Saturday 1 May 2010
Traditional English country dance
Some old English country dances had very odd names. One such dance was known as “Mr Beveridge's Maggot”, and was used in the BBC production of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice as well as in the 1996 film adaptation Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
This traditional dance tune was first published by Henry Playford in his 1695 Dancing Master. As you may already have guessed, this particular dance was not actually in use in Jane Austen's day!
Sunday 2 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute
As is the case with so many of J.S. Bach's chamber works, we know virtually nothing about the circumstances in which the Partita in A minor for unaccompanied flute, BWV 1013 was composed. It was probably written sometime during the early 1720s, during the last few years of Bach's tenure as Kapellmeister at Cöthen, a job that gave him ample freedom to explore secular chamber music.
The third movement of the Partita is an aristocratic sarabande of ingenious rhythmic flexibility. Like all sarabandes, this movement should be played slowly. Moreover, since the melody is unaccompanied, you should take all the time you need to play expressively. Don't play like a metronome!
Monday 3 May 2010
by Gioachino Rossini
When do you write the overture to your opera? According to Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, you should wait for inspiration until the evening before the opening night, because “nothing primes inspiration more than necessity”. Fortunately for him, Rossini was famous for his writing speed. His opera La gazza ladra (literally, The Thieving Magpie) was no exception. It was reported that the producer had to lock Rossini in a room the day before the first performance in order to write the overture. Rossini then threw each sheet out of the window to his copyists, who wrote out the full orchestral parts.
This overture makes a few appearances in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and has also provided the background score for many television and radio commercials. It also appears during the famous baby-switching scene in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America.
Tuesday 4 May 2010
by Jeremiah Clarke, arranged for two Flutes
Jeremiah Clarke, a British baroque composer, was organist and chorus master for the Chapel Royal. Although now chiefly remembered for the “Trumpet Voluntary”, Clarke was one of the leading English composers of the generation following Purcell. He contributed to many genres, from church music and harpsichord music to incidental music for the theatre.
Originally composed for harpsichord, the majestic “King William's March” comes from the third book of Clarke's Harpsichord Master, which dates from 1702.
Wednesday 5 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute
This courante (or, to follow the Italian spelling used by Bach, “Corrente”) constitutes the second movement of the famous Partita in A minor for solo flute. It is a courante of the livelier Italian-derived variety, relatively quick-tempoed and in simple triple meter. Also true to tradition are the asymmetrical dimensions of the movement's two “halves”: twenty-two bars, forty-one bars.
Truly striking is the unexpected high D-sharp that the flute hollers out near the end of the first part and then leaves without ever resolving in the same register, forcing us to be content with an E-natural in the octave below.
Thursday 6 May 2010
Traditional Mexican song
“La Bamba” is a Mexican folk song, originally from the state of Veracruz, best known from a 1958 adaptation by Ritchie Valens, a top 40 hit in the U.S. charts and one of early rock and roll's best-known songs.
The song features a traditional mambo Latin rhythm, strongly influenced by Spanish flamenco. Lyrics can vary greatly vary, as performers often improvise verses while performing. The traditional aspect of “La Bamba”, however, lies in the tune itself, which remains the same through all versions. The name of the dance, which has no direct English translation, is presumably connected with the Spanish verb bambolear, meaning “to shake” or “to stomp”.
The traditional “La Bamba” was often played during weddings in Veracruz, where the bride and groom performed the accompanying dance. Today this wedding tradition is mostly lost, but the dance survives through the popularity of ballet folklórico (“folkloric dance”). The dance is performed in much the same way, displaying the newly-wed couple's unity through the performance of complicated, delicate steps in unison as well as through creation of a bow from a listón, a long red ribbon, using only their feet.
Friday 7 May 2010
by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
The siciliana (or “siciliano”, or “sicilienne”) is a dance often included as a movement within larger works of music starting in the Baroque period. It can be in a slow 6/8 or 12/8 time, with lilting rhythms making it somewhat resemble a slow jig, and is usually in a minor key. It was used for arias in Baroque operas, and often appeared as a movement in instrumental works. The siciliana is traditionally associated with pastoral scenes and melancholy emotion.
The siciliana we present today was written by one of the greatest prodigies in musical history: the Italian baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. It is a slow and gentle piece which has become somewhat popular among flutists and violinists.
Saturday 8 May 2010
Traditional Irish song
This Irish song was made famous back in the early seventies by folk singer Christy Moore.
You may travel far far from your own native land,
Far away o'er the mountains, far a-way o'er the foam,
But of all the fine places that I've ever been
Sure there's none can compare with the cliffs of Doneen.
But where are the “cliffs of Doneen”? Because the song refers to several locations in County Clare, Ireland, most people assume that the cliffs of Doneen are in County Clare. However, opinions differ greatly on this subject. Some people even think that such a place doesn't exist at all!
Sunday 9 May 2010
by Sir Edward Elgar
Elgar finished this piece in July 1888, when he was engaged to be married to Caroline Alice Roberts, and he called it “Liebesgruss” (“Love's Greeting”) because of Miss Roberts' fluency in German. When he returned home to London from a holiday at the house of his friend Dr. Charles Buck, he presented it to her as an engagement present.
The dedication was in French: “à Carice”. “Carice” was a combination of his wife-to-be's names Caroline Alice, and was the name to be given to their daughter born two years later.
The work was not published until a year later, and the first editions were for violin and piano, piano solo, cello and piano, and for small orchestra. Few copies were sold until the publisher changed the title to “Salut d’Amour”, and the composer's name as “Ed. Elgar”. The French title, Elgar realized, helped the work to be sold not only in France but in other European countries as well.
Monday 10 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute
The opening allemande is the lengthiest of the four movements of Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in A minor for solo Flute.
This movement shows frequent leaps from one register to another, as Bach engages to make melodically plain the implied harmonic voices around which the music is written. In each half, the approach to the cadence is made via some interesting chromatically descending miniature arpeggios.
With this post we now have all the four movements of the Partita in A minor: Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Bourrée angloise.
Tuesday 11 May 2010
Arranged for two flutes by Larinda Collette
This duet was kindly contributed by one of our followers, Larinda from Lennox, South Dakota. This city boasts the oldest municipal band in South Dakota, performing continuously since 1882. One of the most popular summer pastimes for Lennox residents is the weekly Thursday night band concert in the park. Besides band selections, these concerts feature special music from various local talent. The big concert of the year is always the one leading up to the “Old-Fashioned Fourth of July” fireworks display.
Here are some words from our guest arranger:
Recently, while searching for a patriotic flute duet to be performed during the July 4th concert, I discovered a solo version of “American Patrol” on flutetunes.com. Since I was looking for a duet, I decided to write a 2nd flute part and arrange the piece myself. What I like most about this arrangement, is that the 2nd flute plays the melody at times and both flutes get a little solo action near the end of the piece. It starts out very quietly, mimicking the way a marching band would sound as it approaches, passes by and then fades off into the distance. This is such a fun song, incorporating “Dixie” and “Yankee Doodle”, and has always been one of my favorites!
Thank you for your contribution, Larinda!
Wednesday 12 May 2010
by Thomas Tallis
Thomas Tallis was a prominent English church organist and composer, whose nine psalm chant pieces were included in Archbishop Matthew Parker's Psalter of 1567. The “Third Mode Melody” is perhaps Tallis's best-known composition today, due to its appearance as background music in the 2003 film Master and Commander, which featured Ralph Vaughan Williams's 1910 Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for string orchestra. For his work, Vaughan Williams took much inspiration from music of the English Renaissance; actually, many of his compositions are associated with or inspired by the music of this period.
Gregorian chants, named after Pope Gregory I, are among the earliest church music used in celebration of mass and other liturgical sacraments of the Church. Within medieval Gregorian chant, there are seven “modes” that correspond to scales; Tallis's tune is based on the third mode, the so-called “Phrygian” mode. Its scale is similar to that of a piece in E minor, with the difference that the second note is F-natural, and not F-sharp. Therefore, even if F-sharps are present, they are to be considered as accidental notes.
