Saturday, December 06, 2008

Seeing The Messiah

We're pleased we have scored tickets to see Graham Abbott's 65th Messiah, this time in Penrith tomorrow. Graham is conducting the Penrith Symphony Orchestra and Penrith City Choir, in the choir's 30th anniversary concert. Graham is a great Australian musician and was the original conductor of the Nepean Choral Society [as the choir was then known] in 1977. Not sure why this is the 30th anniversary concert, but maybe they started late in 1977.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What makes a great musician?

I'm pondering what makes a person one of the greatest musicians. Who do you think is worthy of the title? What criteria do you use?

I'm musing over this in conjunction with running a 6 week course on Handel's music as part of Bathurst U3A.

Was Handel the greatest composer, as Beethoven said?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Andrew Peterson

Justin Taylor has pointed out a great Christian music resource in Andrew Peterson.
If you take yourself to his site, you'll find you can listen online to his great new album Resurrection Letters Volume II. I also thoroughly enjoyed his Christmas album, Behold the Lamb of God.

Thanks Justin. Great music, and great lyrics.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Beethoven's last bagatelle?

Interesting article from yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald
IS THIS Beethoven's last work for piano? The Sydney musicologist Peter McCallum believes it is.

The 32 bars of handwritten musical notation caught his eye when he was studying the composer's last sketchbook in Berlin a couple of years ago. But it has required some detective work to determine what the great composer - whose handwriting was famously chaotic - intended.

"I didn't know it was a piano piece until I actually sat down and tried to write it out," says McCallum. "Beethoven almost never used clefs or key signatures so you have to think about it … but once you do crack the code it's clear."

McCallum, who is associate professor in musicology at the University of Sydney and the Herald's classical music critic, believes the piece was written about October 1826, just a few months before the composer died in March 1827.

"Beethoven always jotted down ideas, it was almost compulsive," he says. "The amount of paper he covered in the last three years of his life was quite amazing. There are a lot of little ideas that crop up that don't go anywhere. But this was more than a little idea. It actually has a right hand and a left hand and it's got phrasing marks and staccato marks in a few places. So it's quite clear it was a complete piece."

Now the pianist Stephanie McCallum has used her husband's transcription to make the first recording of the piece. Bagatelle in F minor is just 54 seconds long and is the final piece on her CD Fur Elise, Bagatelles For Piano By Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Although most of Beethoven's sketchbooks have been studied in detail, the final sketchbook - housed in Berlin's State Library - has attracted little attention.

Although his later works are often seen as spiritual, the fragment has a different quality, says Peter McCallum. "It's slightly melancholy. But it's a pleasant little thing and it's quite easy to play. What I like about it is that a child could enjoy playing it. We could give Fur Elise a rest for a while."

You can listen to the work here

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My love for God and neighbour

Christopher Idle is an Anglican minister, hymn writer, and hymn book editor. He has some interesting things to say about trends in contemporary hymns in his blog for the British hymnbook Praise!
The other day I looked it up again: ‘True hymnwriters have not sought primarily to write hymns, but to know God’. No doubt Margaret Clarkson had in mind the Westminster Catechisms as well as Jeremiah 9 and John 17. Who is she? I must tell you next time. But that opening quote is this month’s text. Someone else said, ‘It’s much easier to write hymns than to love God.’ The next step: it’s easier to sing ‘I love you, Lord’, than to do it.

Recently I tried to survey what we actually sing about loving God. It is after all the most important command of all. Please excuse me if you have already come across my findings. Without reprinting it all here, it seems that from Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley up to about 1970, we expressed that love in terms of wistful longing, conscious failure, lukewarmness, half-heartedness, and the desire to love him more. (As you may have noticed if you subscribe to Evangelicals Now, monthly, or the quarterly Bulletin of the Hymn Society. Anyway, up to then it was ‘my love for him, so faint and poor’.)

Soon after 1970, everything changed. We were now all telling God how very much we did love him, to the accompaniment of suitable or unsuitable but certainly repeated music. We did not always say why, but we did, apparently. There are exceptions to this broad summary, but the main trend and the seventies turnaround are unmistakable.
I draw no conclusions here. But a friend challenged me to do something similar with the command that Jesus insisted on adding: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ For two reasons, I haven’t yet succeeded.
One, it would be a needle-and-haystack job.
Two, that to pose the question is to know the answer. Even if we can trace the ‘Love of neighbour’ hymns through the indexes which your church’s hymn-book (music edition) will have, who among us could stand and sing with tremendous gusto or even Holy Spirit anointing, this new worship-song:
O how I love you, my dear, dear neighbour;
I just feel in my heart
the overflowing, ever-growing, never-going love that’s just for you!
You are so beautiful, you are quite wonderful, you’re simply adorable;
this love so free has just taken over me!

