Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pyotr Tchaikovsky's - The Nutcracker

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. His wide ranging output includes symphonies, operas, ballets, instrumental and chamber music and songs. He wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, his last three numbered symphonies, and the opera Eugene Onegin.

Born into a middle-class family, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant, despite his obvious musical precocity. He pursued a musical career against the wishes of his family, entering the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1862 and graduating in 1865. This formal, Western-oriented training set him apart from the contemporary nationalistic movement embodied by the influential group of young Russian composers known as The Five, with whom Tchaikovsky's professional relationship was mixed.

Although perennially popular with concert audiences across the world, Tchaikovsky's music was often dismissed by critics in the early and mid-20th century as being vulgar and lacking in elevated thought. By the end of the 20th century, however, Tchaikovsky's status as a significant composer was generally regarded as secure.

The Nutcracker Ballet

Act I

It’s a cozy Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum’s house. Their house is decorated with Christmas ornaments, wreaths, stockings, mistletoe and in the center of it all, a majestic Christmas tree. As the Stahlbaum’s prepare for their annual Christmas party, their children, Fritz and Clara, wait anxiously for their family and friends to arrive. When the guests finally appear, the party picks up with dancing and celebration. A mysterious guest arrives dressed in dark clothing, nearly frightening Fritz, but not Clara. Clara knows he is Godfather Drosselmeyer, the toymaker. His surprise arrival is warmly accepted and all the children dance and carry on with laughter. The celebration is interrupted again when Drosselmeyer reveals to the children that he has brought them gifts. The girls receive beautiful china dolls and the boys receive bugles. Fritz is given a beautiful drum, but Clara is given the best gift of all, the Nutcracker. Fritz grows jealous, snatches the Nutcracker from Clara and plays a game of toss with the other boys. It isn't long until the Nutcracker breaks. Clara is upset, but Drosselmeyer fixes it with a handkerchief. Drosselmeyer’s nephew offers Clara a small make-shift bed under the Christmas tree for her injured Nutcracker.

The party grows late and the children become sleepy. Everyone generously thanks the Stahlbaum’s before they leave. As Clara’s family retires to bed, she checks on her Nutcracker one last time and ends up falling asleep under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker in her arms.

At the stroke of midnight Clara wakes up to a frightening scene. The house, the tree and the toys seem to be getting larger. Is she shrinking? Out of nowhere large mice dressed in army uniforms, lead by the Mouse King, begin to circle the room while the toys and Christmas tree come to life. Clara’s Nutcracker groups the soldier toys into battle formation and fights the mouse army. The Mouse King traps the Nutcracker in the corner, but the Nutcracker can’t overcome the Mouse King’s strength. Clara makes a desperate move to save her Nutcracker from defeat and throws her slipper at the Mouse King. She hits him directly in the head! The Nutcracker is able to overcome the stunned Mouse King and claims victory. The mice army quickly carries away their King.

Clara falls onto the Nutcracker’s bed, over-whelmed by the moment. As angels and delightful music hover over their heads, the bed turns into a magical sleigh, floating higher and higher. The Nutcracker is transformed into a human prince (who looks strikingly similar to Drosselmeyer’s nephew). He gets on Clara’s sleigh and drives through a snowy forest where the snowflakes turn into dancing maidens.

Act II

After their magical journey through the snow forest, they come to their destination in the Land of Sweets. Clara can’t believe her eyes; ladyfinger mountains topped with whipped cream whiter than snow, sweetly glazed flowers and butter-cream frosting everywhere she looks. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. As they reenact the night’s events, the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes impressed with Clara’s bravery and the Nutcracker’s heroism. In their honor, the Sugar Plum Fairy takes them inside the Candy Castle and throws a lavish festival. They are treated like royalty and presented with every imaginable sweet. Shortly thereafter, the dancing begins.

Hot coco dances to the lively music of trumpets and castanets of the Spanish fandango. The women of coffee dance in veils and move their bodies like rising steam to an Arabian song, while Mandarin tea dances to an exotic Asian flute chorus. Matroishkas (Russian dolls) follow the Mandarin tea leaping and dancing to an invigorating Russian Trepak.

