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Classical Composers
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Author:  Frislander [ Tue Feb 27, 2018 2:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Can I just say I love later Schubert so much, Death and the Maiden in particular, I don't know why but I think it may be to do with how I find something to love in all four movements, which is really rather rare for me with classical pieces (usually I find that I most relate to the opening movement, particularly in concertos and symphonies. There are a few other works which I find fall into this category, like Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th Symphonies, or much of Janáček's work.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Frislander wrote:
Can I just say

Please do! This isn't meant to be a me-talking-to-myself thread, any more than is inevitable. Please do share your thoughts!
I love later Schubert so much, Death and the Maiden in particular, I don't know why but I think it may be to do with how I find something to love in all four movements, which is really rather rare for me with classical pieces (usually I find that I most relate to the opening movement, particularly in concertos and symphonies.

Personally, I think earlier Schubert is great too - the Trout is such a great piece of chamber music. But yes, Death and the Maiden is wonderful too. [I don't really know the string quintet, though]. I think Schubert's always underestimated, just like Mozart - sometimes they make things seem too easy for their own good.
There's a great Schumann quote about Schubert - he said that Schubert was a child, playing among giants. He didn't mean it disrespectfully, and I think it's pretty accurate most of the time - there's always a carefree feeling to Schubert, even when he's crying. Which is also exhibited in his underrated inventiveness: just look at the Trout Quintet, a wonderfully "easy", "unchallenging" piece of music - but it's totally weird in every way! The instrumentation is weird (double bass instead of violin); the timbres are weird (the piano spends almost the whole time in the top couple of octaves!); the division into movements is weird (five movements - with a massive variation set before the finale?); the harmonic and melodic structures of several movements are really weird. It's weird from top to bottom, but Schubert makes it sound the most natural thing in the world.

I think people also forget JUST how young he was when he died. If Mozart had died at the same age as Schubert, we wouldn't have the last three symphonies... or the requiem, of course... or the last two string quintets... or the Clarinet Quintet, or the Clarinet Concerto... or Ave Verum Corpus... or the Magic Flute (or Cosi fan tutte, and may not even Don Giovanni)...

There are a few other works which I find fall into this category, like Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th Symphonies, or much of Janáček's work.[/quote]
To be honest, I don't know the 1905 or Babi-Yar at all. And Janacek? He's mysterious to me: I never used to know about him at all (outside of the titles of The Cunning Little Vixen and The Glagolitic Mass, which are both great names...), and now suddenly in recent years everyone talks about Janacek as one of the great composers. So far, I've not really heard why, but I can't claim to have spent much time looking. Any recommendations?

Author:  Frislander [ Wed Feb 28, 2018 7:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Salmoneus wrote:
To be honest, I don't know the 1905 or Babi-Yar at all.

That's a shame, because the 1905 is fairly akin to No. 10, you should definitely have a listen. Babi-Yar though I think I can perhaps excuse, though I'd still say it's a lot more accessible than 14, which is by far the most "out-there" Shostakovich gets with his symphonies, more like a Britten song cycle really.

And Janacek? He's mysterious to me: I never used to know about him at all (outside of the titles of The Cunning Little Vixen and The Glagolitic Mass, which are both great names...), and now suddenly in recent years everyone talks about Janacek as one of the great composers. So far, I've not really heard why, but I can't claim to have spent much time looking. Any recommendations?

Well the operas are a little more difficult to get into, but I would definitely start with the Sinfonietta and his string quintets. The Glagolitic Mass is also pretty good to start with as well, and it helps when it comes to the operas. I might also recommend Taras Bulba, and then maybe the suites from some o his operas, particularly The Cunning Little Vixen and From the House of the Dead. If you want maybe some of his lighter works you might be advised to try his Moravian Dances.

One thing I will definitely say is that even if you don't think he's the one of the true greats his style is definitely highly distinctive, highly folk-influenced far in excess of even Bártok. And it's consistent as well, though I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say his pieces all sound the same, but you'll definitely get a good feel for the style even if you listen only to my recommendations.

Author:  kanejam [ Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

This thread is excellent, Sal! I've just finished working my way through the examples here. I stopped listening to classical music about the same time that I stopped seriously practising the piano, but this thread is perfect for getting back into it. I didn't know much Schubert but definitely like what I hear. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Shostakovich or Rachmaninoff - I'm definitely more a fan of the big, dark stuff.

And just because you didn't mention it in the Brahms post, the first movement of his Cello Sonata in E minor is one of my favourite ever pieces.

Author:  Junes [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 2:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

This thread has inspired me to look for a classical concert. I think I haven't been to a proper concert since I was 16 or so, though I have seen shorter pieces of live classical music.

I'm not sure yet what to look for. Something I really wanted to see was Mozart's Requiem, but unfortunately it seems there are no performances planned; there was a a performance just a few days ago. Maybe I'll go for a piano concert. I play piano (improv, not sheet music) and really like the sound of the instrument. Or to a Bach Passion, there will be loads of those in a few weeks since we're getting closer to Easter.

Author:  Junes [ Fri Mar 02, 2018 2:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Oh and by the way, the Trout Quintet was one of my few classical cds back when I still used cds (along with the St. Matthew's Passion and Goldberg Variations). Just a random buy and always been quite fond of it since.

Author:  hwhatting [ Mon Mar 05, 2018 11:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Looking forward to see who the other four 3rd-tier composers are.
In general, my favourites are baroque composers (Bach, Händel, Vivaldi) and Russian Romantics (Tchaikovsky, Mussorgksky, Borodin). But my listening to Classical music has very much been based on random encounters - hearing a piece, getting interested, listening to more of a composer, and then not listening to any Classical music in a systematic way for long times on end, so I have a lot of gaps. I'm using your thread to close them; thanks for the opportunity!

Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Frislander: thanks for the recommendations.

kanejam wrote:
This thread is excellent, Sal! I've just finished working my way through the examples here. I stopped listening to classical music about the same time that I stopped seriously practising the piano, but this thread is perfect for getting back into it. I didn't know much Schubert but definitely like what I hear. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Shostakovich or Rachmaninoff - I'm definitely more a fan of the big, dark stuff.

Yeah, most of what I listened to as an adolescent was the big, dark stuff - as in Leon Boellman* big and dark, and yes, lots of Rachmaninov. As I get older, I appreciate the whimsy and the happiness more, though. While not having turned away from the dark, of course.

And don't worry, even just in the next few entries, there lots more dark stuff to come...
And just because you didn't mention it in the Brahms post, the first movement of his Cello Sonata in E minor is one of my favourite ever pieces.

Thanks! As with most Brahms chamber music, I didn't know it at all!
[my upbringing was sadly depleted in the mid-Romantic department...]

*Léon Boëllmann, 1862-1897**, does not in any way deserve a significant write-up here. He's an incredibly minor composer, except within the very niche world of fin-de-siecle organ compositions, within which arena he is noted for his Suite Gothique, a suite of short pieces for organ, which is a staple of the romantic organ repertoire. Most of all, he's known for the final movement, the Toccata from the Suite Gothique. Turn up the volume for full effect.
Now, this is a musically fairly trite piece - it just keeps repeating itself, getting slightly louder. But it does remind the listener that in the world of music, the organ is indeed the mad old grandfather everyone's forgotten about... if your grandfather happens to be Genghis Khan, and keeps a howitzer in his room.

Sadly, youtube files and iphone speakers can't possibly do justice to the sound of this piece, unfortunately, which really needs a proper CD and some big hi-fi speakers. Because that thing has a thirty-two-foot contra-bombarde, and while you can sort of get a sense of it, there's a simple diagnostic test to see if your sound system can handle a thirty-two-foot contra-bombarde: if your furniture does not start rattling and you can't hear strange sounds coming from inside your lungs, you're not get the full organ experience. It starts to get interesting about two minutes in.

[a little context on organs: exposure to sound over 85db risks hearing loss. A full orchestral crescendo can hit 98db. Loud live rock concerts can be 110db if you're near the speakers. The organ in that video can play up to 114db. The loudest organs known have played at up to 140 db, which is officially louder than Spinal Tap. And the frequency? The 32' pipes on that thing give out a sound around 16 hertz, which means you cannot actually hear the lowest notes themselves - you only imagine hearing them, because you can hear the upper harmonics created through resonance (you can, however, physically feel them). And 100 decibels at a pitch low enough to only be tactile rather than audible (16 hertz is also the resonant frequency of some human bodies as a whole (lungs, for instance, resonate around 40 hertz)) adds an interesting dimension to music...

...most composers don't use 32' pipes much. Apparently science tells us that people subjected to infrasound tend to experience 'unease, revulsion and fear'...]

Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Mar 05, 2018 7:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Junes: thank you! Good to hear you're feeling interested in concerts!

One downside of classical concerts is that they tend to be too long - which is great for serious fans (though even serious fans tend to go through moments of boredom and distraction...), but can be off-putting for newcomers...
If you're interested in piano music, that might be ideal, because chamber music (solo piano, string quartet, etc) is often performed in cities in 'lunchtime' concerts, usually designed to last a bit under an hour. These concerts are usually cheap, too. Or, piano fans can also look for piano concerto performances - often paired with other things in a full-length concert, but piano concertos tend toward the accessible end (because most were at least to some extent intended to let a performer show off to a crowd).

I would indeed suggest the Mozart requiem, if it were on offer. It does, to be honest, get a little less interesting in the second half, but as a whole, it's a relatively short piece (but long enough to be performed by itself, or with something small), it has the proto-Romantic power and passion to appeal, while also having the Classical tunefulness and accessibility not to frighten people off.

Some people love the Bach passions, although personally I'm not really a fan. For Easter, I'd personally prefer The Messiah - which may overwhelm in sheer length, but does have plenty of tunes.

hwhatting wrote:
Looking forward to see who the other four 3rd-tier composers are.
In general, my favourites are baroque composers (Bach, Händel, Vivaldi) and Russian Romantics (Tchaikovsky, Mussorgksky, Borodin). But my listening to Classical music has very much been based on random encounters - hearing a piece, getting interested, listening to more of a composer, and then not listening to any Classical music in a systematic way for long times on end, so I have a lot of gaps. I'm using your thread to close them; thanks for the opportunity!

Actually, i'm thinking I may up that to 5 more 3rd-tier. (2 will be up very shortly)

Thanks for the thanks!

Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Mar 06, 2018 7:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

b. (near) Parma; d. Milan

In 1840, the young composer Giuseppe Verdi – director of a small town music school, but rejected by the Milan Conservatory – swore never to compose another note. He had by then written two operas, but while the first had been a modest popular (if not critical) success, the second had been a disaster. More importantly, in the last two years both his children had died, followed by his wife; he had little reason even to live, let alone write. But he was still under contract to an theatre director, who physically forced him to take a new libretto to consider, ‘Nabucodonosor’. As he threw the libretto onto a table in disgust, the pages opened by chance on the lines for a chorus of slaves lamenting their fate: “Va, pensiero” (fly, my thoughts, on wings of gold; go settle on the slopes and hills... O, my country, so beautiful and lost! O, remembrance, so dear and yet so fatal!... either give forth a sound of crude lamentation, or let the Lord inspire in you a harmony of voices which may give virtue to suffering!). A tune came to his head, and he began writing. Six decades later, when he died, 300,000 Italians lined the streets for his funeral, spontaneously bursting out into the same song.

After “Nabucco”, Verdi toiled away as a contract writer, composing fifteen major operas (plus revised versions) in the next eleven years, establishing himself as the world’s premier composer of opera; having made his fame and fortune, he largely retired to the life of a comfortable landowner, returning once every decade or so, in great secrecy, for one last surprise comeback, each more rapturously consumed by the public than the last. For his final opera, ‘Falstaff’, the theatre owners raised ticket prices an extra 200%, but the opera was still rewarded with a standing ovation more than a hour long. Today, around 1 in every 6 performances of an opera anywhere in the world are performances of Verdi – far more than any other composer (about 50% more than the 2nd and 3rd-placed composers, and 3 times as many as the 4th). 9 of the 30 most performed operas today are by Verdi (or 10 of the top 35).

In addition to the early ‘Nabucco’, Verdi’s great works include the three popular hits of his middle period – ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Il trovatore’, and ‘La traviata’, the world’s most popular opera (on average there are around 2.3 professional performances of ‘La traviata’ somewhere in the world each and every day) – the two as well as his heavier comeback shows ‘Don Carlos’, ‘Aïda’, ‘Otello’ and the comedy ‘Falstaff’; ‘Macbeth’, ‘Simon Boccanegra’, ‘Un ballo in maschera’ and ‘La forza del destino’ are also mainstays of the repertoire. Verdi’s style is popularist: he combines the easy melodies of the light Italian mode of his youth with the majesty of French ‘grand opéra’ and some of the immediacy and emotional weight of the ‘verismo’ style that replaced him. Verdi was no mere tunesmith – his operas progressively developed the genre in musical structure and harmonic language – but he almost entirely eschewed the revolutionary zeal of Wagner’s approach, preferring to retain the accessible, common touch. A common characteristic is his use of the chorus as a character, representing the ordinary people: most famously Va, pensiero itself (‘the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’; Italy’s ‘unofficial national anthem’), and also the Anvil Chorus of ‘Il trovatore’ (also called the gypsy chorus, but with Verdi that’s not very specific; it’s a different one from the gypsy chorus of ‘La traviata’, for instance). The same earthiness and melodic gift produced arias like the famous Brindisi (drinking song) from La traviata. But careful, kids: drinking may look fun, but the ugly side comes out later; and no, this clearly does not end well. If you’re expecting a happy ending, you don’t know opera. Meanwhile, the quartet scene from ‘Rigoletto’ shows Verdi not just juxtaposing the earthy with the tragic, but actually superimposing them: as an unfaithful duke warmly seduces an assassin’s sister, his pet hunchback shows his unfaithfulness to the duke’s current love-victim, the hunchback’s own daughter, and the two simultaneous duets, one comic and one tragic, intertwine. [it’s an Italian opera. if there are no gypsies, there’s got to be a hunchback. and how could any good plot function without an assassin’s sexy sister!?]

Verdi pretty much only wrote opera; aside from a scattering of religious and secular songs, his only other major work is his Requiem, one of the most popular classical choral works, in which he brings the full dramatic power of grand opera into the religious sphere (though it’s more often performed in concert halls than in churches). It’s considered pretty stunning in its awe-inspiring invocations of hell and damnation, though (perhaps due to the author’s own probable atheism) it’s rather less convincing in its celestial solace. The Lacrimosa tones down the brimstone, but only to exchange it for menace...



1840-1893 (late Romantic)
b. Vyatka Governorate; fl. Moscow; d. St. Petersburg

Tchaikovsky has always had an uneasy place in the pantheon – appropriate, perhaps, for an uneasy man. Tchaikovsky was deeply insecure, easily offended and thrown into despair, and chronically depressed; a gay man (openly so among his friends, if not to the public), he repeatedly became infatuated with younger men, but love was stymied by self-disgust: “It would be unpleasant for me,” he wrote of one young man he was in love with, “if this marvellous youth debased himself to copulation with an ageing and fat-bellied man.” He fell in love with one woman, and mysteriously* married another – but, (it’s theorised) terrified of his wife’s sexual demands, he became so upset that he reportedly fell into a coma for some time, and the pair separated after only two weeks on the orders of his doctor. His most substantial relationship was with a third woman, the musical philanthropist Nadezhda von Meck, who kept provided him with houses and a vast stipend; even when they were staying in the same house, they took pains never to actually meet, but their voluminous letters show how they each regarded each other as a desparately-needed intimate confidant. Tchaikovsky died at only 53, allegedly of cholera, in mysterious circumstances that provoked conspiracy theories almost instantly, and that continue to do so**.