Have you come across that? Probably not because, to be fair, I have only just written it. It hasn’t even got any music yet, so come on, lads, give it a go. Which leads me to ask, If I can be so sure that I love God so much, why am I far too coy, reticent, humble or realistic to say I love my neighbour? Or my brother, sister or enemy? As we all know, anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.’

Ah well. As some Anglicans get as far as muttering through gritted teeth most Sunday mornings: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’.
Chris Idle

Friday, August 22, 2008

Well, not exactly the Dance of the Blessed Spirits

I forgot to say that the piece Ms Kolesova played was not exactly The Dance of the Blessed Spirits, but Sgambati's arrangement of a Melody from Orfeo, by Gluck.

Concert and after-concert

Last night we went to the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre to hear Tatiana Kolesova perform a magnificent program of Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Haydn and Stravinsky.

Tatiana is 23 years of age and is the second-place winner in the 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition.

We especially loved the Pletnev version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, the stupendous virtuosic movements from Petrouchka and the Haydn Sonata in G minor.

But the three encores were also wonderful. Tatiana played a piece that sounded like it was Gershwin, but was actually a Kapustin Intermezzo. (I hope ABC Classic FM keeps the track onsite, so you can hear it!)

She then played Chopin's Revolutionary Etude in C Minor spectacularly, and ended with a piece we were all pondering. My wife, as usual, came up with the goods. Joan said it was Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits, but this didn't ring true to me, because I was thinking of the opening, and had forgotten the middle of the work.

So when we got home, I Youtubed the Gluck and made a wonderful discovery, which wasn't only that Joan was right again ... You know what they say
Two rules to help you save time
1. Your wife is correct
2. If in doubt, refer to rule 1.

In Youtubing the piece, we found two terrific performers: Dominique and Valerie Kim, aged 12 and 10. We spent the next hour sampling .the 68 videos they have put up at Youtube. After that we looked at some other child prodigies, but found none to match these two musicians.

If you go hunting, you will find a five year old performing a Mozart piano concerto movement with a small ensemble, someone who is about 10 or 12 playing Ravel's Jeux d'Eau and other stuff. But Dominique and Valerie can not only play the notes, but make music out of them, too.

They are not flawless, but they are wonderfully musical.

Neta Maughan's 70th

We attended a wonderful evening in Hunter's Hill [Sydney] on 9th August, 2008, which was a surprise party to celebrate Neta Maughan's 70th birthday. Neta has taught some amazing students over the past 40 years or so, even including us. [Not that we are amazing in any way.]

The concert featured sensational performances by Neta's daughter Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Simon Tedeschi, Reomi Mito, Kathryn Lambert and others and also featured a whimsical parody of Tea for Two by Stephen Healey, a friend of ours from our days at Newcastle Conservatorium, but whom we had not seen since. Thirty-four years ago.

What was special about Stephen's song was that it was all about Miss Maughan's weekly visits to Newcastle which most people at the celebration would not have known anything about. And when Stephen talked about students he remembered from back then, Joan got a mention.

It was fun talking with him during the mealbreak, and hearing him introduce Joan as "Joan Sims." She hadn't heard anyone do that in over 34 years! But I'm glad she shares my name and didn't stick with the old one.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sneak Preview

If you click on the link above, locate the hypertext word here, and right click on it, you can save and then listen to a track from Zoe Black and Daniel McKay's new violin and guitar duo cd, which will be shortly available from MOVE records. You can also read about it at the above location.

We think the released track is terrific, but we would say that, wouldn't we?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wrong number

I was trying to ring a friend to confirm a dinner date and accidentally rang the number of someone else I know, or more correctly, know of, completely randomly.

No, I won't tell you Andrew McKeich's mobile number, but I will tell you he has been a producer of some of Australia's most lovely recordings, including some terrific CDs of Tamara Anna Cislowska, Roger Woodward, Gareth Koch, Emma Matthews and others.

This is the first time I've stumbled on the phone number of someone I revere: it's usually just someone who lives round the corner.

You can purchase Tamara Anna's CDs at the ABC shop, repackaged and at an amazingly cheap price.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

With his boots on

I listened occasionally to John Cargher's Singers of Renown and enjoyed it every time I listened. Producing a program for 42 years continuously is a great effort. We have people in Bathurst who have produced programs for 30 years on 2MCE-FM, the station where Jacinta Tynan, Andrew Denton and several other distinguished Aussie broadcasters began, but I don't know of anyone else who has kept it up as long as John.

The one program I remember is one in which he passionately promoted Phantom of the Opera, the then new opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. A ninety minute trip from Katoomba to Parramatta passed very quickly.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Luther's Tavern Songs

In the interesting Briefing focussing on singing in church, Gordon Cheng cited the myth that Martin Luther appropriated drinking songs for Christian hymns. As far as can be known, Luther once used a secular tune for his hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" but later rejected it because of its worldly associations. But the origin of this very popular and persistent notion seems to be based on a misunderstanding of the musical form known as the "bar tune." Many Lutheran chorales are in the form AAB, which is called "bar form." It has nothing to do with taverns, but means the song has two sections using the same musical phrase, ending with a second tune. Richard Lammert, Concordia Theological Seminary librarian explains this in his article Did Luther Use A Drinking Song as the Basis for A Mighty Fortress is our God?

If anyone knows a way of dispelling this myth forever, do it, do it, do it!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Larry Norman at 60

This article by Philip Cooney is well worth reading. If you have heard of Larry Norman, you have just confirmed my suspicions: you are a fellow oldie! If you haven't, reading Phil's article will whet your appetite for listening to his great songs, I hope.

I got my first Larry Norman LP on loan from Maxine McKew's second cousin, Laura, who was one of my guitar students in Brisbane. [Yes, I know I can hardly play the guitar, but I got away with it for a few years while eking out an existence at Kenmore Christian College i the late 70s.]

The remastered version of the LP is fabulous and includes quite a few extra tracks, all interesting.

Phil's article is in the online version of The Briefing called The Longing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ten Great Hymns Every Christian Should Know

Here are ten great hymns I think every Christian should know:
He Who Would Valiant Be
Words: Dearmer, after John Bunyan, in The English Hymnal, 1906
Music: Monks Gate, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams
accessed from Australian Churches of Christ Hymn Book, 458

Jesus is All the World to Me

also known as
He's My Friend
Words and music by Will Thompson, 1904
accessed from A C C H B, 114

All People That On Earth do Dwell
Words ascribed to William Kethe
Tune: The Old Hundredth
Music: Louis Bourgeois
[from Four Score and Seven Psalms of David, published in Geneva, Switzerland, 1561, or 1551]
accessed from The New Church Hymnal, published by Lexicon, 1976, 277

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Words: Horatius Bonar, 1846
Music: Vox Dilecti by John B Dykes, 1868
[wonderful tune, which changes mode from minor to major as we get to the second half of each verse, wonderfully creating a musical picture of the change Jesus makes when we come to him]
Alternative tune: Kingsfold, folksong collected and arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

What A Friend We Have In Jesus
Words: Joseph M Scriven, 1855
Music: Charles C Converse, 1868
Alternative tune: Blaenwern by William P Rowlands, 1905
accessed from Churches of Christ Hymn Book, 429

Soldiers of Christ Arise
Words: Charles Wesley, 1741 [in Character of a Methodist]
Tune: From Strength to Strength, by E W Naylor
accessed from A C C H B, 444

My Song is Love Unknown
Words: Samuel Crossman in The Young Man' Meditation, 1664
Tune: Love Unknown, John Ireland, 1918
accessed from Together in Song, 341
alternative tune: Calkin [also known as St John] by John Calkin, 1887
accessed from A C C H B, 135

Jesus, Lover of my Soul
Words: Charles Wesley, 1740
Tune: Aberystwyth [also known as Parry], Joseph Parry, 1879
Words accessed from A C C H B, 315
Music accessed from Together in Song, 211

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
Words: John Newton, 1779 from Olney Hymns, which he co-authored with William Cowper [pronounced Cooper]
Music: St Peter [also known as Reinagle] by Alexander Reinagle, 1836
accessed from A C C H B,440

Be Thou My Vision
Words: Dallan Forgaill, 8th century AD in Ireland, translated by Mary Byrne, 1905 and versified by Eleanor Hull, 1912.
Tune: Slane, of Irish folk origin, harmonised by David Evans, 1927
accessed from Together in Song, 547

If you are able to read music, it is wonderful to be able to sing [and play, if you can] through some of the old hymns which have stood the test of time.
You can find more information about these hymns at Cyber Hymnal