Johann Sebastian Bach's Suite for Orchestra No. 2 in B minor is generally regarded as a vibrant and fast-paced work, but it also features a slow third movement. This movement is a sarabande, one of the most popular slow dances of the Baroque era. Remember that this stately triple-time dance of Spanish origin is usually played with an accent on the second beat of each bar.
Franz Schubert's last song cycle, Schwanengesang, published in 1829, just a few months after the composer's death, was in fact never meant to be a song cycle: it was Schubert's wish that the 14 Lieder that eventually found their way into Schwanengesang be published in groups according to their text's authors. The title of the collection, which translates to “Swan Song”, was the publisher's idea, and is a reference to an ancient belief that some swans are completely mute during their lifetime until the moment just before they die, when they sing one beautiful song.
There was a time in the 20th century when the fourth song of the collection, titled “Ständchen” (“Serenade”), was the most famous serenade in the world. That time was after Schubert had been popularized by the 1934 film Blossom Time, a film in which tenor Richard Tauber played the composer and which used “Ständchen” as its theme song and leitmotif.
Thanks to Dan for suggesting this piece!
This famous duet is taken from Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Yeoman of the Guard, where it is sung by Jack Point, a strolling jester, and Elsie, a singer.
According to critic William Archer's book Real Conversations, Sullivan had trouble setting this song to music, due to the increasing length of each stanza. He asked Gilbert if he had anything in mind when he had written it. Gilbert hummed a few lines from a sea shanty, and Sullivan knew what to do.
The famous folk-singing trio Peter, Paul and Mary included a rendition of this song in their 1969 children's album, Peter, Paul and Mommy.
This is the fourth of the five movements in George Frideric Handel's Sonata in G major for flute and basso continuo. It is a binary-form (AABB) bourrée, sometimes called “bourrée anglaise”. This type of movement should be played at a quite rapid tempo, but it is often performed more calmly, especially when transcribed for other instruments.
The melody of the Brazilian national anthem was composed by Francisco Manuel da Silva in 1822. In style, the music resembles early Romantic Italian music such as that of Gioachino Rossini. There was no statute at the time establishing a National Anthem, but the melody, without lyrics, was widely used as such during the reign of Emperor Pedro II, and was regarded as the National Anthem by all.
After the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889, the new rulers made a competition in order to choose a new anthem, and the competition was won by Leopoldo Miguez. After protests against the adoption of the proposed new anthem, however, President Deodoro da Fonseca formalized da Silva's composition as the national anthem. In fact, the President himself was said to prefer the old anthem to Miguez's composition, which became the Anthem of the Proclamation of the Republic.
This rondeau is the second movement from Johann Sebastian Bach's Orchestral Suite in B minor. In the Baroque era, the term rondeau referred to any piece that consists of a refrain and different “couplets”. This form later developed into the rondo, so popular in the time of Mozart.
The structure of this particular rondeau can be written as AABACA, where A is the refrain and B and C are two different couplets. What is interesting about this cut-time piece is that each phrase begins and ends in the middle of a measure, a characteristic which is commonly associated with the gavotte.
Here is another number from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Yeoman of the Guard. This is a baritone duet sung by Jack Point and “Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor” Wilfred Shadbolt near the beginning of Act II.
This piece is taken from the second volume of The Division Flute, published in London in 1708 and originally conceived for recorder and bass instrument. Both the tune and the ground bass are certainly older, and had already appeared under the title “Divisions on an Italian Ground” in Robert Carr's The Delightful Companion; or, Choice new lessons for the Recorder or Flute, first published in 1682.
Frédéric Chopin composed his “Grande valse brillante” in E-flat major (“The Brilliant Grand Waltz”), Op. 18, in 1833, at the age of 23. Published one year later, this was his first published waltz composition for solo piano, even if he had already written at least sixteen other waltzes that were either destroyed or eventually published posthumously.
This fast waltz presents its young composer in a particularly extroverted mood. Surely the main theme of the work, introduced after a lively four-bar fanfare, is one of Chopin's most famous.
Thanks to Jonathan for suggesting this piece!
This English folk song, sometimes called “O Waly, Waly”, has been sung since the 1600s, and has seen considerable popularity through to the 21st century. It is sometimes reported to be part of a longer ballad, “Lord Jamie Douglas”, but this was first published in 1776, and the edition states it is to be sung to the tune of “Waly, Waly”, so it is fairly certain that “Waly, Waly” is the earlier tune. The roots of the song are unclear, with some claiming an English origin and others claiming a Scottish origin.
