Friday 1 January 2010
from Flute Sonata in G major by G.F. Handel
This sonata in G major dates to the period 1712–1716, and figures in Handel's first opus, printed in Amsterdam around 1722. Oboists often stake a claim to it, especially when the work is transposed to F major; they maintain that the trumpet-like call in the Allegro is particularly oboe-like, although they concede that the Minuet is rather awkward for the oboe in this key.
In the Allegro, which constitutes the second movement of the sonata, the aforementioned stuttering trumpet call appears frequently, and provides the basis of much of the harpsichord accompaniment, while the flute spins out highly florid melodic lines.
Saturday 2 January 2010
Traditional Spanish Christmas carol
“Los peces en el río” (“The Fishes in the River”) is one of the the most popular Spanish carols. The song draws a contrast between the fishes in a river, who are excited about the birth of the baby Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, who goes about doing the chores of daily life.
The Virgin is combing her hair
between the curtains;
her hair is of gold
the comb of fine silver.
But look how the fish in the river drink!
But look how they drink to see the God who is born!
They drink and they drink and they return to drink,
the fish in the river to see God be born.
The writer of the song is unknown, although the tune shows some Arabic influence (remember that most of Spain was dominated by the Arabs for at least seven centuries, until 1492).
The carol was notably covered by the Gipsy Kings in their 1996 album Tierra gitana.
Thanks to Jennifer for suggesting this piece!
Sunday 3 January 2010
from Concerto for Piccolo in C major by Vivaldi
Although the RV 443 concerto is often listed as a work for piccolo, it can also be played by a recorder or flute. The instrument originally specified by Vivaldi was actually the flautino (a word that in Italian literally means “small flute”), a Baroque cousin of the recorder, but because the editor of the first published edition of this concerto assigned it to the piccolo, it was generally performed by that instrument. Today, however, the recorder appears to be the instrument of choice by the work's exponents.
The second movement of the Concerto, a lovely “Largo”, is drastically different from the two fast movements that frame it. It allows the piccolo a rare chance to explore its sound slowly and beautifully.
Don't be deceived by the thirty-second notes: this piece must be played slowly and gently, paying careful attention to your tone quality.
Monday 4 January 2010
from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor by J.S. Bach
The polonaise is a stately, slow dance of Polish origin in 3/4 time. Its name is French for “Polish”. Often, the polonaise employed repeated rhythmic figures, as Bach does here with many dotted rhythms in each measure. The sixteenth notes in these dotted rhythms are typically played very short, so that the dotted eight notes almost sound as double-dotted.
The term “double” referred to a type of variation, usually composed mostly of embellishments. In this case however, the double is the barest movement, in terms of scoring, in the whole Suite. The double is followed by a da capo indication, and the polonaise is heard once more, this time without repeats.
The Polonaise and Double are followed by the famous Minuet and Badinerie.
Tuesday 5 January 2010
Traditional Gaelic tune, popularised by Cat Stevens
This well-known Christian hymn was first published in 1931 with words by Eleanor Farjeon and a traditional Gaelic tune known as “Bunessan”, from the name of a small village in the south of the island of Mull, on the west coast of Scotland. “Morning Has Broken” shares this tune with the 19th century Christmas carol “Child in the Manger”. Mary M. Macdonald, who lived near Bunessan and who spoke only Gaelic, wrote the hymn to this melody; when the words were later translated into English, the melody was named after the village by the translator.
Pop and folk singer Cat Stevens included a version of “Morning Has Broken” in his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. The song became identified with Stevens when it reached number 6 on the US pop chart. The song has also been recorded by numerous other artists, including Neil Diamond, Art Garfunkel and Nana Mouskouri.
Wednesday 6 January 2010
Tone poem by Camille Saint-Saëns
The first version of this piece was a song composed in 1872 to a French text by the poet Henri Cazalis, which was based in an old French superstition. Saint-Saëns expanded this into the famous symphonic poem two years later.
According to the superstition, “Death” appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death has the power to call forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. His skeletons dance for him until the first break of dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year.
The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times to signify the clock striking midnight. This then leads to the eerie E-flat and A chords played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. After these “Devil chords” (due to its dissonant quality, the interval of a tritone has long been known as “the Devil in music”), the main theme is first heard on a solo flute.
The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Saint-Saëns uses a similar motif in the Fossils part of his Carnival of the Animals.
Thursday 7 January 2010
“The Carnival of Venice” is the name of the folk tune popularly associated with the song that goes “My hat, it has three corners”. No one knows who wrote the melody, but plenty of composers have been inspired to write variations on this theme.
