Monday 1 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Turkey in the Straw

 aka “Old Zip Coon”

This is a well-known American folk song dating from the early 19th century. The tune was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface performers.

“Turkey in the Straw” is still popular today among street fiddlers and ice cream trucks. It can also be heard in many movie sound tracks; the song was already in the public domain by the start of sound film, so it was extensively used. In animated cartoons it is commonly used for suggesting farms or rural life, or old fashioned country people. Perhaps the first use of the tune in an animated cartoon soundtrack was in Steamboat Willie (the first sound cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse).

Categories: American Civil War Minstrel songs Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Tuesday 2 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Garland Waltz

 from Tchaikovsky's ballet “The Sleeping Beauty”

Act I. It is Princess Aurora's sixteenth birthday. Celebrations are already underway: the atmosphere is festive, made complete with a waltz danced by the villagers with garlands.

The wide range of this piece will put the quality of your tone in the three registers to the test. There is a factor, however, which will help you greatly: the melody of this waltz is just so lovely!

Categories: Ballet excerpts Dance tunes Romantic Waltzes Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 3 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Noon Lassies

 Traditional Irish reel

Here's a well-known reel that you can shamelessly play at a medium tempo.

Categories: Celtic Music Reels Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Thursday 4 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

 Music by Albert Von Tilzer
Take Me Out to the Ball Game

This is commonly held to be the third most-often-played song in the United States, after “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday to You”.

The words were written in 1908 by Jack Norworth, who while riding a subway train was inspired by a sign that said “Baseball Today — Polo Grounds”. The words were set to music by Albert Von Tilzer. The song was first sung by Norworth's wife Nora Bayes and popularized by various vaudeville acts. With the sale of so many records, sheet music, and piano rolls, the song became one of the most popular hits of 1908.

In the United States the song has become the unofficial anthem of baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song: Norworth and Von Tilzer saw their first Major League Baseball games 32 and 20 years later, respectively. For those who don't know, the song is traditionally sung during the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game, and fans are encouraged to sing along.

Categories: Sports music Difficulty: easy
Friday 5 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Haydn's Serenade

 from String Quartet in F major, Op. 3, No. 5

This well-known string quartet, like many others, was long thought to be by Franz Joseph Haydn, but is now attributed to another scholar: Roman Hoffstetter, a Benedictine monk who admired the famous Austrian composer almost to the point of imitation.

Categories: Classical Serenades Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 6 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Ode to Joy

 from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor “Chorale”

Completed in 1824, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and is considered one of Beethoven's greatest masterpieces.

The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony. The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy”, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785.

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! Joy!

Believe it or not, Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed his ninth symphony. Not only that, but at the premiere he even shared the stage with the official director, giving the tempos, turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear. When at the end of the performance the audience applauded, Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theater house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.

Categories: Classical Symphonies Wedding music Difficulty: easy
Sunday 7 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Soldier's Joy

 Traditional American Civil War Reel

“Soldier's Joy” is one of the oldest and most widely distributed tunes in the English-speaking world. The tune appeared in late eighteenth-century sheet music and dance instruction manuals on both sides of the Atlantic. By the nineteenth century, it was published in numerous books of fiddle tunes, usually classified as a reel or country dance.

Categories: Reels Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Monday 8 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Ave Maria

 Melody by Charles Gounod, over a prelude by J.S. Bach

Written by French Romantic composer Charles Gounod in 1859, this Ave Maria consists of a melody superimposed over the Prelude No. 1 in C major from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846), composed by J.S. Bach some 137 years earlier. Gounod also adds one bar so as to smooth out a rough change in harmony in the prelude.

It is often performed in Christian wedding ceremonies.

Categories: Arias Romantic Wedding music Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 9 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Off to California

 Traditional Irish Hornpipe

Here's another well-known hornpipe in G major. Don't be too rigorous about the dotted rhythm: just give it a somewhat “bouncy” sound, without swallowing the sixteenth notes.

Categories: Celtic Music Hornpipes Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 10 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Sheep May Safely Graze

 from J.S. Bach's cantata “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd”

One of the best loved of Bach's secular cantatas, the Hunt Cantata, BWV 208, was composed in 1713 by Johann Sebastian Bach for the 35th birthday of Prince Christian of Saxen-Weißenfels. Movement 9, Aria 5, Schafe können sicher weiden (“Sheep may safely graze”), is certainly the most familiar part of this cantata.

We propose the original arrangement in B flat major, for soprano with 2 recorders and continuo. You may play the part of the soprano, or one of the two recorders.

