Saturday, October 31, 2009

Easy-Ass Pie

I was shocked, shocked, I tell you. I couldn't find a single use of this phrase through google, so I have put a photo of what is left of today's very-easy-to-make pie that I call "Easy-Ass Pie" here for all the world to enjoy.

Preheat your oven to 375, and peel, core, and slice 8-10 small apples (or 4-5 bigger ones). Put them in a bowl with:

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
a few generous shakes of cinnamon
a half teaspoon or so of nutmeg
1 quarter teaspoon (or less) of ground cloves
a dash of ginger, perhaps,
a dash of salt,
and a tablespoon of flour

Mix everything together.

For the crust all you need is a half a package of frozen filo dough, but you need to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight, so plan ahead. You also need a spray can of canola oil.

Spray your pie pan. Put on a layer of filo, and spray again. Keep layering and spraying until you have 10 or 12 layers (or half the number of layers in the half package). Pour in the apple mixture, and layer and spray more leaves of filo dough until you run out of leaves. Put the pie into the oven. Take it out in 45 minutes to an hour.

Share it with your friends while it is still warm. I felt very fortunate to be able to share it with my friend Martha this afternoon, and was happy to have more with Michael this evening.

Easy-Ass Pie!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What a Czardas!

Then, you have to hear Aleksandr Hrustevich play the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto! Who needs a violin or an orchestra when you can have an accordion?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thomas Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim

. . . in collaboration with Franz Schubert and Wilhelm Müller are sensational.

You can start the cycle from the beginning here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Most Efficient Scale System I Know

I have been spending a good deal of quality time with the scales that live in the back of the Sevcik Opus 8 book of shifting exercises, and I thought I would share them with other people who take pleasure in building technique. These two pages, I believe, contain everything any string player (or any player of any other instrument able to make its way through three octaves) might need in order to be comfortable playing passagework in any key, in any meter, and at any tempo.

If you practice these scales with a metronome, they work wonders. I think that they are beautifully set up and extremely economical: you get hours upon hours of really worthwhile practice out of just two pages. But, most of all, you have to think while you are practicing these scales. It is so easy to let your mind drift off when practicing "normal" scales. These modal scales keep you on task, particularly the minor scales in keys with a lot of sharps and flats.

I set my metronome at the quarter note in a conservative tempo (96-104), and practice the scales with sharps on one day and with flats on the next day (the Julius Baker approach). I vary the articulation (the bowings to string players), and I try to do it mindfully and deliberately.

The images will appear full size when you click on them.

Happy practicing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Dedicatee of Haydn's Opus 33 Quartets

This is Paul I of Russia, who served at Emperor of Russia from 1796 until 1801, when he was assassinated. He was the son of Catherine the Great and the father of Alexander I, who, it turns out, was a violin student of Anton Ferdinand Titz. If you think Titz was an odd duck, look at this article about Paul.

In 1781 Haydn dedicated his Opus 33 Quartets to then Duke Paul, who spent 1781-1782 in the West. I find it unusually interesting that the set of quartets Titz wrote in 1781 also used the kind of equality among the four voices of the string quartet that Haydn used in his Opus 33.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cooking with Mozart and Haydn

I made an interesting analogy in my music appreciation class the other day (it was off the cuff and on the fly, as many of my better analogies tend to be). I told the students that Haydn, as a composer, was the kind of person who could come over to your house and make a fantastic meal out of what you thought was a refrigerator and cabinets full of nothing. He would put usual things together in unusual ways, and make a feast for the imagination as well as the palate. Mozart, on the other hand, would come to your house loaded with all sorts of fresh produce (that he grew himself), and he would put those fresh ingredients (lots and lots of them) together in seemingly ordinary ways, but they would taste completely out of this world.

It would boggle the mind to even try to reproduce either of their meals.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Doesn't this make you curious?

