Tuesday 1 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Amapola

 by Joseph LaCalle

This popular song was originally written by Spanish-American composer Joseph LaCalle with Spanish lyrics; the English language lyrics were later added by Albert Gamse. Although the song was published in 1924, the most popular recorded version was made nearly two decades later by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocalists Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly. Japanese singer Noriko Awaya also released her version of the song in 1937, the year LaCalle died. “Amapola” was notably performed during the Three Tenors concert in Rome in 1990.

An instrumental version of the piece formed an important leitmotif in Sergio Leone's 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America.

Categories: Love songs Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 2 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Theme from Scheherazade

 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The symphonic suite Scheherazade was composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. It is based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as The Arabian Nights. Rimsky-Korsakov's headnote explains the scenario:

The Sultan Schahriar, persuaded of the falseness and faithlessness of women, has sworn to put to death each one of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her life by interesting him in tales she told him during 1001 nights. Pricked by curiosity, the Sultan put off his wife's execution from day to day, and at last gave up entirely his bloody plan.

Four such lifesaving narratives, rendered in music, follow. In later years, however, Rimsky-Korsakov declared that Scheherazade should be regarded as a symphonic suite with an unspecified Oriental program.

The theme we present today is probably the most famous, and appears at the beginning of the third movement, titled “The Young Prince and the Young Princess”.

Categories: Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 3 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Edo Lullaby

 Traditional japanese song

This traditional Japanese cradle song originated in Edo (the former name of the Japanese capital Tokyo), was propagated to other areas, and is said to be the roots of the Japanese lullabies.

Categories: Lullabies Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Friday 4 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Waltz of the Flowers

 from “The Nutcracker Suite” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The lilting Waltz of the Flowers originally appeared in Act II of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet The Nutcracker, when Clara and the Prince arrive at the Kingdom of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. It was later also arranged as the grand finale of the suite derived from the ballet.

Like some other characteristic dances of the ballet, this piece was featured in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, in which the change of seasons from fall to winter is beautifully illustrated by the dances of the Autumn Fairies, the Frost Fairies and the Snow Fairies.

Categories: Ballet excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 5 June 2010

Tune of the Day: I'm Seventeen Come Sunday

 Traditional English folk song

This English ballad was once widely known throughout Somerset. Cecil J, Sharp, the founding father of the folklore revival in England, collected at least eight different versions of this tune in the early 20th century, all closely related. The version he decided to publish in his collection of folk songs, which is the one we are posting today, was chosen because it seemed “to embody the characteristics of the tune in their purest form”.

In 1923 this song was used by Ralph Vaughan Williams as the base for the first movement of his English Folk Song Suite.

Categories: Ballads Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 6 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Polonaise No. 13

 “Farewell to the Fatherland”

As a composer, Polish statesman Michał Kleofas Ogiński is chiefly noted for his piano works, particularly the polonaises, the melancholy, lyrical mood of which suited the taste of the times and expressed Polish patriotism. Ogiński wrote about 20, published in many editions in Poland and abroad, the best-known being the Polonaise No. 13 in A minor, titled “Pożegnanie Ojczyzny” (“Farewell to the Fatherland”). Written in 1823, this piece became extremely popular in Russia and was soon arranged for a variety of instrumental settings.

Categories: Polonaises Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 7 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Vande Mataram

 Indian national song

“Vande Mataram” (“I do homage to the mother”) is a poem from the 1882 novel Anandamatha by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. It is a hymn to the goddess Durga, identified as the national personification of Bengal, and it came to be considered the “National Anthem of Bengal”, playing a part in the Indian independence movement.

It is generally believed that the concept of Vande Mataram came to Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay when he was still a government official under the British Raj, around 1875. Chattopadhyay wrote the poem in a spontaneous session using words from Sanskrit and Bengali, and Jadunath Bhattacharya was asked to set a tune for this song just after it was written.

The poem has since been set to a large number of tunes. The oldest surviving audio recordings date to 1907, and there have been more than a hundred different versions recorded throughout the 20th century. In 2002, the BBC conducted an international poll to choose the ten most famous songs of all time. “Vande Mataram”, in a version by A.R. Rahman, arrived second.

Categories: Patriotic Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 8 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Gliding Dance of the Maidens

 from Alexander Borodin's “Polovtsian Dances”

The Polovtsian Dances constitute the best known selections from Alexander Borodin's 1890 opera Prince Igor. They were originally part of Act II, but they are now often played as a stand-alone concert piece.

Dance No. 17, titled “Polovtsian Dance with Chorus”, has become particularly famous. Most of its themes were incorporated into the 1953 musical Kismet, best known of which is the “Gliding Dance of the Maidens”, adapted for the song ”Stranger in Paradise”. The most popular version of this song was sung by Tony Bennett, and it reached number one in the UK Singles Chart in May 1955. Artie Shaw's “My Fantasy”, recorded in 1940, also has a tune virtually identical to this dance.

Categories: Dance tunes Opera excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 9 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Teru teru bozu

 Traditional Japanese song

A teru teru bōzu is a little traditional hand-made doll which supposedly brings sunshine. Children make teru-teru-bōzu out of tissue paper and a string and hang them from a window to wish for sunny weather.

There is a famous warabe uta, or Japanese nursery rhyme, associated with teru teru bozu. The song, written by Kyoson Asahara and composed by Shinpei Nakayama, was released in 1921. Like many nursery rhymes, this song is rumored to have a darker history than it first appears. It allegedly originated from a story of a monk who promised farmers to stop rain and bring clear weather during a prolonged period of rain which was ruining crops. When the monk failed to bring sunshine, he was executed. Many Japanese folk historians, however, believe this story may have originated from long after the tradition had become widespread, most likely in an attempt to refine the image of the doll. It is more likely that the “bōzu” in the name refers not to an actual Buddhist monk, but to the round, bald monk-like head of the doll, and “teru teru” jokingly refers to the effect of bright sunlight reflecting off a bald head.

Categories: Nursery rhymes Difficulty: easy
Thursday 10 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Nocturne

 by Philippe Gaubert

Written in 1906, Gaubert's “Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando” is highly typical of what Paris Conservatory composers would write through the next several decades: music flirting with contemporary trends but remaining essentially conservative in order to showcase the lyrical as well as technical abilities of the players.

The Nocturne settles into the piano with mysterious impressionistic harmonies evolving from an unharmonized opening motif. The flute arrives with a gentle melody that initially seems like standard salon material, but within a few measures it wanders off chromatically and takes on the sensuous character associated with flute music by the slightly older Debussy.

Categories: 20th century Nocturnes Written for Flute Difficulty: advanced
Friday 11 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Rondoncino

 from Paganini's “Centone di sonate”, arranged for Flute and Guitar

Paganini launched his set of 18 “medleys of sonatas” (as the group is sometimes translated) for violin and guitar with a typically charming three-movement duo that really has nothing to do with sonata form: in fact, it is merely a series of entertaining salon pieces.

The final movement of this first “sonata” carries the odd designation of “Rondoncino”, which literally means “small rondo”. It's an easygoing Allegro whose recurring refrain is full of little turns. The succeeding sections involve some decisive attacks and an extended pizzicato passage, but nothing nearly as difficult as what Paganini concocted for concert use.

Categories: Romantic Rondos Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 12 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Les Plaisirs

 from Suite in A minor by Georg Philipp Telemann

The second movement of Telemann's Overture-Suite in A minor is titled “Les Plaisirs”, which is French for “The Pleasures”. The German composer takes the traditional model of introducing a theme in the strings and letting the flute make virtuoso fireworks with it. In fact, the theme is first introduced by the strings alone in a separate movement, and then developed in the following movement, marked “Les Plaisirs II”, where only the flute and the harpsichord appear. The two parts are sometimes considered as a single movement.

Categories: Baroque Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 13 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Nearer, My God, to Thee

 Music by Lowell Mason

Although many different musical settings of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” exist, the hymn is generally sung to the 1856 tune “Bethany” by Lowell Mason. Mason's version is commonly associated with the RMS Titanic, as one passenger reported that the ship's band played the hymn as the Titanic sank. The “Bethany” version was also notably played by the ship's band in James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic.

The composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert, moved by the Titanic tragedy, wrote six works based on Mason's setting, including an organ fantasia. The same setting is also quoted in Charles Ives's fourth symphony.

The tune was also played at the funerals of former United States Presidents James Garfield and Gerald R. Ford.

Categories: Funeral music Hymn tunes Difficulty: easy
Sunday 13 June 2010

Site update: Major and Minor Arpeggios

Two-octave arpeggios now available

We have updated the scales section of the site by adding two-octave major and minor arpeggios. You can now find them in the pages of major and minor scales, respectively. Thanks to Hillary for suggesting this update!

Monday 14 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Allegro

 from Sonata No. 1 in F major by Benedetto Marcello

Benedetto Marcello's Sonata in F major for treble recorder and figured bass is particularly noteworthy for its highly idiomatic writing for the recorder; nonetheless, this work also sounds very good when played on the flute, and can indeed be found in some of the numerous collections of baroque music compiled for our instrument.

Categories: Baroque Sonatas Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 15 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Saare Jahan Se Achcha

 Indian patriotic song

This is one of the most enduring patriotic poems of the Urdu language. Written originally for children by Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal, the poem was first published in 1904. Recited by Iqbal the following year at Government College, Lahore, it quickly became an anthem of opposition to the British rule in India. The song is an ode to Hindustan, the land comprising present-day Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

“Saare Jahan Se Achcha” has remained popular in India for over a century. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have sung it over a hundred times when he was imprisoned in the 1930s. The song has become an unofficial national anthem in India, and some of its stanzas were also turned into the official quick march of the Indian Armed Forces.

