Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Music of Johannes Brahms

The music of Brahms is easy to like.  As with most great composers, knowing a little about the person is very important for clues as to what is going on in the music; but knowing almost nothing about him, there's still a lot to love.

Like many others, the first few compositions by Brahms that I got to know were the famous Brahms's Lullaby (Weigenlied), the Waltz in A Flat, and the Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, also called the St Anthony Chorale Variations.

Brahms was very fond of the great German composer, Robert Schumann, and his beautiful and accomplished wife, Clara (Wieck) Schumann.  Their lives were intensely intertwined, not least because of Schumann's tragic insanity, which left his wife Clara to have to fend for herself and her children without much support, except from Brahms, for a while.  This lullaby could easily have its origins in the time Brahms spent with the Schumann children.



The Waltz in A Flat is an elegant stylized waltz, not really long enough to be danced to; in other words, it is a concert waltz for the piano, or the studio, like those of Chopin.


Both these pieces, simple though they appear to be, have little harmonic surprises that are just enough to delight, and after we hear the pieces a couple of times, we can't imagine them being harmonized any differently.  The Lullaby, in particular, has the same bass note throughout, repeated gently deep in the bass.  The Bryn Terfel performance was a lush orchestral arrangement that obscures the repeated solitary bass note, but once you're aware of it, it can't be ignored.



We're told that the Variations on the St. Anthony Chorale was initially a piano piece, and Brahm's first venture into orchestral composition, and a brilliantly successful one, too.  This performance is evidently conducted by Leonard Bernstein, with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Anyone interested in the life of Johannes Brahms can easily find out more.  He was brought up in poverty by a single mother, but is considered a good and wonderful man, though his last years were spent in a cloud of bitterness.

Brahms wrote several concertos, all of them among the most popular in their various genres: the amazing Violin Concerto in D, the two Piano Concertos, and a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello.  All of these are worth hearing; I'll put in links one of these days.

Finally, for those who want something light and fluffy, Brahms enjoyed gypsy music, and his Hungarian Dances are simply gorgeous: rhythmic and tuneful, intended to be played piano four hands (two pianists playing the same piano), and now orchestrated for full orchestra.

Archie


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Music of Star Wars!

Boys and girls, I want to alert you to a post from 2012 about the Themes from the Star Wars movie cycle.

Before this Blog was established, I wrote copiously about musical subjects in another blog, and I will post links to them here as I dig them up.

Archie

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The two most often-played tunes on Archie's Archives

This is the introduction and the opening theme music.  It is an organ fugue--Fugue BWV 543 in A minor--by J. S. Bach, performed on percussion instruments and plucked strings.




The next is played even more often; it is the march that I play (when I can) after each quarter of the show, and at the end.  It is a tune called Starlight Serenade by Jonny Heikens of the Netherlands, recorded by Richard Tauber.  The instrumentation is highly varied, because I sometimes play a version by woodwinds, and other times a guitar version, a brass version, a piano version, and occasionally even a version in Waltz time.  This is the main Woodwind version.  (Actually there's a horn in the mix; horns are considered honorary woodwinds.)

The graphics are a clever way of representing the strings of the voices visually, devised by Stephen Malinowski.



Well, I'll come back and stick in the other versions of this tune when I have a little more time!!

Arch

Monday, April 4, 2016

News From WXPI

Our radio station, WXPI FM 88.5 in Williamsport, PA, has successfully dragged itself along without any steady source of funding for close to 4 years.  But to our horror, we learned that we owed the owner of the radio tower that we use, arrears of around $7000, for which they are holding our transmitting equipment as guarantee.  So it looks very likely that we will have to sell off our broadcasting license, and become an Internet-Only radio station.

The steering committee of WXPI and its governing Board has long preferred being an actual on-air station to a mere Internet station, even if our on-air signal has been laughably weak.  Some of the people we succeeded in reaching via radio did not have Internet access, and we were determined to continue to reach these people.  But now, finances are raising their ugly head.

There are steady expenses: licenses, electricity for the transmitter (our Studio power is contributed through the generosity of the Pajama Factory, as is the rent for the Studio), and Internet costs.  Because the service we provide does not fall into the top three categories of Food, Clothing or Shelter, nor into the next level of Security, Health or Childcare, but (rather uncomfortably) somewhere between Education and Entertainment, sponsors rank us very low on their scale of importance of charities.  During Election Years, we can reach an audience that is often left out of mainline radio, but that audience is principally blacks and minorities, a sector of the population that Sponsors, who tend to be mostly businesses, are not interested in.  Liberal organizations, be they businesses or other, do not have the discretionary funds to support a radio station.  30 years of Conservative-dominated Washington has systematically eroded the ability of Liberal radio to reach its audience (due in large part to Deregulation during Bill Clinton's presidency).  Archie's Archives is arguably non-political, though my own views might have leaked through on the air.

