2020-05-12 (Compose) Fun with Kuhnau - 3 movements
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We know little about Johannes Kuhnau (1660-1722), but he was probably a bright and sociable person, always ready for jokes and satires. He was a respected musician as well as a qualified lawyer with a successful law practice. Well-known is his “Quacksalber” [quack doctor] book where he lampooned a vainglorious doctor and his assistant from southern lands who came to Germany to show off their musical skills – and promptly made fools of themselves.
Most of his music is now lost, and consequently he is now frequently remembered as the Leipzig cantor (Thomaskantor) whom J.S. Bach succeeded after his death. But there is enough left of his once prodigious output that we can deduce that he had a good feel for a catchy tune. And that is what we want to celebrate here.
Kuhnau published two reputable exercise books for the piano called “Neue Clavier-Übung I” (1689) and “Neue Clavier-Übung II” (1692) [“New Clavier Exercises”]. The second book contained a "Sonata from B flat" and according to Immanuel Faisst (German composer 1823-1894), Kuhnau is to be considered the “founder” of the piano sonata, since Kuhnau's "Sonata" was the first piano piece to bear this name, which until then had only been used for ensemble pieces.
The Deutsche Biographie adds, “Of yet far greater importance is the fact that such compositions now appeared in print and thus became much more widespread than handwritten pieces. With his publications Kuhnau opened access to piano music for bourgeois devotees who from then on were at the centre of amateur music-making and displaced the plucked instruments from their leading role. The wide dissemination of his piano works also had the consequence that they exerted a far-reaching influence on piano composers” (my translation).
In these Clavier Exercises I found three tunes that I used as launchpads for my own compositions. They were Neue Clavier-Übung I, “Partie V: Prelude”, Neue Clavier-Übung II, “Partie IV: Aria” and Neue Clavier-Übung I, “Partie V: Marche”. Taken together, they fit together as a modern fast – slower – fast music collection which I will gladly call a “sonata”, in the great memory of Johannes Kuhnau.
Fun with Kuhnau
"A happy confusion in the first movement plunges us into a somber mood in the second movement. But never despair, because the mood contains the germs of a new birth, ready to be fully celebrated in the last movement."
MIDI and Music Sheets
Top: Kuhnau's portrait, from a hand-colored 1689 edition of his Neue Clavier-Übung, erster Teil (Wikipedia)
Bottom: Quacksalber Frontispiece (Bayrische Landesbibliothek)
2020-04-02 (Adaptation) "Prelude in E minor" of Buxtehude BuxWV 143
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Here is a short beginning excerpt from “Prelude in E minor” by Dietrich Buxtehude (1635 -1707). It is a particularly pregnant motif of only two minutes and a half when played at 105 bpm. It tends to get rushed over when this composition is generally performed in the public.
I proceeded to add to its original length, I slowed its tempo in order to present its features more clearly, and I provided a number of local accompaniments to the partition. This permits the work to stand on its own, and it shows the composition in its full splendour.
To permit compatibility with standard flutes, this version was transposed to A minor.
The simulation was created using the open-source software GrandOrgue and using a sample-set realised by Piotr Grabowski. This sample set was originally recorded at the Pfarrkirche of the parish of St-Bartholomaus at Friesach, Austria. This recent organ was built by the firm Eisenbarth of Passau, Germany in 2000.
Image: Wikipedia, Friesach city view, Austria, by Johann Jaritz.
"A simple magnificent celebration of the life that was offered by the great master Dietrich Buxtehude"
2020-03-26 (Compose) Calls in the Forest - 3 movements
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What happens if you called into a forest – and the echo returned something else?
What if an ancient call came back, reminding us about living in harmony with the elements around us? About listening to others and respecting them? About ignoring fools, but seeking compromises when they are possible?
Three ancient echoes come back to us. Let's listen to what they suggest to us.
What can it be?
At first we are surprised. What can this be? The echo comes back, and yes, it is familiar. You recognize the form. Haven't you heard it before?
And then suddenly, the music stops. What now? The form returns, but it now is different. Similar, yet different -- so strange! Slowly you begin to recognise the new shape. Can you live with it? Can you accept it? Let it become part of you?
Remembering an answer
Here comes the moment of truth. Here the secret is disclosed. A deep and profound joy was already deep in you, and now you can remember it. It is becoming part of you. Yes, what a magical moment this is.
Joy is now in you, and you are well with all the people around whom you love and cherish. It is a time to celebrate inside, and a new promise that is in the air.
I used three old Celtic melodies here. Similar basic melodies have been employed since medieval times in various traditional Celtic folk songs.
The first melody is familiar from “The Grenadier and the Lady”, which was later used in various forms of “An Emigrant's Daughter”.
Another traditional tune was used in the second melody, familiar from “She Moved Through The Fair”. I wish to credit this suggestion to Frank Lennon, who maintains an excellent compendium of Celtic tunes at http://www.irishmidifiles.ie/midifiles.htm.
I do not know the origin of the third melody. I furnished a minor accompaniment for this short and happy Irish melody in 2017. Here it finds a more substantial embodiment.
Here is "Calls in the Forest":
"Life calls us to a new awakening. Please note the significant break in the first movement and its soothing recovery in the two other movements."
2020-03-03 (Adaptation) Venetian Solo Practice
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Vivaldi liked challenges.
He liked to show off his great skills on the violin, playing fast and at times at very high pitches, close to the bridge. This is well attested. Also he liked to challenge his best students with hard and captivating tasks, which is demonstrated in numerous pieces (e.g. RV 346, among others). While not explicitly documented for the present piece, it also adapts well to the challenges we shall demonstrate here.
The Vivaldi piece for our challenge is joyful and adventurous. It is the second movement "Fantasia" of the Sonata for Violin and Basso Continuo by Antonio Vivaldi RV 9 (published 1709), given in extenso below. It is marked presto.
In addition, we present a second, more complex adaptation of this movement. For this version, Vivaldi's equally-spaced bars were converted into unequally-spaced bars, and two G-scale passages were placed into the root passage which is written in D major, like the original. In comparison to the original, the adapted version seems a bit "zippier", but it is longer and more difficult to perform.
In Vivaldi's spirit of friendly challenges, we wish to see how one can master these two presto passages.
And how fast would that be? Presto should be incredibly fast. In modern terms and according to Wikipedia, this should be at 168–200 bpm. In Vivaldi's time, when time was measured more in terms of human capacities than as precise beats per second, we may think of presto as "as fast as possible". A good comparson in Vivaldi's contemporary terms is given by the presto passage of his "Summer" in "The Four Seasons" (RV 315). The performance by Anne-Sophie Mutter is particularly memorable and well worth watching (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=124NoPUBDvA).
So, let's see. How fast can you play our two presto passages – without missing any notes and while still maintaining appropriate durations? Can you also slow down considerably and still maintain the same proportional durations?
Both pieces are performed at the same beats per minute, 110 bpm for the first part and 130 bpm for the second. All audio settings are kept the same.
Vivaldi RV 9 "Fantasia":
EKeller_Vivaldi "Venetian Solo Practice":
Water lily, courtesy of all-free-download.com
2019-11-17 (Compose) Do You Remember?
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Here is a simple, but profound story.
There are three natural phases:
The first phase of "Remembering a lost love" tells about someone who once was at the centre of the storyteller's life. The melody recounts in flowering terms some of the most wonderful moments experienced during that time.
In the second movement, we have moved to the "Regret about the lost love". Here we are reliving the pangs felt in missing this precious person. Did we not appreciate the Other as fully and as completely as we might have? Oh, how we are so sorry about the person who has now gone away, and will never come back.
In the third movement, we are in the present. Now is the time of "New hopes". Time moves on, and new persons have appeared on the horizon. We can move to new and happy moments. Hopefully we have learned something, to make the next adventures yet richer and even more complete.
Back in 1873, P.J. Joyce had recorded four accounts and related melodies in various parts of Ireland, which tell this story in somewhat similar ways. One can identify a resemblance to the three movements in my more elaborate version. Joyce's first two melodies in major key emphasized the initial phase of the story, the next movement in minor key recounted the second aspect, and the last melody, again set in major key, evoked the last and concluding element of the story.
Here as one continuous recording are the four versions that were collected by P.J. Joyce:
And here is my interpretation, both as a piano and as an orchestral version: Due to the limitations imposed by the artificial rendering, I definitely prefer the first, the piano-only version. Some day I hope that we shall have a natural recording for this piece, which will render better justice to the orchestral version of the story.
MP3s and sheets are here.
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