Alfred Schnittke’s deep roots

Alfred_schnittke

Since its premiere in 1986, Alfred Schnittke’s Концерт для смешанного хора (Koncert dlâ smeŝannovo hora/Concerto for mixed chorus) has gained prominence as a masterwork in the choral repertoire.

Schnittke himself said that his goal was to provide the musical language with “deep roots”, an idea that is expressed in the relationship of the work to the sacred Russian choral tradition.

An analysis of the work confirms that it shares many characteristics with various genres of that tradition. The concerto’s modern influences, such as tone clusters, demonstrate an expansion of this tradition and highlight Schnittke’s individual compositional voice.

This according to Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for choir: Musical analysis and historical perspectives by Mark David Jennings, a dissertation accepted by Florida State University, Tallahassee, in 2002.

Today would have been Schnittke’s 80th birthday! Above, a 1972 portrait by Reginald Gray; below, the concerto’s third movement.

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Coleman Hawkins and “Body and soul”

 

COLEMAN HAWKINS

In October 1939 Coleman Hawkins, “the father of the jazz tenor saxophone”, recorded Johnny Green’s Body and soul with his group. The recording became a surprise hit and sold over 100,000 copies in its first six months, a remarkable feat for a ballad with no singer and no big band.

Hawkins’s recording can be viewed as a milestone both in the history of modern combo jazz and of tenor sax ballad playing. Almost every influential tenor saxophone player of the swing era made a recording of Body and soul, and in the second half of the 20th century the song remained one of the essential jazz standards recorded by many important tenor players.

This according to “Body and soul and the mastery of jazz tenor saxophone” by Martin Pfleiderer, an article included in Five perspectives on Body and soul and other contributions to music performance studies (Zürich: Chronos, 2011, pp. 29–44).

Today is Hawkins’s 110th birthday! Below, performing the classic in 1967.

BONUS: Tony Bennet and Amy Winehouse continue the legacy in 2011.

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Viola jokes

peanuts viola 2

Some viola jokes disparage the instrument itself. (The difference between a viola and a trampoline: You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.) More often, they disparage the player. (What do violists use for birth control? Their personalities.)

Violists are depicted as inherently nonmusical. (Why are violists’ fingers like lightning? They never strike in the same place twice.) Reverse viola jokes provide violists’ revenge. (Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can remember them.)

Some viola jokes are narratives. (When the orchestra manager broke up a fight between a violist and an oboist the latter said that the violist had knocked his reeds all over the floor. “He had it coming,” cried the violist, “he retuned one of my strings and now he won’t tell me which one!”)

This according to “No laughing matter: The viola joke cycle as musicians’ folklore” by Carl Rahkonen (Western folklore LIX/1 [winter 2000] pp. 49–63).

Above, a viola joke by Charles Schulz; below, a particularly elaborate viola joke.

Related articles:

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Telestes

horsemen and aulos

In 2014 Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali inaugurated the series Telestes: Studi e ricerche di archeologia musicale nel Mediterraneo with Musica, culti e riti nell’Occidente greco, edited by Angela Bellia.

The articles address new perspectives on the music of ancient Greece, including social factors and regional distinctions.

Above, a group of clowns with an aulos player; below, a compilation of lyre music.

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Afghan perceptions of birdsong

afghan dove

The importance of birds and bird song in Afghan culture is embedded in Afghanistan’s two official languages—Dari and Pashto—in which the nightingale, a central poetic symbol, occurs in texts sung by urban and rural singers.

The songs of particular birds are associated with calls to prayer, and mullahs confirm that birdsong is regarded within Sufism as a form of religious singing; birds are welcomed at Sufi shrines, where feeding them is considered an act of piety.

Sometimes caged birds are brought to musical performances in Herāt, and when they are stirred to sing by hearing music their sounds are heard as an integral and treasured part of the performance.

This according to “Afghan perceptions of birdsong” by John Baily (The world of music XXXIX/2 [1997] pp. 51–59).

Above, an Afghan dove with a friend; below, feeding the doves in Mazār-i-Sharīf.