This arrangement can also be played as a duet by omitting the middle voice.
Thursday 13 May 2010
Theme from Verdi's opera “La forza del destino”
This tune was originally composed by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi for the overture to his opera La Forza del Destino (“The Force of Destiny”), which premiered in 1862. In 1986, the theme was rearranged by Jean-Claude Petit for use in the French historical drama film Jean de Florette, which brought it to a huge audience.
Although both the original opera version and the film version were purely instrumental, lyrics were later added, giving birth to the song “Si un jour” (“If one day”). One of the best recent recordings of this piece is by the British soprano Natasha Marsh on her 2007 album Amour.
Friday 14 May 2010
Old Irish patriotic song
While the lyrics to this patriotic song were written by Thomas Moore, the melody is an old Irish air known as “The Moreen”. It is widely believed that Moore composed the song in remembrance of a number of his friends, whom he met while studying at Trinity College, Dublin and who were killed during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
The song gained widespread popularity and became a favorite of many Irishmen who fought during the American Civil War and gained even more popularity after World War I. It is notably associated with organizations that historically had a heavy representation of Irish-Americans, in particular the police and fire departments of New York, Boston and Chicago and those of various other major US metropolitan areas, even after those organizations have ceased to have a substantial over-representation of personnel of Irish ancestry. The melody is still frequently played at funerals of members of such organizations.
The tune is used as the theme of John Huston's 1975 film The Man Who Would Be King, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. It is also heard in several other films, including Black Hawk Down, and in some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Saturday 15 May 2010
by Jules Massenet
This piece was perhaps one of the most popular melodies in Europe of the fin de siècle, the last decades of the nineteenth century, often referred to as the Belle Epoque (literally, “Beautiful Era”). Massenet originally composed “Élégie” in 1866 for a piano cycle titled Dix pièces de genre. In 1872, he incorporated the piece into Les Erinnyes (The Furies), a play by Leconte de Lisle.
“Elégie” gained even greater renown as a song for voice and piano, set to a poem by Louis Gallet, with the title “O doux printemps d'autrefois” (“O sweet spring of days long ago“).
Sunday 16 May 2010
Popular Brazilian tune
This well-known Brazilian piece was composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. It is a choro, or chorinho (literally meaning “little lament”), a popular instrumental style born in 19th-century Rio de Janeiro. Tico-tico is the name of a bird (to be precise, the rufous-collared sparrow), while fubá is a type of maize flour. Hence, “Tico-Tico no Fubá” means “Tico-Tico on the Cornmeal”.
The piece was recorded and made popular internationally by Carmen Miranda, who performed it in the 1947 film Copacabana. Another well-known recording was made by Miss Ethel Smith on the Hammond organ, and appeared in the 1944 film Bathing Beauty.
Monday 17 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata in B minor
The B-minor sonata is the greatest and most difficult of Bach's flute works. Its historical significance, technical demands and timeless beauty, bring it to the forefront of his compositions and takes the rightful place as a staple in the solo flute literature.
The third movement of J.S. Bach's B-minor Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord is in two parts, beginning with a fugal presto that leads straight into a gigue-like section which is most notable for its witty syncopations and technical demands.
Tuesday 18 May 2010
Traditional American folk song
This is an American folk song about a soldier during the Civil War; however, it's likely based on an older English tune. It was popularized by the folk-singing trio Peter, Paul & Mary on their first album, released in 1962. It's one of the rare folk albums to reach US#1, staying for over a month.
The cruel war is raging, Johnny has to fight.
I long to be with him from morning 'till night.
I want to be with him, it grieves my heart so
Won't you let me come with you? No, my love, no.
Wednesday 19 May 2010
from Dvorak's opera “Rusalka”
Antonín Dvořák's opera Rusalka was composed in 1901, and based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová. A Rusalka is in fact a water sprite of Slavic mythology, usually inhabiting a lake or river. This is one of the most successful Czech operas, and represents a cornerstone of the repertoire of Czech opera houses.
