The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

September 18, 2016
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.

It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.

It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.

(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)

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The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”

The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.

It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.

But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.

And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.

Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.

Here is a link:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/ncole78/20169/19726/

The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.

In the meantime, The Ears asks:

Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?

Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?

Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: What do the Olympics and classical music have in common – and what sets them far apart?

August 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Sunday.

That means more weekend ahead of us – and, for millions or even billions of people around, more watching the London Olympic Games ahead of us.

Some past posts have recently explored parallels between athleticism at the Olympics and athleticism in classical music.

Yesterday I also posted a “Deceptive Cadence” quiz by NPR that allowed people to match Olympic sports to classical music and characters in it.

But another fascinating blog about the London Olympics is by one of the most intelligent and original or creative bloggers about classical music: the virtuoso and prize-winning British pianist Stephen Hough.

Hough writes about every thing, from tips about playing ht epiano and his current concert tours to religion and politics.

But he recently wrote an extremely interesting post in which he discussed surface parallels to the Olympic Games, but also deeper differences — especially when it comes to competitiveness and notions of “winning.”

Below is a link to his blog in The Guardian about the Olympic Games. Enjoy what he says—and be sure to read the many informative comments form his readers:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100065435/the-olympics-sport-music-winning-vulnerability/

And let The Ear and Hough know what you think of what he says by leaving a remarl in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: Take NPR’s Olympics Quiz. Can you match the right piece of classical music or the right character in classical music to the right Olympic sport?

August 4, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s the weekend again.

This summer and at the time of this summer, that means there will be a lot of Olympic watching of the London Olympics on the TV and over the Internet.

In keeping with that reality and with the spirit of the competition, NPR’s always creative “Deceptive Cadence” blog has once again come up with an original approach: A quiz (also called a Quizzler) that allows readers — and listeners — to match the right piece of classical music or the right character in classical music with the right Olympic sport.

As an Armchair Olympian, can you score a Bullseye or two?

It reminds The Ear of the kind of clever teasers and questions you hear during the intermission Opera Quizzes on the live radio broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/27/157490137/the-2012-classical-olympians-puzzler

It is short enough that you can even do it during a break or an ad.

So enjoy! And please send in any other suggestions of questions and answers that you might have for a similar quiz to the COMMENT section.

NPR might even use your suggestion in Version 2.0 next weekend – when the Olympic Games this summer come to an end – or in four years.


Classical music: The 2012 Summer Olympic Games officially open in London today – and here is guide to all you need to know about music and the Olympics.

July 27, 2012
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the official opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Sure, some of the events have already started. But the really big American and even global audiences will begin today and tonight with the broadcasting of the always spectacular opening ceremony and Parade of Nations.

Beyond the ever-present and irresistible trumpet fanfare, music has always played a major role in the modern Olympics Games right from their beginning at the end of the 19th century in Greece through Atlanta, Barcelona, Beijing and now London.

Composers such as Leo Arnaud,  Miwaukee-born Michael Torke (below), Philip Glass, John Williams and Leonard Bernstein have all written occasional music for the Olympic Games.

But the Olympics have also played a role in pushing non-classical and classical composers composers closer together, and in fostering “fusion” music that mixes genres, by incorporating composers as diverse as Ravi Shankar, Sir Edward Elgar and Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen.

So, NPR’s terrific “Deceptive Cadence” blog has done it again by offering readers a thorough and engaging history of music and the Olympics — complete with many audio clips.

Here is a link to the in-depth story done by blog master Tom Huizenga that aired on Thursday’s edition of “All Things Considered.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/26/157235593/a-know-it-alls-guide-to-olympic-music

I hope you find this as enjoyable and informative as The Ear did.

And if you have additional information or questions, be sure leave something in the COMMENT section.

And finally here is my favorite piece of Olympics music: “Javelin” by Michael Torke.

What Olympics music most moves you?

Let the Games Begin.


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