Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Piffarro Journeys Back Before Bach

Back Before Bach delivers on its promise. Piffaro surveys the music of 16th Century Germany, showing the foundation upon which Bach would build.

Piffaro explores seven different themes. The tracks for each theme moves in chronological order. This makes it easy to hear how each tune develops. In some cases, also making the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

The hymn tune "Christ is erstanden," for example, is first heard in a 1480 setting. Then it's in one by Heinrich Isaac, followed by 1550s settings by Johann Walther.

The set continues with the tune used in a Michael Praetorius chorale. It ends with an instrumental arrangement of Bach's four-part chorale setting.

As always, Piffaro plays with energy and imagination. These are first and foremost engaging musical performances. And they happen to have some pretty solid musicological research backing them up.

Highly recommended for listeners (like me) who like early music with historical context. Also highly recommended for listeners who enjoy a well-programmed and well-executed recording.


Back Before Bach
Musical Journeys
Includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Isaac, Michael Pretorius, and Johann Walther 
Piffaro
Navona Records

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#ClassicsaDay #USclassics Tweets Annotated - Part 3

#USclassics 

One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. For July 2017, I used the theme #USclassics and presented an entire month of American composers with examples of their music.

Twitter only allows 140 characters, pretty much limiting my tweets to the composer's name, the title of the work, links, and hashtags. Below is an annotated list of those posts for the third week of July, providing a little more background for each composer.


William Billings (1746–1800)

- William Billings was one of the earliest choral composers in America. Center in New England, Billings wrote and published hundreds of hymns and anthems. The works were written for amateur choirs of limited ability, yet show great originality and diversity.Billings is also credited with writing some of America's earliest Christmas carols, such as "Judea" and "Shiloh."

Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781–1861)

- Anthony Heinrich is considered the first American full-time composer. Originally from Bohemia, Heinrich ran a successful international business. The Napoleonic Wars destroyed his business and his fortune. In 1810 he was stranded in the US virtually penniless. It was then that Heinrich turned to his avocation. Heinrich became a professional violinist, conductor, and composer.

His music is highly programmatic and owes more to American traditions than European. Nevertheless, he's credited with conducting the second American performance of a Beethoven symphony in 1817, and founding the New York Philharmonic Society in 1842 (which would become the New York Philharmonic).



George Frederick Bristow (1825–1898)

- The son of a renowned conductor and pianist, George Bristow received a first-rate musical education. He joined the New Your Philharmonic Society Orchestra as a violinist at 17 and became concertmaster at 25. Bristow thought that American classical music should be firmly rooted in American culture. Works such as the Rip van Winkle cantata, The Pioneer a Grand Cantata, The Great Republic, and the Niagra Symphony show Bristow's interest in American themes.

John Knowles Paine (1839–1906)

- John Paine was a talented organist and composer credited with a number of firsts. He was the first composer born in American to achieve international recognition. He was a founder of the American Guild of Organists, an organization still active today. Paine was Harvard's first organist and choirmaster, and shortly became America's first music professor. He's credited with developing the curriculum upon which Harvard's Department of Music was founded (and which would become the model for music departments in American higher education institutions).

Paine was also part of the highly influential Boston Six (along with Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, George Chadwick, and Horatio Parker). He wrote two symphonies, as well as many organ and choral works. Paine's Mass in D minor established his international reputation when it premiered in Berlin.



Arthur H. Bird (1856–1923)

- Arthur Bird was originally from Massachusetts, and spent several years studying and working in Europe as a correspondent for the Chicago "Musical Leader." During that time, he spent a year studying with Franz Liszt. Bird's work includes several orchestral works, including a symphony. He also wrote music for wind chamber ensembles (as opposed to concert or marching bands). Bird's music was popular in Germany, although seldom performed in the United States.

