Tuesday 1 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

 from “Solomon” by George Frideric Handel

Handel was 63 years old when he composed Solomon, one of his final masterpieces. This monumental oratorio depicts the three highpoints of the biblical king's life: the building of the temple, the famous judgment, and the visit of the Queen of Sheba. With a dramatic instinct keener than ever, the composer did not hesitate to combine political and patriotic reflections with exaltation of carnal love and celebration of earthly riches.

The sinfonia from act III, commonly known as “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, has become one of the the world's best-loved classics. It is perfect for any event, wedding or celebration, and a fun piece to play at a recital.

The opening sinfonia is of unusual scope for Handel's oratorios. It has even been suggested that this piece was not actually composed for the work at hand, but rather was borrowed from another unfinished project.

In its original form, the piece is scored for two oboes and strings. In our arrangement, you can choose to play the part of the first oboe with the provided string accompaniment, or you can play the piece as a duet with a friend. As a fun exercise, it's also interesting to try out the violin part, which carries the famous initial theme!

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Baroque Oratorios Wedding musicDifficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 2 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Entr'acte

 from Georges Bizet's opera “Carmen”

This intermezzo is taken from Bizet's Spanish opera Carmen, a realistic drama of love, jealousy and murder, set in Seville. It serves as an interlude before Act III, and sets the scene as the gypsy smugglers climb to their stronghold in the mountains, ready for a new enterprise, joined by Carmen and the soldier, Don José, whom she has seduced.

The original orchestral setting features a poetic pastoral melody on the flute over a harp accompaniment, with other instruments entering to converse with the flute. The combination of flute and harp is one that is peculiarly satisfying, the one instrument a foil to the other. Of course, if you can't find a harpist, our arrangement will sound nice all the same if the accompaniment part is played on a piano.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Opera excerpts Romantic Written for FluteDifficulty: intermediate
Thursday 3 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Little Fugue in G minor

 by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged for Flute duet

Let there be no confusion about it: this fugue for organ, BWV 578, is known as the “Little” Fugue not because it is a work of small importance or because it is an unusually short work, but simply so that it and the much longer and later “Great” G minor Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 542, might not be mistaken for one another. Bach probably composed the “Little” G minor Fugue sometime between 1703 and 1707, when he was a young, up-and-coming organist in the city of Arnstadt.

The “Little” G minor's four-and-a-half-measure subject is one of Bach's most widely recognized tunes. During the episodes, Bach employs one of Arcangelo Corelli's most beloved sequential gestures: imitation between two voices on an eighth note upbeat figure that first leaps up a fourth and then falls back down one step at a time.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Baroque FuguesDifficulty: advanced
Friday 4 September 2009

Site update: Most Popular Tunes

Download popularity charts now available on flutetunes.com

We've just launched a new section of the site, where you can see what the most popular tunes are. The list is updated daily, so that you can constantly track the performance of your favorite piece.

The rankings are computed on a seven-day rolling basis, and exclude all downloads that occurred while the tunes were featured on the homepage. This is necessary to make the data meaningful, since the most recently posted tunes would obviously benefit from greater popularity.

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Friday 4 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair

 Traditional American song by Stephen C. Foster

This famous musical poem was written by songwriter Stephen Foster with his wife, Jane McDowall, in mind. The song was originally written as “Jennie With The Light Brown Hair”, but by the time it was officially published in 1854 the name had changed to “Jeanie” with only one “n”.

Several Looney Tunes cartoons make reference to the song, often with a punning reference to “genie” and “hare”. The first line of the song also inspired the name of the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie... although the title character in that show had blond hair.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Love songs Traditional/FolkDifficulty: easy
Saturday 5 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Moonlight Sonata

 Piano Sonata No. 14 by Ludwig van Beethoven, transcribed for Flute and Piano

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2, is popularly known as the “Moonlight” Sonata (Mondscheinsonate in German), name deriving from an 1832 description of the first movement by music critic Ludwig Rellstab, who compared it to moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne, in Switzerland. The work was completed in 1801, and rumored to be dedicated to Beethoven's pupil, 17-year-old Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom Beethoven was, or had been, in love.

