Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Einstein on the Beach

Richard B. Gibson.
MH352WI Dr. Granade
Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass and Robert Wilson
As an opera singer I find myself attracted to composers such as Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Bizet and even Wagner. Needless to say these composers are some of the greatest ever to put pencil to paper. And their music is very well known amongst fellow opera singers. Yet I openly admit my lack of experience in what is called "New Music" simply because it is not in my repertoire. And so, when choosing the music for my final Listening Journal, I thought that Phillip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach would be a good choice for helping me expand my opera vocabulary.
When I listen to a new piece of music I first let my ears search out the texture, timbre, tempo, melody. Once the voice enters I listen for the timbre of the voice, the legato line, phrasing, dynamics, pitch accuracy, diction, placement of the voice and flexibility. In my personal opinion, if all of these elements are in order and executed well, it makes the most beautiful music in the world. Hence my appreciation for all of the great composers of the past. But when I listened to Einstein on the Beach I heard nothing resembling what I would consider good texture, or timbre in the instrumentation. It might have been because the most used instrument throughout the piece is the electric organ. Even when it was just the violin playing I feel that Glass took the beauty right out of the instrument with the lines that he wrote for it. Very fast and choppy most of the time with the same repeated theme over and over and over again. Truly, how long can a person listen to the same six-note theme repeated over and over again until the next scene? And then when the next scene starts the new repeated theme is just a variation on the old repeated theme. It gets very old, very quickly and all I want to do is switch it off, turn it back into the library and try to forget about ever hearing that cacophony of sound.
Glass wrote the four hour and forty minute opera for the electric organ, violin, flute and voice, to include a sixteen-strong chamber choir, soprano and tenor soloists in four acts and five "knee plays."(A knee play being a brief interlude that also provides time for scenery changes.) The electric organ acts as the main source of sound for most of the opera with the flute never playing alone, as to say that there always are more than one flute playing at a time. One of the most interesting features of the instrumentation is how Glass uses the violin. The violinist is actually dressed up as Albert Einstein and Glass openly admits that the violin has the most important musical material, though he never ways why. Personally I think it is because when Glass and Wilson got together to write an opera they wanted to write about the life of a historic figure. They passed up Ghandi, Chaplin and Hitler to finally settle on Einstein. And with Einstein being the main character I think they wanted the most important music to be coming from that character as well.
It is rather difficult to discern the plot in Einstein on the Beach. The opening is the electric organ playing the same six-note theme repeated over and over again. To give you a sense of how redundant it gets Glass originally had the opening scene at forty minutes, but since he was going to put it on LP discs he simply reduced the number of repeats and cut it down to just over twenty minutes. The text consists of numbers and solfege syllables. Cryptic poems are also used; the catch being that they are from Christopher Knowles. Mr. Knowles is not a great librettist. He is a young, neurologically impaired man with whom Mr. Wilson has worked with in the past as an instructor of disturbed children. I am not saying that disturbed children cannot write great works, but when I am used to listening to operas with great librettists I find myself greatly disappointed in the choice of Glass and Wilson to use these cryptic poems. They talk about going to the grocery store and how stealing is a crime, then it switched to robbing a bank is punishable by spending twenty years if federal prison. I find it very difficult to be moved by having this same statement repeated time and again. Also, now is the audience supposed to know that the references made about bank robbery are about Patricia Hearst who was on trail for bank robbery during the creation of the opera? What makes it even more confusing is that just after this Glass brings in the numbers being repeated, no higher than eight though. In the next scene the vocals are now solfege syllables. Not the most brilliant writing as you can tell. In the defense of Glass and Wilson, they do attempt to combine the aural works of Glass with the visual works of Wilson to tell the story of Einstein. I might have gotten more out of my experience if I could have watched it, but something tells me that even if I saw it live I would have walked out after ten minutes.
Listening to the greatest composers of opera I find myself doubting that they had a mathematical system for each theme they used. I personally think that they stayed within the confines of proper musical theory and at the same time pushed the boundaries to create new sounds that still take the audiences breath away. Glass, however, does not use this technique. To write this opera he uses two techniques that he developed during the 1960’s: additive process along with cyclic structures. Additive process is the expansion and contraction of small musical modules (five notes repeated, then six notes repeated, then seven notes repeated, etc.) What this is supposed to do is allow a simple figure to maintain the same melodic idea while at the same time tampering with the rhythm. These are all supposed to arrive back at the starting points all together and that will equal a complete cycle, hence the cyclic structures. To me, comparing the old classics to Glass’ Einstein on the Beach the mathematical structure that he uses simply does not add up. There is no solid continuity, legato is apparently a thing of the past, the singers do not have to use a good vocal technique to be able to produce the sounds, and the texture throughout is very thin. Einstein on the Beach, in no way, should this be allowed into the Classical Music Canon. I do not believe that it even qualifies as music. That is a point that musicians can argue and debate for centuries, but the only moving of the soul that it does is one of confusion and wonder. Not wonder in the awe-inspiring way, wonder in the way that you wonder what was going through his head when he composed this.
Delving more deeply in the structure of this opera Glass and Wilson use three recurring visual themes throughout the entire four acts, the Train, Trail and Field. The first theme is the "Train," and it is based upon the super-imposition of two shifting rhythmic patterns. One is fixed while the other shifts around. There is an addition to the Train, and that is the Night Train. All that Glass does to change it up is reworks the Train a bit and layers more voices on top of it. I’m still wondering what the Trial is referring to, although it does and an actor that plays a judge in it. What the Field refers to a nuclear holocaust symbolizing what could happen, and did happen in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, due to the theories of Einstein that lead to the splitting of the atom. That is the only part of the opera where you can openly see a plot. The rest of it is a bit too hazy, if you will, on what the plot is about.
With all of the aspects of this opera, the weak libretto, the thin texture, the lack of skill needed in the voices and the fact that the main character is a violin it was extremely hard for me to listen to the whole work. I found the electric organ playing the same notes over and over again in my ear to be so distracting that I would put my headphones down and take a breather. Then when I felt like I might miss something I was afraid to put them back on. Expecting, and praying to God, to hear something different I was constantly let down. It was almost as bad a car alarm that won’t shut off in the middle of the night. I do consider myself to be more "old-fashioned" in my musical taste, so this was a completely different project than what I have ever been used to before. If you enjoy the type of music that Phillip Glass is known for, then you might enjoy this. It is different from anything he had done before it. He is quoted as saying:
"In its own way, the pre-Einstein music, rigorous and highly reductive, was more
‘radical’ in its departure from the received tradition of Western music that what I have written since. But as I had been preoccupied at the point with that more radical-sounding music for over ten years, I felt I could add little more to what I had already done. Again, it is surely no coincidence that it was at the moment that I was embarking upon a major shift in my music to large-scale theater works that I began to develop a new, more expressive language for myself."
Although he thought he might be reaching a pinnacle in his expressiveness, I wish he had not. I find it obtrusive to my ear and nowhere near being in the category of "Music." It didn’t take very much skill to repeat the same six-note theme time and time again. The melodic line, well, there was none, and I apologize if this offends but an opera without a melodic line is not an opera. My ears will hopefully never hear this work, Einstein on the Beach, ever again. Furthermore, I suggest that if you see it on a book shelve to purchase or listen to that you run away as fast as you can. This should not be in the Canon and should be stripped of the title ‘Opera.’
Tim Page. ‘Einstein on the Beach’. Grove Music Online, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Heitor Villa-Lobos Bachianas brasileiras No. 9

