The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens its 26th season with a bang worthy of its name. Plus, TONIGHT the Willy Street Chamber Players open the summer season of the Rural Musicians Forum in Spring Green

June 12, 2017
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A REMINDER: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, six members of the Willy Street Chamber Players will open the summer season of the Rural Musicians Forum. The program features works by Johannes Brahms, American composer Charles Ives, and Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. A free-will donation will be requested. The Hillside Theater is located at 6604 County Highway 23, Spring Green. For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum, go to: http://ruralmusiciansforum.org/home

By Jacob Stockinger

This guest review is by a new contributor, Kyle Johnson (below). As a pianist since elementary school, Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s 26th season — themed “Alphabet Soup” for 26 letters — began on Friday evening at the historic Stoughton Opera House (below bottom) with a program of underprogrammed French, German and Russian works.

BDDS is led by artistic directors (below) Stephanie Jutt, UW-Madison’s newly-retired flute professor and principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Jeffrey Sykes, pianist of the San Francisco Piano Trio who studied at the UW-Madison. The two musicians assembled a “dynamite” group of musicians for their opening concert.

First on the program was Médailles antiques (Old Medals) for flute, violin and piano from 1916 by Philippe Gaubert (below). Like the weather throughout the day on Friday, the piece provided a sunny and spry start to the program in the centennial year of World War I.

At times, I wanted the ends of phrases to have a little more stretch and grace to them. However, the richness of sound from each musician, as well as the ensemble’s superb blend, made up for any small qualm I may have had.

The next piece, Gideon Klein’s String Trio (1944), featured three “apprentice” musicians from BDDS’s Dynamite Factory. Violinist Misha Vayman (below top), violist Jeremy Kienbaum (below middle) and cellist Trace Johnson (below bottom) are the program fellows for this year’s series.

Striking about the work was Klein’s musical optimism amid stark reality – the piece was written at the Auschwitz concentration camp just a few months before the death of the composer (below).

The Dynamite Factory artists gave a spirited rendition of the weighty work, which at times resembles the rollicking intensity of Bela Bartok’s folk dances.

Before the intermission, the audience was treated to Sergei Prokofiev’s chilling Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, for violin and piano. Like the preceding piece, Prokofiev’s sonata was written during the strife of World War II. (You can hear the first movement, played by Maxim Vengerov, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Prokofiev labeled one passage at the end of the first movement as “wind passing through a graveyard”; the passage (a series of quick violin scales) returns at the close of the piece. Under the hands of violinist Carmit Zori (below top) and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below bottom), the sonata seemed both devastating and human.

A brief, unprogrammed presentation began the second half of the concert, which was a performance of “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the oratorio Solomon by George Frideric Handel.

The work was lauded and produced by the Fourth Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1700s. Fittingly, during the music, characters clad in 18th-century attire roamed the Stoughton Opera House to hand out sandwiches.

Last on the program was Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26, played by violinist Zori; Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below top); Toronto Symphony principal cellist Joseph Johnson (below bottom); and pianist Sykes.

The quartet brimmed with musical swells and overlapping layers of sound. There are a number of memorable themes that allow the listener to simply ride the wave of sound throughout the 40-minute work.

All of the musicians were fully deserving of the ovation (below, in a photo by Kyle Johnson) they received in Stoughton, as all technical demands were met with superb musicality and passion.

Future BDDS concerts run through June 25 and are not to be missed! For more information about programs and about performers, performance dates, times and venues, go to www.bachdancing.org

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra takes The Ear over the rainbow and turns in an impressive season-closing concert that leaves him looking forward to the next season

May 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) just keeps getting better and better, each concert building on the last one.

Take the final concert of this season last Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

It proved typical WCO fare in the quality of the soloists and orchestra players and in the variety of the program.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) continues to mold his group into the tightest of ensembles. You know you are hearing precision when the rests and silences become as important to the music as the sound. And when you are listening, you feel how relaxing it is to rule out worrying about raggedness.

Here’s a rundown:

The concert opened with a tried-and-true masterpiece, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel (below). Each of the five dance movements pays homage to a friend of Ravel who fell in World War I, the centennial of which, the gracious Sewell explained, is being marked this year. The Ear likes such tie-ins. (The Ear also loves the original piano version, which has a sixth movement, a fabulous toccata conclusion.)

The Symphony No. 2 in C Major by Romantic master Robert Schumann is not The Ear’s favorite Schumann symphony – that would be No. 4 – and The Ear thinks that Schumann’s orchestral writing is generally not up to his piano writing, his chamber music or his songs.