Edward Burlingame Hill (1872–1960)

- Edward Hill, when not composing, spent most of his professional career teaching at Harvard. He studied with John Knowles Paine, George Whitefield Chadwick, and Charles Marie Widor. Hill incorporated American elements into his music, including jazz. Although he wrote a sizable catalog of music, his legacy primarily rests in the students he taught and inspired: Leonard Bernstein, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and Virgil Thomson (among others).



John J. Becker (1886–1961)

- John Becker was an important figure in American music after the First World War. As a conductor, he premiered works by his friend Charles Ives, as well as Carl Ruggles and Wallingford Reger. He was an editor for Henry Cowell's New Music Quarterly and was an administrator of the Federal Music Project during the Depression. Becker's music was considered part of the "ultramodern school" (along with Ives, Ruggles, Cowell, and Riegger).

Louise Talma (1906–1996)

- Based in New York City, Louise Talma received degrees from Juilliard, NYU, and Columbia. She studied with Nadia Boulanger every summer for 13 years and originally wrote in a neoclassical style. In the 1950s she experimented with twelve tone technique, but eventually returned to tonal composition near the near the end of her life.

Talma's career is marked with several significant firsts. She was the first woman to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters; win a Sibelius medal for composition; have a full-scale opera performed in Germany; receive two Guggenheim Fellowships. And she was the first American to teach at Fontainebleau.



Easley Blackwood, Jr. (born 1933)

- Easley Blackwood studied with Olivier Messiaen, Paul Hindemith, and Nadia Boulanger. He's known for his exploration of tonality in all aspects. Blackwood's written works with various non-traditional tuning systems. 12-tone rows, and microtonal tunings. Blackwood's also the author of a seminal work "The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings," still in use today.

Gloria Coates (born 1938)

- Gloria Coates is an American composer who's lived in Germany since 1969. Coates studied with Alexander Tcherepnin and Otto Luening and writes in a post-minimalist style. Her works often include canons, with atmospheric glissandi. Coates has written sixteen symphonies, as well as some important multi-media and theater works.

Adrienne Albert (born 1941)

- Adrienne Albert began her professional music career as an alto. She worked with composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Philip Glass, and Leonard Bernstein, who wrote for the special qualities of her voice. In the 1980s she transitioned from singing to conducting, and in the 1990s, to composing full-time (she had been writing music all her life). Albert writes in a lyrical post-tonal style that often has a lightness and playfulness to it.

Annotated List for Week 1: Charles Theodor Pachelbel through Roger Zare
Annotated List for Week 2: Benjamin Carr through Roger Bourland
Annotated List for Week 2: William Billings through Adrienne Albert

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Arnold Rosner Chamber Music - Always a Pleasure

Another recording of Arnold Rosner's music is always welcome (in my opinion). Rosner was something of a musical outsider, much like Alan Hovhaness. Rosner wrote Hovhaness' entry in Groves and was an acknowledged authority on his music.

Like Hovhaness, Rosner wrote in a tonal language that was unconcerned with the conventions of traditional harmony. Hovhaness used Eastern modes, Rosner drew more from Western medieval and Renaissance traditions. Both lack the active forward motion implied in major and minor scales.

The chamber works collected here share many similarities. The modal melodies move in surprising and wonderful ways. Harmonies feature open fifths in parallel motion. There are false relations between voices. And yet these are works that could never have been written at any time before the 20th Century.

The works are all well-recorded and well-performed. I especially enjoyed Maxine Neuman's performance of the Danses a la Mode for Solo Cello. Her sensitive reading brings out subtle links between Rosner's motifs.

If you're a fan of Hovhaness, you should give Rosner a listen. If you're not a fan, Rosner's music deserves an audition. Each of his compositions is a world unto itself -- one that invites the listener in and tarry a while. It's an invitation I can't resist.

Arnold Rosner: Chamber Music
Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano, Op. 18
Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op. 89
Danses a la Mode for Cello Solo, Op. 101
Sonata for Bassoon and Piano, Op. 121
Curtis Macomber, violin; Maxine Neuman, cello; David Richmond, bassoon; Margaret Kampmeir, Carson Cooman, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC0408