As promised, here are a few of the songs I transcribed from this music book. The first track has examples of different styles. The others have selections from different songs. Or something along those lines.
Number 39 in the Big Book of Classical Music is a classic. That’s why it’s in the book.
In The Hall of the Mountain King, by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) is a piece of orchestral music composed in 1875 as incidental music for the sixth scene of act 2 in Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play Peer Gynt.
It was originally part of Opus 23 but was later extracted as the final piece of Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, Op. 46. Its easily recognizable theme has helped it attain iconic status in popular culture, where it has been arranged by many artists, including me!
Number 38 in the countdown of classical music is a version of a 13th century song that was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). It is called Ave Verum Corpus.
According to wikipedia.com, “Ave verum corpus” is a short Eucharisticchant that has been set to music by many composers. It dates to the 13th century, first recorded in a central Italian Franciscan manuscript.
Song number 36 from the Big Book of Classical Music is an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony “Pathetique.” Fun Fact: It is another song written right before the composer left this mortal coil.
According to Britannica.com, Pathétique Symphony, or Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, the final composition by Peter Tchaikovsky. Called the “Passionate Symphony” by the composer, it was mistranslated into French after his death, earning the title by which it became henceforth known, Pathétique (meaning “evoking pity”). The symphony premiered on October 28, 1893, according to the modern calendar, though at the time Russia still used the old form, by which the date was October 16. It was the composer’s last work; nine days later, he was dead, and observers have long debated whether the often gloomy nature of the work reflected Tchaikovsky’s own emotional state at the time.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is forever associated with the tragedy of his sudden death. In the last year of his life, 1893, the composer began work on a new symphony. Sketches dated from as early as February, but progress was slow. Concert tours to France and England and the awarding of a doctorate of music from Cambridge cut into the time available for composition. Thus, though Tchaikovsky could compose quickly when the muse was with him, it was not until the end of August that he was able to complete the new work. Its premiere, with the composer himself on the podium, was given in St. Petersburg two months later, on October 28.
Nine days later, on November 6, the composer was dead. His family blamed cholera, but physician’s statements were contradictory and friends were skeptical. Cholera, they insisted, was a disease of the poor, almost unheard of amongst the upper classes. Surely Tchaikovsky would have known how to prevent exposure. In addition, as the composer’s friend and colleague Rimsky-Korsakov commented in his own memoirs, the highly-contagious nature of cholera would have precluded the open-casket ceremony that actually occurred. Why, Rimsky asks, were mourners allowed to kiss the departed goodbye? On that question, Tchaikovsky’s family remained determinedly silent.
Today’s entry is song #35 from the Big Book of Classical Music. It is used as the theme song to PBS Masterpiece Theater. The composer is Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738), and it is entitled “Rondeau.
According to Wikipedia, Mouret’s father was a prosperous silk merchant of Avignon, an amateur violinist who recognized his son’s precocious musical abilities and provided him with a fine education. The elder Mouret generously supported his son’s decision to pursue a musical career. As a youth, Mouret proved himself a talented singer while also earning success for his compositions.
Around the age of twenty-five, Mouret settled in Paris. News of his arrival did not take long to spread and he was introduced to Anne, Duchess of Maine, whose salon at Sceaux was a center of courtly society in the declining years of Louis XIV. His genial character strongly assisted him in securing the patronage of the Duchess, who made him her Surintendant de la musique at Sceaux about 1708. At Sceaux he produced operas and was in charge of the sixteen bi-weekly Grandes nuits in the season of 1714–1715, for which he produced interimèdes and allegorical cantatas in the court masque tradition, and other music, in the company of the most favoured musicians, for the most select audience in France.
His opéra-balletLes fêtes, ou Le triomphe de Thalie [“Festivities, or The Triumph of Thalia”] with a libretto by Joseph de La Font was presented at the Opéra on 19 August 1714. In the prologue, in a scenic design which represented the stage of the Opéra, Thalia, the muse of Comedy, triumphs over Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy. This dramatic conceit resulted in a succès de scandale, obliging La Font to immediately prepare a revised opening entitled “La critique des fêtes de Thalie” (presented on 9 October). In the 1720 edition the title was changed to Les fêtes de Thalie, and in 1722 a new opening was added, “La provençale”, which featured regional costumes, instruments, and well-known melodies sung in the Provençal dialect. The 1722 version proved to be more acceptable and very popular, and continued to be performed up until 1778.
