April showers bring …

April 30, 2016 at 10:00 am

Rainbows! (did you expect something else?)

American composer Christopher Theofanidis‘ best known work is Rainbow Body. Its title comes from Buddhism, when an enlightened soul becomes one with the universe at death.

What I find important about this piece (as well as much of Michael Daugherty‘s works) is its blatant dismissal of the Art Musical styles that dominated the latter half of the 20th century. Gone are the games of playing with dice to write music, number grids and matrixes, electronic beeps and farts; these pseudo-intellectual approaches to composition had slowly eroded away the Art Music audience by the late 70’s.

Rainbow Body shows a real attempt to reconnect with audiences who had become suspicious of modern music (it’s Copland-esque at times), but also has some neat effects which mark it as new and forward looking.


Arbor Day

April 29, 2016 at 10:30 am

The romantic era produced some of the corniest music ever. Sentimentality was just what one did in the 1800s. To celebrate this Arbor Day, here’s a little ditty by Henry Russell with words by George Pope Morris. It’s more about sentimental memories than the tree itself, and is quite possibly the corniest piece of music ever written.

 Woodman spare that tree!
 Touch not a single bough;
 In youth it sheltered me,
 And I’ll protect it now;
 ‘Twas my fore father’s hand
 That placed it near the cot,
 There, woodman, let it stand,
 Thy axe shall harm it not!
 That old familiar tree,
 Whose glory and renown
 Are spread o’er land and sea,
 And wouldst thou hack it down?
 Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
 Cut not its earth, bound ties;
 Oh! spare that ag-ed oak
 Now towering to the skies!
 When but a idle boy
 I sought its grateful shade;
 In all their gushing joy
 Here, too, my sisters played.
 My mother kiss’d me here;
 My father press’d my hand–
 Forgive this foolish tear,
 But let that old oak stand!
 My heart-strings round thee cling,
 Close as thy bark, old friend!
 Here shall the wild-bird sing,
 And still thy branches bend.
 Old tree! the storm still brave!
 And, woodman, leave the spot;
 While I’ve a hand to save,
 Thy axe shall harm it not.

April’s almost over …

April 28, 2016 at 10:30 am

… and spring is now in full season.

The saxophone is one of those instruments that people seem to either love or hate. It was invented to be the lovechild of the trumpet and clarinet – capable of the loud, bright tones of the brass as well as the soft, warm timbre of the clarinet. As it became more popular, it found its way into a number of orchestral compositions (most famously, Bolero & Pictures at an Exhibition), but its popularity exploded in the jazz idiom. Here was an instrument that could outplay the trumpet in speed and range, while being as expressive and sensual as a clarinet.

Here’s the king of big bands, Count Basie and his Orchestra, playing a number of usher out the month – April in Paris.

I just love the part at 0:21, when the sax chorus plays with that wobbly vibrato – no other instrument could get away with that!