Richard B. Gibson.
MH352WI Dr. Granade

Heitor Villa-Lobos Bachianas brasileiras No. 9

Out of the two pieces that I picked for the listening journal for Mr. Villa-Lobos I chose his No. 9. Mr. Villa-Lobos attempts to join Bach with Brazil with this piece by using a continuos fluid movement to represent Bach and Brazilian folk tunes for the melodic line. It includes a "Prelude: Vagaroso e mistico" that runs for only 2:37 orchestrated for strings and also a "Fugue: Poco apressado" that lasts 6:32, which is orchestrated for only strings as well. I can see why this piece does not make it into the Canon of classical music due to the rather simplistic nature of these two movements. There is nothing to really grab your attention throughout the entire two movements which leaves you wanting more. It starts out slow and remains that way until the end. Although that is not saying much because its total running time is only 9:09. Please do not get me wrong, it is a very enjoyable piece, but not one that I feel should belong in the Canon.
Villa-Lobos begins with a chord establishment in the strings with the cello sustaining the note while the violin plays a pretty melody. This is the way it goes, with a beautiful and tranquil melodic line in the violin until the dissonance is brought in. No other instruments just yet, just the main strings. Throughout the "Prelude: Vagaroso e mistico" the cello does not receive a lot of attention. It is mainly there to keep the key established and to add just a small layer of texture. I will say, however, the way Villa-Lobos has the violins play descending minor thirds gives it a very sultry sound that is appealing to the ear. It is almost as if he kept taking different little themes and playing with them in the violin to make it more interesting. To me it almost sounds like a variation, something like Rachmaninov would write in that it has a flavor of romanticism with the fluidity of the lines and the flare of modernism due to all of the dissonance. It is a very lethargic movement, with hints of suspension, because the cello mainly plays the same note the entire time and everything layered on top of that can only give you a nice 4-3 suspension every once in a while. I feel that this movement lacks stylistic uniformity as a whole. It just keeps changing themes after it embellishes the last theme a little bit. Only every once in a while does it feel like a uniform piece.
The "Fugue: Poco apressado" starts out much differently. It is much more upbeat, faster and louder and it gives the movement the contrast that has been lacking. There is some nice syncopation right away that keeps your ears perked up listening for what is next. Villa-Lobos does seem to stick to the original theme in this piece more than before. Yet how he tries to remain there often times gets away from it because it holds no semblance of the theme after the theme is first repeated, much like the "Prelude: Vagaroso e mistico." The biggest difference tempi-wise is all of the syncopation. Villa-Lobos does not get very inventive with it, but it is so different that your ear holds onto it. You want to hold onto it actually because it gives it a much different texture and feel. Now it feels like a waltz type dance. It is only at the end of the movement that he builds everything up to this lovely crescendo that takes you away to another place. If only he could have written everything to fluidly come to this point so that it would seem the crescendo has purpose, then maybe it would belong in the canon.
It is obvious why this work did not make it into the classical music Canon once you hear it. It lacks uniformity, there is almost no musical flow leading down a distinct path and the texture is lacking. There is not very much contrast within the individual movements and the melodic lines get old and boring after a short time. With that said, I feel that if Mr. Villa-Lobos could have used a little more imagination with the themes he could have made a masterpiece. It is hard for me to imagine that Villa-Lobos didn’t have a better choice of traditional Brazilian folk tunes to choose from that would have given this movement a more interesting line. He could have played with the melodic lines to draw them out more and give them more structure. That way he wouldn’t have to bore us with repeating the same boring short melody. He could also give more contrast to the dynamics and used the dissonance to bring out more even more contrast. All of this would have given the piece the texture it lacks and made for a greater flow of the whole piece.

