Monday, December 23, 2013

MMerry Christmas!

My "12 Composers of Christmas" first debuted online in 2005 as a family Christmas card. (It even got a brief mention on a Boston Globe blog.) It made it to Youtube in 2007 and now I've finally updated it with some vocals. Perhaps someday I'll  make a more sophisticated choral arrangement, but for this year, I used my own in-house chorus to do the job - and a charming job they do:

I know Christmas is barely more than a day away, but maybe we can maybe this thing go viral. It's up to you.

For other MMmusing Christmas specials, check out last year's postSleigh Ride of the Valkyries, Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine, the Vertical Christmas Medley, Trippin' with Chestnuts...sure to put you in the Christmas spirit. Or something.

MMerry Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Canons Away!

I hope this isn't how I got out as a blogger for 2013 (by the way, I'm on sabbatical in the spring, so expect much more blogging), but for lack of a better intro, here's something I thought of and did.

I was thinking about a possible upcoming performance of Pachelbel's Canon, and it occurred to me that, with more than 3 violinists on hand, the canon could easily be more than a 3-parter. After all, in addition to being a very nicely designed strict canon, this overexposed work also features a basso ostinato structure, which basically means any two measures of the violin line can go with any other two measures - more or less - as every cellist knows. In theory, since the basso ostinato line occurs 28 times while the violins are playing, you could have 28 separate violin entries (resulting in a 29-voice texture), which would lead to quite a D Major soup.

I decided, for various reasons, to be reasonable (?) and limit myself to 12 violins. Here's what that sounds like. [If you don't seen an embedded player, try this]

I settled on 12 in part because it's a nice round number, 4x the original, but inevitably, I quickly came to realize that 12 offers one other cool possibility, which is to put each of the 12 violin parts in its own key. And so, here you go:

[Again, if there's no visible player there, try this.]  Now, hopefully I'll come up with something more in the holiday spirit before 2013 departs...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shostakovich 5: Mashed-up Memories

So, my daughter's youth orchestra gave a stunning performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 last weekend in Boston's Symphony Hall, a program which repeats in Carnegie Hall on Monday, December 9. First then, a tip to any NYC readers I may have picked up along the way: DO NOT MISS THIS CONCERT.

That may just seem like proud parental posturing, but believe me, conductor Ben Zander ignites something in these kids (ages 13-21) that is very special. His vision of the Shostakovich symphony is uncompromising and there's nothing jaded about the playing; the students believe him every step of the way. There's also nothing at all compromised about the level of the playing. Daughter of MMmusing is just one among 43 or so violinists, so I'm not pretending she's the star of the show, but this orchestra is fully up to the challenges posed by the most demanding music. (Mahler 5 is on deck for March!) I don't know how often one gets to hear an orchestra of this level which also has the luxury of rehearsing as often and as intensely as they do. (Read here what soloist Christopher O'Riley had to say about the first concert. Here's another review.)

Anyway, the Shostakovich has been a longtime favorite of mine (and of countless others, of course) for well more than two decades. I could say tons about it, but will simply share a few observations for now.
  • My first memory of the piece comes from when my older sister was home from college for Christmas break and received a birthday card from a sort of intellectual hipster type she had some interest in. In his letter he wrote something along the lines of "my gift to you is the third movement of Shostakovich's fifth symphony." [Just to be clear, the "gift" was not a recording or score; just "the" movement. It's the thought that counts.] I'm not sure I'd even heard of the piece or composer at that point, but this seemed to me (age 15 or so) the most impossibly romantic gesture imaginable and it set the bar high for my expectations about what this music must be like. (It's not clear to me if the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra cleared performance rights with my sister. It is clear to me that this is actually NOT the most thoughtful type of gift, but I still like the idea.)
  • A few years later, as a college freshman, I had the amazing opportunity to join the cello section of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra at the exact time that a brilliant Russian conductor had just escaped (with Viktoria Mullova!) from the Soviet Union and become music director of this little orchestra that could. For the first concert, we performed Shostakovich 5 and even got a review in The New York Times. (The reviewer is right on about the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time string section. Like Groucho Mark, I look with suspicion on any orchestra that would have me as a cello-playing member.) Vakhtang Jordania was a protege of none other than the legendary Yevgeny Mravinsky, who premiered the symphony in 1937, so this put me in a pretty cool line of Shostakovich descendants. The truth is I remember very little of the musical specifics of that occasion, but it was still an unforgettable experience, even if I was also terrified!
  • Since that time, I've certainly listened to recordings of the symphony off and on, but it was more part of my past than present when I first sat in on one of this fall's rehearsals. On that Saturday afternoon, I had one of those marvelous flashback moments which sometimes seem to me the best kinds of moments music has to offer. The orchestra was in the middle of that 3rd movement (the one that now belongs to my older sister) and had just descended from a huge climax. As the violins were scuttling around, I had a strong sense of déjà vu - I knew something special was about to happen and, seconds before it started, I suddenly remembered that the oboe was about to introduce a heartrending new tune. One of those memory "click" moments. As I listened, I remembered that our Chattanooga oboist had played this solo perfectly (he got a nice citation in the Times review cited above), but I also slowly started to remember that this oboe melody was going to be returning later in...wait for it...the cello section! That's right, the cellos are the ones who take the lovely tune and realize its full potential as an anguished lament. Suddenly, all at once I was hearing the melody as new and old, as tender and tortured, as an oboe melody and as MY melody. This kind of slow unfolding of memory and expectation can be very rewarding, especially when connected to notes I've actually played with my own fingers.
The oboe melody makes its first appearance just after the 29:50 mark in the video below:

Then the cellos fulfill its cataclysmic potential here at 34:45.

I don't know about everyone, but for me this intersection of past and present, the way that music interacts with memory, is what it's all about - which makes musical experiences particularly ephemeral and unrepeatable. The fact that I both knew the piece deeply and had also forgotten much about it made the listening experience particularly rich in this regard. I might have to wait another 20 years before such a moment can be relived! Broadly speaking, it would be fascinating to determine how much of listening to music is about "hearing backwards and forwards." How often can one really be said simply to be listening to the present moment? Is that even possible without reference to past and future (memory and expectation)?

Still, as listening experiences go, the Symphony Hall performance last week was one of those everything-lines-up kind of experiences when my attention didn't seem to wane for a second during the entire 50 minutes of the symphony, aside from this kind of thinking back and forth through the music. It felt like Shostakovich was speaking quite directly to all of us, and if my attention was enhanced by the knowledge that my daughter was on stage, so be it.

The arc of the 3rd movement is particularly satisfying as a visual, by the way. When I listen to it (which I've done about 6-7 times since the concert), I find myself listening with reference to the evenly spaced outbursts which are easily visible below:

That amazing, time-stopping oboe solo occurs at about 6:15, shortly after the first of the movement's two enormous climaxes. The cello section reprise of the tune happens at 11:00 in the midst of the other great climax (you can actually see the music hit a dynamic wall right before). Looking at the music this way is a nice metaphor for what it's like to listen with a view of the overall structure, although one can't see all the important musical details in such an image. (Here's a post where I reflect on that idea more fully.) One can see, though, that the oboe/celli sections are proportionally spaced in a satisfying way. By the way, the tune returns one last time at the movement's very end [39:00 in the videos above] with the ethereal combination of harp and celeste.*

Though I think most of my listening that night was focused on Shostakovich, I did inevitably get distracted by one unexpected connection (here's where my regular readers will sigh knowingly) - certainly not something I was looking or listening for. There are a few bridge passages in that devastating third movement in which the strings play a simple rocking figure, richly voiced in a way that started ringing bells for me. At some point, I realized that these passages reminded me a LOT of similar bridge-like passages in Vaughan Williams' very different Tallis Fantasia. That famous work predates the Shostakovich symphony by almost three decades, although I have no reason to believe it's a direct influence. A more likely interpretation is that both works are referencing an intentionally old-fashioned kind of choral writing to create a particular kind of stillness in a more troubled modern context. Here are two such passages. Note that each features conventional triadic harmonies with the 3rd on top and the melody doubled by an inner voice.

Naturally, I decided to try merging these two passages. What you hear below begins with the two excerpts shown above and then alternates between six other excerpts, three from each work. Like so many of my mashups, the connections aren't intended to make a perfectly satisfying new whole, but rather to "say" with music how I hear these works conversing with each other. So, enough words. (...except to note that the entire sequence of eight alternating excerpts is looped four times in the audio below, just because I could...)

* Yes, the oboe solo is followed by clarinet and flute turns with the tune, but they feel more like extensions of the oboe moment than new sections.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Concerto Mixup Mashup (sprong ze in paniek op)

A couple of concerto mixup stories have been making the rounds. First, for some reason, this video from 1999 recently attracted some Internet buzz. It features pianist Maria João Pires realizing only as the orchestra begins playing that they're playing a different Mozart concerto than she'd expected!

The story is not told very clearly in that video, but apparently this was a sort of open dress rehearsal in front of a live audience. Pires definitely looks distressed, but the calm conductor talks her into giving it a go (they'd played the piece before and he knew it was securely in her repertoire) and she apparently came through with flying colors.

So next, Norman Lebrecht posts about how the Berlin Philharmonic intentionally started in on the wrong concerto as a prank in a Prokofiev rehearsal with their concertmaster. Not too surprisingly, the violinist was able to react on a dime and come in on time with Mendelssohn's great tune, though they only play a few bars. I think even I could make it that far into the Mendelssohn concerto, albeit with my patented one-finger L.H. technique.

The Lebrecht post spawned a whole series of commenters retelling other stories about concerto mixups. It's likely that most of these stories are at least partly fabricated, but that doesn't mean they're not good stories! The eminent Martin Bookspan recounts that a pianist expecting to play Beethoven's 5th sat confused waiting for the opening orchestral chord while the orchestra waited for him to begin the piano intro to Beethoven's 4th. Bookspan couldn't recall who the pianist was, which made me wonder if his story had descended from this one described by Gary Graffman regarding Rachmaninoff's second concerto (which begins with piano chords) and the "Paganini Rhapsody" (which begins with violins):
"Years ago in Los Angeles I was scheduled to perform the Piano Concerto No 2. Unfortunately, my manager had told me it was the Variations. Having just arrived in the city, I dashed to the rehearsal in the morning, took my place, and waited for the downbeat of the conductor. He turned around expectantly, stared at me quizzically, and waited. I waited. He waited. I waited. Where were the violins stating the familiar theme? Finally, in a burst of excitement and confusion we untangled the misunderstanding. ‘If you are set to play the Variations we can change our program,’ the conductor soothed. ‘Oh no, it really doesn’t matter to me at all,’ I stubbornly countered, ‘I know them both equally well.’ A few hours later we performed the Concerto.”
I remembered this story because I read it at least 100 times on the back of this much-loved LP that belonged to my parents. (You can read the liner notes here.) I could make the case that this is the single most important record in my own musical life, as it's the first music I really fell in love with (first the rhapsody, and then some time later when I "discovered" the other side), so perhaps it can be blamed for all the words I'm spilling here.

So there's that. Both I and another commenter chimed in with an old story about a conductor surprising a soloist by giving the orchestral downbeat too soon in the Schumann concerto (in which the pianist comes in right after) with the pianist getting revenge by starting the 2nd movement before the conductor was ready. I also like the version in which the unprepared pianist manages the cascade of Schumann chords and then promptly throws up. (My wife just told me her youth orchestra conductor used to tell that version of the story as well.)

But my favorite commenter story was this:
....In the cello circles the famous Wierzbiłłowicz, a heavy drinker himself, asked the conductor: what key we are in? A minor, came the reply. Unfortunately, it was Schumann, not Saint-Saens.
Here's how Schumann's cello concerto begins:

Here's how Saint-Saëns' begins:

And here's how I'd like to think Mr. Wierzbiłłowicz's apocryphal performance might've sounded, with the soloist suddenly sobering up 10 seconds or so in:

You know what? It kinda works...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Using MMmusing

I've been MM musing for more than six and a half years now, and to what end? It's a pretty good question, and one I've tried to answer for myself many times over the years. The blog has definitely been a great sounding board for my own ideas and it has inspired a wide variety of creations I'd never have imagined before words started piling up here. I even assembled some of the better words into a BIG PDF e-book, complete with embedded multimedia. If you don't mind downloading a 150MB file, here you go.

Anyway, I'm heading off to AMS Pittsburgh this morning, and as I might run into someone and send them here to look around, I figured it might be useful to summarize some ways in which this site might be useful to you, especially if you teach music classes.

Here then are some original MMmusing resources that I use in class fairly often. If you ever find yourself using them and they prove helpful, drop me a line. It's useful to me to know what's useful to you.

This list is by no means complete, and I'm sure I've forgotten some things. You might also find it useful to browse through some of these YouTube playlists. But, for now, see if any of the following might interest you...

[UPDATED for 2014]


These are really prototypes. I'll be working on them much more while on sabbatical this Spring, but I've already found them very useful for navigating large-scale pieces in lectures on form and the like. Included are guides for (these probably won't work well on mobile devices):
  • Solfèd - a solfège-based bird-feeding game.

The two Bach canon videos have garnered more than 250,000 views combined, which has always kind of astonished me. Someone's using them for something. The Poulenc visualizes the looping quality of his most famous piece, and the Haydn reveals how orchestration turns a D Major scale into something special.

  • Atonality on Ice (helps explain how bewildering atonality might be compelling)
IF YOU LIKE WORDS THAT RHYME (on "hot" music industry topics from many years ago)
  • How Slow Can You Go? - Callas and Fleming face off in O mio babbino caro 
  • In C Practice - get your students in shape for that inevitable In C read-through with this handy practice video. 
  • Sax and Violence - (really should be "sax instead of violins" - exploring the new rage for saxophone ensembles.)

Let me know what you think...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo Review

Two years ago, I posted a set of creepy videos (many mine) for Halloween, and it's coming back from the dead here. So, my work for today is mostly done, but I'll just begin by adding this (from last month) to the mix.

...and now, let's revisit the past:

Boo (originally posted, 10/31/11)

I'm giving myself only five minutes to write this Halloween post, relying as it does on already existing multimedia:

For quietly scary fun, there's this mashup I created a couple of years ago, combining the final two movements of Chopin's Piano Sonata No.2. It features the most famous funeral march ever with the terrifying ghostly echoes of the whirlwind finale:

So, that's to set the mood.

Then there are these two videos which I regret to say I didn't create. But they're frightening visual companions to Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. First...

The companion video is no longer on YouTube, but you can still view it on Facebook here.

So, no, I didn't make those, but they did inspire me to make this, which is pretty unsettling: (Check out the look on the sun's face.)

Now, let's pause for an ad from J. Peterman.

Here's my own little take on Pierrot lunaire, combined with some Stravinsky. Creepy clown!

And if you like Stravinsky jabbing at you unexpectedly, you might give this a try. [Click on image below.]

Finally, in light of the surprising intersection of wintry snow cover and October we're having here in the Northeast [remember, this was 2011], you can find all manner of creepiness in these various versions of Schubert's "Der Leiermann," from his song-cycle Winterreise. (None of these are mine: this is just a little playlist I put together for Twitter-based reasons a couple of days ago.) I'll embed one here, but you can find the others by following the link just above:

Enjoy the day!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tangential Perspectives

Daughter of MMmusing is a new member of Ben Zander's Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which had a stunning series of debut concerts last year - alas, before she joined. I've only just learned that this video is available of their Mahler 2 (!) performances last year at the Concertgebouw (!) in Amsterdam. I haven't watched or listened to all of it (I'm still coming down from a glorious Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of the same work under Christoph von Dohnányi a couple of weeks ago), but it is mind-blowing stuff coming from a youth orchestra - or any orchestra. (You can read much more about the Netherlands tour here.)

So, for now I'll just say that Boston-area readers should not miss this group's season opener on November 15 at Symphony Hall - a program to be repeated on December 9 at Carnegie Hall. (I now have the real answer to the old question about how to get to Carnegie Hall: Make your child practice, practice, practice!)

The hefty program will feature the monumental and ever-popular Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 as well as: the Ravel Piano Concerto in G (my "fantasy" concerto, i.e. the piece I wish some orchestra would ask me to play) with the ever-popular Christopher O'Riley at the keys; music from Michael Gandolfi's The Garden of Cosmic Speculation; and the overture to Verdi's La forza del destino. I'll admit that I was least excited about the Verdi - but then I wandered in to the final half-hour of the group's first rehearsal a few weeks back and was immediately drawn in by fragments of music I couldn't immediately identify. I finally realized it was the Verdi (which I played in a much lesser orchestra many years ago), and I was reminded of how powerful and direct Verdi's voice can be. And the music already sounded highly charged and compelling a few hours into the first rehearsal, although I don't know how many opera pits could accomodate an orchestra with 43 violins.

The rehearsals are held in a fairly unique spot, an auditorium at Boston's little-known Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. This room happens to have been designed as a 1/3 size replica of Symphony Hall, though it only has one balcony, and the miniature stage, of course, can't hold a huge orchestra, so the orchestra rehearses on the floor. The space is so lively that they've had to do some acoustical work to make it useable, but it has become a favorite place for me to hang out while amazing music is coming together. There aren't a lot of orchestras playing at this level which can rehearse at such a leisurely pace, so one gets to hear the same fragments turned and re-shaped multiple times. (I would've recognized that bit of Verdi the first time except that Zander was rehearsing winds alone, so the familiar, surging string undercurrent wasn't present yet.)

Yesterday, as I was walking up to the building exterior, I looked towards Copley Square (about 5 blocks away) and noticed a view of Boston's tallest building, the John Hancock Tower, that I had never encountered before. The Hancock is a fabulous building, of course, and its mirrored exterior makes it look distinctively different from just about any vantage point, including the way it famously contrasts with its Romanesque neighbor, Trinity Church. 

But that wasn't the new view. From the steps of the Benjamin Franklin Institute, one sees only a narrow side of the trapezoidal tower, so it looks like an odd, two-dimensional plane jutting up from the earth:

If you're curious, that picture was taken from the lower right (purple marker) of the map below, in which the Hancock (and its shadow) can be see in the upper left at letter A:

So there you have it. Not only did making my daughter practice afford me an opportunity to get to Carnegie Hall - it helped me see something new and beautiful about a familiar structure I already loved. I won't be surprised if the same happens with Shostakovich...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recital Revisited I: Moonlight Mashup

The MMmusing Recital has come and gone and was, I think, a big success. The audience seemed to enjoy the experimental first half and, though I generally dread the thought of posting live recordings, I think a few excerpts are worth sharing as examples of the innovative goings-on. Let's start with how the first half of musical mashups ended, with simultaneous performances of moonlight music by Beethoven and Debussy. The pieces are from two very different worlds (one German Romantic, one French Impressionist), but they have the same tonic, are about the same length, and are both mostly soft and rustling throughout with a regular flow of 8th notes in compound meter (12/8* vs. 9/8). They're also both quite familiar to many listeners, which helps with hearing the "counterpoint" and, yes, they're both associated with moonlight (whether or not Beethoven ever thought of his sonata that way).

