Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Greeting for Two Trumpets

I wrote this piece to greet 2018, and Daniel Gianola-Norris just recorded it and posted it this evening to greet 2022. What a surprise! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Spending the New Year with Fred Cowan (and friends)

The logistics involved with getting together with friends this New Year make reading memoirs that discuss social and musical antics of the past most appealing. Today I happened upon a book from 1913 by Frederic Hyman Cowan (Sir Frederic H. Cowan) called My Art and My Friends that I skimmed through today and plan to read tomorrow.

What, you ask, led me to this particular memoir? Well, I was searching through the IMSLP for pieces of music to celebrate the New Year, and came upon a set of piano pieces by Cowan from 1912 called The Months. The piece for January, it turns out, works nicely as a piece for string quartet (transposed and adjusted, of course).

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

(You can find the music here and (eventually) on this page of the IMSLP.)

Cowan's book is filled with stories about musicians he met during his travels through Europe (Brahms included) and Australia, and through his professional life as (mainly) a conductor. I'll share this gem from a performance of a Chopin Piano Concerto he conducted with Clara Schumann as the soloist.

Here's a peek at two more pages from the book. Some of the jokes in the menu I get, but there are some that go over my head. If anyone reading this would like to leave "answers" in the comments, I would be extremely happy. Welcome to my New Year's party with Sir Frederic! Remember that the link to the book (it's in the IMSLP) is above.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Great Day with Beethoven and Vivaldi

My musical day started with reading through the second part (the last six sonatas) of Vivaldi's La strava ganza on violin, and reading through some of his l'estro armonico. It seems to me that Vivaldi might have written La strava ganza for students as an enjoyable way to develop their bow arms. L'estro armonico is much more interesting (and much more difficult). It's not something just to read through. I definitely want to explore each piece carefully and thoughtfully.

Beethoven was on my piano menu, but I decided to skip the early sonatas I had been working on. After the first sonata they do get rather expansive, and since I can't play them at tempo, I tend to lose patience. I decided try playing the Pathetique Sonata. I know that the piece is quite economical: it has lots of bang for the buck, so to speak. I have analyzed the piece, and taught it to countless musical appreciation students over the years, but, until now, I have never been able to play the Pathetique well enough to understand what is going on in it pianistically.

Being able (finally) to observe how Beethoven writes for the piano by playing this piece feels like a gift. Playing it (for me, with my particular set of purposes) is like putting on Beethoven's shoes and going for a walk in his neighborhood.

Over the past several years I have come to understand that my relationship to music is extremely physical. Holding the music (not the sheet music, but the music itself), whether it is Vivaldi or Beethoven, in my hands, is a richer and richer experience. And the more ways I can enter into that experience, the more I learn about this multi-faceted thing we call music.

Whatever I learned from today's piano time with Beethoven seemed to bleed into today's violin time with Beethoven.

Friday, December 24, 2021

A little armchair musicology

Back in my flute playing days I used to enjoy playing Vivaldi's Il Pastor Fido. My father once remarked that one movement (the final movement of the sixth Sonata, and the one I liked best) sounded just like the first movement of Vivaldi's G minor Violin Concerto, which I now know as RV 316a. Neither of us knew that Johann Sebastian Bach also used it as movement of a concerto for solo harpsichord.

When I went to the IMSLP to search for Il Pastor Fido, I was surprised to be redirected to an entry for Nicolas Chedéville, with the following statement in the notes:
Nicolas Chédeville made a secret agreement in 1737 with Jean-Noël Marchand to publish a collection of his own compositions as Vivaldi's. Chédeville supplied the money and received the profits, all of which was attested to in a notarial act by Marchand in 1749. Long attributed to Vivaldi, the set of sonatas are actually the work of Chédeville.
But it looks like, according to the IMSLP dates, Bach wrote his G minor harpsichord movement in 1713, and Vivaldi's transcription of it as the first movement of a concerto for violin and strings was published in 1716.

Playing through the first movement of BWV 975 feels like a transcription, and really sounds like Vivaldi (at his very best). The other movements sound and feel more like Bach "speaking" Italian to me. I like to imagine that somehow a pre-publication copy of this Concerto movement got into Bach's hands before 1713. Who knows?

Look at the Bach:
Look at the Vivaldi:
Look at the Chédeville:
Listen to the Bach: Listen to the Vivaldi: Listen to the Chédeville:

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

One more transcription of Florence Price's Adoration

Sheronda Shorter, the director of the Kentuckiana Viola Choir asked me to make a multi-viola transcription of Florence Price's "Adoration." I thought I would share it here for other multi-viola ensembles to play. You can find a PDF of the score and parts here as well as on this page of the IMSLP.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

New Year's Greeting for 2022

I'm so eager for 2021 to be over that I'm a bit early with my (almost) annual New Year's Greeting. You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP in versions for clarinet and viola, two violas, and two violins.

Here's a transcription I made for harpsichord or piano:


A great 2021 project that has come to fruition is a free online archive of new editions of Fanny Hensel's music. You can find the store portal to the whole collection here. The larger portion of the music can be downloaded for free. The collection is really a labor of love, though I think it also serves as an excuse to make a few good puns.

In addition to the "Fanny Pack," they are selling simplified versions of Hensel's very difficult "Das Jahr," which should liven up the days of piano students everywhere during the coming year. Or, rather, Jahr.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 1, Mendelssohn Nocturne

Listen to the first eight measures of the Beethoven:

And now listen to the first eight measures of the Mendelssohn (played on the piano):

Monday, December 13, 2021

Deborah Drattell

I remember watching a live broadcast of Deborah Drattell's "Festival of Regrets" on the television in 1999, and being amazed. I had hoped to hear more of her music, but, living so much of my new-musical life through recordings at that time, it wasn't possible. 

There is very little of her music on line, and professionally she has turned in the direction of what women might wear to the opera rather than what they might listen to there. Her work as a belt and brooch maker is stunning. If I were the type of person to wear jewelry (and if I had places to wear it and riches to buy it with), I would buy it. I applaud her choice to use her expression in ways, particularly ways that can be profitable enough to make a living. But that doesn't mean that her music is no less spectacular that her work as a belt and brooch designer. Just listen to this movement from Lilith.

You can find her musical biography on a page in Wikipedia, and you can see the spoils of her second life here. I doubt Deborah Drattell has any regrets.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

. . . and just like that

The holiday gigging season in pre-pandemic times (if I group pre-pandemic years together, as one does these days) involved pretty constant activity. Just like that my two seasonal orchestra concerts are over, and without any pressing projects on the horizon, I have been watching more television than usual.

The two new programs I am faithfully watching, Curb Your Enthusiasm and And Just Like That were made to air in what everyone thought would be a post-pandemic world. The references to Covid and "the lockdown" in both are early, and (I'm not giving anything away) then situations come up that allow for the "sweet smell of forget" (I think I just coined a phrase) to mix with the general suspension of disbelief that turns on when we turn the television on.

I'm only two episodes into Just Like That, which I am watching without Michael, and in order to give myself the illusion of having company, I have looked at posts here and there (mostly there, since this is the blogosphere).

What I have noticed is that people seem to want a "remake" of Sex and the City, with the characters exactly the way they were twenty years ago. It seems to me that (young) critics of the show (just like that everyone's a critic) are not terribly interested in the often serious things that women in their mid 50s tend to have to face.

Men in their fifties and sixties are often thought of as being in their prime. Those with creative ability have had time and often the institutional support (perhaps that world should have an uppercase I, because there are lowercase-i institutions like those in academia who only support a selected slice of their employees) to accomplish remarkable things, and even be recognized for doing so. Those of us who are living life as older middle-age women, who are also in the intellectual and artistic prime of life, are still judged (mostly) by how we appear and how we treat others, rather than the work we have done.

But I digress.

If you are looking for light 1990s comedy about attractive young women navigating through friendships, shoes, and relationships in a New York that I barely recognize and could never afford to live in, watch re-runs of Sex in the City. If you want to watch a truly brilliant show about a New York I recognize from the late 1970s, watch The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd on YouTube.

But if you happen to be watching And Just Like That, I would be very interested in your reactions to the way big issues are handled (you could replace that lowercase b with an uppercase one if you like). I have much more empathy for the main characters in their 50s than I had for them when they were in their 30s. And I like what promise to be interesting new characters.

