Archive for the 'Music' Category

Feast of St Hildegard

September 17, 2018

Today is the feast of St Hildegard of Bingen, our most recent Doctor of the Church, and one of our most musical saints.

Of all her exceptionally beautiful pieces it is hard to choose just one, but here is O Frondens Virga, performed by Chanticleer.

Sancta Hildegard, ora pro nobis.

Ave verum corpus

July 18, 2018

Here is a beautiful performance of one of the crown jewels of sacred polyphony: William Byrd’s Ave verum corpus.

The singers are Ensemble ZENE, a French group new to me. They sound terrific.

Chagall in noise

July 4, 2018

Poems about Olivier Messiaen are not plentiful; it’s a pleasure to read one. Micheal O’Siadhail begins in this way:

I hear the bells and singing stained glass birds
As, Olivier Messiaen, you shift the scale
Of chirps from semitones to tones or thirds
For tawny owl or tenor nightingale.

There’s a good deal of solid matter in the poem — references, direct and oblique, to quite a few of Messiaen’s pieces, to his synesthesia, to the musicians and instruments with which he was associated — but most of all the poem communicates a love for him and his music, a love that I heartily share.

There is a line that I cannot parse:

Our spirit’s here and there both correspond;

Perhaps it’s just because I haven’t slept properly for a while, but I can’t see how that apostrophe doesn’t spoil the sense of the line. Please correct me.

Our envoi has to be Éclairs sur l’au delà — which is not about desserts.

Big Apple music

June 19, 2018

Last week we were in New York City for a few days, and while there were able to hear New York Polyphony in concert. This is an ensemble I’ve admired for years, and it was good fortune that they happened to be singing in their hometown during our brief sojourn in the city. We made the trek up to the 92nd St Y to hear them.

They normally pivot between Renaissance and modern music, but on this night we heard only one piece from the sixteenth century — a chanson of Lassus — with most of the programme devoted to nineteenth and twentieth century repertoire: part-songs of Schubert up through part-songs of Parry, with a few modern pieces to add spice. Of the latter, my favourites were Ivan Moody’s challenging settings of Canticum Canticorum, which called for, and received, impeccable tuning and finely controlled ensemble singing. But then we’d not have expected anything less from New York Polyphony. It was a wonderful night of music.

Here is one of the pieces they sang at the show: Joseph Barnby’s Sweet and low.

Linked links

May 15, 2018
  • This blog was called All Manner of Thing because in the beginning I didn’t know what it would be, but, given how it has turned out, it might have been called Reading My Library. That’s just what our long-time friend Janet Cupo has called her new blog, which I recommend highly.
  • Reading my library sometimes feels that it could be a full-time job (and I am accepting offers from investors who would like to pay me to do it), but what about reading the Vatican Archives, with its 53 linear miles of shelves? A group of researchers are trying to make it easier by using Optical Character Recognition to convert the handwritten manuscripts into searchable text. The Atlantic has a fascinating article on the method and the technical challenges.
  • The special character of Cistercian architecture can also be recognized optically, especially when a talented photographer is at hand. Such is the case with Federico Scarchilli’s collection of photos of Italian Cistercian abbeys. They remind me of a wonderful book, David Heald’s Architecture of Silence, which I cannot recommend highly enough; it is a book that seems to make time stand still.
  • What would it mean to claim that time does stand still — or, put another way, that time is an illusion? This was apparently the view of Kurt Gödel. Ed Feser looks at his reasons, and the possible reasons behind his reasons.
  • Gödel may have been something like an idiot savant, but Gary Paul Morson argues that Dostoyevsky was The Idiot savant in his fascinating essay on the story and backstory of the novel.
  • Dostoyevsky was one of the authors Rene Girard principally relied upon in his early work of literary criticism Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, which I’ve had on my shelves for years, as yet unread. (Again, investors welcome.) An excerpt from Cynthia Haven’s forthcoming biography of Girard takes a very interesting look at this book, its argument, and its influence.
  • Another appraisal of a notable book’s argument and influence is Brain Smith’s essay on Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos, which turns 35 this year. I am tempted to say that this is my favourite of Percy’s books, though I have read it only once, and should probably revisit it before making such a claim official.
  • I should revisit the Hammerklavier sonata too, which I sometimes claim to dislike because of all the banging, but probably mostly avoid because it is too large and sublime for me to understand. An occasion arises both because of an informative essay, coloured by the purple prose that a piece of such immense sublimity reliably conjures up, and also because my favourite pianist, Murray Perahia, has recently recorded it alongside my children’s favourite sonata.
  • It’s relevant that my children like it, because of course what they like and dislike affects what I get to hear, just as they affect pretty much everything about my life. Michael Chabon, the novelist, writes a touching piece about how good it is that children get in the way of what adults want to do.
  • On the other hand, adults sometimes have to get in the way of what children want to do. Joseph Bottum writes about the special challenges of being a parent when children are surrounded by, and fascinated with, digital screens.
  • Finally, my screen fascination is never so great as when Terrence Malick is on the marquee. It is with happy trepidation that I hear of a forthcoming extended version of The Tree of Life. Rumours have long circulated that Malick compressed the ending of the theatrical release, with mixed results, but this forthcoming extended version is apparently going to extend the central sections of the film, not the ending.
  • I extended the central sections of this post, but not the ending.