A new Program Manager was appointed recently, and he called for a roster of show hosts at WXPI who were willing to continue, to retire, or to change their format, and I volunteered to retire.  After less than two years on the air I am running out of ideas and time, and as you can hear, I'm recycling material rather heavily.  Not knowing whether I have very much of an audience, it is tempting to believe that hardly anyone has heard more than three consecutive weekly shows, and so that repeating shows does no harm.  But every time some listener hears a show repeated for the third time, we probably lose a listener!

This might explain some of the strange shows that have been coming out on Archie's Archives.  Though I have offered to retire, there's really nothing to prevent the Station from recycling my old shows indefinitely, and if people enjoy these shows recycled, please feel free to do so!

Archie

Friday, March 25, 2016

Show 126: Good Friday Music

Unfortunately, it seems that my channel to the server of WXPI is not working, so I cannot put up the music I would like to.

It will be a blend of Good Friday / Easter music, as well as some generic Baroque Brass - related music, and some of my favorite pops.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Show 121: Switched-On Bach

This is a repeat of a show from about a year ago, on Switched-On Bach, and other electronic performances, and performances on electronic instruments, of the music of Bach.  The material below is almost identical with the post that accompanied that earlier broadcast.

Back in the Sixties, a gentleman called Walter Carlos decided to use the Moog synthesizer (which had been invented some months earlier) to play a number of pieces by Bach.  The resulting album was Switched-On Bach, which was a fairly iconic album at the time.

The Moog synthesizer, created by Robert Moog, was an electronic instrument that constructed musical tones directly, by generating oscillations in tuned circuits, which were given various characteristics (tone colors), which were connected to a simple keyboard for ease of use.  The keyboard was much smaller than those in a present-day kid's synthesizer, but instead of generating tones using mathematical formulas, as today, they generated sounds using analog circuits.  In all other respects, they were true synthesizers in that the sounds were generated, and not recorded, as in today's sampled synthesizers, which used sounds recorded from actual instruments, such as violins and flutes.

My plan is to base this program on Walter Carlos's album.  Some decades later, Walter underwent gender transition surgery, and took the name Wendy Carlos, who continued her career as a synthesizer performer, and according to Wikipedia helped provide scores for the movies A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron.  So Wendy Carlos is one of the early transsexuals, and, as far as we know, a very successful one.

In 1999, Ms Carlos released an album to commemorate an anniversary of the original Switched-On Bach, called Switched-On Bach 2000, which featured some new takes on the pieces on the original album, as well as some new pieces.

Part A Switched-On Bach, Glenn Gould, Archie

Sinfonia to Cantata 29
Once Bach had written about 20 Cantatas, he always opened a cantata with a big chorus.  But in early cantatas, there was a sort of overture, and this is the best-known one.  Wendy Carlos chose to open the S-O B album with this.

Air on the G String
[6:15]  The second movement of Orchestral Suite no 3 in D, entitled simply Air (or Aria, in Italian) became well-known as The Air on the G String in Britain.  It was, at one time, the best known piece by Bach by people who didn't know a lot of Bach music.

Two-Part Inventions
[8:50]  These very lightly-constructed keyboard pieces are not as easy to play as they sound.  In fact, they sometimes sound as if there are more than two parts going on.  Carlos plays the Inventions in F major, B Flat major, and D minor.  (The other 2-part inventions are just as beautiful, and easy to appreciate.)

Invention No 4 in D minor Glenn Gould
[11:58] This is Glenn Gould playing the previous piece, on the piano.

Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G Major
[12:56]  Bach wrote six concertos for various combinations, and if you get to know just those six, you would be enriched immensely.  The concerto in G major was made popular by Wendy Carlos, just about the time that the concerto in D major was made popular in the novel Love Story.  [Here it is, on YouTube, played by the Freiburg Barockorchester]

Part B Switched-On Bach 2000

Prelude and Fugue  in E-Flat Major
[0:00] You may have heard of Bach’s collection of 48 preludes and fugues called the Well Tempered Clavier.  He was one of the first composers to write in every possible key.  The piano scale has seven white notes, and the five black notes.  This is twelve distinct tones.  Bach wrote twelve preludes, and twelve fugues, one for each major key.  Then he wrote another set, all in minor keys.  Then he wrote a whole other set of another twenty-four.
Here Wendy plays the E Flat prelude and fugue.  The prelude is a bit boring and takes forever, but the fugue, [6:11] which is much shorter, is nice.

Wachet auf
[7:54]  The next cut on the album is named Wachet auf, which literally means "Wake up", the title of a cantata, no. 140.  I was not very impressed with Carlos's interpretation of the movement widely known by this name, a chorale-prelude based on a chorus from the cantata.  We're playing an mp3 constructed by myself, using Finale.  The voice part is given to trombones.  My wife thought that the organ part made it sound too churchy, so the keyboard part is given to a harpsichord.  (The keyboard part, or continuo, may be played by any combination of organ, harpsichord, cello, double bass, lute, theorbo, etc.)

Happy 25th, S-OB
[13:20]  This is the opening cut on Switched-On Bach 2000, released on the 25th anniversary of the original Switched-On Bach (1968).  I'm not sure whether it is an original composition by Wendy Carlos, or whether it is based on some birthday composition by Bach himself. (On reading the liner notes, yes: it is an original composition by Wendy Carlos.)