The present Petite fantaisie (French for “little fantasy”) was written by Jules Demersseman, a French flutist who wrote numerous works for his instrument. He was also one of the first French composers who wrote music for the newly-developed saxophone.
As in all fantaisies, in this piece the imagination of the composer takes precedence over conventional styles and forms. While the first two variations have a bright, lively character, the minor-mode third variation takes on a darker and bitterer tone. The fourth variation finally restores the original mood with a virtuosic display of double tonguing, that sounds best if played at a slightly faster tempo than the basic theme.
Friday 8 January 2010
Oh have you been to Avondale
Or lingered in her lovely vale?
Where tall trees whisper low the tale
Of Avondale's proud eagle.
“Avondale's proud eagle” was Charles Stewart Parnell (born at Avondale, County Wicklow, Ireland), the leader of the Irish Home Rule Movement in the 1880s. He was called “the blackbird of Avondale” because he practiced his oratorical skills from the balcony of Avondale House, his birthplace, which is now a museum. Parnell is still regarded by many as the greatest politician in Ireland, and by others as the “uncrowned king of Ireland”.
In 1889, Parnell was politically neutralized and personally ruined by a carefully orchestrated vilification campaign over a scandal about his romance with Katharine (Kitty) O'Shea, an English woman of aristocratic background. His supporters, under a campaign of hatred by both the English press and the Catholic church, deserted him, and Parnell died without ever getting Home Rule enacted.
Among the most famous versions of this song we remember those recorded by Mary Black, Christy Moore and The Dubliners.
Saturday 9 January 2010
from “La Flûte de Pan” by Jules Mouquet
La Flûte de Pan is arguably Jules Mouquet's best known work. Originally written in 1906 for flute and orchestra, it was also arranged by the composer as a Sonata for flute and piano, and cataloged as Op. 15.
Like Debussy and many other French composers at the turn of the century, Mouquet favored subjects from Greek mythology, as a sort of neoclassical reaction against the adoption of Norse legends in Wagner's operas.
During the three movements of La Flûte de Pan, the cloven-hoofed Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and their flocks, is heard playing his flute in amorous serenades and lively peasant dances. “Pan et les Oiseaux”, which is French for “Pan and the Birds”, is the title of the second movement from the sonata.
Sunday 10 January 2010
Japanese song by Rentarō Taki
This song is believed by many to be a traditional Japanese air. In spite of that, both the author of the lyrics and the composer of the music are known. The lyrics were written by Japanese poet Doï Bansui, while the music was composed for koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) by the pianist and composer Rentarō Taki in 1901. The song was inspired by the ruins of Okajyo Castle built in 1185.
It was a spring evening
A feast of blossoms was held on the tower,
and cups of wine were passed around.
Then up from the old pine the moon rose.
But now, where is the brightness of bygone days?
Taki's original melody was in the key of B minor, and written using mainly eighth notes. In 1917 Kosaku Yamada, one of the most famous composers in Japan, rewrote the song in D minor using quarter notes, thus making the piece 16 bars long. Yamada also slightly modified the melody, lowering the eleventh note of the tune by a semitone (in D minor, the original eleventh note would have been a G-sharp).
A jazz arrangement of “Kōjō no tsuki” was recorded by Thelonious Monk under the title “Japanese Folk Song” on his 1967 album Straight, No Chaser. The song was also sung and recorded live in the form of a power ballad by the German hard rock band Scorpions, during a concert in Tokyo. It was released on their 1978 live album Tokyo Tapes.
Monday 11 January 2010
by P.I. Tchaikovsky, arranged for Flute and Piano
Tchaikovsky composed “Chanson triste” (French for “Sad Song”) in 1878, a turbulent year, marked by his struggle to distance himself from his estranged wife Antonina. In the midst of his emotional turmoil, the composer managed to find some peace at Kamenka, near Kiev in Ukraine, where he had use of a cottage. There, while working on his Piano Sonata in G major and the Album for Children, Tchaikovsky composed the Twelve Pieces from which the “Chanson triste” is taken.
Many of these Romantic miniatures for amateur pianists seem to display a certain sadness, and it's easy to believe that Tchaikovsky may have expressed his own feelings in these works. “Chanson Triste” is a perfect example of this mood. Despite its simplicity, the piece nevertheless captivates the listener with its disarming sincerity and touching intensity.