I'd written before about combining two existing recordings, but those pianists didn't have to listen to (or ignore) each other. Here's how that experiment came out, with no cuts or tempo alterations, but with some judicious fading up and down of the separate tracks.

I've listened to it a lot and there are many seemingly purposeful moments that I like, including:
  • 0:06 Debussy's second gesture bounces perfectly off of Beethoven's downbeat
  • 0:17-0:24 Debussy waits for Beethoven's dotted figure to land before exhaling
  • 2:00-2:20 Wonderful combined harmonies, with Beethoven sitting on a pedal G-sharp and Debussy anchored first a fifth below on C-sharp (spelled as D-flat) and by the same G-sharp (spelled as A-flat) at 2:14. The R.H. quarter notes in Beethoven weave in and out of Debussy's arpeggios like lost souls on a cloudy night.
  • 2:53-3:03 Both works float about the same V pedal tone (again, G-sharp/A-flat) as they re-transition towards their recaps, reminding us that many works share the basic structural proportions found here.
Still, it was my goal that we pretty much play it straight (as "Joyce Hatto" did in the recordings combined above) and just let the chips/pitches fall where they may. We did rehearse it a couple of times so I could get a sense of how to pace the Debussy, and I'll have to admit I found myself responding to Beethoven's pulses during some of the more free-floating Debussy moments. I also went a bit too fast overall and had to get extra-dreamy at the end so as not to leave Beethoven alone for too long. I love the contrast of Debussy's final, high-register D-flat Major answered by Beethoven's low-register C-sharp Minor. This actually came out almost exactly the same live as in the "recording" above.

So, here it is, with my excellent and good-natured colleague Stephanie Emberley handling the Beethoven. I think it's all really lovely and mysterious. Note that Stephanie chose to add an extra mashup element by following the composer's direction to keep the damper pedal down throughout, so that's Beethoven's own pitches hang around as ghosts to mash up with each other. Over at Wikipedia, someone has opined (emphasis mine):
At the opening of the work, Beethoven included a written direction that the sustain pedal should be depressed for the entire duration of the first movement. The Italian reads: "Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino" ("This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without damper[s]."). The modern piano has a much longer sustain time than the instruments of Beethoven's day. Therefore, his instruction cannot be followed by pianists playing modern instruments without creating an unpleasantly dissonant sound.
Let's just say that not everyone has the same definition of "unpleasantly dissonant."

FINAL NOTE: Pianists, of the world: DO TRY THIS AT HOME! I'd love to hear about follow-up experiments with this combination, and it's a good exercise both in concentration and freedom. Feel free to post about your experiences.

* Technically, Beethoven's music is in cut time (2/2), but the constant triplets produce the same effect as a 12/8 meter - in both performances of this moonlight mashup, you can hear how the 8th notes can easily align between the two worlds.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

MMmusing Recital Links

Since tomorrow's MMmusing recital is significantly based on material that's been presented here on the blog, here are some useful direct links to the original posts.

Read more about the entire program here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The MMmusing Recital

I've made passing reference to this already, but this Sunday I'll be presenting my first "MMmusing Recital." That's right, some of the unusual ideas presented here on the blog will finally be submitted to a live audience in live performances - not that I consider my readers to be less than alive, but you know what I mean. The idea, as with so many of my blog posts, sprang up kind of accidentally as I'd had another more conventional recital collaboration postponed, but still wanted to do some performing to start off the year. I already had the recital reservation, so all I needed was a program.

I knew I didn't have time to memorize and perform solo repertoire with the pressures of a new semester bearing down, but with Daughter of MMmusing having returned enthusiastically from five weeks of summer music camp, this seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to work again as a trio with her and my cellist wife. (We debuted as "Montrieau" at my faculty recital last September.) We'd all really enjoyed hearing a performance of the opening movement from Mendelssohn's Trio in D Minor at the camp, so my first thought was that we might play that entire trio as the recital's second half. Meanwhile, I started thinking about ways to explore blog-inspired possibilities for a more informal first half.

I'll spare you all the details, but I ended up deciding upon a series of loosely connected "experiments" in musical mashing as a kind of theme. I'm purposefully using the term "mashup" pretty broadly because there is a sense in which most kinds of music (and life!) involve some degree of mashing or another, especially contrapuntal genres. So it is that we'll open with a variation on Bach's most famous chorale-prelude. As genre, chorale-preludes already have mashup-like qualities since such pieces are built around hymn-tunes - except that I'm substituting our own college hymn, A.J. Gordon's "My Jesus, I Love Thee" for the tune most often known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." This is what might be termed a negotiated mashup, since I made some significant changes to Bach's famous flowing triplets so that they're now in 4/4 instead of 3/4. You can read and hear more about that here.

As a further illustration of counterpoint as mashup, we'll do a fun little performance of Bach's "Crab Canon" from The Musical Offering. In this case, this is a tune mashing up with its backwards self, though the fact that Bach designed the tune with that in mind is kind of a cheat. That will transition into Steve Reich's Clapping Music, which is basically a canon based on metrical phasing - like the Bach, it's a mashup against itself. This then leads to an inspired mashup suggested by recent graduate Wesley Newcomb in which the two "chords" of Stravinsky's famous Rite of Spring polychord are subbed in for Reich's two clapping parts. It sounds like a 70's TV car chase. 

We'll then turn to a couple of time-bending French concoctions. Wesley has set up a nifty real-time phrase-shifter for Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 which will allow me to play my Randomnopédie from the same on-the-spot score the audience will be watching. Satie's iconic work is famous for its directionless way of meandering around, so we'll be exploring what happens when the directionless phrases are sent back and forth through time. Next, I'll play my all-time favorite of Bruce Adolphe's radio piano puzzlers, a magical amalgam of Hey, Jude and Messiaen's radiant harmonies in praise of the eternity of Jesus. I know it sounds gimmicky, but somehow it works. The chords move so slowly that Adolphe only manages to get through part of McCartney's timeless tune - probably just as well that it doesn't get to the 19 repetitions of "Na... na-na na-na-na-na / na-na-na-na / Hey Jude," which has its own time-stopping qualities.  