Musically and culturally, Tchaikovsky was trapped between two worlds, as the first significant professionally-educated Russian composer. The West viewed his innate Russian barbarism and quirky Oriental oddity with suspicion; the Russian establishment, led by The Five (AKA the Mighty Handful) viewed him as something of a cultural traitor, a stooge of the West. Only in the last decade of his life did the political intervention of the Tsar (who ennobled him and made him effectively the court composer) and the cultural intervention of Dostoevsky (with whom his music had often been compared, and who called for ‘universal unity’ with the West) promote him to respectability. In both West and East, his music has always been treated with deep skepticism by critics, who scorn his clumsy approach to large-scale structure, and disparage his intense, disordered emotionality, his conservative impulses (he loved Mozart and even wrote pastiches of Classical-era style; the Mozartian dimension can be seen in his singable tunes, if not in his more modernist approach to structure) and his explicit desire to write music that people might actually like. Nonetheless, that same popularism has seen his fame remain uneclipsed, and he is today one of the two or three most popular composers; gradually, some critics have been forced to admit that his genius for melody (perhaps second only to Schubert) and his great invention – as well as more technical aspects, such as his skill in orchestration – perhaps do earn him some modicum of respect.

Tchaikovsky’s work, sometimes accused of superficiality, is synonymous with passion. Just look, for example, at his fantasy overture, “Romeo and Juliet” – home to the world’s most famous love theme – and look also at how a later repetition of that theme dives suddenly and dramatically from swooning love into explosive gang violence[/url]. Tchaikovsky often doesn’t so much develop ideas as shockingly juxtapose them. And then there The Year 1812 (cannons!), which even Tchaikovsky thought was over the top (but then, he hated most of his works). Similar heart-on-sleeve power, if less noise, can be found in flamboyant popular works like the Violin Concerto, with its famous first-movement theme (you know how kids who want to be rock stars traditionally play ‘air guitar’? I suspect that if you want to be a violinist, the Tchaikovsky concerto’s first movement is what you play air violin to... I mean, just listen to how that movement ends). Tchaikovsky is also probably the greatest composer to to turn his hand seriously to ballet (disregarding Beethoven’s “The Creatures of Prometheus”) – oddly, his three ballets declined in gravity, from the weight of Swan Lake through to the endearing superficiality of The Nutcracker. The best of the three as a complete work is generally thought to be the second, [url=“The Sleeping Beauty”[/url], which is most successful in telling a coherent story, although it has fewer singable highlights. All three have their highlights available in reduced suite form. He also wrote a bunch of operas, although only two – “Eugene Onegin” and “The Queen of Spades” – are particularly notable.

Yet while Tchaikovsky may be best known for the ‘lighter’ genre of ballet and for virtuoso concertos (there are also three piano concertos, of which the first is the best-known), he also wrote very serious music in the genre of the symphony: there are seven, though one, Manfred, has only a name, rather than a number (a ‘seventh’ (or eighth, although chronologically sixth) symphony was also written in sketch form, discarded at the last minute, but later orchestrated by other hands). The fourth, fifth and sixth are frequently performed; the fifth in particular is a contender for the most popular and accessible of all symphonies, in an intense, heart-on-sleeve idiom – from the depths of its [url=https://youtu.be/CtxwKv0F4b0?t=39]tearjearker slow movement theme[/url] to the unbridled triumph of the coda to the finale (the symphony is unusual in having all four movements based on a single theme, appearing in different disguises in each movement, giving the emotional journey even greater weight). It’s the sixth, the “Pathétique”, however, on which his ‘serious’ reputation primarily rests, with its combination of approachable melody and radical arc: the start is remarkably dark and slow, the normally the ‘slow’ second movement is a cheerful but slightly demented waltz in 5/4-time, and the conclusion of the third movement sounds so much like a finale that the first audience apparently thought the symphony had ended at that point. But it hadn’t, because then there’s the ‘lamentoso’ finale, passionate yet even more morbid than the first movement, and ending with an, at the time, stunning ”dying away”. It was the first major symphonic work to end in such a subdued way since Haydn’s jocular “Farewell” over a century earlier, but here the impact is less amusing and more sombre. The whole work, while melodious, has a gravity and darkness that belies attempts to portray its composer as a mere tunesmith of fripparies and popular entertainments. The symphony briefly but prominently quotes the Orthodox Requiem; Tchaikovsky died ten days after conducting the first performance.

*as with much of Tchaikovsky’s psychology, this is a bit of a puzzler.
More: show
His brother/biographer insisted he married Antonina because she wrote a letter introducing herself and threatening to kill herself if he didn’t marry her; he and other supporters of the composer consistently painted her as a lunatic, an idiot and a nymphomaniac. More dispassionate research has questioned all these characterisations, as well as the rather improbable courtship-by-blackmail story. It’s likely that in some regard Tchaikovsky, who hated gossip and was anxious over public attitudes toward his brother’s own growing gay infatuation with a young deaf/mute child he was teaching, opted for marriage as a form of shield, either cynically or, judging from the paeans to the virtues of marriage he wrote at the time, through a genuine desire for respectability. Why, however, he came to the decision so suddenly, and why he chose a woman so unsuitable that he had to abandon her during their honeymoon, is rather less clear. The ‘beard’ theory is also hamstrung by the fact that Tchaikovsky told very few people about his marriage, specifically keeping it a secret from everybody he worked with (he was a music professor at this point). Regarding the complications of his sexuality, Tchaikovsky had made clear to his wife, he thought, that theirs was to be a platonic marriage; at some point he presumably told her he was gay, since she in one letter later threatened to tell people about his ‘secret’ (this was when his family was telling everyone she was a nymphomaniac whore) – but she never did, and showed no particular animosity to him. He did, it seems, come to despise her – except that he always insisted that, despite her other flaws, the collapse of their marriage was in no way her fault. His real hate was reserved for his inlaws, who apparently bickered with one another constantly, and he said he saw some of their vices reflected in her, so it may be that the problem was a more mundane culture clash that the always-sensitive Tchaikovsky couldn’t cope with. Antonina, for her part, went on to have (and give away) three children by other men, and spent the last twenty years of her life in a lunatic asylum; though, between his death and her incarceration, she did write a seemingly perfectly lucid, if naive, autobiography that gives no sign of ravening madness. For her part, she claimed the separation was because Tchaikovsky’s friends told him that a wife would dilute his creativity (something he was always paranoid about).

**allegedly, he died of drinking cholera-infected water, either at his brother’s house or at a famous restaurant, depending which friend of his you believe. However,
More: show
it is widely considered implausible that his brother would have a pitcher of unboiled water on the table (which he horrifiedly told Tchaikovsky not to drink – so what was it for?), or that a respectable restaurant would serve unboiled water even if asked, as that was illegal at the time. Nor is it entirely clear why Tchaikovsky, who always preferred mineral water and who was famously obsessive about health and hygiene, would intentionally drink unboiled water in the middle of a cholera epidemic. His refusal to call a doctor afterward is in keeping with his obsessive privacy and dislike of medical professionals, but seems rather extreme in the circumstances (given the classic symptoms of cholera, in the middle of a cholera epidemic, it’s hard to believe Tchaikovsky didn’t know he’d die without immediate medical attention). Combined with his low mood over the preceding years – several of his friends had died, and von Meck had cut off her patronage – a previous occurance of suicidal ideation after his wedding, and the fact that he died immediately after conducting the funereal Pathétique Symphony (which, he claimed, had a specific programme, but one that must remain secret), the oddity of his death immediately invited speculation that the cause may have been suicide-by-cholera. One sensationalist theory claims that he was ‘convicted’ by a ‘court of honour’ over his homosexuality and ordered to kill himself, although it’s not particularly clear why this would happen (the organisation his gayness would supposedly have ‘disgraced’ quite openly at that time had an anthem to the delights of gay anal sex, so it would hardly have been a shocking scandal). Additional complication comes from the question of whether his death even really was by cholera – the death seems to follow too quickly after the water-drinking to match the ordinary course of the disease, and people immediately became curious about the open casket vigil, in which countless members of the public visited, and even kissed, the body, quite contrary to the usual quarantine imposed for cholera deaths. One theory proposed is that Tchaikovsky had already (accidentally or intentionally) become infected, and that his reported blasé attitude toward water-boiling immediately before his death was the carelessness of the terminally ill. The chief alternative to the official cholera theory blames (homicidal or suicidal) acute arsenic poisoning.

