Friday, November 6, 2009

John Philip Sousa

The best known American composer of marches, John Philip Sousa, was born on November 6, 1854 in Washington, D.C. He learned to play the violin (as well as several wind instruments) and studied harmony and orchestration before joining the Marine Band in 1868. He served in the band until 1875. He also performed in various theater orchestras. In 1876, he was a violinist in an orchestra conducted by Offenbach during his American tour. An appointment to direct the Marine Band in 1880 brought him back to bands and marches. Sousa directed the Marine Band until 1892, when he formed his own band which toured North America and Europe to great success. The Sousa Band performed at the Chicago World's Fair (1893) and the 1900 Paris Exhibition, which was noted for its diverse music. During the First World War, Sousa joined the Naval Reserve and served his annual tours for many more years. Aside from composing marches, operettas and incidental music, Sousa was also involved in the development of the sousaphone, a bass tuba with an upright bell used in marching bands since the 1890s, and named after Sousa. John Philip Sousa died in 1932, but his legacy lives on. Stars and Stripes Forever became the official march of the US in 1987, by act of Congress signed by Ronald Reagan.

Sousa left us an autobiography, Marching Along, which provides his insights into his own life. And, the major Sousa scholar, Paul E. Bierley, wrote a biography, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon, as well as several other works on Sousa's works. The Polley Music Library has these, as well as several CDs of his works, and piano transcriptions of Sousa's Great Marches.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Frightful Classics

For Halloween, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite scary classical pieces. Find them on a CD at the library, in Classical Music Library (a library database), or follow the links.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monty Python

The Monty Python television show began airing 40 years ago, in 1969. It was a cultural icon for a generation, and as such, has influenced what people think of when they hear the theme song -- Sousa's Liberty Bell march. Sousa may have written the march in 1893 for an operetta that he never finished, but it wasn't long before the piece had been published and had become a popular march. Since Monty Python went into reruns/syndication, Liberty Bell has been played by the US Marine Corps Band for three presidential inaugurations -- presidents from the Monty Python generation, Clinton, Bush and Obama.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum... It may be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but piracy is serious music business. And a long standing tradition. Little Wolfie Mozart used his ear and his amazing memory to copy music from a performance that was never to be copied. Bootleg recordings of performances abound -- opera, classical concerts, rock... And then there's the sharing of recordings via the internet -- of which the RIAA takes a very dim view via their lawsuits. However widespread the phenomenon of piracy, the composers and artists are entitled to the fruits of their musical labors. And there's the rub for intellectual property.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paul Taffanel

Happy birthday, Paul Taffanel! Taffanel is generally considered to be the father of the modern French flute school, which became the dominant style of playing in Western Europe and the U.S. through the mid-20th century. He was born on September 16, 1844, in Bordeaux, France. His father was a music teacher. By the age of 10, Paul was playing flute in local concerts, and at 12, he was accepted as a student byLouis Dorun, who he followed to the Paris Conservatoire in 1860. Taffanel had a fabulous career as a flute soloist and orchestral player, as a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire from 1893 on, and as a conductor. He also composed and arranged music. He died in Paris in 1908.

Taffanel's playing style was particularly noted for the pure tone with limited vibrato. We flute players are indebted to Paul Taffanel, and many of us can trace our heritage -- our teacher's teachers -- back to Taffanel.

If you're interested in learning more, there's a book, Taffanel: Genius of the Flute, by Edward Blakeman (published by Oxford University Press, 2005). You can find it at the Polley Music Library.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September is National Piano Month

Not only is September National Piano Month, but it is also Library Card Sign-Up Month. To celebrate both, I'd like to suggest that you explore the music database, Classical Music Library. It, along with Smithsonian Global Sounds and African American Song provide a wealth of music to listen to, as well as information about that music. The links are on the Polley Music Library home page. To access these databases from outside the library, you'll need your Lincoln City Libraries' card.

Another possibility for using your library card for National Piano Month would be to check out some of the music in the Polley Music Library. Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and many other composers await in our section of piano scores. We also have lots of "easy piano" music to play. How about checking out a book about a pianist or the history of the piano? If we don't have what you need, you can use your library card to borrow scores on inter-library loan.