The first half ends with two very different two-piano showdowns with a new colleague, Stephanie Emberley. First up is Mozart's ubiquitous music-box of a sonata (K. 545) heard alongside Grieg's mischievously charming second piano addition. I honestly don't know why there aren't more pieces like this as it reveals such an unstuffy and creative affection for an older style. Some of the happiest music you'll ever hear. Which is just as well, because what will follow (the most truly mashup-y event of the afternoon) will be more disorienting: simultaneous performances of the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and Debussy's Clair de lune. You can get a sense of what this might sound like here.

Though inspired first by the punny "moonlight" connection, the works complement each other in several ways. They share the same tonic (C# = Db), they're about the same length, each is mostly quiet and reflective, etc. Still, one is in minor, one is in major, one is Germanically directed and purposeful while the other breathes a French kind of nonchalance, so contrasts abound as well. The fact that Beethoven's work has a regular and insistent rhythm actually makes an excellent foil for Debussy's free-floating harmonies. We've run this "piece" a couple of times, and new things emerge each time - can't wait to see/hear what happens on Sunday.

So, that's the first half - everything that will be played has been featured on this blog at some point or another. These experiments exhibit another general characteristic of my musical interests: though some subversive, outside-the-box things will happen, everything is rooted in (or at least alludes to) the past. The Moonlight Sonata, Clair de lune, Gymnopédie No.1, Mozart's K.545, and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring are all iconically overexposed. Not only can they all stand a little jabbing, but the audience will have a better chance of perceiving what's going on since the source material will likely be familiar.

Since I'm pretty unapologetically rooted in the past myself, the recital's second half will be more like a normal chamber music affair, though with a couple of thematic mashups thrown in. First of all, we decided not to program the entire Mendelssohn trio because there just wasn't time to learn it all with school starting, my daughter preparing for some auditions, etc. The second half will thus begin with a striking sacred/profane, cello/violin matchup. The wife and I will play Messiaen's Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus as originally intended (for cello and piano, no Jude), though removed from the Quatuor pour la fin du temps context. Then, Daughter of MMmusing will put her fiddle through its paces in the wild gypsy smackdown that is Ravel's Tzigane. A heartstopping prayer followed by a pulse-pounding hoedown.

Just as the first half ends with a Franco-German conversation, we follow the colorful French soundworlds of Messiaen and Ravel with the passionate German Romanticism of Mendelssohn's first piano trio. (Did I think long and hard about fitting in the finale of Mendelssohn's other trio, which mashes in a famous hymn tune along the way? Yes, yes I did. But I can only throw my family so many curves. As it is, the wife is learning the Messiaen in about a week's time since I only thought to include that last week.) I'm a nineteenth century Romantic at heart, and I've never gotten to play this trio. Since we're only performing the first two movements, they'll be inverted, with the song-like second movement providing a bit of repose before the manic storminess of the first movement closes the program. Ending with an opening movement seems like the right way to go.

View the MMmusing Recital poster here!

UPDATE: Recital-related blog links here.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fragmented Thoughts on Fragments

Here's a weird confession. Background: I've been a big sports fan all my life, and like most Boston-area folks, have experienced all the melodramatic ups and downs of being a Red Sox fan for 20 years now. The last two nights, the Sox beat the dread rival Yankees in wonderfully unlikely fashion, each game uniquely compelling. The stakes shouldn't have been that high, because we have a pretty safe lead in the standings, but Boston had one of the worst-ever collapses at the end of 2011, and New York has been on a late-season push that meant if they could sweep this four-game series, things would've gotten uncomfortably interesting on many levels.

What I have to admit, and what probably makes me a bad fan, is that as the years have gone by, I have less patience with Sox-Yankees games that go on for 4+ hours (as they always seem to do) and I find the stress of these games more than I care to endure. So, on Thursday, when the Sox had blown their own 7-2 lead and trailed 8-7, I watched them tie the game dramatically with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 9th against the best closer in the history of the universe - and then I went to bed thinking, whatever happens now, THAT was rewarding enough, and I don't want to be up until past midnight if this game goes 15 innnings, especially if it means watching the Yankees win. I've done that kind of thing before, but I'm getting to a "life's too short" stage where I just don't need that, especially since I had to get up early for school the next day.

Then, last night, the Sox were trailing 8-3 in the seventh inning and things were looking bleak, although having won the first game of the series softened the sense of dread. Still, I hung in there, half-asleep (it had been an unbelievably long and crazy day) as my wife noted we'd loaded the bases. I became a bit more alert when an infield single yielded another run, and then watched as the epically bearded Mike Napoli hit a seemingly harmless fly ball that became one of the shortest, least impressive grand slams you'll see - particularly strange because the lumberjack-like Napoli is known for hitting no-doubt-about-it towering shots. So, 8-8, tie game, just like the night before.

And, again, I decided THAT's enough. Even though it was a Friday, it had been a long day and I felt like I'd gotten what I needed out of this game - plenty of excitement and satisfaction. Better to go out on a high note (like noted Yankee fan George Costanza once learned) than risk seeing a dispiriting loss. So, two nights in a row, the game "ended" for me with the score tied 8-8. In true, modern, consumer-driven fashion, I'd gotten what I wanted out of the product, and then I threw it away before it was fully consumed. (Again, bad fan!)

In each case, the very first thing I did the next morning was check the score on my phone, and I was twice rewarded to discover Boston had come out on top both nights. You might think I'd be disappointed to realize I'd skipped out on happy finishes, but for some reason, at this stage of life, I was perfectly content - it even made for an exciting way to start the day, two days in a row. I'd seen (from a Boston perspective) the best parts of each game, but I hadn't invested too much time in either game (both of which I started half-watching mid-game), had spent time with my family, etc.. It all worked out - this time.

I suppose the broader point here is that fragments can be as rewarding - or, in some cases, more rewarding - than the whole thing, although that notion goes against a lot of typical thinking. And, though I wouldn't literally argue that one should leave an opera or symphony after the highest note, I'm often struck by how much I enjoy music in fragments as well. I attended six chamber concerts at my daughter's music camp this summer, and never really regretted that I was hearing single movements of major works. I have nothing against the "perform everything as intended" model of course, and I have nothing against watching baseball games in their entirety, and I believe true understanding of either art form requires an appreciation of the "big picture."

But, just as I've enjoyed watching this stunning Mendelssohn movement (divorced from its full 4-movement context)  multiple times in the past week, I'm enjoying the idea that I can sometimes take in a baseball game on my own terms.

As Charles Rosen has beautifully described, many Romantic Era composers loved exploiting the idea of the fragment - a musical structure that, by design, is incomplete. Actually, the first couple of times I listened to the video above, it seemed to me that it was starting in the middle of that trio's final movement, when what's happening is that Mendelssohn wrote music that has the "feeling" of beginning in the middle. But I love fragments in lots of other ways as well. For the past few weeks, Daughter of MMmusing has been preparing some difficult excerpts from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 for an audition, and I have loved hearing these excerpts repeated again and again, even though this is about as fragmented as a musical experience gets. She's playing music intended to be played along with about 12-16 other violinists, with another 70 or so musicians onstage playing lots of other stuff, all going on for close to an hour. But it turns out also to be pretty cool to hear these 3-5 minutes of fragments (mostly half-filtering in through the walls from downstairs), in part because they connect me back to the full experience of the symphony, but also because of their own quirky, musical value.

Returning to baseball, it's always kind of strange to me that the most famous moment in Red Sox history is a Carlton Fisk home run that won a game in a series that Boston ended up losing. That fragment has somehow become more important than the purpose (winning the World Series) it supposedly served. Of course, ultimately, a great sporting event or a great musical experience is filled with a series of moments that range from pedestrian to exhilarating, so it makes sense that those moments could be thought of as satisfying on their own, and please don't think I don't value the way in which the broader context informs those moments.

But this post itself will have to remain a fragment...something, perhaps, to return to at another time. For now, you can always read this 2007 post on Fragments or just enter "fragment" into the search box at the upper left of this page...

P.S. I wrote this earlier this afternoon, but can't help mentioning that since then, the Sox topped the Yanks 13-9 this afternoon. Good times.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Imitation as Inspired Improve-ization

As I recall from the 30 seconds I just spent researching it, Plato believed that "art is imitation, and that's bad," and Aristotle believed that "art is imitation, and that's all right, even good." Well, I'm here to say that art is imitation, and that in some cases, the imitation creates something better than the original - in part because it fails as imitation.

Consider the third of Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, a little set of six he pieces he wrote for piano.

Against a simple left hand drone, the right hand plays an exotic little melody which you can hear here (played by Bartók!) at the 1:23 mark:

As it happens, just yesterday on the radio I heard a performance of the composer's orchestration of these dances in which that melody is given to a piccolo, so one could reasonably speculate that Bartók thought of it as piped melody all along since it lies in such a high register on the piano. You can hear that version, starting around 1:55 here:

However, the radio performance I heard left me kind of cold because the version I really know and love is the violin/piano arrangement made by Zoltan Szekely - I've accompanied this version many times, including with my favorite home-grown violinist. Szekely has the violinist use artificial harmonics, presumably to imitate the glassy, pure sound of the piccolo or flute or pipe or whatever - but, of course, it doesn't really sound convincingly like any of those. What it sounds like (at 1:45) is eerie and haunting and odd and frail....and beautiful:

So, this pale imitation of a flute is by far my favorite way to hear this dance, even though the arrangement is just an imitation of the composer's orchestration. Imitation yields something new. Of course, personal bias plays a role, given that I've heard it most often this way, but I still think there's an argument that this is the most compelling version, and that's significantly because of its failings. It's a violin trying to sound like an orchestral flutist who presumably is trying to sound like a Romanian shepherd, and so it's a violin doing things the violin wasn't really even designed to do, using the artificial harmonics to take much of the body out of the sound and leave behind that ghostly trail.

Actually, I could easily imagine myself having made an argument on behalf of the piano version if that had been the one I'd known best, and though it's not my favorite here (the piano strikes me as too neutral), the truth is that, like most pianists, I have a very deep affection for all the ways in which the sound of a piano is weak and unevenly balanced and compromisingly tuned and poorly sustained. For all the great innovations that made the modern piano sound what it is, it is still a sonority sustained by smoke and mirrors, and we love it for its frailness, its vulnerability, its Walter Mitty-like attempts to imitate flutes and violins, horns and voices. We strive to make it sing with beautiful legato, but we don't really want it to do that perfectly. In fact, the bell-like tones of a Rhodes-style electric piano are the last thing most pianists want to hear when striking the keys to sing a Chopin nocturne. Modern synthesizer technology can fix a lot of the problems I've outlined, and many musical styles have taken advantage of that - but a "piano" can't be imitated; only the real thing fails in such a perfect way.

A favorite example is the piano opening of Strauss's incomparably perfect Morgen:

For some misguided reason (probably a singer who couldn't stand having to follow that perfect piano intro), Strauss decided to orchestrate this and give the halting, suspended piano melody to a sugary sweet violin and....well, here you go:

Sure, it's pretty, and if I didn't know the piano version, I might even love it, Pretty much every tune Chopin wrote falls into this category - tunes inspired by bel canto opera, but which sound most inspired when hammered on string.

There are many other ways to explore this question of imitation as improvement. I haven't yet played organ long enough to fall in love with all the bizarre organ stops that are supposedly trying to sound like flutes, and reeds, and trumpets, and violas, but apparently one can develop an actual affection for all of those imitations. I also was recently engaged in a Facebook discussion about computers composing music (inspired by this article), and when one commenter suggested that imitation can never replace inspiration, I openly wondered if inspiration might not sometimes result from mere imitation. Bach certainly got a lot of mileage out of copying Vivaldi. Or, to go in a different direction, one might note that, when going to see Shakespeare, we much prefer to see an imitation of someone being stabbed than the real thing.

But I'll leave those paths untaken and close with another bit of violin rep that's been on my mind. Daughter of MMmusing is now learning Ravel's great Tzigane, and we read it together for the first time last night. Here we have perhaps the most polished musical craftsman of all time creating a sort of imitation of a gypsy jam session (with the original piano part written for a piano that had an attachment designed to imitate the cimbalon!) - except, it's got some pretty meticulous stuff in there, and it's not really an invitation for the performers to unleash themselves with total abandon, at least not unless total abandon includes playing the tricky notes Ravel took the trouble to write down. Oh sure, there's still plenty of room for interpretive abandon, but as I've said about The Rite of Spring so many times, it's an imitation of the exotic/primitive that requires a very disciplined, high-culture brand of performance. That tension is at the heart of why music (and art) can be so compelling.