On the other hand, there is nothing specifically suicidal apparent in his actions or letters leading up to his death, there was no known immediate trigger, and he’d probably never seriously attempted suicide before (as mentioned, he mentions thinking about it once, which some took to indicate he did try, but even if true the method (walking slowly into a river) suggests a cry for help rather than a serious attempt). The idea of the final symphony as a suicide note is rather impaired by the fact it was essentially completed a full seven months before his death, even if it was not performed until the preceding week; and while the symphony is clearly in some way about life and death, there’s no real reason to assume it’s talking about specifically HIS death. In any case, the whole affair is very puzzling and mysterious.

Author:  Frislander [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 2:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Salmoneus wrote:
the organisation his gayness would supposedly have ‘disgraced’ quite openly at that time had an anthem to the delights of gay anal sex, so it would hardly have been a shocking scandal

I almost did a double take at this in front of my laptop Sal WTF?!?!

Author:  Nortaneous [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 5:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Salmoneus wrote:
the organisation his gayness would supposedly have ‘disgraced’ quite openly at that time had an anthem to the delights of gay anal sex, so it would hardly have been a shocking scandal


Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Mar 07, 2018 6:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Frislander wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
the organisation his gayness would supposedly have ‘disgraced’ quite openly at that time had an anthem to the delights of gay anal sex, so it would hardly have been a shocking scandal

I almost did a double take at this in front of my laptop Sal WTF?!?!

Every university, college and technical institution throughout history has had its own equivalent of rugby players, singing their own equivalent of rugby-player-songs. [I don't think it was a legally official anthem or anything, it's just apparently one of the popular songs that everyone there knew]. And gay sex wasn't as taboo in the 19th century as now.

[well it was, but it was a different taboo. Modern rugby players can't sing songs about how much they enjoy sodomising other men, because people would Think They Were Gay. Historically, manly men like rugby players could sing those songs, because people wouldn't think they were gay, because look how butch and manly they are, they're not girly (ie gay) at all!
Professional adult men like Tchaikovsky had to worry about being outed - conservative patrons might stop funding him, conservative newspapers might start attacking him, conservative parents might not want him teaching their sons. There was clearly a great stigma attached to being a gay man, at least in certain circles. But people hadn't really drawn the connection between gay sex and homosexuality to the same extent that our modern culture draws it, so young men getting drunk and experimenting at college or in the army wasn't, so far as I can see, much of an issue, so long as they were clearly heterosexual men doing it.]

Anyway, for what it's worth, the place in question is Tchaikovsky's old school, the Imperial School of Jurisprudence. It took boys, mostly from the lesser aristocracy, from 12 to 19 (though Tchaikovsky also attended their boarding prep school from 10), and gave them qualifications for the civil service. Basically it was a slightly downmarket Eton, and apparently had a similar attitude toward gay sex.
[Tchaikovsky spent three years in the civil service, as a senior assistant at the ministry of justice. Fortuitously, however, at the same time Anton Rubenstein was setting up the Russian Musical Society, which became the St Petersburg Conservatory; Tchaikovsky abruptly changed career path to join the first-ever class at the Conservatory. This put him at odds with the aristocratic tradition of composition in Russia, where it was considered better to remain uncontaminated by education, particularly foreign-influenced education.]

Author:  Vijay [ Thu Mar 08, 2018 12:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Nortaneous wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
the organisation his gayness would supposedly have ‘disgraced’ quite openly at that time had an anthem to the delights of gay anal sex, so it would hardly have been a shocking scandal


https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D0 ... 0%BC%D0%BD

Author:  Junes [ Sat Mar 10, 2018 3:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Salmoneus wrote:
One downside of classical concerts is that they tend to be too long - which is great for serious fans (though even serious fans tend to go through moments of boredom and distraction...), but can be off-putting for newcomers...
If you're interested in piano music, that might be ideal, because chamber music (solo piano, string quartet, etc) is often performed in cities in 'lunchtime' concerts, usually designed to last a bit under an hour. These concerts are usually cheap, too. Or, piano fans can also look for piano concerto performances - often paired with other things in a full-length concert, but piano concertos tend toward the accessible end (because most were at least to some extent intended to let a performer show off to a crowd).

Thanks for the tip! I went to a free lunchtime concert by the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Apparently there are free concerts like this almost every Friday in the main concert hall here in Utrecht (which is my day off!). They played Beethoven's Egmont overture and then the Eroica. It was very impressive, such a different experience than listening to it from a cd. Just the sound of the first opening notes alone was amazing, especially the Egmont. I do still keep "losing track" of the themes a little bit. I wouldn't be able to hum a theme now. But the crescendos really send shivers down your spine. I listened mostly with my eyes closed, to focus on the music.

Apparently there are free or cheap concerts like this in many places, so I'm going to check out more.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Mar 10, 2018 10:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Great to hear that you had a good experience! Slightly jealous - I don't think I've come across an orchestral free concert here, though they must exist. Free concerts are usually for music students of varying ages to get a taste of public performance - but the standards can be really high*. Or, sometimes apparently you get 'open rehearsals' by an orchestra before a paying concert, though I've never seen one.

But yeah, free and cheap concerts are one of those hidden treasures that most people don't realise exist. In London, there's something on probably every weekday, though unfortunately it's hard to find a centralised listing of them anywhere**. Usually in old churches, which provide great spaces and are in need of something to draw the punters in during the day. But you can find them in all sorts of places - I recently found out that the Austrian Cultural Foundation runs lunchtime concert series, for some reason. A couple of weeks ago, they had a theorbo*** concert...

And yes, live music is very different from listening to a CD. It sounds much more 'alive', and I think there's also something psychological that happens when you can actually pick out the locations of the sources of the different sounds.

[Why is live music different? In large part because of the limitations of the recording mechanisms, and even more the limitations of the playback, which tend to result in 'flatter', more homogenous sounds - and headphones, in particular, can't do justice to the bass. But also because it's difficult to replicate live acoustics properly. When you sit in a concert hall, you're really hearing the music multiple times, as different reflections of the sounds hit you from different angles, and hit your two ears at different times - you're literally immersed in sound, and it's an interactive process, because any movement of your head changes the profile of the echoes you hear. Modern recordings can attempt to replicate this, either by putting the recording device in the concert hall (but the absence of a crowd makes the acoustics too sharp), or by recording instruments or sections independently and mixing them together on a computer, but they can't really reproduce the effect. This is also why some concert halls are considered much better than others (near you, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is one of the legendary concert halls; the Musikverein in Vienna is another)].

Although they were cheap rather than free, one of my favouite concert series is the 'coffee concert' programme in Oxford - they're held every Sunday (late) morning, chamber music, and they're in the world's first purpose-built concert hall, the Holywell Music Room, the rather puritan decor of which is practically unchanged since the 18th century, so there's a great ambience...

*ironically, while classical music faces problems in some areas, quality of performance has never been higher. There's been no reduction - if anything, an increase - in the number of young people studying instrumental performance, but there has been a considerable reduction in the number of orchestras and concerts for them to perform in (on average, if not in some cities, like London), so the competition is extremely fierce, so the standards are driven really high.

**for anyone in or visiting London: the two main weekly free series are at St James Piccadilly and at St Martin's-in-the-Field, but there are also about a dozen other places.

***it's like an old guitar with a stupidly long neck. It was one of the most important instruments for hundreds of years, but is now only encountered in historically-informed baroque recitals. Behold.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Mar 12, 2018 6:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Belated International Women’s Day Special: Louise Farrenc

It seemed appropriate for International Women’s Day to briefly mention one of the great female composers. Unfortunately, there aren’t any.

What’s more, there aren’t even any very good female composers. It’s a struggle, frankly, to find any noteworthy female composers at all.

Oh, sure, back in the mists of time there was Hildegard, who was a genuinely innovative and interesting composer for her day. And in the modern era, Sofia Gubaidulina is widely considered one of the most important composers still living, with Kaija Saariaho also a candidate – although it’s frankly too early to say which modern composers will end up being notable in history’s hindsight. But between the two eras, it’s a desert with few oases; and in particular, during the heyday of classical music, from, say, 1750 to 1950, there were fewer composing women than ever before (presumably because, ultimately, that was also an era of historically remarkably strict gender roles). To be fair, there’s no dearth of women who have composed – there have always been bored, musical princesses and duchesses composing their own entertainments, there have always been divas and instrumental virtuose who occasionally wrote their own pieces, and there have always been curious daughters of musical families. But in only a tiny number of cases can we really say that these women were notable AS composers – rather than merely being composers notable for the oddity of being women.

