Byrd in Hand

Welcome! 🙂 I hope the daily music posts here on the blog are giving you a boost, in these strange and unsettling times. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first one here.

Today’s post features music from the Renaissance (ca. 1350-1600), a work by English composer William Byrd. I introduced Byrd on the blog a couple of days ago, in this post, where you can also find some background about his music for solo keyboard.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, other composers of Byrd’s time didn’t have a lot of interest in the stringed keyboard instruments available to them. Many composers wrote for organ, which was a powerful, flexible instrument used all the time in sacred music. The early stringed keyboards, though – the ancestors of the piano – were small, percussive, and thought of as mainly useful for accompanying other instruments or singers. Byrd was one of the first to explore what the stringed keyboard could do on its own.

Byrd was an independent and resourceful thinker in more ways than one. He was a Catholic living in England during the reign of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. While Elizabeth brought decades of peace and prosperity to England, her reign was a dangerous time to claim loyalty to the “old” religion. Catholics were heretics and possible traitors, subject to all kinds of persecution and abuse.

Byrd refused to abandon his faith. Instead, he used his musical gifts to protect himself and his family. His skills earned him a post as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, the group of musicians who wrote and performed music for the church services the Queen and her retinue attended. While he wrote Protestant worship music to keep the Queen’s favor, he also wrote music for the Catholic Masses he and his family and friends observed secretly. All his life, Byrd maintained that delicate balance, keeping his public face as a shield while adhering strictly to his personal beliefs.

Today’s piece, “Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home,” is another excerpt from the collection My Lady Nevell’s Book. This collection of solo keyboard music was Byrd’s gift to a woman who was both a patron and a friend, and who was also very likely a Catholic sympathizer who gave Byrd and his family her support.

We’ll hear more of Byrd’s music on the blog over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy today’s recording. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

P.S. for those on Facebook: this coming Saturday, 4/4, I’ll be giving a short concert via Facebook Live. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, I’d love to have you tune in on my FB page on Saturday at 7 pm, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin.

 

April Songs

April greetings! In these strange and unsettling times, it’s good to feel that spring is really here. I hope the daily music posts here on the blog are giving you a boost. 🙂 If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first one here.

Today’s post goes back to my new favorite composer Felix Mendelssohn. He’s a pretty recent entry in my “favorites” list, but as you’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, I can’t seem to get enough of his Songs without Words. 

The first of today’s two songs is what Mendelssohn titled a “Gondolied,” or Gondolier’s Song. It has a gentle rocking motion that suggests the movement of a boat over water, and it’s peaceful and gently sad. The left hand sustains the rhythm while the right hand plays the melody, in this case the gondolier singing as he poles his boat through the canals.

The second song, in the brighter key of G Major, is warm and cheerful. It has the same meter as the Gondolied (6/8, for the music theorists 😉 ), but a very different character. Instead of creating melody and accompaniment, Mendelssohn here seems to suggest a choir of voices all singing together in celebration.

Hope you enjoy today’s pieces. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

P.S. If you’re on Facebook: this coming Saturday, 4/4, I’ll be giving a short concert via Facebook Live. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, I’d love to have you tune in on my FB page on Saturday at 7 pm, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin.

Haydn Out

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

I’m sharing another Haydn sonata today; these seem to be perfect music for quarantine. (Sorry about that pun above.) As always in his music, Haydn showcases the precise, elegant style of the Classical era. This sonata, in three short movements, is warm, cheerful, and full of energy.

Also wanted to share, as I’ll do for the next few days, that this coming Saturday (4/4) I’ll be giving a short concert via Facebook Live. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, I’d love to have you tune in on my FB page on Saturday at 7 pm, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin.

Meanwhile, enjoy today’s sonata. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

To the Renaissance

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Today’s two pieces go farther back in music history than the blog has gone before: to the Renaissance (ca. 1350-1600). William Byrd(1540-1623) was one of the most prolific and best-known composers of the English Renaissance. Most of his music was liturgical, focused on voice and organ, but he also took an unusual – for the time – interest in stringed keyboard instruments.

In Byrd’s time, the piano didn’t exist. Proto-pianos first came on the scene during the Baroque era, more than a hundred years after Byrd was writing. In his time, the most common stringed keyboard was the virginal.

Organs were common at this time. The idea of creating music using a keyboard instrument attached to pipes had existed for hundreds of years. Attaching the keys to strings, though, was a relatively new technology, and Byrd was one of the first composers to seriously explore the solo capabilities of what was still a small, percussive, quite limited instrument.

Both of today’s pieces, “The Soldier’s Summons” and “The Irish March,” are part of a collection called My Lady Nevell’s Book. This is a collection of pieces for solo virginal that Byrd wrote for a patron, both in tribute and to help her learn keyboard technique. We can almost think of the collection as a very early “method book” for keyboard.

Byrd’s music is likely to make many appearances on the blog. It’s fun to play and, with its very clearly Renaissance harmonic qualities, can take us to a different time and place. I’ll give more history on Byrd and his work the next time I post his music. Meanwhile, enjoy!