Please turn that off

May 1, 2018

Over at Slipped Disc Norman Lebrecht opened a can of worms by posting a few lists of “10 Works or Composers You Never Want to Hear Again”. I thought it would be fun to draw up my own list. These are not pieces (or composers) toward which I’m indifferent or just think are overplayed, but ones that will cause me to cover my ears, grimace, and flee if they come within hearing.

The comments on the original post at Slipped Disc are entertaining.

(Hat-tip: The Music Salon)

Canonic Gloria

March 7, 2018

More music from my beloved Matteo da Perugia, this time a Gloria written in canon:

I do not know who the musicians are. The transcription is courtesy, once again, Jordan Alexander Key.

Another circle canon

February 9, 2018

A few days ago I posted some videos showing the scores of music notated on a circular stave. Here’s another, and it’s even better. Salve Radix was set by Richard Sampson to celebrate the birth of Mary Tudor to Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon. The piece is for four voices, 2 in the countertenor and 2 in the bass, with each pair singing in canon at an interval of a fifth. (It says “canon at the fourth” in the video, but to me it looks like a fifth. Mind, I am a chimpanzee in such matters and happy to be corrected.)

I’m not sure why these are notated in a circular pattern; once around and it’s done. Perhaps it’s just because it’s pretty on the page. But the intricacy of the musical construction is still delightful to behold. My thanks to Jordan Alexander Key for making the video.

Circular musical notation

February 3, 2018

For no very evident reason I’ve recently come across a few pieces of music for which the score has a peculiar feature: the music is notated in a circle, rather than on the usual linear staves.

The first is a piece by Baude Cordier, a fifteenth-century French composer, which has been preserved in the famous Chantilly Codex. It is entitled Tout par compas suy composes (“From a compass I am composed“), and the title gives a clue to the rationale for the odd notation: this is a circle canon, in which the voices wrap around and repeat, just like a circle, with the two discantus voices singing in canon. This excellent video animates the score so that we can follow along more readily:

This is not the only eccentric score from Cordier; he also notated a love song, Belle, Bone, Sage, in such a way that the staves form a heart.

The second example comes from George Crumb, a 20th century composer. Crumb is rather famous for his unorthodox musical scores. (His score for Black Angels is an extreme example.) Today though we will look at his circular score for The Magic Circle of Infinity, a playful piece for piano. It sounds a bit like a mad music-box, and I can imagine a mad little ballerina spinning on top of it as the score spins.

Another fun score by Crumb is his Spiral Galaxy, which spirals.

Thanks to Jordan Alexander Key for making these videos. His YouTube channel is a good one.

Musical anniversaries in 2018

January 15, 2018

Every year I like to plan a few listening projects around composers who will be marking significant birthdays and memorials in the year ahead. From a very thorough list (Thanks, Osbert) I have culled the following set of those that pique my interest:

Memorials

50 years

  • Healey Willan

100 years

  • Hubert Parry
  • Claude Debussy
  • Lili Boulanger

150 years

  • Gioachino Rossini

450 years

  • Jacques Arcadelt
  • Robert Carver

500 years

  • Loyset Compère
  • Pierre de la Rue

600 years

  • Matteo da Perugia

***

Birthdays

100 years

  • Leonard Bernstein
  • George Rochberg

350 years

  • François Couperin

Obviously the big ones in the wide world will be for Debussy and Rossini, and with good reason, but personally I’m most excited about taking some time with the music of three of the lesser-known names: Healey Willan, a composer who lived and worked for most of his life in the same city where I live and work, and whose music I much admire; Robert Carver, a Scottish composer whose few surviving works are good examples of the spectacular polyphony that was sung in those lands before the Reformation; and especially my beloved Matteo da Perugia, whose alluring music is one of life’s choicest pleasures. I’m also interested in getting to know the music of George Rochberg, an important figure in the gradual overthrow of serialism as the de rigueur style of twentieth century music.

For an envoi, let’s hear Healey Willan’s lovely motet “Rise up my love, my fair one”, sung by Flos Campi: