Friday, July 06, 2007

Seattle Chamber Music Festival

Last night, July 5, we drove out to Lakeside to listen to some chamber music. The first piece we heard was by Ravel for violin and 'cello. We heard it while leaning against some large rocks out on the lawn. A piece I'll have to think about a bit. If I had written it, I think I would have worked on it some more. It was miked and piped to large speakers outside, so that must have had something to do with it.

Anyway that's not really what we came for.

The 8:00 show consisted of three pieces. The first was Robert Schuman's Trio for violin, Cello, and Piano Fmaj, Op 80.
The last (of three) was Brahms Quintet for strings also in Fmaj Op 88.
there is always something soporific and even depressing about Schuman. Perhaps simply knowing his life story. Or perhaps sympathy for the struggle composers faced before Sibelious (the music scoring software, not Jean)
In those days, they had to spend hours writing it out by hand very carefully following all the rules in hopes that it would sound alright if anybody ever played it.
When I spend two or three hours composing, I can check my backup files and find ten or fifteen revised versions. And, I've ALREADY heard all of it performed.
A whole lot of lazy people, like myself, are going to be calling themselves composers.

My wife complained that it was hard to stay awake.

Then we have Brahms. Lush Brahms. Brahms lullaby.
Brahms, even in his big symphonies, feels to me like a warm blanket.

The important piece was the centerpiece, listed as Charles Ives Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 1 with Jeremy Denk at the piano and Scott St. John at the violin (it looks to me like he uses a foam pad instead of a typical wooden shoulder rest. Irrelevant, but that's the sort of thing I like best about chamber music, you can notice stuff like that)

What I heard, was Jeremy Denk doing a sophisticated Professor Peter Schikele explanation of Chuck Ives doing a reincarnation of P.D.Q. Bach.


Reference to Ives as "our greatest" composer only added to the merriment.

Ask me sometime about the use of "humor" to mask artistic incompetance.

Anyway, all the artists performed impeccably and a grand time was had by all.

Those of us here in the Great Pacific Northwest are truly hap.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy Denk's blogsite often has some pithily positive observations on one of his favorite (perhaps his VERYfavorite) composer, Charles Ives. Jeremy and Charles are fellow iconoclasts. I look forward to Jeremy's performence at tonite's chamber music concert which I'm "working" as an usher.
-- Anonomann

12:56 PM  
Blogger butch said...

Charles Edward Ives (October 20, 1874 – May 19, 1954) was an American composer of classical music. He is widely regarded as one of the first American classical composers of international significance. Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives would come to be regarded as one of the "American Originals," a composer working in a uniquely American style, with American tunes woven through his music, and a reaching sense of the
possibilities in music.

Charles Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut, the son of George Ives, a U.S. Army bandleader in the American Civil War, and his wife Mary Parmelee. A strong influence of Charles's may have been sitting in the Danbury town square, listening to his father's marching band and other bands on other sides of the square simultaneously. George Ives' unique music lessons were also a strong influence on Charles; George Ives took an open-minded approach to musical theory, encouraging his son to experiment in bitonal and polytonal harmonizations. Charles would often sing a song in one key, while his father accompanied in another key. It was from his father that Charles Ives also learned the music of Stephen Foster.[1] Ives became a church organist at the age of 14[2] and wrote various hymns and songs for church services, including his Variations on 'America' .[3] Ives moved to New Haven in 1893, graduating from the Hopkins School. Then, in September 1894, Ives entered Yale University, studying under Horatio Parker. Here he composed in a choral style similar to his mentor, writing church music and even an 1896 campaign song for William McKinley.[4] On November 4, 1894 Charles's father died, a crushing blow to the young composer, who idealized his father, and to a large degree continued the musical experimentation begun by him. He was a member of HeBoule, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Wolf's Head, and sat as chairman of the Ivy Committee.[4] His works Calcium Light Night and Yale-Princeton Football Game show the influence of college on Ives' composition. He wrote his Symphony No. 1 as his senior thesis under Parker's supervision.[4]

Ives around 1889.He continued his work as a church organist until May 1902. In 1899 he moved to employment with the agency Charles H. Raymond & Co., where he stayed until 1906. In 1907, upon the failure of Raymond & Co., he and his friend Julian W. Myrick formed their own insurance agency Ives & Co., which later became Ives & Myrick, where he remained until he retired.[5] In his spare time he composed music and, until his marriage, worked as an organist in Danbury and New Haven as well as Bloomfield, New Jersey and New York City.[4] In 1907, Ives suffered the first of several "heart attacks" (as he and his family called them) that he had through out his lifetime. These attacks may have been psychological in origin rather than physical. Following his recovery from the 1907 attack, Ives entered into one of the most creative periods of his life as a composer. After marrying Harmony Twitchell in 1908,[5] they moved into their own apartment in New York. He had a remarkably successful career in insurance, and continued to be a prolific composer until he suffered another of several heart attacks in 1918, after which he composed very little, writing his very last piece, the song Sunrise, in August 1926.[5] In 1922, Ives published his 114 Songs which represents the breadth of his work as a composer — it includes art songs, songs he wrote as a teenager and young man, and highly dissonant songs such as "The Majority."[5] According to his wife, one day in early 1927 he came downstairs with tears in his eyes: he could compose no more, he said, "nothing sounds right." There have been numerous theories advanced to explain the silence of his late years, which seems as mysterious as the last several decades of the life of Jean Sibelius, who also stopped composing at almost the same time. While Ives had stopped composing, and was increasingly plagued by health problems, he did continue to revise and refine his earlier work, as well as oversee premieres of his music.[5] After continuing health problems, including diabetes, in 1930 he retired from his insurance business, which gave him more time to devote to his musical work, but he was unable to write any new music. During the 1940s he revised his Concord Sonata, publishing it in 1947 (an earlier version of the sonata and the accompanying prose volume, Essays Before a Sonata were privately printed in 1920).[6] Ives died in 1954 in New York City.

Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, though now, for example, Juilliard School celebrated the 50th anniversary of Ives' death by performing his music over six days. Many of his works went unperformed for many years. His tendency to experiment and his increasing use of dissonance were not well taken by the musical establishment of the time. The difficulties in performing the rhythmic complexities in his major orchestral works made them daunting challenges even decades after they were composed. One of the more damning words one could use to describe music in Ives' view was "nice", and his famous remark "use your ears like men!" seemed to indicate that he did not care about his reception. On the contrary, Ives was interested in popular reception, but on his own terms.

Early supporters of his music included Henry Cowell and Elliott Carter. Cowell's periodical New Music published a substantial number of Ives' scores (with the composer's approval), but for almost 40 years Ives had few performances that he did not arrange or back, generally with Nicolas Slonimsky as the conductor.[6]

His obscurity began to lift a little in the 1940s, when he met Lou Harrison, a fan of his music who began to edit and promote it. Most notably Harrison conducted the premiere of the Symphony No. 3 (1904) in 1946.[10] The next year, this piece won Ives the Pulitzer Prize for Music. However, Ives gave the prize money away (half of it to Harrison), saying "prizes are for boys, and I'm all grown up".

At this time, Ives was also promoted by Bernard Herrmann, who worked as a conductor at CBS and in 1940 became principal conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra. While there he was a champion of Charles Ives' music. When meeting Ives, Hermann confessed that he had tried his hand at performing Ives' Concord Sonata.

Recognition of Ives' music has improved. He would find praise from Arnold Schoenberg, who regarded him as a monument to artistic integrity, and from the New York School of William Schuman.

In 1951, Leonard Bernstein conducted the world premiere of Ives' second symphony in a broadcast concert by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; the Ives heard the performance on their cook's radio and were amazed at the audience's warm reception to the music. Bernstein continued to conduct Ives' music and made a number of recordings with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records; he even honored Ives on one of his televised youth concerts and in a special disc included with the reissue of the 1960 recording of the second symphony and the Fourth of July movement from Ives' holidays symphony.

Leopold Stokowski took on the Symphony No. 4 in 1965, regarding the work as "the heart of the Ives problem"; the Carnegie Hall world premiere by the American Symphony Orchestra led to the first recording of the music.

In the present, Michael Tilson Thomas is an enthusiastic exponent of Ives' symphonies as is composer and biographer Jan Swafford. Ives' work is regularly programmed in Europe. Ives has also inspired pictorial artists, notably Eduardo Paolozzi who entitled one of his 1970s suites of prints Calcium Light Night, each print being named for an Ives piece, (including Central Park in the Dark). In 1991, Connecticut's legislature designated Ives as that state's official composer.[11]

The Scottish baritone Henry Herford began a survey of Ives' songs in 1990, but this remains incomplete, owing to the collapse of the record company involved (Unicorn-Kanchana).

Pianist-composer and Wesleyan University professor Neely Bruce has made a life's study of Ives. To date, he has staged seven parts of a concert series devoted to the complete songs of Ives.

Musicologist D. G. Porter reconstructed a piano concerto, the "Emerson Concerto", from Ives' sketches. A recording of the work was released on the Naxos label.

At the same time Ives is not without his critics. Some find his music bombastic, pompous. Others find it, strangely enough, timid in that the fundamental sound of European traditional music is still present in his works. His onetime supporter Elliot Carter has called his work incomplete.

Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 – July 29, 1856) was a German composer and pianist. He was one of the most famous Romantic composers of the nineteenth century, as well as a famous music critic. An intellectual as well as an aesthete, his music reflects the deeply personal nature of Romanticism. Introspective and often whimsical, his early music was an attempt to break with the tradition of classical forms and structure which he thought too restrictive. Little understood in his lifetime, much of his music is now regarded as daringly original in harmony, rhythm and form. He stands in the front rank of German Romantics.