To Clara’s enjoyment there is still more to be seen. A giant gingerbread house, known as Mother Ginger, dances onto the Sugar Plum Fairy’s court. She opens her skirt and eight little gingerbread children come dancing out circling around her. After the Mirliton dance is over, the children quickly file back into the large gingerbread house and Mother Ginger leaves the room. Soon after Mother Ginger exits, the dancing flowers enter to the tune of the harp. Perhaps the most beautiful waltz she has ever heard, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince watch with amazement. The flowers dance in beautiful mesmerizing patterns as a single Dewdrop floats above them.

Silence quickly follows the end of their dance. Clara doesn’t know what to expect next. A handsome Cavalier enters the scene and escorts the Sugar Plum Fairy to the center of the room. They dance to the most recognizable song in the entire work. The captivating pair dance lighter than air. This beautiful dance completes Clara’s most perfect evening. The festival concludes when everyone comes together on the court and bids Clara and the Nutcracker Prince farewell. She tells the Nutcracker she wishes the adventure would never end and he tells her it won’t for those who have an eye to see it.

Clara wakes up the next morning under the Christmas tree with her Nutcracker still in her arms.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Music of the holiday season- In no order...at all-

Ma'oz Tzur

The hymn is named for its first two words in Hebrew, which mean "Stronghold of Rock" as a name or epithet for God. "Ma'oz Tzur" is thought to be have written in the 13th century, during the Crusades. The first letters of the first five stanzas form an acrostic of the composer's name, Mordechai (the five Hebrew letters מרדכי). The hymn retells Jewish history in poetic form and celebrates deliverance from four ancient enemies, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman and Antiochus. Like much Jewish liturgical poetry, it is full of allusions to Biblical literature and rabbinic interpretation.

There is a popular non-literal translation that is sung, called "Rock of Ages", which is based on the German version by Leopold Stein (1810–1882), and was written by Talmudic linguist Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil. This version is singable and is closely adapted from the original Hebrew. However it should be noted that this translation is a recent creation adopted by the American branch Reform Judaism, critics have said it takes quite a bit away from the original, and is written to empower Reformed Judaism's forced secularism. Critics note that when the original was written, Hebrew was not the standard speaking language either, and was used by Jews to separate and give warmth to their sacred language.

Rock of strength! Great Aid of yore! ‘Tis sweet due praise to sing thee;
Rear our House of Prayer once more! Thank-off’rings there we’ll bring thee;
When dread immolation,Checks the foe’s elation,
I’ll complete with paeans meet, the altar’s consecration.

Evils sore my soul oppressed, Grief consumed my vigor;
Bitter bondage life distressed, Thro’ proud Egypt’s rigor;
But, whilst Heaven’s devotion, Led us forth from Goshen,
Pharaoh’s race, Sank apace, Like pebbles in the ocean.

Scarce led unto Hashem’s holy fane, From duty’s path I swerved there,
By harsh oppressor captive ta’en, Because strange gods I served there.
The madd’ning cup I tasted, Till, seventy sad years wasted
In Babylon spent, Zerubabbel, sent, To my deliv’rance, hasted.

To check our growth when Haman sought, Our pine-like stature felling,
In self-laid snare himself was caught, Soon ceased his proud heart’s swelling:
Whilst Israel’s power extended, The foeman’s race was ended,
When kith and kin, Were, for his sin, On gallows-tree suspended,

When Maccabees with Syrian foe,The mastery disputed,
My forts were crushed, my walls laid low,My Temple-oil polluted;
One cruse, to Heaven’s pure nation,Sufficed for dedication;
Whence sages mine Eight days assign, To song and jubilation.

Bare Your holy arm once more, and hasten the End for salvation.
Avenge the vengeance of servants Your, from the wicked nation.
Our salvation’s too long delayed, and there is no end to the evil days
Repel Edom in the shadow deep, and bring seven shepherds without delays.

White Christmas

"White Christmas" is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.[1][2][3][4]

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song.[4] One story is that he wrote it in 1940, poolside at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"[5]

Sleigh Ride

"Sleigh Ride" is a popular light orchestral piece composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946; he finished the work in February 1948. Lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter's day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra. The song was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become the equivalent of a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. This original mono version has never been available on CD, although the later 1959 re-recording is available in stereo. The orchestra has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor.

