideal person his imagination was dreaming of, and falls desperately in love with her. By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognises a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love. This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like an idée fixe (obsession). This explains the constant recurrence in all the movements of the symphony of the melody which launches the first allegro. The transitions from this state of dreamy melancholy, interrupted by occasional upsurges of aimless joy, to delirious passion, with its outbursts of fury and jealousy, its returns of tenderness, its tears, its religious consolations – all this forms the subject of the first movement.”

 

As you read his words, you can see that this program symphony is quite autobiographical. The idée fixe he mentions is a lengthy melody that represents the beloved woman. Here is the idée fixe in its entirety (around the five minute mark):

 

New Picture

From this point on, whenever you hear that idée fixe melody whether in its entirety or fragmented, it will always be representative of “the beloved” woman.

Here’s Berlioz’ description of the 2nd movement, subtitled “Un bal” (a ball):

“The artist finds himself in the most diverse situations in life, in the tumult of a festive party, in the peaceful contemplation of the beautiful sights of nature, yet everywhere, whether in town or in the countryside, the beloved image keeps haunting him and throws his spirit into confusion.”

 

The idée fixe shows up twice in this movement. Once about midway through, when he is at a ball. I like to imagine that he sees her across the room, but she is unaware of him. Here’s the first occurrence of the idée fixe in this movement, and, since he is at a ball, the idée fixe has been re-written in a triple meter pattern to make it sound like a dance. While you listen to it, look at the music (above) to see how the note pattern remains the same, despite the change in meter.

 

 

It occurs again near the end of the 2nd movement in a fragmented form:

 

Third movement: “Scène aux champs” (Scene in the Fields)

 

“One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance dialoguing with their alpen horns; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind, some causes for hope that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier colouring. He broods on his loneliness, and hopes that soon he will no longer be on his own … But what if she betrayed him! … This mingled hope and fear, these ideas of happiness, disturbed by dark premonitions, form the subject of the adagio. At the end one of the shepherds resumes his alpen horn tune; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder … solitude … silence …”

 

The idée fixe appears in this movement at a moment when he is thinking of his beloved and is beset with doubts about her fidelity.

 

 

Fourth movement: “Marche au supplice” (March to the Scaffold)

“Convinced that his love is unappreciated, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. As he cries for forgiveness the effects of the narcotic set in. He wants to hide but he cannot so he watches as an onlooker as he dies. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow.”

 

Here is the fragmented idée fixe just before the axe falls (the last minute or so of the movement). Incidentally, Berlioz’ description is not quite specific enough for my taste, so let me be even more specific—you’ll hear the first few notes of the idée fixe, then you’ll hear the axe fall, then the head falling and bouncing at least once, and finally the “Hurrah”s of the assembled crowd.

 

 

Fifth movement: “Songe d’une nuit de sabbat” (Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath)

 

“He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical revelry … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.”

 

I love this movement on so many levels. First of all, it’s creepy in its musical description of hell (or purgatory), plus the use of the idée fixe is fantastic. In this movement, as mentioned above, the idée fixe is mocking the whole concept of the “beloved.” Here it is, first stated in a fragment by the normal clarinet, interrupted by an orchestral outburst, immediately followed by a full version of the idée fixe played by the grating, high, shrill e-flat clarinet:

 

 

HIGHLIGHT: But all this idée fixe business is not why I chose this work for this week’s blog post. I chose it because it also features the use of the “Dies Irae” to help inspire dread in the listener; to help illustrate the plight of the main character in Symphonie Fantastique.” Shortly after the “beloved” appears and we hear the idée fixe in its transformed state, we hear a bell toll followed by the “Dies Irae.” Here’s a reminder of what the original medieval “Dies Irae” sounded like:

 

 

And here it is, the first time it appears in the fifth movement:

 

 

And here it is over and over again, played by different instrument groupings at different tempi in the final movement of Berlioz’ masterwork Symphonie Fantastique.  Enjoy…and tremble in your boots!

 

 

I would, of course, highly recommend that you listen to the entire work–especially since you have the story, in Berlioz’ own words provided for you (above).  Here’s a YouTube link to a complete performance of the work.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK6iAxe0oEc

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY BERLIOZ?:

A lot, including another massive symphony called “Lelio” based on the EXACT SAME idée fixe!

