Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist

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 Felix Mendelssohn

February 12, 2014

(1809-1847)

 

For faithful readers of this blog, you may recall that I focused on a piece by Mendelssohn this past December. Here we are in February with another piece by Mendelssohn!  The reason I chose to focus on Mendelssohn is because his birthday is this month (Feb. 3, 1809).  Happy 205th birthday, Felix! For today’s piece, I’m focusing on one of my absolute favorites by Mendelssohn.

 

TITLE:  The Hebrides Overture “Fingal’s Cave,” op. 26

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE:  This piece is what is known as a “concert overture”—a single-movement orchestral piece of program music.  The program of this piece is based on Mendelssohn’s own visit to the Isle of Staffa (off the west coast of Scotland). Staffa is part of a group of islands known collectively as the Hebrides (pronounced Heb’-ruh-deez) made of unusual geometric rock columns formed by volcanic activity. To get to the island, you need to charter a boat during good weather.  Because of the unusual make-up of the island there is no gentle beach on which to leave the boat.  You have to take the boat up close to the rock columns (sticking out of the water) and climb out directly onto the rocks.  If the weather is bad, the water would be too choppy and would crash the boat into the rocks.  On the island there is a large cave which, due to the unusual rock formations, has an unearthly quality to it. The music effortlessly conjures images of the ocean, the rise and fall of the boat as it approaches the island, and the unusual beauty of the island itself.

 

Here’s a YouTube video of the entire work:

 

 

And here’s a YouTube video of the entire work playing on top of someone’s travel footage (not mine, sadly), including the ambient sounds of the ocean, the boat, etc.

 

 

HIGHLIGHT:  The powerful programmatic elements.  I’ve never been to Staffa, but it’s not for lack of trying.  When I was living in Scotland (from 1988-1990, serving an LDS mission), I never had the chance.  When I returned to Scotland on vacation with my parents in 1996, we planned to go, but it was raining and no boats were willing to take us on a rainy day (unsafe).  When my wife and I were there in 2000, we headed towards Oban (where we would catch a boat to Staffa) but it was raining and we knew our chances were not good.  However, we noticed on the map that there was at least ONE island (Skye) that was close enough to the mainland that they had built a bridge to it.  So as we drove across the bridge to the Isle of Skye, I wistfully hummed the melody of this lovely piece by Mendelssohn.  Not quite the same thing as being on a boat, but it had to suffice.  Someday I’ll get to Staffa…(sigh)  Maybe next year…

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MENDELSSOHN?:  With over 100 opus numbers, I’ve got a ways to go!

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Alberto Ginastera

January 27, 2014

(1916-1983)

 

This past summer, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy.  (I was performing at a conference there.) On route from Assisi to Rome, there was a relatively obscure, off-the-beaten-path sculpture garden called “Sacro Bosca” (literally “Sacred Grove”) in a small town called Bomarzo. The sculptures were carved in the 2nd half of the Renaissance (late sixteenth-century).  Here’s a brief video of my wife at one of the carvings:

 

 

This past week, I stumbled upon an opera by Alberto Ginastera connected to Sacro Bosca.

 

TITLE: Bomarzo

 

This opera is unrelentingly depressing.  Here’s the basic plot:

Pier Francesco Orsini (a hunchback), the Duke of Bomarzo, has a drink that his astrologer told him was a magic potion that would make him immortal. However, the drink turns out to be poisoned. After the poison starts to work, Bomarzo reflects upon his life in a series of flashbacks.  They are all depressing:

  • His father drags the young Pier Francesco into a room where a large skeleton dances and haunts him.
  • His father falls in battle.
  • He visits a courtesan but keeps catching sight of his deformed body in the many mirrors in her room.
  • His brother falls from a cliff and dies.
  • His wife likes another man more than him.
  • He becomes impotent.
  • He has large stone sculptures carved on his estate, symbolic of his tortured feelings. (By the way, there is no evidence in reality to support this statement.  In reality, he had them carved to entertain visitors to the estate).

After all the flashbacks, we see him drink the poison (again) and he dies in the mouth of one of his sculptures.  Maybe this one?

 

IMG_9237

 

So if it is indeed unrelentingly depressing, why would I bother listening to it?  Because Ginastera wrote some cool music and used some unusual techniques—for example, a harp tuned to quarter steps:

 

Most of the opera sounds like the following:

 

 

Not the most appealing music, in my opinion…

For me, the most interesting music is at the beginning of each act, like the harp example above.  Also, in the 2nd act opening, there is a brief section where a cello (or viola?) plays a dissonant “modern” melody with the quarter-tone harp, but then the harp is replaced with a mandolin and then with a harpsichord.  I wonder if Ginastera’s intent was to reflect the time period in which the opera was set by his choice of instrumentation.

 

 

HIGHLIGHT: Also in the start of the 2nd act is a moment where Ginastera wanted to have the spectre of death loom over the proceedings (in a musical way), so he uses the famous “Dies Irae” melody to great effect.