Tuesday 12 January 2010
Traditional American fiddle tune
This well-known ballad is included in the repertoires of both Bluegrass and Old-Time players in many different places. Researchers have found a variety of origins of the song, all of which are based on the lives of some real Joe Clarks in Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland. Reportedly, the ballad became very popular among US soldiers during World War I. An early version appeared in print in 1918, as sung in Virginia at that time.
“Old Joe Clark” is one of the most famous traditional tunes in Mixolydian mode. This means that it uses the same notes of the usual major scale, with the difference that the seventh note is lowered a semitone; for instance, in the key of A, the seventh note is G-sharp in major mode, but G-natural in Mixolydian mode. When this happens, the seventh note is no more called “leading tone”, because it no more leads to the tonic; instead, it should be called “subtonic”.
This tune, a favorite of fiddle and mandolin players, is usually played very fast; some would say, “so fast, only dogs can hear it!”
Wednesday 13 January 2010
from Sonata in A minor by George Frideric Handel
The original sonatas for recorder of G.F. Handel belong to the standard repertoire for each flute player. The Recorder Sonata in A minor, Op. 1, No. 4, HWV 362, is one of the relatively few Opus 1 pieces that exist in just one version: many of the other sonatas are known under a number of different forms, which often causes great confusion.
About this sonata and its opening Larghetto, recorder player Pamela Thorby declared: “The A minor sonata is the most overtly dramatic of the six recorder sonatas. Imagine if you will the first movement as the tortured agonies of a would-be heroine as she laments upon the deceit of her lover. She weeps, the dotted bass line signifying the beat of a heavy and exhausted heart.” (Handel Recorder Sonatas on LINN Records, Pamela Thorby, recorder and Richard Egarr, harpsichord.)
Thursday 14 January 2010
Popular Italian song by Luigi Denza
This famous song, with lyrics by Italian journalist Peppino Turco, was set to music by Italian composer Luigi Denza in 1880. It was composed to commemorate the opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius, which was later destroyed by the eruption of 1944. It was sung for the first time in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, and immediately met with huge success.
Six years after the song was composed, German composer Richard Strauss heard the song while on a tour of Italy. Thinking that it was a traditional Italian folk song, he incorporated it into his Aus Italien symphony. Denza promptly filed a lawsuit against Strauss, and eventually won: Strauss was then forced to pay him a royalty fee every time the symphony was performed in public.
In the 1950s “Funiculì, Funiculà” became a worldwide hit as performed by American tenor Mario Lanza. Today, the song is still the best known street song of Italy; among the most notable recent performances we remember those by the late Luciano Pavarotti.
Friday 15 January 2010
from String Quartet No. 2 in D major by Alexander Borodin
Alexander Borodin wrote his String Quartet No. 2 very quickly during August 1881. The Russian composer dedicated it to his wife Ekaterina, and it was written as an evocation of when they met and fell in love 20 years earlier.
The main theme of the third movement of this quartet, the Nocturne, is often performed in string orchestra arrangements, and probably constitutes Borodin's most famous piece of music. In the original score, the theme is initially introduced by the cello (which represents the composer, an amateur player himself), and soon passes to the first violin (which portrays Ekaterina).
This long, tender melody also appears in the 1953 musical Kismet, with the title “And This is My Beloved”. The adaptation was done by Robert Wright and George Forrest, who really specialized in turning melodies from classical music into film scores and popular songs.
Saturday 16 January 2010
This traditional song was brought to worldwide popularity by the Irish band The Chieftains on their live album An Irish Evening. In their marvelous recording the tune is sung by Kevin Conneff without any instrumental accompaniment at all, which creates an almost magical atmosphere.
Ye lovers all both great and small, who dwell in Ireland
Oh I pray you pay attention, whilst I my pen command
It was my father's anger that drove my love away
But I still have hopes we'll meet again in North Americay
This love song is also known as “Ye Lovers All” from the first line.
Sunday 17 January 2010
Baroque dance by Marin Marais
This famous one-minute piece was composed by French viol player Marin Marais. The viol (also called viola da gamba, an Italian expression indicating that the instrument is meant to rest vertically on one's leg) is an old instrument that was primarily used during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It is similar to a cello, but it has six strings and it is fretted like a guitar.
“Le Basque” is a quick and joyful dance; those who speak French will probably observe that in France the phrase “courir comme un Basque” means “to run like a hare” (literally, “like a Basque”). Probably because of its short length, today the piece is used by many performers as an encore piece. It was also recorded by James Galway on his album Annie's Song.