Arguably the most popular excerpt of this opera is Rusalka's aria “Song to the Moon” from Act I. The good-natured old Spirit of the Lake, Jezibab, is enjoying the singing of the Wood Nymphs, when his daughter, Rusalka, approaches him sadly. She tells him that she has fallen in love with a handsome young prince and wishes to become human in order to know the bliss of union with him. Deeply saddened, the Spirit of the Lake consents to her request, and leaves. All alone, Rusalka sings this beautiful aria, confiding in the moon the secrets of her longing.
Thursday 20 May 2010
aka “Happy Doll Festival”
In Japan, the third day of March of every year is celebrated as the day of Hinamatsuri, also known as Doll Festival or Girls' Day. This festival is held to pray for a girl's happiness and continued good health as she grows into a beautiful woman. It was also traditionally held to pray for a girl's quick marriage into a good family.
There is a song for the day called “Ureshii Hinamatsuri” (“Happy Doll Festival”), and in Japan it is played almost constantly from about February to March 3rd.
Friday 21 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata in B minor
This is the slow middle movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's B-minor sonata for Flute and Harpsichord. It encompasses two beautifully simple themes, which contrast the complexity of the preceding and following movements.
Saturday 22 May 2010
Traditional nursery rhyme
This well-known folk song can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a music sheet acquired by the British Library in 1853 described a dance which was “An Old English Dance, as performed at Her Majesty's & The Nobilities Balls, with the Original Music”. It had a tune very similar to that used today and only the words “Pop! Goes the Weasel”. The song seems to have crossed the Atlantic in the 1850s, while the lyrics were still unstable in Britain. Nowadays, most versions share the basic verse:
Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
Perhaps because of the obscure nature of the lyrics there have been many suggestions for their significance, particularly over the meaning of the phrase “Pop! goes the weasel”, including: that it is a tailor's flat iron, a hatter's tool, a clock reel used for measuring in spinning, a piece of silver plate, or that “weasel and stoat” is rhyming slang for “coat”, that it is a mishearing of “weevil” or “vaisselle”, that it was a nickname of James I, and that “rice” and “treacle” are slang terms for potassium nitrate and charcoal and that therefore the rhyme refers to the gunpowder plot. Other than correspondences, however, none of these theories has any additional evidence to support it; by the way, it seems that even at the height of the dance craze in the 1850s no one seemed to know what the phrase meant!
Sunday 23 May 2010
from “Rosamunde” by Franz Schubert
In 1823 Schubert provided an overture and ten numbers for a play called Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (“Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus”) by Wilhelmine von Chézy. The play was a resounding flop, closing in two nights, but the music was well-received. Even so, Schubert did not take advantage of the evident high regard the audience had for it by extracting the music for concert purposes; that service was not performed until 1867, when George Grove and Arthur Sullivan made their famous discovery of a treasury of forgotten Schubert scores.
The Entr'acte No. 3 in B-flat major is one of the two best-known pieces in the score, the other being Ballet Music No. 2. Schubert reused the main theme of this entr'acte in the second movement of his String Quartet in A minor, D.804 and, in a modified form, in the Impromptu in B-flat, D.935, No. 3.
Monday 24 May 2010
Popular American song by Stephen Foster
Composed late in his life and published posthumously in 1864, Stephen Foster's “Beautiful Dreamer” is one of the composer's most memorable ballads. It was written at least six months before Foster's death, when he was destitute and in poor health, and survived by selling songs at extremely cheap rates.
Although this piece has little in common with the songwriter's earlier efforts, like “Oh! Susanna”, which had launched his career, “Beautiful Dreamer” exemplifies Foster's final sentiments and has become one of America's most beloved serenades.
Tuesday 25 May 2010
from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute”
This famous aria is sung by Tamino in the Finale of Act I of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. Tamino plays his magic flute in hopes of summoning Pamina and Papageno, and the tones of his instrument summon a group of magically tamed beasts.
How strong is your magic tone!
For, gracious flute, gracious flute,
Through your playing
Even wild animals feel joy.
Then Tamino hears Papageno's pipes, which Papageno is blowing in response to the sound of Tamino's flute. Ecstatic at the thought of meeting Pamina, Tamino hurries off.
