Stravinsky goes to the Circus

January 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons:

Igor Stravinsky is one of the most famous and influential composers of the 20th century. And yet, while nearly every concertgoer will have heard his Rite of Spring, Firebird, or Petrushka, relatively few know his later works. These three big works were written by the time he was 30, and remain his most performed pieces. But the man lived another 60 years, and kept composing the whole time. He managed to write a few more masterpieces, but none of them ever compared to his early triumphs.

So, what do you do when you give up? Er, rather, what do you do once you’ve passed your moment of glory, your 15 minutes of fame?

Easy. You run off and join the circus. Or better yet, compose some music for a circus.

Yes, folks, 30 years after the great Igor Stravinsky composed some of the finest ballets ever written, he wrote another ballet – this time, to be performed by elephants. Fifty elephants, to be exact (and no, this isn’t a sick joke about overweight dancers – I’m talking about the big gray pachyderms here.) I guess after the movie Fantasia featured a troupe of (cartoon) hippopotamus ballerinas, Ringling Brothers thought they’d take the whole idea one step further and do it in real life. And Stravinsky, who was essentially forced to include his music in Fantasia, was ripe for the task, I suppose.

an attentive ear will hear Schubert’s Marche Militaire quoted in this piece …


Grieving with Grieg

September 25, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Before Edvard Grieg became Norway’s main musical man, there was a guy named Rikard Nordraak who was in the running for the position. Nordraak is the composer of the Norwegian national anthem, but sadly died when he was only 23, leaving behind only a handful of works. Saddened by the sudden and untimely death of his friend (they were only born a year apart), Grieg wrote a Funeral March in his honor. He was so fond of the work that he asked it to be played at his own funeral (which it was.) This slow, heavy music can help to express and relieve the pain that we feel when someone we love dies too soon.


still working hard …

August 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Yesterday‘s anvil-themed post prompted a person’s comment which introduced me to a piece I’ve never heard before which also features the anvil. And since this week is a brutal one for me (running a 60-kid Choir Camp), I’m going to run with the hard work / anvil theme here!

Despite his very German name, Gustav Holst was very English (in his compositional style). And while his most famous piece is without a doubt The Planets, wind players know and love his suites for band. These, like many of his pieces, use or imitate English folk songs (which was all the rage while he was alive, thanks to Ralph Vaughan Williams).

This video is particularly magnificent because 1) the anvil-player’s (anvilist?) attire 2) the cinematographic zoom-in on the anvilist at the end 3) the awesome, blacksmith-inspired gaze of the anvilist.