[why is this? Hard to say – it’s not as simple as plain prejudice. Music has always been kinder on the disadvantaged than the rest of society – there have been black, gay and Jewish composers – and indeed women played an important role in music even in the 19th century. Female singers were the dominant musical figures of the century, and female instrumentalists were also very successful – even female music professors. It was speifically in composing (and conducting, of course) where women (and, even more so, Englishmen) were absent. Nor is it simply a problem of exclusion from education – particularly in the early part of the era, formal compositional training was something that was not seen as essential to a career as a composer. Part of it may relate to stylistic expectations: a woman who wrote ‘weakly’ would be overlooked as unimportant, but a woman who wrote ‘strongly’ would be seen as improperly masculine. More important, however, may simply be the strength of the maternal and matrimonial roles in that era. There were female performers, but they were usually young, and set aside their careers when they married (perhaps becoming teachers once their children were growing). Likewise, many female composers retired young, resulting in small oeuvres, mostly of chamber music (easily staged by newcomers) – effectively, they probably retired before they really mastered their arts. This does not really explain everything (cf. the number of great male composers who succeeded at a young age) but is probably the core of an explanation].

But there are always exceptions, to every rule. And one such exception in this case was Ms Louise Farrenc (1804-1875).

Farrenc was not born to a family of musicians, but she was born to a family of artists: her brother was a famous sculptor; her father was a famous sculptor; her grandfather was a famous sculptor; her great-grandfather was a famous sculptor; and her great-great-grandfather was a famous sculptor. She grew up in the artist’s colony in Paris, a hotbed of, relatively speaking, liberalism, and presumably encouraging for young artistic spirits. As a young girl, she was recognised as a prodigious talent at the piano, and her family arranged for the best possible musical training: she studied piano with Moscheles* and Hummel**, and eventually studied composition with Reicha*** himself.

Her career was briefly derailed by her marriage to a much older man – a flautist, who later became a musical publisher – but unusually neither wifehood nor motherhood (their daughter was herself a virtuosa pianist, before her untimely death) ended her ambitions. Quite the contrary. Having made a name for herself as an international pianist, she produced a string of piano works that gained great critical acclaim (including from Schumann; perhaps his marriage to Clara Schumann, who followed a very similar career path, encouraged him to support young female composers?); her Etudes became part of the required syllabus for pianists at the Paris Conservatoire – where she herself was appointed Professor (the only woman in France to hold such a position in the 19th century). From piano works, she graduated to chamber works; her Nonet, starring a young but already legendary Joachim**** was a remarkable popular hit for a chamber work. Chamber works remained the core of her compositional output (and gained her two awards from the Institut de France), but she also produced works for orchestra – a number of overtures, and three symphonies. None of her symphonies were published – but all were performed, repeatedly, and internationally, which in its own right was a great success for a composer working in a crowded field.

Meanwhile, as a piano teacher at the Conservatoire – she held her Professorship for 30 years – she not only held her own against her male colleagues, she excelled them, rapidly becoming known for the brilliance of her pupils. Indeed, so exceptional was her teaching – supplemented by her composition – that she was even granted the unprecedented privilege of receiving (eventually) the same pay as would have been given to a man in her post. In her old age, after the death of her daughter and husband, she turned from composition to scholarship, in which area she was no less significant: she revived, not only in print but in concerts with her students, the 17th and 18th century piano repertoire, and published an influential work tackling the difficulties of the interpretation of early modern music – a scholarly and artistic approach to ‘Historically Informed Performance’ decades ahead of its time. Combining her virtuoso performances, her unchallenged status as France’s premier piano teacher, her truly innovative scholarly work, and her highly accomplished compositions, Farrenc can be considered one of the most important figures in French 19th century music.

In the decades after her death, however, her music was largely forgotten – French, female, and focused on chamber music was not a good combination for the late Victorian era – only rediscovered by feminist scholars in the late 20th century. To be brutally honest, no great violence was done to musical culture through her neglect: Farrenc was not an innovative or inspired composer. Nonetheless, her abilities should not be underestimated. Farrence, particularly in her chamber music, possessed absolutely solid craftsmanship, and admirable good taste, making her superior to the vast majority of composers; she simply lacked genius. As a result, she stands alongside an entire tranche of largely overlooked composers who were perfectly, even exceptionally capable, and who collectively wrote a great deal of attractive, sophisticated music, but who never stumbled onto their one, era-transcending hit, nor who possessed the spark of genius necessary to rise from “very good” to “great”.

Farrenc’s calling card as both performer and composer for many years was her pair of piano quintets: here’s the first. As can be seen, the first and third movements are energetic, the second appropriately tender, and all is put together beyond any complaint. Here’s a really quite sweet and graceful trio adagio (Farrenc wrote trios for clarinet, cello and piano, in addition to the usual violin, cello and piano; she even wrote for the uniquely early-Romantic lineup of flute, cello and piano). The same taste and craftsmanship can be seen in piano works like this or [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4I9M398z-g[/url]. [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZeYHeXnNdo[/url]This third symphony[/url] is naturally somewhat heavier than the chamber music, but still a pleasure to listen to, with considerable fire. All of these are accomplished works of music – if they were by Schubert, Schumann or Brahms, they’d be considered very nice little works from the back catalogue. But with Farrenc – with all of this class of composer – there is no ‘front catalogue’...

Louise Farrenc, then, is a valuable, yet inessential composer. To the extent that her fame is (from a small base) spreading, it’s because she’s a woman. Yet rather than seeing this as unfair to her similarly-accomplished male colleagues, perhaps she should be seen as an admittedly rather arbitrary exemplar of a class – a reminder that, when viewed on the scale of centuries, there are behind the ranks of the immortal composers a sizeable number of impressive, yet largely forgotten composers who were nonetheless key figures in their own eras, and who continue to leave a legacy that is, while optional, still of interest.

[Two other names are interesting to mention here as well, in passing. One is the most important female composer of the 20th century: Nadia Boulanger. That’s the answer to a trick question, because Boulanger is significant not for her own compositions, but for her influence as the century’s greatest teacher. Among the countless musicians trained by Boulanger were seminal American composers Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Philip Glass, George Antheil, Virgil Thomson, and Roy Harris, in addition to the British Sir Lennox Berkeley and Sir John Elliot Gardiner, alongside pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim, legendary guitarist Narciso Yepes (perhaps the greatest guitarist of the 20th century), and father of the modern tango Ástor Piazzolla. Also, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, and, apparently, British female Muslim WWII war hero Noor Inayat Khan.
Montague Ring (1866-1956), on the other hand, was not particularly significant in history per se. She wrote forgettable parlour music – small, light suites, dances, and particularly love songs, suitable both for pop concerts and for amateur home performance, and while she may not have been important, she was successful in her day. Her real name was Amanda Aldridge, daughter of the great Ira Aldridge, making her one of the few examples of a 19th century successful black female composer; in addition to her composition, she worked as a teacher, where she inspired a generation of African-American classical and popular musicians, particularly singers (such as vaudeville star Roland Hayes and opera superstar Marian Anderson) – she also at times infused elements of African-American song into her own works.]

*Ignaz Moscheles, an influential and respected composer and virtuoso pianist, of a conservative disposition. A Jew, later in life he was one of the leaders of the anti-Wagner faction; he is best known today as the friend and mentor of the Mendelssohns (Felix and, relevant to this post, his sister Fanny, also a composer); he was also on good terms with the Schumanns (Robert and his composing wife, Clara); he played an important role in the reintroduction of music to the British Isles – Sullivan and Stanford both travelled to Leipzig to study at his conservatory. He may have invented the piano recital.
**Johann Nepomuk Hummel, an important composer and virtuoso pianist. Hummel was a child prodigy, famous for having been the pupil of Mozart (Mozart, recognising a fellow spirit, gave him lessons for free for two years, from the age of 8), and the (as much as possible) friend of Beethoven, and briefly Schubert (they met at Beethoven’s funeral). His book on piano technique was a bestseller, and his pupil, Czerny, went on to be a noted paedagogue, and specifically the teacher of Liszt; he was also a major influence on Schumann and Chopin, and briefly taught Mendelssohn. Outside of music, he was notably a close friend of Goethe; he agitated for the introduction of musical copyright, and established a pension scheme for musicians. As a composer, he was famed in his day primarily for his piano and chamber music (and 22 operas!) – he combined Mozartian classical restraint with a Beethovinian urge to experiment – but he fell out of fashion soon after his death. In addition to his professional contacts with Louise Farrenc herself, he made her husband the sole publisher of his works.