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The Brandenburg Concertos as allegories

Venus Mars

Bach’s Brandenburgische Konzerte are not the epitome of absolute music, as some scholars contend; rather, they comprise an allegory of princely virtues. This reading of the works puts them in the framework of both Bach’s cantatas and the allegorical iconography that was common in the decorations of Baroque palaces.

Although not all the concertos were conceived in relation to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, they were chosen for the cycle dedicated to him and are meant to reflect themes connecting him to particular figures in classical mythology: the hunter (Diana), the hero (Hercules), the patron of the arts (Apollo and the Muses), the shepherd (Pan), the lover (Venus and Mars), and the scholar (Athena).

This according to “Bachs mythologisches Geheimnis: Philip Pickett, Reinhard Goebel und das verborgene Programm der Brandenburgischen Konzerte” by Karl Böhmer (Concerto: Das Magazin für Alte Musik XII/109 [December–January 1995–96] pp. 15–17).

Above, Venus and Mars presenting arms to Aeneus by Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711; click to enlarge). Below, the Freiburger Barockorchester performs the corresponding concerto.

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Le vie dei suoni

Le vie...

In 2014 Cafagna Editore launched the series Le vie dei suoni with Vincenzo Pucitta: Il tumulto del gran mondo, edited by Annamaria Bonsante. The book includes an introduction by Philip Gossett.

Below, Marilyn Hill Smith and Della Jones sing Un palpito mi sento, a duet from Pucitta’s La Caccia di Enrico IV (1809).

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The saxotromba saga

Saxotromba sop-bs

In 1845 Adolphe Sax patented the saxotromba as an instrument and as a form to be applied, with modifications, to saxhorns, cornets, trumpets, and trombones. There are no known extant copies of the saxotromba, and a detailed study of its development sheds light on the fate of this family of instruments.

Inconsistent terminology in instrument catalogues, tutors, and other sources of the era complicates the study; but a comparison of measurements taken from Sax’s patent drawings, surviving instruments, and minutes from court proceedings of lawsuits involving the saxotromba shows that dimensions of existing instruments heretofore identified as alto and baritone saxhorns more closely resemble the dimensions of the alto and baritone saxotromba.

This suggests that at some point alto and baritone saxotrombas replaced alto and baritone saxhorns in the saxhorn family. If this is the case, then surviving instruments hitherto considered to be alto and baritone saxhorns are in reality alto and baritone saxotrombas, though the existence of a complete family of saxotrombas indeed appears to have been a fiction.

This according to “The saxotromba: Fact or fiction?” by Eugenia Mitroulia (Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society XXXV [2009] pp. 123–149.

Today is Adolphe Sax’s 200th birthday! Above, his drawings of the soprano and bass saxotrombas (not to scale); below, a composition for saxotromba quartet by Benoît-Constant Fauconier (1816–1898).

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W.A. Mozart, cartoonist

mozart sketch1

Mozart’s wittiness is famously illuminated through many of his letters. Less known are his small humorous sketches, which appear here and there throughout his correspondence.

The sketches range from mysterious stick figures to bizarre caricatures; some are still riddles to scholars.

This according to “Mozart, der Zeichner” by Gabriele Ramsauer, an essay included in Mozart-Bilder–Bilder Mozarts: Ein Porträt zwischen Wunsch und Wirklichkeit (Salzburg: Pustet, 2013, pp. 25–28).

Above, a drawing at the top of a letter from Mozart to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, known as Bäsle, dated 10 May 1780, titled Engel (Angel), with labels fig. I Kopf (head), fig. II Frißur (hairdo), fig. III Nasn (nose), fig. IV Brust (breast), fig. V Hals (throat), fig. VI Aug (eye); inscribed below VI: Hier ißt leer (Here is empty).

The full text of the letter (untranslated) is here; below, the finale of Mozart’s Ein musikalischer Spaß, which ends with his celebrated foray into polytonality.

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Teatro antico in scena

Quaderni...

In 2013 EDUCatt launched the series Teatro antico in scena with Quaderni per la messinscena dello Ione di Euripide, edited by Elisabetta Matelli.

The series is issued in collaboration with Kerkis: Teatro Antico in Scena, which also sponsors events promoting the study and broader reception of Greek and Roman theater.

Below, an affiliated production of Plautus’s Amphitryon.

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