Happy National Piano Month! Happy Library Card Sigh-Up Month!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Funiculi Funicula

On this day in history (August 24, AD 79), Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying several Roman cities, including Pompeii.

Mount Vesuvius towers over the landscape near the Italian city of Naples. Vesuvius is still an active volcano, but the mountain has long drawn people for relaxation and recreation. In 1880, a funicular railway was opened on Mount Vesuvius. To commemorate that opening, Italian composer Luigi Denza wrote a song -- Funiculi Funicula -- with words by Peppino Turco. The song proved to be so popular that Richard Strauss used it in his symphony, Aus Italien, thinking that it was an Italian folk song; needless to say, a lawsuit ensued, and a royalties were awarded to Denza.

Just as Pompeii was destroyed in an eruption of Vesuvius, the funicular railway was destroyed in a 1944 eruption of the volcano. Still the song remains a favorite.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hawaii Statehood

Today celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hawaii becoming the 50th state of the United States of America. Statehood was attained on August 21, 1959.

As I was researching to write about something musical for Hawaii, I looked at Aloha 'Oe, one of the best known Hawaiian songs. It was written by Queen Lili'uokalani in 1878 about the parting of lovers. Queen Lili'uokalani (1838-1917) was the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Islands, reiginig 1891-1893. The Queen wrote more than 150 songs during her lifetime. I was suprised to learn that Aloha 'Oe is not the state song of Hawaii.

Instead, the state song is Hawai'i Pono'i. The standard translation is, "Hawaii's own true sons, be loyal to your chief." The words were written by King David Kalakaua, with the music written by Professor Henry Berger, the Royal Bandmaster. Hawai'i Pono'i served as the national anthem for the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1876 to the end of the kingdom in 1893. It was adopted as the official state song by the state legislature of Hawaii in 1967, and it links the proud heritage of Hawaii with its statehood.

Monday, August 17, 2009


The Woodstock Art and Music Fair was held over three days in August 1969 -- the 15th, 16th and 17th -- so this is the 40th anniversary of that seminal event in pop music. Woodstock didn't take place in Woodstock, New York because of community opposition; rather, it took place at dary farm in Bethel, New York, about 40 miles away.

The line-up of performers was a true who's who of the era (excluding the Beatles and the Rolling Stones). Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Santana, the Band, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, Sha Na Na, Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and many others performed for the 300,000 spectators at any one time.

In spite of only 600 porta-potties, inadequate water supplies, mud, and choked roads, the festival showed that young people could gather for a musical celebration in a peaceful way. With Joni Mitchell's song as well as a film about the festival and records from the festival, Woodstock became more than it was at the time. (Joni Mitchell was not present at the festival, even though she memorialized it with her song).

The era of peaceful rock festivals lasted only a few months. "Woodstock West" was held in December 1969 as the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in northern California. Marred by death and violence, Altamont sealed the uniqueness of Woodstock.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

And the Flag was Still There

Happy 230th birthday, Francis Scott Key! The man who authored the words that became the national anthem of the United States of America was born on August 1, 1779, in Frederick County, Maryland. He grew up writing verses as a hobby, taking after one of his ancestors who was an English poet laureate. After attending St. John's College, Key became a successful lawyer. He married and had 11 children with his wife Mary.

In 1814, Key headed a truce commission negotiating for the release of Dr. William Beanes, who had beed captured by the British and held on the British ship, Suprise, off Baltimore. Dr Beanes had looked after the American troops at Valley Forge during the revolution, so was something of an American hero. The negotiators, including Key, were not permitted to leave the British ship they were on (Minden) since the British were planning an attack on Fort McHenry. The British attacked the fort, the battle raged for a day and night, while Key watched through field glasses. The next morning, Key saw that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry, and quickly wrote down his verses on an envelope he had with him. After the battle, the negotiators were released. Back at the Indian Queen Hotel in Baltimore, Key wrote out a neat copy, and it was soon printed as The Defense of Fort McHenry. It became known as The Star Spangled Banner in 1815. The music was an English popular (and sometimes, drinking) song, To Anacreon in Heaven, composed by John Stafford Smith around 1775. It became the US national anthem in 1931.

