Friday, March 10, 2017

Tico-Tico No Fubá: Brazilian Sparrow That Became Famous

In the far-off 1917, Brazilian musician José Gomes de Abreu (Zequinha de Abreu) wrote a tune and named it "Tico-Tico no Farelo", which is translated from Portuguese as ‘a sparrow in the bran’. The composer could not imagine, back then, that his song would spread all over the world in various interpretations and would be so loved by musicians dozens of years after his death.

Tico-Tico No Fubá (a sparrow in the cornmeal)
The present-day title of the song appeared in 1931 after it turned out that a guitar player from Brazil known as “Canhoto” had a piece under the same title, to avoid confusion. At the same, the Portuguese lyrics were written for the song by Aloysio de Oliveira. In less than 10 years, the catchy choro tune sneaked into the wider world and got first international popularity thanks to the recordings by The Andrew Sisters, Carmen Miranda and Ethel Smith. The English version of the lyrics was officially recorded by Ervin Drake.

Of course, most recordings of the light-hearted tune were made by the representatives of the Latin music world. But European and American musicians also paid their tribute to the Brazilian gem. There are recordings of “Tico-Tico No Fubá” by Charlie Parker, Klaus Wunderlich, Berliner Philharmoniker and Dalida, for example. Speaking of the most recent appearances of the composition, we can recall the 2016 Olympic Games where the song was played at the closing ceremony.

Numerous contemporary composers keep writing their own modern arrangements of “Tico-Tico No Fubá”. There are various versions for piano, string quartet, guitar, orchestra. And on the video below, this sweet piece id performed on world’s largest flute – the subcontrabass.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Beethoven’s No.7 as Rumba

During his stay in Bohemia, fixing his health in the spas of Teplice, Beethoven wrote two symphonies. One of them, Symphony No.7, lovingly named by Richard Wagner “The Apotheosis of Dance” is considered to be one of the brightest examples of Beethoven’s artistic wisdom.

Cuban Rumba dance
On the day of premiere in 1813, Beethoven chose to be himself the conductor of his musical child. They say that during the moments of highest emotional peaks, while introducing the fortes, the master would literally jump up in the air in excitement. The symphony, especially the finale, is all about sheer energy and powerful rhythms.

It’s not often that at the premiere of a symphony like that, the audience asks for encore. However, this is exactly what happened in December of 1813. The composition was so well-received that people asked for more. However, the most love went to the second movement Allegretto, which was encored on that day. Compared to the other parts, Alegretto is the most sombre and heavy one. But it is exactly this movement that became the most popular for years to come.

In an attempt to perhaps make it sound more cheerful, Joachim Horsley arranged it in a Cuban Rumba style. Here’s what came out as a result:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul”

You may have heard the recording of it by The Cleftones group, or the 1952 version by The Aces, or maybe one of the 1939 interpretations by Eddy Duchin or Al Donahue. You might have enjoyed best the original version recorded by Larry Clinton and the Orchestra where Bea Wain acted like the sweet soloist. But I doubt that all of you have come across Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul” performed on a giant foot piano:

il Grande Piano performance

The song itself is such a unique jazz standard that there’s hardly any instrument that could ‘spoil’ its universal melody. Written by Hoagy in 1938 (lyrics by Frank Loasser), it became one of his chartbusters along with the later written Stardust, The Nearness of You and Georgia on My Mind. But the song’s popularity did not only spread in public entertainment. Its educational effect can’t be mitigated. Up to day, the melody of “Heart and Soul” is considered to be the perfect and most optimal material for learning to play piano four hands. The song is even cited as one of the pillars in American musical pedagogics.

Hoagy Carmichael was a very interesting man. He is known for his image of a restrained person able to produce bright, joyful and powerful hits. In this regard, the musician was even compared to James Bond: an attractive talented man with strong willpower and restraint. The reason for the sudden change of behaviour was the early loss of the younger sister that forever erased the smile from the man’s smile. It is amazing that despite this tragedy he was able to bring to the world such wonderful music creations.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Debussy’s Mythical Cathedral

Got to mention at once: this is one of the most gorgeous piano pieces by Claude Debussy that create for me that sense of infinite space and time. One of the favourites!

Known as “La Cathédrale Engloutie”, the piece was published in 1910 as part of the two-volume piano set consisting of twelve lovely compositions in the style of what is called musical symbolism. “La Cathédrale Engloutie” (which translates as ‘submerged cathedral’) is the tenth prelude in the set.

I always got chills when listening to this amazing work. But when I learnt its story, the image became even more vivid. The piece is based on the so-called “legend of Ys”, Ys being a mythical city off the coast of French Brittany. The legend goes that on early clear mornings, when the water is most transparent, a beautiful cathedral would rise amongst the water and the people would hear its organ playing and the priests singing to it, bells chiming lively all around.

In his prelude, Debussy made sure we experience the imagery of the legend in all its beauty, from the slow rise of the mythical cathedral to its going back under water. With the help of the harmonies and a number of musical impressionism techniques that Debussy was so good at, the composer reflects all of the legend’s images one by one in a very realistic manner. Just close your eyes and watch the marvellous myth Live!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Shostakovich & Psycho

What do we know about Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No.3? Yes, it’s beautiful, emotionally charged and enigmatic. What else?

Dmitry Shostakovich
Dedicated to Beethoven Quartet, it was premiered by it in 1946. It was a difficult time for all artists, including composers, as the Soviet censorship machine was especially severe in the post-war years when the cold war in full play. Thus Shostakovich’s 9th Symphony that preceded the quartet was badly censored and banned too, just like the numerous work pf art in that period. The quartet, too, was banned from public stage shortly after its premiere.

In order to avoid the formalism, Shostakovich gave different names to the non-traditional 5 movements of the work on its premiere. They carried a war-descriptive character and made a little ‘story’ of the war time. The names were withdrawn soon in fear of the above-mentioned censorship, which still didn’t help the work ‘to survive’ the rules of the regime.

The String Quartet was perhaps the only composition among his works that fascinated Shostakovich so much. On attending the private rehearsal of Beethoven’s Quartet a few years after, composer was supposed to make remarks concerning the performance. The Third Quartet was the only work that he didn’t stop but asked to keep playing, listening to it defenceless, with tears in his eyes.

Another interesting fact has popped up recently and that one was a bit unexpected to me.  The famous horror sounds from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” soundtrack are believed to be a reworked version of the seven notes from the Third Quartet. Bernard Herrmann decided that Shostakovich’s creation would convey the necessary spirit in the best way. Well, that’s rather a theory than a fact, but still, sounds kinda convincing, have a listen: