Archive for the 'Music' Category

Solemnity of All Saints, 2019

November 1, 2019

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and first earth had passed away,
and there was no more sea.
And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem
coming down from God out of heaven,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying:
‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people;
and God himself shall be with them and be their God;
and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain,
for the former things are passed away.’

(Edgar Bainton, ‘And I saw a new heaven’)




Gleanings: MacMillan, Wittgenstein, and more!

September 30, 2019
  • At Image Journal, I’ve discovered an essay by Michael Capps which gives an appreciative overview of the music of the fine Scottish composer James MacMillan. I learned quite a lot from it. MacMillan’s Fifth Symphony recently premiered in Edinburgh.
  • Also at Image Journal, the editor, Gregory Wolfe, in a neat inversion of the usual formula, confesses to being “religious, but not spiritual”. I don’t know that I’d put it quite so emphatically myself, but I’m sympathetic.
  • The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped in the last week or so, and, once again, I failed to attend any screenings, but I did take note of this positive reaction to Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. I wonder when I’ll get a chance to see it…
  • Standpoint has been running a series on persons and things they judge “overrated”. It’s hard to argue with some of their targets (Harry Potter, Ayn Rand, Voltaire, Richard Dawkins); I confess I’ve never heard of some others, which makes me wonder how overrated they can be. But the most recent entry, on Wittgenstein, is a gem.
  • Deal Hudson has assembled what he thinks the 100 best Catholic movies. Inclusion criteria seem to have been fairly loose: we expect to find “A Man for All Seasons”, but “First Reformed” isn’t specifically Catholic. “Movies of interest to Catholics” is probably closer to what was intended. I’ve seen 8 of his top 10, but only 30-odd of the titles on the full list. Plenty of fodder there for future movie nights. Did you know there was a film version of “Kristin Lavransdatter”?

For an envoi, let’s hear a piece that ravished me this week: the “Agnus Dei” from Johannes Tinctoris’ Missa sine nomine, performed by Le Miroir de Musique.

Lux aeterna

September 29, 2019


September 8, 2019

Everybody thought that George Crumb was cool for notating his music in a circular fashion, but here’s an anonymous medieval piece on a labyrinthine theme that is actually notated to look like a circular labyrinth. It was way, way ahead of its time (and the music is better than the Crumby modern stuff).

Sunday night Messiaen

August 25, 2019

A lovely performance of Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium!, courtesy Vox Clamantis. The volume is low, so turn it up to hear every delicious chord (and a few coughs from bronchial audience members).

Simultaneous Scarlatti

July 25, 2019

Domenico Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas for keyboard. I actually listened to them all once; it took about 35 hours. Nowadays we hardly have time for such extravagance. Nowadays, thanks to the time-saving marvels of modern technology, we can listen to all 555 in just under 7 minutes — by listening to them all at the same time.

Don’t give up too early; the best part comes last.

The comments on the video at YouTube are better than average. One person notes that it sounds rather like Ligeti. Ouch.

Weinberg: Chamber symphony No.3

June 13, 2019

The four chamber symphonies of Weinberg were written in his final decade, between 1987 and 1992. What is chamber-ish about them is not the duration — they are comparable in scale to his 22 full-scale symphonies — but the number of instruments. My view is that chamber music was the genre at which he particularly excelled as a composer, and I find the chamber symphonies markedly more engaging than his symphonies proper.

I have now reached the end of the Weinberg listening project I launched back in January, and I hope to write up a few concluding thoughts in the next week or two, but in the meantime here is a movement from his Chamber Symphony No.3:

Wonderful music!

Regina caeli

May 5, 2019

For Eastertide, a two-voiced riff on Regina caeli, by Jacob Obrecht, and played on the organ. The video shows how fifteenth-century performers would have read their parts, and is, on that account, both fascinating and instructive.

Happy Easter to all!

Weinberg: String Quartet No.13

May 2, 2019

Weinberg’s thirteenth quartet was written in 1977, just a few years after the death of Shostakovich, and it’s reminiscent of Shostakovich’s late quartets, with an untraditional structure and a tonal, if somewhat thorny, complexion. In fact, like Shostakovich’s own thirteenth quartet, it is composed in one continuous movement, though one in which several different sections are discernible.

I listened to it this evening, and was so taken with it that I thought I’d share it here, in a performance by the Silesian Quartet, who are engaged in what appears to be a project to record all of the quartets. It begins in this way:


Weinberg: Sonata No.2 for solo violin

April 10, 2019

Weinberg wrote three sonatas for solo violin over the course of his life (in 1964, 1967, and 1979). They are good examples of his writing for solo string instruments, a body of work that also includes three sonatas for solo cello, four for viola, and several pieces for a double-bass soloist. But, because of the high profile of the instrument, his solo violin pieces are of special interest.

Naturally, one always thinks of Bach in such situations, and Weinberg doesn’t try to fight that legacy. His Sonata No.2 is arranged in seven short contrasting sections, rather like a baroque suite. In this video, which helpfully allows us to view the score as we listen, the piece is played by Alexander Brusilovsky. It comes from an old Soviet recording from the 1970s. The sound is a bit sub-par, but the quality of the music still comes through.

The modern recording to get, for anyone interested in this music, is the one made by Linus Roth.