Saturday, June 25, 2022

Hope and I

This poem by Susan Coolidge, the pseudonym of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, had been sitting on my computer for at least a year, and had been sitting on my desk for several months. It helped me a great deal to make my way emotionally through yesterday and today to work on it. And it helps to be able to share it right away. I can't remember how I found Coolidge's work. The cyber trail has been erased.
You can find the music here, on this page of the IMSLP. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Pleasure, Haydn, and DNA

I was talking with my father about Haydn the other day, and he revealed to me that as a child he loved the same Haydn piano sonatas that I am currently obsesed with (currently meaning over the last decade or so, or since I have had possession of the music that once belonged to my brother). Objectively one could say that all Haydn Piano Sonatas are great in their own specific ways, and that there are some that are so unique, so inventive, so engaging, and so physically pleasurable to play that anyone might choose the same "favorites." One could also say that the Haydn Sonatas that have been anthologized would be the ones that people would play as children, but it seems that Haydn is too often thought of as a "gateway" to Mozart, Beethoven, or Schubert. Maybe it has something to do with the way Haydn gives even non-pianists so much physical pleasure.

My love of Haydn and string playing feels so "hard wired" that I don't feel odd imagining that those specific and particular pleasures are inherited.

It has been documented that trauma, particularly physical trauma, can be passed from one generation to the next. The field of study is called epigenetics, and involves chemical marks that can be left on a person's genes that changes the way a gene gets expressed. It's a new field, and everything I have seen on the internets seems to focus on studies involving inter-generational trauma.

What I wonder if the experince of pleasure that results from a person having a profound and sustained experience with practicing music or art (or literature, or math, or science, or sports, or dance . . . ) early in life, and having the pleasure be so great that it causes the chemical changes necessary for that particular pleasure to pass the ability to experience that pleasure onto future generations. We know that physical traits are passed from generation to generation, and, at least in my family, pitch memory (as in absolute pitch) and, it seems, intelligence and personality traits are inherited (she "takes after" her father, or he "takes after" his grandmother). Then there is the environmental factor.

But the idea of pleasure, something that is so subjective and not easy to quantify, seems to have been under-studied in this way.

I have heard many people say that they inherited their love of this or that from someone in their family, and are thrilled when they do genetic tests that identify a distant ancestor as a great athlete, an artist, or a leader in a political movement. (We do tend not to identify with direct blood relatives with qualities we do not like.)

What interests me particularly, though, is if someone happens to find something early in life that offers extreme pleasure that is not necessarily something present in their family life ("I don't know where she gets it from"), and through the support and nurturing of adults who care enough to support that child's obsession, could that child be changed in an epigenetic way that might pass that pleasure onto his or her children?

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Arrangements for String Orchestra for 2022

Once I know that my Summer Strings arrangements work as expected, I like to share them with other ensembles. Here's this year's music. The pieces that are in the public domain are available in the IMSLP, and the pieces that are not in the public domain are in a dropbox folder I keep for sharing. If you are interested in using the music for personal, educational, or non-commercial purposes, please send me an email message, and I will send you a link to the shared folder.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Getting from one note to the next

It has taken me decades to figure out how to make it from one note to the next expressively, effectively, and efficiently. I now find that paying attention to how one pitch follows another, how one group of pitches follows another, and how one phrase follows another is the most difficult, creative, and satisfying part of practicing violin and viola. It is rather difficult to write about, but I'll give it a try.

Julius Baker, my flute teacher at Juilliard, had a warm-up routine that he required all of his students to do. It mainly involved double-tonguing. Actually, come to think of it, it was totally about double-tonguing. The way he phrased the Allegro of the C major Bach Sonata, BWV 1033 (here transposed to F major) created a long and virtuosic phrase, particularly because he played it very fast:

After my time at Juilliard I went off to Austria, and I studied recorder in Vienna at the Hochschule with Hans Maria Kneihs. Though 21st-century recorder players incorporate double-tonguing, 20th-century recorder players who were attempting to sound like early-18th-century recorder players used a single tongue, and they (we) used it in approximation of the way we imagined string players used their bows. Here is what my (uninformed by actually being a string player) recorder phrasing would look like:
Hans Kneihs talked about keeping harmonies together, and actually making psychological spacings between beats, allowing one group of four sixteenth notes to lead to the next without creating false accents. Hans had been a cellist, so he saw recorder playing as a way of freeing himself from the difficulties and complexities of bowing.

And the complexities of bowing involve making false accents because the "cocktail" of speed, pressure, where you are in the bow, if you have a string crossing, and your dynamic level all have to be factored into getting from one note to the next in a satisfying way. This illustration reveals the dangers of trying to move from the last sixteenth note of a measure using only the last note (and an up-bow note to boot) to do the heavy lifting (the "red" version).

It is so much easier to have the last group of four sixteenth notes, piloted by a down-bow (the purple), deliver the phrase into the next measure. For me it's a little like using a plastic cup to move sand rather than using a cup made of less-reliable fingers.
And by doing this you begin to see possibilities of phrasing that involve features of the phrases--ways of hearing that you may not have thought about. The red example below is a rather straightforward way of thinking about directions that the phrases could go effectively.
The purple example below is a little bit more creative, and technically and intellectually more difficult:
I find it to be stimulating to think like this while I am practicing, particularly when I am practicing Bach, because his phrases are so durable and so interesting. Sometimes I aim for consistency, but more often I look and listen to see the patterns that can be revealed though observation.

Often I use this kind of mindset to tackle the questions of how much bow and where in the bow a useful up-bow might function well. Sometimes I incorporate slurs, and sometimes I reverse bowings, giving a chance to my bow arm to figure out how to do "heavy lifting" without making false accents.

I do it with etudes, and I even use this mindset to organize lyrical phrases and phrases in music from all periods. I strive to write durable phrases that can be interpreted in many ways, because this mindset has (finally) become hard-wired and permeates everything I do.

I used to tell my flute students that they needed to pay attention to where every note is, where it has been, and where it is going, but I didn't know how to teach them "how" to do it. I also could not figure out how to eliminate false accents aside from using the "baroque" method I learned from studying recorder.

Flutists have to use their imaginations for such things because they do not have a physical way to move their notes around aside from using their tongues, and there is no real resistance to play "against," unless it is music written specifically to employ the newer techniques that have expanded flute possibilities in the 21st century. Flute teaching and playing has also improved greatly since I left the fold. I have never heard Emmanuel Pahud play with false accents or unimaginative phrasing.

Brass players and reed players have the advantage of resistance, and singers have diction.

We all have rhythm, though.

I believe that all musicians who play music that is written have the obligation to make getting from one note to the next as pleasurable an experience as possible for themselves, they musical partners, and for whoever might be listening.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Charm, Passion, Acrobatics, and Kunc

I just learned that Misha Galaganov's recording of the Pierre Kunc Viola Sonata is finally finished and will be available on June 10th for pre-order on Amazon music.

I love the piece so much that I made a fresh engraving of it with a corrected viola part, and with editing help from Mr. Galaganov, who, in 2018, was one of only a handful of people who knew the piece (another was my stand-partner Daniel McCarthy, who turned pages for Mr. Galaganov's performance in Texas. Small viola world.)

I attribute the lack of popularity of the piece to the fact that the original viola part, with its dozens of errors, makes playing this very difficult piece even more difficult to put together. The engraving that I put in the IMSLP is probably the most massive engraving project I have done, but it was a labor of love and devotion, and I'm very pleased with the way it came out.

Mr. Galaganov, who sent me an audio file of his performance of this piece, is a teriffic violist. And he has great taste in his choice of music.

Here's a look at the first two pages of the piece:

You can read more about Pierre Kunc here.

Friday, June 03, 2022

“The Collar” in Italian!

