Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Elgar Salut d'Amour Transcription

There is little that makes me happier than being able to share my string orchestra transcriptions with ensembles like the Duke String School:



PDF Restoration: My New Hobby

I find using my iPad to clean up less-than-readable files in the IMSLP really rewarding. Yesterday I read the Viola Alta Sonata by Max Meyer-Olbersleben with John David, my partner in musical "crime." We really enjoyed playing the piece, but the state of the viola part PDF in the IMSLP (possibly the only copy available) was not good. The first page of looked like this:



Here's what it looks like now:



Here's a little detail comparison:

before:



after:



I sent the restored part to the IMSLP. You can find it here.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ostinato with Links

Behold the mighty ostinato!

Consider the way Monteverdi exploited it during the 17th century. Consider the English ground. Consider Purcell's Dido's Lament, and it's kissing cousin the Crucifixus from Bach's B minor Mass. Consider the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Ravel's Bolero, and the Pachelbel Canon, the most popular ground of all.

In 2002 I exploited the ostinato with a piano sonata that I called "Sonata Ostinato." We also have a whole generation of minimalism that exists mainly through magic of ostinato. Who can resist a pattern?

Towards the end of a rehearsal yesterday that included Gustav Holst's "The Planets" and John Williams's "Star Wars Suite," along with one of two short new pieces that exploited ostinato, I coined a new term!

Ostinatitis: The state of having compromised concentration in rehearsal after playing a lot of extended ostinato passages.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Paul Chihara's "Amatsu Kaze" on The Poetry of Places at Symphony Space

Paul Chihara's 2002 "answer" to Pierrot Lunaire is very beautiful, and this ensemble has three people in it that I know from three distinct "places" in my past (though in the world of music it seems that all things converge at some point). And I also have an interesting history with Joel Sachs, the person who commissioned the piece.



References abound in this beautiful piece: Ravel's "Afternoon of a Faun," Ravel's " Chansons madécasses," Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis," nods to Poulenc, and fantastic mixtures of tone colors acting like watercolors.

I do wish that I could find a translation of the poetry, and perhaps even the name of the poet.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Enemy of the Good: A Ramble with Pictures

John David and I really enjoyed reading through the Otto Müller "Grosses Duo" last week. Neither of us had ever heard of Otto Müller, and neither of us could find biographical information in the usual sources. I was sure that there would be a listing for Otto Müller in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, but among the dozen or so listings for composers named Müller there was no Otto to be found.

The Duo, published in 1872, is his Opus 11, and there is an additional listing in the IMSLP for a student violin piece that was published as Opus 65. I searched through the Internet Archive and all the publications in Jstor, but I found nothing. The only reference in the Worldcat is a listing for a 1905 Edison cylinder recording of "The Old Grist Mill," a piece for concert band. [Isn't it interesting that the person running an old grist mill in the Germanic world of old would have been a Müller?]

A Google Books search finally took me to a review of the "Grosses Duo" in the April 23rd, 1873 edition of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, a magazine started by Robert Schumann, and now (as in 1873) edited by one Joseph Müller, a librarian from Berlin.


The reviewer mentions that the piece was dedicated to Ernest II, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, (the brother of Prince Albert who married Queen Victoria) and states that the "Grosses Duo" is, at 49 pages, indeed big. Then he mentions something about the greatness of God being only in the dimensions, and in that regard this duo is the smallest ever put on paper. He calls the motives "everyday," the passages "threadbare," and the accompanying figures "uninteresting." He likens the sound of the piece to the way warm sugar water tastes: not absolutely ugly or unnatural, but immeasurably boring. He declares that one would require the patience of Job to make it through the piece just once. In the footnote to the review he makes sure to mention that he finds the cover tasteless.

While many people have another Mueller on the brain this weekend, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about Otto, the unknown Müller. I guess one lousy review in the most important publication in the Germanic musical world can destroy a composer's chances of having his music played.

I like to think that if Joseph Müller had been a violist (rather than a librarian) he might have liked the piece. It is great fun to play, but the PDF in the IMSLP is really difficult to read. I took action with my iPad and my magic pencil and spent a couple of days cleaning up the PDF. The cleaned-up viola part is now in the IMSLP.