Francis Scott Key was a very religious man. But, he was also a slave owner, torn between maintaining slavery and advocating for a solution to it; eventually, he freed his own slaves. He served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1833 to 1841. He died January 11, 1843.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fly Me to the Moon

On this, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the man's first step on the moon, we're all still a bit Moonstruck (1933, by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow). We've learned that the 1953 Academy Award nominee and best selling record, The Moon is Blue, was wrong, at least up there. And that because there are polar ice caps on the moon, the Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini song from Breakfast at Tiffany's, Moon River could in fact be true.

Even though Fly Me to the Moon was written by Bert Howard in the 1954, prior to Sputnik and the space race, it was a best selling record in the sixties for several major artists. That is, it became somewhat of an anthem for the Apollo space program. Apollo 8 actually did a lunar orbit and return to earth in 1968, as did Apollo 10 just a couple of months before Apollo 11's landing and that first Moonwalk. The Apollo program continued through Apollo 17 in 1972.

We've not yet made the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer song from 1934, Moon Country (Is Home to Me) a reality, but space exploration continues. And just last week I heard talk of the possibility of moon flights to look at the possibility of settlement of the moon. Who knows what is in our futures as we look up at the moon in wonder.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

La Marseillaise

Happy Bastille Day! This is the 220th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille Prison in Paris during the French revolution. In France, today is a day of national celebration. The storming of the Bastille was an important marker in the development of the modern French nation.

The storming of the Bastille predates the composition of the Marseillaise by three years. The song was written by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a supporter of the monarchy, at the behest of the mayor of Strasbourg after France declared war on Prussia and Austria. War song for the Rhine army was written on April 25, 1792. The song was soon published as Border armies' war song. A group of revolutionaries who had gathered in Marseille adapted the march and sang it as they entered Paris on July 30, 1792. It was called La Marseillaise by Parisians after those revolutionaries from Marseille.

On July 14, 1795, La Marseillaise became a national song of France. It was banned during the Empire, but came back with the July revolution of 1830. Berlioz made a well-known arrangement of the song. An "official version" was adopted in 1887. La Marseillaise was recognized as the national anthem in the constitutions of the 4th and 5th Republics.

Like the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise celebrates war. But the French anthem also celebrates a citizen's call to arms in defense of the nation. The two anthems also share a sometimes call for a less bellicose song to replace each one. But both songs represent important parts of the nations' histories.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Harry Partch

American composer Harry Partch was born in Oakland, California on June 24, 1901, and died in San Diego, California in 1974. As a musician and innovative composer, he stretched the boundaries of music and worked outside the mainstream of "classical music." He is best known for the creation of musical instruments that were capable of fractional differences in pitch and could play music based on the 43 tone scale he developed. Clips from a BBC program about Partch are available on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy 90th birthday, Pete Seeger

American folk singer Pete Seeger turns 90 years old today. But he hasn't just sung the old folk songs, he's written songs that speak to the issues of the times -- like If I had a Hammer, and Where have all the Flowers Gone? and Turn! Turn! Turn! He was instrumental in the folk music revival of the 50's and 60's. In 1964, his version of Malvina Reynold's song, Little Boxes, made number one on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs he wrote were chart hits for other performers. Pete Seeger recognized that music is a powerful tool -- some might say, weapon -- and he used it in the fight for social justice. He normally performs with a banjo, helping to keep that traditional American instrument alive, too. Thanks, and Happy birthday, Pete.

To celebrate Pete's 90th birthday, watch Little Boxes or the many other video clips of Pete Seeger's performances made throughout his career.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Haydn's Later Years

Sunday, May 31, 2009, was the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn. The Austrian composer is frequently called the "father of the symphony," but he wrote much more than just those 100 or so symphonies.

Joseph Haydn lived to a ripe old age of 77. The last 15 years of his life were spent back at the Esterhazy court. From 1794 on, there was a new prince, Nikolaus, who wanted Haydn to focus on church music. Six of Haydn's masses come from this period. His Mass in the Time of War referred to Napoleon's march on Vienna. The Nelson Mass celebrated Lord Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. The Theresa Mass was written in honor of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. Haydn also composed his oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons in these years. In 1796, Haydn composed the Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major, now a standard part of the trumpet repertoire. And then there was the hymn tune written to be the Austrian national anthem, which he then used in the Emperor Quartet.

Ill health forced Haydn to resign his court post in 1802. Haydn's health continued to deteriorate over the following years, but he is reputed to have joked about it. His last public appearance was at a concert in his honor in 1808, at which his friend Antonio Salieri conducted Haydn's The Creation. Haydn died May 31, 1809 in Vienna and buried there, later to be reinterred in 1820 at Eisenstadt somehow without his skull. The skull and body were finally reunited at Eisenstadt in 1954.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Music

All this month, an exhibit from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has been on display at Bennett Martin Public Library (where the Polley Music Library is located). The only musical example in the exhibit, Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America, is a copy of an 1864 songsheet, How Sherman's Veterans Took Atlanta. I decided to do a little research to see if Lincoln had any interest in music, since I was pretty sure that he did not make music himself, unlike Presidents Jefferson and Truman. A few of the things I learned are below.

  • Lincoln loved opera and attended something like 19 performances during his presidency.

  • The play Lincoln was watching at the time of his assasination was Our American Cousin, a play with music starring Laura Keene, at Ford's Theater.

  • He loved sentimental ballads, but was strongly affected by them. He also sometimes wanted to hear happy music to cheer himself up.

  • Lincoln especially enjoyed concerts by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the pianist from New Orleans.

  • At the White House, Mrs. Lincoln traded in an older piano for a new one built in 1860 by the Schomacker Company of Philadelphia. That grand piano was prominently placed in Mrs. Lincoln's favorite sitting room, the Red Room. Willie and Tad Lincoln took piano lessons from Professor Alexander Wolowski on that piano.

  • The Lincolns hosted many performances at the White House, including the Native American singer Larooqua, Venezuelan child prodigy pianist Teresa Carreno, the Hutchinsons, and the tiny circus performer Commodore Nutt.

  • Lincoln enjoyed the popular songs of the day, including Dixie.

  • President Lincoln particularly enjoyed the Marine Band. There were band concerts on the White House grounds except for the couple of years when Mrs. Lincoln would not allow them after the death of Willie.

  • Lincoln's funeral ceremony itself did not have music. The Marine Band played to send off the cortege complete with drum corps. As Lincoln lay in state at the Springfield City Hall, a thousand singers were there. A large choir sang as the funeral train arrived in Chicago. And for the burial ceremony, George F. Root composed a tribute to Lincoln.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Are Bike Horns Musical Instruments?

On a rainy Thursday at the end of April, a little humor brightens up the day. A friend shared the video of "bike horn guy" with me. It's definitely entertainment. Is it music? That's up to each listener/viewer to decide. Don't worry if your French is rusty. Just listen and watch the amazing performance.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


It's Arbor Day, on Friday, April 24, 2009. A day to plant trees here in Nebraska and other places the day is celebrated. Lincoln, Nebraska, has been a participant in the Tree City USA program for many years, and trees are important to the quality of city life here.

Joyce Kilmer's poem, Trees, has been set to music by many composers. The best known version is the 1922 setting by Oscar Rasbach (1888-1975), a composer of art songs. The poem begins:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Here's a lovely version by Julian Lloyd Webber for cello, and another for girls choir.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bein' Green

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog (and composer/lyricist Joe Raposo), "It's not that easy bein' green." Musicians use lots of electricity in performing, from plugging in electronic instruments, to stage lighting and sound systems. Even acoustic instruments are frequently "plugged in" these days. Instruments are made of all sorts of materials, from wood and metal to plastic and glass. But musicians can "recycle" their instruments by making sure the instruments go to someone who will use them when the musicians no longer need them. Trade ins or trade ups for other instruments, handing them down in the family, and selling them are all ways of "recycling". And in Lincoln, the Lincoln Music Teachers Association accepts donations of instruments for use by participants in their Outreach Program, bringing the joy of making music to children who might not otherwise be able to participate. Musical instruments can last a long long time with proper care and maintenance. Happy Earth Day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Voice

I couldn't let the "instant" success of Susan Boyle go without comment. Susan Boyle, 47 year old contestant on the TV show Britain's Got Talent, captured the hearts of the judges and the audience with her rendition of I dreamed a dream (from Les Mis). The snickers stopped as soon as she began to sing. One YouTube video clip of the performance has had 19 million hits as of the writing of this post. Susan Boyle wants to be a professional singer, and judging from the world's response, she will fulfill her dream.