Sinfonia in D Major
[14:10]  The overture to Cantata 29 once again.  I think this one is a big improvement.  Lots of people seem not to care for SOB 2000; I think it is very much better, with more complex, richer sounds, and with Baroque tunings (in contrast to the equal-tempered tuning of SOB).  In Bach's time, the interval (distance) between each note and the next was not the same; the tuning was chosen to make C major sound as good as possible, which made other keys close by sound different from C major, and very distinctive.  (Keys such as C Sharp were hardly used at all.)  A website that explains some of this is to be found here.

Air on a G String

[18:14]  This is the SOB 2000 version

Two Part Inventions- In F Major, B-Flat Major, D Minor
[21:26] These, too, sound much more convincing and pleasing to the ear (than the 1968 versions).  But, of course, for those familiar with the 1968 versions, those have amazing nostalgia value.

The Well-Tempered Clavier- Prelude No 2 in C Minor

[24: 36]  This performance emphasizes the potential for this piece to sound angry, and presages "industrial" music of the mid 20th century.

The Well-Tempered Clavier- Fugue No. 2 in C Minor
[26:30]  The fugue, in contrast to the prelude, is a sweetly plaintive piece.

Part C More Switched-On Bach 2000

The Well-Tempered Clavier- Prelude No 7 in E-Flat Major
As boring as before, but brutally speeded up by Archie from 5-plus minutes to 4.

The Well-Tempered Clavier- Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat Major
Even nicer than the 1968 version.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major- I. Allegro
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major- III. Allegro

This concerto, in contrast to most Baroque concertos, has only two movements.  Carlos, along with many other scholars, surmised that Bach improvised a short bridge between the two movements, in place of a slow movement.  She improvised a movement, and put it on the album, but it is whimsical to the point of silliness, so I have left it out.  It was played on the broadcast on Saturday, but I decided to leave it out of the podcast.  I apologize.

Tocata & Gugue in D Minor
I'm not sure what a Gugue is; I imagine it is something between a fugue and a gigue.  In this case, it is just the fugue that goes with the toccata.

Part D Bachbusters

Italian Concerto
In the eighties, an album called Bachbusters made its appearance.  Its most memorable cut is the third, the Presto from the Italian Concerto.  Here are all three movements of Bach's Italian Concerto in F Major, realized by Don Dorsey, in Bachbusters.

Two-Part Invention, for keyboard No. 1 in C major, BWV 772
Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 1 in C major, BWV 787
Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 8 in F major, BWV 794
Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 10 in G major, BWV 794
Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 12 in A major, BWV 794

Three-Part Invention (Sinfonia), for keyboard No. 15 in B minor

Contrapunctus 1
To end this show, this is the first fugue from The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst de Fuge) by Bach, made by me, using sampled sounds from the Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO4), and Finale PrintMusic 2014.  Because the sounds are sampled, the piece sounds like actual instruments, but because it is played by software, the performance sounds a little artificial.  But this is one of the most perfect pieces Bach wrote, and I can't imagine why people like Wendy Carlos have left these pieces alone.

Archie

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Shows 216 and 217: Sorrow and Joy

Show 216: In memory of Robert J. B. Maples

Part A    Part B    Part C    Part D

Bob Maples was one of the earliest friends I made outside the Mathematics Department at Lycoming.  He was a professor of French with a degree from Yale University, but his avocation was computer programming!  He started coding in BASIC, which was built-in into the operating system of the tiny little "mainframe" we used back then (a PDP-11 running RSTS-E, or something like that).  He first wrote a program that would keep track of his grades, using as a model something that was written by one of my colleagues, Rick Troxel (or it might have been the other way round: Rick may have developed the simple program that Bob had written first; I'm not sure).  When we got a new mainframe that did not have BASIC, Bob had to learn Pascal, a more modern language, and then FORTRAN, and so on and so forth.  He went as far as writing a word-processor that would fill and justify a page of text, which is pretty sophisticated.

I learned quite by accident that Bob liked music, but he preferred the German Romantic composers: Wagner, Mahler, and so on, to the French composers I expected him to like.  But when I went to his funeral on Friday, Feb 12th, his son, who had led the appreciations, said that he and his father had settled on, of all things, music from Bach, and Samuel Barber.

Show 217: Waltzes!

Part A     Part B      Part C     Part D

I had played the occasional waltz, either in connection with dances, in the program all about dance, or in connection with Spring, in a program about the Spring Equinox, which coincided with the day on which I celebrate J. S. Bach's birthday.  But I had never made an entire program with Waltzes, and this was it.  We had four sorts of waltzes: Strauss Waltzes, which started out being music for dancing, but has evolved into light concert music; Tchaikovski Waltzes, which are ballet waltzes, which is a genre that is a little different from simple concert waltzes, though of course they're played as concert waltzes.  Then there are Chopin Waltzes, and waltzes by other composers, e.g. Brahms, Scriabin, and so on, which are effectively a new genre: the Piano Waltz.  We rotate through all these types, for the sake of variety.  We also feature a waltz by Leroy Anderson: the Waltzing Cat.