So now I can get to one of the points of this post: the great being the enemy of the good. Germany in 1873 was a hotbed of great composers. The recently dead cast long shadows, and the great composers who were living wrote a lot of great music. Perhaps this critic considered it his job to cut down and insult composers who were not among the greats. Having spent a couple of decades of my life as a critic, I can understand the way he might have felt about his position in relation to the musical world.

Once very early in my "career" as critic I wrote a note to the editor about a recording I didn't like. It wasn't a review. It was just a note to explain why I was not writing a review. The editor published the note in the magazine as if it were a review. I was really upset. I wrote a letter of apology to the person who made the recording, but never heard anything back. Could Joseph Müller have had any second thoughts about his review? I wonder.

As a violist and a former (reformed) critic I can say in these humble pages that I think the Otto Müller Duo is good. It's good enough to warrant the practice time and rehearsal time required to give a good performance, and it's good enough to warrant the time it took to clean up the part.

UPDATE: I found an entry for Otto Müller in German Wikipedia!
Otto Müller, son of the composer and Regenschori of St. Ulrich in Augsburg Donat Müller (1804-1879), received his first music lessons from his father. He subsequently studied German literature and music at the University of Munich as well as harmony, counterpoint and organ at the conservatory.

After a first two years as a concert director in Winterthur, he worked at several theaters in Switzerland, most recently in Lyon. In 1869 he moved to Vienna, where he was first employed as an organist at the church on the court, in addition he gave private music lessons. Later he was appointed choirmaster at the Hernals Redemptorist Church, a function he held for ten years. In addition, he held until 1915 the professors of harmony and counterpoint at the school of the Vienna General Church Music Association.

His honorary grave is located in the Grinzinger cemetery (group 18, number 138) in Vienna.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Amanda Maier on the Notes on Notes Podcast

How exciting to find a podcast discussion about Amanda Maier with Oxford University's Leah Broad on the Notes on Notes Podcast!

After listening to the podcast you might find it interesting to read through the more than a dozen posts I have made about Maier during the past decade. You can find them all here.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Bread of Affliction and Technology

I had a burst of insight the first time I made Matzo for Passover. It must have been around twenty years ago, a time when there was no Matzo to be had in my town during Passover (not to mention no internet for guidance). So I decided to make some myself. I knew the ingredients: flour, water, and salt. I knew that the Matzo had to be thin, and I knew the oven had to be hot, but I didn't know much else.

What surprised me that first time was how quickly the dough would try to rise even though it didn't have yeast added to it. I understood at that point that before the Exodus making Matzo probably wasn't a matter of not having enough time for bread to rise, as we have been led to understand. It was a matter of preparing the best road food. The people who wrote the first set of Passover instructions were probably not bakers. They probably didn't know the ways of dough.

In order to make Matzo work you have to be fast. You have to have the very hot oven ready. You have to handle the dough minimally: just enough to be able to roll it out so it is very thin. You have to have something (I used two forks) ready to make the perforations in the top that keep the Matzo flat. You have to pop it in the oven, watch it (listening to the hiss of the steam as it escapes through the holes), and take it out before it burns.

I read that the natural yeasts start doing their work at about eighteen minutes. In our house the natural yeasts in my Prairie Gold white whole wheat flour start doing their thing instantly. I would say that making one sheet of Matzo, including cooking, took about eight minutes.

If I were to go on a family trip through the desert I would certainly want to strap a lot of Matzo to the family camel's back. It is light and rigid because all the water has been cooked out of it. It also doesn't spoil or get moldy. You can have it with hummus (another good road food made of bulk dry ingredients that can be carried by camel) thus avoiding the need to carry plates and eating utensils. [I am fond of the Sephardic tradition of not excluding beans from Passover.]

I documented this morning's Matzo making:




Monday, April 15, 2019

Mystery Composers Photo!



Number four is Arthur Bliss
Number five is Paul Hindemith
Number seven is Ethel Smyth

Number eleven in the back (with the glasses) is Egon Wellesz
Number twelve (front) is Anton Webern.

