Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Different Voices

Have you come across Debbie Wiseman's Different Voices? Promoted as a new Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, it has much more in common with Peter and the Wolf. It is performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer and narrated by Stephen Fry and features Hayley Westenra singing the theme song throughout the work. I haven't tried it out on any children yet, but we adults like it. It is about 50 minutes long, so it is quite a bit longer than Peter and the Wolf.

It is a worthy member of the Music Introducing Children to Classical Music Club. The CD number is NAXOS 8.572022

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bach lives

Today is the 324th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, surely the most remarkable musician the world has known. Two years ago today I won an episode of The Einstein Factor, with this great man as my special subject.

This morning I listened to part of one of his many church cantatas, Cantata BWV 181 Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister, whose opening words in English have been translated as
Frivolous flibbertigibbets
deprive themselves of the Word's strength.
Belial with his brood
also seeks to prevent it
from being of service.

I was interested to read some comments by Andras Schiff in The World of Pianos: fascination with an instrument, published by Bechstein.
I cannot love Wagner, because he disgusts me. He was certainly a great composer, but I hear his human character and his egotism in each measure of his music. Self-centredness in art disturbs me a great deal ...

For me Bach is the greatest composer because he was so unconcerned with himself and deeply religious. It is like the men who built the great cathedrals during the Renaissance. Today we do not know who these people were. They worked to achieve a higher goal and not to immortalise themselves. That conforms to my ideal of art.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fading away

About eight years ago, I participated in a research project investigating people with perfect pitch. [This is the ability to hear a sound and to know the pitch of it.]

I was told that Australian research suggests that babies are born with this facility, and recognise their mother's voice not just by timbre, but pitch as well. In time, this fades as this method of recognition is no longer necessary.

However some people who begin music lessons at an early age retain the ability to hear a sound and to know its pitch.

But I was also told that as people get older, this ability is not as acute. I have noticed this to be true and have sometimes heard a recording and been thinking in, say A flat major, when the piece of music is being transmitted in A major.

When I was younger this didn't happen and when I was played a gramophone recording for an aural test, if the record was playing too fast, and I was told to write my answer in E major, but it came across as F major, I would find this disturbing and would have to write it out in F and then transpose.

I was playing in India in 1973 on a piano that had been tuned a semitone sharp and I found this most distressing and had a hard time keeping on keeping on [as my father used to say, quoting the Berger Paint advertisement].

But yesterday at James and Therese's wedding, the string players and trumpeter all noticed that the pipe organ I was playing was very sharp when they tuned their instruments. I was blissfully unaware of this until it was obvious by listening to the violinist tuning.

But it has advantages, because I can now play a flat or sharp instrument without having to do mental gymnastics to match what I hear with what I play.

All you need is ears

... and a friendly bank manager, or maybe a very rich uncle.

On the back page of last week's Sydney Morning Herald TV guide there is a Len Wallis Audio advertisement. I've been reading these ads for years. The shop sells high-end audio and I always wonder how many units they sell, as the stuff sounds like it should be terrific, but pricey.

But last week's ad takes the cake. It is promoting Grande Utopia III speakers. They are so good, the ad says, that everything else you've heard so far is a murmur. The speakers are 2 metres tall and weigh 260 kg each. They cost $269,000 a pair and are worth every cent!

I'm wondering what your total outlay for your hifi system would be, if the speakers alone cost more than any house I've ever bought!

I'm guessing they sound pretty amazing, but I'm wondering if I could tell the difference from say a $4,000 pair.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mozart? Schmozart!

People rabbit on about Mozart as a child prodigy, and it's true. He was. But check out the earliest compositions of Chopin, born on St David's Day, 1st March, 1810. He wrote amazingly technical piano works [which was all he did write] at the age of 7. Much more demanding than Wolfie's first efforts.