Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Holbrooke - Symphonic Poems, Vol. 2

Josef Holbrooke (born Joseph Holbrook) had his first success in 1900 with the premiere of his orchestral poem "The Raven." Before that, he'd been an accompanist, music teacher, and itinerate conductor kicking about the UK. But the recognition went to his head. Although frequently performed in the era before World War I, Holbrooke didn't make many friends.

He often attacked critics and even his audience. "Mr. Josef Holbrooke steps forward somewhat adventurously... to an apathetic public, and hopes to receive as few blows as possible (with the usual financial loss) in return," he wrote for a concert program. After the war, his music was seen as increasingly old-fashioned. And without supporters, it soon disappeared from the English concert repertoire.

So how does Holbrooke's work sound today? It's definitely music of its time -- but some of the best-constructed music of that time.

The 1906 "Variations on "Auld Lang Syne" are quite imaginative. Inspired by Elgar's "Enigma" Variations, Holbrooke created twenty variations, each a portrait of a friend. While not on par with "Enigma," the variations do go in unexpected directions. They remind me of Charles Ives' treatment of "America," as some variations have a hint of music hall and other popular music. I'm surprised this hasn't become a classical radio staple for New Year's Eve.

A 1917 review of Holbrooke's violin concerto claimed, "Here the composer was at his best: the music may almost be said to be overflowing with milk and honey." The harmonies are certainly rich enough. And while the melodies are sweetly beautiful, the violinist is presented with plenty of challenges. Violinist Judith Ingolfsson's exciting performance keeps the milk and honey to a minimum, letting the structure of the work shine through the sentimentality.

Holbrooke's breakout composition, "The Raven" reflected his love of Edgar Allen Poe.
I think it's the weightiest work of the album. Holbrooke was once called the "Cockney Wagner," and there are echoes of "Tristan and Isolde" in this work. Like Wagner's score, there's an underlying sense of disquiet and tragedy running through the score. A disquiet that's in tune with the timbre of the poem. Of the three works on this release, "The Raven" was the one I returned to most often.

Josef Holbrooke: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 2
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 59 "The Grasshopper"; "The Raven" Poem No. 1 for Orchestra, Op. 25; "Auld Lang Syne" Variations No. 3 for Orchestra, Op. 60
Judith Ingolfsson, violin; Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt; Howard Griffiths, conductor
CPO 777 636-2

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Diabelli Project 146 - Duet for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet 2

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

A few weeks ago I posted the flash composition sketch for a duet for clarinet and bass clarinet (see: Diabelli Project 145).  The next sketch after that also turned out to be for these two instruments. And this time, there's no mystery. It's definitely part of the same work.

I'm not sure how many movements this duet will have. I know they'll be pretty short, and I want them to be fun to play. Beyond that, who knows?

In the sketch below, I've started off with a ground. Traditionally, variations would play out over top of that recurring bass, but with only two instruments, it seems unfair. Why should the clarinet get all the good parts?

So to continue, I'll need to have both players keep the ground going while spinning out the variations, both individually and together. Three lines of music for two single-line instruments. Should be fun.



As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 044 - Bird House

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

044. Bird House

This was definitely a challenge to build. Some of the pieces in this set are starting to become worn. In some cases, that's a good thing. The dowel rods are slipping more easily into the metal pieces, for example. But it can also be a problem 

The wooden collars aren't fitting as snugly as they used to, which makes constructions like the bird house difficult. The upper dowel rod (and everything attached to it), is basically balancing on the lower dowel, partially stabilized by the wooden collar.

That's the reason the lower dowel isn't as exposed as it is on the instruction sheet. I really needed it anchored securely in the metal box.