Bassonist Michele Colombo made this wonderful recording in Italian of my setting of this Hans Christian Andersen story. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

A queer divine dissatisfaction

In 1943, shortly after the extremely successful premiere of Oklahoma!, its coreographer Agnes de Mille met her friend Martha Graham in a Schrafft’s restaurant for a soda, and she wrote about part of their conversation:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
I imagine this well-worn quotation, which I found over at The Marginalian is familiar to many people, but I only just heard it today. And it came from the mouth of violist Carol Rodland, who was being interviewed on the Violacentric podcast.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Is Wagner Addictive?

I have always thought of Richard Wagner as being extremely manipulative, both as a human being and as a composer. Perhaps the ability to manipulate is a large part of his skill. I have been "taken in" many a time, but I have never lapsed into fanaticism. Fascination, maybe.

I thought I'd share this extremely interesting perspective on Wagner from VAN Magazine. Lawrence D. Mass, the co-founder of GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) is being interviewed here, and he brings up a lot of food for thought.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Reviewing Reviews of Augustin Hadelich

Augustin Hadelich is now a musical household name, but I remember when knowing and loving his musicianship was like being in on a special secret. One of the great joys for me during the early years of Augustin Hadelich's career as an adult musician (I was, unfortunately, not aware at the time of the career he had as a child) was telling everyone I knew about him. Writing about Augustin Hadelich's recordings for the American Record Guide was a great pleasure.

HAYDN: Violin Concertos 1, 3, 4
Augustin Hadelich, v; Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Muller-Bruhl
Naxos 8.570483 60 minutes

It would be very easy to love Augustin Hadelich’s violin playing simply for his crystalline technical facility or his always-interesting singing sound, but I am partial to his long and deep sense of phrase, his sensual relationship to the pitches that really ring on his instrument, and his fresh approach to Haydn. There is something about his playing that excites my “inner violinist” (something that always seems to be at odds from my “outer violinist”) in a way that no other violinist excites it. There is something unique about Hadelich’s playing: perhaps a purity of intent, or a direct line to what is essential in music. It is difficult to describe, but it is easy to recognize.

He is able to let phrases soar in the air, making great and graceful arcs, and then lets them land lightly, yet decisively. Hearing him play Haydn makes me happy; not a giddy kind of happy, but a balanced kind of happy. While the music is playing, I have a feeling that all is right with the world.

This recording is one of his prizes for winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Another prize is the use for four years of the ex-Gingold Stradivari violin, the instrument that he plays on this recording. Each component of the trio of Haydn, Hadelich, and Stradivari brings out the best in the others, and Hadelich’s stunningly-beautiful cadenzas reflect (and sometimes even improve upon) the best moments in these concertos.

I am impressed that he chose these three Haydn Concertos for his Naxos recording. Even though they are extremely difficult to play, they do not appear to the non-violinist to be virtuosic pieces. Aside from the First Concerto in C, these works are not very popular pieces in the solo violin literature. Violinists and people who play with violinists know that they all require a tremendous amount of musicianship and technical strength to play well, and they also demand an excellent accompanying orchestra, which Hadelich has in Helmut Muller-Bruhl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra.

I know that after hearing this recording you will agree with me that the future of great violin playing is safe and very bright in Augustin Hadelich’s 24-year-old hands.

September/October 2008

* * *

TELEMANN: Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin
Augustin Hadelich
Naxos 8.570563 65 minutes

I admit that I was was rather surprised at first to see these Telemann Fantasies as Augustin Hadelich's choice for his second Naxos recording, one of the prizes given to him for winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. I had heard of these pieces, but, like a lot of people (and even a lot of violinists) had never heard all twelve of them played end to end. Because these Fantasies are mainly considered student works (by those who consider them at all), they are performed more often (if they are performed at all) by students than by professional violinists. If they are performed by professional violinists, the violinists are often early music specialists who play them on baroque period instruments.

Hadelich's Telemann is brilliant, intelligent, historically informed, and definitely modern. He offers these pieces as works of serious musical substance, shattering the long-held prejudice that Telemann must have been a a second-rate composer because he wrote so much music that is playable by people with an amateur's level of technique.

Telemann, who wrote these Fantasies in 1735, reached southward towards Italy for some of his influences. There are movements in these pieces that sound a lot like Corelli, particularly the Gigue of the Fourth Fantasie, which gives the solo violin its own accompanying bass line. Many movements of these pieces are written in a German rhetorical style, some use what sounds like a lot of counterpoint, and some exploit the violin's virtuosic qualities. No two are alike, though parts of some sound a bit like Telemann's Twelve Fantasies for solo flute that were written a couple of years earlier.

These pieces have obviously not enjoyed the place in the solo violin literature held by Bach, but they do offer a really attractive alternative to Bach. I ordered the sheet music immediately after my first hearing of this recording. I hope it arrives soon.

Perhaps Hadelich's background as a German-speaking person growing up in Italy adds to his deep understanding of the German-Italian nature of these pieces. Whatever the reason, this recording is a pleasure to listen to this wonderful music and stunningly-beautiful violin playing again and again.

July/August 2009

* * *

Echoes of Paris
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata; POULENC: Violin Sonata; STRAVINSKY: Suite after Themes, Fragments and Pieces by Giambattista Pergolesi; PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata 2
Augustin Hadelich, v; Robert Kulek, p
Avie 2216 70 minutes

There are many excellent young violinists around, but I can only think of a few young violinists who have the creative imagination to make well-worn pieces of the standard violin literature sound as fresh and as sturdy as Augustin Hadelich. He brings a great deal of intelligence, an uncompromising dedication to accuracy and beauty of sound, and a hearty dose of emotional idealism to his readings of the 20th century music on this recording.

He and Kulek present the Poulenc as a deeply serious piece (which it is), and seem to draw on images from Poulenc's other serious pieces (the emotional weight of Dialogues of the Carmelites comes to mind). In this reading of the Prokofiev, a piece originally written for flute and piano, Hadelich adds a surprising array of flute-like colors and articulations; something I have never heard any violinist do before. His tempo choices allow the piece to flow lightly forward, particularly in III, and he and Kulek keep II and IV very light and crispy.

These musicians play the Debussy Sonata as one continuous and remarkable 13-minute phrase, and they play Paul Kochanski's 1925 violin and piano transcription of Stravinsky's Pulcinella, the piece known (from Samuel Duskin's more popular 1932 transcription) as "Suite Italienne". The Kochanski version is much more colorful and much more difficult to play than the Dushkin, but the violinistic technical difficulties in this transcription all become expressive devices in Hadelich's hands. The microphones pick up the full range of bold and fragile nuances that come from the 1683 Ex-Gingold Stradivarius that Hadelich used until September of 2010.

May/June 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Adoration: "Das Über-Orgel-Stücke"

I came across this article by Felix Linsmeier in Van Magazine about Florence Price's "Adoration" today, and was totally tickled to be given credit in it for starting its new life in transcription. The above link is the English translation, and this one is in the original German.

More about Florence Price's life in Boston from Douglas Shadle

Here is the second part of Douglas Shadle's series of blog posts about Florence Price.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Listen to Paul Cortese play my Sephardic Suite!

The piece is in three movements, and you can find all three on this YouTube playlist if you want to listen without ads popping up in between. It is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Crossing eyes and dotting tees

During a lesson yesterday a student was having difficulty making sure to do a up-bow in a place where she had to move a finger down a half-step. I told her it was difficult, kind of like when you have your eyes crossed. And that morphed into “crossing i's and dotting t's.” After spell of even more confusion (and laughter), she isolated and combined the left-hand and right-arm motions successfully.

It occurred to me that I have never run across that inversion of the well-used phrase "dotting i's and crossing t's" before, so I thought I would share it here.