***Anton Reicha, a significant composer and incredibly important scholar and teacher. As a composer, he’s best remembered for his wind quintets – he’s more or less the father of the genre – but his chief role in history is as music teacher to Berlioz, Liszt, Franck, Gounod and many others (and as well as Louise Farrenc, he also taught the singer and composer Pauline Viardot; Liszt declared Viardot the first female composer of genius, but Viardot eschewed full-time composition and wrote only a few works, mostly for teaching purposes). In many ways, Reicha was at least a century ahead of his time – alongside his detailed and unfashionable theories of counterpoint, he wrote on such subjects as microtonality, bitonality and polyrhythm, which his colleagues of his day were unable to understand. At times, he even incorporated some of these ideas into his music, which was noted for its technical complexity; his string quartets were an influence on Beethoven’s. However, Reicha’s fame as a composer was badly damaged by his aversion to allowing any sort of publication or performance of his work, which chiefly circulated among his students and other professional composers.

****Joseph Joachim, a Hungarian Jew, perhaps the most famous violinist after Paganini and one of the genuine megastars of the 19th century (and cousin of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grandmother, coincidentally). Began performing at 7 (when he left home to study in Vienna), but did not become internationally famous until 13, when he was acclaimed as the violinist of the century – by which point he had become the protégé of Mendelssohn. Later, he became a friend to the Schumanns, and friend and mentor to Brahms (it was Joachim who introduced Brahms and the Schumanns). Joachim is central to the history of the violin in the 19th century: of the five great 19th century violin concertos, Joachim was the first populariser of Beethoven’s (previously seen as barely playable), helped edit and revise and then gave the first performances of Bruch’s and Brahms’, and was studying with Mendelssohn when he composed his, before giving the second performance of it. [the fifth is Tchaikovsky’s]. The concertos of Schumann and Dvorak, probably next in line, were also written specifically for Joachim, though he never actually performed them. Unusually for a virtuoso, however, Joachim was also a great populariser of chamber music, through his Joachim Quartet, and his concerts alongside Clara Schumann. He also composed music although, aside from the most common cadenza to the Brahms, and an influential cadenza for the Beethoven, none is of great importance.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

1860-1911 (Late Romantic)
b. rural Bohemia; d. Vienna

Mahler, more than most composers, was a man of paradox: a Bohemian Jew, he converted to Catholicism for economic reasons (Jews were banned from many positions in the Viennese musical establishment) and embraced the German tradition in music, becoming noted as an interpreter of Wagner; he married an anti-semitic composer, but forced her to retire from composition; an acclaimed conductor (in addition to the Viennese orchestras, he was also head of the New York Philharmonic and the New York Met), he met with a mixture of polite interest and contempt as a composer, his immense and innovative symphonies more often mocked than listened to (outside the German-speaking sphere, his work was seen as an interesting curio, a hobby with no commercial future; in Germany and Austria, his work was seen as disgusting, crypto-Judaic degeneracy). He achieved only one significant commercial success – the debut of his 8th symphony; and yet in the 1960s, decades after his premature death, his fame exploded beyond all comparison, not only among professionals (other composers, particularly in America, had long been promoting his work), but among a new generation of music-listeners discovering classical music for the first time. My father, for example, was one of that generation whose LPs of Dylan and Paxton sat alongside a complete cycle of Mahler symphonies. Today, while the ardour of the Mahler Revival has faded among the casual public, among musicians and serious listeners his symphonies continue to dominate the upper reaches of opinion polls.

[the LP was foundational to Mahler’s posthumous success. Conversely, the advent of CDs was problematic for him: the CD was designed to meet the needs of Beethoven, and Mahler’s works are simply too big to fit on them.]

In his music, too, there is paradox. He wrote in only two genres: short songs, and sprawling, colossal symphonies (the 3rd lasts over an hour and a half; the 8th was originally written for over 1,000 perfomers, including three full choirs, eight solo singers, and one of the largest orchestras ever assembled, filled with, at the time, bizarre instruments like glockenspiels and mandolins). Much of his career can perhaps be seen as an attempt to bridge the unbridgeable gap between these two genres: most of his songs have full orchestral backing, and most of his symphonies feature prominent solo vocal parts – indeed, many of his symphonic movements are merely (vast) expansions of his songs. Similarly, in style, Mahler stands at the crux where the two great strands of 19th century music re-unite: the formal, academic, controlled style of Brahms, and the chaotic, programmatic, free-flowing style of Liszt and Wagner. In both his lush and prolonged harmonic language, and his structural sophistication, Mahler has come to be recognised as, in effect, the ultimate realisation of the course of musical ‘progress’ that had begun with Haydn, and that dominated the Romantic era. Mahler represents everything that Modernism rebelled against; and yet, at the same time, Mahler has continually been a touchstone of inspiration for later composers, both Modernist and Neo-Romantic.

Among his songs, the best-known are the five traumatic Kindertotenlieder. [The belief that these were a response to the death of his young daughter is a myth; in fact, he wrote them while his wife was pregnant (she was not happy, worrying, correctly, that this was tempting fate). However, the death of children was not an alien topic to him: eight of his own brothers and sisters had died in childhood]. These songs, all dark, vary from the lyrical (“Look at us – soon we will be far away. What are only eyes to you in these days, in the coming night will be your stars”) to the delusional (“I often think that they have only just gone out, and now they will be coming back home. Don’t be worried – they have just gone for a long walk”) and finally the hysterical (“I was worried they might die tomorrow – but this is no longer a concern”).

On the symphonic side, his best-known work today is the 4th movement of his 5th symphony (often known as “Death in Venice”, after its role in the film). Note how the opening motif is shared with that first link to the Kindertotenlieder – here, it resolves, and so the orchestral piece is more serene than the song. However, as in a Wagner work, the music seems to be constantly striving – it knots up tension and releases it but never quite “gets there”... every release is itself a source of tension, and so rather than being divisible up into pat segments like a Classical work, the movement feels like an organic whole. The piece encapsulates the divisive nature of Mahler: for some, this is incredibly lush and warm, in both its rich harmonies and its deep orchestration, and hence beautiful and emotive; for others, it never gets to the damn point, and it’s easy to lose track of what the tune is and where it’s meant to be going.

His greatest symphony, however, may be his 2nd, the “Resurrection”. The first movement “Death Rite”* symbolises, with power and control, the funeral rites, and considers, Mahler tells us, the question of whether there may be life after death, and shows the completely new scale on which Mahler is attempting to operate – a finale like [https://youtu.be/gpug1NIi2s0?t=924]this one[/url] would for most composers be the last word of a major symphony, but for Mahler it’s not even the climax of the first movement – when the orchestra finally runs out of steam in that explosion (around 16:40 here), there’s still nearly another 10 minutes to go! The second movement, in radical contrast, is a bourgeois little country dance – reminiscences on the happiness of the life destroyed by death. And now, for those keeping track, we’re over 50 minutes in – just the first two movements together are longer than almost any other non-Mahler major symphony in the repertoire. The third movement discusses the unbearable nature of life as pointless activity devoid of all meaning, and culminates in a hysterical “death shriek”, before the fourth, borrowed from a song, yearns for the sweet release of death. The fifth and final movement, half an hour long, emerges out of the fourth through an echo of the death-shriek that unexpectedly gives way to something like a little temporary peace of mind – the finale hopes that the agony of earthly life may be answered by a modicum of not-awfulness in a life to come. Finally, the music swells from a few solo voices into an almost unbearable wall of triumphant sound.

[*Normally given in German as "Totenfeier"; however, Mahler actually spelled it "Todtenfeier", because it looks more hardkorr and Romantyk that way.]

