What I Like About...
String Quartet Op. 33, No. 2 (The Joke)
, Hob. III. 38, Presto (fourth movement)
Franz Joseph Haydn
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 1-6
The concept of the quartet as a violin player with three other people is one that I, a 'cellist, resist. As a young student in quartet lessons with my siblings I would stare out the window for long lengths of time as we played through the easy bass lines of the classical
repertoire. As a music teacher I have heard many aspiring first violin players mangle their high-pitched arpeggios while their colleagues bleat out the old I-V-I with dry faces. Such is the fate of much music written not to praise the universe or question the unfairness fate but simply to be enjoyed by those who can play and appreciate a joke.
Hearing the joke some two hundred and fifty years after its first telling one encounters more elegance than wit. The silences are no longer strange to us and the repetitions no longer absurd. But the level of craft and the gentle touch we hear in this rondo are too infrequent in our modern days. With a nostalgia for an evening we never witnessed we overlook the crudeness of our history and aspire to contain an artistic motion in our lives.
There are times when the supporting players are stuck with long sustain pitches while violin 1 veers off to either glory or discomfort. I like long notes. Always have. They stand in the background, odd and slow, as a piece of music to themselves.
Symphony No. 104 in D Major, Hob. I:104, Finale
Franz Joseph Haydn
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 58-68
Haydn grabs our attention with a very soft yet resonate pedal 'D' in the low strings and brass. The violins then state the theme without harmony or counter melody. When they repeat the theme, with a counter melody, the listener is witness to how the event is put together. For the first several times I heard this movement I thought it was by Beethoven. In Beethoven's music there is often a working-out of the themes like this. But there is also something about the spirit of the theme that reminds me of Beethoven. It is only a few notes. Once learned, it is unmistakable. And it is fodder not for melodic inventiveness but dramatic and purely orchestral developments that inspire the listener to shake and hum.
Rounding out the First Viennese School, I'll tell you how this piece reminds me of Mozart: it has clarinets. Unlike Mozart's clarinets, these sticks seem like bell peppers in a hot chili. Not trusted under the spotlight, their job is to warm the high pitch of the flute and the piercing tone of the oboe.
The bassoon is another unsung hero of the modern orchestra. It gives the 'cello sound the ability to project, to cover more ground. And often, as at track 61, intermingles with the strings in interesting ways. The secondary theme we hear at this section has a foreshadowing of the Second Viennese School in its affection for a dissonant melodic leap. The bassoon has the most tangy leap of all and then works its way into a doubling of the viola part.
Local No. 1, A.F. of M., gig notes #1
Is it true that in classical performance the priority is on how you play while in jazz it is on what you play? (Where did I read that?) The other night I played a gig that seemed to contradict that perception. I played in the orchestra behind Steve and Eydie
. They knew their act as well as Gil Shaham knows the Tchaikovsky Concerto.
The band leader and pianist was a man named Vincent Falcone who is from some town in Nevada. Except for one trumpet player who came with the act, the brass and winds were all cats you might see at the Blue Wisp
. All ten string players might be found in the pit at the Ballet
. In between were a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer that also came with the act and a local percussionist covering timpani, xylophone and assorted instruments. The players that came with the act have been playing this book for over twenty years. They left nothing to chance, took no risks, and delivered exactly the performance Steve, Eydie, and the packed audience wanted.
Watching the drummer, I thought of Mwanji Ezana's question
, "Do orchestras really need so many percussionists who don't really do that much?" If we consider the percussion at the early stage of the orchestra, as in Haydn's orchestration, the percussion often consists of only the timpani. The timpani serves mainly as a pitch reinforcement of the brass. As the orchestra develops the percussion section is there to add color and eventually becomes a section capable of caring the tune on its own. In contrast to Steve and Eydie's drummer who was there to control the tempos all the time, the classical percussionist has fewer notes and a lot more instruments.
Symphony No. 92 (Oxford
), Hob. I:56, Adagio cantabile (second movement)
Franz Joseph Haydn
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 54-58
The acceleration of world change contemporaneous with this Adagio is eerily noticeable in the NAWM collection. The fully developed string section that Vivaldi
enjoyed is now joined by a flute, oboes, and bassoon, French horn, trumpet, and timpani. This modest representation of the non-string families belies the enormous expansion that lies in wait for them. And strangely, simply because the pieces are getting longer, it is taking me less time to get through a single CD.
