Saturday, June 1, 2013

Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday!
One of the most influential musicians in all of modern classical composition, Richard Wagner created complex musical masterpieces.  The controversial Wagner would spend much of his life in exile and is also known for his anti-semitic writings, love affairs, and extraordinary ego.  Although many loved Wagner’s music, some found it difficult.  Charles Baudelaire stated “I love Wagner; but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window, and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws".

Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany on May 22, 1813.  He wrote his first orchestral pieces in 1830, which were not well received due to their provocative (and somewhat off-putting) percussive elements.  Wagner would spend several years conducting in small opera houses while working tirelessly on his own material.  Accumulating massive gambling debts, Wagner fled Germany in 1939 and spent years in Paris where he and his wife faced starvation and imprisonment.  While in Paris, he completed Rienzi, Eine Faust Overture (A Faust Overture), and the libretto to Der fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman).

Wagner joined the revolutionaries in Saxony and was almost arrested in 1848.  He was forced to flee Germany again and lived in exile for the next thirteen years.   Wagner began to reject traditional opera and set out to create a new type of music known as “Gesamtkunstwerk” or a “total work of art” based on German and Norse mythology.  This new music would engulf him for the next twenty five years (from 1848 until 1874) in which he would produce four musical dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs) based on German mythology.  These included the four works:  Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) which are largely considered Wagner’s masterpieces.

 Equally important, Wagner is considered to have invented modern classical music with one single chord from his work Tristan und Isolde which was completed in 1859.  The chord’s harmonic suspension resolves on another dissonant chord, never giving the audience the expected resolution. 

Although Mark Twain once said, “I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”, Wagner’s influence on music is incalculable.  Wagner’s rich and complex melodies, dissonant chords, and textures have made him one of the most complicated and enduring composers of all time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lincoln Youth Symphony April Concert

The Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing its last concert of the season Sunday, April 21, 7:00 p.m., at Lincoln East High School. The concert is free.

One of the works to be performed is the "Prayer for Peace," by John Williams, from the 2005 movie, Munich. The movie was based on events surrounding the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and the search for the perpetrators. The film itself was controversial, violent, and a work of historical fiction, not fact. But, the music by John Williams rose above the movie. Director Spielberg considers that the "Prayer for Peace" respects the fallen athletes, while remembering the historical significance of the whole of the tragedy.

Also on the program are Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and senior solist Maia Behrendt performing the third movement of Haydn's Violin Concerto in C. The Russian romantic composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote his fifth symphony in 1888. A theme runs throughout the four movements of the symphony, transforming itself with the changing character of each movement. Tchaikovsky described "a complete resignation before fate" as the beginnings of the symphony, and an acceptance of Providence by the final movement. Tchaikovsky was not happy with the ending he wrote, and it had mixed reception by the critics. But over the course of time, it has become one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works.

The Lincoln Youth Symphony, under the baton of Clark Potter, is sure to inspire its audience with this program.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Mannheim Christmas

The first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album appeared in 1984 -- some 28 years ago. And recorded Christmas music has never been the same. Initially, major buyers and distributors didn't think that the modernized, electronic versions would work in the holiday genre. But Chip Davis persisted, and has sold 27 million Christmas records -- 9 million of that first CD. Mannheim Steamroller is produced and marketed through Davis' Omaha company, American Gramaphone, and now distributed through Universal Music.

Mannheim Steamroller has been doing Christmas tours for 27 years. There is so much demand that there are actually two tours going on at the same time -- a red tour and a green tour. This year, the eastern red tour will make it as far west as Kansas City on December 27 & 28, playing the Music Hall. The midwestern green tour will play Lincoln on December 19, at the Lied, and will make other stops in Kearney, Des Moines, and Omaha. Tickets are available through the Mannheim Steamroller website or at the Lied box office.

If you like Mannheim Steamroller's modernized arrangements of traditional Christmas carols, you might enjoy the Lincoln Community Concert Band's concert on Monday, December 10, at Kimball Recital Hall on the UN-L campus. The band will be playing the authorized concert band arrangements of the Mannheim Steamroller tunes. All Mannheim Steamroller. And admission is free.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Over the River and Through the Wood

Probably the best known Thanksgiving song is Over the River and Through the Wood. The original poem was written by Lydia Marie Child (1802-1880), and first published in her Flowers for Children, vol. 2 in 1844, with only six verses. Maria Child, as she preferred to be known, was a writer, abolitionist, and activist for women's rights and Indian rights (as they were known at the time). Although the life-long Massachusetts resident was a prolific writer, she is remembered for her beloved Thanksgiving poem.