A recent book, The Voice, by Thomas Quasthoff, relates experiences that are in some respects similar to those of Susan Boyle. Thomas Quasthoff is a German bass-baritone who has described himself as "1.3 meters tall, short arms, seven fingers -- four right, three left -- large relatively formed head, brown eyes, distinctive lips; profession: singer." In his initial professional appearance, the snickers stopped as soon as he started singing, just as they did for Susan Boyle. Quasthoff is an international reknowned classical singer who has broken many barriers for people with disabilities -- his a result of the thalidomide his mother took during her pregnancy.

Musical talent is not dependent on a beautiful appearance, youth, or any of the other ways people are stereotyped. One of the competition's judges called Susan Boyle's performance "a wake up call."

If anything can be learned from Susan Boyle, it is to develop your talents, use them, and go for your dreams.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

All You Need is a Quarter

As I was cataloging a June Christy CD, I came across a song title that intrigued me, All you need is a quarter -- this being tax day and all. It's not a song from the depression, but rather from the 1960 musical Do Re Mi. The lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Jule Styne. And it's not particularly philosophical; it's about needing a quarter for the slot machine.

Off the top of my head, I haven't been able to think of very many songs about money today. There's We're in the money (The gold digger's song). There's The money song (Money, money) from Cabaret. But with a little research, lots of songs appear from rock, country, musicals, blues...

And about taxes, the only one I could think of is George Harrison's Taxman, but I'm sure there are others to hunt down on this tax day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Foolin'

April 1st is April Fool's Day, with a tradition of practical jokes. Instead, here's a nice collection of Musical Instrument Jokes to lighten your day.

For some light reading, try Victor Borge's My Favorite Comedies in Music or other books of musical anecdotes. You'll find them at the Polley Music Library.

Or, how about some novelty songs. We may have no bananas, but we do have a lovely bunch of coconuts along with some shoo-fly pie and, of course, the ice cream we all scream for in Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea. The Polley Library has several novelty songbooks.

Have a wonderful light-hearted day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ben Webster at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of Ben Webster's birth. Webster was one of the great jazz tenor sax players of the 1930s and 1940s, considered the equal of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

Ben Webster was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 27, 1909. He studied piano and violin, and attended Wilberforce College. After college, he played piano in a silent movie-theater and played in several bands. He picked up the saxophone and soon was playing tenor sax in a variety of bands. In 1934, Webster moved to New York to join Fletcher Henderson's band. During the 30's, he also worked with musicians such as Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Roy Eldridge, and Teddy Wilson. By 1940, Webster became a regular member of Duke Ellington's band, and soon became one of its featured soloists. While he was only with Ellington a brief few years, Webster had a great influence on the band.

By 1964, Ben Webster moved to Europe -- one of the many American jazz exiles. He briefly lived in the Netherlands before moving to Denmark, where he resided the rest of his life. During his years in Europe, he recorded prolifically. Webster died in Amsterdam on September 20, 1973.

There are a couple of biographies of Ben Webster,
  • Ben Webster: his life and music, by J. de Valk (c2001)
  • Someone to watch over me: the life and music of Ben Webster, by Frank Buchmann-Moller (c2006)
The Polley Music Library has both of these books. Come check them out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rustle of Spring

The calendar says that it is spring, but the weatherman is not quite so sure. The Polley Music Library would like to celebrate the beginning of spring by sharing one of the world's best-loved spring pieces, Christian Sinding's Rustle of Spring.

Christian Sinding (1856-1941) was a Norwegian composer deemed (in Norway) to be the successor to Edvard Grieg. He studied in Germany, and his much of his music was in the style of German romanticism. He wrote small pieces -- songs and piano pieces -- and big works -- symphonies and operatic works. But the work that has survived the changes in taste over the years is Rustle of Spring, written in 1896.