Please help identify the rest! And while I have your attention, here's another post with another photo of Hindemith (from many years later) with a bunch of composers (his students at Yale). A few still need to be identified.

And HUGE thanks goes to Steven (in the comments) for finding the answer!



and finding a very useful bonus photo:


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Musical Community

I like to think that I am part of a large musical community, but, even though I play with several ensembles, teach (or have taught) a lot of students, and write music that is, more often than not, played by people I do not know, I am mostly a person who works alone. I imagine that there is an enormous community of composers, writers, visual artists, and inventors who work in isolation. We live in imaginary worlds where our subjects, characters, themes, and widgets relate to one another inside of our individual heads. In my opera-writing days I used to think of it as the theater inside my head.

But we isolated dreamers like to share our stuff with the insides of other people's heads. Coming together to make music is a real joy. But it takes work to arrange to come together, and it sometimes involves personal risk. Sometimes it involves personal friction.

I have, over the decades, been in organized musical situations that I have had to leave. I had to leave my teenage musical community because we all went our separate directions once school was over. I had to leave my Juilliard/New York musical community for personal and professional reasons. I had to leave my musical community in Schladming, Austria because I could not work under the psychological realities of that small town, and I had to leave my musical community in Vienna because, as a woman, a flutist, and a foreigner, I could not get adequate work there. I had to leave my musical community in Hong Kong because I could not extend my work visa, which ended up being a good thing both personally and logistically because the Hong Kong I lived in no longer exists.

I did not have much difficulty leaving my musical community in Boston because, upon returning after my years away, I didn't have time to establish a strong musical community there. Besides, I was excited to go off on a Midwestern adventure with my new husband.

The musical community in my new town was welcoming and vibrant, but, being a university town, people I grew close to would leave. And then, since we are all human, people I grew close to would die. Now I only know a few members of the music faculty at the university. I still make music with a healthy handful of friends, but I feel a distance from the organized musical communities that have developed in my town. I have spent decades building my own musical communities, but I know that if I do not do the work to promote and sustain them, they might cease to exist.

When Facebook came around I had a magical way of pretending that I was still a member of all those musical communities: the musicians I grew up with, the musicians I went to Juilliard with, the musicians I knew in Austria, the musicians I knew in Boston, and the musicians who used to live in my town. I thought that I might retain some of the connections to people I interacted with "there," but I haven't. I don't have email addresses or phone numbers for people I used to "know" "there." I wonder if any of the people who I was "friends" with on Facebook read this blog?

[If any of you are reading, please consider this an invitation to send me your email address so that we can keep in touch!]

I recently had to leave an organized musical community in another town that I loved being part of. I had to do it because of an embarrassing and insulting situation regarding a dear friend. I had no other choice than to put long-term friendship over organized musical community. I do not regret my decision, but I feel a great deal of sadness.

So I'm using this space to share my feelings, and hopefully I will be able to get to a place of closure.

Meanwhile, I guess I have scales to practice . . .

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sixty Measures for Sixty Years

I have a big birthday coming at the end of the month. I started a series of "Birthday Pieces" for viola d'amore and piano when I turned fifty. The first piece has fifty measures and lasts about a minute. Every year around this time I write a new birthday piece for viola d'amore and piano, and I add one measure for every year. This newest edition (which you can listen to here) has sixty measures, and it lasts about four minutes.

I have noticed, during my almost sixty years as a human being, that I'm a creature of unconscious regularity. This multi-year project provides me with some conscious regularity. It also provides viola d'amore players with some new repertoire. The series will continue as far into old age (or second youth) as I do.

Here's the first page (you have to click on it to bring it into focus):



Here's a link to the music in the IMSLP.

And, if you are interested, you can find all eleven pieces here.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Tablet Tales

I am very excited that I can use my tablet and pencil to clean up PDF files I find in the IMSLP (and then submit the clean copies). Today's clean-up was the viola part of the Bantock Viola Sonata Number 1. Here are my "before" and "after" shots:





My practicing is always better when I have a clean piece of music to work with.

You can find the whole part here