Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bach in a Visual Flow

I think that classical music has for years had an image of a very limited sphere of interest meant for and available to just a few (compared to the mass pop music culture, for example).

Excerpt from the music video Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier
However, with a certain approach and a bit of imagination, I’m sure it could become as popular as the Pop itself! Why are people so attracted to the mass culture? It has all the necessary attention-holding elements in it: bright imagery, colours and various contrasts. So why not present the same in a classical music ‘video’, for example?

Of course, the best of classics should be experienced and lived preferably live in a concert hall. But we are talking about the other side, about spreading its influence into the masses. Here is a perfect video example of turning classical music into an exciting visual adventure as well. One of Bach’s popular pieces Well-Tempered Clavier was sort of split into sections, each appearing on the screen in form of real-time notes-playing. The attraction, the brightness, the contrast and colours are all there. I watched the video a few times and caught myself thinking that even if I were much younger and not a classical musicians – I would still go for it!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Down by the Sally Gardens Set to Music

The Irish people like no one else are familiar with and proud of the creative work and achievements of their renowned countryman William Butler Yeats, the holder of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetry is not only beautiful lyrically but also presents a great basis for music art.

a willow tree
Thus, Yeats’ poem titled “Down by the Sally Gardens” set to music has turned into an amazing Celtic tune. Perhaps the text fit so nicely into the melody because of the origins of the poem itself. It is believed that William wrote it in an attempt to recover and restyle an old folk ballad “The Rambling Boys of Pleasure” that he heard from an old woman in the County Sligo. The first verse sounds just like the old song:

"Down by yon flowery garden my love and I we first did meet.
I took her in my arms and to her I gave kisses sweet
She bade me take life easy just as the leaves fall from the tree.
But I being young and foolish, with my darling did not agree."
(old ballad)


Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
(Yeats’ poem)
The Salley Gardens (or ‘Sally’) is a real location where that peasant woman lived, near a village in Sligo. Salley here may have referred to the tree ‘sallow’, which is, in fact, a willow.

The poem has a number of music settings and each of them is special in its own way. Among composers who presented their vision were Herbert Hughes, Rebecca Clarke, John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Benjamin Britten, John Corigliano. The folk piece has been arranged for various instrumental combinations but I think it works best on anything strings-related. A string quartet arrangement of the Salley might be the perfect set to express the poem’s haunting beauty. Or, a true Celtic violin could make it sound even more authentic:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Einaudi’s Piano Tribute to the Arctic

As the problem of global warming is growing more serious every year, various organizations worldwide are trying to draw people’s attention to this undeniably formidable matter and raise awareness in every way possible.

an Arctic iceberg
Thus, recently the famous Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi (known for music to films like The Intouchables, Black Swan, Doctor Zhivago series, music works like I Giorni, Divenire, Primavera and many others) was asked to become the voice for Greenpeace’s campaign for saving the Arctic.
To make the message to the world leaders more clear and visual, the renowned pianist was taken to the heart of a melting glacier in Norway and performed there on a specially built floating platform with a grand piano installed on it. For the event, Einaudi, the author of hundreds of music scores already, composed a special theme piece titled “Elegy for the Arctic”. As you can see in the video below, the music piece embraces the ambiance perfectly. We can even observe the ice crumbling helplessly behind the pianist’s back.

Of course, it’s only a symbolic campaign in a world where the race for money and natural resources surpasses the needs of the surrounding nature. However, I wish this powerful act in defense of the fragility of this unique ecosystem did have the planned effect on the countries that are most involved in the destruction of the Arctic ocean.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Porz Goret from Yan Tiersen’s Eusa

Even if you haven’t watched the French film Amelie (by the way, you should, it’s a wonderful work!), you have heard its music theme anyway. In case you never wondered who its composer is, here he is – Yann Tiersen.

French composer Yann Tiersen
I was glad to find out that he released a new ‘album’, as I find his piano pieces simply gorgeous, always rich in harmonies and so skillfully crafted into a poignant yet beautiful entity. I mentioned ‘album’, though it’s not quite an album. It’s a project that he called “Eusa”. Eusa is one of the names that can be used for composer’s home, the island of Ushant, or Ouessant, which is located near Brittany. Tiersen did a thorough work to present his favorite island by splitting it into special locations and dedicating a music piece to each of them. Thus, “Eusa” is built of 10 piano pieces each with a strong background. Tiersen not only composed a bright music description but included a GPS coordinate as well as a wonderful photo into each of the composition. This is how ‘the musical map’ of the little-known island was born. “Eusa” was released in form of a sheet music book with all the additional materials published with it.

The first piece Yann Tiersen shared with the public was the piano solo “Porz Goret”. The video of the author playing this composition you can see below, and those who would love to perform it themselves can get the piano sheet music here. “Porz Goret” is a longing and dreamy piece with perfect right-hand melody that drifts you away right away. It does tell a story of a little place, and a story of a man’s soul. According to Tiersen, his Eusa pieces also built a map of who he is.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Flight of the Bumblebee: How Fast a Performer Are You?

There are some music pieces that for one reason or another are picked as the field to set music records or break them. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of The Bumblebee from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan is definitely one of them. First of all, for its musical structure and the 'record-suitable' rhythmic pattern.

In 2012, a young man called Daniel Himebauch decided to play the piece at the highest speed he was capable of on his guitar. Thus, instead of the original 170 beats per minute that the bumblebee was supposed to ‘fly’, the piece was performed at 1300 BPM! You can imagine what kind of sound is that, right? A piece hardly recognizable. But Daniel thought he could do better, and this year, in 2016, he beat his own record playing the same piece at 2000 BPM. You can see the process (all controlled and properly monitored) on the video below.

My question is – what’s your attitude to music records like that? I mean I can understand perfectly a desire of a human to be “The” in something: the highest, the strongest, the fastest. The curiosity to test one’s capabilities and to prove one can stand out. But somehow I feel sorry for the classical masterpieces. In a way, they lose their aesthetic value becoming some experimental material that’s attractive only because of its historic name and recognizability. What do you think?