On the other hand, according to a popular (but apparently groundless) anecdote that circulated in the 19th century, Beethoven wrote the sonata when playing the piano for a blind girl at night. Thus the sonata was called “Moonlight”. This anecdote was particularly popular at the end of the 19th century and was a frequent topic for painters and graphic artists.

The first and best-known movement, marked Adagio sostenuto, is based on an accompanying motif in triplet rhythm that, together with an accented notes motif, creates the impression of a grave, meditative state of mind.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Funeral music Nocturnes Romantic SonatasDifficulty: intermediate
Sunday 6 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Der Flohwalzer

 Traditional piano piece, arranged for Flute solo

This piece, which is traditionally performed on the piano, is known all over the world under a variety of names. It is known in Spain as La Chocolatera, in the Netherlands as Vlooienmars (“Flea March”), in Belgium as Valse des Puces (“Flea Waltz”), in Russia as Sobachiy Val's (“Dog Waltz”), in Bulgaria as Koteshki Marsh (“Cat March”), in Hungary as Szamárinduló (“Donkey March”), in Majorca as Polca de los Tontos (“Fools' Polka”), in Denmark as Prinsesse Toben (“Princess Two-Legs”), in Mexico as Los Changuitos (“The Little Monkeys”), in Finland as Kissanpolkka (“Cat Polka”), in Japan as Neko Funjatta (“I Stepped on the Cat”), and in China as “Thief March”. In the UK it is called “Chopsticks”, but beware: in the rest of the world, the title “Chopsticks” refers to a wholly different piece.

Please note that, despite its German name, the piece is not a waltz, since it has 2/4 time signature. (The time signature of a waltz is always 3/4.)

The key of the piece is G-flat major (that's right, with six flats), so it may prove to be a rather tricky (but very useful) sight-reading exercise. By the way, that's the key in which the piece is usually played.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Traditional/FolkDifficulty: intermediate
Monday 7 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Aquarium

 from Camille Saint-Saëns's “The Carnival of the Animals“
aquarium

This is one of the musically richest movements from Le Carnaval des Animaux (“The Carnival of the Animals”), a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The melody is played by the flute, on top of tumultuous, glissando-like runs in the piano. These irregular piano figures are evocative of a peaceful, dimly-lit aquarium.

“Aquarium” has been featured in the trailers for the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the 1974 film The Godfather Part II, the 1994 film Only You, and the 2006 film Charlotte's Web. It also appears to be one of the influences on the main theme in Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and is especially prominent in the cue titled “The West Wing”.

As Trevor Wye points out in his popular Practice Books, this piece makes an excellent tone exercise.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Romantic Written for FluteDifficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 8 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Oh! Susanna

 American folk song

Written by Stephen Foster, this famous song was first published in 1848. Popularly associated with the California Gold Rush, it is also occasionally called “Banjo on My Knee”, which by the way is the title of a 1936 film.

Probably by fortuitous coincidence rather than design, the song appeared in the public eye at the same time as the new polka fad was arriving from Europe. While minstrel songs prior to this time were considered uncouth, “Oh! Susanna!” thus provided an entry to the middle-class market.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Va', pensiero

 from Giuseppe Verdi's opera “Nabucco”

Arguably the best-known number ever written by Giuseppe Verdi, the “Chorus of Hebrew Slaves”, Va', pensiero, sull'ali dorate (“Fly, thought, on golden wings”), is regularly given an encore when performed today; indeed, it is the only encore Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine has ever allowed.

This chorus from the third act of Nabucco (1842), inspired by Psalm 137. recollects the story of Jewish exiles from Babylon after the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The opera, with its powerful chorus, established Verdi as a major composer in 19th century Italy.