It is odd to me that Haydn did not generally use the flute in his orchestration. It works so well here, usually doubling the first violins at the octave. The concept of the orchestra as a layer of string sound on top of which the composer can add woodwinds or against which the composer can set the brass and percussion is, as Haydn knew, a rich point of departure. This organization became popular and possible because of the general standardization of instruments throughout Europe and (I keep coming back to it) Rameau's bestseller. The triad and the fundamental bass had as much to do with early orchestration as any composer's genius.
The impressive twist in Haydn's orchestration for this Adagio is his use of silence. Instead of building to a loud or strained climax, Haydn stretches the music toward the climax until it dissipates into silence. And after a pause of what may seem like 4'33"
or something from No theater, he takes us back to the opening tune, which has moments of silence.
Symphony No. 56 in C Major, Hob. I:56, Allegro di molto (first movement)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 47-53
As a teenager I hated Haydn
. Still, it is sometimes too easy for me to slip into a derisive mode when I see his name. For instance, my first reaction to seeing him listed in the liner notes of these recordings was to wonder why he got such a large amount of time. The second volume of my NAWM recordings, classic to modern, has a total of 354 minuets and 23 seconds of music. A little over 25 of those minuets are filled up by Mr. Haydn. This seems to suggest that Mr. Haydn is the author of approximately 7% of music written since 1750. Or that he is credited for providing us with 7% of significant
music since the start of the classical
period. And why is the style he wrote called classical
when something as disparate as Berg's Lulu
only gets played, if ever, on the classical
music radio station? And what were most people, people like little Franz's parents who could never have had smokes with the Esterházy's, what were they listening to? What were they singing? Whose to say that music was not better than the "surprise" symphony?
But eventually we all must get past our adolescent meanness, become friends with our parents, and even listen appreciatively to "Papa" Haydn.
Regarding his Symphony No. 56, his choice to relegate the sharpest dissonance to the softest bars of this triple time Allegro gives evidence of a composer mindful of craft.
Concerto for Harpsichord or Piano and Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 7, No. 5, Allegro di molto (first movement)
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 34-46
History is lucky for these two sons. Not all of J.S. Bach's progeny
were so smart. One has to wonder how much these lucky children were intimidated by their father's work or if they even had an inkling of the posthumous fame their father was destined to enjoy. It seems the Hamburg Bach
gave the old man's manuscripts some careful attention while the London Bach, J.C., may have been looking more toward his own life and the direction musical fashion was taking at the time. At least the works chosen for this anthology, C.P.E.'s Sonata and J.C.'s Concerto, represent those attitudes.
While we may thank C.P.E. for being his father's archivist, J.C. (as seen here) moved this legacy toward the piano writing of the future. Listening to Johann Christian's concerto it is easy to imagine how the scales and chords nearly organized themselves under his fingers. Once done with this piece, a new one beckons. There is a balance and rhythm to this music as instinctive as the twelve bar blues.
In support of the soloist, J.C. found two violin sections and a bass line sufficient. My favorite spot is near the end of track 42 where the group leads into the recapitulation. This is the moment where the three orchestral parts and soloist act the most independently of each other. For a few bars only, texture, more than tunes or harmony, are the listener's sustenance.
Sinfonia a 8 in E-flat Major (La melodia germanica
, No. 3)
Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717-1757)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 29-33
Gone are the days when a composer could win the mantle of innovator by writing a crescendo
. Though there is something about the Mannheim
affection for patterns that reminds me of John Adams
. Like Adams, Johann Stamitz seems to have prioritized performance over musical interest. His "army of generals" must have been an impressive sight, their bows moving at the same time and all. And like Adams, his scores may not be much to read but the sound is often a fun ride.
The late eighteenth century is recent enough for us living listeners to distinguish compositional voices. We find in this music the familiar and the unique. For instance, we hear the "I like soup
" icebreaker now adorned with hiccups. And Stamitz, who wrote instrumental music with scarce a trace of polyphony, becomes an opposite of the Ockeghem Mr. Ross described in 1998
. This Mannheim champion asks very little of our ears. The listener has no challenge in understanding. There is no renewed mystery upon repeated hearings. We like him because we understand him.
