Tag Archives: Classical

Takemitsu: Ma (間) in Music

Tōru Takemitsu was born in Tokyo 1930, being drafted into military service in 1944 as a teenager.

Post war Takemitsu started taking interest in Western classical music, at this point in life he rejected Japanese traditional music as it reminded him of Japanese nationalism and war.

Ma used in painting

At 16 Takemitsu started to compose. In the 1951s he was a founding member of Jikken Kōbō (実験工房) literally experimental workshop, a group of artists, musicians, choreographers and poets who were inspired by European and American avant-garde, during the 1950’s he was composing in a very modern western style.

ピアニストのためのコロナ – Corona for Pianist(s) 

for 1 or more pianos – 1962

In 1958 Igor Stravinsky during his visit to Japan, heard one of his compositions and invited him to lunch, this was a breakthrough and he soon got his first overseas commission, he wrote “Dorian Horizon”. Premièred by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Aaron Copland.

In his own words: “my mild protest against inorganic serialism.”….”no melodic thinking, only harmonic pitches. There is no thinking of rhythm, only pulse. It is a first sketch in my search for a new kind of polyphony.”

地平線のドーリア – Dorian Horizon – for 17 strings – 1966

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Takemitsu took interest in John Cage’s music and philosophies, Cage’s interest in Zen woke his own interests in the qualities of Japanese traditional music, from this point he started studying traditional music and compose with hints of traditional Japan.

ノヴェンバー・ステップス – November Steps – 1967

for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra

Ma (間) is a Japanese word, literally meaning (the) space (between ), the kanji is a combination of “door” and “sun” which can be interpreted as the space allowing the sunshine in. The use of Ma is very evident in Tōru Takemitsu compositions as periods of silence to strengthen the music.


And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind  – for flute, viola and harp – 1992

Tōru Takemitsu died in 1996 as one of, if not the most influential Japanese composers of the century.

Leaving behind more than 400 works, amongst them 26 Orchestral works, 58 pieces of Chamber music, 35 works for the stage and 108 film scores, most famous the music for Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran”.

ブライス – Bryce – for flute, 2 harps and 2 percussion players – 1976



Dora Pejačević

Maria Theodora Paulina Pejačević was born 1885 in Budapest daughter of Count Teodor Pejačević and Baroness Lilla Vay de Vaya.

Pejačević, Dora

Usually refered to as Dora Pejačević or Pejacsevich, more or less self-taught in music the talented girl started to compose at the age of twelve, later she recived some private education in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich.

During her travels, Dora came to know some of the leading artists and intellectuals of the time and she was also interested in politics seemingly not comfortable with the attitude of the high class into which she was born.

Dora volunteered as a nurse helping the wounded soldiers in first world war, after the war she became increasingly critical of her class. She wrote to a friend: “I simply cannot understand how people can live without work and how many of them do, especially the higher aristocracy . . . . I despise them because of this.”

In 1921, Dora married Ottomar von Lumbe, a military officer seven years her junior. They settled in Munich, where Dora became pregnant with their first child. Four weeks after giving birth, Dora Pejačević died from kidney failure. True to her beliefs, she refused to be buried in the family crypt and requested a stone with just the words “Dora Rest Now”. Instead of flowers at the funeral she wanted money for the families of poor musicians.

Dora composed a considerable amount of work over her short lifetime , mostly in late-Romantic style, songs, piano works, chamber music and compositions for large orchestra. Her Symphony in F-sharp minor is considered the first modern symphony in Croatian music.

The Three String Double Bass

Usually when I think of bass as a solo instrument what pop up will be the modern Jazz bassist, especially Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke, there are also a few very good solo bassist rooted in rock, my favorite clearly Tony Levin.

And there are even entire albums dedicated only to the Bass, as an example Marcin Oles – Ornette On Bass from 2003. Marcin Oles is a Polish bass player, composer and record producer born in 1973. He has released several albums since 1999 sometimes solo, sometimes with others, often involving his brother Bartłomiej “Brat” Oleś.

Well that was a long introduction to something quite different.

As the main object of all this talk lead back almost 200 hundred years, back to 1835 and the day when Pietro Bottesini got a scholarship for his son Giovanni. Pietro was himself a skilled Clarinet player and Romantic Era Composer, some of his works is if not famous, then at least recognized and recorded.

I was wondering of again ! back to Giovanni.

Giovanni had received some education in violin but the scholarship in Milan there was only bassoon or double bass vacant, Giovanni decided to go for the Bass.

Form here the stone was rolling he soon got an offer to join the opera house in Havana, touring the united states sometimes with appearances as a soloist. 1849 was his debut in London to great success and form here his fame lead him to every corner of Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Buenos Aires, Mexico etc, he met Giuseppe Verdi in Venice, and they became lifelong friends

At this point (1849) Bottesini had completed quite a large number of compositions, many of his famous compositions for the double bass were if not finished then written in “first” version.

Bottesini was in favour of Three Strings of pure gut, at the time some places used mostly four and even five strings, such as Germany. France had just accepted the four strings as standard. Italy, England and Spain, etc. were still using three strings, England was one of the last places to change, as three strings were rather common until the first world war.

Bottesini bought his bass in 1839, an instrument made in 1716 by Carlo Antonio Testore in Milan, the eldest son of Carlo Giuseppe. According to Thomas Martin (see note) it was originally a four string instrument transformed to three strings.

It is so sad to know that we will never the able to enjoy Bottesini’s performances, he must have been no less than fabulous, nicknames “the Paganini of the double bass” without doubt evolving the bass technique and reform the use of double bass as a solo instrument.

Never the less Bottesini saw himself mainly as a composer, who also played bass or conducted. His style of composing was not ground breaking although he was successful with his operas, but it is his solo works for the double bass that stands out, still standard repertoire for the double bassists.

This is played on an original three stringed period instrument

Note: I usually won’t mention my sources, as that would often be a boring journey, but in this case I would like to mention that I have read and truly enjoyed reading this article by Thomas Martin of Thomas and George Martin Violin Makers.

Emilie Mayer – Classical female composers – Part five

Emilie Luise Friderica Mayer 1812-1883. Was born in Friedland, in the north-eastern part of Germany. She began her serious music studies relative late, when she moved to Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1841, and started to study composition with Carl Loewe a very popular composer and opera singer in Stettin at the time.

In 1847, after the premiere of her first two symphonies, she moved to Berlin to continue her studies. Once in Berlin, she studied fugue and double counterpoint with Adolph Bernhard Marx, music theorist, professor of music at Berlin University and later one of the founders of the Berlin Stern conservatory, and instrumentation with musical conductor and composer Wilhelm Wieprecht, famous for his compositions of military music.

In 1850, Wieprecht led his orchestra in a concert at the Royal Theatre exclusively presenting compositions by Emilie Mayer. With critical and popular acclaim, she continued composing Works for most of her lifetime.

The list of her work is long with 8 Symphonies, 7 Overtures, 1 Opera, 1 Piano Concert and numerous piano solo pieces, violin sonates , cello sonates, piano trios and quartet, string quartet and quintets ect.

Her 5. and 8. Symphonie and her 5. and 7. Overture is presumably lost. 

Daphnis et Chloé

Joseph-Maurice Ravel (1875 –1937) was one of the most influential composers of the early twentieth century, often like Debussy related to what was called music impressionism, a term both of them disliked, calling it the invention of the critics.
Ravel cannot be “classified” stylistically to belong to any particular genre, he flirted with many aspects of music and was influenced by many sources, classics like Bach and Mozart, Spanish Folk, and even American Jazz and Blues.

One of Ravel major works, is “Daphnis et Chloé”, a ballet written for the The Ballets Russes, who had major success in Paris at the time. At around 55 minutes “Daphnis et Chloé” is Ravel’s longest work, and it is scored for a large orchestra.
Ravel began work on the score in 1909 and it premiered June 8, 1912. Its impact was not impressive at the time, at least in comparison with Stravinsky’s L’Oiseau de feu and Petrouchka, performed the previous two seasons of the Ballets Russes.
But Daphnis et Chloé had its great success in concerts performances, and Ravel extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites, without chorus.

L’histoire du soldat

Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), written in collaboration with the Swiss author C.F. Ramuz, was based on a Russian fairytale about a fiddle-playing soldier. The music I supposed to be accompanied by a narrator and dancers, but could also be performed as a concert suite. L’histoire du soldat was premiered in 1918. The story is a Faustian fable about a soldier and the Devil who eventually possesses his soul by persuading him to sell his fiddle in return of a book. The soldier’s violin becomes a symbol of the soldier’s soul. The book represents materialism.

L’histoire du soldat (The music without a narrator)

Composed during wartime, with its limited finances, Stravinsky took it down to its essentials, as oppose his famous ballets, The Soldier’s Tale is scored for just seven instruments: clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion.

English Version preformed as a stage play with narrator.

The story is based on an Old Russian tale, but the music is far from Russian traditionalism. Stravinsky uses tango, marches, waltz and even the new modern jazz, in his scores. Even though he had never actually heard Jazz, Stravinsky was familiar with it from scores, he got from his friend Ernest Ansermet, who was one of the first in the field of classical music to take jazz seriously.

The intriguing Scriabin Mysterium

One of the most innovative composers in the transition between Romanticism and Modern classical music was Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin. Starting out as a late romantic composer inspired mainly by Chopin, but from 1903 he becomes increasingly dissonant, and in his later (1907-1915) period his works becomes almost atonal, based on unusual cord structures and innovative chromatic effects.

