Jaren Hinckley

Composer / Clarinetist

program music

I’m Listening to Everything Composed by Felix Mendelssohn

February 12, 2014



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 Gregor Werner

November 10, 2013



Okay, today’s entry is a real find! Never heard of Werner before? Me neither. For a brief time he was the organist at Melk Abbey. Here’s a picture of my oldest daughter at Melk Abbey




Then he was the predecessor of Haydn as court composer for the Esterhazy family at their palace in Eisenstadt.  Here’s a photo of the palace (and me):




Now for the piece.  Look at the title and, especially, the movement titles:


TITLE: Neuer und sehr curios- Musicalischer Calender: Il Novembre, im Wintermonat (New and Very Curious Musical Calendar: November in the winter months)

I. The gloomy student

II. Menuett

III. Tempest on the sea: Tempo de bon guosto

IV. Menuett

V. The mill: Tempo passato


They’re so unexpected!  Here’s why!  In the Baroque Era (1600-1750), most titles were formal and, let’s face it, somewhat stodgy.  For example:  “Concerto in A minor, Op. 13, No. 7” or “Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 44, No. 3”


But here, Werner has given it a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, almost silly title—“New and Very Curious Musical Calendar.”  So that’s one unexpected thing.  Then the movement titles are also unexpected, at least the 1st, 3rd and 5th movements, because they are programmatic titles (titles that are descriptive of an image or storyline).  Programmatic titles did not become de rigeur for instrumental music until the 19th century!



Here’s the first movement—“The gloomy student.”  As you listen to it, picture the image Werner had in mind when he composed it: a “student, gloomily starting the school year.”


Movement Two is a rather short minuet, but it still sounds programmatic.



Movement Three—“Tempest on the Sea.”  Again highly programmatic, and really quite similar to the music of Vivaldi.  Why do we not hear more of this composer?



Movement Four is another minuet.




Movement Five—“The Mill.”  According to the composer, he was using the mill as a symbol of the people of the village getting ready for winter.



HIGHLIGHT:  For me, movements three and five are the most exciting (programmatically speaking).  In any event, I’m excited by this unique program music of the past.


WHAT’S LEFT TO LISTEN TO BY WERNER?:  Unknown.  This is mainly due to the fact that he worked for the Esterhazy family and therefore didn’t print much of his music. It was to be performed in the palace and that’s pretty much it.  I’ll still be seeking out more from this composer…