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March 2014 - Posts

Does Classical Music Have To Be Tuneful To Be Good ?

   Well ,for one thing , it depends on what you consider to be tuneful .  Not everyone agrees about this .  Melody is certainly an important part of what we call classical music ,  but not all music  ,particularly  atonal and  12-tone  works of the 20th century is  conventionally melodious .  It should be remembered that while  all  12-tone music is atonal ,not all  atonal music is 12-tone in the Schoenbergian sense .

    Some classical works by  famous composers are  very tuneful , and  listeners find this very appealing ,  and why not ?   The most  popular classical works  usually have catchy melodies ,and  this is one reason  even  people who  have little or no knowledge of classical music can easily recognize them . 

    But  many great works by  many great composers  are not full of  immediately  appealing  melodies  , such  as  the music of the so-called  "Second  Viennese School ",  ie , the music of  Arnold  Schoenberg and his  two most famous  disciples  Alban Berg and  Anton Webern .  Or other important 20th century composers such  as  Olivier Messiaen ,  Elliott Carter ,  Milton  Babbitt ,  Pierre Boulez et  al .

    However, this is no reason to reject  their music out of hand .  You simply need a different mindset , as well  as  some  patience , to  appreciate it .  It also helps to have a decent or better background in  music theory , but this is not  absolutely essential  .

    The  12-tone works of Schoenberg  are not  conventionally tuneful , and you're not likely to  exit  a performance of them whistling  the tunes . But they DO  have recognizable  MOTIFS , that is  short recognizable  recurring  (sort of  ) melodic  ideas  .  A melody might be defined  as  a  tune of some  length , but  a motif  might be described  as  a very brief (sort of ) melodic idea .

    While melody is certainly important in classical music , nice hummable melodies  alone do not  great music make .  What matters is what the composer DOES with those  melodies or themes .  This is what  creates  masterpieces .  The themes ,or melodies if you insist on calling them this ,  are merely the basic building  blocks ,the raw material , of  any given  classical work , whether a symphony , concerto, sonata , or what have you . 

    Many of  the themes in Beethoven's music ,  for example ,  are not particularly interesting  in and of themselves . They're just simple  themes consisting of  rising  and falling  melodic lines ,  scalar  ideas , that is ,melodies  rising or falling by short intervals , or  with disjunct  intervals  of wider leaps .  But  Beethoven's  genius consists in his  ability to  transform  these  simple  basic ideas by constantly altering them in the most  ingenious manner . 

    In any given  symphony , concerto or sonata etc by Beethoven ,  those basic  themes  are constntly varied and altered ;  by subtly changing the  basic  shape of the melody ,  using different orchestral instruments to play them , thus varying the tone color ,  switching  the themes from major to minor or vice versa ,  using  augmentation and  diminution of the  themes  by  lengthening or  shortening the  length of the notes,  using counterpoint ,or having  the basic ideas  played  as different  voices  going on at the same time  but  not beginning  exactly at the same time ,  and  many,many other ways .

     You might compare this to a novel or short story ;  each consists of a story  with a varity of different characters , and  a symphony could be called  a novel in music , with  a variety of different themes occurring through the different  movements .  Each movement might be compared to a chapter of  a novel ,  although  symphonies  , concertos  & sonatas  usually have only  three or four  movements ,  occaisionally  more or fewer than this . 

     As in a novel or short story , the themes are like the characters ; they never remain the same and are constantly  changing  and evolving over time .  The hero or heroine of a novel is never the same as in the beginning ,nor the other characters .

     A theme and variations is a work where a composer takes a preexisting melody from some other work , either by another composer or  himself  , and  subjects  that  melody to  constant  changes  over a period of time  .  It iusually consists of the basic  theme ,  which  keeps changing  , in  separae sections ,  vraration 1, 2, 3,4, 5,  and  more ,sometimes more than 20 .  Orthe theme could  be  a  popular melody or  folk song .

     There are so many of these by so many great composers , such as Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky ,Rchmaninov , to name only several , and they are can be for solo piano ,  piano and other instruments , or for orchestrra etc .  Some individual movements of symphonies or sonatas etc , consist of  themes and  variations , one of the most famous being  the famous  Schubert quintet for piano and  strings  , the so-called  "Trout  Quintet ", where the composer   takes the melody from one of his songs , which happens to be about a  fisherman  fishing for  a trout in a stream and  subjects it  to  variations .

    Schubert music is known to be very melodious ; but  what makes his music  great is not the melodies alone .  And this is true of so many great composers .  Catchy melodies  without  a great composer's  genius in  working  with them  are not really worth  much .  So when you listen to any  classical masterpiece , you should  always try to be aware of what the composer ACTUALLY DOES with the melodies to  gain  true enjoyment  and understanding of the music .

Posted: Mar 24 2014, 10:53 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy Birthday To Barry Tuckwell , The Heifetz Of The Horn

  Today is the  83rd  birthday of  one of  the  greatest  masters of  that  treacherous instrument , the French  horn ,or as some purists insist ,the horn ,  Australian  native and world citizen ,Barry Tuckwell .  He has been  retired  from playing  the horn in public since the late  1990s ,but  is still very much  active as  a teacher and  a conductor . 