Gian Francesco Malipiero, Vivaldiana

Richard B. Gibson.
MH352WI – Granade

Gian Francesco Malipiero, Vivaldiana

During his life Malipiero not only studied in Bologna and Venice, but he also taught at Conservatory of Parma, at the University of Padua, and also in Venice. During those years he did extensive research on composers such as Monteverdi and Vivaldi. As the title indicates, Vivaldiana, this is his tribute to Vivaldi. I have heard works by composers that have attempted to pay tribute to fellow composers that have gone before but that have failed miserably in their attempts. Malipiero, however, does not fail. It is a very melodious piece that consists of a 6:22 "Adagio – Allegro," a 4:37 "Andante piu lento un poco" along with a "Allegro - Allegro molto" that runs for 3:42 and is orchestrated for a full symphony. Its total running time is 14:41 and it is a piece that I believe everybody should listen to. It might behoove a person to find a relaxing place that they love to meditate, grab a nice glass of wine, close their eyes and envision what comes to mind when they hear the strings begin to play.
To me Malipiero begins it perfectly with the counterpoint in the opening sequence between strings. Nothing too elaborate, but just enough to set you up for the brief interlude and duet with the horns. It is a bit louder with its opening forte than what you might expect from a piece that anyone can relax to, but Malipiero shows wonderful contrast by bringing the dynamic level down almost as soon as he brought in the horns. There is just the right amount of suspension with the pulsing cellos underneath the violins and violas. It almost seems that Malipiero knows exactly what happened with your day and he is matching it with the texture of the movement. Malipiero remains heavy on the strings as he quickens the tempo a bit to a dance pace. The strings are sequenced very nicely and the theme is long enough so you do not get bored with hearing it over and over again. After some time with just the strings Malipiero brings in the woodwinds to help finish out the Allegro part of the "Adagio – Allegro." He does not keep them in for very long, but continues to bring them back to repeat their theme and I must say that it is just the right mix of strings and woodwinds. The texture of the two is solid, yet fluid and refined at the same time.
Malipiero gives us some colorful contrast with his "Andante piu lento un poco." He begins with only the strings, one at a time. First the violin, then the cello and finally the viola. They strings are piano, almost as if floating there, like Malipiero wanted us to feel like we ourselves are floating on a cloud. Malipiero keeps this feeling of floating, due to the lighter texture of fewer strings, going on for the entire "Andante piu lento un poco." It is so relaxing that you can almost feel yourself begin to meditate. There is a little change of pace when Malipiero uses a little bit of dissonance between the violins and violas that gives you a sense of moving forward. It really helps the piece not to stall but to keep moving on, as if Malipiero was trying to say "You have thought about that idea long enough, time to move on to the next idea." Also, the fact that there is no counterpoint, no counter melody helps you to relax into the piece and simply enjoy it. The melody is carried out mainly by the violins yet is doubled by the woodwinds when they come in about two-thirds of the way into the "Andante piu lento un poco." Malipiero continues to help the movement along by pulsing the beat with the cello and the violas and violins floating the melody line above. The ending does just what you would expect it to, it floats off as if on a wisp of a cloud and you feel completely relaxed.
Just as soon as you are finished with your meditation, Malipiero brings you into the "Allegro - Allegro molto." Beginning with octave jumps in the strings and horns, then continuing with the same pulsing beat in the cello and layering instruments one at a time on top of it. The strings begin to play with descending scales that give you a sense of playfulness. This same theme is matched by the flute, which gives the movement an even more interesting texture. Yet, to give the movement even more contrast, Malipiero also puts the theme and melody in the clarinet for a very short time. The strings then go on to answer the clarinet in the same fashion that they opened with. There is a rest that Malipiero uses, about a quarter of the way through the movement, that helps give the "Allegro - Allegro molto" a greater contrast and super-charges the next melodious idea that Malipiero brings out. The strings begin at a quickened pace, as you would suspect any Allegro molto to. Malipiero subdivides the beat in the strings and then the woodwinds to help push the piece along. This same theme is used for the remainder of the "Allegro - Allegro molto" but with a different texture to it. There are more horns than before and they play for a much longer period than what Malipiero had them playing earlier. To finish out the movement Malipiero brings out the flute with a lovely melody line that you can tell they love to play. Fun and upbeat with a colorful sequencing of scales that he used in the opening of the "Allegro - Allegro molto."
I truly believe that Malipiero’s Vivaldiana belongs in the classical music Canon because of its interesting contrast of melodic lines, dynamics and texture. Malipiero gives great honor to Vivaldi with how he continually moves this piece along using colorful contrast and interesting texture throughout. It is a work that anyone would be proud to own in a private collection, and I highly suggest that you make it a part of yours.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Isaac Albeniz: Suite espanola, no. 1 and no. 2