This isn't the place to argue whether such exotica is always better than the thing it's imitating (I heard one of the Liszt orchestral Hungarian Rhapsodies the other day and it kind of made me cringe), but I do think there's something extraordinarily satisfying about Ravel's fun-house imitation of the gypsy fiddler, even if it sounds no more like an authentic gypsy than Bartók/Szekely's violin sounds like a flute. The point is that the failure to imitate accurately may be the inspiration for something incomparably great.

UPDATE FROM YEARS LATER (11/12/14): I should have mentioned here that Jeremy Denk once complained that Tzigane is, in fact, too "clean":
Just the other day I was playing through Tzigane with Josh, in a rehearsal, and it was all a great deal of fun, and Josh sounded fabulous of course, and I was annoyed that I didn’t sound so fabulous in that annoying passage with the repeated notes … but I was thinking “it’s good, but it’s no Charles Ives.” Even the “dirty” gypsy notes in that piece sound clean, organized, shiny; everything is polished, glittering, sparkling, lush, perfectly voiced: sanitized? It smelt of PineSol, if PineSol were French. But not with Ives; he captures the Down & Dirty better than almost anyone. If he errs, he errs on the Dirty side; but his dirt is not vulgar, it is transcendental fertile earth with lots of terrific spiritual manure. Perhaps the hyper-cleanliness of Ravel is somewhat vulgar, in comparison with the honest, sprawling dirtiness of Ives? … at least that’s the way I feel. Bring on the hate mail!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Favorite Strings

I'm in preparation for what I hope will be an innovative September recital that will combine the traditional - performing composed music for people - and some kind of "twisted traditional" stuff that's appeared here on the blog. The latter will involve live versions of various MMmashups, but these two sides of me (the traditional, and the twisted traditional) came together last night, strangely and inevitably enough. The likely "traditional" repertoire for the recital will be Mendelssohn's wonderful D Minor Piano Trio, to be performed with my favorite strings, also known as my violinist daughter and cellist wife. The three of us debuted as "Montrieau" last September.

So, anyway, we sat down to read through the Mendelssohn last night, and as I started thinking through the music, a transitional thematic idea from the first movement passed through my head...and then segued unexpectedly (still in my head, of course) to something quite different. If you read this blog regularly, you'll not be surprised that I find this kind of thing fascinating. 

Once we'd finished playing, I ran upstairs and set myself the task of stitching the Mendelssohn together with this "other," and...well, that's really all there is to it. If you don't know the Mendelssohn, you can hear it here - the spot that linked my mind elsewhere begins in the violin just after the 2:25 mark, though you might want to start around the 2:00 mark to get more context:

And my new contribution to Western Civilization may be heard here:

I won't say much more other than to clarify that:
  1. Yes, I had to transpose one of the recordings up a 4th, which...adds something.
  2. As always seems to be the case with these incidental mashups, the two recordings seems to link up surprisingly well. I did not change the tempo of either one bit, and yet it almost sounds as if they were meant to go together.
  3. Almost.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hardworking Rhythms

Last weekend at my daughter's camp, I heard live for the first time Louis Andriessen's Workers Union. It was quite an undertaking for a group of high schoolers more used to playing Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, etc. and though I wouldn't say I loved it, I did love the experience of hearing it. There is something a bit ironic about seeing a group of, let's admit it, pretty privileged kids acting out this populist message-music, but that doesn't mean it's not good for them. There's also something a bit heavy-handed about the way the political message is almost literally enacted by the musical conception, but that's a discussion for another time. I wish I had and could share video of the performance I heard (featuring mostly winds and strings with piano; I particularly enjoyed the English horn contribution to the texture and the pianist's fearless hammering - UPDATE: now available here), but here's one that gives a good sense of what it can sound and feel like:

I found an excellent description (by Jesse Rothwell) of this iconic work at the LA Philharmonic's website:
Workers Union (1975), written for "any loud sounding group of instruments," is an assault of repetition and dynamics. Andriessen replaces the pretty hypnosis of American Minimalism with jerky rhythms and dissonance. His music springs from his political idealism, his challenge of the status quo, his belief in struggle. He takes the influences of Stravinsky, the obsessively rhythmic form of Boogie Woogie jazz, and early Minimalism to create his own style; his music sounds like Steve Reich with his hand in a meat grinder.
"Minimalism with jerky rhythms and dissonance." I can attest to that, because though the piece's concept and overall effect/affect stayed with me for several days, I found that my brain started slipping something different into my aural memory, so that it became conflated with this little creation of mine:

That, of course, is Steve Reich's seminal Minimal(-ist) Clapping Music with Stravinsky's famous "Rite of Spring" chords subbed in for the original unpitched claps. It is, thus, essentially what Rothwell says about Andriessen - a combination of Minimalist repetition with brutal dissonance. Of course, I don't know what Andriessen or Reich or Marx would say about me handing over the people's rhythms to a mechanized, synthesized industrial machine, but I'm not really a political person. I do, however (as I've tweeted before), think that my Reich/Stravinsky makes excellent '70s TV car chase music. Try loading this video in one browser tab, with its sound turned low, and play the Clapping Rites video above in this tab as background. (I posted this combo once on Tubedubber, but the link won't work for me today...)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What a little moonlight can do...

Short, simple post here. A twitter acquaintance made note that an internet radio station was mistakenly cutting back and forth between two different recordings; another Twitter acquaintance helpfully (?) suggested this was just my sort of thing (see last post), and I was suddenly imagining what pieces might make nice jump-cut partners. I had the idea of splicing quickly and methodically back and forth between two distinct pieces to see if the ear could somehow hear each half as complete, but didn't get so far with that idea - yet. In the meantime, I found myself with a couple of enchanting moonlight mashups. I won't say more about them now, but just note that there are surprisingly lovely moments in each one. You be the judge.

UPDATE: Similar-ish stuff from the past:
Lengthy playlist with many more...and what is it about moonlight?

UPDATE 2 (10/9/13): Hear the live performance.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My end is my beginning?

My devoted readers (parents) might recall that a recent blog post featured a "backwards" version of Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 in which its phrases are played in reverse order. Fast-forward to an evening last week as I'm driving home from work; I turn on WGBH and find myself in the middle of the finale of Brahms' Symphony No. 3, incidentally one of my least favorite works of this composer whose music I generally love. But, Brahms is clearly working hard so I decide to stick around to the end. Much to my surprise, the ending of the symphony is immediately followed by the opening of the first movement. OK, now I'm hooked - what will happen next?