    As a former horn player myself ,I've always been  in awe of his  incredible  virtuosity and  golden tone . But  this is true of  every one who plays this instrument .  He makes it sound as though playing this extremely difficult  instrument  were  easy  !  Tuckwell is one of the few horn players to make a successful  career as a full time  soloist ,although he  began as an orchestral  player . 

    Because of his astounding  virtuosity  , Tuckwell has been called the  "Heifetz of  the horn ".  Born in Melbourne in 1931 ,  Tuckwell  took up the horn as a  boy and  showed such innate andprodigious  talent  for the instrument  he began to play  professionally in  Australian orchestras as a  teenager .  He moved to  England  and played in various leading  British orchestras  until  becoming  principal  horn of  the presitgious  London symphony orchestra ,playing  under many of the world's foremost  conductors , and left the orchestra to pursue a career as a solo  hornist ,appearing to great  acclaim all over the world

    In addition ,he  has made numerous  recordings ,more than  any other horn player , of  the  horn concertos by  Mozart ,Haydn ,  Richard Strauss ,Paul  Hindemith , Carl Maria von Weber and  lesser known composers who have written solo works for the instrument , as well as  new works by  leading contemporary composers  such as Gunther Schuller , a former horn player himself ,  Thea Musgrave ,  Robin Holloway , Richard Rodney Bennet  Oliver Knussen and others  .  These composers have  written works specifically for him . 

     Tuckwell  has also been active  as a conductor , appearing  with  many different orchestras , including  the London symphony ,  and  has served as music director of the  Baltimore symphony orchestra in  America .  He  has taught  horn  master classes  alll over the world  as well as teaching  privately  at  leading music schools  . 

    He has written  three books on  horn  playing ,including  one for the late Yehudi  Menuhin's  series of books on the various  orchestral  instruments  written by  various  great  virtuosos .  This book is  a  goldmine of  fascinating  information  about the history  of the  horn  ,its  playing  technique  and construction , and I recommend it highly  . 

    If you would like to experience  his  great  artistry ,  try his recordings  of  some of  the most famous works  for the horn first , such as the concertos  of  Mozart and  Richard  Strauss  first  .  They are easily  available  at  and elsewhere on the internet .

Posted: Mar 05 2014, 07:45 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 85th Birthday To Bernard Haitink , The Modest Maestro

   "Modest  Maestro "  sounds like an oxymoron ,  but today is the 85th birthday of the venerable  Dutch conductor  Bernard Haitink (High -tink) ,one of  the most eminent  maestros of  our time .  Conductors have the reputation of being  flashy, imperious ,egotistical  and sometimes downright ruthless , but  the veteran Dutch conductor has never shown any of these qualities .  He may be the most unpretentious individual ever to achieve world renown on the podium .

    And  musicians in  virtually all the world's great  orchestras  have enormous respect for his  sterling musicianship and  leadership  abilities .  They certainly don't like every conductor they work under , and in some cases they have nothing but contempt for them , but if you talk to ny of them , they have nothing but the highest  regard for him . They can spot a phony instantly . 

    He has conducted  virtually all of the world's  top orchestras and conducted  opera  at the Met and served as music director of  London's presitgious  Royal Opera for some years ,but the orchestra with which he has been most closely associated is the  great  Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of  Amsterdam , where he was principal conductor for many years untlil stepping down in the  late 1980s .  This is the foremost orchestra in the Netherlands , and  virtually all the world's greatest conductors have  appeared  with it .

     Mestro  Haitink has also served  as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic ,  the Staatskapelle of Dresden ,  music director of the presitgious  Glyndebourne opera festival in England ,  principal guest conductor of the Boston symphony , and  served for some time  as principal  conductor of the  Chicago symphony ,not music director , in between  Daniel Barenboim  and its curren tmusic director Riccardo Muti . He has also been a regular with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich and the Berlin Philharmonic .

    As a conductor,Haitink has always  avoided  interpretive flashiness , and his performances are straightforward  but anything but  dull .  His repertoire ranges  from Mozart and  Beethoven to  works  by contemporary composers .,  He is particularly renowned for his performances of the monumental  symphonies of  Bruckner and  Mahler, which he has recorded complete .  

    Haitink has made  numerous recordings of orchestralrepertoire as well as a number of  complete opera recordings , including  Wagner's complete Ring with the  Bavarian Radio orchestra .  He has made no fewer than three recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies , three of the four Brahms symphonies ,  the six of Tchaikovsky , the nine of  British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams ,  the four of Robert Schumann, aand many other composers .  The  Netherlands has produced a fair number of composers ,none well known outside of  the country , but Haitink  regularly performed their music in  his native Amsterdam .

    He has reached the age of  85, a time  when most people have long been retired or are now in  homes for the elderly , but  maintains an active  international schedule .  Many  great conductors ,such as Stokowski , Ormandy , Sir Adrian Boult , Otto Klemperer , Kurt Sanderling , Pierre Boulez , Kurt Masur , and others have never felt the need to retire  because the physical activity of  conducting seems to promote  good health in old age .

   So let's all wish a happy 85th birthday to a modest but remarkable musician !  



Posted: Mar 04 2014, 08:26 PM by the horn | with no comments
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