Richard Gibson.
MH352WI Granade
Isaac Albeniz: Suite espanola, no. 1 and no. 2
Suite espanola is a magnificent piece, close to what I would call a masterpiece. I am not sure why it is not in the Canon, but hopefully my translation of it will urge you to listen and dream. Suite espanola, nos. 1 and 2 has a total of ten movements. No. 1 includes the Granada (Serenata) 5:15, Sevilla (Sevillanas) 4:37, Cadiz (Saeta) 4:52, Asturias (Leyenda) 7:06, Aragon (Fantasia) 5:06, Castilla (Seguidilla) 3:14 and the Cuba (Capricho) 5:22. No. 2 only has the Zaragoza 3:58 and the Sevilla 6:45. All for a total running time of 46:25. It is piano music composed by Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) during the Romantic Period that will leave you breathless.
Upon first listening to this piece I was instantly transported to a small vineyard somewhere in Spain. I feel like I am waking up to the warm sun shining on my face. The birds are singing and chirping, (which Albeniz brings out with the repeated scales in the right hand) the coffee is brewing, and I am ready to face whatever comes my way. I feel truly refreshed as I get dressed and walk out onto a balcony that has a breath-taking view. I can already see the workers busy picking grapes as the sun rises higher into the morning sky steadily shedding more light upon the valley below me. My body, mind and spirit are fully at rest as I sip my cup of coffee and take in the beauty around me.
Just as I think the day could not improve I begin to see some storm clouds just peeking over the distant hills. The workers see them as well and begin to hurry along with their work before the storm arrives: the farm manager yells out orders to the same. There is almost a sense of panic about the place, but something in me senses an underlying calmness and wisdom that just seems to be in everything in the vineyard. As I turn and walk out of my room, continue down the hallway at a quickened pace and find an old man sitting in a chair just outside of the door. This man started the vineyard from a single vine and built it up with his own two hands into one of the most beautiful vineyards in Spain.
He takes me along a path that leads down into the vineyard and begins to explain how the rain clouds have come in like that for eons and that no one is really worried about the rain at all. Papi (as everyone there calls him) then shows me how I can easily be caught up by the hustle and bustle going on around me if I do not pay attention to the details. He shows me that, although working hard, the workers all have smiles on their faces. They know that the rain will bring nothing but good fortune for them. Papi continues to lead me down the path and opens my eyes up to all of the other work and joy occurring in his humble little vineyard. All the way from the gathering of the grapes to the bottling, I feel joy and excitement enter my heart now that the rain clouds do not seem to matter anymore.
At this time everyone is ready for some lunch, and I am amazed to see the respect and reverence all of the workers give Papi. Everyone sits down, after washing up, and proceeds to have a delightful lunch full of the joy and laughter I witnessed while I was on my walk. There is a peaceful, yet festive, atmosphere while they eat. Not everyone talks at once, so the noise does not becomes distracting. They just sit and listen to each other, laugh at all the jokes and tell funny stories when they feel the urge. I find myself not talking at all, just sitting and listening to all of the love around me, wondering to myself why I had not taken a vacation like this before now.
Lunch is now over and it is time to go back to work. The workers busily get on their rain gear as it just begins to rain. All of a sudden there is lightning and thunder (brought out by the pounded chords) that last for only a couple of minutes. After its fury seems to have passed, light drizzle falls steadily down upon the grapevines. I can sense that the workers are ready to finish up for the day at this point. They rush along to finish up their work and I can swear they are dancing. The looks on their faces are more serious than before, but it is almost like they welcome the challenge of working in the rain. Just then the lightning and thunder return to taunt the workers but they do not lose a single step. They just keep on dancing along enjoying the work the new day has brought to them.
The rain clears and I find myself watching the women pressing the grapes. They are indeed dancing. They even have their own music playing for them in the form of a mariachi band. (Notated by the syncopated rhythms) First is a quick Spanish step that gets the blood flowing to the hips and legs. Then the ladies slow the pace down to a seductive and sultry dance that invites me to join them. Just as soon as the temptation overcomes me and I begin to take off my shoes the mariachi band picks up the pace again and all I can do is sit and watch these beautiful Spanish women dance in circles. They are truly enjoying themselves while they get a good days work done and I just want to join.
After dinner I go out to the barn where a dance is taking place. It is refreshing to see so much fun being had in one place. All of the different traditional dances, warm people and spectacular wine lull me into never wanting to leave. I sit for a time taking everything in until a young beautiful Spanish lady takes me by the hand. I do my best at following her lead out on the dance floor. For a short time it actually goes well, but then the band picks up the tempo and I have no choice but to fall a few steps behind. The dance ends with an outburst of laughter and applause followed by hugs all around. After we hug, she grabs me by the hand again and leads me outside into the vineyard.
We rush out, trying not to be seen, into the clear, star-filled, night sky. The moon is shining perfectly tonight and it shows her beauty like only the moonlight can. I have to stop and look at her because her beauty at that moment has absolutely taken my breath away (shown by the dramatic use of the rest). We then continue on to talk about all of our dreams and hopes, ultimately coming to the fear of me leaving. We embrace each other listening to the quickened pace of our hearts next to each other and we fear to let go.
As I stand there with her I cannot help but feel at home in this vineyard and in her arms. Our hearts slow and we know that this must go on. I make the decision to stay and make this my new home. Not in a loud way, but inside of my heart, because I have truly found my home when I least expected it. The magic in her eyes, the beauty of the vineyard and my instant love for both brought me to this point. I know that it will not be without hardship (represented by the suspensions used), but I am willing to do whatever it takes to make her happy. The sun begins to rise again and my mind is made up. I hear the birds chirping again and the same refreshed feeling comes over me. I am home.
I fully enjoyed piece that Mr. Albeniz composed. I think that it stays within the parameters of the Romantic Period style of more emotional music, in addition to bringing in a strong sense on Nationalism. I firmly believe that it should be in the Cannon, but I know that I am going to make this a part of my personal collection. I highly suggest this piece to anyone that wants to listen to some wonderful piano music.

Louis Spohr: Symphony No. 6, Op. 116, "Historical"

Richard Gibson.
MH352WI Granade
Louis Spohr: Symphony No. 6, Op. 116, "Historical"
Louis Spohr: Symphony No. 6, Op. 116, "Historical" consists of four movements. The Largo – Grave running at 7:30, Larghetto at 9:21, Scherzo at 6:29 and the Allegro Vivace running at 6:32 for a total running time of 29:52. This work is written for a symphonic orchestra and should not be allowed into the Canon for Romantic music. I feel that it is not a grand work and in Mr. Sphors attempt to imitate some of the great composers of old such as Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Bach and Allerneueste falls terribly short of paying them proper homage. As hard as I tried to view a story through this work, in that I enjoy music that tells a story, I could not. All I could do was to sit and try to enjoy it as much as possible without any opportunity to find a story line to follow. I found myself wishing that I was listening to the radio so I could turn the dial and wait for it to be over with so I could go back and listen to something more my style.
In the "Largo – Grave," Mr. Spohr begins in a rather dull way with just a few strings playing, the cello, violas and violins. He steadily brings in more strings to try to add to the texture but it really does not help much. The lines are quite simplistic and they don’t change much throughout the movement. Eventually Mr. Spohr does add in some other woodwinds such as the flute and the oboe, but it remains a mainly string heavy movement. The dynamics do not change much throughout either. I think it would have added a little something extra if he could have shown more contrast with the dynamic markings instead of just adding in instruments. I do not feel that the "Largo – Grave" is true to the Romantic Period when it comes to adding more emotion to the music. He might have been trying to write in the Classical Period style to honor early Bach and Handel, hence the title "Historical." Yet I don’t think that he did a very good job at paying tribute to the great masters of the Classical Period.
The "Larghetto" is a much better movement. Spohr remains more in tune with the Romantic Period style by adding in a little syncopation and showing more contrast with his dynamic markings. Again, I feel he fell rather short of honoring Haydn and Mozart with this "Larghetto," but it is a drastic improvement from the "Largo – Grave." He still keeps it simple with the choice of instrumentation such as all of the strings again. But he adds in some horns to the mix and it really gives the movement something special. The texture that the horns give to the movement, when they enter, leaves you wishing for more of them. He brings out more emotion by adding them to the top of the phrases in addition to bringing out some fortes at the top as well. Mr. Spohr brings back the syncopation just at the right time to slide back into the opening theme, a nice touch. The motion adds to the contrast even more because all of the other instruments drop out except the opening strings.
The "Scherzo" opens up completely different from the previous two movements with tympani and then strings in the typical scherzo tempo. Spohr plays back and forth with the strings and the tympani throughout the whole movement. When the strings start to fade away and seem to bring the "Scherzo" to an end he picks things back up with the tympani playing the same phrase that they opened with. There is a reoccurrence with simplistic musical phrases in the "Scherzo." He takes the same phrase and repeats it time and time again and all that does is makes you want something more after about three-quarters of a way through it. Mr. Spohr attempts to honor Beethoven with this movement, and yet again he falls terribly short. It is far too repetitive to not get bored with and it lacks Beethoven’s grace, say as in Erocia.
The "Allegro Vivace" starts out just the way you would expect -- fast, loud and in your face to wake you up from the boredom of the previous movements in this symphony. Mr. Spohr uses a lot of sequencing in the opening and it seems that it is all he can do until the strings begin to play staccato. Yet, just when you think a new phrase is coming, the "Allegro Vivace" just repeats the same staccato style sequencing heard previously. There is not really anything that comes to your ear in this piece that is new and inventive. It is just the same few short sequences repeated over and over again. He does bring back the opening phrase, but it is so lack-luster that you get bored with it easily. I suppose Mr. Spohr does attempt to build upon them later on in the movement, but to no avail. They are not grand enough to make me forget about the previous boredom I felt. Even if the horns and percussion are playing full out. It just seems that he fell short again in trying to honor another composer, this time Allerneueste.
This is a piece of music that I really do not care to listen to again, and one that I cannot, in good conscience, suggest to fellow music lovers. Louis Spohr: Symphony No. 6, Op. 116, "Historical" is an attempt to honor composers that were far above his talent. Perhaps he should have written a memo and send it to all of his friends saying "My dear friends, this is my humble attempt to honor great composers of the past. It has never been done before, so please don’t take it too seriously and compare my music with those whose music will live on forever. It is simply an attempt to show my great appreciation for the genius they left us with." Needless to say that I won’t be spending another half an hour listening to this symphony again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dittersdorf: Sinfonias on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Vol 1

