Born on Halloween

October 15, 2016 at 3:34 pm

César Franck wasn’t born on Halloween, but his most dramatically frightening programmatic work was. Completed on October 31, 1882, The Accursed Hunter is a tone poem which tells the story of a nobleman who breaks one of the ten commandments by going hunting on the Sabbath.

The piece begins with obvious hunting calls, and church bells attempting to call the hero to Sunday worship. Ignoring the bells, he enters the deep woods where a demonic voice curses him: he is condemned to be pursued by demons for all eternity!

Something to think about, next time you feel like skipping church.


Music and Warfare

May 29, 2016 at 10:00 am

Nowadays we usually associate music-making with peace. In modern combat, listening to music is frowned upon and considered a distraction – but listening to music in this case might be more to steady the nerves. After all, orders can be given, instantaneously, from practically any commander to any soldier, anywhere, thanks to radio and digital communication.

This is a relatively modern phenomenon. Before radio, there were a very limited number of ways to communicate with troops over large distances, while the noise of battle raged: visuals like flags and of course, music!

Thanks to baseball and horseracing, you probably know the bugle call that means “charge!” If you’ve seen Barry Lyndon, the 4-measure piccolo melody might be burned into your memory. And of course, there’s the loud beat of marching drums. Now imagine it’s 1778, and you’re on the battlefield. In the distance you hear “Yankee Doodle” on the piccolo – you know who is on their way. Your commander is so far away you can’t hear his voice – but the drummer plays a drumroll, and so you prepare your rifle and aim; a loud rim shot, and you fire. The bugle signals a charge and the cavalry ride ahead. The piccolo in the distance changes its melody, and you know those Yanks are up to something.

Although the music in warfare might be more function than art, you can’t deny that there is often art in function. Here is a renaissance piece by Tielman Susato, inspired by battle, complete with bomb sounds (way before Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture …)

This guy is so amazing I just had to feature him again.


DIY musical instrument

March 5, 2016 at 10:00 am

We’ve all done this — you’re sitting at a desk; all of a sudden, you have a primal urge to make music. Maybe you tap your toes, maybe you drum on the desk, maybe you just swing your body to the music playing in your head. One of my schoolmates would play the “William Tell Overture” in class by tapping on his teeth. If you asked him how he could play the correct pitches just by moving his mouth, his answer was “I just know it.” We all have some of that in us.

Humans can find ways to make music out of anything. Anything! When you consider that, then Thierry De Mey‘s piece “Table Music” isn’t so strange. It might be considered avant-garde since it doesn’t use traditional concert instruments, but in terms of form, it’s pretty conservative – a combination of old and new that has made this piece a relative hit!

Be sure to watch the video, and not just listen to the audio.