The Well-Tempered Ear

Did any composer ever capture the quiet, timeless and motionless cold of deep winter better than Debussy?

February 9, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was one of those deep subzero days of the polar vortex that we seem locked in now right now.

The Ear looked out a window.

It was a chilly scene of winter, as the American writer Ann Beattie once described it.

The Ear saw the snow piled up.

He listened to the windless quiet.

Time, like motion, seemed to stop– or at least slow down — in the severe cold.

He saw tracks in the snow.

He couldn’t say whether they came from a rabbit or a squirrel or some other critter.

But it brought to mind a piano prelude by Debussy (below) that contains a kind of frozen minimalism.

Life was once again imitating art, as Oscar Wilde once observed, remarking that “there was no fog in London until the Impressionists painted it.”

Has any piece ever captured the cold, the quiet, the feeling of time and motion slowing down or stopping as Debussy did in “Des pas dans la neige” (Tracks in the Snow)?

Especially as it was played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below) who, like Sviatoslav Richter, wasn’t afraid to risk taking a slower-than-usual tempo if it right felt right and created the appropriate  atmosphere. (You can hear Michelangeli playing the Debussy prelude in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Do you agree about the Debussy piece?

About Michelangeli’s interpretation?

Do you know of another piece that captures the Arctic cold spell we are in?

Please leave a comment and a YouTube link, if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Stay safe and warm.

 


Classical music: UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger wins a national grant for her new opera and just completed a residency with the Richmond Symphony

May 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Artemisia, a new opera based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), is a recipient of an OPERA GRANT FOR FEMALE COMPOSERS from OPERA America, the nation’s leading champion for American opera.

Laura Schwendinger 2

The awards were announced last week and are supported by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Seven composers and seven opera companies were awarded a total of $200,000.

Artemisia, Schwendinger’s new opera is based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 –1656), and an important follower of Caravaggio with her father Orazio.

Artemisia was the first women member of the Accademia del Arte, Florence. When 16, Artemisia was raped by Agostino Tassi, while studying with the elder painter. Tassi was sentenced to prison, after Artemisia’s father Orazio pushed for Tassi’s prosecution, but Tassi never served time in prison.

The case overshadowed Artemisia’s achievements for years. However, today she is regarded as one of the greatest painters of her time. Below top is her “Woman Playing a Lute” (1609-1612) and her self-portrait (ca. 1630).

Laura Schwendinger Artemisia Gentileschi Self-Portrait as a Lute Player

Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait c1630

The opera is a co-commission by Trinity Wall Street Novus, N.Y., and by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco, California.

Librettist Ginger Strand (below), is a writer and author of four books including her acclaimed new book “The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic” from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

ginger strand

Composer Schwendinger has just returned from her successful residency with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, where her “Waking Dream” was played on their 2016 Altria Masterworks Series, with principal flutist Mary Boodell as flute soloist and Steven Smith conducting at the Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Arts Center.

Her residency was made possible through Music Alive: New Partnerships, a residency program of New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. During her week-long residency, Schwendinger gave presentations of her music to hundreds of high school students at seven schools in the Richmond area.

Laura Schwendinger Richmond Symphony brighter

She also heard a rehearsal of her Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra commission “Animal Rhapsody,” as well as being interviewed on WCVE Public Radio Richmond and discussing “Waking Dream” in a pre-Richmond Symphony concert interview with Maestro Smith. (You can hear her discuss the work with Smith in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to the interview:

http://ideastations.org/music/classical/composer-laura-schwendinger-visits-richmond-symphony

Laura Schwendinger Richmond WCVE interview with Mike Goldberg

“Waking Dream” received a glowing review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Clarke Bustard wrote:

“Laura Elise Schwendinger’s “Waking Dream” for flute and orchestra, being performed this weekend by the Richmond Symphony and its principal flutist, Mary Boodell, audibly echoes the Debussy — might even be heard as an “answer song” to the prelude — and not just because the flute is the lead voice of both pieces. Some of Debussy’s trademark orchestration techniques, such as single high notes dotting a soundscape of very low tones, shimmering string figures that evoke rippling water and pregnant or resonant silences, are what make “Waking Dream” sound so dreamy. The elaborated fanfares that are among solo flute’s chief contributions to the piece also harken back to Debussy and the Impressionists.”

Here is a link to the full review:

http://www.richmond.com/entertainment/music/article_6b058f07-7c76-5419-8bf8-4836e1117a9a.html


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