Richard Gibson.
Dittersdorf: Sinfonias on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Vol 1
"Die vier Weltalter"
(Naxos Music Library)

Dittersdorf’s "Die vier Weltalter" has four movements: the Larghetto, Allegro e vivace, Minuetto con garbo and the Finale: Prestissimo – Allegretto. The Larghetto runs for 4:15, the Allegro e vivace runs for 5:20, the Minuetto con garbo last for 3:37 and the Finale: Prestissimo-Allegretto ends at 4:22 for a total time of 18:03. It consists of a full symphony.
Upon first listen I think it is a very charming piece. The Larghetto starts melodious and tranquil, countered by the up beat Allegro e vivace. Dittersdorf masterfully brings you to a middle ground between the two with his Minuetto con garbo. Flowing lines and wonderful legato leave you unsuspecting for the Finale: Prestisimo-Allegretto. It begins with a foreboding setup that makes you suspect that something is going to go horribly wrong. Dittersdorf maintains that feel for quite some time then brings you down to calm you and slowly builds to the powerful finale.
It is hard for me to see why this has been left out of the Canon. It is a beautiful piece, masterfully written. Its lines are precise, the melodies are soothing and the build up is extravagant. It truly does take you through a journey with the music just like how Ovid did when he wrote Metamorphoses, and is that not what composers try to do when honoring a work like Ovid’s Metamorphoses? You start out feeling like you are watching someone on a nice peaceful walk enjoying the scenery and enjoying life. Then the phrases repeat and you can feel the person overflowing with peacefulness.
The work then jumps into the Allegro e vivace and you have the feeling that something may go wrong in the future. You see your imaginary person start to look frantic and worried searching for some sign of what is going on. Then Dittersodorf takes it onto a brisk paced jog to search for the answers. It truly makes you hope that everything is going to be alright, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat with anticipation. He then lulls you into his confidence later on in the Allegro e vivace but something still keeps your anticipation there. Rightfully so, because Dittersdorf takes you on the same path that you traveled with your character before. Frantically searching trying to find whatever answers you can to prepare yourself for what you feel is going to be awfully bad news.
The composer now brings in something a little different, almost like a new character. It is almost like Dittersdorf brought in an antagonist to lead your innocent character down the path he should be following. The lines keep up your suspicions and you can tell that the same things are being repeated to your character to help lessen the suspicions. It works with an almost sleep like trance.
But then the bad news really strikes with the Finale: Prestissimo-Allegretto. The foreboding chords that are struck sound out as true evil and peril and make you hope for safety. Yet, immediately after them, the horns sound out in heroic fashion to tell you that either someone has come to help or that your character is the hero/heroine. There seems to be a short fight with beautiful climaxes in the music with what seems to be all of the instruments sounding out in such a fashion that you can visualize the dramatic fight that is taking place. Then the fight is done and peace is restored with your hero as the victor. Dittersdorf takes you to the reconciliation after the fight and back to the same peaceful walk that you were journeying through with your friend. All is settled in this imaginary land and you can rest easy knowing that good has overcome evil.
I sincerely do believe that this belongs in the canon of classical music. It has everything a person would want in it to take you through a fun little journey effortlessly. It is a magnificent piece of music that should be heard by all musicians and also by everyone who calls themselves music lovers. It should be heard by more than that, but those at least should get the word out about Dittersdorf and his wonderful work of "Die vier Weltalter."
This piece shows that the Classical era changed dramatically from the Baroque period. Its layering and integration of different instruments was amazing and it really helped to build up the emotions of the piece. His ideas to help keep the suspense were equally as enticing with the constant reminder of diminished chords with the onset of the Allegro e vivace. This was a dramatic piece with constant contrast and forward motion. It never stayed in one place for too long and the phrases didn’t repeat too much to the point of boredom, which often times happens with the baroque period movements. Again I reiterate that this piece should belong in the classical music Canon so that everyone in the world can have first hand knowledge of its genius.