Some scholars initially regarded it as an anthem for Italian patriots, who were seeking to unify their country in the years up to 1861 and free it from foreign control. The chorus' theme of exiles singing about their homeland, and its lines like O mia patria, si bella e perduta (“O my country, so beautiful and so lost”) was thought to have resonated with many Italians. However, much of modern scholarship has refuted this concept, and fails to see connections between Nabucco and Italian nationalism.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Choruses Opera excerpts RomanticDifficulty: intermediate
Thursday 10 September 2009

New Article: Flute Harmonics

Everything you always wanted to know about harmonics but were afraid to ask

Today we are inaugurating a new section of the site, that will host assorted articles about flutists, the flute and music in general.

Our first article is about natural harmonics, a very important though often neglected topic in flute playing. If you don't know what harmonics are, don't worry. The article is quite extensive, and should cover everything you need to know. By the end of it, you will be able to play your flute like a bugle!

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Thursday 10 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Green Hill Zone

 from the historic video game “Sonic the Hedgehog”
Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog was the video game that started off the career of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Team. It was the first game to really propel the Genesis into mass popularity in North America, to the point that the Sega console outsold the Super Nintendo nearly 2 to 1 during the 1991 holiday season. This success eventually led to Sega overtaking Nintendo with control of 55% of the 16-bit console market, making it the first time Nintendo was not the console leader since 1985.

Green Hill Zone is the first zone in Sonic the Hedgehog. It is a picturesque paradise with green forests, beautiful blue lakes, and brown checkered soil.

The game has been praised for its dynamic music, composed by Masato Nakamura, a member of the popular J-Pop band, Dreams Come True. The music used 8-bit stereo sound, and was very rich and detailed. The music for Green Hill Zone in particular is a very well recognized tune, by many fans of the series and by other gamers. Many remixes of this track can be found online.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Video game musicDifficulty: intermediate
Friday 11 September 2009

Tune of the Day: The Last Rose of Summer

 Traditional Irish poem
'Tis the last rose of summer

This song originates from a poem written in 1805 by Irish poet Thomas Moore (nothing to do with the better-known English scholar, whose name by the way was More, with just one “o”). Sir John Stevenson set the poem to its widely-known melody, and this was published in a collection of Moore's work called Irish Melodies.

German composer Friedrich von Flotow uses the song in his opera Martha, premiered in 1847 in Vienna. It is a favorite air (Letzte Rose) of the character Lady Harriet. The interpolation works, and indeed the song helped popularize the opera.

The song is mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses. It is also featured in many films, like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and An Awfully Big Adventure, and in Rick Burns' documentary series New York.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Opera excerpts Traditional/FolkDifficulty: intermediate
Saturday 12 September 2009

Tune of the Day: The Entertainer

 “A Ragtime Two Step” by Scott Joplin

Probably Scott Joplin's most famous piece, this classic piano rag was written in 1902. It returned to top international prominence as part of the ragtime revival in the 1970s, when it was used as the theme music for the 1973 Oscar-winning film The Sting. Composer and pianist Marvin Hamlisch's adaptation reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart in 1974 and spent a week at #1 on the adult contemporary chart that same year.

Curiously enough, the film The Sting was set in the 1930s, a full generation after the end of ragtime's mainstream popularity.

In the United States, "The Entertainer" is also commonly played by ice cream trucks, in order to attract attention.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Film music RagtimeDifficulty: intermediate
Sunday 13 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Garryowen

 Traditional Irish march and dance tune

The word garryowen is derived from Irish, the proper name Eóghan (“born of the yew tree”) and the word for garden garrai, thus “Eóghan's Garden”. The term seems to refer to an area of the town of Limerick, Ireland.

The origins of Garryowen are unclear, but it emerged in the late 18th century, when it was a drinking song of rich young roisterers in Limerick. It obtained immediate popularity in the British Army and was played throughout the Napoleonic War, becoming the regimental march of the Royal Irish Regiment.

A very early reference to the tune appears in The Life of the Duke of Wellington by J.H. Stocqueler, published in 1853. He describes the defense of the town of Tarifa in late 1811, during the Peninsular War. General H. Gough, after repulsing an attack by French Grenadiers “...was not, however, merely satisfied with resistance. When the enemy, scared, ran from the walls, he drew his sword, made the band strike up `Garry Owen’, and followed the fugitives for two or three hundred yards.”