The comments here are always open.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Früling vs. Feder

. . . Speaking of Beethoven's use of the Sforzando, I'm now thinking of the "Spring" Sonata in a totally new way. I'm thinking of it as being organized as a series of musically driven springs that build up and release tension horizontally by way of the sforzando.

This is a nice time to share Leonard Rose's discussion of the anatomy of the cello (or any string instrument) and the body's playing mechanism as a series of springs. It works particularly well for me when thinking about Beethoven and his F major Violin Sonata, Opus 24.

[The video is set to play at the point when he talks about springs.]

And then there's always this:

Tuesday, December 07, 2021


I always thought of sforzando as an accent reinforced by a sudden loud dynamic. And every definition I can find in the internets seems to agree with that assumption. But lately (as in just the other day) I have started to think of the marking as having more to do with phrasing and phrase direction than dynamics or even accent.

I have been observing the behavior of the sforzando in Beethoven violin sonatas lately, and in Beethoven (where he indicates them as "sf" without the "z") they really seem to function as a kind of a springboard to help organize the music horizontally into phrases.

Here are a couple of indications of how they behave in their habitat (Beethoven Violin Sonata Opus 23):

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Talking about Eurydice

Unfortunately I learned about the MET broadcast of this opera only today, but I was very happy to find this discussion that includes some really wonderful excerpts. I look forward to when I can see and hear the whole opera.

If you only have a little time, scroll about 54 minutes in, and listen to the duet that the character of Orpheus sings with his double (another Orpheus).

Friday, December 03, 2021


I used to struggle with reminding students about the placement of the first finger. "Low first finger" takes so much time to say, and for beginning students who are not sure about note names, saying "F natural" or "B flat" doesn't always register quickly enough to keep a musical line going.

But this little device I thought up a while ago and am sharing here for the first time works like a charm.

It is also very easy to write an "M" or a "Y" on a student's music to serve as a reminder. The one-syllable nature of these letters also makes it possible to provide an efficient verbal reminder while someone is playing. With one student I use a catchphrase: "Engage the dolphin, (i.e. use your intelligence) and apply the Y."

This opens the door, of course, to a discussion of the "why" of music, or the "why' of anything concerning the content of anything in a given piece of music, but that is the subject of another blog post.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Mozart's Piano Sonata, K 545

In 1788, around the time he was writing his 39th Symphony, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the first two movements of his 15th Piano Sonata, and all of his 16th Piano Sonata. He completed the C major Sonata on June 28, 1788, and indicated in his thematic catalog that it was a piece for beginners.

I first encountered the piece when I was ten or eleven, playing violin in an orchestra (the "All City" orchestra) in Newton, Massachusetts. One of the pieces on the program that we played at the Newton Free Library was the middle movement of K545 in a hand-written arrangement for piano and string orchestra. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.

Sometime earlier in 2021 I was asked to arrange the first movement of this piece for string trio to play for a wedding, and was then informed that the people getting married had changed their mind (not about getting married, but about having this piece played). By that time I had put in some significant work on the transcription, and had fallen in love (once again) with the piece, so I decided to expand my arrangement and make it for string orchestra or string quintet, and include all the movements. I was amazed at how beautifully it transcribed (it kind of transcribed itself--I just put the notes in the places they needed to go). The International Music Company will be publishing it sometime in the next year.

I have been spending a lot of time at the piano lately, and have been making my way through the Mozart Sonatas trying to think a little bit like a pianist rather than like a tourist-composer.

I was not surprised to witness the growing pianistic complexity in the progression from one sonata to the next, but I was surprised that when I started practicing K545, I was able to think in a very clear way about what my hands and fingers were doing (or should be doing). It was almost as if Mozart were giving me a lesson in piano playing. I don't know if his purpose was to use the smallest number of notes possible to get the maximum amount of musical substance, but he certainly succeeded. Indeed, aside from a handful of triads and a few repeated eighth-note thirds, the piece spends much of its time as a duet for two voices.

And its brevity is remarkable.

Could Mozart have written it as an exercise in a kind of minimalism--a "chaser" after the Sturm und Drang of the C minor Sonata, K457? Could his attempt at simplicity in the 15th Sonata (in F major) written six months earlier in January of 1788, not have been pianistically or formally pared-down enough to serve his purpose?