Léon Orthel: Drie liederen (3 Songs), Op. 26

This is day 15 of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is composer Léon Orthel (1905-1985).

Orthel was a Dutch pianist, teacher and composer.  He was born in the Hague.  Wikipedia has almost no biographical information on him but does list all his works here and he seems pretty prolific.

On AllMusic.com, an independent reviewer says that Orthel thrived in the Netherlands because the Dutch government after WWII mandated that 20 percent of music performed in concert had to be “locally sourced,” i.e., Dutch.  The author describes Orthel as a neo-romantic and compares some of his works to Rachmaninoff, Barber, and Adinsell and even cinematic.

There is so little on the Web about Orthel, that I can’t find any references to which three poems of Rilke Orthel chose in today’s work.  So alas I can’t put the words here.  They are quite nice.

Notker the Stammerer: Quid tu, virgo

This is day fourteen of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is the medieval composer Notker the Stammerer (840-912).

I chose Notker, simply because his attribution as “the stammerer,” which is probably the least politically correct name I’ve ever heard, strikes me as funny and sad at the same time. Amazingly learned, he studied at the monastery of the Swiss town now known as Saint Gall. There he became a monk and the school’s librarian. He is famous for having written a book of anecdotes from life of Charlemagne, who died a few years before Notker’s birth. The book focuses on Charlemagne, whose virtue it praises and members of his family.

Musically Notker, wrote the “Liber hymnorum” (book of hymns) which were mnemonic poems that helped one replicate the pitch of songs sung during the mass. The earliest manuscripts of musical notation date from the time of Notker and are house in the monastery where he lived.

Below is the Latin text which appears below the Youtube performance of Quid Tu, Virgo. The Latin was accompanied by a French translation, which I translated into English.  It concerns the Slaughter of the Innocents, mentioned in the book of Matthew.

Quid tu, virgo

(my translation from the French translation of the Latin Text)

Mater, ploras,Rachel formosa,

Iacob delectat ?

Ceu sororis aniculae

lippitudo eum iuvet

!Terge, mater,

Quam te decent genarum rimulae ?

Heu, heu, heu,

qui me incusatis Fletus

incassum fudisse ?

Cum sim orbata

qui solus curaret,

Qui non hostibus cederet

angustos terminos,

quos mihi

Jacob adquisivit,

quique stolidis fratribus,

quos multos, pro dolor,

extuli,

esset profuturus.

Numquid flendus est iste,

qui regnum possedit caelestie?

quique prece frequenti

miseris fratribus

apud deum auxiliatur ?

Oh beautiful mother Rachel, why these tears, you

whose face gives such joy to Jacob?

As if the red eyes of your older sister

Could be agreeable to him.

Wipe them, mother

It would be unbecomming to have your cheeks

Streaked with tears

Ah, Ah, Ah,

Why are you accusing me

Of shedding tears in vain?

When I am deprived of my son,

The sole solace to my poverty

Who would not have yielded to enemies

The narrow house that Jacob bought me

And which would have helped all the stupid brothers

That I gave birth to. Alas.

Must you cry about it?

You who possesses the celestial kingdom

And who, helps his miserable brothers,

through your constant prayers to God?

Teizo Matsumura: Deux Berceuses à la grèce (1969)

This is day thirteen of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is contemporary composer Teizo Matsumura (1929-2007).

This blog challenge is turning out to be quite an adventure for me.  As I choose composers, I try not to go for the big, famous ones.  Luckily Wikipedia helps out, as it provides a list of composers by name and date going back to 476 AD.  My first post went back a thousand years before that to an ancient Greek composer.

The adventure for me is in discovering a new composer and a work by him or her.  Like today’s composer, Matsumura, who was born in Kyoto and grew up to be a Haiku poet and a composer.  Wikipedia has precious little on the composer save to say he was orphaned as a child an later  suffered from tuberculosis during recovery from which he began to write Haiku.  He went on to become a professor of music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts, and produced a solid body of work including several film scores.

The Deux Berceuses (two lullabies) are delighful, and one can hear the influence of Ravel and Stravinsky, who influenced Matsumura, but also Asian influences.  I like this syncretism–taking a classical form from one culture and adding a vernacular element from an other.  It’s rich and is similar to the way that languages evolve and grow and keep alive.

György Ligeti: Atmospheres

This is day twelve of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is György Ligeti, (1923–2006)

Ligeti was born in Transylvania, Romania to Hungarian Jewish parents.  His family moved to Hungary when he was six.  During the summers his family sent him to Budapest where he studied with Pál Kadosa, and he was heavily influenced by Bartok’s music.  During World War II, he and his brother were sent to labor camps for being Jewish and his parents ended up in Auschwitz, where his father perished.

After the War, he retuned to Budapest and studied at and graduated from the Liszt Academy of music, under Zoltan Kodály, among other well known teachers and composers.  Like Bartok he also conducted ethnomusicology research on folksongs.  When the Soviets invaded Hungary in a violent takeover of the country, Ligeti fled with his family to Vienna, where he became a citizen of Austria.  There he fell with the burgeoning group of anti-tonal composers including Karlheinz Stockhausen.  When he fled Hungary, Ligeti lost a good number of his earlier compositions, but he said he was completely devoted to 12 tone music.  Eventually he broke with narcissistic group of avant-garde composers and from then on composed prolifically.  He moved  to Hamburg where he taught at the Hochschule School for Music and Theatre.  In later years he turned to more tonal music.

I first heard today’s piece around 1968 when it was used in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001, a Space Odyssey.”  Kubrick also used some of Ligetti’s piano music, Musica Ricerata, in his last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut.”  “Atmospheres” is a powerful piece and I think a perfect choice to show bring an emotional drama to the sterility of space travel and the soullessness of science depicted in the movie.

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in F Major, L. 188

Today, since it’s Sunday, I’m taking a break from the A-Z challenge and doing a longer post.

Spring started officially almost a month ago here in Washington, DC.  But it didn’t really take hold until this week.  Usually theirs a progression–crocus, daffodils, tulips, magnolias, cherry blossoms, azaleas and so on.  This week everything seemed to pop at once. Tthe magnolias are in full (and fragrant) bloom, and the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Blossom peaked on Thursday, April 10.

I moved to DC from the Maryland suburbs in 2007. When I lived in Maryland and my daughters were growing up, we had a dog named Freckles that I’d walk every morning before work while my daughters were getting ready for school. These walks were not at all burdensome in the Spring as almost every day another different flower, bush or tree would start to bloom.

I marveled at how evolution and selective breeding has spread blooming out over a period of months. That meant I would get to see a Technicolor marvel every morning. If they all bloomed at once, there wouldn’t be enough insects around to pollinate them all. And here is something more amazing: while we stand and admire their beauty from a distance, tiny little creatures are walking up and down their stalks and in and out of the blossoms. They carry on the process of fertilization. At the same time, flies, bees, moths, and butterflies ply the skies, dropping in for a sip of nectar and carrying the pollen to other plants, which ensures a hearty gene pool. If not for these critters, life on earth would cease. The biomass of insects is estimated to far outweigh that of all other life on earth!

I once saw Deepak Chopra give a lecture. This was before he became an Ayurvedic, New Age, Erroneous Zone, Mega-Motivational, PBS Pledge-Drive speaker. He said that, chemically, we are not the same person we were just a few days ago. We’ve eaten food, which our bodies have broken down, metabolized and used to replace existing one. Our skin sloughs off millions of cells a day and these are replaced continually by new ones created by the great engine that is our body. At the same time, we are being bombarded from outer space by neutrons, protons, electrons, neutrinos, gamma rays, positrons, and what not. These knock around and replace the sub-atomic particles that make up our own atoms. So every day, we are being reborn quite literally. And if that is happening to our physical being, if you believe existence precedes essence, then why can’t that happen to our minds, intellect and personalities as well?

This reminds me of the pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, who about 2500 years ago said: “All is flux,” and “You can’t step into the same river twice.”  The path of the river remains constant. The definition of the river remains constant. But the water that courses through the channel is always being renewed.

Maybe this is why I like Spring so much It reminds me of the constant chore we have to break out of our old, set patterns and renew ourselves.

I also love Spring, because it reminds me to listen to the album “Horowitz Plays Scarlatti.” Today’s piece, Sonata in F Major, L. 188 is my second favorite piece on the album. It starts out with one hand launching into a very fast and bubbly melody. After about 20 notes, Scarlatti starts the same melody in the second hand. It runs after the first, chasing it like two squirrels. They carry on weaving in and out, at times one slowing while the other speeds, one rising as the other falls, sometimes in unison. This continues until all of a sudden, Scarlatti brings both hands down with a crash that jars you. Then he does it again, before picking up the melody again for a shorter span–until he does the crash again. Next he repeats the whole piece over from the beginning. After that, he plays a wonderful flourish that sparkles. In the rest of the piece, he repeats the first pattern, the second and the first again, I believe for a while in a different key. Before you know it he’s loping both his hands along into a grand finale.

Scarlatti served as the music master at St. Peter’s in Rome. Then, he was befriended by Handel, who got him a job at the royal chapel in London. His music, however, doesn’t lack the pompous courtliness of Handel’s. It has that fresh spontaneity and playfulness that is so much a part of the Italian character.

Of his 550 sonata, Scarlatti wrote to the listeners: “…show yourself more human than critical, and then your Pleasure will increase.”

Horowitz has a nice comment about the Scarlatti’s sonatas, from which he chose the 12 on my old vinyl LP:

“His music is down to earth; it has human qualities and sephardic elements. Many composers of his period speak to God. Scarlatti speaks to the people, the children of God. There are instances when he does speak to God, but more often, he chooses not to.”

I am grateful that his music speaks to me across the centuries.

Biography of Scarlatti

Download MP3s or buy CD of Horowitz Plays Scarlatti on Amazon

Larysa Kuzmenko: In Memoriam to the Victims of Chernobyl

This is day eleven of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of  “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is contemporary composer Larysa Kuzmenko, who was born in 1956.

To find composers for this month’s challenge, I’ve been going to Wikipedia’s list of classical composers, here.  There are thousands and today I realized there are really few female composers.  If anyone wants to offer an explanation, for that please let me know.

Kuzmenko is a Canadian born composer who resides in Toronto, where she teaches at the Royal Conservatory of Music.  If anyone has any other information about her, please let me know.

I find this piece riveting.

František Jiránek: Violin Concerto in D minor

This is day ten of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curate a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is František Jiránek who lived from 1698 — 1778.

Jiránek was born in Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic.  His parents were servants in the house of Count Morzin.  Morzin really loved Vivaldi’s music and sent Jiránek to Venice to study with Vivaldi.  Not much of his work survives, and this violin concerto shows strong influence of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

 

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