It's surely evidence of my own quirkily subversive listening tastes that I felt more compelled to keep listening by this strange circumstance than I would have if they'd just played the symphonic drama according to the plan Brahms intended. In this case, I did something I almost never do upon arriving home which was to rush into the house and turn on the radio to see how things ended. (My children were clearly confused by this behavior. Usually I ignore them because I'm at the computer, not because I'm listening to the radio.)  The hard-working radio orchestra proceeded to plow through movements 1, 2, and 3 which brought us to the real moment of truth. Were we about to cycle through the 4th movement again? Was this some "Brahms 3 Marathon" like those 24-hr showings of A Christmas Story that happen on TBS every December 25? No, the calm, confident voice of the announcer came on to let us know we'd just heard Brahms'  Symphony No. 3, performed by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Nothing to see here.

OK, it's kind of awkward that he didn't even seem to know what happened, but I'm going to make the generous assumption that his voice was either pre-recorded or that he wasn't listening to what was going on. (Perhaps he was a Siri-like robo-DJ.) Ending with that melancholy 3rd movement would be a strange thing indeed - I'd certainly hope any announcer actually listening would realize something was amiss. Of course, it's not the first time I've heard strange goings on on the radio. I remember once turning on WGBH in the middle of a viola/piano performance of Schumann's Fantasy Pieces only to have the announcer gleefully tell us we'd just heard Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata. Fantasy, indeed! I have vague memories of times when a CD started skipping on the air (so exciting!) - I suppose stations are more likely to play straight from hard drives now, so the skipping is less likely, but mislabeled tracks (as probably happened with Brahms 3) might be more likely.

So, yes, I enjoy this kind of thing and it does invite some thinking about why order matters, and also whether, in a world in which many listeners know this music backwards and forwards, there might be some merit in not always going forwards. Brahms 3 played 4-1-2-3 did NOT work, I can tell you, but I like the broader idea of playing with expectations. That's why I so enjoy listening to "Satie Surprises" and I remain quite proud of one of my finest blogging achievements, the stitching of three separate Mozart concerto movements into a single, classically elegant hallucination. (Why shouldn't hallucinations be elegant?)

I also wrote a few years back about the possibility of a "free the movements" movement in which individual movements of major works are allowed to roam free. Yes, this kind of thing happens all the time in certain kind of educational contexts. Just last night,  I attended a 4-hr recital at my daughter's camp in which we jumped merrily back and forth from Haydn to Hindemith, from Brahms to Bridge to Britten, from Dvorak to Dello Joio to Janacek, from Mendelssohn to Andriessen, etc. It didn't all work - the inelegant bustle of two movements from Dvorak's wind serenade were hard for me to take after the suave first movement of Ravel's string quartet, but I ended up Facebooking the following when the evening had ended. I don't have that many rules in life, but one of them is, "if you're gonna have a 4 hour chamber music recital, you better end with the last mvt of the Mendelssohn Octet." Check. I'd listen to that at 3 in the morning, even if my hair was on fire...
Would I have rather heard the entire Octet played 1-2-3-4? In some cases, yes, but for this evening, the wildly frenetic finale did just fine on its own as a thrilling nightcap. (It helps that this work, justifiably, has a kind of legendary, cult-status at the camp. A movement shows up on just about every program, and every student hopes to get to play some of it - it's treated like the rock star it is.) Of course, the more low-brow classical radio stations used to get bashed for playing single movements from symphonies and sonatas, and I suppose the BSO would take a beating if some conductor decided to stitch together his own patchwork program, but I think it could be pretty cool if done thoughtfully. A maestro mix-tape, if I may mix my meta-media.

But if you're gonna play music backwards, probably better to choose Satie or Haydn over Brahms - Brahms likes to be in control.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Copland's Cummington Clarinet Connection

My daughter's at a music camp out in rural Cummington, MA and, since we just read the chapter on Copland and FDR-era populism in The Rest is Noise in a summer class, I remembered that Copland had written the score for a little U.S. documentary about immigrants called "The Cummington Story."

I'd learned about the film from the music camp, which had learned of the score back in 2008 and had their junior camp orchestra perform it.

The film/documentary is a hokey but earnestly charming twenty minutes of nostalgia of which I'd never watched more than a few minutes; but since I was thinking a lot about Copland, I watched the whole thing this morning and, not surprisingly, a lot of the music sounds like a lot of Copland, but I was still surprised by an extra jolt of recognition around the 12:45 mark of the film. The music there is very close to the climactic moments in the first movement of the composer's clarinet concerto, as at around the 4:00 mark below:

I wanted to think I'd made some great musicological discovery (although it's pretty obvious), but it turns out even Wikipedia already knew about this connection between the 1945 score and the 1947-48 concerto. Still, as this blog has often evidenced, hearing this kind of connection is one of my favorite things about listening to music...

Friday, July 12, 2013


[EXCITING UPDATE: I finally found a technology (MIT's Scratch) to construct my ideal random Gymnopédie player. See/hear it in action here. Also, I performed a "live-randomized" version at my September, 2013 recital. Performance is here.]

Here's a lazy, aimless post for a lazy summer's day. Erik Satie's famous Gymnopédies have a kind of timeless, anti-gravity quality that makes them seem both like they could go on forever and that they're not going anywhere in particular. I've wondered for awhile about the possibility of creating a system that would play through one of these pieces by jumping randomly from phrase to phrase. So, finally I did something about it with the particularly iconic No. 1. Download this zipped folder of 20 mp3s, put them into an iTunes playlist, set for shuffle and you may never need to do anything again as time may actually stop.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be much harder to get a web-based audio playlist to shuffle without highly annoying gaps occurring between each "track," so I haven't yet created the perfect "Randomnopédie" player, but perhaps I'll figure it out. In the meantime, you can head over here and hear the phrases amble by randomly with only slight (but still annoying) spaces between the phrases. (You'd think Soundcloud could get this right, but no...)

More to come...including, perhaps, a fully "backwards" version and a possible Trois Gymnopédies version in which phrases from all three pieces are freely intermingled.


Update: backwards version has been posted: 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Rite As Well Be Spring

But wait, there's more! I thought that previous post was all I had to say about The Rite of Spring on its 100th birthday, but my brain wouldn't stop generating puns and pretty soon "It Rite As Well Be Spring" ambled by. Well, just as the words "Rite of Appalachian Spring" once inspired this mashup, I suddenly realized that Vivaldi's iconic Spring concerto is a PERFECT match for Stravinsky's iconic spring chords. I don't really see any reason to say anything else:

UPDATE: Video version