Friday, September 29, 2017

In which Amanda Maier's Great Granddaughter shows us Amanda's violin, and Cecilia Zilliacus plays it

Cecilia Zilliacus meets the violin Amanda Maier played as a teenager, and very likely used to write her B-minor Sonata in this video.

The video below gives a taste of Zilliacus's new recording of Amanda Maier's violin music and some of her songs.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Alex Ross writes about Willa Cather!

What a treat it was to open up the October 2 issue of The New Yorker and find this piece by Alex Ross about Willa Cather. It is excellent reading, as are all of Willa Cather's novels and stories (and I am proud to say that I have read all of them).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Half-step marking hack

Students sometimes don't always pay enough attention to the pencil markings that string players typically use to indicate half steps.

Yesterday, while I was teaching a lesson, I looked at my "supplies" and found a sheet of stars.

I grabbed some scissors, and I cut the triangle-shaped points off one of the stars,

and I pasted them in the places in my student's music that called for half-steps. It worked like a charm!

They come off very easily when you no longer need to have them in the music.

[N.B. This is not the piece my student was playing. It is a passage from the Mel Bonis Violin Sonata.]

Monday, September 18, 2017

Columbus (the movie)

It has taken a while for me to formulate an opinion on Kagonada's 2017 film Columbus. After looking at Kagonada's other work, I think that I understand a little bit more about him as a director, and can therefore be more generous in my assessment of this film than I was while watching it.

Ultimately I think that Columbus is a more a film about photographing architecture than it is about architecture, and more a film at looking at relationships from the outside than it is a film about getting to understand characters.

The characters themselves are enigmas (and I hope I am not spoiling anything for anyone by describing them superficially, which is pretty much all we get in the movie).

Casey is a bright young woman (we don't know how young) who has an unusual attachment to the buildings in her home town in Indiana. She works in the public library (which has a Henry Moore sculpture in front of it) and doesn't want to leave town to go to college because she feels the need to take care of her mother (for reasons I will not disclose here).

Professor Jae Yong Lee is an architecture scholar who comes to Columbus to give a lecture and falls ill (that's literally all he does in the film).

Jin is Jae Yong Lee's son, who flies in from Korea to be with his father. He is older than Casey, but we don't really know how much older. John Cho, who is 45 but could easily pass for 30, keeps his age a mystery. Casey and Jin develop a friendship, which provides most of the film's substance.

Eleanor comes to Columbus with the professor. She is American, speaks Korean fluently, and calls Jae Yong Lee "professor," but it is not clear what the extent of their relationship is. Over a glass of wine Eleanor tells Jin how much she owes to his father. Her relationship with Jin is also not clear, though and they do eventually reveal that they had some kind of intimacy in their past.

Casey's mother is named Maria (I missed her name in the film, but found it in the cast list). She has the same coloring, haircut, voice type, and build as Eleanor, and is probably around the same age--whatever that might be. She is a woman of mystery who apparently can't cook, can't drive, and can't tell her daughter the truth about where she is much of the time. In the beginning of the movie she is often shot from the side or the back in a way that obscures her facial features. I have a feeling that we are supposed to confuse Maria with Eleanor.

There are architectural features that act almost like characters, and there are shots upon shots of doorways and hallways that seem to jump from one interior location to another. The shots are set up to be asymmetrical, yet balanced, and there is dialogue that lets us know that asymmetry and balance are important to modern architecture. The photography is beautiful.

Not everything in this compendium of architecture in Columbus, Indiana makes it into the film, and some buildings are featured more than others. The film got me thinking about architecture (and about visiting Columbus, Indiana one of these days), which is, I suppose, what Kagonada would like it to do.

It occurs to me that architecture is at once the most personal and the most impersonal of the arts. Architects design structures that provide shelter and safety, and they design interior spaces that determine personal boundaries and allow for shared experiences. When we are inside well-designed buildings and look out we feel a sense of connection with the outdoors, and when we look at buildings from the outside, we see them as sculptures that punctuate and enhance the natural landscape. We imagine what they might be like on the inside, but we cannot understand the real character of a building unless we are inside it. Even if we are watching it on film.

Watching this movie is, for me, like looking at the characters from the outside. We get small "windows," here and there, but even during periods of personal and revealing dialogue, I feel like the characters are about as comprehensible as the buildings they enter and exit. I like to think that this the director's intention.

There is one scene where Casey is parked outside her high school at night. She is dancing wildly to music that is playing on her car sound system. Jin is sleeping in the passenger seat of the car, and the headlights of the car are shining on her. She could be dancing as a reaction to what happened in previous scenes of the film, or she could just be dancing about architecture.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Finding Piatti

I have been thinking about Boccherini lately.

When he was in his twenties, Luigi Boccherini wrote six cello sonatas for cello with an accompanying bass line. They were first published in London 1770 in an edition that was not authorized by the composer (you can see it, a later edition, and a transcription for violin on this page of the IMSLP). None of the early publications have figures below the bass line, which would indicate to me that Boccherini either intended them as works for two cellos rather than as works for cello and basso continuo, or that he didn't intend to publish them at all.

It seems that the first person to make a full piano accompaniment from one of Boccherini's bass lines was Alfredo Patti (1822-1901). Luigi Forino (1868-1936), an important cello historian and composer, who served as the director of harmony and counterpoint at the National Conservatory in Buenos Aires, also had a hand in the piano part that Pablo Casals used for his recording of the Adagio and Allegro of the A major Sonata in the 1920s. It was published in 1946 by the International Music Company (designating Piatti and Forino as editors), and it was published in 1948 (without designation) by Carl Fischer as the "Feuermann" edition six years after Emanuel Feuermann's death.

I came across a reference to Morton Latham's 1901 book Alfredo Piatti: A Sketch while trying to learn something about piano part of the Boccherini sonatas. I found a difficult-to-read copy in Google Books, and was thrilled to find a lovingly transcribed edition presented by Lonely Peaks Records in an appropriately illustrated format. There is a lot of musical history in this portrait. It is teeming with famous composers, famous performers, and famous instruments. I imagine that Latham would have gotten all the stories directly from the cellist's mouth.

Here's a story about Piatti and one of the Boccherini Sonatas (as an example):

You can start reading here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Set of Five New Songs

For years my friend Daniel Morganstern has peppered our conversations with quotations from his mother's poems. I finally asked him to send me some of her poems with the hope of finding one or two that I could set to music. I was really pleased that I found five.

It is difficult finding poems to set to music because many of poems I like are complete within themselves, and they simply don't need music. And then there are poems that sound like they were written with the idea of music not far away. Milly Morganstern's poems are full of musical suggestions, so setting them was remarkably easy.

I felt, in a way, like I was getting to know Danny's mother through setting her poems. I did meet her briefly once, around 40 years ago. But I was very young (twenty), and she was my grown-up friend's mother. Milly Morganstern (1913-2000) was, according to Danny, a great pianist and a person with excellent musical instincts. I tried to imagine how she might have heard her poems as songs, and had a wonderful time doing so.

You can see the music on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to them here.