I admit that my original interest in this CD was because of the composer's name, but I also was intrigued by the idea of this person, who lived from 1742 until 1810, being a composer for the Imperial Court of St. Petersburg. Up until this morning I thought that "western classical" music in Russia began with Glinka. Knowing about Anton Ferdinand Titz changes everything completely, especially since the music is terrific. This is definitely not the milquetoast Viennese Classical music that people come across from time to time when doing research for dissertations. This is forward-thinking music in the spirit of Haydn and Boccherini, but with a completely original compositional voice. Although Titz was not Russian by birth, he was the first Viennese Classical composer to write in Russia. That he used Russian folk material in his quartets is just a little more icing on the cake of historical re-thinking.

Here's his biography from Grove:
(b Nuremberg, c1742; d St Petersburg, 25 Dec 1810/6 Jan 1811). German violinist and composer, active in Russia. He was orphaned at an early age and was taught painting in Nuremberg by Johann C. and Barbara R. Dietzsch, his uncle and aunt. By the age of 16 he was a violinist at St Sebaldus’s church there. After an unhappy love affair a few years later he went to Vienna, where he played in the opera orchestra and may have studied with Haydn. In 1771 he became a member of the Hofkapelle in St Petersburg; Catherine the Great paid him the highest salary of any of her court musicians. He also taught at the theatre school, gave the future Tsar Aleksandr I violin lessons, directed a court chamber orchestra (which included the clarinettist Joseph Beer and other outstanding musicians), and performed publicly, for instance in 1782, but most of his performances were at court, as a violinist and viola d'amore player. Later in life he suffered a mental disorder that sometimes prevented him from working, but he was encouraged and protected by Senator A.G. Teplov, a St Petersburg amateur musician. He dedicated three string quartets to Teplov and three more to Aleksandr I.

Titz was particularly admired for his sensitive playing of adagio passages, but by the time Spohr met him in St Petersburg in 1803 his technical assurance had gone. His compositions are mainly chamber works in the Viennese Classical style; his string quartets strive for a large dramatic compass and the three upper parts have considerable independence. He also wrote some small vocal works (now lost), including Le pigeon bleu et noir gémit, a romance that was popular in Russian salons until the mid-19th century. He has often been confused with the Dresden violinist Ludwig Tietz.

The liner notes for this CD also include a quotation from the 60-year-old Ludwig Spohr.
"I also saw and listened to Titz, the famous mad violinist. We found a man of about forty with a glowing face and pleasant appearance. You could not tell he suffered from mental confusion. So we were all the more surprised when he asked each of us: 'My most gracious monarch, how are you feeling?' He then proceeded to relate to us a tall tale, containing very little common sense, and complained bitterly about an evil wizard, who was jealous of his violin playing and cursed his middle finger on his left hand so that he could no longer play, but he then said he thought he might be able to reverse the curse."
The music for the 12 quartets recorded by the Hoffmeister Quartet was discovered in the Academic Regional Library in Ulyanovsk by Andrey Reshetin. A modern edition has been made of the first quartet, and it was published in 2000. I hope that all the music will be made available for other quartets to play, perhaps through the Petrucci Library. I also wonder if Titz wrote anything for the viola d'amore?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Illustrated Van Gough Letters

I had no idea that Van Gough illustrated his letters. There is a beautiful selection with fascinating commentary by the artist over at BibliOdyssey.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Off Topic Grocery Store Moment

I was at the checkout counter of the grocery store yesterday--the express checkout, where they sell cigarettes. A young man was standing by the side of the checkout counter, and the person working the cash register, who knew the young man, asked him if he wanted something. He said that he didn't know. She asked him if he was there to buy cigarettes. The woman at the cash register suggested that he shouldn't buy cigarettes because he shouldn't smoke. The young man told the woman that he just wanted to buy them, not smoke them. He just turned 18, and could legally buy cigarettes. He said that he would just give them away. The woman mentioned that she was wary because he could give them to a minor. I chimed in. I couldn't help it.

ME: If you're 18 you should register to vote.

HE: I'm going there next.

ME: (to the cash register woman) You should tell him that now that he is 18 he is an adult, and that a responsible adult decision is not to smoke. (to the young man) Don't waste your money.