Categories: Patriotic Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 16 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Ride of the Valkyries

 by Richard Wagner

The “Ride of the Valkyries” is the popular name for the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas by Richard Wagner that comprise the cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The main theme of the ride, the leitmotif labelled “Walkürenritt”, was first written down by the German composer in 1851; the opera, however, only received its premiere in 1870. Together with the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, this is one of Wagner's best-known pieces.

The “Ride of The Valkyries” has been used to accompany moving pictures since the earliest days of Hollywood. Most notably, it has been used in a scene of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now where a squadron of helicopters attacks a Vietnamese village. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, interpreted by Robert Duvall, orders its use because “it scares the hell out of the slopes!”

Categories: Film music Opera excerpts Romantic Show-off pieces Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 17 June 2010

Tune of the Day: La Cumparsita

 The most famous tango of all time

“La Cumparsita” (“The little parade”) is undoubtedly the most widespread tango, the one that every person recognizes apart from its version, the one used as an icon to represent the whole genre. It was initially a little march, composed by the young student of architecture, Gerardo Hernán Matos Rodríguez on an uncertain date, that we can place between the late 1915 and the early 1916, for the carnival marching band organized by the Federation of Students of Uruguay.

“La Cumparsita” is very popular at Milongas, traditional events where tango is danced; it is a common tradition for it to be played for the last dance of the evening.

Categories: Latin American Tangos Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 18 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Maple Leaf Rag

 by Scott Joplin

Published in 1899, “Maple Leaf Rag” was the first of Scott Joplin's piano pieces to be issued with his name, and his name only, listed as the composer. It is also one of the most famous of all ragtime pieces, and the first instrumental piece to sell over one million copies of sheet music.

“Maple Leaf Rag” is in many ways the prototypical Joplin rag, and a large number of the rags he later wrote are mere imitations of it. It is still a favorite of ragtime pianists, and has been described as an “American institution... still in print and still popular”. It also appears in the soundtracks of hundreds of films, cartoons, commercials, and video games.

Categories: Ragtime Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 19 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Larghetto

 from Sonata in G minor by George Frideric Handel

This is the opening movement of Handel's Sonata in G minor for Recorder. The measured tread and hypnotically steady theme of this Larghetto seems to announce that this as a sober sonata. Upon each iteration, however, the melody becomes a bit more ornate, so the movement is not as austere as it may initially seem.

Categories: Baroque Sonatas Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 20 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Mighty Oregon

 Fight song of the University of Oregon

“Mighty Oregon” is the song played by the Oregon Marching Band at home football and basketball games. Originally titled “The Mighty Oregon March”, it was written by Director of Bands, Albert Perfect, and was first performed in 1916.

For the song's most popular section, Perfect fashioned a new melody to fit into the harmony from “It's a Long Way to Tipperary”, a hit 1912 World War I march. The catchy popularity of the harmony was not lost on Perfect, a well-educated in music theory, who originally subtitled the song “The Tipperary of the West”. The new march attained rapid popularity: during the next few years, “Mighty Oregon” was published as a solo piano piece, released nationally as a piano roll, and even played by the 162nd Infantry Band in France.

Categories: Fight songs Marches Sports music Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 21 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen

 by Edvard Grieg

There are 66 pieces in ten volumes comprising Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano, and “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” is probably the most popular work in the group. Actually, this music does not quite depict a wedding day; rather, it represents the happy recollection of the composer and his wife Nina's 25th wedding anniversary celebration, which took place in 1892 at their residence at Troldhaugen (“Troll Hill”). Grieg is reputed to have said that children called the nearby small valley “The Valley of Trolls” (the large, fearless creatures from Norse mythology) and thus gave the name for his building as well.

The piece is in ABA form. The mood of the music is bright and utterly joyous in the outer sections, but more intimate and nostalgic in the central G-major panel.

Categories: Romantic Wedding music Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 22 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Scots Wha Hae

 Traditional Scottish song

“Scots Wha Hae” (meaning “Scots, Who Have”, after the first line of the song) is a patriotic song of Scotland which served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Lately, however, it has been supplanted by “Scotland the Brave” and “Flower of Scotland”.

The lyrics were written by Robert Burns in 1793, in the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where Scotland maintained its sovereignty from the Kingdom of England. Although the lyrics are by Burns, he wrote them to the traditional Scottish tune “Hey Tuttie Tatie” which, according to tradition, was played by Bruce's army at the Battle of Bannockburn. This tune, whose title is supposed to imitate a trumpet, tends to be played as a slow air, but certain arrangements put it at a faster tempo, as in the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch and the concert overture Rob Roy by Hector Berlioz.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Barcarolle

 from “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach

This barcarolle, titled “Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour”, is taken from Act II of the 1851 opera The Tales of Hoffmann (Les contes d'Hoffmann) by German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach.