Categories: Arias Baroque Wedding music Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 11 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Girl I Left Behind

 Traditional Irish marching tune

This long-standing popular folk tune was originally known in Ireland as “The Rambling Labourer” and “The Spailpin Fanach”. In the 19th century it became a popular British marching song under the title “Brighton Camp”. In the years before the American revolution, the song was often played when a British naval vessel set sail or an army unit left for service abroad. It was adopted by the Americans and has become a traditional army song. Even today it is played at the United States Military Academy at West Point as part of the medley for the cadet's final formation for graduation.

Friday 12 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Blue Danube

 by Johann Strauss II

“The Blue Danube” is the common English title of An der schönen blauen Donau, op. 314 (literally ‛On the Beautiful Blue Danube’), a waltz composed in 1866. Originally performed 13 February 1867 at a concert in Vienna, it has been one of the most consistently popular pieces of music in the classical repertoire, though its initial performance was only a mild success.

The sentimental Viennese connotations of the piece have made it into a sort of unofficial Austrian national anthem. It is a traditional encore piece at the annual Vienna New Year's Concert.

The soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey is also particularly remembered for using this well-known waltz during the extended space-station docking and lunar landing sequences. “The Blue Danube” may seem comical at first in this situations, but it certainly suggests the dance of spacecrafts under the slow inexorable influence of Newtonian mechanics. The space station pirouettes as the shuttle yaws into alignment, while inside a member of the cabin crew demonstrates walking under zero gravity conditions.

Categories: Dance tunes Film music Romantic Show-off pieces Waltzes Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 13 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Siciliano

 from J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata No. 2

One of our visitors asked us for a flute sonata, so here it is! Today we propose the second movement from Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonata No. 2 for flute and harpsichord.

This is one of the most famous examples of “siciliano”, an Italian dance, usually in a minor key, in the meter of 6/8, which uses the distinctive rhythmic figure dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth.

Categories: Baroque Sicilianas Sonatas Written for Flute Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 14 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Whiskey Before Breakfast

 Traditional Irish reel

This tune has become a real staple of the Canadian prairie repertoire. It was made popular in Canada in the 1950s and 60s via the recordings of Andy DeJarlis, a Metis fiddler who enjoyed a recording and broadcasting career in Canada.

Categories: Celtic Music Reels Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Monday 15 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Blue Moon

 Jazz standard by Richard Rodgers

Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart were contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in May 1933. They were soon commissioned to write the songs for Hollywood Party, a film that was to star many of the studio's top artists. One of the ideas was to include a scene in which Jean Harlow is shown as an innocent young girl saying — or rather singing — her prayers. The song was not even recorded and MGM Song #225 “Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)” was registered for copyright as an unpublished work.

Lorenz Hart wrote new lyrics for the tune to create a title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama, “It's Just That Kind Of Play”, which, however, was cut from the film before release. The studio then asked for a nightclub number for the film. Rodgers still liked the melody so Hart wrote a third lyric, “The Bad In Every Man”. The song, which was also released as sheet music, was not a hit.

After the film was released by MGM, Jack Robbins — the head of the studio's publishing company — decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded. The result was

Blue moon
you saw me standing alone
without a dream in my heart
without a love of my own

Robbins licensed the song to Hollywood Hotel, a radio program that used it as the theme. It was subsequently featured in at least seven more MGM films including the Marx Brothers' At the Circus and Viva Las Vegas.

Categories: Ballads Film music Jazz Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 16 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Gymnopédie No. 2

 from Erik Satie's “Trois Gymnopédies”

The Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist Erik Satie. These short, atmospheric pieces are written in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure. Collectively, the Gymnopédies are regarded as the precursors to modern ambient music. Though gentle, they are somewhat eccentric, and when composed they defied the classical tradition. For instance, the first few bars feature an alternating progression of two major seventh chords, the first on the subdominant, G, and the second on the tonic, D. This kind of harmony was almost entirely unknown at the time.

Categories: 20th century Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 17 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Berceuse

 from Gabriel Fauré's “Dolly” Suite

The “Dolly” Suite, op. 56, is a collection of six pieces for piano four-hands by French composer Gabriel Fauré. It was written between 1894 and 1897, and is the only piano duet in Fauré's oeuvre.

Fauré wrote the pieces in honor of Hélène, nicknamed Dolly, who was the daughter of his mistress at the time, the singer Emma Bardac. The Berceuse we propose today, which is the best-known movement of the suite, was composed for Hélène's first birthday, and the remaining pieces also appeared in time for the child's subsequent birthdays and other family occasions.

