ClassicalRap is a forum for discussion and information on classical music genres from the Baroque through the 20th Century eras in particular. Information will be provided on the various genres of classical music in these eras, and discussions will involve the lives of composers, their works, and standard and new recording releases. This is not a blog about Rap music.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Made Some Videos.

They're not great, and they took some time, but I'm learning; what can I say.

Here's my two videos featuring some free clips I stole from the internet (hey, they were free).  The first is an original Piano Prelude I composed recently, and my already posted piano concerto movement with better sound and some nice pics.  I hope you enjoy.  I will  be making new posts regarding Beethoven soon.

That's me sitting in an alpine meadow at Yosemite in the second video.  It was taken a few years back.

OK, I made another one just today to display a little prelude I wrote.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MuseScore (C) ClassicalRap Composition Competition Update

As noted here, tomorrow, Monday August 15th marks the beginning of the judgment process for those members of the MuseScore group entitled ClassicalRap Composition Competition.  Thus, there is still approximately 24 hours for onlookers to join the group and submit an original piano composition of not more than 5 minutes in duration.

I recommend to all those who still plan to join and submit an original work that they first read the group page for ClassicaRap Composition Competition Group found on the MuseScore website, in order to familiarize themselves with the selection process.

I wish you all good luck in this first competition.

Castaway on an iSland with only an iPod....

...what would be on your iPod?  Well, hopefully you have some food and shelter on the island, otherwise your iPod is not going to be much use to you.

Here's my list (so far):

Vivaldi - Four Seasons.
Handel - The Messiah, Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music, anything else that will fit.
Mozart - The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Piano Concertos (all of them), last 7 or 8 symphonies, Laudate Dominum from Solemn Vespers, K 339, Requiem Mass, Coronation Mass.
Beethoven - All the piano concertos, all the piano sonatas, all the symphonies, all the string quartets, The two masses, the violin concerto, the triple concerto, all the overtures and marches and anything else that will fit.
Schubert - all the symphonies and a few of his piano sonatas and anything else that will fit.
Mendelssohn - Anything that will fit.
Bruch - Anything that will fit.
Dvorak - New World Symphony and anything else that will fit.
Chopin - Polonaise Brilliante for Cello and Piano in C major, Opus 3, all the preludes and the two piano concertos.
Brahms - All the symphonies and anything else that will fit.

Well, as you can see, I will need a lot of KBs on my iPod, 'cause that list ain't complete.

I would also of course have works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Liszt, Schumann, JS Bach, Telemann, Haydn, etc.

Readings in Classical Music

This advertisement for a new book on the value of classical music states:

Praised in The Economist as “heartfelt and finely reasoned…wise, perceptive and inspiring,” Who Needs Classical Music? offers a fresh and balanced defense of the value of classical music in contemporary culture. Challenging the many cultural critics who contend that the division between “high” and “low” art is an artificial one, that Beethoven’s Ninth and “Blue Suede Shoes” are equally valuable, Julian Johnson counters that music is more than just “a matter of taste.” Music can provide entertainment or simply serve as background noise. Classical music, he suggests, is shaped by its claim to function as art. It is distinguished by a self-conscious attention to its own materials and their formal patterning. Far from being irrelevant today, Johnson argues, classical music continues to offer rich and engaging insights into our experience of modern life. The paperback edition includes a new preface from the author, bringing his argument up to date. Who Needs Classical Music? will stimulate readers to reflect on their own investment (or lack of it) in music and art of all kinds.

I'm putting it on my list.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Beethoven Piano Concertos (Part Two)

Beethoven's Concerto No. 2 in B flat major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 19 was composed between 1787 and 1789, but the final form was not published until 1795.  Beethoven was the performer at it's premier in Vienna on March 29, 1795 at the Burgtheater.

In this performance, Gabrielus Alekna plays with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jouzas Domarkas at the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society in Vilnius sometime in March, 2010.  Alekna was a prizewinner at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna in 2005.  The video above is the first movement: Allegro con brio.  The following two videos contain movement II: Adagio and movement III: Rondo: Molto allegro respectively.  Mr. Alekna posted these videos on YouTube himself apparently.  I would have to say that he got it right in not dividing the movements into sections with the unavoidable interruption you get.  This makes for a nice listen of the entire performance.  I hope you enjoy.

Burgtheater, Vienna, Austria
For more information on this concerto go here and here.

For a complete score for free go here.

When Crickets Compose Music? (A little off topic)

I found this interesting.  It's the sound of crickets slowed down to the point where the life of the average cricket mirrors the lifespan of the average human.  Oh, the harmonies are exquisite!