 

HILARIOUS EPILOGUE: After his rejection by Harriet Smithson—and after he got over the break-up by writing Symphonie Fantastique—he got engaged to another woman named Camille, a pianist. Shortly after their engagement, he won the prestigious composition competition—the Prix de Rome—which required that he relocate to Italy for a year. He asked Camille to wait for him, which she agreed to. Off he went to Rome. Shortly after he arrived in Italy, a friend wrote him to inform him that Camille had married a piano-maker. Berlioz hopped on a boat to take him back to France with revenge on his mind. He decided that he would kill Camille, her new husband and her mother (who should have prevented the marriage). Armed with two pistols, a bottle of poison, and a maid’s uniform, his plan was to dress up in the uniform to gain entrance to their home. However, on the boat ride over, he thought better of his plan and decided to kill himself by leaping overboard. When he leapt overboard, the ship was just pulling into the harbor and people on shore jumped in to save him. The dip in the cold water brought him to his senses and he decided to take his revenge another way. He wrote a short story about a loose woman named “Ellimac” (Camille backwards) who used her beauty to get gifts and money from men. As her looks faded, she resorted to prostituting herself. The story ends with her being crushed to death, when the seedy brothel in which she plies her trade collapses.

 

Satisfied by this revenge, and now that he was becoming famous as a composer, he decided to write to Harriet Smithson again. Her fame was on the wane, so she thought, “Hey, maybe if I marry a famous composer, I’ll be famous again” and she accepted his advances. They were married for 11 years before they separated (due to constant fighting), at which point, Berlioz moved in with a mistress, Marie Recio. Berlioz continued to financially support Harriet through the years; when she suffered a series of strokes and became an invalid, Berlioz paid all her medical bills and watched over her with great concern and love. When she passed away in 1854, Berlioz married Marie. She preceded him in death by seven years. All three of them—Hector, Harriet, and Marie—are buried in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, France. Here are two pictures–one of their tomb (note me and Emma peeking through the headstone) and one of the side of the tomb with the inscription for Harriet and Marie:

2012 April Paris Champion week 225 2012 April Paris Champion week 230

I’m Listening to Everything in which the “Dies Irae” is quoted

October 6, 2013

It’s October!  I love October!  I love the weather, I love the crunch of leaves underfoot, I love the hot cocoa, I enjoy taking my kids trick-or-treating, etc. I don’t particularly love the gruesome elements that many people seem to love about Halloween, but witches, ghosts, goblins, etc., I’m totally fine with.

So in honor of this spooky month, I thought I’d look at a piece of music that conveys a sense of doom within just a few notes. It was composed in the Middle Ages—the “Dies Irae” from the Catholic Mass for the Dead.  Its purpose was to remind listeners of the need for repentance.  Here are the first four stanzas of the text (with English translations):

 

1.

Latin text:  Dies iræ! Dies illa Solvet sæclum in favilla:Teste David cum Sibylla!

Poetic English translation: Day of wrath and doom impending, David’s word with Sibyl’s blending, Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

 

2.

Latin: Quantus tremor est futurus, Quando iudex est venturus, Cuncta stricte discussurus!
English: Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth, When from heaven the Judge descendeth, On whose sentence all dependeth.

 

3.

Latin: Tuba mirum spargens sonum Per sepulchra regionum, Coget omnes ante thronum.

English: Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth; Through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth; All before the throne it bringeth.

 

4.

Latin: Mors stupebit, et natura, Cum resurget creatura, Iudicanti responsura.

English: Death is struck, and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its Judge an answer making.

 

Again, its purpose was to bring those left behind to repentance, to fill them with a sense of doom; hence, the language is a tad strong and fire-and-brimstone-ish.  As a result, this melody has been used either note for note (quoted) or paraphrased throughout the centuries by countless composers whenever they want to automatically infuse their music with a sense of doom.  The moment listeners hear the first four notes of the “Dies Irae” plainchant melody, they know that something dark is afoot.

 

So for the month of October, each week, my post will be about a different piece of music that features the “Dies Irae,” some serious, some less so.

 

First, listen to the original plainchant melody, just the first four stanzas (printed music below):

 

 

New Picture

 

And now…the piece that quotes it!  (I’m also giving it it’s own new heading.)

 

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Peter Schickele

 

TITLE:  Brass Calendar

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  Featuring twelve movements (only one of them is longer than two minutes), this piece for brass quintet takes the listener through an entire year of holidays or significant yearly occurrences.  I’ll briefly describe each one and I’ve included a clip of the most seasonally-appropriate one: movement ten.

