The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!

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Classical music: Your warhorses are my masterpieces — and I want to hear them

June 3, 2017
6 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature Madison keyboard artist Trevor Stephenson performing on a restored 1855 Boesendorfer grand piano. The program includes music by Chopin, Granados, Brahms, Wagner, Bartok, Debussy, Schoenberg and Satie.

You can attend it live for FREE in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the UW-Madison’s art museum. But you can also stream it live using the link on this web page:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-6-4-17/

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again when music groups announce their new seasons.

And it seems to The Ear that the word “warhorse” is again being tossed around a lot, especially by experienced listeners who use the term pejoratively or disapprovingly, in a snobby or condescending way, to describe great music that is performed frequently.

But more than a little irony or inaccuracy is involved.

For example, a some people have referred to the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms – scheduled next season by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — as a warhorse.

Yet The Ear has heard that symphony performed live only once – perhaps because programmers wanted to avoid the warhorse label.

The same goes for the iconic Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, which will be performed next year by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below). It was a revolutionary work that changed the course of music history, and it is a great piece of engaging music. (You can hear the opening movement, with an arresting graphic representation, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here’s the irony: I have heard the Piano Quintet by Brahms, the Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert and the String Octet by Felix Mendelssohn – all great masterpieces — far more often than I have heard those “warhorse” symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. Can it be that connoisseurs usually seem more reluctant to describe chamber music masterpieces as warhorses? (Below in the Pro Arte Quartet in a photo by Rick Langer.)

The Ear is reminded of a comment made by the great Russian-American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky (below): “Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is not great because it is popular; it is popular because it is great.”

So yes, I don’t care what more sophisticated or experienced listeners say. I still find the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Tchaikovsky to be a beautiful and thrilling work that rewards me each time I hear it. It never fails.

Add to the list the popular symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, several piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Jupiter” Symphony and Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And one could go on and on.

They are all great masterpieces more than they are warhorses.

Plus, just because a piece of music is new or neglected doesn’t mean that it is good or that it merits a performance.

Otherwise, you could easily spend the rest of a life listening to second-rate and third-rate works out of curiosity and never feel the powerful emotional connection and deep intellectual insight that you get with a genuine masterpiece that rewards repeated hearings.

Of course, some warhorses do leave The Ear less than enthusiastic The “1812 Overture” comes immediately to mind. Boy, do the crowds like that potboiler — on the Fourth of July, of course, when it has a traditional place.

But often enough your warhorse is my masterpiece, and I want to hear it without being thought of as a philistine.

It might even be that playing more warhorses — not fewer — will attract some new audience members at a time when music groups face challenges in attendance and finances?

It may not be cool to say that, but it might be true, even allowing room for new and neglected works that deserve to be programmed for their merit — not their newness or their neglect.

So-called “warhorses” have usually survived a long time and received many performances because they are great music by great composers that speak meaningfully to a lot of listeners. They deserve praise, not insults or denigration, as well as a secure and unapologetic place in balanced programming.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste.

So …

What do you think?

Are there favorite warhorses you like?

Are there warhorses you detest?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Concerts on the Square start this Wednesday and feature a lot of classical music. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra announces its impressive 2016-17 indoors Masterworks season

June 27, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night at 7 p.m., on the downtown Capitol Square, marks the opening of what has been billed as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer” — the six annual outdoor summer Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

They are big because each concert, under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell, last year averaged a weekly crowd of more than 42,000 people, up from 35,000 the previous year, according to the Capitol Police. (The highest was 50,000; the lowest 28,000.)

Concerts on the Square crowd

You should also know that this year the Concerts on The Square will include a generous — maybe, The Ear suspects, even an unprecedented — amount of classical music on June 29, July 6, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 3.

On the programs you will find music by Felix Mendelssohn, Joaquin Turina, Aaron Copland and Ottorino Resphighi (this Wednesday); by Leo Delibes, Peter Tchaikovsky (including the annual and traditional Fourth of July or Independence Day performance of his “1812 Overture”) and Jules Massenet (with famed local Metropolitan Opera singer, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss on July 6); by Paul Dukas, Jean Sibelius, Niels Gade and Antonin Dvorak (on July 13); Ludwig van Beethoven (July 27);  Arthur Honegger and Peter Tchaikovsky (Aug. 3).

Here is a link  with more information including links to tickets, rules about behavior and seating, and food options:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Even as it prepares for this summer’s six Concerts on the Square, which start Wednesday night, June 26, and run through August 3, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2016-27 indoor Masterworks season of five classical concerts. It is an impressive lineup that features a local violist who has made it big, Vicki Powell, and the very young violin sensation Julian Rhee, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte with a jaw-dropping reading of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, as well as a guitarist and duo-pianists.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/masterworks

 


Classical music: Tell The Ear what music he should post on the Fourth of July?

July 3, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, the stock markets, banks and many businesses are closed in observance of the Fourth of July.

American Flag

TETRRF-00024113-001

But Saturday is the real Independence Day for the United States of America.

Now, The Ear has some ideas about what classical music to celebrate the event -– and the choices do NOT include the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky or the “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem that started during the French Revolution. Maybe one of the overtures by Ludwig van Beethoven or an aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi would do. Try and see if you can convince me.

