The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Memorial Day – a good time to remember the civilian dead as well as the military dead. The Ear likes Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” What music would you listen to to mark the holiday?

May 27, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2019, when the nation honors the men and women who died in military service. The Ear would like to see much more attention and remembrance paid to the huge number of civilians — much higher than military personnel and soldiers — who have died in wars and military service, whose lives weren’t given but taken.

In fact, why not establish and celebrate a separate holiday to honor civilian deaths in war? Perhaps it would help to know the detailed history and background of the holiday, since it is not as straightforward or modern as you might expect:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

What piece of classical music would you listen to in order to mark the holiday?

There is a lot to choose from.

The Ear especially likes “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by the early 20th-century French composer Maurice Ravel. It is a “tombeau” – a metaphorical “tomb” or “grave” used by the French to mean paying homage to the dead – in two senses.

Its neo-Classical or neo-Baroque style recalls the 18th-century world of French composers and harpsichordists including Jean-Philippe Rameau and Francois Couperin. But in a second sense, Ravel (below, in 1910) dedicated each of the six movements to a friend – in one case, two brothers — who had died during World War I. So part of its appeal is that it is a very personal statement of grief.

Here is more detailed background about the piece:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_tombeau_de_Couperin

The work was orchestrated later, which added sonic color but cut out two movements. The Ear prefers the original piano version, which seems a little more percussive, austere and straightforward — less pretty but more beautiful, and more in keeping with the holiday by evoking sentiment without sentimentality.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it in a live performance by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.

But there are lots of other works to choose from by many composers: John Adams (“The Wound Dresser” after poetry of Walt Whitman); Samuel Barber (Adagio for Strings); Ludwig van Beethoven (slow movements of Symphonies 3 and 7, and of the Piano Sonata Op. 26); Johannes Brahms (“A German Requiem”); Benjamin Britten (War Requiem);  Frederic Chopin (Funeral March from Sonata No. 2, polonaises, preludes and the “Revolutionary” Etude); Aaron Copland (“Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Letter From Home”); Edward Elgar (“Nimrod” from “Enigma Variations”); Gabriel Faure (Requiem and Elegy for cello); Franz Joseph Haydn (“Mass in Time of War”); Paul Hindemith (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d – A Requiem for Those We Love”);  Charles Ives (Variations on “America” and “Decoration Day”); Henry Purcell (“When I Am Laid in Earth”); John Philip Sousa (“Honored Dead” March); Ralph Vaughan Williams (Symphony No. 3 “Pastoral”); and many others, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a list from the British radio station Classical FM:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/memorial/remembrance-day-music/war-requiem-britten/

Here is a list of patriotic music from Nashville Public Radio:

https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/classical-music-remembrance-and-loss-memorial-day-playlist#stream/0

Here is another list from an American source:

http://midamerica-music.com/blog/five-classical-works-memorial-day/

Here are more sound samples from NPR:

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104341851

And here is another one from Northwest Public Radio:

https://www.nwpb.org/2015/05/22/memorial-day-music-commemorate-celebrate/

What do you think of a holiday commemorating civilian deaths in war?

What favorite piece of classical music would you play and listen to as you mark Memorial Day?

Let us know, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Sonata à Quattro does justice to the spiritual piety and beautiful music in Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ”

April 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

Marika Fischer Hoyt’s newest ensemble is called Sonata à Quattro (below), using the Italian Baroque expression for instrumental works scored for three upper parts and basso continuo. That idiom was the background to the more integrated balance of the string quartet.

It was Franz Joseph Haydn (below) who really consolidated that transformation, and so it was appropriate that the new group should at this early point in its development pay a major tribute to that composer.

Responding to a commission from a Spanish prelate, in 1786-87 Haydn composed a set of seven orchestral adagios  — plus opening and closing pieces — to be played in a Good Friday ceremony celebrating the seven final statements by Christ from the cross (below, in a painting by Diego Velazquez) that are cumulatively reported by the Gospel writers.

At the same time, Haydn made a reduction of those orchestral movements into the string quartet format. That version he published outside his regular sets of string quartets, which had opus numbers.

Especially in the quartet form, this music achieved wide circulation, so much so that several attempts were made by others to create an oratorio out of this music, prompting Haydn himself to make his own oratorio version in 1795-96. Along the way, someone else made a keyboard transcription of the music that Haydn sanctioned.