Categories: Lullabies Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 18 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Ash Grove

 Traditional Welsh tune, aka “Llwin Onn”

This is a traditional Welsh folk song, whose melody has been set to numerous sets of lyrics. The most well-known was written, in English, by John Oxenford in the 19th century.

The first published version of the tune was in a 1802 harp book. About 4 years later a version with words appeared, under the name “Llwyn Onn”, telling of a sailor's love for “Gwen of Llwyn”. The tune might be much older, as a similar tune appears in “The Beggar's Opera” by John Gay (1728), in the song “Cease Your Funning”.

The tune of “The Ash Grove” is used for the hymn “Let All Things Now Living” composed in 1939 by Katherine K. Davis. Around 1962 another song called “The Irish Free State” was written to this tune. Last but not least, “The Ash Grove” also featured in the 1980 BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice.

Categories: Celtic Music Love songs Traditional/Folk Waltzes Difficulty: easy
Friday 19 June 2009

Tune of the Day: L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1

 First movement: Prelude

The incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's theatrical play L'Arlésienne (sometimes translated as ‛The Girl from Arles’) was composed by Georges Bizet for the first performance of the play in 1872.

Despite the poor reviews of the incidental music, Bizet decided to arrange his work into a suite of four movements. Now known as L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1, the suite used a full symphony orchestra, but without the chorus. It opens with the strong, energetic theme we present today, which is based on the Christmas carol “March of the Kings”, played by the entire orchestra.

Categories: Christmas carols Marches Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 20 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Saint Anne's Reel

 Traditional French-Canadian reel

There is quite a lot of confusion about the origins of this tune. It is played in sessions in Scotland, Ireland, New England, Canada, and other spots around the world, and it has been claimed as a Shetland tune, an Irish reel, a French-Canadian and American old-time. The most common opinion is that it is French-Canadian in origin, although now it is firmly adopted in Ireland.

Categories: Reels Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Sunday 21 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Swan

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

“Le Cygne”, or “The Swan”, is the thirteenth movement of The Carnival of the Animals, an orchestral suite by Camille Saint-Saëns. The piece originally features a solo cello in tenor clef and two accompaniment pianos, in 6/4 time, with a key signature of G major. It makes large use of legato and slurring: the music should flow like a swan gliding through the water. Moreover, this piece is often played using much vibrato.

This is the only movement from The Carnival of the Animals that the composer would allow to be played in public during his lifetime as he thought the remaining movements were too frivolous and would damage his reputation as a serious composer.

“Le Cygne” is often known for the ballet The Dying Swan, performed by Anna Pavlova, which was choreographed to its music about twenty years later, in 1905.

Categories: Ballet excerpts Dance tunes Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 22 June 2009

Tune of the Day: In the Hall of the Mountain King

 from Edvard Grieg's “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1”

This piece of orchestral music was composed by Edvard Grieg for Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, which premiered in Oslo in 1876, and was later extracted as the final piece of the “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1”, Op. 46.

A fantasy play written in verse, Peer Gynt tells of the adventures of the eponymous Peer. The sequence illustrated by the music of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is when Peer sneaks into the Mountain King's castle. The piece then describes Peer's attempts to escape from the King and his trolls.

The simple theme begins slowly and quietly in the lowest registers of the orchestra. It is played first by the cellos and bassoons, signifying Peer Gynt's slow, careful footsteps. After being recited, the main theme is then very slightly modified with a few different ascending notes, but transposed up a perfect fifth (to the key of F-sharp major, the dominant key, but with flattened sixth) and played on different instruments: these are the King's trolls.

In order to respect the original key of the piece, we had to make use of low B, which can only be produced on a B foot flute. If your flute has a C foot, or if you find it difficult to play that low, simply transpose up an octave the two phrases that start on a low B. (Remember to revert to the written octaves after the half notes, or you'll run into the fourth register!)

Categories: Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 23 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Tell Her I Am

 Traditional Irish jig

Charlie Piggott, in his book Blooming Meadows, tells a story about the famous Irish fiddler Michael Coleman (1891–1945), then living in New York. One night, while playing, one of his companions was asked by a forward female admirer whether Coleman was married or not. Coleman preceded to play this tune and wryly announced the tune was “Tell Her I Am”.

Categories: Celtic Music Jigs Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Wednesday 24 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Habanera

 from Georges Bizet's opera “Carmen”

The habanera (from the Cuban capital Havana, which in Spanish is La Habana), a most popular music genre at the end of the 19th century, originated in Cuba and spread all over the Spanish colonies and subsequently to Europe. Many French musicians composed beautiful habaneras, Saint-Saëns among them.