Enjoy the sounds of spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beethoven's Irish Songs

So what about Beethoven's Irish songs? Or, should I say, O'Beethoven's?
George Thomson (1757-1851) of Glasgow, Scotland, was a publisher and collector of folk songs. He commissioned composers of his day to set the folksongs, paying them well. Among the composers who took Thomson up on his offer were the Austrian Ignaz Josef Pleyel, the Bohemian Leopold Kozeluch, Franz Joseph Haydn, and even Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven began his folksong settings in 1809 and continued with them off and on until 1820. Beethoven spent considerable time on the folksong settings and attempted to make them of real musical interest. Most of the folksong settings are for voice with a piano trio accompaniment (piano, violin and cello), and are not simple settings. While Thomson was most interested in British Isles songs, Beethoven expanded his own scope to include German, Danish, Tyrolean, Polish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian and Italian texts, even though Thomson would only publish the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and other British songs.
All in all, Beethoven wrote approximately 64 Irish songs, most of which were published in the groups Twenty-five Irish Songs (WoO 152, 1814), Twenty Irish Songs (WoO 153, 1814-1816), and Twelve Irish Songs (WoO 154, 1816), all published in Edinburgh and London

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Irish Suite

What's that Irish music that the Pops played? Well, it just might have been Leroy Anderson's The Irish Suite. Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) is considered the major 20th century American composer of light orchestral miniatures. And he was the primary arranger of music for the Boston Pops Orchestra during the Fiedler years.

Based on Irish tunes, The Irish Suite was composed in 11 or 12 days in 1947, as a four movement suite entitled Eire Suite. It was first performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. Anderson revised his suite in 1949, adding two movements and changing the order the movements are performed. Leroy Anderson wanted people to know that the suite was originally commissioned by the Eire Society of Boston, and that the score was dedicated to Arthur Fiedler. The movements are as follows:
  1. The Irish Washerwoman, the first movement, is a traditional Irish jig -- a fast lively dance. The dance tune, a staple of fiddlers, has had many melodic variants, many texts set to it, and many titles. The earliest use of the title, The Irish Washerwoman, dates to 1792. Leroy Anderson emulates the traditional Irish fiddle and the tin or penny whistle sounds with the violins and the flutes and piccolo.
  2. The Minstrel Boy, the second movement, is based on the patriotic Irish song by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and the melody called The Moreen. Moore wrote The Minstrel Boy as a memorial to some of his friends who had taken part in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen. In the song, the minstrel went to war with his harp and a sword, but he perished, and his harp would never speak again. "Thy songs were made for the pure and free, they shall never sound in slavery." Anderson captures the feeling of the song with a slow march over an ostinato bass, and the distant trumpets and drums of war.
  3. The Rakes of Mallow, the third movement, pictures the "carousing and rioting of the young bloods of Mallow," according to Leroy Anderson. The song dates back to approximately 1740, when the term "rake" applied to men who participated in a variety of dissolute behavior. Anderson depicts the escalation of the drinking, partying, and whoring of the rakes by having the music go faster and become noisier throughout the piece.
  4. The Wearing of the Green is an anonymous Irish street ballad from around 1798, the time of the rebellion of the United Irishmen. Green was the color of the United Irishmen, and a shamrock in the hat was a sign of rebellion. The display of nationalistic or revolutionary signs, such as the color green, was punishable by hanging by the British authorities. Anderson treats this fourth movement as a scherzo, with the melody alternating between the sections of the orchestra. The strings play pizzicato throughout the movement.
  5. The Last Rose of Summer is based on the 1805 poem by Thomas Moore and its musical setting by Sir John Stevenson. Friedrich von Flotow used the song throughout his opera Martha in the 1840s. The beauty and poignancy of the last rose of summer are depicted in Anderson's fifth movement through a beautiful violin solo, with an accompaniment of strings, horns and trombones.
  6. The Girl I Left Behind Me, the final movement of The Irish Suite, is a military march -- a fife tune -- used by British, American and Irish soldiers. It probably dates back to the mid-17th century and its origins are uncertain, but it is known to have had several different names. It was first published in Dublin in 1791. Anderson included The Girl I Left Behind Me in his Irish Suite because the song was "Irish by adoption." Leroy Anderson particularly noted the contrapuntal effects near the end of the movement, where the piccolo and the flutes (the fifes) play the first part of the melody against the second part of the melody played by the horns.