Also in 1714 Mouret received an appointment as the director of the orchestra of the Opéra, a post which he held until 1718. From 1717 to 1737 he directed the Nouveau Théâtre Italien for which he composed divertissements that accompanied, for example, the tender comedies of Marivaux, and which, printed, fill six volumes. At court Mouret maintained a post as singer, and directed the grand divertissements offered by the Regent, the duc d’Orléans at his château of Villers-Cotterêts on the occasion of Louis XV’s coming-of-age in 1722. Concurrently, he was director of the concert series established by the orchestra of the Opéra, the Concerts Spirituel (1728–1734), positions which provided a public outlet for his own music and which permitted him to live in affluence.
We continue on the magical classical musical journey with a song by Mozart (1756-1791), entitled “Lacrymosa” or “Tearful.” It is from his Requiem opera.
According to wikipedia, The Requiem in D minor, K. 626, is a requiem mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Mozart composed part of the Requiem in Vienna in late 1791, but it was unfinished at his death on December 5 the same year. A completed version dated 1792 by Franz Xaver Süssmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg, who commissioned the piece for a requiem service to commemorate the anniversary of his wife’s death on 14 February.
Walsegg probably intended to pass the Requiem off as his own composition, as he is known to have done with other works. This plan was frustrated by a public benefit performance for Mozart’s widow Constanze. She was responsible for a number of stories surrounding the composition of the work, including the claims that Mozart received the commission from a mysterious messenger who did not reveal the commissioner’s identity, and that Mozart came to believe that he was writing the requiem for his own funeral.
This song is an excerpt from a song called Largo, written by George Frideric Handel way back in 1738. And it took a hundred years for it to catch on. It just goes to show you, doesn’t it? What exactly that is I am not sure. I’m just saying.
This is the fifth song by Handel that I have posted while going through the Big Book of Classical Music. And I haven’t posted anything yet by Haydn, Strauss, Verdi, or Mozart. But they are coming up.
Learning about the history that goes along with this music has been a very informative experience. I had no idea that Handel had written an opera that failed. He handled the disappointment well.
According to wikipedia, Handel’s Largo” is the popular title for an ariacomposed by George Frideric Handel. He wrote it in 1738 for the operaSerse (English: Xerxes). The opera was a failure. It closed after only five performances. One hundred years later though the aria was resurrected. It became a big hit. It was performed at solemn occasions such as funerals and weddings. It was arranged for all sorts of instruments and voices. It is known by many people as “Ombra mai fu” because those words are the first words of the aria. The title is Italian and means “Never was a shade”. The aria is sung by the main character, Xerxes I of Persia. He is admiring the shade of a tree. The original tempo is larghetto (a little slow and solemn). The aria is short. It is only 52 bars long. It lasts about four minutes. In the opera, a string section accompanies the singer. These strings are first and second violins, viola, and basses. The key signature is F major. The time signature is 3/4 time.
We continue on our journey through the Big Book of Classical Music with song number 32. Here are three versions of Meditation, from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet.
According to our good friends at brittanica.com, Jules Massenet, in full Jules-Émile-Frédéric Massenet, (born May 12, 1842, Montaud, near Saint-Étienne, France—died August 13, 1912, Paris), was a leading French opera composer, whose music is admired for its lyricism, sensuality, occasional sentimentality, and theatrical aptness.
The son of an ironmaster, Massenet entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 11, subsequently studying composition under the noted opera composer Ambroise Thomas. In 1863 he won the Prix de Rome with his cantataDavid Rizzio. With the production in 1867 of his opera La Grand’ Tante (The Great Aunt), he embarked on a career as a composer of operas and incidental music. His 24 operas are characterized by a graceful, thoroughly French melodic style. Manon (1884; after Antoine-François, Abbé Prévost d’Exiles) is considered by many to be his masterpiece. The opera, marked by sensuous melody and skilled personification, uses leitmotifs to identify and characterize the protagonists and their emotions. In the recitatives (dialogue) it employs the unusual device of spoken words over a light orchestral accompaniment. Also among his finest and most successful operas are Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1902), Werther (1892; after J.W. von Goethe), and Thaïs (1894). The famous “Méditation” for violin and orchestra from Thaïs remains part of the standard violin repertory.
Several of Massenet’s operas reflect the succession of contemporary operatic fashions. Thus, Le Cid (1885) has the characteristics of French grand opera; Le Roi de Lahore (1877; The King of Lahore) reflects the Orientalism—a fascination with Asian exotica—that was also prevalent in the 19th-century European and American art market; Esclarmonde (1889) shows the influence of Richard Wagner; and La Navarraise (1894; The Woman of Navarre) is influenced by the end-of-the-century style of verismo, or realism. Also prominent among Massenet’s operas are Hérodiade (1881) and Don Quichotte (1910).
Continuing our journey through the “Big Book of Classical Music,” here are a couple of versions of a song called Panis angelicus (Bread of Angels) by French Composer Cesar Franck:
According to Britannica.com, César Franck, in full César-auguste Franck, (born Dec. 10, 1822, Liège, Neth.—died Nov. 8, 1890, Paris, France), was a Belgian-French Romantic composer and organist who was the chief figure in a movement to give French music an emotional engagement, technical solidity, and seriousness comparable to that of German composers.
Franck was born of a Walloon father and a mother of German descent. He showed unmistakable musical gifts that enabled him to enter the Liège conservatory at the age of eight, and his progress as a pianist was so astonishing that in 1834 his father took him on tour and a year later dispatched him to Paris, where he worked with the Bohemian composer Anton Reicha, then professor at the Paris Conservatory. In 1836 the whole family, including the younger son Joseph, who played the violin, moved to Paris, and in 1837 César Franck entered the Paris Conservatory. Within a year he had won a Grand Prix d’Honneur by a feat of transposition in the sight-reading test, and this honour was followed by a first prize for fugue (1840) and second prize for organ (1841). Although the boy should now normally have prepared to compete for the Prix de Rome, a prize offered yearly in Paris for study in Rome, his father was determined on a virtuoso’s career for him and his violinist brother, with whom he gave concerts, and therefore removed him prematurely from the conservatory.
In order to please his father and earn much-needed money, Franck gave concerts, the programs of which were largely devoted to performing his own showy fantasias and operatic potpourris, popular at that time. After 1840, when he turned his attention increasingly to the organ, his compositions became noticeably more serious, and three trios written at this time were to impress favourably the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. A more ambitious work was the cantataRuth, which had its first performance at the conservatory on Jan. 4, 1846.
I have a feeling that getting through all 100 songs from the “Big Book of Classical Music” is going to take a lot longer than I thought. It’s the journey that is important, right?
Some of these composers I am familiar with, others not so much.
Song Number 30 is an excerpt from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem:
And here is a blast from the past:
According to Britannica.com, Gabriel Fauré, in full Gabriel-Urbain Fauré, (born May 12, 1845, Pamiers, Ariège, France—died Nov. 4, 1924, Paris), was a composer whose refined and gentle music influenced the course of modern French music.
Fauré’s musical abilities became apparent at an early age. When the Swiss composer and teacher Louis Niedermeyer heard the boy, he immediately accepted him as a pupil. Fauré studied piano with Camille Saint-Saëns, who introduced him to the music of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. While still a student, Fauré published his first composition, a work for piano, Trois romances sans paroles (1863). In 1896 he was appointed church organist at the church of La Madeleine in Paris and professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory. In 1905 he succeeded Théodore Dubois as director of the conservatory, and he remained in office until ill health and deafness forced him to resign in 1920. Among his students were Maurice Ravel, Georges Enesco, and Nadia Boulanger.
Fauré excelled not only as a songwriter of great refinement and sensitivity but also as a composer in every branch of chamber music. He wrote more than 100 songs, including “Après un rêve” (c. 1865) and “Les Roses d’Ispahan” (1884), and song cycles that included La Bonne Chanson (1891–92) and L’Horizon chimérique (1922). He enriched the literature of the piano with a number of highly original and exquisitely wrought works, of which his 13 nocturnes, 13 barcaroles, and 5 impromptus are perhaps the most representative and best known. Fauré’s Ballade for piano and orchestra (1881; originally arranged for solo piano, 1877–79), two sonatas for violin and piano, and Berceuse for violin and piano (1880) are among other popular works. Élégie for cello and piano (1880; arranged for orchestra, 1896), and two sonatas for cello and piano, as well as chamber pieces, are frequently performed and recorded.