Symphony No. 3 (1902-1904)

Scriabin was into mysticism, and very philosophical in his understanding of the world and his music. In notebooks he made complex diagrams, explaining his philosophical intension and the relation to his understanding of music. He had a color system, relating to tones and keys. In the extreme of his mysticism, for years, he was working on a last enormous piece called Mysterium. This seven-day-long work should be performed as a multimedia event with dance, lights and more, at the foot of the Himalayas, after which the world would dissolve. “a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world”.

Mysterium: Prefatory “Part 1” (between 1903-1915)

Scriabin was very popular in Russia, and very influential amongst the composers of his time, highly regarded as one of the most important modern composers up to the times of Stalinism. In the West however he was mostly dismissed as unimportant, and it seems his “wild” ideas, blocked for appreciation of his musical genius, however that has all changed and today Scriabin ranks amongst the most important composers from the turn of the century, performed and recorded all over the world.

Le Poème de l’extase (1905-1908)

Scriabin noted special light effects to be arranged to his music, predicting the invention of special effects and lightshows in the late 1960’s by Pink Floyd and others.

Sonata No 9 Op. 68 ‘Black Mass’ .( 1912–1913)

Romanticism, Modernism and beyond.

Edvard Grieg, Violin Sonata No. 2 (1867)

You may ask the question, why mix romanticism with modernism, aren’t those supposed to be oppositions. Yes and no, to some extend one was a reaction to the other, but historically they fall within the birth of modern times, growing industrialism, political radical changes, brand new approach to art in general, and a rapid innovation in technologi and science all began in the 1800’s.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888)

The shift in economy, with a growing middle class, changed the fundaments of music, where the classic era composers was normaly writing for a patron, the romantic era composer was writing for public performance , opening a new freedom of expression. Unrestrained emotional expression was the goal of the romantic period, and no means was left unchallenged to reach the goal, incorporating new elements and new methods, into classical music, new forms like preludes and nocturnes, and new use of chromatic structures, added cords, non-standard time signatures and new chord progressions.

Gabriel Fauré – Elegie (1883), known to be one of the last French pieces written in a Romantic style. Fauré would later compose in a styles highly radical and modern.

The romantic period in music, happened during turbulent times, and composers was laying down the ground works, which would pave the way into our modern understanding of music. As the other arts would experiment in all directions into the 20’s century, so would classical music.

Gabriel Fauré – Une châtelaine en sa tour (1918)

Every thinkable boundary would be broken, and every possible source of sound would be explored, in the years to come. The very notion of what constitutes “music” was to be redefined, in classical music as well as in experimental forms of Jazz, Rock and Electronic music.

Contemporary Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth : Vampyrotheone


Hidden 80′s Gems – Part 5 1985

1985 hmm….quite a few good albums, but not much I feel like writing about today, may get back to some of them later. Like Kate’s Hounds of Love, The Sun City Project or Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers “The Firm”. Might have picked Art Zoyd’s “Le Mariage Du Ciel Et De L’Enfer”, but I did not, because I want to make a series about the RIO/Avant movement later.
What I will do instead, is point the light in a completely new direction, look at one of the notable modern composers in classical music, the minimalistic mastermind, Steve Reich.

“New York Counterpoint” for amplified clarinet and tape, or 11 live clarinets and bass clarinet, was written in 1985, intended to capture the rapid beat of life on Manhattan. The Piece consists of 3 movements.

Reich cites J.S. Bach, Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky as composers to have influenced him. Two of the earliest influences on his work from Jazz, were vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Alfred Deller.
He is noted to have influenced, American composer John Coolidge Adams. Progressive rock musicians Brian Eno, and Robert Fripp, Avant-garde band Residents, Post rockers “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” and many other experimental and electronic musicians.

Amy Beach – Classical female composers – Part four

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach 1867-1944, was an American composer and pianist. She was the first successful American female composer of classical music for larger orchestras. A remarkable child, she was able to sing 40 tunes by age one; she could improvise a countermelody to any melody her mother sang by age two and began composing simple waltzes at five years old. She gave her first public performance at age 7, including works by Handel, Beethoven, and Chopin.

After marrying, she reduced her number of public performances, out of respect for her husband’s wishes, and turned her concentration to composition. Beach’s compositional style was late Romantics. She was disciplined in her composition, often producing massive amounts of music in a matter of days.

Several of Beach’s compositions were commissioned for events and organizations, including the dedication of the Women’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, the International Exposition in San Francisco and the San Francisco Chamber Music Society. The range of commissions indicates that interest in Beach’s music was not limited to the Boston area. In fact, many consider her to be the most successful American female composer.