It was, of course, the string quartet version — The Seven Last Words of Christ — that the Sonata à Quattro performed. It did so, first as part of a Good Friday church service in Milwaukee on April 19, and then as an independent one-hour free and public concert at the Oakwood Village West auditorium last Thursday night.

Fischer Hoyt (below), the group’s founder and violist, gave an introductory talk about the group’s name and about its decisions as to instrumentation.  (It usually plays on period instruments, but chose this time to use modern ones with period bows.) Cellist Charlie Rasmussen added some comments about the music and its history. Violinists  Kangwon Kim and Nathan Giglierano were happy just to play.

Haydn’s music was written in the deepest piety and sincerity, and that comes through in the individual components, which cost him much effort. (You can hear the second half of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The seven Sonatas are framed by a solemn Introduction and a furious evocation of the “earthquake” that we are told followed the death of Jesus. Each successive Sonata is cast in very tight and concentrated sonata form. Haydn makes the Latin form of each statement or “word” the theme of each sonata. In all, the cycle makes the most deeply absorbing combination of spirituality and ingenuity.

The players brought out both those dimensions in a performance of rapt beauty. This score has quite a few recordings, but it is not heard in concert all that often, so it was a treasure to be given this wonderful presentation.

And now we know that Sonata à Quattro has great possibilities to develop.


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Classical music: A busy Sunday at the UW is highlighted by a FREE band concert and a public reception to mark the retirement of legendary band master Mike Leckrone

April 26, 2019
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ALERT: The Madison-based Avanti Piano Trio will give two FREE public concerts this weekend. The first one is TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, off the Capitol Square; the second one is on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 302 Wisconsin Avenue. Members of the trio are violinist Wes Luke, cellist Hannah Wolkstein and pianist Joseph Ross. The program includes works by Leon Kirchner, Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy and Johannes Brahms.

By Jacob Stockinger

As the semester and academic year come to a close, concerts usually get packed into the schedule.

This coming Sunday, April 28, is no different – except that one event is clearly the headliner.

Mike Leckrone (below, in a photo by UW Communications)  – the legendary and much honored director of bands and athletic bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – is retiring after 50 years.

Sunday marks a last appearance. He will conduct the UW Concert Band one last time and then be honored with a public reception.

The athletes and athletic fans love him. The students and band members love him. The alumni love him.

And, yes, the School of Music loves him. After all, not many band directors do what he did when he asked the late UW-Madison violin virtuoso Vartan Manoogian to perform the popular Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn with a band instead of an orchestra. But Manoogian agreed — and said he loved the experience.

Also, not many band directors could start an annual spring concert in Mills Hall with an audience of some 300 and then saw it grow decades later into a three-night extravaganza that packs the Kohl Center with some 50,000 people and gets seen statewide on Wisconsin Public Television.

One time years ago, The Ear — who was then working as a journalist for The Capital Times — interviewed Leckrone. It was a busy year when he and the Marching Band were going with the football and basketball teams to the Rose Bowl and the March Madness tournament.

Mike Leckrone was charming and humorous, open and candid. The interview was so good, so full of information and human interest, that it was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed statewide and nationally.

That’s how big Mike Leckrone’s fan base is. Other schools and bands envied him.

All honor, then, to this man of action and distinction who was also creative and innovative.

Here is more information – but, alas, no program — about the FREE band concert on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-band-spring-concert-2/

For really detailed biographical background about Mike Leckrone and his achievements, go to:

https://news.wisc.edu/mike-leckrone-a-legendary-career/

And here is a statement by Leckrone himself about his approach to teaching and performing as well as his plans for retirement. (You can hear an interview Leckrone did with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://ls.wisc.edu/news/hitting-the-high-notes

Now you may think Leckrone can’t be followed.

But just this past week, the UW-Madison announced that Corey Pompey (below) is Leckrone’s successor. Here is a link to the official announcement, with lots of background about Pompey:

https://news.wisc.edu/new-marching-band-director-to-take-the-baton/

What else is there to say except: Thank you, Mike!

On, Wisconsin!

As for other events at the UW on Sunday:

At 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform a FREE concert.  Darin Olsen, O’Shae Best and Cole Hairston will conduct. No program is listed.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Madrigal Singers (below top) will perform a FREE concert. Bruce Gladstone (below bottom, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct. No word on that program either.


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