The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s summer. Which composers and musical works have been inspired by insects?

July 14, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s summer.

The Ear likes to watch the fireflies or lightning bugs and hear the crickets that come with the season.

But he is much less fond of ants and spiders, of bees and wasps, and especially of mosquitoes, which seem particularly plentiful and aggressive after the very wet spring Wisconsin experienced.

But it turns out that, over many centuries, insects have inspired a lot of composers to write music that mimicked them and their noises and movements.

Professional violist and music educator Miles Hoffman (below) recently discussed insect music on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/627190250/classical-composers-have-been-inspired-for-centuries-by-insects

You can read the printed transcript, but the real fun and learning come if you listen to the audio clip that includes musical excerpts.

Some prominent ones were overlooked or not mentioned, including Romantic composer Robert Schumann’s “Papillons” (Butterflies) for solo piano, which you can hear played by Wilhelm Kempff in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Can you think of other composers and pieces that focus on insects?

Leave the name or title, plus a YouTube link to a performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: NPR explores Opus 1 works to mark Jan. 1 and New Year’s Day

January 3, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, the media look for new ways to mark the holidays and especially New Year’s Day.

One of the best and most original The Ear has seen and heard in a long time came from National Public Radio (NPR).

On Morning Edition, the radio network consulted Miles Hoffman (below), a violist, conductor and educator, about the first works – the Opus 1 works – that various composers published.

Hoffman’s remarks touch on quite a few young composers and prodigies, including Ludwig van Beethoven (below top), Felix Mendelssohn (below middle) and Ernst von Dohnanyi (below bottom).

Here is a link to the story, which should be listened to, and not just read, for the sake of the music and sound samples:

https://www.npr.org/2018/01/01/574932138/on-the-first-day-of-the-new-year-celebrating-composers-opus-one

And from YouTube here are two more Opus 1 works that The Ear would add.

The first is the Rondo in C Minor, Op. 1, by a young Frédéric Chopin (below, in a drawing from Getty Images) and performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy. It shows just how early Chopin had found his own style and his own distinctive voice:

And here are the “Abegg” Variations by critic-turned-composer Robert Schumann (below), played by Lang Lang:

Can you think of other Opus 1 works to add to the list?

Please leave the composer’s name, the work’s title and a YouTube link to a performance, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Famed pianist Byron Janis reached out for Chopin. Did Chopin return the favor from beyond the grave?

August 28, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, The Ear posted a story by pianist Jeremy Denk that, to his mind, did the best job ever of explaining why the music of Frederic Chopin appeals so universally.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/classical-music-pianist-jeremy-denk-explains-why-we-love-the-music-of-chopin/

Then more recently The Ear heard another story that involved the famed pianist Byron Janis (below), who studied with Vladimir Horowitz when he was a teenager.

He then went on to a spectacular virtuosic career before his hands were partially crippled by severe psoriatic arthritis. (You can hear him play less virtuosic music very poetically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Through his piano playing and his library searches, Janis has reached out to Chopin, with some impressive results, including discovering lost manuscripts of famous waltzes.

But more surprising is Janis’ claim that, through a death mask, Chopin has returned the favor from beyond the grave and reached out to him in a paranormal or supernatural way.

The story was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR). It aired on the Saturday version of Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, and then was posted on the blog Deceptive Cadence.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/05/541575050/chopin-in-the-shadows-the-supernatural-adventures-of-byron-janis

What do you think?

Do you believe Byron Janis’ story and explanation?

What do you think of his Chopin playing?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Would you believe that seeing a musician perform WITHOUT SOUND is a better predictor of competition success than hearing the performance? That’s what a new study tells us.

August 24, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It turns out that composer Igor Stravinsky (below) was on to something when he urged people to listen to live performances of music with their eyes open.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

But The Ear is betting that even he did not realize just what he was on to since maybe all you need is eyes.

So let me put the question to you:

How could you best predict the winner of a music competition? By using: A) audio only; B) visuals only; or C) audio and visuals.

I would have answered probably A followed by C.

And I suspect so would many of you.

But a new study says we would be wrong.

The correct the answer is definitely B.

That’s right. The music doesn’t matter after all. Don’t even listen. Forget the music.  Just look! Or if you are a contestant, just send in a silent video.

It turns out that even very experienced professional musicians – yes, including the judges of competitions — did better using silent visuals than other sources including the combination of audio and visual.

Not surprisingly, a number of classical music websites have been buzzing with news of the study.

But the best summary I know of so far was done by NPR’s “Morning Edition”’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam (below) who also blogs on the website www.hidden brain.org. Here is a link you can use to listen to his story (don’t just look at his picture):

http://www.npr.org/2013/08/20/213551358/how-to-win-that-music-competition-send-a-video

Shankar Vedantam NPR

And here is another good version from the Harvard Gazette of Harvard University where pianist and human behavioral psychologist specializing in organizational behavior Chia Jung-Tsay (below in a photo by Kris Snibbe) was a co-researcher of the surprising study:

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/08/the-look-of-music/

022411_Tsay_872.JPG

And to think I always enjoyed and emulated the non-emotive and regally quiet bearing of pianists Arthur Rubinstein (below) and Vladimir Horowitz, of violinists Jascha Heifetz and Itzhak Perlman.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

I do wonder if an earlier generation, less used to social media and YouTube, would have yielded different results. But we won’t ever know, will we?

So perhaps the Liberace-like flamboyant gestures and physical antics or performing style of the superstar Lang Lang (below) have their place in communicating musical beauty after all.

Lang Lang performing

 

 


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