Monday 18 January 2010
“Sakura Sakura” (“Cherry Blossoms”) is a traditional Japanese song set in early spring, when the cherry trees are blooming. Today it is often sung in international settings as a song representative of Japan. Contrary to popular belief, the song did not originate from very ancient times; it was probably composed during the Edo period (1603–1868) for children learning to play the koto (a traditional Japanese instrument similar to the guitar).
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Blanketing the countryside,
As far as you can see.
Is it a mist, or clouds?
Fragrant in the morning sun.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
Flowers in full bloom.
Thanks to Kiersten for suggesting this piece!
Tuesday 19 January 2010
by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull
The development of music in Norway owes much to the great violinist Ole Bull. When he moved to Paris for the first time in the 1830s, he heard the famous Paganini and remained impressed by his style of playing. Some years later, when he returned to France, Ole Bull was recognized as one of the great virtuosi of his time, at the same time drawing much attention to the culture of his own country. It was during a return to his native city of Bergen that he was able to give encouragement to the young Edvard Grieg and persuade the boy's parents to allow him a career in music.
Ole Bull's colourful personality made a strong impression on all who met or heard him, influencing, it is said, even Ibsen's Peer Gynt, that reflects in its title-role something of Bull's own character. He left a quantity of music, including compositions for the violin of such difficulty that other players were likely to be deterred from attempting them.
But don't worry: the piece we are presenting today is very simple. Some researchers actually state that the melody of “La Mélancolie” (also known in Norwegian as “I ensomme stunde”, that is “In Moments of Solitude”) is actually a Norwegian folk tune. Although very simple, this tune is so beautiful that it is still often played outside Norway in many different formats, the most famous of which are the arrangement for string orchestra and the one for solo violin and orchestra.
Thanks to Thor from Oslo for suggesting this piece!
Wednesday 20 January 2010
This old Irish jig is known under many different names (“The Frost is All Gone”, “The Mist of Clonmel”, “Praties Are Dug”, etc.).
The version recorded by the Irish folk band Planxty on their 1974 album Cold Blow and the Rainy Night is particularly famous.
Thursday 21 January 2010
by Romanian violinist Grigoraş Dinicu
Although he lived a good sixty years, Romanian violinist and composer Grigoraş Dinicu is today remembered for a single work composed in 1906, at the tender age of seventeen. That piece, one of a handful of musical truffles on virtually every concert violinist's encore list, is the delightful “Hora Staccato”, a fast, virtuosic show-off piece in a Romanian dance style. Dinicu originally wrote it for his graduation from the Bucharest Conservatory, and performed it at the ceremony.
“Hora Staccato” takes its name from the “staccato” (Italian for “detached”) articulation that it features so prominently. More specifically, this piece demands a particular type of staccato, known by violinists as the “up-bow staccato”, in which many clearly articulated notes are played in rapid succession without changing the bow direction.
Friday 22 January 2010
First and foremost, let's make it clear that the title of this traditional Finnish polka is spelled with an uppercase “i”, and not with a lowercase “L”, “Ieva” being the Savo Finnish version of the name “Eva”.
This polka can be traced back to the old Viipuri Province in the 18th century. Locals who are well-versed in folk music agree the melody is very old and likely to have been known back in the early 19th century.
This song is best known from an a cappella performance by the Finnish quartet Loituma, first released on their debut album, Loituma, in 1995. The album was released in the United States as Things of Beauty in 1998. The song acquired greater popularity via the Internet in the spring of 2006 because of a Flash animation known as “Loituma Girl”, which starred the character Orihime Inoue from the popular Japanese anime Bleach, twirling a leek and singing along to the song.
The famous Loituma version is in the key of D-sharp (or E-flat) minor, but to make things simpler we scored the tune in D minor. You can still play it in D-sharp minor by using a key signature of six sharps.
Saturday 23 January 2010
from “The Nutcracker Suite” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Also known as “Tea” (the favorite Chinese drink), this is one of the most famous dances in The Nutcracker, and one of the six movements from the suite to be featured in the 1940 Disney animation film Fantasia. In that particular part of the film, six red-topped mushrooms shake off the dew, then become wide, coolie-hatted Chinese men with round heads and long robes that are choreographed into a dance. Hop Low, smaller than the rest of the mushrooms, cannot keep up with the steps and routines of the larger mushrooms. He hops back into place just in time to take a final bow.
Sunday 24 January 2010
Traditional American folk song
This traditional American song is thought to have its origins as a slave song in the South, and its title is most likely a nonsense one without hidden meaning. It was first published in a Harvard student songbook in 1880, and it was not credited to any songwriter; today it is sometimes credited to Dan Emmett (possibly the most famous Blackface minstrel songwriter), but there's no evidence to that. We will probably never know where the college students got the tune and the words for this song.
