Facebook Twitter Google+

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and the erhu

erhuChaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is a masterpiece of lyricism with just the right amount of melancholy in the second movement. That’s expected of Tchaikovsky, as he started composing it in Clarens, Switzerland, where he was staying in order to recover from a nervous breakdown caused by his sham marriage. The first movement, in particular, with the exposition of the main theme, feels very balletic—like dancers making pirouettes. For this reason, we love this version on the Erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument used both in traditional and contemporary Chinese music. Actually, it takes the edge off Tchaikovsky’s melody, producing an overall less scratchy and more soothing sound. Now, however, we can’t help wondering what the virtuosic third movement would sound like.

The key ingredient in violin making

A new approach to violin making may be about to emerge which makes use of a rather unexpected material. A prototype instrument made using silk from an Australian Golden Orb Spider has been developed by a student at Imperial College London. The silk’s natural ability to transfer vibrations makes it ideal for customising the sound of a violin, according to Luka Alessandrini, who has patented the design and hopes to make it commercially available soon. Alessandrini produced a composite material which includes three strands of golden silk spun by the Australian Orb. This species was chosen because it produces the strongest silk. In the course of producing the material, Alessandrini is able to engineer the acoustics of the instrument depending on the requirements. The silk composite performs better in this area than other materials like carbon fibre. “Spiders’ silk has only previously been exploited as string in bows for instruments, but I’ve discovered that the amazing resonating property of spiders’ silk has massive potential uses in instruments themselves,” Alessandrini said.

Bartók’s and Beethoven’s works in the new season

bartok_beethovenAfter this season’s Schubert symphony cycle, the deliberate attempt by Philippe Jordan to focus his orchestra on central European repertoire continues. Bartók paired with Beethoven form the cornerstone of most of Jordan’s concerts with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. An entire cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos featuring French pianist Pierre Laurent-Aimard runs through the season. Each one is paired with a significant work by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, for whom Beethoven was a great influence. Bartók’s works featured in the season include favourites such as the Concerto for Orchestra, and the pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. Another pantomime ballet – The Wooden Prince – is something of a rarity in concert halls. The real Bartók spectacular comes at the end of the season, though, with a concert performance of the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, starring Hungarian bass Gábor Bretz. As much a psychological work as anything else, a concert performance of Bluebeard can be just as striking as a full staging. Charles Dutoit leads another tour to Hungary, Slovenia and Italy.

Mikhail Glinka the Russian composer

Mihail_GlinkaMikhail Glinka was the founder of the nationalist school of Russian composers and is often regarded as the father of Russian classical music. His first opera was set in 1612, and it told the story of the Russian peasant and hero Ivan Susanin who sacrificed his life for the Tsar by leading astray a group of marauding Poles who were hunting him. In the opera, Mikhail Glinka wanted to glorify a plain peasant, the greatness of the Russian national character, his courage and unmistakable stamina. The composition thus became the first Russian opera that was written totally without speaking dialogues; and for the first time in Russian musical history the peasant acted not as a common character, bur as a heroic personality. His forthcoming opera, Ruslan and Luydmila was based on Pushkin’s poem. Its performance was a failure and as a result Glinka lost the support of the court. Franz Liszt on his visit tried to defend the genius of his fellow composer, but his efforts seemed to be in vain.

Sir Walter Scott and the Hail to the Chief

music-notes-and-flag-of-usa-1279893_1920“Hail to the Chief” is the official anthem announcing the arrival of the president of the United States at formal events. It has been used since the early 1800s but originally had nothing to do with the American political scene. The text is from the narrative poem, “The Lady of the Lake,” by Sir Walter Scott. Published in 1810, this work is set in 16th-century Scotland. The story is about three men attempting to win the love of one woman and the fighting between the highland clans and lowland Scots. Scott’s poem made him famous on an international level. The theatre production opened in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, 1812, with music composed and selected by J. A. Jones. One of the songs was the James Sanderson “Hail to the Chief.” The stage version was very successful in America, particularly during the War of 1812, as it explored conflicts from all sides. The tune first moved from theatrical productions to historical events on February 22, 1815, to celebrate the end of the War of 1812 and to honor George Washington who had dies in 1799. The Department of Defense established “Hail to the Chief” as the official presidential anthem in 1954 after Harry S. Truman researched its history. The words are rarely heard when the music is used to announce presidents. Instead, it begins with four ruffles and flourishes on drums and bugles followed by the instrumental arrangement. It is performed by military bands like the United States Marine Band.