This blog post was based on program notes written by the Polley Music Librarian for a Leroy Anderson centennial concert of the Lincoln Civic Orchestra in April, 2008.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A favorite Irish rocker

When one thinks of Irish rockers, Bono or Adam Clayton of U2, and Enya are the first who come to mind. But there's another favorite Irish rocker of mine -- Gary Moore. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1952, Moore is a fabulous guitarist, a musical and technical virtuoso who can make the guitar do almost anything. While Gary Moore has played in such bands as Thin Lizzy, Skid Row, Colosseum and G-Force, he has also had a very successful solo career. His album, After the War, is strongly Celtic influenced. Still got the Blues is his best known song in the US. For a sample of his work, check out Gary Moore on MySpace Music. Or, find a CD at the library.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Budapest Library Music Displays

This lovely sheet music display is from the National Library. While the sheet music is visually attractive, this display is also informational, with a paragraph about the Hungarian operetta composer, Franz Lehar. Sheet music is of interest to collectors because of the cover art, to cultural historians as artifacts of a period, and to musicians for the musical content.

The Central Library of the Metropolitan Ervin Szabo Library is the main library of Budapest's public library system. Located within the historic Wenckheim Palace (and additions), the public library has beautiful spaces for its various reading rooms and function rooms. And the display spaces are beautiful, too.

The Arts Reading Room of the Central Library is located in the former formal dining room, and by the former large ballroom, currently used as a function room. In this case, the sideboards house the reference collection for this reading room. The ballet and other dance reference books are in the case in the picture. Note the piano. The music library department of the main library is located in another palace across the street.

At the Polley Music Library, we display our materials, too, but not in such beautiful surroundings. As we create our March displays, we'll be taking inspiration from these beautiful displays from libraries in Budapest.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Influence of African American Music

February is African American History Month, and Lincoln City Libraries celebrates it with an African American read-in, as well as displays throughout the library system. In the Polley Music Library, we have had a display of books on the history of African American music. Just thumbing through those books provides a wealth of information about the influence of the musical activities of Black Americans on music.

In the area of popular 20th century music, African Americans transformed it. Ragtime, jazz, the blues, soul, R&B, boogie-woogie, Funk, doo wop, rap and hip-hop are all essentially African American music forms that have gone on to world-wide popularity. Rock music, too, is considered to have "black" roots.

Historically, the "Ethiopian" minstrelsy influenced vaudeville, which in turn influenced the musical stage.

As for religious music, spirituals to gospel music, the African American influence is evident.

And African American performers have participated in all types of music -- singers Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, composer William Grant Still, and country musician Charley Pride immediately come to mind.

African American music is American music.

You can find information about all of this...and much more in the Polley Music Library. And try listening to the recordings available in the African American Song database from the Polley webpage. (You'll need your library card number to log in).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Felix Mendelssohn at 200

Today, February 3rd is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn's birth. Mendelssohn had a short life, only living to the age of 38. However, he was a prolific composer and is well-respected to this day.
Mendelssohn was somewhat of a musical prodigy as a pianist and composer. His adolescent works had an unusual maturity, including the overture to Midsummer Night's Dream (composed at age 17) which showed an equal mastery as the remaining pieces of the incidental music composed 15 years later. About half of his chamber music output was composed before the age of 20, as were about half of his solo piano works.
At the age of 20, Mendelssohn conducted the performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin that started a Bach revival. He beame conductor of Leipzig's famous Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835 -- at the age of 26 -- and influenced German musical culture greatly through the musicians he engaged and the repertoire he conducted. In 1842, he organized the Leipzig Conservatory, with a star-studded faculty, including himself, Schumann, Hauptmann (music theory), David (violin), Becker (organ), Plaidy and Wenzel (piano). He toured throughout his musical career, allowing people all over Europe to become familiar with his works, his conducting, and his playing. This German was particularly favored in England.
Felix Mendelssohn died in 1847, not long after the death of his favorite sister, Fanny (also a composer, but some of whose works were originally published under the name of Felix).
In the 20th century, Nazi Germany censored the works of Felix Mendelssohn, as being of Jewish, even though the family had converted to Protestantism. It is now believed that this censorship created a greater appreciation for the work of Felix Mendelssohn afterwards.
My favorites from the works of Mendelssohn just happen to be some his most popular pieces: the oratorio Elijah, the violin concerto, Songs without Words for piano, Fingal's Cave (Hebrides) overture, and the Italian symphony (Symphony no. 4).
The library has lots of Mendelssohn in our collection -- scores and CDs. Or, you can find plenty of Mendelssohn on the Classical Music Library database from the website. We also have several biographies if you would like to learn more about Felix Mendelssohn's life.
Happy birthday, Felix!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Birthday of Note for Flute Players

Happy 250th birthday, Francois Devinne!