“The Water Is Wide” has been recorded countless times, with popular renditions by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Enya, Karla Bonoff, Eva Cassidy and many others.
The “İstiklâl Marşı” (“Independence March”) was officially adopted as the Turkish National Anthem in 1921, two years before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, both as a motivational tune for the troops fighting in the Turkish War of Independence, and as an anthem for a Republic that was yet to be established. It was composed by Zeki Üngör, a Turkish composer and violin virtuoso.
Thanks to Uygar for suggesting this tune!
This minuet (Handel uses the old Italian spelling “menuetto”) is the fifth and last movement of the German-British composer's Sonata in G major for flute and basso continuo. The piece is based on a favorite theme of Handel's, which is also found as a keyboard piece and at the end of the Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 3, No. 4a.
Edward MacDowell was an American composer and pianist of the Romantic period, one of the earliest American composers to achieve fame both in his homeland and in Europe. His ten Woodland Sketches for solo piano, published in New York in 1896, have remained the composer's best-known work. They were probably inspired by his summer residence in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and its peaceful woodland surroundings.
“To a Wild Rose”, the first of the Woodland Sketches, is a thoroughly delightful piece and typifies so much MadDowell's solo piano music style. This modest miniature offers an instantly memorable theme, and despite its brevity and modest character it has become one of the most popular piano works by an American composer.
One note about the tempo: this piece is often played very slowly, down to 60 BPM; however, MacDowell explicitly indicated a tempo of 88 BPM. As someone pointed out, this miniature is intended to be an ode to a wild rose, not to a cultivated one!
Telemann's tenth Fantasia for solo flute is in the key of F-sharp minor, and takes the form of a Baroque suite. It starts with an Italian corrente marked “A tempo giusto”, to be played “at the right speed” with flowing quaver motion. The following Presto is a gavotte, but it is usually played noticeably faster than a regular gavotte. The fantasia ends with a moderate-tempo 3/8-time minuet, displaying typically Baroque flourishes.
Also known as “Little Liza Jane”, this song was first published in San Francisco, California in 1916, as a composition by Countess Ada de Lachau. The song's origins, however, seem to go back even earlier. The tune's similarity to the 1850 Stephen Foster standard “Camptown Races” has been observed. The name “Liza Jane” was a standard female character name in minstrel shows.
“Li'l Liza Jane” has become a perennial standard both as a song and an instrumental in traditional jazz, folk music, and bluegrass, and versions have repeatedly appeared in other genres including rock and roll. It is one of the standards of the New Orleans brass band tradition.
In his sixth Sonata for flute and continuo, Johann Sebastian Bach adopts the four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast structure typical of the sonata da chiesa (litearally “church sonata”, although this work was not intended to be played in a church) in which the individual movements are usually given tempo designations rather than dance titles.
The opening movement, marked “Adagio ma non tanto” (“slow but not much”, just like the first movement of Flute Sonata No. 5), is a stately, placid piece. The main melody stretches in long, gentle arcs, then wanders freely around the staff, taking time for occasional, modest trills. This is succeeded by an even freer section in which the melody follows the same basic contours but flirts with the minor mode, giving short moments of darkness.
This Welsh military march is traditionally said to describe events during the seven year long siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468. Commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Jeuan, the garrison held out in what is the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles. “Men of Harlech” occupies an important place in Welsh national culture. It is the regimental march of several regiments historically associated with Wales.
The melody of this march was first published without words in 1794 as the “March of the Men of Harlech” in the second edition of The Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards, but it is believed to be a much earlier folk air.
The song gained international recognition when it was featured prominently in the 1964 film Zulu, although it had already appeared in John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941). More recently, the tune was featured in the 1995 film The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, starring Hugh Grant.
The tenor aria “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”) his arguably Donizetti's most immediately recognizable piece of music. This romanza is taken from Act II of his 1832 opera L'elisir d'amore. It is sung by Nemorino when he finds that the love potion he bought to win his dream lady's heart, Adina, works.
The piece is set in the original key of B-flat minor, with a brief excursion to the major mode at the end. Don't be intimidated by the five flats in the key signature: this aria should be played at a very slow tempo, so you have all the time to pay attention to accidentals.
This traditional lullaby comes from Brittany, the Celtic region in the North-West of France. Its title, in the Breton language, can be compared to the French expression fais do-do, which is itself a shortening of the French verb dormir (to sleep). This is used primarily in speaking to small children, and is roughly equivalent to the American English “beddy-bye”.
This is the second movement of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach's Flute Duet in F major. It is an extremely slow and meditative piece, marked “Lamentabile”, which in Italian would literally mean “mournful”. The movement is set in binary (AABB) form, and the first part starts out as a canon at the fifth; that is, when the first voice enters it repeats the melody exposed by the second voice, but a fifth higher.
Thanks to Jean-Marc for suggesting this piece!
“Lift Every Voice and Sing”, now often called the “Black National Anthem”, was originally composed as a poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, 1900 at the segregated Stanton School. Its principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words, which were later set to music by his brother John in 1905. Singing this song quickly became a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) adopted the song as “The Negro National Anthem”. By the 1920s, copies of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” could be found in black churches across the country, often pasted into the hymnals. During and after the American Civil Rights Movement, the song experienced a rebirth, and by the 1970s was often sung immediately after “The Star Spangled Banner” at public events and performances across the United States where the event had a significant African-American population.
Thanks to Stephanie for suggesting this piece!
The Divertissement from Act III of Léo Delibes's 1876 ballet Sylvia, subtitled “Pizzicati”, is undoubtedly the ballet's greatest hit. It's a quiet, tip-toeing little dance for pizzicato strings, with a brief interlude for woodwinds in the middle.
According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, this “Pizzicato Polka” is “traditionally played in a halting, hesitant style that appears to have been no part of Delibes's conception”.
Thanks to Jeffrey for suggesting this piece!
This is a very popular Irish jig, and can be heard regularly at sessions. It was made even more popular in 1975 by the Bothy Band, who included it in their first album.
Also known as “Kerrigan's Jig”, this is a good tune for beginners, as it is catchy and swings easily. Once you have learned it well, you can start making it a less simple tune as your skill level rises, by adding ornaments and improvising variations.
Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) is an opera in three acts by Georges Bizet, first performed in 1863. Bizet's most successful opera apart from Carmen, it is notable for its colorful and exotic orchestration, but was not well-received at the time.
The scene is set in Ceylon and concerns the love of Zurga, king of the pearl fishers, and his friend Nadir for a beautiful priestess, Léïla. “Je crois entendre encore” (“I believe to still hear“) is sung by Nadir near the end of the first act. In the past, Nadir had fallen in love with Léïla. Now, a veiled priestess has come to his village and he recognizes her as Léïla. He sings of his love for her, which has not been diminished by the time they have spent apart.
This British music hall and marching song was written in 1912 by Jack Judge and co-credited to, but not co-written by Henry James “Harry” Williams. According to Max Crier's book Love Me Tender, Jack Judge had two ways of earning a living. By day he ran a stall in a fish market, and by night he sang in the music halls. He had a boyhood friend called Harry Williams, who now kept a country tavern in Oldbury, near Birmingham, from where they both came. Judge sometimes found the going hard, financially, and Williams was always ready to help. Jack Judge had something of a knack for composing, and he promised his friend that if ever he wrote a best-selling song, he would put Harry Williams' name on it. When in 1912 Judge had the idea for “It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, he kept his promise to his friend by adding “music by Harry Williams” to the copyright.
The song became very popular during World War I, and it is typical in that it is not a war-like song, which incites the soldiers to glorious deeds. Popular songs in previous wars frequently did this, but in World War I the most popular songs rather concentrated on the longing for home.
Thanks to Anyesha for suggesting this piece!
Karg-Elert's Portraits are 33 short pieces for organ or harmonium, each one dedicated to a musician, from Palestrina (a Renaissance composer of the 16th century) to Schoenberg (early 20th century). The fifth piece, commonly known as “Praise the Lord”, is a festive fanfare in the style of Handel that in recent times has become somewhat famous as a wedding recessional. It was notably played at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden on June 19, 2010.
Thanks to Ines for suggesting this piece!
Handel's Flute Sonata in G major, Op. 1 No. 5, features two Adagios as movements one and three. We already had the first movement, and here is the third one.
This adagio, which is the only movement in the sonata to be set in a minor mode (E minor), begins with a falling, stepwise figure in the bass, whereupon the flute develops a broader, pensive melody that allows for generous ornamentation. The movement is very similar to the second Larghetto of Handel's Recorder Sonata in C major, Op. 1 No. 7.
A true classic amongst hornpipes, “The Rights of Man” is frequently heard at traditional Irish sessions. It appears in both Irish and Scottish sources from the 19th century, and some manuscripts attribute it to James Hill, although there is no consensus about this. Some people say this hornpipe derives its title from Thomas Paine's 1791 book defending the French Revolution, but the tune probably does not go back that far in time.