A Pensive Fugue

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, like yesterday’s, features a fugue by Baroque composer J. S. Bach (1685-1750). I’m running a bit late today getting this post up, so I won’t give too much intro. 😉 If you’d like to read more about fugue as a compositional form, you can check out my post here. You might also like to listen to yesterday’s recording, if you haven’t yet.

Today’s fugue is another selection from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, volume 2. This is the Fugue in D Minor, very different from yesterday’s piece. This fugue is meditative, a little sad, with a lovely winding melody that the three “voices” trade back and forth. It has a companion prelude, which I’ll be posting soon (and maybe posting the two together also).

Hope you enjoy the 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. Many thanks to everyone who tuned in for last night’s FB Live performance! I’m thinking there will be another one before too long; please stay tuned!

A Radiant Fugue

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 by Baroque powerhouse J. S. Bach (1685-1750). This is a selection from Volume 2 of Bach’s collection The Well-Tempered Clavier, which for Bach, was basically a study of the intricate compositional form fugue.

You can read more about fugue in my post here. The particular example of the form you’ll hear today, Bach’s Fugue in D Major, is one of my favorites.

The piano as we know it didn’t exist in Bach’s time. Bartolomeo Cristofori, the first piano builder, had begun working during Bach’s lifetime: Cristofori was a harpsichord builder who began to experiment with new ways of designing the instrument so that it would be able to play both soft and loud. (This is why the piano has its name: pianoforte literally means soft-loud.) But Cristofori’s early attempts were small, percussive, and not very appealing to many musicians. Bach himself said he thought that the new “piano” had no future. (Even geniuses can make mistakes.)

The instrument that Bach had in mind when he wrote today’s fugue was the harpsichord. I love this particular fugue because it explores the full range of the keyboard, at its climax reaching simultaneously down into the low bass and up into the high treble. The modern piano can go lower and higher still, but for Bach’s harpsichord, this would have been about the limits of its range. Bach uses that inexorable reach to the two extremes to create a powerful and cathartic climax.

Hope you enjoy the 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: tonight, 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 EST, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin.

 

Song and Story

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 (yet more?) music by Felix Mendelssohn. The first of these two Songs without Words is a new find for me, and a new favorite. It’s solemn and majestic, exploring the rich sound especially in the piano’s bass register. The second of the two Songs has actually been on the blog before (I’m stealing from myself 😉 ). This one, in E Major, is a very old favorite. I’m not positive, but I think it might be the first of the Songs without Words that I ever learned. I first played it when I was ten, the same summer that I first read Richard Adams’s Watership Down. 

Segue into personal sidebar (there is a connection, don’t worry!)… Watership Down was a life-changer for me. I remember reading it over three days, at my grandparents’ house in northeastern Pennsylvania. Total immersive magic. What Adams did with words shaped my own style immeasurably as a writer: I still owe him my love for vivid description, quiet but inexorable pacing, and an overall quality that I can best describe as gentleness: writing that is never aggressive or flashy but finds exactly the turn of words that resonates with the reader. That’s the kind of writer I try to be. Watership Down defined that summer (thirty years ago already?) and has always been linked in my mind to the E Major Song without Words. Back then, when I played that music, it wove together in my imagination with the story I had fallen in love with. It had the same deep expression, the same gentleness, and the same shifting mood between dark and light.

All of that was a very long introduction. Hope you enjoy today’s recordings. 🙂 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: tomorrow, 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. (Today’s two Songs without Words will make an appearance.)

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… 😉 ]