November 30, 2015 at 10:00 am

N.B.: This post isn’t about freedom. Or Braveheart (although I do love the music from the movie …)

Today is St. Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland (hence, Braveheart … and “freedom!” But enough about that.)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) visited Scotland in 1829. The trip had a profound effect on him; not only did he compose his famous Hebrides Overture (also known as “Fingal’s Cave”), he began work on the Scottish Symphony, which was not completed until thirteen years after his trip. When it was first performed, it did not bear the name “Scottish” – it was merely “Symphony No. 3” – but after Mendelssohn died, some of his letters revealed that the wild Scottish landscape was the inspiration for the piece, and the name has stuck ever since. He specifically describes a marvelously gothic scene from the ruins of Holyrood Chapel:

“In the deep twilight we went today to the palace were Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the broken altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the clear heavens pour in. I think I have found there the beginning of my ‘Scottish’ Symphony.”
~R. Larry Todd, ‘Mendelssohn’, in D. Kern Holoman (ed.), The Nineteenth-Century Symphony (New York: Schirmer, 1997), pp. 78–107

By the way (back to Braveheart … haha), if you want an interesting read, check out the Wikipedia article on Braveheart – especially the sections “Release and Reception” and “Historical Inaccuracy.”


Advent begins

November 29, 2015 at 10:00 am

For some stores, the December Holiday season began before Halloween was over. For most people, “the Holidays” begins at Thanksgiving and ends at New Year’s Day. Whenever it officially began, we can agree that we’re pretty much in holiday mode now.

It’s this month that Christians celebrate Advent – which is far more than “getting ready for Christmas” – it is about preparing for the second, not the first, coming of Christ. For Johann Sebastian Bach, the hope for Christ’s second coming was deeply heartfelt. Baroque piety and emotion drip from his motet, “Komm, Jesu, Komm.” It is ornate and full of short motifs, woven into intricate patterns that are amazing and beautiful; the double-choir dialogue at 3:00 is simply gorgeous. Like many of his sacred compositions, it ends with a chorale (that’s just the German word for “hymn”) at 6:45.



Holiday Traditions …

November 28, 2015 at 9:10 am

I’ve been posting longer things to listen to these last two days, largely because of the holiday that helps us all slow down and appreciate the finer things in life. I hope you’ll let me indulge on more time.


Growing up, my family had a number of traditions which took place over the Thanksgiving weekend. Thursday, we went to watch the marching band perform (two football teams would compete as the opening and closing acts to the performance.) Friday, we made about five pounds of chex mix and went to our town’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. On Saturday, we ate all five pounds of chex mix while we decorated the house and set up the Christmas tree – while listening to the Nutcracker.

There are a number of secular pieces that, for one reason or another, have become associated with the December holidays – La BohemeAmahl and the Night Visitors – but of them all, the Nutcracker is king!

The story comes from the early 19th century tale by German author E. T. A. Hoffman, and it’s weird. Even so, it’s charming and cute, and makes for a great ballet which calls for a huge number of dancers, including many children. If you have any dancers in your family, you’ve no doubt been subjected to the Nutcracker multiple times.

It’s sentimental, maybe clichéd – but you gotta love it. After all, nobody can beat Tchaikovsky when it comes to the art of melody-writing.