Classical Music Thread -

Strine

And moth-like stars were flickereen out,
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I wonder how many kiwis play instruments, and which they are. What I play is probably obvious from my postings...

Anyway, here's some underloved Respighi. It describes the journey of the Magi across the desert into Bethlehem, their adoration of the Christ Child, and their departure into the night. The arabesque in the bassoon and oboe is very evocative, and takes a lovely major turn when they reach the Infant. But beyond that, the terrific orchestration captures the bustle and mystique of a Bethlehem evening in antiquity, with wonderful themes in the violins and flutes.

 
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Positron

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With its thickly dissonant, Tristan-like opening, Zemlinsky's "Erdeinsamkeit" ("Earthly Solitude"), for baritone and orchestra and set to an anonymous poet, likewise deals with a Schopenhauerian theme. The existential loneliness of the protagonist is not to be assuaged by the promise of Heavenly deliverance. He must clear himself of the illusion of this world, and seek union with all things in the transcendental, noumenal realm. The song ends with wistful, comforting consonance, redolent of the ending of Mahler's Das Lied von de Erde: peace is found when one bids farewell to the illusory material world.

 

Strine

And moth-like stars were flickereen out,
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Here's a simple, beautiful French-peasant-inspired Christmas suite. There's little to say about the music, but if you're familiar with Jolivet's wacky but quaint ideas about spiritualism, you can get some lovely sensations from this very rustic-sounding suite. It's worth checking the movement names below the video, so you get a mental picture.


And for your New Year: the first Neoclassical masterpiece, and possibly the greatest: Stravinsky's Octet for Winds. There are thousands of pages of writing about this piece, and it is indisputably the most influential chamber music for wind instruments of the 20th century; or quite possibly ever. I can't do any justice to it without writing a novel; the suite is full of rhythm games, parodies, character play in the the instruments, and all the best qualities of Modernism. This recording is a little tinny-sounding (aesthetics were different when it was recorded) but it's old Igor himself conducting, so it's the referential recording.


The piece has a hundred great moments, but if you only really listen to one part, make it the ending (13:45 on). The tension builds, builds, builds, and then speeds towards... nothing. Instead of a Romanticist climax, we get a tender Russian folk dance - with jazz harmony. The flute bounces up and down with no regard for voice leading, as if trying to girlishly distract the more stoic clarinet. The bassoons enter and clumsily displace the meter (make sure to savour their first chord) and a cool, singing dialogue in the trumpets plays it out. Gorgeous!
 

Positron

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but if you're familiar with Jolivet's wacky but quaint ideas about spiritualism, you can get some lovely sensations from this very rustic-sounding suite. It's worth checking the movement names below the video, so you get a mental picture.
I need more Jolivet! He's not the most recorded of composers and the works that got recorded are among his more conventional ones (Violin Concerto, Flute Concerto, etc). I need offbeat, mystical stuff like Mana.

 

Strine

And moth-like stars were flickereen out,
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I need more Jolivet! He's not the most recorded of composers and the works that got recorded are among his more conventional ones (Violin Concerto, Flute Concerto, etc). I need offbeat, mystical stuff like Mana.

Mana is good fun; I'm very fond of L'Oiseau as a kind of peyote hallucination of birds.

It's not mystical really, but his bassoon concerto is, without hyperbole, the best (and most difficult) concerto for that instrument of the last century; no others showcase so well the bassoon's unmatched ability for "character acting". The wikipedia article has a good write-up of the movements; there is essentially a narrative of a (male) subject, sort of an antihero, who is having a breakdown: ranting and raving 1st mvt, laughing-through-his-teeth 2nd mvt with some occasional hysterical outbursts and the bassoon leaping around and snarling like a panther, crying and heartbroken (almost suicidal sentiments) in the 3rd, and so how does Jolivet end it in the 4th? Fugato, danse macabre. I don't know if it means the subject lost his mind, or his spirit fell to darkness (wouldn't put it past André) but it's a great finale, with the bassoon spreading its (bat) wings with devilish exhortations and witchy dances with the violin. Terrific concerto, and increasingly recognised for its quality this last five years or so.

 

Positron

Bovid-19. Codename: White Yak
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Here's a chamber concerto for the Bassoon that I've been enjoying of late -- Serenata for Bassoon and 10 Instruments (1961), by Gian Francesco Malipiero.


Malipiero belongs to the so-called "Generation '80" of Italian composers, a group that, in the early and middle part of the 20th century, brought instrumental music back to the fore in Italy. The most famous of that generation is Respighi, but Malipiero's style is very different from Respighi's grandeur and coloristic excesses. His works are informed by his scholarly research of Italian baroque (he was responsible for the first modern edition of Monteverdi) and one can say that the Serenata is a "neo-classical work": although the harmonies are modern, the clarity of lines betrays the spirit of Mozart. It is a very attractive work to be sure.

Malipiero's Sixth String Quartet (he wrote 8 ), "l'Arca di Noé " ("Noah's Ark") reveals a sense of fun, hectic buzz, but as a whole it is not as satisfying as the Serenata.