It later became the marching tune for the US 7th Cavalry Regiment during the late 1800s. The tune was a favorite of General Custer and became the official air of the Regiment in 1867. According to legend it was the last tune played before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Monday 14 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

 First movement from Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

The opening of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony just could be the most memorable musical phrase of all time, with its four-note motif appearing frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll, to film and television.

This symphony is also notable for the amount of time it spent in gestation. The first sketches date from 1804, following the completion of the Third Symphony. However, Beethoven repeatedly interrupted his work on the Fifth to prepare other compositions, including the first version of Fidelio, the Appassionata piano sonata, the three Razumovsky string quartets, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and the Fourth Symphony. The final preparation of the Fifth Symphony, which took place in 1807–1808, was carried out in parallel with the Sixth Symphony, which premiered at the same concert. Beethoven was in his mid-thirties during this time, and his personal life was already troubled by increasing deafness.

The symphony soon acquired its status as a central item in the repertoire. Groundbreaking both in terms of its technical and emotional impact, it has had a large influence on composers and music critics, and inspired work by such composers as Brahms, Tchaikovsky (his 4th Symphony in particular), Bruckner, Mahler, and Berlioz. The Fifth stands with the Third Symphony and Ninth Symphony as the most revolutionary of Beethoven's compositions.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Classical SymphoniesDifficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 15 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Love Me Tender

 American Civil War song “Aura Lee”, by George R. Poulton

“Love Me Tender”, as sung by Elvis Presley, was adapted from the tune of “Aura Lee” (or “Aura Lea”), a sentimental Civil War ballad with music by George R. Poulton and words by W.W. Fosdick. “Aura Lee” was published in 1861, and later became popular with college glee clubs and barbershop quartets. It was also sung at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

It is said that during the Civil War this song was popular with both Union and Confederate soldiers. It is also said that often during the night, when both armies were camped within earshot of each other and “Aura Lee” was struck up by one side, the other side would join in. Such moments of camaraderie would have them harmonizing together, with thoughts of home and loved ones. However, such musical interludes were all too brief, for all too soon the horrors of war would return to divide them.

In 1956 the song would change its name to “Love Me Tender”, and would be credited to Elvis Presley and Vera Matson. The new lyrics, however, were written by Ken Darby, the American Academy Award and Grammy Award winning composer and conductor. Curiously, when Ken Darby was asked why he credited his wife, Vera Matson, as co-songwriter along with Elvis Presley, he responded, “Because she didn't write it either.”

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Pavane

 by Gabriel Fauré, arranged for flute and piano

Fauré composed this haunting Pavane, op. 50, in late summer 1887 at his home in the Paris suburbs. Obtaining its rhythm from the slow processional Spanish court dance of the same name, the Pavane ebbs and flows from a series of harmonic and melodic climaxes, conjuring a cool Belle Époque elegance.

At first Fauré envisaged a purely orchestral work to be played at a series of light summer concerts. But after Fauré opted to dedicate the work to his patron, Elisabeth, comtesse Greffulhe, he felt compelled to stage a grander affair and thus he added an invisible chorus to accompany the orchestra (with additional allowance for dancers). The choral lyrics were based on some inconsequential verses, à la Verlaine, on the romantic helplessness of man, which had been contributed by the Countess' cousin, Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac.

The little work grew immensely popular, with and without chorus, and Fauré's example would soon be imitated by his pupils, who went on to write pavanes of their own: Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte and Debussy's “Passepied” from the Suite bergamasque.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Pavanes RomanticDifficulty: intermediate
Thursday 17 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Tetris Theme

 Music from the most famous puzzle video game in history
Tetris

Tetris was originally designed and programmed by computer engineer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, while he was working at the Academy of Science of the USSR in Moscow. He derived its name from the Greek numerical prefix “tetra-” (all of the game's pieces, known as tetrominoes, are made up of four segments) and “tennis”, Pajitnov's favorite sport. While versions of Tetris were sold for a range of 1980s home computer platforms, it was the hugely successful handheld version for the Game Boy launched in 1989 that established the reputation of the game as one of the most popular ever.

Music A in the original Game Boy edition of Tetris has become very widely known. It is an instrumental arrangement of a Russian folk tune called “Korobeiniki”. Korobeiniki were peddlers with trays, selling fabric, haberdashery, books and other small things in pre-revolutionary Russia. The original song tells the story of a young Korobeinik trying to sell his goods to a girl named Katya.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Dance tunes Traditional/Folk Video game musicDifficulty: intermediate
Friday 18 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Sarabande

 from Cello Suite No. 1 in G major by J.S. Bach

In the fixed structure of Bach's Cello Suites, the fourth movement of each suite is always a sarabande. This triple meter dance originated during the sixteenth century as a wildly exuberant dance song in Latin America, before becoming one of the most popular dances of the Baroque.

Initially a light, cheerful dance of moderately quick tempo, the sarabande went through many changes during the Baroque period. The late seventeenth-century form, used extensively in France and Germany, was much slower, more deliberate, and serious, with a heavy accent on the second pulse of the measure. Composers often provided heavy written-out embellishments for this slow sarabande.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Baroque Etudes SarabandesDifficulty: intermediate
Saturday 19 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Saint Patrick's An Dro

 Traditional Breton dance tune

An Dro or En dro (Breton for "the turn") is a Breton folk dance in 2/4. The dancers link little fingers in a long line, swinging their arms, and moving to their left by taking longer steps in that direction than when stepping right.

An Dros often have songs associated with them, and these are usually sung as a verse/chorus or call/response, with the leader (the person at the left-hand end of the line) singing the verses or calls. The musicians will sometimes play from the middle of the dance floor, and the dancers will then often form a spiral around them.

Saint Patrick's An Dro has recently been brought to popularity by Galician bagpiper and recorder player Carlos Núñez in his albums Un Galicien en Bretagne and Almas de Fisterra. Núñez, who performed with The Chieftains in the Grammy-winning album Santiago, has become referred to as the “7th member” of the famous Irish band.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Celtic Music Dance tunes Traditional/FolkDifficulty: easy
Sunday 20 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Largo from Xerxes

 Gerge Frideric Handel's aria “Ombra mai fù”

“Ombra mai fù” is the first aria of G.F. Handel's opera Xerxes. It is sung by the main character, Serse (Xerxes), in praise of a tree's shade as he sits underneath it. It is commonly known as Handel's “Largo”, although the original tempo was larghetto.

Never has there been a shade
of a plant
more dear and lovely,
or more gentle.

The opera was a commercial failure when it came out, lasting only five performances in London after its premiere. In the 19th century, however, this aria was rediscovered and became one of Handel's best-known pieces. Originally composed to be sung by a soprano castrato (and sung in modern performances of the opera by a countertenor or a mezzo-soprano), it has often been arranged for other voice types and instruments.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Arias Baroque Opera excerpts Wedding musicDifficulty: intermediate
Monday 21 September 2009

Tune of the Day: The Sailor's Hornpipe

 Traditional dance tune

This dance imitates the life of a sailor and his duties aboard ship, like the hauling of ropes, rowing, climbing the rigging and saluting. Sailors from the Royal Navy are believed to have invented the solo dance, as an exercise aboard ship. Due to the small space that the dance required, and no need for a partner, the dance was popular on board ship. Accompaniment may have been the music of a tin whistle or a fiddle.

Samuel Pepys referred to the hornpipe in his diary as “The Jig of the Ship”, and Captain Cook, who took a piper on at least one voyage, is noted to have ordered his men to dance it in order to keep them in good health.

