The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: More cold and snow are on the way today. Has any composer captured arctic austerity better than Debussy?

January 14, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Looks like more severe cold is on the way later tonight and tomorrow, this time accompanied by one to three inches of snow.

The Ear is sure a lot of readers know of and can suggest music that expresses such a wintry mood.

So far, the best and most haunting interpretation he has heard is “Footprints in the Snow” (Des pas dans la neige) by the French musical Impressionist Claude Debussy (below). It is the sixth of 12 in Debussy’s Preludes, Book 1.

A lot of versions by very famous pianists exist and can be found on YouTube.

But the moodiest ones that really attract the Ear are the slowest ones that imitate the motionlessness of severe cold and the austerity of snow – amounting to a kind of stasis or suspended animation. It can almost seem like Minimalism ahead of its time.

The best reading is done by the great Italian master Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below), who follows the composer’s tempo instructions of “slow and sad” very literally. It reminds him of the title of the first novel by the American writer Ann Beattie: “Chilly Scenes of Winter.” You can feel the sense of absence and frozen mystery.

Take a listen and tell us what you think or if you have other suggestions.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What music best expresses the “bomb-cyclone” and Arctic blasts?

January 6, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Weather-wise, the past couple of weeks have been unforgettable and, in many ways, unbearable.

First, around Christmas, we had one bitterly cold Arctic blast.

Then after New Year’s Day came the massive “bomb-cyclone” that brought snow and ice, high winds and flooding, to the East Coast all the way from Florida to Maine.

Next came another Arctic blast – that put most of the country into the deep freeze with sub-zero temperatures that broke records over a century old.

(How, The Ear wonders, does the Arctic blast differ from the Polar Vortex of a few years ago? And who invents such colorful names that certainly seem new.)

Such extreme wintry weather has brought misery, hardship and even death to wherever it struck.

With luck, the coming week will see a return to more normal temperatures and more normal winter weather.

Still, the past few weeks got The Ear to wondering: What music best expresses such extreme kind of winter weather?

The highly virtuosic and aptly named “Winter Wind” Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, by Frederic Chopin came to mind. Its swirling notes suggest the howling wind and bitter cold while the minor-key melody has a certain dirge-like or funereal quality to it.

You can hear it played by Evgeny Kissin in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear is sure that many readers could suggest other musical depictions of extreme winter weather.

So please leave the name of the composer, the title of the work and, if possible, a link to a YouTube video performance at the bottom.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What is the best music to listen to in sub-zero cold weather?

January 6, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, I know three of the pieces I will NOT be listening to this week: the “Alpine” Symphony by Richard Strauss, the “Sinfonia Antarctica” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and the “Winter Wind” etude by Chopin.

BRRRRRRRR.

This week, we in the Upper Midwest are getting a typical January blast from the Arctic. The low temp last night was -11 degree F. As I am writing, the temperature has risen all the way to -8.

sub-zero weather

It will get above zero today. Briefly.

But then another winter Arctic front moves in and we again drop done below zero again with absolute temps down to -20 and wind chills down to -50 or more. On Wednesday, the daytime high will be -3.

So it seems The Ear will be logging quite a lot of indoor time since no warm up is in store until the weekend.

Hence The Ear’s Question of the Week: When the weather is this dangerously cold and you end up pretty much housebound, what is the music you like to listen to?

Sometimes I want to explore a new piece or a new composer.

But often, feeling deprived of normal activities, I want the comfort of listening to something familiar and maybe a little passionate and Romantic, which translates into “heated.” For one example, look below at the YouTube video of pianist Arthur Rubinstein playing the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52, by Chopin.

Of course, one could choose works on a grander scale such as symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven or Gustav Mahler, concertos by Robert Schumann or Peter Tchaikovsky, oratorios by George Frideric Handel, masses and requiems, and of course operas by Verdi and Puccini.

Or perhaps, like me, you favor a more intimate but collaborative rather than solo genre -– perhaps a string quartet or the piano trio, one of my favorites. I find the music of Franz Schubert so friendly and empathetic.