He stormed out of the store. The woman behind the cash register told me that he was mad at her, but she seemed grateful to have some support from the "outside world" (the young man was a store employee). I somehow doubt that he was on his way to the courthouse to register to vote, but it would be nice to think the the idea might have crossed his mind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Visual Memory and Vision: Seeing Music

I could play music from memory when I played the flute, but I found that after about ten years of violin playing (and I started in my early 30s) I was unable to memorize much of anything. I attributed it to my relatively advanced age, instrumentally speaking. I always thought that my musical memory was dominated by muscle memory, because once I had an instrument in my hands, I could hold forth for quite a while. I used to think that my musical memory was a kind of limited dance between only the kinetic and the aural parts of my array of senses, but today I discovered that my musical memory is visual as well.

Those dang progressive lenses that I had been using for everything, including reading music, from about the age of 40 caused me to have to do so much "post processing" that my inner vision got itself all clouded up when trying to memorize music. Now, after only a month of using single-vision lenses for music, I can close my eyes and visualize specific passages of music that I am practicing as they appear on the page. I can even do it without closing my eyes.

This, to me, is a revelation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

1582 Irish Melodies: The George Petrie Collection

I should have been practicing this past hour or two, but instead I have been spending some enjoyable time playing through some of the 1582 Irish melodies that make up the George Petrie Collection of Irish Music that Charles V. Stanford edited and published in 1903. You can download all three volumes from the Petrucci Music Library and have almost as much fun as I had (or maybe more, if you share some of the "finds" with friends and family). Here's the preface:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Petrucci Music Library: The Queen of the Public Domain

As more and more great music slips into the public domain, and as documents move more freely than ever from person to person by way of the internet, the Petrucci Music Library grows larger and even more interesting by the day. The number of scores, as of yesterday, is 38,000. That's a lot of music.

This Library, which is part of the International Music Score Library Project, gets contributions from libraries, librarians, and musicians around the world. There are complete sets of orchestral parts to download, pieces of chamber music by well-known composers that I never knew existed, and a lot of music by excellent composers from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that I have never even heard of before. There are forums (in four languages) that discuss everything from copyright to musical analysis.

There were so many scores published on cheap paper during the late 19th-century and early 20th-century musical feast in Europe. Many are in such fragile shape that they are not allowed to travel out of their isolated homes on a handful of library shelves that are scattered around the world. Thanks to the people who manage this project, they can be downloaded here, and you can print them on good acid-free paper, giving them another life. You can play them. You can record them. You can share them with friends and students. You can study them.

The eventual goal of the Project is to create a virtual library of everything in the public domain. Now if that is not a significant contribution to the musical world, I don't know what is.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Popularity, relatively speaking

All worlds organize themselves into hierarchies, including worlds that only exist in the very abstract, like the "classical" music blogosphere. It is a world explored by a self-selecting group of people, and, with the exception of e-mail, the local weather, YouTube, and a news website or two, it is where I spend the most of my internet time. I keep this blog for my own sanity, and, perhaps, for the sanity of readers I do not know who have some of the same concerns and interests that I have. The things that matter to me are, for the most part, rarefied. Every once in a while, for example, I click on my profile links with the hope that someone else in the blogspot blogging world has a serious interest in Maurice Maeterlinck. It has not yet happened, but, in this world of infinite possibility, it just might.

Every once in a while I come across a post that ranks blogs that come under the umbrella of "classical music," and every once in a while I find this blog somewhere towards the bottom of the list (I believe it was 47 in a list of 50 for a while). The ranking, of course, is a quantitative one: how many "hits," how many "links," how many "feeds," or how a blog is ranked by a search engine. Because I don't use social networking tools like twitter or facebook, or any of the other icon-like things that I see floating around on various blogs, I imagine that in the giant "cafeteria" of the internet, the relative popularity of this blog will continue to fade.

But I will always try to keep the content interesting, I will do my best to use the English language well, and I will never use this blog for any kind of commercial advertising. I interact with a rarefied bunch of people in my non-blogging world, and popularity has never really been something I have sought out. I am often impressed with people who do seek it out, and by doing so manage to have the world reaching out to them. I have learned that I can never be one of those people, partly because I do not know how to be one of those people, and partly because I do not want to be one of those people. The gift that keeps on giving after turning 50 is the realization that what you see is what you get: 50 years of being a certain way makes a good precedent to continue operating by the same set of balances that keep me happy and productive.