As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

Bach Miniatures

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Today’s two pieces are miniatures by Johann Sebastian Bach: two of the pieces he called Three-Part Inventions or Sinfonias. My first post in this series featured three of his Two-Part Inventions, where the right and left hands on the piano “talk” back and forth in dialogue between the higher and lower registers of the keyboard. The Three-Part Inventions work the same way, except now there are three parts to the musical conversation: high, middle, and low registers on the keyboard. The two hands share those three “voices” between them.

Both of today’s pieces are gentle and meditative. The first, in E flat Major, is very simple musically, with a repetitive pattern of broken chords and a slowly unfolding melody. The second, in G minor, is one of my favorite Bach pieces. It’s also gentle, thoughtful but not mournful, and it provides a restful backdrop for contemplation.

As you listen, take time to quiet your mind and let your breathing echo the phrases in the music. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Songs without Words, part 4

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

I hope you’re not getting tired of Mendelssohn, because it seems like I can’t get enough of the Songs without Words. Today’s two-fer features two more of these beautiful short pieces. The first, in A minor, has a gently sad, nostalgic feel. The second, in A Major, has a hymn-like tune bracketed by a flowing introduction and ending.

When I started this daily-blogpost project, I didn’t know how long quarantine and these extraordinary times would last. Many of us initially thought we’d be homebound for a couple of weeks. Now it looks more like a month or two. I’m determined to keep the blogposts coming, but learning and recording pieces so quickly definitely means they won’t be perfect. 😉 I’m hoping that the recordings give you at least a flavor of this beautiful music.

Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, consider what kind of story each piece is telling, or simply experience what each one evokes for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Small Sonata Two

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Yesterday’s little sonata by Franz Josef Haydn got some particular love on the blog, and plus, it was fun to do, so I thought I’d record some more Haydn for today. This is another short sonata by the Classical Era icon.

You might notice a bit of a difference between today’s piece and yesterday’s: in particular that, this time, Haydn plays with darker colors and characters. Overall, though, the mood of the music is still bright and warm. The shifts into slightly more shadowy territory make the bright moods all the more vivid.

As you listen, I suggest again seeing if the music evokes any particular place or scenery for you. Maybe imagine somewhere in the outdoors, fields or woods or beside water. Or maybe, in this case, the moods of the piece reflect the shifting weather we see at the beginning of spring, with a final resolution into the time of new greenery, flowers, and long sunny days. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

[p.s. Please ignore the laugh at the beginning of the third movement… I was still recovering from an amusingly failed take… 😉 ]

One Small Sonata

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Still working on the second movement from the Beethoven sonata featured yesterday, but meanwhile, here’s a very different complete sonata in four little movements. This piece is by Franz Josef Haydn, who, along with Mozart, was one of the big names of the Classical era in music history (1750-1825ish).

In light of the uncharted territory so many of us live in now, under quarantine and without any certainty about when we’ll get back to some kind of recognizable normal, it seemed like a good idea to share some straightforwardly bright music today. Haydn’s style is light, elegant, and full of cheerfulness and humor, especially in this particular piece.

The whole sonata, in four movements, takes about three minutes. It has a dancelike feel throughout, and right now, is a good companion for the spring that’s arriving in spite of all the dark times we’re going through.

As you listen, see if the music evokes any particular place or scenery for you. Maybe imagine somewhere in the outdoors, fields or woods or beside water. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

Beethoven, part 1

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Today’s post features the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 90. This is a video from last fall, but I’m hoping soon to do a new video of the second movement of the same sonata.

If you’ve visited the blog recently, you might have run across a couple of my other Beethoven features. You can find one here, where you can also read more about him, his music, and the effect his deafness had on his work as a composer. Beethoven wrote the Op. 90 sonata toward the end of what’s called his “heroic period,” which was the immediate aftermath of the watershed year when he realized his deafness was irreversible. During that “heroic period,” Beethoven worked to develop his own language as a composer, independently of the usual norms of the time.

The Op. 90 sonata is unusual because it only has two movements, while most sonatas have three or four. The second movement is the real feature, but the first movement, played in the video below, shows a lot of Beethoven’s dramatic, passionate style.

As you listen, consider the emotional palette Beethoven creates with this music. What kinds of feelings does it evoke for you? Do you find yourself thinking of any kind of story or narrative to go with it? As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

 

Songs without Words, part 3

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.

Today’s musical two-fer is another pair of Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words. (I did promise we might see a lot of those here…) In exploring the Songs without Words more than I ever have before, I’ve really fallen in love with the style of these pieces. Most are gentle and thoughtful, although others are excited, energetic, majestic, even sometimes aggressive. Mendelssohn seems to have been fascinated with how much he could express by having the piano accompany itself in a song.

Both of today’s pieces are pretty new to me. In working on this project for the blog, I’m pushing myself to learn new music and make recordings almost every day. Recording tends to be stressful, but I figure this isn’t a bad way to put in the time during self-quarantine. These two videos aren’t perfect, but they’ll give you a pretty good flavor of these lovely pieces.

Use the listening time to quiet your mind. If you’d like, as you listen, consider what kind of story each piece is telling, or simply experience what each one evokes for you. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!