The tune was played in the animated Popeye cartoons beginning in the 1930s, usually as the first part of the opening credits theme, which then segued into an instrumental of “I'm Popeye the Sailor Man”.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Dance tunes Hornpipes Traditional/FolkDifficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 22 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Plaisir d'amour

 Classical French love song by Jean Paul Martini

This song was originally written in 1780 by Jean Paul Égide Martini. Sometimes known as Martini Il Tedesco (Italian for “Martini the German”), Martini was born Johann Paul Aegidius Schwarzendorf in Freystadt, Germany. He adopted the family name Martini after moving to France, where he established a successful career as a court musician. He is sometimes referred to as Giovanni Martini, which has resulted in a confusion with Giovanni Battista Martini, particularly with regard to the composition of “Plaisir d'Amour”.

This vocal romance became quite popular, and was later arranged for orchestra by Hector Berlioz. Notable interpretations of the song include those of Joan Baez, Brigitte Bardot, Karen Allyson, and Charlotte Church. Although it has recently been adapted as a piece of pop music, most people don't realize that it was written in a classical style during the classical period.

The melody was reused for the popular 1961 song “Can't Help Falling in Love”, performed by Elvis Presley in the film Blue Hawaii.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Classical Love songsDifficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 23 September 2009

Tune of the Day: The Yellow Rose of Texas

 Traditional American folk song
Yellow rose

“The Yellow Rose of Texas” has long been popular in the United States and is considered the unofficial state song of Texas. The actual author is unknown; the original publisher only stated that it was composed and arranged expressly for Charles H. Brown by “J.K.”

The tune became a popular Confederate marching song during the Civil War and with the U.S. Cavalry on western outposts and along the cattle trails following the Civil War.

The song is based on a Texas legend from the days of the Texas War of Independence. According to the legend, a free African American woman named Emily D. West, a mulatto and hence the reference to “yellow”, seized by Mexican forces during the looting of Galveston, seduced General Antonio López de Santa Ana, President of Mexico and commander of the Mexican forces. The legend credits her supposed seduction with lowering the guard of the Mexican army and facilitating the Texan victory in the battle of San Jacinto waged in 1836 near present-day Houston. Santa Ana's opponent was General Sam Houston, who won the battle literally in minutes, and with almost no casualties.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: American Civil War Marches Traditional/FolkDifficulty: easy
Thursday 24 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Allemande

 from Cello Suite No. 1 in G major by J.S. Bach

An allemande (from the French word for “German”), also spelled allemanda or almain, is one of the most popular instrumental dance forms in Baroque music, and a standard element of a suite. Originally, the allemande formed the first movement of the suite, before the courante, but later it was often preceded by an introductory movement, such as a prelude; this is the case in Bach's Cello Suites.

The allemande originated in the 16th century (Renaissance) as a duple meter dance of moderate tempo, derived from dances supposed to be favored in Germany at the time. No German dance instructions from this era survive, but 16th century French and British dance manuals for the almain do survive. In general the dancers formed a line of couples, extended their paired hands forward, and paraded back and forth the length of the room, walking three steps, then balancing on one foot.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Allemandes BaroqueDifficulty: intermediate
Friday 25 September 2009

Tune of the Day: O Canada

 National anthem of Canada
The Canadian Flag

“O Canada” was originally commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec for the 1880 St. Jean-Baptiste Day ceremony. Quebecois concert pianist Calixa Lavallée wrote the music, which was a setting of a patriotic poem composed by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The text was originally only in French, before it was translated to English in 1906.

“O Canada” was not officially Canada's national anthem until 1980, when it was signed into law on July 1 as part of that year's Dominion Day celebrations. The Canadian government bought the rights to the lyrics and music for only one dollar.

Many have noted that the opening theme of the song bears a great resemblance to the “Marsch der Priester” (“March of the Priests”) from The Magic Flute, composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Some say that Mozart's tune inspired Lavallée to compose his melody.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: National anthems PatrioticDifficulty: easy
Saturday 26 September 2009

Tune of the Day: National Emblem

 “As perfect a march as a march can be”

The National Emblem march was composed in 1902 by Edwin Eugene Bagley. It is a standard of the American march repertoire, appearing in eleven published editions.