Indeed, long-form music was not Schumann’s strength, as his many miniature movements in his longer suites and his fragmentary esthetic attest. Perhaps it had to do with his mental illness; perhaps it was just his preference and temperament, much as was the case with his contemporary Chopin, who also preferred the miniature to the epic.

Still, the work proved enjoyable and moving, especially in the vivacious and energetic Scherzo that was executed so precisely and then in the poignant slow movement, which was beautifully shaped with the romantic yearning that Schumann (seen below, with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann) was peerless at expressing. (You can hear the third movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And once again, the smaller size of the chamber orchestra — versus a full symphony orchestra — created transparency. Listeners got to hear inner voices and the interplay of parts in all sections of the orchestra that they might otherwise miss.

But the piece that everyone came to hear was the finale: The world premiere of a Two-Piano Concerto by American composer Thomas Cabaniss (below top). The WCO commissioned the piece with help from two local patrons (Jun and Sandy Lee) and the soloists, Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn (below bottom), who have ties to Madison.

The work and its three movements – “Surfaces,” “Disturbances” and “Revelation” — did not disappoint and received a rapturous reception from the large audience, which demanded and received a piano-four hands encore.

The concerto struck The Ear as perfectly fitting its title, “Double Rainbow.” You heard elements of Maurice Ravel and John Adams. But you did NOT hear the typical standout solo playing of, say, a piano concerto by Beethoven or Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

This was a much more atmospheric ensemble work that shimmered and glittered, much like a rainbow. It almost seemed in many places similar to a Baroque concerto grosso, with the piano incorporated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out against it.

That is not to say the concerto, more mood than melody, wasn’t impressive. The score seemed very difficult, even virtuosic, and it certainly had moments that allowed the two soloists to show off their first-rate, Juilliard-trained chops.

Will this new concerto join other two-piano staples, such as the famous two-piano concertos by Poulenc and Mozart? It would take more hearings to be sure, but The Ear suspects not. It will surely get repeated hearings, especially from the Shinns, without becoming a go-to default piece in the two-piano repertoire. But he could well be wrong.

In any case, one would be hard put to find a better summary of the WCO approach to music-making than this outstanding concert that combined the old and the new, that mixed works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and performed them with technical precision and moving interpretation.

Bravos to all.

And all the more reason to look forward, after the WCO’s six summer outdoor Concerts on the Square from June 28 to Aug. 2, to the next indoors Masterworks season, both of which you can find here:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances


Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record 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 FM 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.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


Classical music: The First Unitarian Society of Madison will give two performances of the anti-war cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams this Sunday. German anti-war art will accompany the concert.

March 18, 2016
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ALERT: One more subscriber and The Ear breaks 1,000. Who wants to be the one?

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word about a very timely performance of a very timely work:

On this Sunday, March 20, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the Society Choir of First Unitarian Society of Madison will present the powerful anti-war cantata, “Dona Nobis Pacem” or Grant Us Peace, by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (below). Vaughan Williams used texts from the Bible and from the Civil War poems by the American poet Walt Whitman.

You can hear a section of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.

fus choirs

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Guest soloists are soprano Heather Thorpe (below top) and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom).

Heather Thorpe

Schubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Violinist and retired UW-Madison violin professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Tyrone Greive (below top, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) will lead the string section, which will be joined by organ, piano, harp and timpani. First Unitarian Society Music Director Dan Broner (below bottom) will conduct.

Tyrone Greive 2013 by Kathy Esposito

Dan Broner FUS

The performances will take place in the Society’s modern Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams), 900 University Bay Drive.

Admission is FREE. Donations will be accepted.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

In conjunction with the performance there will be a small exhibit of German art in the Commons. It will feature anti-war artwork from the period after World War I.

Several prints of lithographs, drawings and sculpture by Kathe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach and Otto Dix from the years 1921-1929 will be included. The images by Kollwitz are from her “Krieg Cycle.” Her son had been killed in the war; Barlach and Dix both had fought in the war. The two sculptures by Barlach were actually commissioned as war memorials, but instead of glorifying war they express his stark protest and grief.


Classical music: On Veterans Day, what is the best music to honor fallen soldiers? The Ear chooses Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” Plus, a FREE concert of music for flute and percussion will be held on Friday at noon

November 11, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features flutist Ivano Ugrcic and percussionist David Alcorn in music by Gareth Farr, Marius Constant, Christos Hatzis and Nebojsa Macura.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Veterans Day.

It has become a day to honor all members, living and dead, of the U.S. armed forces and their service.

That’s just fine with The Ear.

But the holiday started as Armistice Day to honor the end of World War I, which occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

world war1 somme

And since the modern world we know is in large effect the result of the outcomes of World War I, The Ear likes going back to the origins.

If you accept that premise -– and of course you don’t have to — it allows us to listen to what is probably the best piece of classical music ever written to honor fallen soldiers. That piece is Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.”

The title refers to the formal structures that harken back to the underperformed and under-appreciated French Baroque composer Francois Couperin.

Each of the six movements takes a special form and each one is dedicated to a friend of Ravel who was killed in World War I. (Ravel, below, tried to enlist to fight, but was too old.)

Funny, the more I listen, the more the two 20th-century composers who matter most to me are not Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, but Maurice Ravel and Bela Bartok.

But elaborating on why is another topic for another post.

ravel

Anyway, Ravel, who was one of the greatest orchestrators of all time, orchestrated “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (literally, the tomb of Couperin – “le tombeau” being the word used for an homage to honor the dead that was also used by the French poets to honor other writers or members of the royal family, including Francois Villon, Joachim du Bellay, Pierre de Ronsard Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé.)

But The Ear prefers the original piano version, which is very difficult to play. It has color but also a certain clarity and austerity that fit the purpose of the music. He thinks you hear the distinctive dance rhythms better and more sharply, and the sections with tolling bells sounds much more, well, bell-like.

Here, dedicated to all veterans but especially to World War I and what that history-changing meat-grinder of a conflict brought us, is a YouTube video of Canadian pianist Louis Lortie playing Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin”:

 


Classical music: Learn about the odd history of Frederic Chopin’s heart and its long, eerie journey from France back to Poland.

January 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849, below in a photo from 1849) remains one of the greatest and most popular of all classical composers, both for amateurs or students and for professional performers.

As they say, he was “the poet of the piano,” and he composed almost exclusively for that instrument, even revolutionizing and modernizing piano technique through his two books of etudes.

Chopinphoto

Chopin, who was one of the greatest melody writers in the history of Western music, is also known for his fusing of the clarity and counterpoint of the Baroque and Classical-era styles with the emotion or passion of the Romantic style. Chopin loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did NOT like, admire or play most of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

But Chopin was also a famed dandy who wore a new pair of lavender kid leather gloves every day and who was known for his love affairs. That is probably why some images of Chopin (like the one below from Getty Images) tend to glorify him or idealize him, and to make his as handsome, as beautiful, as his music.

Chopin drawing Getty Images

But most people probably do not know much about his quirkier side.

And nothing in Chopin’s life seems more quirky than his death and The Tale of Chopin’s Heart.

It all stems, as I recall, from his terrifying fear of being buried alive. But then the story gets complicated and involves France and Poland, World War I, the Roman Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.

Here are two links to fill you in.

The first comes from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/17/364756853/uncovering-the-heart-of-chopin-literally

The second comes from The Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/chopin-heart_n_6170820.html

There is also research that questions whether Chopin actually died from tuberculosis or from some other malady.

But that is another story from another time.

And here is a YouTube video of the last piece that Chopin composed: His Mazurka in F Minor Op, 68, No. 4, as played by Chopin master Arthur Rubinstein. The mood of the piece seems to fit the sad story.

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. and this week brings Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations including Great Britain, Canada and Australia. To honor veterans -– both military and civilian — The Ear plays the “Nimrod” section from Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” What music would you play?

November 11, 2014
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ALERT: On this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of UW-Madison professor Javier Calderon, will give a FREE concert of music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Gilbert Bibarian and others.

Javier Calderon color

By Jacob Stockinger

He may be wrong, but The Ear does not think that Veterans Day — and Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations of the former British Empire — is just about war. And there is plenty of music one could play that aims to depict war and conflict.

But Veterans Day -– which was originally Armistice Day and was intended to mark the end of that vicious meat-grinder World War I that started 100 years ago this year and officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 –- is more about people and loss. So is Remembrance Day.

world war1 somme

Given the way “total war” has evolved and been waged since World War I — just look at the Middle East and ISIS these days — one has to wonder: Shouldn’t civilians, including women and children, also be honored? When war is waged, usually all suffer and all sacrifice.

Not that the armed forces don’t come at the head of the line and hold a special place in our thoughts.

But these days a Requiem for All seems fit and appropriate.

