Music and War

Is war good or bad for music? Another one of those questions where the answer is yes.
Think of all the music that has been written during a war, lamenting a war, celebrating a war. The inspirational power of music has been used forever in military bands. Here’s how war connects to some well-known pieces.

1812 Overture, P. I. Tchaikovsky.  This overture was actually written in 1880, in commemoration of the Russian defeat of Napolean’s forces in 1812, and not the U.S. war with Britain.  It’s somewhat unique in it’s scoring, calling for a cannon to be fired almost a dozen times towards the finale.

Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”, L. v. Beethoven.  Beethoven’s third is one of his most profound and momentous works.  He originally dedicated it it honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was ruling France as the First Consul for a five year period.  When he subsequently declared himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven furiously tore up the title page, and settle on Eroica, which is Italian for Heroic, as the replacement for “Sinfonia Buonaparte”.

Polonaises, Frederic Chopin.  Chopin was a blatantly Polish composer, as one observer remarked “He is more Polish than Poland itself”.  Some of his hallmarks are his 16 polonaises, traditional Polish dances with a military significance.  Poland has had a tormented history, during Chopin’s life it was invaded and partitioned between Russia, Austria, and Prussia (Germany).  While he was living in France, the 1830 uprising against the Russians was crushed, and Frederic was never allowed to go back to his homeland.  He continued writing excellent music, putting the free spirit of Poland into song.  A century later, when Poland was again conquered by Nazi Germany, the Reich banned the playing of the Chopin’s music outright.  


I’ll write part II later..



243 years and Counting!


243 and Counting!

On this day in 1770, Bonn, Germany welcomed one of the world’s greatest composers into the world. In celebration of his birthday, I will enlighten your evening with a bunch of Beethoven quotes.

~“I want to seize Fate by the throat”  He began to do that at a young age, being a child prodigy like Mozart, although not as widely traveled.  His first teacher was his Father, after which he moved on to study with C. G. Neefe before making his way to Vienna, the music capital of the world.

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.”  ~ Beethoven did a ton to advance music, bringing the world into the romantic era.  He was responsible for ensuring the Clarinet’s place in the orchestra.  He also left a great legacy through his students, notable Carl Czerny, who taught Liszt, who taught someone and so on, leading up to almost all of the great pianists of the last century.

“X. is completely changed since I threw half a dozen books at her head. Perhaps something of their contents accidentally got into her head or her wicked heart.” ~ He wasn’t perfect though.  Mme. Nanette Streicher, the wife of the notable piano maker, had to assist him in the running of his household.   He suffered from deafness, as well as bipolar disorder, leading him to vent his frustration at his inept and dishonest housemaids in a hilariously vocal manner.  ~“Whoever tells a lie is not pure of heart, and such a person can not cook a clean soup.”

~”To play without passion is inexcusable!”  Beethoven greatest works are dramatic, intense, and powerful.  He displays a soul not found in many other composers.  His writing is full of sudden sforzandi {which is the plural of sforzando, (sfz.) which means to play a note or chord with extra force.}

~”Continue to be my friend, as you will always find me yours.”  And with this I leave you, dear readers.



The Red Priest

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was intended for the Priesthood, but quickly changed his tune, so to speak, when severe asthma prevented him from saying Mass.  He would go on to arrange the second section of the Mass, the Gloria, three different times. The Latin text runs as follows:

Glória in excélsis Deo et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.  Laudámus te,benedícimus te,adorámus te,glorificámus te,grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis,Deus Pater omnípotens.Dómine Fili Unigénite, Iesu Christe,Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;  qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram. Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.  Quóniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus,Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spíritu: in glória Dei Patris. Amen

The first setting, RV 588,  [*Instead of using opera, (opera is the correct plural of opus) the works of some composers are referenced by the person who cataloged them. RV stands for Ryom-Verzeichnis. Mozart’s works are sorted by K {or KV} numbers, after Ludwig van Köchel. ie, K. 570, KV 491. {incidentally, Opus is Latin for “work.” ] is hardly ever performed. So I won’t say much about it.

The next setting, RV 589 (you know what that means now!) is known simply as “the” Gloria.  It ranks as one of Vivaldi’s most popular works, behind The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni), the suite of four violin concerti found in elevators near you! It is typically sung for the Christmas season, due to the opening line- “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”  I had the privilege of playing my violin in a pit orchestra for a recent production.  Musically, the theme of the Gloria and Quonium tu solus sanctus movements employs a driving and repetitive octave motif, in a ritornello [little return] format.  {Bach was influenced significantly by Vivaldi’s music, though the two never met in person. The use of the ritornello style in the Brandenburg Concertos is a good example.}  Et in Terra Pax is surprisingly minor, but still echoes the peace of the text. The Gloria is arranged for Violins I & II, Viola, Cello, Trumpet, Oboe, and String Bass.



Liebestraume means “Dream of Love” in German, and was originally a song by Franz Liszt written for piano and voice. {Music here}
But Liszt had a (not necessarily) bad habit. He would re-arrange everyone’s music for different instruments, and this included radical embellishing of vocal songs. From Mozart to Mendelssohn, no composer has escaped from having Liszt’s astounding technicality alter and typically ameliorate their pieces. Liszt was one of the most popular performers ever, achieving fame to surpass the Beatles or Micheal Jackson . Women would faint and fight over anything he had touched during his performances, which were incidentally the first piano recitals as we know them. He was the first rockstar ever to flip his shoulder-length hair during performances. Liszt is responsible for the traditions of performers playing from memory, which was considered “arrogant”, even by Chopin, and turning the piano sideways to the audience, so that that they could see all the exaggerated motions, flying fingers, and facial expressions.  The closest pianist we have to Franz today would be  the Chinese virtuoso Lang Lang, who is been nicknamed “Bang Bang” for his pyrotechnical interpretations.

Flutist or Flautist??


J. S. Bach would have had at his disposal the Baroque flute, made usually of wood, in three or four pieces, called at the time the Traverso. It had simply holes, instead of the modern keys. Traversi also had a very low pitch, around A415 or even A392. That was around the usual pitch however, as there was not our modern standard of A at 440 hertz. The Baroque flute has a different timbre than its modern counterpart, sounding lighter, and more like a recorder.  Up until at least some time in Mozart’s life, (1756-1791) flautists were ubiquitous, and notoriously unskilled. The flute was played by everyone, and in tune by almost no one. This was partially due to the poor quality of most flutes of the era, which were made to fit the player’s hand comfortably, rather than the listener’s ears. Most professionals at the time were oboists who played the flute as a second instrument. Nevertheless, Bach wrote many pieces including the flute, most of them with the harpsichord or in a trio. The flute underwent a rise in credibility in the middle 1700s to early 1800s, so it was included in the majority of the major orchestras, and the works of that time. Mozart famously hated the flute as a child, although he went on to write excellent flute concerti, and other works for flute. His most successful opera, Die Zauberflöte. was centered around it. The title and plot  may have been ironic.

I’ll leave you with this quote from him- “What’s worse than a flute? Two flutes!!”

~ W. A. {Johannes Christostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus} Mozart 

Johanna van Beethoven: His Sister-in-law

Johanna van Beethoven: 1786-1869
She married Ludwig van Beethoven’s brother Kasper Anton Karl van Beethoven, and was the mother of Karl Beethoven. When Kasper died, She and Ludwig had a fustian and entangling legal battle for the custody of the then nine-year-old Karl. After appealing back and forth through a myriad of courts, Ludwig emerged the victor. Johanna was a known thief and embezzler, and her son Karl was born three months after her and Kasper’s wedding. (He wasn’t premature.) Beethoven, unsurprisingly had an extremely negative view of Johanna; in a late letter from Sep. 1826 he called her “an extremely depraved person” and described her character as “evil, malevolent, and treacherous.” On various occasions her called her the “Queen of the Night,” referring to the villainess of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. 
Peter Clive, Beethoven and His World; Wikipedia


Prelude in C#m Program Notes

A section- The piece opens with three booming octaves, then introduces the melody with ringing ppp chords.

B section- This portion is marked agitato, Italian for agitated, and has a rushing, descending chromatic melody in triplets. It culminates in a long cadenza that is marked FFF, in alternating LH and RH triplets that transitions back into the main theme.

A1 Section- The conclusion of the piece reprises the central melody, but this time it is Forte Fortissimo, along with an extra voice in each hand. This massive, thundering climax has two chords marked sFFFFz, a quadruple sforzando, which is extraordinarily loud. The masterpiece ends with a slow, sustained chord progression that gradually fades into silence.

~Curtis Baum


Well I started this blog to fulfill a requirement for the Communications Merit Badge. But the most enjoyable way to communicate is through music. Ergo, here I will do that, as well as ramble [read: complain] about my almost constant running in preparation for Cross Country.