Wednesday 26 May 2010
National anthem of India
“Jana Gana Mana” (usually translated to English as “Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People”) was composed at the beginning of the past century by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It was first sung in public at the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress in 1911, but was officially adopted as the Indian national anthem only in 1950.
Thursday 27 May 2010
from J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata in B minor
Although most of the flute sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach pose questions of authenticity, the B-minor sonata BWV 1030 is undoubtedly his own work. There is even a manuscript with his own signature, which leaves little room for doubt. This flute sonata is one of two (the other being BWV 1032) in which the harpsichord part is fully composed. This differs from the past style of continuo, which left the keyboard player plenty of room for his/her own ornamentation. Given this, the harpsichordist acts as an equal partner to the solo flute and shares the melodic material.
The first movement of the sonata, marked “Andante”, is the most distinctive. Its free ritornello (an Italian term indicating a short recurring passage) form encourages stimulating interplay between the flute and harpsichord. Find here the other two movements of the sonata: Largo e dolce, Presto.
Friday 28 May 2010
Traditional Irish song
The origins of this Irish folk song are unclear, but it has been traced to an Irish language song, “Do Bhí Bean Uasal” (“There Was a Noblewoman”), which is attested to the poet Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Gonna, who died in 1745. The original Irish lyrics were about an unfaithful wife, a bawdy and humorous ditty. By contrast, the English lyrics are sentimental and nostalgic.
I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
only for nights in Ballygran
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
the deepest ocean for my love to find
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
and neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatman
to ferry me over to my love and die
The song has been recorded by many well-known performers including Joan Baez, Dominic Behan, Charlotte Church, The Dubliners, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Loreena McKennitt and Órla Fallon of Celtic Woman.
Saturday 29 May 2010
by Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert's Trois marches militaires (“Three Military Marches”) are among the many works for piano four-hands that the composer produced during his lifetime. The three pieces, all in ternary (ABA) form, with a central trio leading to a reprise of the main march, were published in Vienna in 1826.
The first of these three marches is far more famous than the others; in fact, it is one of Schubert's most famous compositions, and it is often simply referred to as “Schubert's Marche militaire”. The piece is marked “Allegro vivace”, and is cast in the key of D major. An unharmonized fanfare begins the affair, paving the way for a lively, pompous main theme.
There have been numerous arrangements of this march, and even Liszt wrote a masterful paraphrase of it (the Grand paraphrase de concert for solo piano); perhaps less flattering to its original conception is its appearance in Stravinsky's Circus Polka, a ballet... for elephants!
Sunday 30 May 2010
by Henry C. Work
Henry Clay Work's 1876 song “Grandfather's Clock” is indisputably the greatest of furniture songs. It has become a standard of British brass bands, and is also popular in bluegrass music. It is apparently because of this song that longcase floor clocks are called “grandfather clocks”.
My grandfather's clock was to large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride.
But it stopped short, never to go again,
When the old man died.
Monday 31 May 2010
from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini
The famous tenor aria “Nessun dorma” (literally, “None shall sleep”) appears in the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot. It is sung by Calaf, “the unknown prince”, who falls in love at first sight with the beautiful but cold Princess Turandot. However, any man who wishes to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles; if he fails, he will be beheaded. In the act before this aria, Calaf has correctly answered the three riddles put to all of Princess Turandot's prospective suitors. Nonetheless, she recoils at the thought of marriage to him. Calaf offers her another chance by challenging her to guess his name by dawn. If she does so, she can execute him; but if she does not, she must marry him. The cruel and emotionally cold princess then decrees that none of her subjects shall sleep that night until his name is discovered. If they fail, all will be killed.
As the final act opens, it is now night. Calaf is alone in the moonlit palace gardens. In the distance, he hears Turandot's heralds proclaiming her command. His aria begins with an echo of their cry and a reflection on Princess Turandot:
None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom,
watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!
But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name!
No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!
Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!
“Nessun dorma” achieved pop status after Luciano Pavarotti's recording of it was used as the theme song of BBC television's coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. It subsequently reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart, the highest placing ever by a classical recording.