Similarly passionate and prolonged music can be found across all nine of Mahler’s symphonies (the 9th is the other, beside the 2nd, that generally tops the lists), and in his ‘unofficial’ symphony, “Das Lied von der Erde” (a collection of Chinese poetry, and the third candidate for his magnum opus). [Mahler apparently feared that writing a ninth symphony, matching Beethoven’s total, would result in his death; he therefore refused to call his ninth symphonic work a ‘symphony’, and, reassured, went on to write a new ‘ninth’, content that he had escaped fate. Then he died. This makes Mahler another victim of the ‘Curse of the Ninth’, along with Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak and, later, Vaughn Williams; however, in all cases apart from Beethoven, there are heavy asterisks over these symphony numbers/totals, and it may be that the Curse of the Ninth has been more important in encouraging people to find ways to make symphony lists add up to nine retrospectively...]. Ironically, it’s the titanic 8th, the only success in his lifetime, that seems least popular today: critics accuse it of “optimism”, and hence (in the context of Mahler, and more generally Romanticism, in which nobody can ever have nice things*) insincerity.

Oh, one last paradox, that might explain some of his music: as a child, Mahler was traumatised by a screaming row between his parents, and ran out crying into the street, where he encountered an organ-grinder playing a trite, popular tune. Ever since, he claimed, he was unable to dissociate grave matters and emotional trauma from the sound of light enternmaint...

(*except temporarily before they are destroyed and everybody dies and the world is obliterated, obviously, and only then in order for the temporary alleviation of despair to make the unavoidable suffering to come even more bitter by comparison. Yay Romanticism.)

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Mar 18, 2018 1:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

1882-1971 (Late Romantic, Modern)
b. St Petersburg; d. New York

Igor Stravinsky was not the most important prophet of the new age: that was Schoenberg. But where Schoenberg positioned himself squarely outside the Common Practice, and hence outside these posts, Stravinsky straddled the boundaries of tradition – an inspiration both for those who passed beyond, and for those who remained within.

In 1910, nobody knew Stravinsky – he was a disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov, who had written only a few student works. But those student works had attracted the attention of Diaghilev, who commissioned the young man to write three ballets for his Ballets Russe (who were displaying Russian ballet to the Parisian public). Those three ballets hit the classical music world like three blows of an axe: The Firebird; Petrushka; and in 1913 The Rite of Spring. The first sounds of the Rite were greeted with confused laughter; laughter turned into uproar, uproar into dissent, and dissent into a pitched class-war fistfight between conservative aristocrats and progressive bohemians, who in turn both turned on the orchestra, hurling anything they could find; around 40 spectators had to be thrown out of the building, and allegedly a police presence was required to allow the second half to be conducted in peace; newspaper critics lamented that they’d missed much of the music due to the riot, and demanded that future performances be put on without the violent, hysterical “female element”.

But if the Rite outraged all but the most radical modernists, Stravinsky’s next phase, following his emigration to France (via an exile in Switzerland) at the outset of WWI, baffled and infuriated all but the most conservative: rejecting modernism, even his own, he adopted ‘neoclassicism’, or more accurately a neo-Baroque postmodernism. He persisted in this until WWII and his second emigration, this time to Los Angeles, where, after the war, he performed another volte face, adopting wholesale Schoenberg’s serialism – almost the minute he heard his archnemesis was dead.

Stravinsky therefore represents three wholly different approaches to the 20th century. His first, Russian period extends the language of Rimsky-Korsakov and the other Russian innovators into a more primitivist, cacophonous sphere; his work was particularly noted for the urgency and unconventionality of its rhythms; in short, he shows the way into bold expressivism. His second, French period represents a reaction, more conservative even than the neo-Romanticism of ordinary conservatives – a return to the cold simplicity of early modern music, and a prefiguring of the later 20th century rediscovery of the Renaissance and the Baroque. Finally, his third, American period is a belated embrace of serialism, the dominant form of Modernism, and served to propel serialism beyond the avant garde and the remnants of neo-Romanticism into, in the 1960s and 1970s, the primary vehicle of “serious” music.
To get a sense of early Stravinsky, I’d suggest as a starting point the first movement of his Three pieces for string quartet[/quote] – hear the physicality, the urgency, the way he turns a cello into percussion... something similar is happening in his [url=https://youtu.be/4Xf-qLmacwQ?t=26]Concertino, less simplistically dance-like, but no less pounding. Stravinsky seems to be combining a turn toward folk music with the aesthetic of the modern age: of mass production, of hammering machinery. Then there is the Rite itself – beginning is softer, though no less radical in its peculiar rhythms and sonorities (that’s a bassoon playing, but so far beyond its conventional range that it sounds like something new). But four minutes in and here we’re suddenly in the sound-world of ‘Jaws’ or ‘Psycho’: Stravinsky’s hammering chords are jarring not only in their strength but in their harmonies (the whole ballet is ‘bitonal’ – he frequently gives us two different tonalities simultaneously – an example of how Stravinsky avoided atonalism as such, while pushing tonality beyond its conventional limits), and in their erratic, constantly shifting accentuation. But even that is sedate compared to sections like this. Even the quieter sections like Ritual Actions of the Ancestors have this atavistic propulsion. [yes, if you’ve ever enjoyed a horror film, you can thank Stravinsky for the score]. And then that leads into the finale... (NSFW! assuming your work isn’t keen on bare-breasted human-sacrifice dances, at least)

So after than, naturally, after some diversions like this “rag” (and apparently an affair with Coco Chanel, and a religious reconversion via Catholicism), Stravinsky next turned to music like Oedipus Rex – an opera that not only looks forward through the 20th century, but also back to Verdia and even Mozart, in a regression that ends in the sound-world of Dumbarton Oaks. Again, Stravinsky’s influence is so great that this even this historicism is a vision of the coming century – its clean, harsh technical, repetitive sounds seeming to prefigure minimalism. But just as people came to terms with Stravinsky writing things like this and even more so this... suddenly he was off writing this...


b. St Petersburg; d. Moscow

Perhaps more than any other composer of the 20th century, it was Shostakovich who rose to the challenge of attempting to bring together – or at least to show a way to bring together – the warring voices of early 20th century classical music: the radicalism of Modernism, and the conservative neo-Romanticism that rejected it. That he did so not through a single, coherent academic ideology, but through eclecticism, through ‘polystylism’, through the juxtaposition and integration of violent modernism with lush romanticism, and of high serious art with ‘low entertainment’ (folk songs, jazz, jingles), often employing techniques of irony, pastiche, repurposing and encipherment, has always undermined his reputation among Serious Composers; populists, particularly early in his career and in Russia, thought he was a decadent, out-of-touch intellectual, while the avant garde, particularly later in his career and in the West, condemned him as a weak-willed stooge of Communist conservativism. Yet throughout his life and ever since, in Russia and in the West, his reputation with the general public has grown, and he is now the most popular of all the mid-20th century composers.

Of course, for Shostakovich, more than for almost any other great composer, questions of style and theory were not merely academic: they were a battle for physical survival. Composition in the USSR was one of the most political and controversial of all careers, and the penalty for mistakes was death. His patron, Tukhachevsky, was tortured and shot. His friend, Zhilyayev, was executed – for the crime of being a musicologist. Another friend, Serebryakova, saw both her husbands shot and herself imprisoned in Siberia for twenty years. His girlfriend spent a year in jail. His uncle died in police custody; his brother-in-law was eventually released in such ill-health he never made it home; his mother-in-law, an astronomer, was sent to a labour camp; his sister was exiled; at least three of his friends who had written librettos for his works were executed. He himself allegedly escaped execution over the Tukhachevsky affair only because the man due to interrogate him was executed before the interview could take place. He was condemned by Pravda in 1936 in an anonymous article allegedly written by Stalin himself (it probably wasn’t, but it was probably written on his instructions, after Stalin had attended one of the composer’s works and not liked what he had seen); his fourth symphony had to be withdrawn from publication on implicit pain of death (the man who had written the libretto for a ballet of his that Pravda had disliked had just been shot). In 1948, he was again condemned, this time officially, in the Zhdanov Decree; he was expelled from the Conservatory, his family had their privileges revoked, and he was forced to publically apologise for his anti-revolutionary music. For some time, he slept by the lift outside his flat – so that when the NKVD came for him, they would not have to disturb his family. He survived by finding a way for his artistic impulses and the demands of the State (for popular and patriotic, understandable works) to co-exist – and by leaving many of his works as “desk-drawer” compositions not for public consumption.

