Saturday Bagatelle

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.

For today’s piece, I started exploring a collection of music I haven’t looked at in a very long time (somewhere around 30 years): Ludwig van Beethoven’s Bagatelles. I think several of them will be making an appearance on the blog over the next couple of weeks.

Beethoven, as I’ve written about before on the blog, was one of the single greatest innovators of music history. He was born and trained during the Classical Era (1750-1825), when some of the ideals of music included simplicity, clarity, tightness of form and structure, and an overall sense of elegance and restraint. Beethoven quickly found that he wanted to explore different ways of writing music; his deafness helped to drive his personal musical revolution. He began writing longer, more intricate, and far more dramatic works than his listeners were used to. He used instruments that had never been showcased in concert, and embraced a level of drama, fire, and passionate expression that changed the course of music history.

While so much of Beethoven’s writing taps into this “heroic” style and approach, with his Bagatelles, we find a charming contrast. Beethoven wrote these short piano pieces throughout his compositional career. Most of them are straightforward from a technical standpoint, but they include contrasts of mood and an overall sense of sweetness and humor that are uniquely Beethoven. Many of them also have a “sung” or “spoken” feel, as if, like Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, they’re actually short stories told through music.

As you listen to today’s piece, if you’d like, think about whether it conjures up any particular sense of story for you. Does it make you imagine a character, or maybe a place? Some sort of action? 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

A gentle interlude

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 is a favorite sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, one of the great names of the Baroque era. Scarlatti’s sonatas are short, only a couple of minutes each, and often light and elegant and dancelike. This particular sonata is sweet and peaceful, a good mental break if you’re having a stressful day.

I’ll keep the intro to a minimum since I’m a bit late with today’s post. 😉 As you listen, if you’d like, see if this music conjures up any particular scene for you. Does it make you imagine a specific place? Maybe a certain time period? Or maybe just a setting you know well, that suits the mood of 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!

 

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Will You Walk the Woods so Wild

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 music takes us back to the Renaissance. Over the past week or so, I’ve posted a couple of other pieces by English composer William Byrd (1540-1623). Today’s piece is a setting he did of a folk song of his time: “Will You Walk the Woods so Wild.” (Something that I think a lot of us currently in quarantine wouldn’t mind doing!)

As I wrote in my last post about Byrd, his interest in writing for solo stringed keyboard (as opposed to the organ) was unusual for his time. Most composers felt that the little stringed keyboards of the day were too limited to do more than accompany another instrument, or a singer. Byrd was convinced they had strengths of their own, and he set out to find what kinds of music would work best for them.

Dance music was an early choice for Byrd, because the little keyboards had a percussive sound and were good for maintaining a strong sense of pulse. Also, though, he quickly became interested in writing folk tune settings. In My Lady Nevell’s Book, the collection that today’s piece comes from, Byrd included many solo-keyboard arrangements of folk tunes.

A couple of notes about today’s piece. Byrd uses a theme-and-variations approach to writing “Woods So Wild.” You’ll hear the tune stated simply at the beginning. Then Byrd writes a series of variations on it where the tune becomes less and less clear, until it’s mostly just suggested by the harmony. Finally, at the end, he restates the tune clearly and strongly.

You may also notice that the harmonies in this piece strike your ear as a little unusual, or particularly “Renaissance-ish.” That’s because this old folk tune takes us back to a harmonic system that predates the one we’re used to. As modern listeners, we’re used to music that comes mainly in two “flavors”: major (bright/warm/happy) and minor (dark/sad). During the Renaissance, though, music “came in” seven different flavors called modes. Without getting into too much detail, each mode to our ears will sound very similar to major or minor, but as if there’s something a little off about it, maybe a single wrong note.

In the case of “Woods So Wild,” we’re hearing the mode called Lydian, which was very popular in folk music. Lydian mode is very close to major, but has a single note’s difference from a normal major scale. The result is a harmony that sounds unusual to us, and definitely evocative of an older time.

The words to the original folk song have been lost to history. As you listen, if you’d like, imagine what the song was about. Who is the singer speaking to? Is the message of the song cheerful or plaintive, or does it capture a different mood for you entirely? 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Butterflies

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 I went to the wayback machine for our recording. It’s longer than usual, about fifteen minutes, but you can listen in installments if you’d like. This is a piece by Robert Schumann, one of his early works for solo piano. The title, “Papillons,” translates literally as “butterflies.”

Schumann (1810-1856) was one of the great composers of the Romantic era in music history (1825-1900). He was a member of the generation of composers who followed Beethoven and explored the new ideas Beethoven had brought to music. In his personal life, Schumann ran into many challenges, especially with his mental health. Depression and anxiety often made it hard for him to work, particularly in his later years.

The Papillons come from a period when Schumann was happy and inspired. The idea for the piece came from a story Schumann had read that included a vivid costume-ball scene. Schumann was so taken with the scene that he started putting it to music: the ballroom, the characters, the kaleidoscopic motion of the costumed dancers. In a letter he wrote at the time, he said that the ideas came to him so fast he could barely keep up. Though the piece’s title literally means “butterflies,” Schumann also thought of the image of papillons as meaning “flying slips of paper,” reflecting the intense inspiration he felt as he wrote.

As you listen, if you’d like, put yourself in Schumann’s ballroom scene. Do you see yourself as a bystander, watching all the activity? Can you imagine yourself taking part? What kind of costume or mask might you wear? Does the music make you imagine particular characters, or conversations, or pieces of action? 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Miniature Preludes, take 2

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 two short pieces by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). A couple of days ago, I posted two of his Preludes for piano, which you can check out here. (You’ll also find more info there about Chopin and his style as a composer.) Today’s post includes two more preludes, with a similar contrast of darkness and light.

The first of these two, in C minor, is one of my favorites. Chopin’s music is often quick and light, full of flourishes, but in this prelude, he embraces a much more dense style of writing. The dark chords, heavily balanced to the bass, make this sound like a solemn hymn, full of great power and majesty. The second prelude, in F Major, is a bit more typical of what we might think of as Chopin’s signature style. It’s light and flowing, deliberately exploring the piano’s huge range by starting in the mid- to low register and moving up one octave, and then up another octave. (In the recording, my hands get so close to the camera at the top of the keyboard that you can’t see them anymore. 😉 ) I think these two preludes make a particularly good pairing.

As you listen, if you’d like, consider the “stories” behind these two pieces. What do you think might have inspired the emotion of each one? Taken together in the order they’re given here, what kind of emotional shift happens between them? 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz