Monday, December 22, 2014

Diabelli Project 071 - Piece for Solo Violin

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

There's a reason why composers use the violin so much. It's an amazingly versatile instrument with a huge range, the ability to play more than one note simultaneously, and has an expansive repertoire of string techniques to create widely disparate sounds (think: harmonics).

No, I don't take advantage of all of those things in this week's sketch -- but I did keep in mind the violin's singing quality as I wrote. (click on image to enlarge).

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Friday, December 19, 2014

CCC 121 - Jan Segers

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge is rather unusual. I'm continually searching for composers to add to the series. I ran across Jan Segers's name in a list, which is usually my starting point. I then went to YouTube to audition his music.

It definitely fit the criteria (a living composer writing tonally-based music), so I tried to research Segers' background -- and hit a wall. Unlike most other composers I've profiled, neither Segers nor any of his publishers have any significant information about him online There's not even a Wikipedia entry!

I can tell you that Belgian composer Jan Segers was born in 1929, and seems to have specialized in band and wind ensemble music. Some of his works are used as competition pieces, and a few (judging by their frequency on YouTube) are popular repertoire choices.

Flashes for Band has all the characteristics of a Segers composition. It opens with strong, triadic chords interspersed with more complex harmonies (with added 7ths and 9ths) for contrast. Pop-inspired melodies abound, making this a fun work to listen to (as well as to play, I suspect).

Suite is a more advanced work. There are still some triadic fanfares, but the canonic treatment of the meloodic material presents more of a challenge for the players.

Conclusions has a nice, full-bodied ensemble sound. Segers understands -- and exploits -- the full potential of the wind ensemble.

Most band directors stick with the tried and true, and that's too band. Many contemporary composers have written challenging and engaging works for wind ensemble that deserve to be performed. Jan Segers, man of mystery (at least to me), is one such example!

Recommended Recordings

Essay for Horn and Band - Jan Segers (Horn: André Van Driessche)

Conclusion - Jan Segers

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boris Papandopulo - Croatian Masterworks

Boris Papandopulo: Concerto for Piano and string Orchestra No.2; Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, Op. 79; Pintarichiana for String Orchestra
Oliver Triendl, piano; Zagreb Soloists; Sreten Krstic, conductor

Boris Papandopulo was one of most prolific composers in Croatia, with over 440 works in his catalog. And thanks to a new release from CPO, his music might gain the wider audience they deserve.

Papandopulo (1906-1999) eschewed the atonal revolution of the 20th century, and instead developed his own form of tonal composition. To my ears, his music resembles that of Hindemith and Martinu -- two other composers who took a similar path and were also quite prolific. And like Hindemith and Martinu, Papandopulo composed highly expressive music of quality. And just as Martinu's music betrays its Czech origins, Papandopulo's also contains some Croatian folk elements, particularly in its syncopated rhythms.

This can best be heard in the Piano Concerto No. 2 for piano and string orchestra. This is a straight-forward, no-nonsense work. It seems a collaborative effort between soloist and ensemble. Sure, there's plenty for the the pianist to do (and Oliver Triendl makes it sound easy), but the orchestra keeps things moving along. Motives are swapped back and forth, the ensemble sometimes comments on the piano's melodic embellishments. All in all a joyous work that very much reminded me of Martinu's piano concertos.

The Sinfonietta for String Orchestra Op. 79 is a little bit heavier emotionally, and contains some fine writing for strings. I think it would make an excellent companion piece to Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony."

The short Pintarichiana for strings is an homage to 19th century Croation composer Fortunat Pintaric. Papandopulo quotes Pintaric melodies, making this a neo-classical work along the lines of Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" (without the angularity), or Resphighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances" (without the full orchestra).

By most accounts Boris Papandopulo was a cheerful soul, and all three works on this album seem permeated with a good-natured spirit. This release left me wanting to further explore Papandopulo's catalog.