 

Here’s the original Middle Ages plainchant

 

 

And here’s how Ginastera quotes it in “Bomarzo.”

 

 

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY GINASTERA?:  An extraordinarily large amount, including film scores.  I’ll do my best…

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 Felix Mendelssohn

December 29, 2013

(1809-1847)

 

For my final December-themed blog post of 2013, I chose a set of choral works by Mendelssohn collectively titled…

 

TITLE: “Sechs Sprüche für das Kirchenjahr, Op. 79” (Six Maxims for the Church Year).

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: These six brief choral works (all under two minutes) focus on six important days in the church year—Christmas, New Year’s Day, Ascension Day, Passiontide, Advent, and Good Friday. Each ends with the word “Hallelujah.” Upon first listening, these could be mistaken for a cappella works from an earlier time period, however, there is just enough pleasing dissonance to pinpoint the composition as being from the Romantic Era.

 

HIGHLIGHT: Appropriately enough for the current time of year, the highlight for me is the first piece in the set–“Weihnachten” (Christmas).  Here is the text (first the German, then the English translation):

 

Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, und preiset Gott!

Der Heiland ist erschienen, denn der Herr verheißen.

Er hat seine Gerechtigkeit der Welt offenbaret.

Halleluja!

 

Rejoice, ye people on earth, and praise the Lord!

The Saviour has appeared, whom the Lord has promised.

He has manifested his justice to the world.

Hallelujah!

 

As you listen, notice the cool dissonance that occurs on the first syllable of the word “preiset.” After that, the words “Herr,” “Gerechtigkeit” and “Welt” have the most glorious rich harmonies. (Especially the 2nd syllable of “Gerechtigkeit”!) Enjoy!

 

I found some fun YouTube videos of all six pieces where you can follow along with the score (but I’m less fond of the choir on these videos than of the example above).  Here are the links if you’re interested

Christmas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQWPhghoE5g

New Year’s Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIkvP7qhA_Y

Ascension Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSPYE8iXsmw

Passiontide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGEcVlwiCZ8

Advent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2eE4DY7u7c

Good Friday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHn0SfNvQE8

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY MENDELSSOHN?:  With over 100 opus numbers, I’ve got a ways to go!

 

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 Ralph Vaughan Williams

December 9, 2013

(1872-1958)

 

TITLE: On Christmas Night

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE PIECE: This piece was written as a half hour ballet that essentially tells the story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”   I’d love to see this as a ballet.  I think it would be fantastic and perhaps a nice break from Tchaikovsky’s overdone (but wonderful!) “Nutcracker.”  Here’s a brief excerpt from the 2nd section in the ballet (“Marley’s Ghost”). This is reminiscent of Dukas’ “Sorceror’s Apprentice” as well as dozens of film scores.

HIGHLIGHT:  The final scene is the highlight for me, mainly because I can imagine seeing it as a ballet and I suspect (know) it would make me cry. From a description I found online:

Arising from a mysterious Lento, an off-stage voice sings The First Nowell, soon joined by the chorus. The backcloth displays the Madonna and child, as in an Italian picture, and the procession of the Nativity enters. All kneel except Scrooge who remains outside the group. Tiny Tim notices this, goes to him, takes his hand and leads him in where he kneels with the others. With bells a-ringing, everyone joins in to sing ‘Nowell, Nowell’ before the ballet closes peacefully.

 

Listen to it, imagine the above, and, if you feel so inclined, let me know what you think!

I also found the entire piece in a concert performance (non-ballet)—it’s a wonderful performance (although they didn’t use any singers—just orchestra).  Whoever uploaded it to YouTube broke it up into three parts; I’ve included all three links below.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uNexM9PlCI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvclx0hC_Qc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dywbkWa-KaM

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY VAUGHAN WILLIAMS?: A very large amount of music, including five ballets and five operas.

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Jake Heggie

December 1, 2013

(b. 1961)

 

Heggie is best known for his opera “Dead Man Walking” (based on the book of the same name).  However, since we are now in the month of December, I chose to listen to Heggie’s chamber opera “3 Decembers.”  As you may have guessed by now, the theme of the month is “music about December.”

 

TITLE: 3 Decembers

 

The opera (in a nutshell) is about a dysfunctional family (spoiler alert!)—the mother, a famous actress, and her two adult children with various tribulations and a highly idealized view of their father who died when they were young. If you do not enjoy theatrical productions that deal with topics such as suicide, alcoholism, and AIDS (the adult son has a partner who is dying), this may not be the show for you.  However, if you can look past the sad themes, you may just find some themes that resonate with you. I found the final scene particularly poignant as the mother (from beyond the grave) recognizes her shortcomings and validates her childrens’ feelings. I also found it quite realistic in the way parents think they’re doing (or did) the right things for their children and how adult children often disagree with the decisions their parents made (whether right or wrong).

 

Heggie’s musical style is quite lovely.  He has a way with lovely melodies and harmonies. I’m a fan.  Here’s the prelude to the opera; you’ll hear that it has a jauntiness that is reminiscent of musical theatre:

 

 

HIGHLIGHT: For me, the highlight of this opera is the lullaby the father used to sing the children when they were young.  Whether this is a false memory or part of their idealized view of their father is immaterial—this is beautiful music.  Here’s the first part, sung by the mother, with the text below so you can follow along:

 

 

The moon sings a song for you every night,
Which you only can hear when your eyes are shut tight.
Can you hear it? Note by note it grows clear.
Carried by moonbeams right to your heart.
Hush now. Listen. It appears.
No troubles. No fears.
The moon smiles above you, and Daddy is near.

 

And here’s another verse a few minutes later in the opera, sung by all three main characters (again, text below):

 

 

Let it go. Let the day fade softly into the mist.
The moon’s lullaby no dream can resist.
Let it take you away.
Moonbeams are heartstrings the night gently strums.
Hush now. Listen. Here it comes.
No worries.No troubles. No more fears.
The moon smiles above you, and Daddy is near.

If you like what you hear, I would definitely recommend seeking this out.  This particular recording is available through naxos.com or amazon.com and features the marvelous Frederica von Stade as the mother.  There are also a few excerpts on YouTube worth a listen.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDLNFYbAqCQ

 

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY HEGGIE?: a few more operas, a LOT of vocal music, and some chamber music. Since I am a clarinetist, I was sad to see that he hadn’t written any solo music for my instrument.  Perhaps I’ll have to commission something by him someday!  He’s a great composer and I will definitely be seeking out and listening to more music by him.

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Charles Ives

November 25, 2013

(1874-1954)

 

As I mentioned in a blog post a few months ago (Sept. 22, 2013), Ives is one of my favorite composers. For the month of November, and particularly for the week of Thanksgiving, I want to look at the final movement of Ives’ “Holidays Symphony” titled “Thanksgiving and Forefathers Day”

 

As usual, Ives quotes/borrows a number of pre-existing tunes within this movement.  As you listen, you will most certainly hear simple lovely melodies that sound like hymns (and that’s because they are).  Here are two of the hymns most prominently quoted in this piece.  First, “The Shining Shore” performed by an amateur (but sweet) singing group:

 

Next is “Duke Street,” better known as “Jesus Shall Reign.”  Here it is performed on the organ:

 

 

And here’s the music in case you want to sing along with the organ.

 

Duke Street

 

In a number of cases, Ives will feature one to three instruments playing a familiar hymn tune at a very soft dynamic level.  He wanted you to barely perceive the melodies as though you heard them from a far off distance.  I found one—Nettleton (Come Thou Fount)—in the orchestral score played by one flute at the pianissimo dynamic level, while the rest of the orchestra was playing at a forte level, including trombones and French horns.  On my recording, I couldn’t hear the flute at all.  Nevertheless, it’s a cool idea and perhaps his intent was that it be almost a subliminal effect.

 

Here’s that moment:

 

 

Couldn’t hear “Nettleton,” could you?

 

Later, just a tad before the halfway point (around six and half minutes in) the oboe, flute and violins present (in turn) The Shining Shore, this time, in a highly obvious way.  If you need to, go back up to the top of this post and re-listen to the vocal version of it to get the melody stuck in your head. Here is Ives’ use of the melody:

 

 

As you have heard with these few examples, the entire piece alternates between 1) highly dissonant moments with tons of layered melodies and harsh chords and 2) incredibly beautiful, simply-stated hymn tunes.

 

HIGHLIGHT: When Ives quotes the hymn Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign). If you need to, go back up to the top of this post and re-listen to the organ version to get the melody stuck in your head.  In Ives’ version of it, it shows up right near the end with full unison choir.  Ives loved unison choirs and I have to admit there’s nothing quite like it.  Keep in mind, however, Ives used different words, penned by a New Haven minister years before.  Here they are so you can sing along if you like:

 

God! Beneath Thy guiding hand,

Our exiled fathers crossed the sea,

And as they trod the wintry strand,

With prayer and praised they worshipped Thee.

 

 

The movement ends as though a (in Ives’ words) “Puritan band were marching out of view and hearing.”  To achieve this effect, Ives indicated that certain instruments on stage should stop playing and duplicate instruments off stage would continue the line.  I’m not sure that will come across on a recording, but here goes:

 

 

To truly get the full effect of this piece, you really need to listen to the entire thing.  If I listen to the entire piece, I can easily be brought to tears, especially when the chorus comes in.  Goosebumps, even.  There are a few recordings of this movement on YouTube.  Here’s the link to one of them:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsFbWuHO6Q

WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY IVES?: Lots.

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…