Mvt. I. January: New Year’s Day

A melancholy-sounding movement, perhaps reflecting the after-effects of New Year’s Eve partying.

II. February: Valentine’s Day

A whimsical waltz-like piece with mixed meter.

III. March: St. Patrick’s Day

A modern twist on an Irish Jig.

IV. April: Income Tax Day

Minimalist ascending scales at different speeds, perhaps representing columns of figures, or rows of accountants busy at work.

V. May: Memorial Day Picnic

Somewhat austere, nostalgic sound.

VI. June: Flag Day

Extremely short movement (eighteen seconds!) which I guess represents the flag blowing in the wind?

VII. Independence Day Parade

A riff on “Yankee Doodle” and, at least in the recording I listened to, perhaps trying to be reminiscent of amateur marching bands (a la Charles Ives).  I loved this movement!

VIII. August: Dude Ranch Vacation

A jazz/blues-inflected tune that sounds like “the Old West.”  Great movement!

IX. Labor Day Weekend Dance

I’ve never been to a Labor Day Weekend Dance, but this sounded like a turn-of-the-century (the 19th to 20th turn) dance melody with Schickele’s delightful unusual key changes and klangfarbenmelodie (a musical technique that involves splitting a musical line or melody between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument (or set of instruments).

X. October: Halloween

I shall discuss this one below (under “Highlight”), complete with a recording of the movement.

XI. November: Thanksgiving

Chorale-esque.

XII. December: Alone on New Year’s Eve

Another melancholy waltz.  Perhaps this is foreshadowing the melancholy of the first movement!  Aha!

HIGHLIGHT:  The tenth movement, of course!  It’s October!  So it has to be the Halloween movement!  In this movement, Schickele plays around with the “Dies Irae” melody using more klangfarbenmelodie.  Maybe listen to the original “Dies Irae” chant (above) one more time before listening to this so that you recognize the melody. It also sounds like he’s also paraphrasing elements from the “Batman” tv series theme song.  Here’s the batman opening motif—you all know it…

And here’s the brass blasts from a bit later on in the theme song.

So now, listen to Schickele’s tenth movement: “Halloween” and see if you don’t hear those elements, including the “Dies Irae.”

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY SCHICKELE?:

Well, he’s very prolific, so it’s a substantial oeuvre, plus he’s still alive and composing, so there’ll be more!  AND, if you didn’t already know, Schickele also composed a ton of whimsical music under the pseudonym P.D.Q. Bach. It’ll take a while, but I’ll do it.

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Ottorino Respighi

August 4, 2013

TITLE:  Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome)

 

Ottorino Respighi is best known for his piece “The Pines of Rome,” but since I just returned from Italy (I was performing at a music conference in Assisi) and my wife, Jane, and I spent a few days in Rome, including a visit to the Trevi Fountain, I thought that “The FOUNTAINS of Rome” would be a good piece to investigate for this week’s “I’m Listening to Everything by…”.

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:

A fifteen-minute “tone poem” with four distinct sections or movements, this is programmatic music (it paints a picture in your mind as you listen) describing not only the fountains, but imagined scenarios happening nearby.

 

The first movement, La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba (The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn), depicts a fountain in a pastoral setting.  It is not hard to allow your mind to paint pictures in your mind when you hear the woodwind instruments imitating bird song.

 

The second movement, La fontana del Tritone al mattino (The Triton Fountain in the Morning), depicts mythological characters dancing near the fountain.

 

The third movement, La fontana di Trevi al meriggio (The Trevi Fountain at Noon), starts with quite a grand fanfare.  I have to admit, having recently stood at the Trevi Fountain, the initial impression upon seeing it for the first time is quite grand and fanfare-worthy!  However, I suspect my experience at the Trevi Fountain was a tad marred by the vast amounts of vendors and other tourists swarming the place.  Here’s my wife and I just before we threw coins over our right shoulders, as is the custom.

 

CAM00425

 

The final movement, La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto (The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset), is a fitting close to this work.  It is easy to see the sun setting, particularly with the sound of church bells ringing (slowly) at the end.

 

HIGHLIGHT:  I really enjoyed the entire piece, but if I have to pick one, I’d probably pick the first movement.  I like the pastoral imagery and the way the woodwinds are used.

 

RANDOM OTHER HIGHLIGHT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MUSIC ITSELF:

One of my hobbies is visiting the gravesites of famous composers, so whenever I travel anywhere, I go to “findagrave.com” and search the cities I’ll be in to see if any famous composers are there.  I always make a list to bring with me so that if I happen to be near one of the graveyards or churches where someone is buried, I can pay a visit. On our very first day in Rome, we were told by our B&B host, Francesca, that she thinks we should begin our Roman holiday at the gateway to the city, the Piazza del Popolo.  Since it was only a few subway stops from our B&B, we did exactly that.  As we walked through the gates onto the amazing oval-shaped piazza with its twin churches, I saw a church to our immediate left and when I saw the name of the church, Santa Maria del Popolo, I immediately thought it was one that I had on my list, but I couldn’t remember who or why.  We went in and I was reading the names on tombs in the floor and on the walls, but no names were familiar.  I was getting frustrated, but as we passed an open door that led to a hallway used mainly by the clergy to get from one part of the church to another, Jane said, “I know why you wanted to come here” and went through the doorway.  I followed her and here’s what we found:

 

IMG_9287

 

The funny thing is, I didn’t have Respighi on my list because although he was originally interred here, a year after his death, his remains were taken to his birth city of Bologna and reinterred.  So the entire experience was extremely serendipitous!

 

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

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Mahler

June 2, 2013

NOTE: These are not intended to be “program notes.” I have done little or no research about the piece beyond what I already knew coming into the listening experience. These are simply my responses to the music.

 

TITLE: Symphony No. 1 “Titan”

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: A multi-movement work for orchestra—and, as is usual with Mahler, the orchestra is expanded: double the winds, double the brass, expanded string and percussion sections.
I never know if I should refer to Mahler’s music as “program music” or not because it doesn’t necessarily tell a story in the manner of, say, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Instead, Mahler tells any number of stories depending on your own perceptions and emotions. Mahler’s music is very personal and filled with dichotomies. For instance, the famous 3rd movement features a funeral march to the tune of Frere Jacques (in minor mode). Listen to some darling children singing Frere Jacques followed immediately by the beginning of the 3rd movement, second statement of the tune in a round between solo cello and solo bassoon.

Mahler 1 – Frere Jacques

 Is it about the deaths of numerous of his siblings to childhood diseases?  Is it about the “death” of childhood itself (since his was filled with turmoil)?  And then a few minutes into the funeral march, Jewish folk dances begin, interrupting the dirge.  Happy revelry in the midst of death? Many textbooks point to a particular drawing-The Huntsman’s Funeral-to provide a program for this movement. The animals are having a funeral for the huntsman, crying crocodile tears, but unavoidably, they forget that they’re pretending to be sad and start dancing in celebration (because everyone knows that forest animals are Jewish 🙂  Side note: it seems quite clear that certain melodies used in Fiddler on the Roof were either borrowed from Mahler, or that Mahler and Fiddler borrowed from the same folk source). Have a listen to the comparison (first Mahler, then Fiddler):

Mahler 1 – Fiddler on the Roof

Mahler’s father ran a pub attached to their home; often, when a dead sibling was being taken out the back door, the revelry from the bar provided a unique counterpoint to the sadness in the home.

One of my frustrations with this piece is that the 3rd movement gets so much attention in Music Appreciation textbooks and Music History classes that the other movements are neglected.  My personal favorite is the first movement; it evokes nature in remarkable and glorious ways starting with wonderful evocations of nature. The programmatic depiction of forest animals (including the cuckoo by the e-flat clarinet) and the offstage trumpet choir are my favorite elements.  One of my good friends pointed out that the opening of the 1st movement owes a lot to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #9—check out the comparison (first Mahler, then Beethoven, then Mahler again):

Mahler 1 – Beethoven 9 – Mahler 1

HIGHLIGHT:  For me, I guess the first movement, but listen to the entire symphony–there are lots of great recordings of the complete symphony available on YouTube–it is lengthy, but worth it.

In fact, the first time I heard this symphony live, I was weeping through much of the final movement.  Something about Mahler’s music touches me to the very core. I like to think it is because he and I are kindred spirits.

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MAHLER?:  A lot.  But I’ll do it.

WELCOME to JarenHinckley.com

May 19, 2013

Hello, and welcome to my website!
By way of introduction, I am Jaren Hinckley. I am a clarinetist and a composer. Aside from my family, music is the all-important element in my life! I will be updating the blog weekly, if not more often, mainly with thoughts about music and the great composers, or events in which I will be participating.  If you want to contact me for any reason, please use the “Contact” link.