Underwear in music

August 31, 2016 at 2:53 pm

François Couperin wrote approximately ten bazillion short pieces for harpsichord. Okay, not really; but he wrote enough that if you were to listen to them all in a row, it would take well over 10 hours.***

Most baroque composers gave their keyboard compositions boring titles that merely told you the tempo or what kind of dance they were: titles like “Suite” or “Minuet” or “Allegro.” Couperin gave many of his works names that evoke a scene, mood, or idea – a full 100+ years before programmatic music became all the rage. And to boot, he actually wrote the book on keyboard playing.

One of his short harpsichord pieces is titled “The Mysterious Barricade.” People have interpreted this title to mean a number of different things: the barricade between life and death; the barricade between past, present, and future; and the barricade that underwear provides.

***If you’re up for that Couperin marathon, start here, with book I, then continue through volume IV. And bring popcorn. A LOT of popcorn.


The Onion: funny and sad because it’s true

August 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

I remember seeing an Onion article titled “Finest Opera Singer Of Her Generation Unknown By Her Generation.” It’s both funny and sad because, like much of the Onion’s content, it’s fake but completely true.

There’s an up-and-coming opera composer named Missy Mazzoli, whose newest work, Breaking the Waves, will be premiered by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. It has my attention because I like her music and because Mazzoli is the same age as I am; it’s exciting to see works from my generation being performed by major companies. After two generations of a slowly widening divide between Art Music and its audiences, I am confident that things are starting to improve. Maybe the tables will turn and Mazzoli will be known by her (my) generation.

This chamber piece by Mazzoli, titled “Still Life with Avalanche” tells a touching story about the shock of losing someone unexpectedly:

“There’s a moment in this piece when you can hear that phone call, when the piece changes direction, when the shock of real life works its way into the music’s joyful and exuberant exterior. This is a piece about finding beauty in chaos, and vice versa. It is dedicated to the memory (the joyful, the exuberant and the shocking) of Andrew Rose.” – Missy Mazzoli


Another car-trip life-saver

August 29, 2016 at 12:51 pm

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve managed to survive many hours in the car this summer with my children. If you have kids and a car, you know how painful long trips can be. Movies and music help pass the time, but often the content of children’s media is so  stupid that you find yourself preferring the bickering and whining.

No so with this CD of the music of Daniel Dorff. Today’s piece tells the Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. The story is narrated, but the playful music practically tells the story on its own, like a tone poem. The slow tortoise has its own theme (0:12) played by a contrabassoon (an often ignored sub-bass instrument for which Dorff composed another fabulously funky piece.) The hare’s theme is played (0:19) on an alto clarinet (I think …), silly and spirited (and calling to mind Till Eulenspiegel, whose theme was on the same instrument.) Our favorite, though, is when the hare falls asleep, and the music paints its snoring (3:24).

Besides this story, the CD has two other fables plus a few other stories which will hold everyone’s attention and keep the car ride sane.