I just find it curious that so few composers have drawn on the story of Noah; the only other examples I can think of are Britten's stage work Noye's Fludde and Stravinsky's serialist diversion The Flood.

Malipiero's posthumous neglect is also puzzling, especially since he had famous pupils who advocated his work. I'm tempted to believe that his "political naivety" (a charge that is, by the way, often leveled against Richard Strauss, but to no harm to his reputation) might have something to do with it. While Malipiero did not embrace fascism like the Futurists did, he was not above writing to Mussolini begging for an official post. Posterity might deem it more expedient (and cooler) to champion his anti-fascist and communist pupils like Luigi Dallapiccola and Luigi Nono instead.
 

Positron

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Let's see off the second decade of the 21st century with Barcarola per grande orchestra by Hans Werner Henze, who died in this very decade.


This is not your sweet romantic barcarolle; your boatman is none other than Charon himself. As his boat brings you across the river Styx, memories of your past life -- the yearning and the strife, the glory and the shame, the victories and defeats -- rush by. But what is that hushed din at the end? Is it the blessed light of deliverance, or a premonition of even more conflicts? Only time will tell...
 
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He Who Points And Laughs

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I've been listening to Chopin recently.

I'm also a fan of Bach and Handel.
Chopin's my personal favorite in the sense that his musical language and emotion just hits my ears perfectly, but I listen to J.S. Bach more than any other composer. I've been a fan of the classical über genre since my mid teens, and have been collecting it ever since.

Here's some more slightly obscure composers that I also enjoy.

Alexander Scriabin

Charles Valentine Alkan

Nikolai Medtner
 
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Positron

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I must admit most of Scriabin's piano works, except the Sonatas and a few longer pieces like Vers la Flamme, don't do much for me. They are too short and fragmentary. I love his late Sonatas, especially the way he use various types of trills for very distinct, expressive means.

It is also fortunate that modern pianists are turning towards Medtner and Alkan, and that the Alkan anniversary in 2013 didn't go entirely forgotten.
 

Positron

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It is a surprise that Greek-Canadian composer Christo Hatzis hasn't been showered with fulsome praise already -- not because his composition is really good or innovative, but because many of his works are so riddled with white guilt that they should be what the Trudeau government seek to promote. String Quartet No. 1, "Awakening", was inspired by an upsurge of youth suicides among the Inuits. In this work, Hatzis supplies the string quartet with pre-recorded tape, which counterpoises Inuit throat singing with train sounds. Trains? Hatzis's note says the train is a memory of his own youth, but it is hard not to view it as the symbol of white man's expansionism -- especially when, at the two-third mark of the work, a loud train approaches from afar and seems to roll over the throat singers (16:00 onwards).


The most notable musical content of this work is a cantabile theme, announced by the cello at 4:24 and go on for a while. It is very John Williams, very soundtrack. Hatzis says it represent Divine grace, bringer of balance and reconciliation in this world of complexity and conflicts. Yet Hatzis's treatment of this theme is ambivalent: it eventually becomes fragmented and mixed with train-like ostinatos. And surely, Hatzis refuses to let the Divine have the final word.
 

Strine

And moth-like stars were flickereen out,
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Like a lot of Stravinsky this is too complex to synopsise, but he wrote it uncommissioned, which suggests it's a statement of faith. His interest in archaic choral styles and deftness of orchestral colour are both in display. Lovely work.
 

He Who Points And Laughs

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I must admit most of Scriabin's piano works, except the Sonatas and a few longer pieces like Vers la Flamme, don't do much for me. They are too short and fragmentary. I love his late Sonatas, especially the way he use various types of trills for very distinct, expressive means.

It is also fortunate that modern pianists are turning towards Medtner and Alkan, and that the Alkan anniversary in 2013 didn't go entirely forgotten.
When I was quite younger, I preferred Scriabin's early pieces. As I got older, his later sonatas and poems were more interesting for my ears.

Alkan is very under-appreciated, but it is refreshing that more pianists are discovering his genius. Medtner can be an acquired taste, but some of his works are absolute masterpieces.

In particular, the Night Wind sonata. (For the impatient, skip to 30:49 and listen to the end)

 
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Positron

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I got my first recording of Pléïades by Xenakis and it was a revelation. I don't expect the most severe and most mathematical of modernist composer would write a piece that is positively bristling with joie de vivre, especially since I found another percussion piece by him, Rebond, rather uninspiring. In the first movement, six percussionists play on a series of untuned metal rods, resulting in a gamelan-like sounds enveloped with a warm reverberant glow. The sound is somewhat reminiscence of Steve Reich's Drumming (but more lush and less harsh), with the sense of fun of Esperanto by Sakamoto. The subsequent three movements investigate scales, sounds, and their combinations.

 
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Positron

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No one is quite sure why Bohemian Baroque composer Zelenka gave this piece the title "Hipocondrie" (Hypochondria). Let's hope this mildly uplifting music cheer up those who thinks he might have (or indeed has) fallen ill due to covid-19.
 
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