It is undoubtedly true that Schumann exercised considerable influence in the nineteenth century, and beyond, despite his adoption of more conservative modes of composition after his marriage. He left an array of great music in virtually all the forms then known, and his romantic notions of the musician as an artist, as sublime, indelibly changed the perception of what being a composer really meant, and means. Through his protege Brahms, and also others with the stamp of true romanticism yet romanticism undefiled, such as Gabriel Fauré and Elgar, ("my ideal", he said of Schumann), as well as many somewhat lesser figures who betray a distinct musical resemblance, such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry, Verhulst, Adolf Jensen and the master miniaturist, Edvard Grieg, Schumann's ideals and compositional vocabulary have become widely disseminated. Aside from his music, his critical acumen in encouraging anything worthy yet denouncing the meretricious, such as the overblown spectacles of Meyerbeer and the vacuities of Charles-Valentin Alkan—"inward emptiness, outward nothingness" was the verdict in a review of some Alkan pieces—, set a standard that is still aspired to today. While his dismissal of Alkan was misguided, excellence in music criticism as well as aspiration to the highest ideals in art were embodied by Schumann, and both precepts rely critically even in their conception to Schumann's musical idealism.

Peter Schickele (born Johann Peter Schickele, July 17, 1935) is an American composer, musical educator and parodist, best known for his comedy music albums featuring music he wrote as P. D. Q. Bach.

Schickele was born in Ames, Iowa, USA, and graduated with a degree in music from Swarthmore College in 1957, the first student at Swarthmore and the only student in his class with such a degree. He graduated from the Juilliard School with an M.S. in musical composition; in the ensuing years he has frequently cited Roy Harris as the most influential of his teachers.

Schickele has composed more than 100 original works for symphony orchestra, choral groups, chamber ensemble, voice, film (e.g. Silent Running), and television. He has also written music for school bands, folk singers (Joan Baez), and musicals, and has organized numerous concert performances as both musical director and performer. Schickele is active on the international and North American concert circuit.

Schickele's musical creations have won him multiple awards. His extensive body of work is marked by a distinctive style which integrates the European classical tradition with an unmistakable American idiom. As a musical educator he also hosted the classical music educational radio program Schickele Mix which was broadcast on many public radio stations in the United States. The Schickele Mix website [1] reports that loss of funding ended the production of new programs in the late 1990s, and rebroadcasts of the existing programs finally ceased in June 2007. (Only 119 of the 169 programs were in the rebroadcast rotation, due to the fact that earlier shows contained "American Public Radio" production IDs rather than ones crediting "Public Radio International." In March 2006, some of the other "lost episodes" were added back to the rotation.) A notable remnant of this program is the Periodic Table of Musics [2] that lists the names of composers and performers used against mythical element names in a table format reminiscent of the Periodic table.

P. D. Q. Bach
Besides writing music under his own name, Schickele has developed an elaborate parodic persona built around his studies of the (fictitious) "youngest and the oddest of the twenty odd children" of Johann Sebastian Bach, P. D. Q. Bach. His clever parodies of classical music, written under this particular Bach’s name, have earned him four Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Performance/Album. Among the huge repertory that is still being "uncovered" by the diligent Schickele are such challenging works as: The Abduction of Figaro, Canine Cantata: "Wachet Arf!" (S. K9), Good King Kong Looked Out, "Trite" Quintet (S. 6 of 1), "O Little Town of Hackensack", A Little Nightmare Music, and perhaps best known of all, the dramatic oratorio, Oedipus Tex, featuring the O.K. Chorale. Though P.D.Q. Bach is ostensibly a Baroque composer, that hasn't stopped Schickele from extending his parodic repertoire to include works as modern in character as "Einstein on the Fritz," parodying his Juilliard classmate Philip Glass.

His fictitious "home establishment," where he has allegedly taken tenure as Very Full Professor Peter Schickele of both "musicolology" and "musical pathology," is the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, a little known “institution” which does not normally welcome out-of-state visitors. To illustrate the work of his uncovered composer, Schickele invented a range of rather unusual instruments. The most complicated of these is the Hardart, which consists of a variety of tone-generating devices mounted on the frame of an Automat (a coin-operated food dispenser). It is used in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, a play on the name of proprietors Horn & Hardart, who pioneered the North American use of the Automat. Schickele also invented the dill piccolo (for playing sour notes), the left-handed sewer flute, the tromboon, the lasso d'amore and the pastaphone (an uncooked tube of manicotti pasta played as a horn). P. D. Q's 1965 Concerto for Bagpipe, Bicycle and Balloon demonstrated the inherent musical qualities of everyday objects in ways not equally agreeable to all who listen to them.

Schickele, who is also an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the revue Oh! Calcutta!. Schickele's two children, Matt and Karla, have been members of various indie rock bands, including Beekeeper, Ida, K, and the M Shanghai String Band. [3]

For the most part his music written as P. D. Q. Bach has overshadowed Schickele's work as a serious composer.

In recent years, Schickele has created non-P. D. Q. Bach albums such as Hornsmoke, Sneaky Pete and the Wolf and The Emperor's New Clothes.

Peter Schickele's music is published by the Theodore Presser Company.

And that is the name of that tune.


2:17 PM  

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