I feel like this free and ever-changing blogosphere, however, is fragile. Perhaps it will no longer be free in a few years. Perhaps some entity will find a way to profit from the self-expression and community-creating that it allows, and then everything will change. Until that time, I really appreciate the ability to play in this "playground," and to share my particular quirks and interests (and gripes, and criticisms, and music) with the people who care to read about them here, even if they just drop in by chance.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Sense of Audience

One great pleasure that I have during the High Holy Days is playing Kol Nidre for the Yom Kippur eve service. Every year my experience is different: some years I think of the experience as a very personal one, and I "use" the piece as a way of working out my various feelings connected with the text of the prayer, which basically involves the chance to relinquish "resolutions" made in one year in order to clean the figurative slate for making new vows for the coming year. Often some of my greatest misgivings come from not having practiced enough viola to make my rendition of the Kol Nidre as good as I would like it to be. I always vow to play it better the next year.

This year I thought less about myself (though I was certainly self-critical to a point), and I thought more about my audience. Not my audience upstairs, as it were, but my audience of congregants who have come to depend on listening to the Kol Nidre as a way of helping to release them from their vows. It is a great responsibility to play in a way that allows other people to feel. It also involves an interesting dance between various parts of the "self." If I include too much of my own emotional "stuff," I make the playing of the piece too much about me. There is no room for anyone else in the emotional space because it is all taken up by me. If I do not include enough of my own emotional "stuff," the playing is not engaging enough to welcome people in. Their minds wander, and the whole purpose of the prayer (even without the words) is lost. It is a very complicated balance.

This relationship with the audience certainly extends itself into all areas of performance, whether religious, non religious (though, for those who would say their religion is music, there is no non-religious musical space), public, or private. Playing for people is a way of letting them into the music. By extension, writing music for musicians is a way of letting them into the music--allowing them to have a vehicle to use in order to express themselves, and, in turn, when they play it for people, to allow them to feel. No matter how you look at it (or listen to it) there is a great deal of responsibility involved with all parts of the musical continuum.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Granville Bantock

This photo, taken 100 years ago, tells a great deal about the music of Granville Bantock.

Real Music

I was very disappointed a handful of years ago when I overheard a musician I really respect advise a conductor not to bother with "x" kind of music and to program "real" music for an upcoming concert season. Perhaps my friend was trying to impress the conductor. I don't know, but the phrase "real music" has bothered me for years. I come across the phrase from time to time, spoken by both practicing musicians, and by those who do not play. It bothers me every time I hear it.

What is real music anyway? What makes it not real (whatever "x" kind of music might have been) as opposed to real?

Aside from talking about music, we rarely use the term "real" non literally. An example of real piece of art would be an original work, not its reproduction. An example of a real piece of real furniture would be an actual bed rather than a piece of foam on the floor. Real vanilla extract would be different from imitation vanilla extract. Real meat would be different from fake meat. A real friend would be different from a fair-weather friend. A real diamond would be different from a piece of cut glass. A real signature on a check would be different from a forgery. A real dog is very different from a toy dog. Real cheese is different from imitation cheese.

If I play a piece by Granville Bantock (and I'm working on one now), it is no less real than a piece by Edward Elgar, or Johannes Brahms, yet because Bantock is not a particularly popular composer these days (please leave a comment if you have even heard of him before looking him up on google), he could be dismissed as being an unknown composer (at least to most people), and therefore not important. His music could be dismissed as being "not real" because it is no longer part of the standard repertoire.

If Bantock pays homage to Brahms by using similar voicing once in a while, or if he imitates Bizet by quoting a motive from Carmen, does that make Bantock's music "imitation Brahms" or "imitation Bizet." If Bach imitates Vivaldi, does that make Bach's music "imitation Vivaldi?" I don't think so.