What I like about this steamroller is the support the oboes get from the horns. As much as I do not believe music improves as generations pass, it is exciting to go through this anthology happily following the development of the symphony and other delights of the Western world.
Sonata in A Major, H. 186, Wq. 55/4, Poco adagio (second movement)
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Track 27-28
The vague nostalgia of the fortepiano reminds me of a sad upright abandoned in a hallway of a once European-style home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. No longer space for a family of optimistic emigrants, the house has been rented out to a small cluster of mid-American entrepreneurs. The piano, waiting for repair, suffers the indignity of wearing a sign that reads, "Do not play." Days pass and the repair man, un-beckoned, stays corn fields away.
Without ever tasting the sweetness of Ohio's corn, C.P.E. Bach unknowingly described this image so well because of a talent he inspired and shared with his contemporaries. That is a talent for the slow movement. Never since Gregorian chant blessed the page have performers been so able to see what music sounds like. And since these classical
slow movements we have expanded our harmony, instrumentation, and even tuning beyond the vocabulary of our notation. Thus, the effectiveness of our notation has declined. And since then a composer's voice is often unheard due to the loudness of style. Not that this makes music better or worse. Each epoch contains different achievements and failures.
What I like about this adagio is the elasticity of the phrases. From the beginning it is clear that the tune may erratically shift register, rhythm, dynamic, or duration. Yet it never takes us totally by surprise. It pulls at the listener's heart.
I’ll second that!
Charles T. Downey at ionarts recommended Cephas and Wiggins
. I heard them a few weeks ago in Cincinnati and thought they were great. Go buy their CD.
Springfield Symphony Orhestra performance notes #1
From the Enigma Variations
by Edward Elgar
by Max Bruch
Fountains of Rome/Pines of Rome
by Ottorino Respighi
Peter Stafford Wilson, conducting
Sandra Wolf-Meei Cameron, violin
Shortly before the start of our 2004-05 season our principal oboist, James Mitchell, died of heart failure. We performed the Nimrod
variaition as a memorial to Jim. To my ears, it was also a reminder of creative power we all possess--however known or obscure we may be--the nobility of that power and the brevity of our lives.
The Scottish Fantasy
was a relief from the difficulty of playing for Jim. However, that piece stinks. How can anyone listen to Scottish tunes without drinking? Who would want to? Ms. Cameron's youth and enjoyable competence did well with Bruch's essay. I look forward to hearing her play something else.
I am a fan of Respighi and this was my first time performing the Roman postcards. So, I had fun with that. But, part time 'cellist I may be, I yearn for programing more relevant to the good people of Springfield. When when I started playing in this orchestra a few years ago I was impressed with the adventuresome programming and the strong educational outreach programs. We have since cut our education programs and seem to avoid pieces that are not available at the Clark County Public Library. And the audience I saw last night was the smallest I have ever seen in Kuss Auditorium.
Read also about this good idea
Symphony in F Major, No. 32, Presto (first movement)
Giovanni Battista Sammartini (ca. 1700-1775)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 24-25
The pseudo-science of Rameau's bestseller
gains verisimilitude in the work of the elegant Mr. Sammartini
. Never have theory and practice been so happily joined. "I like soup. I like soup," declare the strings. The simple melodic construction and unsurprising harmonic rhythm of the classical
style makes it easy for musical vandals to attach nonsense text. The Second Viennese School
, emancipators of dissonance, avoided this. However, these two historic revolutions, the first and second Viennese schools, are alike in their reaction against music that relied too heavily on inspiration. As the matrix would offer an organized series of rows, the major scale would offer a series of triads prepared to realize the satisfying narrative formula known as sonata form.
Apparently, repeating a single pitch three times like the opening of this Presto was a popular icebreaker in Mr. Sammartini’s circles. In this piece, the “I like soup” declaration so clearly marks the beginning and end of each section that he could have afforded to be widely adventuresome. That he chose not to is significant to the listener's experience. We feel the opportunity pass. And we, like the first listeners to this piece, feel comforted by the show of restraint.
What I like about Sammartini’s tune are the ascensions in half-notes. They take the listener back three steps better to enjoy the speedy notes.