The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear salutes all graduates today and offers THE PROCESSIONAL OF ALL PROCESSIONALS – Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1. Can you think of a better one? Congratulations, grads!

June 13, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison held its commencement ceremonies in May.

But today is when many high schools around the area will hold commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors. The Ear has been invited to parties celebrating two of them.

graduation caps

What music should I offer to post as my congratulations?

I thought of several choices.

But in the end, I come back to the old royal coronation stand-by: “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar (below). By the way, he composed five such marches and some of the others are also pretty good. (Hear them on YouTube.) But No. 1 is The Best.

Edward Elgar

I know! I know!

You’ve all heard it too often.

But its magic – its energy combined with its stateliness and dignity — never fails to stir me.

The Brits just seem to have a special talent for processional marches, much like their gift for pastoral music and musical landscapes.

So here it is, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom from the BBC Proms in 2012. It includes choral singing by the huge crowd that adds to the version. After all, what is the future for graduates if not “The Land of Hope and Glory“?

Is The Ear the only one who gets goosebumps listening to it?

And if you can think of another suitable processional – or even a better one – please leave a note and, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

Happy Graduation to the Class of 2015!


Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it.

May 17, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.

UWcommencement

The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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Classical music: What makes for a really great holiday classical album? NPR asks a Grammy-winning expert. What do you think?

December 13, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

From now to the holidays, we are sure to hear a lot about specific individual recordings that merit your attention as holiday  gifts – from single CDs and DVDs to box sets with dozens of recordings, many of which have been featured here in the past couple of weeks.

But what goes into making a really great and really memorable holiday album?

holidayalbums

Of course, such things are easy to dismiss if you are a really serious “music lover.” But you know what? Many a lesser selling work has been financed by the profits from holiday recordings – and we are not just talking about “Messiah.”

Anyway, what makes for a get holiday album? That is the question that NPR’s terrific classical music blog, “Deceptive Cadence,” put to an expert from the industry who has won dozens of Grammy awards (below).

Now, one smart mouth reader said that all holiday albums boil down to Muzak or elevator music – “not just a melody but a management tool,” as the old motto put it.

I am not so sure, especially given the popularity of holiday-themed concerts. And if you think about it, holiday music is just another form of occasional music — like the wonderful “Pomp and Circumstance” marches by Sir Edward Elgar or the”Royal Water Music” and “Royal Fireworks Music” as well as “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel or “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi or all the cantatas and passions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

grammy award BIG

But here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/27/247348768/confronting-the-ghosts-of-classical-christmas-albums-past

What do you look for in a memorable holiday album?

Music that is new to you?

Interpretations that seem fresh?

A consistency of theme?

Do you have a favorite holiday album, and what is it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: There is more to graduation and commencement — and to British composer Sir Edward Elgar — than “Pomp and Circumstance No. 1.” We need to hear more Elgar.

May 20, 2012
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend once again brings graduation and commencement ceremonies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Other universities, colleges and all kinds of schools all around the country will follow soon.

And many proud graduates, parents, family members and friends will hear the familiar strains of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D Major – which is still a stirring and appropriate choice of music for a processional. It may be a cliché, but it works.

But as a recent NPR interview with Baltimore Symphony conductor Marin Alsop (below) made clear, there is much more to the music of Elgar than that old standby, wonderful as it is.

There is also more, much more, than the “Enigma” Variations and the Cello Concerto, his other two most popular works performed in concert halls.

For example, there is the “Salut d’amour” which the The Ear thinks is one of the most lovely pieces of violin salon music ever composed. It is  at the bottom; take a listen and see if you agree.

But there are also bigger pieces by the relatively untrained Elgar (below) that we should know better and hear more often. Like Brahms, Elgar struggled to write symphonies and composed them later in life – as almost everyone after Beethoven did.

But Marin Alsop takes NPR’s Scott Simon and listeners through a crash course it Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, which I heard conducted here by Kenneth Woods (below), a Madison native and graduate of West High School and the UW who is now the conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan in Cardiff, Wales. Several years ago, Wood returned to Madison to conductor the UW Symphony Orchestra in Symphony No. 1 (below). It proved to be an exciting and enlightening performance by a great Elgar advocate.

I thought the discussion between Alsop and Simon, complete with musical snippets from each movement of the Symphony No. 1, which was premiered in 1908, proved terrific and illuminating. See it and hear it for yourself:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/05/06/151884589/elgars-belated-symphony-majestic-noble-and-perfectly-british

But I was puzzled by one thing: They see Elgar as a great representative of the kind of noble majesty of Edwardian England – and he is. They are 100 percent right on that score.

But neither of them remarked on the devastating effect of World War I, which decimated English society and left a lasting effect on the arts and so much more. World War I changed everything. That’s a major reason why Elgar’s music summons up a different world, a more reassuring and kinder, gentler world, a more stable world based on a strictly stratified and classist society. Think “Downton Abbey.”

Anyway, listen to the discussion and musical excerpts on this NPR broadcast and then let The Ear know what you think and which pieces by Sir Edward Elgar you love best and in what performances.

Maybe we should even make Graduation Weekend each year also  Sir Edward Elgar Weekend, and use it as a time to reconsider his work, which in many ways still remains underestimated and underperformed more than a century later.


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