Mozart, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299

Richard B. Gibson.
Music History 352WI

Mozart, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299
(Naxos Music Library)

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299 has 3 movements. The Allegro, the Andantino, and then another Allegro. The first Allegro lasts for 10:01, the Andantino lasts for 7:32 and the second Allegro lasts for 9:43 with a total length of 27:16. As the title states it is in the concerto genre. Instrumentation consists of the flute (played by Juri Valek), the harp (played by Hana Mullerova) along with strings, oboe and horns. The main stylistic feature is the Sinfonia Concertante which, when he wrote this piece, was the rage in France. On another note, it is the only piece in which Mozart ever used the harp.
In the allegro, there is quite a bit of sequencing. Shown first in the flute, which is the main instrument for the first opening phrase and then repeated alike in the harp. It seems to lack originality, with all of the repetitious sequencing and lack of flare in the music, knowing how wonderful Mozart was. The flute would have several sequences, and then it seemed like the harp would just repeat what the flute did. It is a lovely piece overall but the Allegro lacked a little special something that Mozart often gave. I think it might have been the fact that he was asked to write this piece and tried to do so in a hurry. Also that his mother died in Paris while travelling with him. It goes to show you how the emotion of a composer is critically important to the overall outcome of a piece. One has to wonder how glorious this piece might have been if the circumstances were more favorable for Mozart.
Also at first listen, I hear a lot of other pieces flow into my head that Mozart wrote. Due to my lack of vocabulary, or knowledge of piece names, in Classical music I cannot name the pieces for you, but it does seem to hint at other works. For example I continue to hear the Magic Flute whenever I am done with the piece. My feeling on this is that Mozart used phrases in this to help with other works of his. Further on into the Allegro I still feel like I have heard this piece before. It might be the constant re-occurrence of musical phrases, but the first Allegro just continues to scream of other works. I know it sounds redundant but the mystery is one that cannot be solved so easily as to which pieces lie in this work.
The layering in the Andantino is actually quite lovely. Mozart starts small with the strings giving them a smooth and peaceful melodic line. Then he melts the flute and harp into it, with ceasing the strings all together, and for just a moment, you will not even notice. The music that continues can almost float you away into a beautiful sleep, like it is a lullaby. Mozart then takes the piece right back into the strings giving them more presence and building upon his earlier theme. It is simply inspiring how he can make the flute and harp sing together so peacefully that you just want to turn the lights down and catch up on some sweet dreams that you feel you’d missed. Then Mozart can make the dance so you envision little fairies playing in a garden on the edge of sleep. It returns back to the earlier theme at about the 5:45 mark, and builds from there as if to wake you up for more to come and ends just like it started.
The second Allegro starts out with much more fervor, as much as the instruments seem to want to give you. Mozart then builds the music to a powerful climax, and brings it straight back down for just a moment with just the flute and harp. He does not let it get too big when he adds the other instruments back in though. It almost seems like he is waiting for the right moment to shock your senses out of the peacefulness into which he has lulled you into. The work maintains this level of anticipation for quite some time. Slowly ebbing and flowing back and forth being careful not to let the climax come too soon. Playing with earlier themes and phrases and using different instrumentation to sequence the music. His running of the scales with the harp sets up a big climax, or what seems to be one, and then he brings the music straight back. It makes you want to scream for a large climax with all of the instruments blaring out in full volume. But alas, Mozart just toys with you, never fully giving you something to tie up the loose ends of sleepiness that you feel upon you.
All in all it is a decent piece, not one of Mozart’s greatest works though, but not horrible. How arrogant of me to say that about a piece of music that I could never write in a million years! It simply lacks a certain quality that Mozart was known for that I cannot put my finger on. It might be because he always leaves you wanting more in this piece so you feel let down at the end of it. It might also be because of all the sequencing throughout all of the different movements, which makes you feel like Mozart could have done more with it. I truly do not believe this to be among any Canons that are out there today. It is a beautiful piece, but it is found to be lacking a certain something in the end.
To be quite honest I am not sure how this reflects what we have talked about in class. I could probably come up with some sort of witty paragraph that tries to not show that point. But the truth is that I am not very well versed in the inner workings of Classical music. So I am not going to try to waste your time with an explanation that falls well short of the mark that you wanted me to aim for. The piece was nice, not great, but very lovely. I can see why it does not fall into the classical music Canon but I can also see that more people should be experiencing it. The opening is repetitious, but the final two movements take you on a wonderful little journey that makes the piece worth listening to.