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: Classical musicians take up the cause of Black Lives Matter

July 13, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music can easily appear isolated from current events and social issues these days, more of a shelter or sanctuary or retreat than an engagement.

Pop, rock, country and rap music often seem much more timely and symptomatic or even concerned and supportive.

But classical music has often shown a social conscience.

One thinks of the composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein and his support of those protesting the Vietnam War and of black power advocates – efforts that often drew criticism and sarcasm from those who disagreed.

Something similar seems to be happening today with the Black Lives Matter movement and classical musicians in the wake of the Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas shootings, death and murders.

Black Lives Matter Dallas

Here is a story from The New York Times that explores the connections:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/arts/music/for-black-lives-matter-classical-music-steps-in.html?_r=0


Classical music: Today is Memorial Day 2016. What what classical music would you play? And should civilians be included and honored along with the military?

May 30, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2016, originally called Decoration Day because people placed flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died or been killed.

memorial day

But as Decoration Day turned into Memorial Day to honor all military personnel, including the living, the holiday has also become the occasion for marches and parades, for picnics and start-of-summer celebrations.

chicago memorial day parade

What music would you play to best honor the occasion and those who served, were wounded or fell?

The Ear has looked for new compilations.

So far, the best one remains, after five years, one that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR:

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

It comes with names and audio clips.

What pieces of classical music would you choose?

But here is a more controversial question: Should we also include and honor civilians on Memorial Day?

Modern wars — World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan — have turned countless civilians into fatalities and casualties. In fact, in many cases, civilian casualties of war far outnumber military ones.

It is inarguable: Modern wars have drafted or conscripted or forced civilians into action, and not just into the military.

The Ear does not think that honoring civilians who were injured or fell in the wars detracts from honoring veterans and the members of the military who did so.

Maybe civilians should even have their own day to mark and honor their sacrifices?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players announces its second summer season. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann”

April 17, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to hear the Madison Opera‘s production of Jacques Offenbach‘s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

Here are two preview posts that appeared here:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/classical-music-jacques-offenbachs-fantastical-masterpiece-the-tales-of-hoffmann-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-performs-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-here-is-part/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/classical-music-its-easy-and-wrong-to-underestimate-offenbachs-tales-of-hoffmann-it-is-literally-fantastic-but-not-light-it-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-on-friday/

Here is a review written by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog WhatGregSays and Madison Magazine:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/making-a-spectacle-of-themselves/

And here is a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/opera-review-hoffmann-pines-drinks-and-chases-skirts-in-madison/article_8c998a0e-038d-11e6-8a1a-3b3aba924b6d.html

By Jacob Stockinger

No new classical music group generated more great buzz last year than The Willy Street Chamber Players. And that enthusiasm was shared by The Ear, who can’t recall hearing anyone or anything being negative about the group’s inaugural season.

Here is a link to one rave review, written by John W. Barker for this blog, that focused on astounding performance of the famous Octet by Felix Mendelssohn and a Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/classical-music-the-willies-the-willy-street-chamber-players-excel-in-bach-and-mendelssohn-at-the-last-concert-of-the-new-groups-inaugural-season/

A friend of The Ear who plays with the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) sends the following word:

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Newcomers to the Madison classical music scene, the critically acclaimed group The Willy Street Chamber Players, will be returning to the stage for a second season this July.

The group will perform four concerts at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), 1021 Spaight St., and season tickets are available now.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

Here is a link to the updated events page:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/events1.html

This summer’s concerts will include fresh performances of time-honored classics. They include the Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the fiery “Souvenir de Florence” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The season will also include works that will be new to many Madison audience members.

Guest artists include violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; clarinetist Joe Morris (below middle), who is leaving the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and UW-Madison graduate student pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom).

suzanne beia

Joseph Morris principal clarinet MSO

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

New this season will be a performance given in partnership with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art on the evening of Friday, July 22, 2016.

MMOCA icon 3

That’s when the Willy Street Chamber Players will present the monumental work, “Black Angels,” composed by George Crumb (below) for electric string quartet, in what promises to be an unforgettable performance.

Written in response to the Vietnam War, this avant-garde work requires players to amplify their instruments, speak with their mouths, perform with extended techniques, play on crystal glasses and more. (You can hear Part 1 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

George Crumb

In the meantime, you can hear the group live on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s Midday Show with Norman Gilliland (below) on this Thursday, April 21, at noon. This special broadcast will be performed in front of a live studio audience in celebration of the Midday Show’s 25th anniversary.

Gilliland_Norman_100

Visit www.willystreetchamberplayers.org for 2016 season details, tickets and more.


Classical music: What music will you listen to on Memorial Day? The Ear offers several stirring stories about music and Memorial Day, from Walt Whitman and the Civil War through World War II to the Twin Towers and the War of Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

May 26, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2014

My Mom always referred to it as Decoration Day

I liked that name. It seemed to fit the occasion better.

army grave with flag and flowrds istock photo

To be honest, The Ear has always liked the idea of honoring military service, but is much less inclined to celebrate unabashed militarism with parades and flag-waving (below is a photo of a Memorial Day parade in Chicago).

I think of Memorial Day as a sadder, more introspective and memory-driven holiday, as well as the traditional start of summer -– which, especially after a Wisconsin winter like the last one, is nothing to apologize for.

chicago memorial day parade

In any case, here is a link to an informative but very accessible history of the holiday that also highlights the important difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day:

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

graves with flags USE day

But putting history aside for a moment, how would you celebrate the holiday artistically, especially musically?

That is what The Ear wants to know.

Every year, the excellent blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR offers its musical take on Memorial Day. This year is no different and NPR has chosen some moving words and music that you should check out:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/24/315107700/asleep-in-dress-blues-music-for-memorial-day

But over the past years, The Well-Tempered Ear has also offered previous blog posts – some offering suggested listening, others seeking it — that still seem relevant and still invite readers to participate.

Here is one from last year:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/classical-music-for-you-what-classical-music-best-celebrates-memorial-day/

And here is a link to memorable 2011 posting, which made a lot of suggestions for composers and specific works, then asked for reader feedback and also featured the moving version of Sir Edward Elgar’s beautifully poignant “Nimrod” Variation from the “Enigma” Variations (heard in the original orchestration  at the bottom in a YouTube video that has almost 2,5 million hits and features Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and Norah Jones in her “Hymn to America,” both used convincingly and touchingly in Ken Burns’ mammoth documentary film “The War”:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/classical-and-classic-what-music-do-you-think-best-expresses-memorial-day/

Finally, here is a stirring story, much of it previously unknown to me, about the history of “Taps” that appeared on NPR:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/classical-music-for-memorial-day-and-as-a-tribute-to-all-veterans-here-is-the-long-and-moving-history-of-taps-from-npr/

TAPS Getty Images

What music comes to your mind and heart when you think of Memorial Day?

The Ear wants to hear.

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