Leroy Anderson recorded his own version of "Sleigh Ride" in 1950 on Decca 9-16000 (45 rpm) / 16000 (78 rpm). This monaural version is available on CD as well as his 1959 stereo re-recording. This recording hit the Cashbox magazine best sellers chart when re-released in 1952.

Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas, and often appears on Christmas compilation albums, the song's lyrics never specifically mention any holiday or religion (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). In fact, the mention of "pumpkin pie" in the last verse might suggest an association with Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers [ASCAP] review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide.[1]:

Friday, December 3, 2010

A quick bit about the 20/21st centuries current Orchestra sound - The Film Score

A film score is the background music of a film (which is generally categorically separated from songs used within a film). The term soundtrack may be confused with film score. A soundtrack, however, contains everything audible in the film including sound effects and dialogue. Soundtrack albums may also include songs featured in the film as well as previously released music by other artists. A score is written specifically to accompany a film, by the original film's composer(s).

Each individual piece of music, within a film's score, is called a cue and is typically a composition for instruments (e.g. orchestra) and/or non-individually featured voices. Since the 1950s, a growing number of scores are electronic or a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments. Since the invention of digital technology and audio sampling, many low budget films have been able to rely on digital samples to imitate the sound of real live instruments.

A few examples -

James Newton Howard-

John Williams-

Ohhh and maybe a bit of thievery too?

This is of course, not from a movie. It was written by Gustav Holst in 1914 - Well before "Talking Movies."

Maybe you were thinking of this - The Imperial March which was premiered on April 29, 1980. One of the best known symphonic movie themes, it is a classic example of a leitmotif, a recurrent theme associated with characters or events in a drama.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Minimalsim - More Music, Less Variety Homework Due 12/6/2010

Minimalist Music is an originally American genre of experimental or Downtown music named in the 1960s based mostly in consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. It may include features such as additive process and phase shifting. Starting in the early 1960s as a scruffy underground scene in San Francisco alternative spaces and New York lofts, minimalism spread to become the most popular experimental music style of the late 20th century. The movement originally involved dozens of composers, although only five: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams and, La Monte Young emerged to become publicly associated with it in America.

Terry Riley

In C consists of 53 short, numbered musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats; each phrase may be repeated an arbitrary number of times. Each musician has control over which phrase he or she plays: players are encouraged to play the phrases starting at different times, even if they are playing the same phrase. The performance directions state that the musical ensemble should try to stay within two to three phrases of each other. The phrases must be played in order, although some may be skipped. As detailed in some editions of the score, it is customary for one musician ("traditionally... a beautiful girl," Riley notes in the score[2]) to play the note C in repeated eighth notes. This functions as a metronome and is referred to as "The Pulse".

In C has no set duration; performances can last as little as fifteen minutes or as long as several hours, although Riley indicates "performances normally average between 45 minutes and an hour and a half." The number of performers may also vary between any two performances. The original recording of the piece was created by 11 musicians (through overdubbing, several dozen instruments were utilized), while a performance in 2006 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall featured 124 musicians.

The piece begins on a C major chord (patterns one through seven) with a strong emphasis on the mediant E and the entrance of the note F which begins a series of slow progressions to other chords suggesting a few subtle and ambiguous changes of key, the last pattern being an alteration between B♭ and G. Though the polyphonic interplay of the various patterns against each other and themselves at different rhythmic displacements is of primary interest, the piece may be considered heterophonic.

Steve Reich

Music for 18 Musicians was written for a cello, violin, two clarinets(both players double on bass clarinet), four pianos, three marimbas, two xylophones, a metallophone, and four women's voices. In the introduction to the score, Reich mentions that although the piece is named Music for 18 Musicians, it is not necessarily advisable to perform the piece with that few players due to the extensive doubling it requires. With only 18 musicians.

Philip Glass

Homework: Due 12/6/2010

Pick two of these Minimalistic Works (the one you like most and the one you like least.)  Write four well-developed paragraphs explaining why you like/dislike.  What does this music make you think about?  For bonus (5 points) post a Minimalistic Composition by a different composer with a small ddescription.