The Well-Tempered Ear

Which classical composer has helped you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?

January 4, 2021
6 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays are over and as we close in on marking a year of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, The Ear has a question:

Which composer has helped you the most to weather the pandemic so far?

The Ear wishes he could say Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin or Brahms. And the truth is that they all played a role, some more than others.

But The Ear was surprised by the composer whose works he most listened to and liked — Antonio Vivaldi (below), the Red Priest of Venice who lived from 1678 to 1714 and taught at a Roman Catholic girls school.

Here is more about his biography, which points out that his work was neglected for two centuries and began being rediscovered only in the early 20th-century and still continues being rediscovered to the present day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Vivaldi

The Ear isn’t talking about popular The Four Seasons although that set of 12 solo violin concertos has its charms and originalities.

The Ear especially appreciated the lesser-known concertos for two violins and the cello concertos, although the concertos for bassoon, flute, recorder, oboe, lute, trumpet and mandolin also proved engaging, as did the concerto grosso.

It was the 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky (below) – the modern pioneer of neo-Classicism — who complained that Vivaldi rewrote the same concerto 500 times. “Vivaldi,” Stravinsky once said, “is greatly overrated – a dull fellow who could compose the same form many times over.”

But then did anyone turn to Stravinsky – who, The Ear suspects, was secretly envious — when they needed music as medicine or therapy during the pandemic? 

Vivaldi was, in fact, a master. See and hear for yourself.  In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, RV 535,  performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Why Vivaldi? You might ask.

Well, it’s nothing highbrow.

The best explanation is that Vivaldi’s music simply seems like caffeine for the ears and sunshine for the eyes. His music isn’t overly introspective or glum, and it isn’t too long or melodramatic.

The melodies and harmonies are always pleasing and energizing, and the tempi are just right, although bets are that the music is much harder to play than it sounds.

In short, Vivaldi’s extroverted music is infectious and appealing because it just keeps humming along — exactly as those of us in lockdown and isolation at home have had to do.

Happily, there are a lot of fine recordings of Vivaldi by period instrument groups from England, Italy and Germany and elsewhere that use historically informed performance practices. But some the most outstanding recordings are by modern instrument groups, which should not be overlooked.

With a few exceptions – notably Wisconsin Public Radio – you don’t get to hear much Vivaldi around here, especially in live performances, even from early music and Baroque ensembles. If you hear Vivaldi here, chances are it is The Four Seasons or the Gloria. Should there be more Vivaldi? Will we hear more Vivaldi when live concerts resume? That is a topic for another time.

In the meantime, The Ear wants to know:

Which composer did you most listen to or find most helpful throughout the pandemic?

Leave your choice in the comment section with, if possible, a YouTube link to a favorite work and an explanation about why you liked that composer and work.

The Ear wants to hear.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

 


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Classical music: As we say goodbye to summer, YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Irish composer Joan Trimble’s “Pastorale” homage to the summery French composer Francis Poulenc

August 26, 2019
5 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

One week from today is Labor Day.

So it is time to start saying goodbye to summer and hello to fall — even though the autumnal equinox won’t arrive until Monday, Sept. 23, at 2:50 a.m. CDT.

The Ear’s favorite summertime composer is the French master Francis Poulenc (below), whose accessible and tuneful music possesses in abundance that Gallic sense of lightness and lyricism, of wit and charm, of modern Mozartean classicism and clarity — complete with trills and ornaments — that seems so appropriate to the summer season.

But then recently on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard for the first time something inspired by Poulenc that he thinks many of you will appreciate, especially during the transition between the seasons.

It is, appropriately, a 2-1/2 minute “Pastorale” for two  pianos – a form Poulenc himself used in his most famous piano concerto — by the underplayed and little known Irish 20th-century composer and pianist Joan Trimble (below). And it has many of the same qualities that distinguish Poulenc.

Here is a link to a Wikipedia entry with more about Trimble: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Trimble

You can hear her homage to Poulenc in the YouTube video, from a Marco Polo CD distributed by Naxos Records, that is below.

Here’s hoping you enjoy it.

If you have a reaction, positive or negative, please share it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The 24th annual Bard Music Festival finishes its look at the modernist titan composer Igor Stravinsky with an exploration of his late work. Here is a report by The New York Times critic Steve Smith.

August 25, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

As I promised last weekend, here is the update on the conclusion of the 24th annual Bard Music Festival held at Bard College in the Hudson River Valley.

Much or even most of the festival is directed by Bard College president Leon Bostein. Concerts are held in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts (below) that was designed by the noted architect Frank Gerhy.

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

This year’s theme was Igor Stravinsky, and the first weekend of the festival examined his Russian roots and his earlier work. Last weekend I offered the insightful account and assessment by The New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe, who has been named by some sources — including famed critic Norman Lebrecht — as the designated successor to senior music critic Anthony Tommasini.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/classical-music-this-weekend-will-bring-the-conclusion-of-the-exciting-and-intriguing-bard-music-festival-that-this-year-is-exploring-the-music-and-world-of-igor-stravinsky/

Lass weekend saw the conclusion of “Stravinsky and His World.”  It examined later works, with an emphasis on his neo-Classical works (listen to the tuneful clarity of the YouTube video of Stravinsky’s “Pulchinella” Suite at the bottom performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic); the composer’s and culture’s reaction against Richard Wagner and the lushness of late Romanticism as well; and the general career and music of Stravinsky (below, in a  photo by Richard Avedon) while he was in exile in France and the U.S.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

The activities included a performance of “Perspehone” with Jean Stillwell as the narrator (below in a photo by Cory Weaver of the New York Times).

Bard Music Festival 2013 Stravinsky's %22Persephone%22 with Jean Stilwell as narrator and the American Symphony Orchestra CR Cory Weaver NYT

Also performing was the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein (below).

Leon Botstein Bard Music Festival

Here is a link to another perceptive assessment by another critic for The New York Times, Steve Smith (below):

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/arts/music/bard-music-festival-focuses-on-works-in-france-and-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Steve Smith New York TImes

I’m sure the festival was filled with great music, great performances and rare insights.

For that reason as I wrote last time, the Bard Music Festival is one that really tempts me. What other festival would treat music more as philosophy and history and less as entertainment? What other festival would devote itself, for example, to Camille Saint-Saens or Jean Sibelius?


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