The famous aria from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet was adapted from the habanera “El Arreglito”, originally composed by the Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier. Bizet used the melody in the belief that it was a folk song; when he was made aware that it had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he added a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.

The piece is based on a descending chromatic scale followed by variants of the same phrase, first in minor and then in major, corresponding with the vicissitudes of love expressed in the lyrics.

Categories: Arias Dance tunes Habaneras Opera excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 25 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Take Five

 Jazz standard by Paul Desmond

This classic jazz piece was first recorded by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and released on their 1959 album Time Out. It became the first million-selling jazz single on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1961, at a time when rock and roll was still in fashion.

“Take Five” became Brubeck’s best known and signature tune, although it was composed by Paul Desmond, the group's saxophonist. It became famous for its distinctive, catchy saxophone melody and use of the unusual quintuple time, from which its name is derived. While “Take Five” was not the first jazz composition to use this meter, it was the first of United States mainstream significance.

Categories: Jazz Show-off pieces Difficulty: advanced
Friday 26 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Carolan's Quarrel with the Landlady

 Baroque Irish jig by Turlough Carolan

Turlough Carolan was a blind, itinerant early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition. He was the last great Irish harper-composer, and is considered by many to be Ireland's national composer.

The melody we present today has also been called “The Bold Rover” and “The Lady of the Tavern”. The exact incident behind the song has not been recorded, but it has been suggested that the landlady in question may have been Bridget Waldron, who was evidently a parsimonious sort. One day as Carolan sat playing the harp, he heard the butler unlocking the cellar door. When he asked the man for a cup of beer the man refused, saying he would offer nothing without orders from the landlady.

Categories: Baroque Jigs Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 27 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Sonata in D major

 Transcription of Keyboard Sonata L. 164 / K. 491 by Domenico Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style. His influential 555 sonatas were almost all written for the harpsichord, with a few exceptions for chamber ensemble or organ.

Wendy Carlos's top-selling album The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is certainly responsible for the growing popularity of sonata L. 164 during the 2nd half of the 20th century. If you haven't listened to it yet, you really should, because it's simply astounding.

Categories: Baroque Sonatas Difficulty: advanced
Sunday 28 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Star of the County Down

 Traditional Irish ballad

This old Irish ballad is set near Banbridge in County Down, in Northern Ireland. The tune of the song, a pentatonic melody, is similar to that of several other works, including the almost identical English tune “Kingsfold”, well known from several popular hymns, such as “Led by the Spirit”. The folk tune was the basis for Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.

The song is sung from the point of view of a young man who chances to meet a charming lady by the name of Rose (or Rosie) McCann, referred to as the “star of the County Down”. From a brief encounter the writer's infatuation grows until, by the end of the ballad, he imagines wedding the girl.

Monday 29 June 2009

Tune of the Day: Bransle Double

 by Michael Praetorius

A branle (or “bransle”, pronounced somewhat like ‛brawl’) is a 16th century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed by couples in either a line or a circle.

The double branle is a simple form of branle, usually involving two phrases of two bars each. This form was not sufficiently different from the pavan to be of interest to composers, so pieces with this name rarely occur in the instrumental books of the time unless they are specifically designed for dancers.

Categories: Baroque Dance tunes Renaissance Difficulty: easy
Tuesday 30 June 2009

Tune of the Day: The Queen of the Night Aria

 from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's “The Magic Flute”

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (“Hell's vengeance boils in my heart”) is the second aria sung by the Queen of the Night in Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”). It is often referred to as “The Queen of the Night Aria”, despite the fact that the Queen of the Night character sings another distinguished aria earlier in the opera. In fact, it is considered to be one of the most famous opera arias, highly memorable, fast paced and menacingly grandiose.

Stage set for Mozart's Magic Flute

The aria forms part of the second act of the opera. It depicts a fit of vengeful rage, in which the Queen of the Night puts a knife into the hand of her daughter Pamina and exhorts her to assassinate Sarastro, the Queen's rival, on pain of denying and cursing Pamina if she does not comply.

“Der Hölle Rache”, as the aria is often called, is widely renowned for being a demanding piece to perform well, mainly because of its range of two octaves, from the F in the first register of the flute to the F in the third register. Luckily enough, that is not a problem on the flute, but for a singer… well, that's quite another matter!

Categories: Arias Classical Opera excerpts Show-off pieces Difficulty: intermediate