Devienne was born on January 31, 1759 (Joinville, Haute-Marne, France). The French flute style traces its origins to Devienne, a professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1795 and author of Methode de Flute, first published in Paris that same year. Devienne was a flutist and bassoonist, and a prolific composer of music for wind instruments. Unfortunately, Devienne died in 1803 in the insane asylum at Charenton.

For you flutists, the Polley Music Library has parts for some flute sonatas, duets and trios. Check them out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Air and Simple Gifts

Nearly a week has gone by since the inauguration of President Obama and the flaps about the inaugural music. It's time for a short recap.

The centerpiece of the inaugural music was Air and Simple Gifts, composed and arranged by John Williams for a quartet of violin, cello, clarinet and piano. That unusual instrumentation just happens to be the same as was used by Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of Time. The performers were Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet) -- a group of fabulous musicians. The music heard over the loudspeakers and broadcast was actually from a recording made by the quartet two days earlier. The musicians were wearing earpieces to be able to coordinate with the recording in the frigid cold. They also had their music in front of them, although the cameras did not generally catch that. For the record, the chief librarian of the US Marine Band had the pleasure (and responsibility) of affixing their music so it would not blow away. Did they actually play? Reports vary, with some who were there being sure that they did, and some that they only mimed. Reception of the piece by critics was also varied. Simple Gifts is a Shaker tune that was featured prominently by Aaron Copland in Appalachian Spring, as well as being set by Copland as one of his Old American Songs. Williams' Air and Simple Gifts is surely Americana, fit for the inauguration.

Aretha Franklin, afterwards, was very unhappy with how she sang in the cold. Her piece was America (My Country 'tis of Thee).

The US Marine Band did play live, complete with frozen tuba valves that the musicians worked diligently to get unfrozen in time to play their parts. Barack Obama's arrival was heralded with Hail, America! (written by George Drumm, and arranged by Thomas Clark). Hail to the Chief was performed immediately after President Obama's oath. The US Marine Band has posted a list of what it played.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the New Chief

In a few hours, Barack Obama will take the oath of office and become the 44th president of the United States of America. On a musical note, the inaugural ceremonies feature plenty of music, including selections from the US Marine Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus and San Francisco Girls Chorus, Aretha Franklin, the national anthem performed by the US Navy Band Sea Chanters, and a new work by John Williams performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill. Then there will be the parade, with lots of marching bands.

Later in the day, President Obama may first hear Hail to the Chief, the piece of music most closely tied to the office of President. It's been around a long time and has an interesting history. The original text is from Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake just like Schubert's Ave Maria (though with a Goethe translation). These days Hail to the Chief is usually played by a military band without any singers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Public Music Library in Budapest

Budapest's public library, the Metropolitan Ervin Szabo Library, has a very large music collection located in the Palffy Palace across the street from the main library. A lovely fenced garden with a statue of Bartok enhances the facility. The building is beautiful, but the music library faces the challenges of providing modern music library service in the historic structure.

The music collection focuses on classical music, jazz and folk music. Popular music, especially on compact disc, is located in the popular materials collections of the public library. The music collection contains a huge number of scores, as well as periodicals, music books, and audio and video recordings.

As with most libraries, the librarians are working hard to increase patronage. To this end, they offer concerts -- many in the music library itself, with a few in the main library. To make space for the performers and concertgoers, the librarians move book shelves and tables, and voila, a concert space is created. My first thought on seeing the garden was what a perfect place it would be for a guitarist to perform on a summer evening.

I had a wonderful visit at the music library and with the music librarians. In Budapest and in Lincoln we share many of the same library issues; we're all working hard to turn challenges into opportunities and to ensure that our music users will have access to the collections and information they and you need.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy new year

The Polley Music Library wishes all musicians and music lovers a very happy new year.With the new year, you can expect more web 2.0 applications from the Polley Music Library, more new music materials for you (Polley's customers) to use, and continued answers to your music questions asked in person, by phone, by mail, or by e-mail. And, more digitiation of Polley's unique materials, time allowing.Thank you for your patronage.