That is why The Ear can’t think of a more moving and quietly appropriate piece of music than the “Nimrod” section from the Edwardian era British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

That is probably why the prize-winning and popular documentary filmmaker Ken Burns also used the same music, arranged for solo piano, in his 2007 epic film about World War II called, simply, ‘The War.”

Here it is, played by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  in a popular YouTube with more than 2.5 million hits — as a salute to all those who suffered and who served:

 

 


Classical music: As we mark the centennial of World War I, what classical music should we think of and listen to? Plus, check up on the last day of WYSO’s 10-day tour to Argentina

August 2, 2014
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ALERT: The Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison conductor James Smith and part of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), is into the final day of its 10-day tour to Argentina. Here is a link to the live blog:

wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

When did World War I start?

World War I trenches

Some might argue it started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. And the media had many features on that day a little over one month ago.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Then on July 28, 1914, the first shots were fired. That too received media coverage last week.

But the best I can find out, the actual and formal beginning of the “War To End All Wars” was Aug. 1, 1914 -– with the 100th anniversary falling yesterday.

World War I

See for yourself:

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

Quite a number of media stories -– on-line, in print, on TV and radio –- have focused on World War I. They usually take the tack of how it changed the world and its cultural politics and economics for many years after, and so directly set up the circumstances that led to World War II.

world war1 somme

But NPR also ran a series of stories on what would have happened if World War I had never taken place. The consequences ranged from a much later discovery of antibiotics, technology and space travel to a completely different map of the Middle East that might have allowed us to escape some of the current turmoil.

And what was the effect of World War I on music?

You can Google the question and find a lot of entries.

Here are some of the more interesting ones that The Ear found:

The outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR (National Public Radio) by Tom Huizenga used audio samples to explore how the composers Maurice Ravel (below) and Gustav Holst responded to the war, as did the famed tenor Enrico Caruso:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/28/333733548/the-great-war-at-100-music-of-conflict-and-remembrance

ravel

From the BBC, here is a list of poets and composers. It asks the question: Why do we remember the poets more than the composers? When he wrote his “War” Requiem, British composer Benjamin Britten (below) used great texts from World War I poets to commemorate World Wart II and dedicate the reconstruction of the Coventry Cathedral. (You can hear the opening in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the lyrics.)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zwxbjxs

Benjamin Britten

Here is another British website that discusses British music, perhaps because that country’s composers responded more than other nations’  composers did, certainly more than American but also French, German and Russian composers:

http://www.warcomposers.co.uk

Here is a story from The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/ww1/

And here is a list of some important music composed during World War I:

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110214194144AA5JhkJ

What classic music and composers do you identify with World War I?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What music best commemorates today’s 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination of Western Europe? The Ear offers two works by Edward Elgar and Maurice Ravel.

June 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is June 6, 2014 –- the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies invaded the northwest coast of France on the beaches at Normandy and started the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Western Europe by Adolf Hitler.

D-Day landing

A lot of music commemorates war and the troops who fell in battle.

I offer two that may not be the best choices but that move me.

First, I offer the ninth variation, “Nimrod,” from British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used it very effectively in a solo piano version in his epic film about World War II called simply “The War.”

But I cannot find that version. So here is the a haunting and deeply moving orchestral performance in a popular YouTube video played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its former music director and conductor Daniel Barenboim:

And here is the “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by French composer Maurice Ravel. He actually wrote “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and dedicated each movement to a different friend of his who died in World War I. But there is something quietly eloquent about the way Ravel uses the stately and processional dance step of the Pavane to express understated sorrow.

Ravel usually composed on the piano, and then orchestrated his own work. So here are two versions, the first orchestral and the second done on the piano and played by the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who captures just the right bittersweetness and poignancy.

You can decide which one best expresses your sentiments about today’s historic commemoration. Despite the coughing in the background, I tend to favor the simpler and more austere piano version. But both are deeply moving to me.

I am sure that many other works, from two famous funeral marches by Ludwig van Beethoven (in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” and the Piano Sonata in A-Flat Major, Op. 26) to the famous Funeral March by Frederic Chopin, would be appropriate.

Classical music –- instrumental, vocal and choral as well as operatic – offers so many appropriate choices. My guess is that NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio, like radio stations and even TV stations around the country and the world, will feature many such works in their programming for today. I would especially love to hear Requiems by Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gabriel Faure.

If you have a favorite, please leave a reply with a YouTube link if possible, plus the reasons why you like the work so much.

The Ear wants to hear.

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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
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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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