Listening to this I was reminded of the lyrics of a certain Bob Dylan song.  As some of you may recall, I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan, in addition to loving classical music.  The song is from 1964, and it was not released on any Dylan album until 1985's  Biograph album, which is 3 CD retrospective on Dylan's work until that time.  The song is called Lay Down Your Weary Tune and the lyrics are as follows:

Lay down your weary tune, lay down.
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum 
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The ocean wild like an organ played
The seaweed's wove its strands
The crashin' waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The cryin' rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love's breast
The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened the best

I gazed down in the river's mirror
And watched its winding strum
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

Copyright (c) 1964, 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.;

These lyrics are from the Official Bob Dylan website.

Here's Dylan performing the song.  This is not the track from Biograph, which was an outtake from Dylan's 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin'.  I believe it's from the Witmark Demos.  Addendum:  This is not from Witmark, but probably the live performance in 1963 at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York.

It's interesting that Dylan would be keen on the sounds of nature as if they are like a symphony.  There's a certain intuition there when one considers the case of the crickets in the video.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Beethoven Piano Concertos (Part One)

Portrait of Beethoven as a young man by Carl Traugott Reidel (1769-1832)
In order to do justice to a dedication to Beethoven for August, I couldn't exclude his wonderful piano concertos of which there are 7; 5 in number (1-5), one numbered "O" and without an opus number (WoO), and one that is a transcription of his Violin Concerto.  In this series I will cover the 5 concertos numbered 1-5, then a post on the violin concerto and it's piano transcription, and will finish off on the concerto Numbered "O" and without opus number.  I was fortunate to find a complete performance of Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 15 performed by one of my favorite piano concerto performers, a very young looking Murray Perahia with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the late Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997).  Murray is known for playing complete concertos with additional material in the form of exquisite solo cadenzas either composed by the original composer or by Perahia himself.  I'm not certain of the cadenza input on the following performances.

My first true interest in classical music was sparked by a recording given to me of Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto; so his concertos have always held a special place in my classical music heart of hearts.

Beethoven composed this concerto between 1796 and 1797, and first performed it with himself on piano at a concert in Prague, in 1798.

I: Allegro con brio (Part One)
I: Allegro con brio (Part Two)
II: Largo (Part One)
II: Largo (Part Two)
III: Rondo: Allegro scherzando

For more information on this concerto go here and here.

For a free score go here.

The Evolution of the String Quartet (Part Five)

More Alban Berg

View of Vienna, 1758 by Bernardo Bellotto, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I'm very happy that the Alban Berg Quartet is featured in yet another YouTube performance; this time, one of my favorite Beethoven quartets, String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Opus 18, No. 6.  The opening movement has a very familiar melodic theme, which for me is both exciting and rather catchy for a string quartet.  The final movement "La Malinconia" begins with an unconventional adagio and moves into a "quasi allegro."   His "Moonlight Sonata" is perhaps one of the best examples of this sort of approach, beginning with an "Adagio" movement instead of the traditional "Allegro."  This is another example of his departure from convention.

For information on the Alban Berg Quartet go here and here.

This quartet was composed in 1800.  For more information go here and here.

For a free score, go here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Interesting Beethoven Links

OK, I'll make it official, August is Beethoven Month at ClassicalRap.  Here are a few links I found in web surfing on interesting aspects of Beethoven's music:

The Beethoven Aesthetic - a linked talk at a composers' conference in Aspen, Colorado.

Brahms inherited Beethoven's artistic spirit?

Beethoven's varied descendants.

Church of Beethoven?  I'm serious!  And so apparently are they.

Copying Beethoven; a 2006 drama film starring Ed Harris as the composer.

A Great Development from BBC Online

In the past video clips of copyrighted music from the BBC's podcast website have been limited to 60 seconds.  In a new development, podcast clips can now be downloaded at a limit of 9 minutes.

See here.

The Evolution of the String Quartet (Part Four)

Since August has turned out for CR to be Beethoven month, I thought I'd continue where we left off with this series on the evolution of the string quartet by exploring Beethoven's quartets.  So far we've covered the beginning of the classical string quartet in Part One, the Haydn quartets in Part Two and Boccherini and Mozart's quartets in Part Three (Link fixed) While these three posts are just a scratch off the surface of the quartet output from these three Classical era composers, I want to go more in-depth with Beethoven's quartets, since the form found its most prolific development in the Romantic era beginning with Beethoven.

Beethoven wrote a total of 16 string quartets and one Gross Fugue, which is a single movement fugue for string quartet.  His quartets are commonly divided into three periods, his first 6 quartets of the early period; the three Rasumovsky quartets and two others from the middle period and the last five quartets and Gross Fugue from the late period.  In our discussion (hopefully we can develop one) we will start with a couple from the early period and try to figure out what elements distinguish the three periods.

Our first quartet is of course Beethoven's String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Opus 18, No. 1, written in 1799.  There are 6 quartets as part of Opus 18; thus the first 6 quartets, which make up the early period.  Beethoven wrote these six under commission from Prince Lobkowitz, the employer of a violinist friend of Beethoven's.  The exquisite performance below is by the Alban Berg Quartet, named after the famous composer.  The video post from YouTube does not state the performance date, but in 2005 the performers retired.

I: Allegro con brio

II: Adagio affettuoso ed appassionata

III: Scherzo - Allegro molto - Trio

IV: Allegretto

For more information on this series of quartets go here and here.

As part of a service to our readers I will attempt to provide links to the scores (whenever available for free) of the pieces I present starting now with this link here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part Nine)

The Choral Symphony

Beethoven's manuscript of the 9th Symphony
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us raise our voices in more pleasing 
And more joyful sounds!
Joy!  Joy!

If Beethoven had lived to complete his 10th symphony, how would he have outdone himself from the 9th?  That is a question that can't be answered of course, so it is frivolous to try; but still a question that should be asked when considering his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125 "Choral Symphony."  This is by far Beethoven's longest symphony.  He departs significantly from the traditional symphony and introduces a new tradition by including parts for vocal soloists and choir in the last movement "Ode to Joy;"  a tradition that would be imitated by other symphony composers, most significantly Gustav Mahler.  I've heard many performances of the 4th movement of this symphony, and one can often notice quite a contrast between the quality in performance of the first 3 movements compared with the fourth.  This is due to the addition of human voices; which require an element of refinement.  If done well as the following performance demonstrates, it actually adds something quite magnificent to the symphony.  If done poorly it actually detracts from the magnificence of the symphony.  Thus, a conductor who is able to control all of the performance ensembles (3 to be exact - orchestra, small vocal ensemble and choir in addition to the vocal solo performances), can achieve quite an astonishing display of beauty and joy.

The best live performance on YouTube I could find comes from Leipzig, Germany with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and the Opera Choir of Leipzig conducted by Ricardo Chailly

II: Molto vivace (Part One)  Unfortunately the video marked "part two" is exactly the same as this one.  I left a note to the poster asking them to correct this.  If it gets corrected I will post a link to the 2nd part here.  Addendum:  I heard back from the poster and it was explained to me that the two clips are not identical.  Well you decide.  Here's the 2nd clip:

II: Molto vivace (Part Two)

Leipzig New Gewandhaus

Joyful, Joyful!

In 1907 Henry van Dyke, an American clergyman wrote a poem entitled Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, intending to set the words to the melody from the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. The result was one of Christianity's favorite hymns.

Here's the lyrics:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other; lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o'er us, Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Son-ward in the triumph song of life. 

Modern Approaches

The hymn as performed in the film  Sister Act II.

Music from Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part Eight)

Bernstein Conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker

Leonard Bernstein
Our eighth installment takes us back to Vienna, but with a different conductor; the late great Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F major, Opus 93.

I: Allegro vivace e con brio

II: Allegretto Scherzando

II: Tempo di menuetto

IV: Allegro vivace

For more information on this symphony go here, here and here.

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part Seven)

Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1902
I can think of no other conductor who appears to be having as much fun with Beethoven's symphonies than the late Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004).  Kleiber literally dances at the podium on the faster movements, and his grin and eye-twinkle make this performance mesmerizing.  Again with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.  I don't have a date on this performance, but Kleiber retired from conducting in the mid 1990s.  This is perhaps one of Beethoven's livelier symphonies; particularly the last two movements.

I: Poco sostenuto - Vivace (Part One)

I: Poco sostenuto - Vivace (Part Two)

II: Allegretto

III: Presto

IV: Allegro con brio

Part of a professional documentary on this magnificent conductor can be found here. (In German with English subtitles).

