Friday, November 6, 2009

Noel Goodwin of The Times writes of Witold Lutoslawski' s Chain 1 (1983), "Lutoslawski devised a form where ideas are chain-linked in separate strands and cohere with exuberant wit and variety. Much of its character is governed by the separate instruments and their players, exploited in a way that demonstrates the breath of their individual skill". Watch a performance with the composer conducting the London Sinfonietta . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Barbara Harbach has a large catalog of works, including symphonies, works for chamber ensemble, string orchestra, organ, harpsichord and piano, as well as musicals, choral anthems, film scores, and her recently premiered opera O Pioneers! (2008-2009). She's also involved in the research, editing, publication and recording of manuscripts of eighteenth-century keyboard composers, and historical and contemporary women composers. In the words of Bob Briggs (MusicWeb International), "one of the most appealing things about Harbach’s music is her very American-ness. Her music speaks of wide open places, the prairie, homespun Americana. If you haven’t yet experienced the beautiful Harbach voice then I urge you to listen." Check out and hear samplings of Harbach's music with this week's FEATURED RECORDING - The Music of Barbara Harbach, Vol. 4 – Chamber Music

"William Walton set to [work on the film score for Henry V (1944)], but when it came to setting the Battle of Agincourt he found the going hard. The original plan was to have the music written first and then fit the acting round it, but, in the event, Walton had to write to fit the film. 'Henry V is being more of a bloody nuisance than it is possible to believe,' he told a friend. 'I am by way of recording it on 21 May, but doubt I'm ready. Ten minutes of charging horses, bows and arrows. How does one distinguish between a crossbow and a longbow, musically speaking?' His solution to this and other problems was clever, weaving everything from 13th-century French songs and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book to Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne into an exultant sequence of musical tableaux that Laurence Olivier described as 'fantastic', and wondered: 'Why it didn't win every award throughout the film industry, I'll never know, because it's the most wonderful score I've ever heard for a film. In fact, for me the music actually made the film; otherwise it would have been a nightmare." (Micheal Church, The Independent) Watch an excerpt from Henry V (1944) with music by William Walton . . . this week's PYTHEAS SIGHTING.

When George Gershwin was commissioned to compose a piano concerto by Walter Damrosch of the New York Symphony Orchestra, he was very much aware of his lack of formal training. Eventually he would take some lessons in harmony and counterpoint from such well known figures as Henry Cowell and Wallingford Riegger. He would apply to Maurice Ravel, who declined with the flattering remark, "Why would you want to risk being a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?" He even had some lessons from Arnold Schoenberg, with whom he also played tennis, but when they discussed their respective incomes Schoenberg told him, "I should be taking lessons from you!" Gershwin undertook the Concerto in F (1925), however, before he got to the point of seeking instruction. Upon accepting Damrosch's commission he bought himself some books on musical forms and on orchestration, and he taught himself as he composed the work. The premiere, at the end of 1925, was his first appearance on a symphony program as either performer or composer; Damrosch himself provided a note on the new work: "Various composers have been walking around jazz like a cat around a plate of soup, waiting for it to cool off so that they could enjoy it without burning their tongues, hitherto accustomed only to the more tepid liquids distilled by cooks of the classical school. Lady Jazz . . . has danced her way around the world . . . but for all her travels and sweeping popularity, she has encountered no knight who could lift her to a level that would enable her to be received as a respectable member of musical circles. George Gershwin seems to have accomplished this miracle . . . boldly by dressing his extremely independent and up-to-date young lady in the classic garb of a concerto. . . . He is the Prince who has taken Cinderella by the hand and openly proclaimed her a princess to the astonished world, no doubt to the fury of her envious sisters." Watch the wildly inventive Oscar Levant perform (in multiple roles) the last movement of the Concerto in F from the film An American in Paris . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

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