“Polly Wolly Doodle” has become a common standard in children's music, and was also sung by Shirley Temple in the 1935 film, The Littlest Rebel. More recently, the melody of this song formed the basis for Boney M.'s 1979 hit “Hooray! Hooray! It's a Holi-Holiday”
Thanks to Emma for suggesting this song!
Monday 25 January 2010
from Sonata in A minor by George Frideric Handel
This is the fourth and last movement from Handel's Recorder Sonata in A minor, HWV 362. It is not to be confused with the second movement from the same sonata, which is also marked “Allegro”.
Thanks to Minjoo for suggesting this piece!
Tuesday 26 January 2010
Traditional American folk song
The origins of this popular American song are obscure. The tune may have come from oral tradition, while the original words are usually attributed to songwriter and performer Dan Emmett. “Old Dan Tucker” was first popularized by the blackface troupe of the Virginia Minstrels in 1843, and it became a minstrel hit. The song quickly entered the folk vernacular, and today it still stands as a bluegrass and country music standard.
The simple and malleable nature of this tune enables performers to begin or end it at any point, and to invent variations on the spot. This applies both to the melody and to the lyrics; in fact, hundreds of folk verses have been recorded.
Wednesday 27 January 2010
by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull
The piece we present today is probably Ole Bull's best known composition. It is known under a few different titles in different languages, but the most common title is the original “Sæterjentens Søndag”, which in Norwegian means “The Herdgirl's Sunday”. This work originally formed part of a Fantasy for strings composed in 1848, but eventually affirmed itself as a standalone piece.
Thanks to Gil for suggesting this piece, and thanks again to Thor for letting us discover Ole Bull and his wonderful music.
Thursday 28 January 2010
There are many and varied opinions about the origins of this traditional song. Some of the proposed origins are Appalachian folk, old Irish folk, and Catskills folk. One theory is that it originates from the Negro Spirituals, and there was a deliberate concealment of the song's origins. Clearly the song is of a spiritual nature, as the “Wayfaring Stranger” sings of the hardships of his temporal life passing by and refers to his journeying on to a better place.
This song has been recorded countless times, but in the 1940s it became strongly associated with American folk singer Burl Ives, who made it one of his signature songs. Ives even used it as the title of his CBS radio show and his autobiography. For these reasons, Ives is sometimes referred to as “The Wayfaring Stranger”.
Friday 29 January 2010
Guillaume de Machaut (sometimes spelled Machault) was and is the most celebrated composer of the Middle Ages (he lived in the 14h century). He composed in a wide range of styles and forms and his output was enormous. He was also the most famous and historically significant representative of the musical movement known as the ars nova.
The name chanson baladée generally denotes a particular type of medieval French song, which later evolved into the virelai. The work we present today was suggested to us by one of our Italian followers. It seems that this composition enjoyed considerable popularity in Italy during the 1980s because of its use as the opening theme for the TV show Almanacco del giorno dopo. The melody was played on a soprano recorder an octave above the version on our score; in fact, this is an excellent piece to play on the piccolo.
Saturday 30 January 2010
The most famous Hawaiian song
“Aloha ʻOe” (which means “Farewell to Thee”) is definitely the best known Hawaiian song, and it was composed by no less than Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaii in 1877. The song was inspired by a horseback trip she took to the windward side of the island of Oʻahu. After visiting the Boyd ranch, Liliʻuokalani witnessed a farewell embrace between Colonel Boyd and one of the young ranch ladies. A tune came to her on the ride home and she composed the words once she returned to Honolulu.
Liliʻuokalani was an accomplished author and songwriter, well known for her musical talent. She is said to have played guitar, piano, organ, ukulele and zither. She also sang alto, performing Hawaiian and English sacred and secular music. With her compositions, Liliʻuokalani helped preserve key elements of Hawaii's traditional poetics while mixing in Western harmonies brought by the missionaries.
Sunday 31 January 2010
The origin of this march's evocative title, “The Thunderer”, is not clear; some have guessed that it refers to a celebrated orator of the time when it was composed (1889), or to the pyrotechnic effects of the drum and bugle in Sousa's score. Whatever the story behind its name, “The Thunderer” is one of Sousa's finest and most famous marches; it is also one of the easier Sousa marches to perform, and for this reason it was often a favorite of circus bands, who liked to take it at impressively fast tempos.
It appears that “The Thunderer” was Mrs. Sousa's favorite march, as reported by their daughter Helen.