Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Classics: The Blue Danube Waltz.

As this will be the final Sunday Morning Classics of 2012 I wanted to go out with a piece of classical music that connected with the bringing in of a new year, a piece of music that has a real connection to the holiday. Well, as fate would have it there really isn't any...of any kind...anywhere. So as a "Plan B" I decided to find something that had at least some connection to New Year's Eve. After a bit of thinking it dawned on me, "Das Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker." I obvious right.

For those not in the know, the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic takes place on the morning of January 1st in Vienna, Austria in the "Golden Hall' (the image above, stunning isn't it) of the home of the Philharmonic, the Musikverein and is perhaps the biggest classical music event of the year. It is in terms of its international coverage the largest classical music event in the world being broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 50 million in 73 countries. Each year I am pleased to have counted myself as one of those 50 million for many years.

The music always includes pieces from the Strauss family—Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss—with occasional music from other mainly Austrian composers. There are traditionally about a dozen compositions played which include waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, and marches. Of the encores, the first is often a fast polka. The second is Johann Strauss II's waltz The Blue Danube, whose introduction is interrupted by applause of recognition and a New Year greeting from the musicians to the audience. And it is this piece that I've picked for our final Sunday Morning Classics of 2013. This is from the 2011 concert and is conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. As many times before this is a piece that you have probably heard many time but never knew what it was. If you enjoyed it before I do hope that will enjoy it again.

Best to you and your in the new year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

'Should auld aquaintance be forgot...'


Each New Year's Eve we sing  "Auld Lang Syne" as the clock strikes midnight and fireworks fill the night sky, but what does it mean? And why do we sing it? Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish Ballad that can be translated as ‘Old Long Since’ and which would loosely mean – “For Old Times’ Sake”. It is a song about welcoming the new times without saying ‘goodbye’ to old friends and fond memories. Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the words in 1798 and set them to a Scottish tune that was first published in 1711. Singing the song in Scotland at Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and the Irish) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularising the use of the song at New Year's celebrations in North America through his annual broadcasts on radio and television beginning in 1929, although it is recorded as ushering in the New Year in the States much earlier in the 19th century.

As the New Year countdown reaches zero we hear the song being sung...well..almost being sung. In truth we usually just hear the first few lines, often ad nauseam, being blasted out badly by over intoxicated revelers. Alright, so we are all to blame for not knowing the words..and perhaps for the over intoxicated part, but that is another post and court ordered AA meeting entirely.

As a traditionalist and in a hope to advance the actual singing of the song I've put together a little lesson plan. Below please find a recording of "Auld Lang Syne" beautifully sung by the Irish folk singer Mairi Campbell and Burns original words to the song. Commit to memory to amaze and impress your friends.

'Auld Lang Syne'
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
for auld lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
And seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
* Practice a couple of times and have a few drinks. It is much easier to speak Scottish after a scotch or three.
As a little bonus here is a video I recently came across of the song being played on traditional Scottish bagpipes, with some spectacular images of Scotland. I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, December 24, 2012

'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht'

In early December 1818 Joseph Mohr, the  Koadjutor (assistant priest) of the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria, gave a poem he had written to his friend Franz Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. He asked Mr. Gruber if he would write music for his poem, that he might write it for two solo voices with guitar accompaniment.
Because of the church organ being broken Mohr desperately wanted music to be part of the Christmas Eve service. On Christmas Eve 1818 Mohr and Gruber performed the song that they had written, the song which has become one of the most beloved of Christmas carols, "Stille Nacht", in English, "Silent Night."
In 1859, John Freeman Young (second Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Florida) published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The version of the melody that is generally sung today differs slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber's original, which was a sprightly, dance-like tune in 6/8 time, as opposed to the slow, meditative lullaby version generally sung today. The carol has been translated into roughly 140 languages.
Autograph of the carol by Franz Xaver Gruber (ca. 1820).
Please join me in taking a moment to celebrate the 194th anniversary of this wonderful song. Hum along with the following video, sing it with your family this evening before going to bed, go to the Christmas Eve service this evening at your church and be part of it through the carol, my wife and I will be. Please enjoy.

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh...Sleep in Heavenly peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Morning Classics, The Nutcracker.

Classical music and the holiday season has, for me, always meant Tchaikovshy's "The Nutcracker." This wonderful ballet is actually the soundtrack of the season for many families across the country. Many families, including mine, have made seeing The Nutcracker a much cherished part of their holiday traditions. As a matter of fact this will be posted as my wife and I are getting ready to head downtown to once again see the world famous Joffrey Ballet perform it. We have gone the weekend before Christmas every year we have lived in Chicago and it is one of the things I look forward to most each year.

The Nutcracker had its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sunday, 18 December 1892. Though somewhat unsuccessful at first the ballet eventually gained in popularity around the 1960's and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S.

The original sketch for the first production. Quite different from what we see today.
Original costume designs for Mother Gigogne and her Polichinelle children. This is one of my favourite scenes.
Original costume sketch. My guess is that this is for a Danish Marzipan Shepherdesses Performer.
And here is an actual still from the first nights performance.
Thankfully I was able to find a video of the complete ballet to share with everyone. This performance was done in 2001 by the Royal Ballet, Convent Garden and the orchestra of the Royal Opera House in London. If you can find the hour and forty-eight minutes I do hope you will watch the entire thing. If nothing else you can have it playing in the background and still get to enjoy Tchaikovsky's fabulous score. Please enjoy.

Merry Christmas Everyone,

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

As we come ever closer to Christmas day let us all remember that this is the season to think of others before ourselves, the time of year that we should be the very best of ourselves. However you celebrate the holiday I hope that you are doing everything you love with those you love and that you are all happy, healthy and well.
As this is a season of sharing please allow me to share with everyone one of my recent favourite Christmas songs, "Soul Cake" by Sting. I do hope that you enjoy it as much as I. One of the best parts of the video is that it was shot at the stunning Durham Cathedral in Durham, England. Durham Cathedral is arguably the greatest example of Norman architecture in England, perhaps all of Europe.
Best wishes for Christmas and the new year,
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