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Friday, March 16, 2018

Something for Friday

Sorry I didn't get around to posting yesterday, but here is a bit of film music from a movie that is one of the better ones out there at depicting the sense of wonder and grandeur in the universe that science can illuminate. The film is Contact, and I offer this in memory of Stephen Hawking, who died the day before yesterday (on Pi Day, and Albert Einstein's birthday, for a couple of odd synchronicities). Hawking was a complicated person, as most are, but his contributions to science cannot be diminished. He is now one of the "Giants" upon whose shoulders future generations will stand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Three One Four

It's Pi Day, everyone!

It is also Albert Einstein's birthday and, sadly, this year's edition marks the passing of Stephen Hawking, about which I'll have more to say later. But for now, let's celebrate Pi!

Calculate Pi yourself!

NASA's Pi in the Sky Challenge

A few videos:

(That one's titled "Pi Day" but the video has nothing to do with Pi so far as I can see, but it's a cool video anyway, so there it is.)

And finally:

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

Film music is often rearranged by the composers into suites that make for better performance in concert settings, and this is one of the better ones. I had this performance on a cassette tape many moons ago, but I never was able to track it down on CD...and then I happened to find it on Google Play the other day. Lo and behold, here it is on YouTube: a suite of John Williams's music to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducted by Zubin Mehta. This was recorded way back in 1978, before Mehta made his name in a big way as music director of the New York Philharmonic.


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Something for Thursday

In honor of Roger's birthday, in which he turned 65, here is Camille Saint-Saens's Septet for piano, trumpet, and strings. Why this piece? Because it's Saint-Saens's Opus 65!

Happy birthday, Roger!

(It was actually yesterday, but I couldn't do Something for Thursday on Wednesday. That's just not done.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

There's always something fascinating about obscure Beethoven. You can't help listening to it, trying to find hints of the staggering genius that would craft some of the greatest works of art in human history, and not just musical art. You can hear Beethoven's style in this piece, and even though it is fairly obscure (coming from a longer work with choral movements, where only the overture is much heard today), you can still hear the great master within it.

Here is the Overture to King Stephen by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Something for Thursday

Play enough marches in band in high school and college and they get into your blood. I heard this one on the radio yesterday, and while I've known it for years via recordings, I never played it that I can recall. It's The Florentiner March by Julius Fucik, a Czech composer who is best known for his marches, and in the United States for one march in particular, Entry of the Gladiators, which was appropriated by circuses throughout the country. Florentiner is the one I prefer, though. Fucik's output of waltzes, marches, galops, and polkas makes him something of a Czech answer to Vienna's Strauss family, and his concentration on the brass and wind bands in his compositions makes him something of a Czech answer to John Philip Sousa.

Florentiner is interesting in its structure: it starts out full military brass pomp, complete with opening fanfare and then two strains of pleasing martial tunes. But when we get to the trio, the march takes a deeply lyrical turn, and by the end it's pretty much singing its heart out.

Here is the Florentiner March by Julius Fucik.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

The business of transcription is an interesting one. This is where works that are written for one instrument or group of instruments (or even voices) is rewritten, usually by a different composer than the original, for a different instrument or group of instruments (or, yes, even voices). There are many examples in the classical literature, so while it might sound vaguely disrespectful at first, in truth it is a very common and very old practice. One famous example is JS Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, originally written for organ but later orchestrated in a very famous version by Leopold Stokowski (and recorded for the Disney film Fantasia). Pachelbel's Canon in D has been transcribed for nearly every instrument grouping that you can find, and musicians in wind ensembles and concert bands throughout the country are well acquainted with orchestral transcriptions of music. Some such transcriptions are very fine works in their own right, and provide good opportunities for young musicians to get exposed to some of the great orchestral repertoire or give more honed, experienced musicians something to really dig into.

Here's a piece I heard on the radio today, but not in the transcription that I heard! Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote in 1957 a piece called Variations for Brass Band. This was to be the main 'test piece' at the big competition of British brass bands, which are a pretty unique pleasure in themselves. In addition to their own pieces, there was one work that every band had to perform as part of their overall scoring, and in 1957, it was this by Vaughan Williams. The version I heard today was this same piece rewritten for full orchestra...but the version I'm featuring here is another transcription, this one for full wind ensemble. (A brass band, clearly, has no woodwinds.) The piece was apparently not terribly well-received in its original form, as it is not much of a brass band "showpiece", with almost no opportunities for a band's solo performers to shine. But I found its orchestral version fairly compelling, and I was interested to see that there's yet another version floating around.

Here are the Variations for Wind Band by Ralph Vaughan Williams, transcribed from the original brass band work by Donald Hunsberger.