Later, additional verses were added, and the poem was even adapted into a Christmas version. Hence, the debate over whether Over the River is a Thanksgiving song or a Christmas song.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Polley Music Library.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Tale of a River

Another of the pieces the Lincoln Youth Symphony is working on for their November concert is Smetana's "Moldau," a very famous symphonic poem that depicts the Moldau (the German name)or Vltava (the Czech name)River, the longest river in the Czech Republic.

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) was a nationalist romantic Czech composer of the 19th century. He is considered the father of Czech music. Although he wrote all sorts of music, he is best remembered for his opera "The Bartered Bride" and for his cycle of symphonic poems "Ma vlast (My country)," of which the Moldau is the second one, written in 1874, and premiered in 1875,

A symphonic poem or tone poem is an orchestral work in one movement that depicts, illustrates or evokes a story, a painting, a place, or some other non-musical content. Smetana's "Moldau" depicts the course of the river through the country. He wrote his publisher about his work:

"The work depicts the course of the river Vltava, beginning from the two small sources, the cold and warm Vltava, the joining of both streams into one, then the flow of the Vltava through forests and across meadows, through the countryside where gay festivals are just being celebrated; by the light of the moon a dance of wter nymphs; on the nearby cliffs proud castles, mansions and ruins rise up; the Vltava swirls in the St. John's rapids, flows in a broad stream as far as Prague, the Vysehrad appears, and finally the river disappears in the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe."

That description can be followed through the music, with the initial source of the river depicted by the flutes starting in the first measure, and the second source inverted in the clarinets a few measures later. You might want to listen for a hunt in the forest or polka strains of a country wedding, and the broad melodies as the stream becomes a river.

You can hear the "Moldau" at the Lincoln Youth Symphony concert on Sunday, November 11, 2012, 3 p.m., at Lincoln Southwest High School. The concert is free.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hebrides, a concert overture

One of the pieces that the Lincoln Youth Symphony is preparing for their November concert is The Hebrides, by the German romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

The Hebrides is an overture. It's not an overture that is connected with a another work, like an opera or oratorio. Rather it is a concert overture, an independent symphonic work that may or may not have a programatic basis. The Hebrides is frequestly used as an example of the concert overture. While many people hear The Hebrides as a seascape, with tides and waves, glimmers of foam, and even a storm, Mendelssohn indicated that his overture was inspired by the beauty of that part of Scotland, rather than being a depiction of it.

In 1829, a young Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland as part of his grand European tour. It was the first summer that steamer trips to the islands were advertised. The night before catching the steamer, Mendelssohn sent his sister Fanny a letter with 20 bars of the theme he later used in the overture. The ship that Mendelssohn took visited both Iona and Staffa, where Fingal's Cave is the main attraction. Mendelssohn, however, remembered little of that day because he was quite sea sick, so Fingal's Cave was not the inspiration for his work.

Mendelssohn spent three years working on his overture. The first draft was called The Lonely Island (Die einsame Insel). The first version was completed in Rome in 1830, and called The Hebrides. Mendelssohn decided he didn't like it, and so wrote a second version that had a premier at a London concert in 1832. He made a third version the next year.

The first published version of the overture was called Fingal's Cave by the publisher, a name that has stuck, even though Mendelssohn hadn't even seen Fingal's Cave on his trip to Scotland. It has also been called The Isles of Fingal and Ossian in Fingal's Cave, in addition to the titles Mendelssohn used.

Whatever you want to call Mendelssohn's concert overture, the Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing it on Nevember 11, 2012.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

President Garfield's Inauguration March to be Performed

President Garfield's Inauguration March will be performed on Monday night, October 15, 2012, at Kimball Recital Hall at UN-L. It will be performed by the Lincoln Community Concert Band as a part of their fall concert. The 7:30 p.m. concert is free. President Garfield is subject of Destiny of the Republic, the One Book One Lincoln selection for 2012.

A young John Philip Sousa wrote the march in 1881 for the March 4th inauguration of James A. Garfield as President of the United States. Sousa had been named leader of the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1880. The march was first performed at the inauguration by the Marine Corps Band with Sousa conducting. Inaugural processions take a long time, and this march is a little longer than the typical Sousa march.  Sousa also wrote a march for Garfield's 1881 funeral -- Garfield being the only president for whom Sousa wrote two marches.

Also on the band's concert will be three movements from Poulenc's Les Biches, the ballet which launched Francis Poulenc's career. The ballet was written in 1923 for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, and premiered the following year. Les Biches has multiple translations and is a play on words, being a female deer (doe) or a darling. Poulenc (1899-1963) said that he based the work on paintings of Watteau depicting Louis XV and various women in Louis' deer park. The ballet was reorchestrated in 1939, and Poulenc pulled out an orchestral suite, from which these three pieces are taken.

Other works on the concert include a fantasy on sea songs, a selection of tunes from Meredith Willson's "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," and selections by Chicago (the musical group) and the Kingston Trio.