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part 6)

The Pastoral

While Beethoven's 5th symphony is the best known, his Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68 "Pastoral" is among the best loved of his symphonies by those who know him best.  With a total of five movements, after the 9th symphony it is the next longest.  Here Beethoven expresses that expansive vision that is his signature nature.  With the exception of the 9th, the breadth of this work is unsurpassed in the decades that came after it.  It wasn't until Mahler in the latter part of the 19th Century when the romantic symphony began to expand beyond the breadth of Beethoven, and owes it's expansion to his insight and clarity.  As with the 5th, in the opening here Beethoven relies on repetition and buildup of a few notes to the point of wonderful strength, never to be exhausted!  It's wonderful to listen to and for this installment I wanted to find the absolute best performance I could find; and so, we return to Vienna and Christian Thielemann's handling of a performance once again by the Vienna Philharmonic.  Unfortunately I was only able to find the first movement.  However, if readers wish to explore these performances more in-depth, I've left a link to the official release of the Vienna Philharmonic's performances of all 9 of Beethoven's symphonies.

Fist things; if one desires to discover the frantic nature of Beethoven when working on his greatest symphonies, I find it interesting to observe his original manuscripts; which I doubt if anyone could make sense of apart from the apparent restless excitement he must have felt as the ideas and insight were imparted to him in a certain state of inspiration.  Beethoven's scribbling shorthand does little justice to the final product.

The 6th is a "programatic" symphony, employing thematic elements that set a certain mood in celebration of nature.  Rather than employing the typical Italian Tempo markings, Beethoven preferred to set the mood for each movement by description as follows:

I: "Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande" (Awakening of Cheerful Feelings Upon Arrival in the Country):  Allegro ma non troppo.

II: "Szene am Bach" (Scene at the Brook):  Andante molto.

III: "Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute" (Happy gathering of the Country Folk):  Allegro.

IV: "Gewitter, Sturm" (Thunderstorm; Storm):  Allegro.

V: "Hirtengesang.  Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm" (Shepherd's song; Cheerful and Thankful Feelings After the Storm):  Allegretto.

Here's an advertising clip for Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic's recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies.  These performances are available on BlueRay from or other retailers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great Concert Halls

Here's a link to some of the great concert halls around the world where Orchestras often play.  While doing my series of posts on Beethoven's symphonies I came across several outstanding venues for this type of concert, and I thought it might be interesting for my readers to have more information on where great concerts are held.  Here's some photos of some of these venues:

National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, USA

Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria
Royal Albert Hall, London, UK

Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, Denmark

La Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part Five)

Beethoven's Fifth!!

Well of course I was able to find many great performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67 on YouTube.  It is probably one of the best known symphonic works of all time.  It is also a major turning point in Beethoven's transition from the Classical period into the Romantic.

I will dedicate this post to several performances of this wonderful symphony.  The first is a performance from the 1950s by the NBC Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini performed at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York City, March 22, 1952.
Carnegie Hall, New York, New York

III: Allegro-Allegro (Part Two)  *Note - the poster of these clips erroneously labels this as the 4th movement.  There are only 3.

Seoul Arts Center
Our 2nd performance of this symphony comes from Seoul, South Korea with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Myung-whun Chung in a performance at Seoul Arts Center on January 20th, 2006.

Our next performance of Beethoven's 5th symphony comes from Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen, Germany, conducted by Paavo Järvi in a performance from April 2nd, 2008.  The venue is unknown.  These videos combine the movements into 3 clips to:

 For more information on this symphony go here (requires flash)here and here.

Beethoven Symphonies (Almost) Live (Part Four)

A new "Discovery"!!

Amsterdam Concertgebouw
Trying to find a decent complete performance of Beethoven's 4th symphony proved to be a bit more of a task than the last 3 performances.  Alas, after searching through several dozen attempts, rehearsals, incomplete movements and the like, I came across an orchestra I had not heard of:  The Discovery Ensemble out of Boston Massachusetts.  It's a chamber orchestra made up of professionals in the Boston area.  The director, Courtney Lewis demonstrates competent skills with his ensemble.

A few drawbacks:  There's only one camera angle, so this set of videos will give you a fine view of the conductor and not much else.  Oh well.  The sound is good and the performance is better than most I heard with the exception of the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's performance under the magnificent skills of Carlos Kleiber.  Unfortunately it's posted by several people in different video arrays, and I can't seem to find a complete set.  If in time I'm able to find a nice set of all the movements I will post it here.  For now I give you the Discovery Ensemble and an excerpt from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Opus 60:

Interior of Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I: Adagio - Allegro vivace as performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Carlos Kleiber, Conductor

Amsterdam Concertgebouw

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

I: Adagio-Allegro vivace  (Part One) as performed by Discovery Ensemble.

I: Adagio-Allegro vivace (Part Two)

II: Adagio

III: Menuetto: Allegro vivace

IV: Allegro ma non troppo

For more information on this symphony go here, here and here.