There is also some about the music of the Baroque and Classical eras that seems light, rational, clear-headed and reassuring. Something like Comfort Food for the Ears.

So perhaps I will put on some music by Johann Sebastian Bach or some of my favorite chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A week like this could also be a good start on listening to a series, something like all the symphonies or string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn or all the piano concertos of Mozart.

Another good choice would be to set out to explore the 550 sunny Italian-Spanish keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

Maybe it is an instrument that provides a respite from the cold — perhaps the guitar.

Anyway: Don’t be shy. Help us get through this bitter cold snap. Please use the Comment section to let The Ear and other readers know what you are listening to in weather like this -– or what you think you would listen to. Or what we should listen to. Include a link to a YouTube performance, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: On Saturday night, the University of Wisconsin-Madison percussion group Clocks in Motion will celebrate its inaugural recording with a concert of highlights from the current season.

April 3, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, the acclaimed and recently formed local percussion group, Clocks In Motion, will celebrate a landmark that area fans and all classical musicians can be proud of.

Here is the press release:

“Clocks in Motion, a cutting-edge new music ensemble from Madison, Wisconsin, will present an expansive program featuring highlights from the 2013-14 concert season, as well as selections from their upcoming debut CD album, “Escape Velocity.”

“Clocks in Motion (below in performance in 2013) consists of percussionists Dave Alcorn, Sean Kleve, Michael Koszewki, James McKenzie and Joseph Murfin plus Jennifer Hedstrom, pianist and percussionist, and conductor Matthew Schlomer.

clocks in motion in concert

“The concert is this coming Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at Bright Red Studios (below), located at 9 Ingersoll Street in Madison. Admission is $10 for the general public; free with a valid student ID.

Bright Red Studios

“The program will feature captivating performances of works by innovative composers: John Luther Adams, John Cage, John Jeffrey Gibbens, Paul Lansky, and Marc Mellits.

Drums of Winter” is a movement from the breathtaking multimedia composition, “Earth and the Great Weather” by John Luther Adams (below). This genre-defying piece depicts the Arctic landscapes of Northern Alaska, and Clocks in Motion will perform a shattering and powerful drum selection.

John Luther Adams

“Paul Lansky has said that the aim of his percussion quartet, “Threads,” is to “highlight the wide range of qualities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous ‘thread.’”

paul lansky

Third Construction” by John Cage (below) features a wildly diverse instrumentation. Clocks in Motion will use tin cans, maracas, claves, cowbells, Indo-Chinese rattles, quijadas, cricket callers, a conch shell, ratchets, and various drums in this singular and innovative 1941 work.

John Cage and cat

“John Jeffrey Gibbens (below) is a living composer in Madison whose marimba solo, “Travelling Music,” was only just premiered on March 13.  The vast complexities of this 12-tone work result in some entertaining choreography for the performer and a rich experience for the listener.

Clocks in Motion John Jefffey Gibbens cr MiltLeidman

“The new mallet quintet, “Gravity,” by Marc Mellits (below) was commissioned in part by Clocks in Motion in 2013.  This piece features Mellits’ pop-minimalistic style with driving rhythms and lush harmonies.  The sectional work builds in intensity, resulting in a climactic and satisfying ending.  

marc mellits 1

“Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com), Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

With a fearless and uncompromising ear to programming challenging and adventurous contemporary percussion ensemble repertoire, Clocks in Motion (below in a photo by Megan Alley) consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater and computer technology.

Clocks in Motion Group Photo 2 cr Megan Alley

“Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

“Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate the young audiences of the future through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The individual members of Clocks in Motion’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of musical styles including, rock, jazz, contemporary classical music, orchestral percussion, marching percussion, and world music styles. (Listen for yourself to the YouTube posting at the bottom.)

“Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as the ensemble in residence with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music percussion studio.

“For more information, including boomings, recordings, videos, concert/residency schedule, and repertoire, please visit www.clocksinmotionpercussion.com.”

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