Bagley composed the score during a 1902 train tour with his family band. He became frustrated with the ending, and tossed the composition in a trash can. Members of the band fortunately retrieved it and secretly rehearsed the score in the baggage car. Bagley was surprised when the band informed him minutes before the next concert that they would perform it. It became the most famous of all of Bagley’s marches. Despite this, the composition did not make Bagley wealthy, for he sold the copyright for $25!

Bagley incorporates into the march the first twelve notes of The Star-Spangled Banner ingeniously disguised in duple rather than triple time. The rest of the notes are all Bagley’s, including the four short repeated A-flat major chords that lead to a statement by the low brass that is now reminiscent of the National Anthem.

The best-known theme of this march is popularly sung in the US with the doggerel verse “and the monkey wrapped his tail around the flagpole”. In Britain, the same theme is sometimes sung with the words, “have you ever caught your bollocks in a mangle”.

The march has been featured in movies such as Protocol and Hot Shots!.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Marches PatrioticDifficulty: intermediate
Sunday 27 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Son ar Chistr

 Traditional Breton drinking song

This folk song comes from Brittany, and its title translates to "Song of Cider" in English. The origins of the song are mysterious. Often claimed to be a traditional tune, some sources claim this song was written by an unknown Breton piper in the late 1920s. Most likely, it was written by Jean-Bernard and Jean-Marie Prima in 1929.

Breton singer Alan Stivell was the first to popularize this song, releasing it in 1970 as the B-side of his single “Brocéliande”. A big success, as his first professional album Reflets of the same year, which also included the song.

The tune was also played by The Chieftains, as “Ev Chistr 'ta, laou!”, in their 1986 album Celtic Wedding: Music of Brittany.

In 1976 the song was exported to the Netherlands by Bots as “Wat zullen we drinken (Zeven dagen lang)”, or "Sieben Tage lang" in German. As such, it has been recently brought back to popularity by the Dutch folkband Rapalje.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Celtic Music Drinking songs Marches Traditional/FolkDifficulty: intermediate
Monday 28 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Passa calle

 from “La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid” by Luigi Boccherini

This is the piece played at the end of the 2003 film Master and Commander by the Captain (Russell Crowe) on violin and the Doctor on cello.

The title of the work translates from Italian as “The Night Music of the Streets of Madrid”. It was an attempt to recreate what residents of the Spanish capital could expect to hear each night. It was not published until several years after Boccherini's death, in part because the composer told his publisher that “The piece is absolutely useless, even ridiculous, outside Spain because the audience cannot hope to understand its significance nor the performers to play it as it should be played.”

The fifth movement is the Passacaglia of the Street Singers, known as Los Manolos. These were vulgar lower class loudmouths. It is not a true passacaglia, but imitates the way Los Manolos sang. The expression passa calle means to pass along the street, singing as one goes for amusement.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Classical Film music RococoDifficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 29 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Over the Hills and Far Away

 Traditional English song

This traditional English song dates back to at least the early 1700s. The words have changed over the years, and the only consistent element in early versions were the title line and the tune. Some versions refer to lovers, while some other refer to fleeing oveseas to join the army.

The tune was provided with another set of lyrics for the Sharpe television series, and this version was also recorded by British folk musician John Tams, who played Sergeant Dan Hagman in the series.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Traditional/FolkDifficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 30 September 2009

Tune of the Day: Sleigh Ride

 from “Three German Dances”, K. 605 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

We've been asked for some flute trios, so here is one! Christmas may still be far away, but you know... it often takes some time to put a trio together.

This little piece, whose German name “Die Schlittenfahrt” means “The Sleigh Ride”, is one of the most popular of Mozart's numerous orchestral dances. Written near the end of his life, it is, like many of the composer's other “German dances”, a Ländler, a simple dance in triple meter that was the predecessor to the waltz. Its most unusual feature, and the one that inspired its nickname, is its original scoring: in addition to a small orchestra of two violins, bass, two flutes, two oboes, two horns, and timpani, it calls for two posthorns and five sleighbells that bounce along on each beat.

Bookmark and ShareCategories: Christmas carols Classical Dance tunesDifficulty: intermediate