Great music embodies the feeling of its era, and Shostakovich in many ways is the Stalinist USSR in music: at times brutal and violent, at others gaudy in its populism. “Battleship-grey”, Western critics mocked. In his serious work, he is rarely never soft – if often wistful; but unlike many of his critics, he was also rarely without a good tune.

He may at his most approachable in works like the 2nd piano concerto – a work he himself felt had little value, in which he is essentially imitating Rachmaninov (while being just as good as Rachmaninov), but which has had lasting popularity. But he’s more distinctively himself in the best of his fifteen symphonies – which surely includes his 10th, with this ”portrait of Stalin” as its second movement (here, he combines the violent physicality of early Stravinsky with a tradition of Russian-inflected military tunefulness (cf the 1812)). His most widely acclaimed symphony is his 5th, which provoked mass weeping and a half-hour ovation – it’s thought to have served to provide the Soviet public with a form of politically-permissable grieving for the victims of the Great Purge. Ironically, this relatively accessible triumph was a result of oppression – an attempt to atone for the anti-democratic sins of his 4th symphony. It was not Shostakovich who coined its famous unofficial subtitle – “a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism” – but he did endorse it.

His most popular symphony, however, both in intent and in effect, was his 7th, the “Leningrad”. The first few movements were actually composed while Shostakovich was starving during the apocalyptic Siege of Leningrad; the symphony was completed after his evacuation. Its first performance was given by surviving members of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, in besieged Leningrad, supplemented by the Red Army – musicians had to be redirected from the war effort just to put together enough live bodies to play. The first rehearsal had to be stopped, because the performers were too weak; three of the orchestra died. To get a working oboe, a repairman had to be bribed with cats to eat. The première performance came on the night that Hitler had declared would mark the fall of Leningrad; a major Soviet military offensive was organised just to divert Nazi attention long enough for the concert to proceed without being bombed. As the orchestra played, the music was not only heard over the radio by the Soviet public – the military set up loudspeakers at the front line to play to the Germans, as a form of psychological warfare; the symphony came to be seen as symbolic of, and spiritually a cause of, the Soviet victory over Germany. Musically, it is best known for the terrifyingly banal military theme that dominates much of the first movement – a perfect example of Shostakovich, in that it’s a pleasant light entertainment tune repurposed wonderfully as a symbol of the absurdity of endless war. Also, in that it’s actually borrowed from Lehar’s “The Merry Widow”.

Of course, Shostakovich’s populist impulses are strongest in works written directly for the general public – in particular, his patriotic film scores, which yielded hits like the Finale from ‘The Gadfly’, Romance from ‘The Gadfly’, or The Assault on Beautiful Gorky from ‘The Unforgettable Year 1919’. But that side of his music must be set against the more personal works, like the eighth string quartet – here’s the aggressive second movement. The quartet was written in the ruins of Dresden (where he was writing the music for ‘Five Days Five Nights’), and is officially dedicated ‘To the Victims of Fascism and War’ – but it’s widely assumed to be just as much a criticism of Stalin. The motif at the beginning of fourth movement, for example, is seen as the knock of the NKVD at the door (the same movement also quotes Lady Macbeth, for which he was denounced). Indeed, Shostakovich himself said that it had occurred to him that if he were killed, nobody would feel able to write anything memorialising him, and that this quartet could therefore be considered his own memorial to himself (one friend of his claimed he was actively intending suicide at the time).

Which is a morbid note to leave on, so instead, here’s probably my favourite Shostakovich piece: the 1st piano concerto, a work on the edge of the conservative and the challenging, the populist and the sincere, the tragic and the comic. In other words, textbook Shostakovich.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Mar 18, 2018 5:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Not sure why this is showing up as last posted to on Friday, when the post above this one was clearly made on Sunday. Hopefully this post will break that...

Author:  hwhatting [ Mon Mar 19, 2018 1:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

I now listened to all your Bach examples. Reinforced my love for that man's music.
BTW, the first Bach piece I learnt to recognise (besides the "Toccata and Fuge") is the Bourree from Lute Suite BWV 996; of course, the version I heard first is this one.

I also re-read part of the thread; some remarks:
Sal wrote:
I think it's much harder to get into pop music. There's pop charts, but that's just what's popular now - and historical charts are what was popular then, but how do you find what's popular now among things that were written then?

Well, except for you ;-), most people don't "get into pop music" in any systematic way. They listen to stuff on the radio or to what their peers listen to at a certain age, and form their taste based on that. Then they may get into certain bands or sub-genres in a more systematic way. I don't know many people who aim to be aficionados of "pop" in general; most people who take pop music serious are fans of certain musicians, of a certain style (say "German Schlager", "Disco", "Britpop"), or of a certain era (mostly decades), or a cross-section of era and style ("German Schlager from the 50s*). In general, there is some kind of common canon that mostly depends on when and where you were young - e.g., anyone who was interested in popular music in Germany in the 70s probably knows this song (Trigger Warning! 70s colours can cause eye cancer!), and for many of those it's a contender for most beautiful pop song in the German language*1), but ask people born later about this song and, mostly, they will just shrug. If you want to get to know a country's (or cultural region's) current canon of pop songs, the best you can do is to listen to general listening radio stations, those who aim at several generations and don't specialise in a certain genre; they normally tend to play a mixture of what is currently in the charts, pop from the last couple of years, and "golden oldies".
*1) And that despite it containing the word Luftaufsichtsbaracke. I sometimes suspect Mey wrote that song just to show that he could include that word in a song and it still would be romantic.
Sal wrote:
conversely, I find pop music irritating because as soon as I start to like a song, it ends, and either I have to start the process all over again, or else I have to repeat the song, in which case why not just have it be longer to begin with. Pop music seems to require much more concentration than classical music - blink and you'll miss it!

The archetypical pop music are songs to sing along to or dancing tunes - in both cases, human breath (and for the sing-along songs, human memory) limit their length. Being over soon is a feature, not a bug. Up to the mid-60s with the concept albums and psychedelic music, pop songs were mostly 2-3 minutes long. Ideally, they had a tune that's easy to memorise or to dance to. These are still good things to have, but the fact that pop music started to be something that people didn't sing along to but listened to (alone or with partners / friends, with or without headphones) and the ouster of formal pair dancing by dancing freestyle and solo in discos and clubs allowed for longer formats and less catchy tunes.
And a lot of people do repeat pop songs they like over and over again, especially when they're new to them.
Sal wrote:
*Normally given in German as "Totenfeier"; however, Mahler actually spelled it "Todtenfeier", because it looks more hardkorr and Romantyk that way.

I wouldn't put that past Mahler, but more probably he just used a pre-Duden orthography like in e.g. Grimm's Wörterbuch - after all, with being born in 1860, he probably learnt to write before German orthography was unified by the Orthographical conferences of 1876 and 1901.

Author:  dhok [ Tue Mar 20, 2018 1:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

An interesting article about the revival of the fugue in this week's Economist.

Excellent thread, by the way. (Though I've recently become something of a Holst/RVW man myself...)

Author:  Junes [ Mon Apr 16, 2018 3:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Salmoneus wrote:
[Shostakovich] may at his most approachable in works like the 2nd piano concerto – a work he himself felt had little value, in which he is essentially imitating Rachmaninov (while being just as good as Rachmaninov), but which has had lasting popularity.

Never heard this piece before, but I really love it. Especially the part around 1:10.

By the way, should this be moved to NOTA? I don't know if pruning happens automatically, but that would be a shame.

Author:  hwhatting [ Wed Apr 18, 2018 11:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Junes wrote:
By the way, should this be moved to NOTA? I don't know if pruning happens automatically, but that would be a shame.


Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Apr 23, 2018 3:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical Composers

Junes wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
[Shostakovich] may at his most approachable in works like the 2nd piano concerto – a work he himself felt had little value, in which he is essentially imitating Rachmaninov (while being just as good as Rachmaninov), but which has had lasting popularity.

Never heard this piece before, but I really love it. Especially the part around 1:10.

Good to hear! If you liked that, you should probably listen to Rachmaninov... (and, of course, the other two movements of that concerto!).

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