But the Ear thinks it would be much more patriotic to have something by an American composer – say Charles Ives (below top) or Aaron Copland (below bottom), William Schuman or Samuel Barber.

Charles Ives BIG

aaron copland

Or maybe Roy Harris or Leonard Bernstein, Joan Tower (below top) or Jennifer Higdon (below bottom) -– would be appropriate and a good choice.

Joan_Tower

Higdon-and-Beau-Candace DiCarlo

But here is your choice to play DJ.

Leave your choice -– with a YouTube link, if possible -– in the COMMENT section.

Then I will decide which choice is most appropriate and best, and post a YouTube video of the work on Saturday to mark the real Fourth of July, the real Independence Day.

Thanks for your help.

I know I have some very knowledgeable readers, so I am looking forward to the seeing and hearing their suggestions.

 

 


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.

The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.

The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.

That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.

Final exams 2

So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.

The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.

The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.

But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.

It may also explain why student who study music  and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.

And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré  and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)

The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.

Here is a link to the story:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day in the U.S. So how did Russian music such as the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky – which will be featured at tonight’s patriotic Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and at the competing Rhythm and Booms celebration — become such a popular and all-American event?

July 3, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight, Wednesday, July 3, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the downtown Capitol Square  in Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square (below), under conductor Andrew Sewell — a native New Zealander who is now a naturalized American citizen — will celebrate the Fourth of July.

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

Also tonight, with fireworks beginning at 9:30 p.m., the radio-broadcast soundtrack for the gigantic regional celebration Rhythm and Booms show (below) in Madison’s Warner Park will no doubt include the same piece, or at least its finale.

For more information about that event, including the official traffic plans,  here is a link: http://www.rhythmandbooms.com

Rhythm and Booms

And tomorrow night, Thursday, July 4, at 7 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will also broadcast PBS’ live coverage of “A Capitol Fourth,” the Fourth of July concert from Capitol Hill and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here is a link with information about the event and the performers, who include singers Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Jackie Evancho as well as composer John Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

http://www.pbs.org/capitolfourth/bios.html

And like Fourth of July concerts all over the country, all of those concerts or musical celebrations  will likely once again end with a rousing version of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky (below) with cannon shots booming and church bells ringing – perhaps with a Sousa march for an encore. (At bottom is the most popular YouTube video of The 1812 Overture that has more than 1.5 million hits.)

Tchaikovsky 1

The rest of tonight’s Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Red, White and Blue” program features piano soloist Michael Mizrahi (below) playing what The Ear calls The Gershwin Card. (Next spring, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also play The Gershwin Card to close its upcoming season that will mark the 20th anniversary of maestro John DeMain‘s tenure.)

Michael Mizrahi

I use the term The Gershwin Card to mean a kind of appealing crossover programming of the tuneful  and jazzy music by George Gershwin (below) that draws big audiences like pops and is easy to digest like pops, but also has a more serious side and is closer to having a classical pedigree than being pops.

gershwin with pipe

In particular, the WCO concert features Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm” Variations as well as Robert Lowden’s “Armed Forces Salute.”

So far, so American!

But how did music celebrating a Russian victory over Napoleon (below, seen in painting retreating in defeat from Moscow) and the French army in 1812 become so emblematic of the Fourth of July and American independence?

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

Well, like the American Revolution itself, the musical tradition started in Boston.

Only much, much later.

Care to take a guess?

Here is a link to the story as told to NPR’s Scott Simon on last Saturday morning’s “Weekend Edition”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/06/29/196682351/why-tchaikovskys-bells-and-cannons-sound-every-july-4

For more information about this second Concert on the Square go to this page, which also has information about the entire series and the remaining four concerts:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/59/event-info/


Classical music: How did Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which celebrates Russia’s victory over Napoleon, became a staple of Fourth of July celebrations in America?

July 4, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is our national holiday: The Fourth of July  — America’s annual Independence Day, which celebrates when the new nation’s Declaration of Independence (below) from Great Britain was issued in 1776.

Every summer, even as they are cheering and applauding the music and fireworks, a lot of Americans ask the same question: How did Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” – complete with ringing bells and booming cannons – become such an integral part of Fourth of July celebrations?

And an integral part of July 4 and Independence Day it certainly is, as you can hear in almost all celebrations and fireworks displays. nJust listen to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square tonight, starting at 7 p.m.

For more information the WCO’s “Star-Spangled Spectacular” concert tonight, visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/38/event-info/

This summer, where the dangerously dry weather doesn’t force officials to cancel fireworks, Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks shows will begin this weekend and go through the week, with some celebrations postponed until August or even September.

And chances are good that most or even all of these will feature the “1812 Overture.”

It was commissioned by the Czar and written by Tchaikovsky (below) to mark Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s invasion. So how did it become such a part of American lore? Even the people who love hearing the music can’t really answer that question. But the answer is easier and makes more sense and is more recent than you might think.

But recently musicologist Jan Swafford recently answered that question on NPR. It was the best and most comprehensive answer that The Ear has ever heard. It eve has a section-by-section analysis of the music with samples.

It is worth reading and especially listening to if you want to know, once and for all, how the famously loud overture was transplanted to the American celebration of Independence Day.

Here is a link complete with musical examples and analysis as well as the historical and artistic context both here and in Russia:

http://www.npr.org/2012/06/24/155597979/the-co-opting-of-tchaikovskys-1812-overture


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