Arcangelo Corelli was born on 17th February

Arcangelo_CorelliThe Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli exercised a wide influence on his contemporaries and on the succeeding generation of composers. Born in Fusignano, Italy, in 1653, a full generation before Bach or Handel, he studied in Bologna, a distinguished musical center. Later he settled in Rome, where he had entered the service of Queen Christina of Sweden.  History has remembered him with such titles as “Founder of Modern Violin Technique,” the “World’s First Great Violinist,” and the “Father of the Concerto Grosso.” It was Vivaldi who became Corelli’s successor as a composer of the great concerti grossi.

Rachmaninov’s hand-span

399342247_004bed4b9b_oHow far could the great pianists stretch their hands? We take a look at just how big the hands of the star virtuosos were, from Rachmaninov to Liszt and Barenboim to Lang Lang. Did you know that Daniel Barenboim, one of his generation’s most respected pianists, can manage to straddle a 9th on the piano, where the likes of Rachmaninov and Liszt could handle a whopping 13th? An infographic shows just how far some of history’s keyboard greats could stretch their ivory-tinklers – from the surprisingly tiny to the majestically huge.

The best known Belgian composer César Franck

Cesar_FranckBorn on 9 December in 1822 was his country’s most significant composer in the Romantic period. César Franck came from a very ambitious family: his father had high hopes, and believed his son to be destined for a career as a concert pianist. When Franck first applied to study at the Paris Conservatoire, he was declined entry because of his nationality. He eventually managed to persuade them to accept him, though, not as a performer but instead as a composer. From the mid-1840s onwards, Franck made his living as a teacher and organist in Paris, before eventually becoming Organ Professor at the very conservatoire he himself had studied at. Although acknowledged as a fine composer today, in 19th century Paris Franck was largely overlooked – right the way up to his death in 1890. Opera was very much the music of the moment and, as a composer of instrumental and choral music, Franck wasn’t seen as being particularly relevant by the great and the good. In addition to the ever-popular Panis Angelicus, Franck composed a number of other works that are worth discovering: among them, the brilliant Symphony in D minor, and the Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. Despite being one of the finest organists of his day, Franck wrote hardly any music for his instrument.

Learn to play piano with BACh

BAChTwo scientists have designed a computer programme capable of assisting students in learning a piece of music, according to the results of an experiment they conducted with 16 pianists. Appropriately known as BACh (Brain automated chorales), the computer was developed by Beste Yuksel and Robert Jacob. It uses sensors to determine the levels of oxygen in a player’s brain, a sign of how active the brain is. When the pianist’s brain is not working too hard, the computer offers a new line of music to learn, avoiding overloading the player with information. This is based on the idea that humans only have a limited amount of working memory. The pianists had to learn one chorale by J.S. Bach with the assistance of the computer, and another without. BACh made a noticeable difference, especially among pianists who categorised themselves as beginners. As well as playing the piece faster and more accurately after 15 minutes of practice with BACh than when they learned alone, musicians also subjectively reported feeling they had played the pieces better. The device will be displayed at an upcoming conference in May, and it is hoped that the technology could be used for learning much more than music. Other areas that could possibly benefit include foreign languages and engineering.

Richard Wagner died in February

Richard_WagnerWagner reinvented German opera and became one of the most influential composers of all time. His reforms affected opera composition, theatrical practice in general, and the development of the orchestra. Now, the Bayreuth Festival is one of the most famous festivals in the world where only Richard Wagner’s music dramas are performed. Wagner himself conceived and promoted the idea of a special festival to showcase his own works, in particular his monumental cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. While Wagner was in exile (due to the thorny issue of his increased revolutionary activity in Dresden), he completed several key works including his opera Lohengrin. However, unable to stage the work himself, he wrote to his friend Franz Liszt in the hope of getting it produced. Not only did Liszt get the work staged, he also conducted the premiere in Weimar.