Despite being the famous number in the opera, the duet was not written by Offenbach with Les contes d'Hoffmann in mind. He wrote it as the “Elves' Song” in the opera Die Rheinnixen (aka Les fées du Rhin, i.e. The Rhine Nixies), which premiered in 1864. Offenbach died in 1880 with Les contes d'Hoffmann unfinished, and it was Ernest Guiraud who completed the scoring and incorporated this excerpt from one of Offenbach's earlier, long-forgotten operas into the new opera.

The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many films, including Life Is Beautiful and Titanic. It also provided the tune for Elvis Presley's rendition of the song “Tonight is so Right for Love” in the 1960 film G.I. Blues.

Categories: Barcarolles Opera excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 24 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Arabian Dance

 from “The Nutcracker Suite” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Here is another characteristic dance tune from Tchaikovsky's well-known ballet The Nutcracker. Like the “Chinese Dance” and the “Russian Dance”, this tune also appeared in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, where the dance is gracefully performed by a school of underwater goldfish.

Categories: Ballet excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 25 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Solveig's Song

 from “Peer Gynt” by Edvard Grieg

Originally written in 1875 for Act IV of the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, “Solveig's Song” (that is, the song sung by the character Solveig) was later included as the last movement of the second suite extracted from the work.

Perchance both winter and spring will pass
and next summer, and the entire year: —
but at last you will come, that I know for sure;
and I'll still be waiting, for I once promised I would.

Thanks to Françoise from France for suggesting this piece!

Categories: Romantic Show-off pieces Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 26 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Vivace

 from Telemann's Sonata in F major

This brilliant movement opens Georg Philipp Telemann's Sonata No. 1 in F major. The sonata was originally published in Der getreue Musikmeister (“The Faithful Music Master”), a musical journal founded in 1728 by Telemann and J.V. Görner. This German music periodical, the first of its kind, appeared every two weeks in the form of a four-page reading or lesson. It consisted of actual music, new music just composed and given its first circulation in this unusual fashion. Much of it was by Telemann himself, but other contemporary composers were also represented.

Categories: Baroque Sonatas Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 27 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Be Thou My Vision

 Traditional Irish tune

This traditional hymn is sung to the Irish folk tune known as “Slane”. The tune derives its title from Slane Hill, which is about ten miles from Ta­ra in Coun­ty Meath. It was on Slane Hill around 433 AD that St. Pat­rick de­fied a roy­al edict by light­ing can­dles on East­er Eve. High King Lo­gaire of Ta­ra had de­creed that no one could light a fire be­fore Lo­gaire be­gan the pa­gan spring fes­ti­val by light­ing a fire on Ta­ra Hill. Lo­gaire was so im­pressed by Pat­rick’s de­vo­tion that, de­spite his de­fi­ance, he let him con­tin­ue his mis­sion­ary work.

Categories: Celtic Music Hymn tunes Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Monday 28 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Andante

 from Sonata in G minor by George Frideric Handel

Here is the second movement of Handel's Sonata in G minor for Recorder. After the slow opening Larghetto, which we posted last week, this Andante picks up the pace a bit. Although in a different form, its melody also appears in the solo “Vouchsafe, o Lord” in Handel's Te Deum in A.

Categories: Baroque Sonatas Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 29 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Waves of the Danube

 aka “The Anniversary Song”

This waltz was composed by Romanian military band leader and composer Iosif Ivanovici, and is one of the most famous Romanian tunes in the world. The piece was first published in Bucharest in 1880; a few years later, composer Emile Waldteufel made an orchestration of the song, which was performed for the first time at the 1889 Paris Exposition, and took the audience by storm.

In the United States, “Waves of the Danube” became known only half a century later, when Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin published it in 1946 under the name of “The Anniversary Song” (“Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed”). Recorded by Al Jolson, the song first reached the Billboard magazine charts in February 1947 and lasted 14 weeks on the chart, peaking at #2.

Categories: Romantic Waltzes Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 30 June 2010

Tune of the Day: Allegro maestoso

 from Paganini's “Centone di sonate”, arranged for Flute and Guitar

This “Allegro maestoso”, which constitutes the second movement of Paganini's A-minor “sonata” for violin and guitar, is marked “in march tempo”. It almost has the snap of a jig, but the minor key gives it a somewhat unusual character. At the center of the movement is a highly lyrical section, typical of Paganini's cantabile (literally, “songful”) writing, before the march resumes.

This Allegro is followed by a small rondo, rightfully called “Rondoncino”.

Categories: Marches Romantic Difficulty: intermediate