Monday, April 27, 2015

Diabelli Project 088 - Percussion Trio

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.

One of the purposes of doing these flash composition sketches is to tap into my creative subconscious. Having to write as much music as possible in 10 minutes without premeditation has really spurred my creativity -- and created some surprises.

This week's effort was another percussion trio -- my third in this series. When I wrote this, I wasn't consciously thinking of the other two fragments (see: Diabelli Project 055 and 075). But they do sort of fit together, especially when I look at the forces involved.

Trio Player 1 Player 2 Player 3
055 5 Timbales Tamborine, Wood Block Cymbal, Gong
078 4 Tympani (F, C#, D, F) Tamborine Snare Drum
088 4 Tympani (F, D, E, F) 4 Timbales Cymbal, Snare Drum

It's possible to have three players cover everything for all three sketches. Here's this week's entry:

(click on image to enlarge)

What happens next? That's up to you. As always, this sketch is offered freely for any and all to use. Just let me know of the results. And just for the record -- when I've completed the Diabelli Project, I'll be returning to this trio of trios and see if they're actually part of a much larger work. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

CCC 130 - Daniele Zanettovich

This week's installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge features Italian composer Daniele Zanettovich. Zanettovich is well-regarded as a composer, conductor, and an arranger. I would characterize Zanettovich's musical style as Italian post-romantic. His original music has strong lyrical, melodies that just seem to sing. His use of harmony is fairly conservative, although his orchestrations owe more to the 1990's than the 1950's.

The Weiner Fantasie is a work based on the music of Johann Strauss II. Although the melodies are quite familiar, Zanettovich skillfully weaves them together in to a cohesive work that, like the Danube, seems to flow from one big tune to the next in a seamless fashion.

Zanettovich'a opera "Marco Polo" in one sense seems a continuation of Puccini's "Turandot." Like Puccini, Zanettovich uses pentatonic patterns to create a sense of the exotic Orient. Unlike Puccini, Zanettovich uses the device subtly. First and foremost is the melody, which is generally tonal, but never trite as these two excerpts demonstrate.

The Flute Concerto "Casanovo" shows Zanettovich's skill in painting a sonic portrait. The music has a playful element to it (as befitting the subject), and is structured to emulate the classical style of Cassanova's era (without slavishly reproducing it). And the music's so tuneful and sunny I think even Jonathan Bastian would be charmed.

Surprisingly, there are no recordings of Daniele Zanettovich available in the United States, either as physical media or digital downloads. I'm not sure why that is. Commercial recordings have been made, obviously. Here's a composer that deserves an audience -- and audiences would find much to like this music, I believe.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Edward Burlingame Hill - Teacher and Composer

Edward Burlingame Hill forms a link in the development of American classical music. He studied under one of the preeminent American composers of the late 19th century, John Knowles Paine at Harvard, In turn, as a Harvard professor himself, taught the next two generations of American composers, including Leonard Bernstein, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra's debut recording presents four of Hill's works written between 1926-1941. It's easy to dismiss Hill as an academic ("those who can't do, teach"), but that's not really fair to Hill or his music.

Listening to this disc without any preconceptions, I heard works that were well-crafted without a trace of stuffy academia. Further, although Hill's music is tonal, he does successfully incorporate Gerswin-like jazz elements, injecting a little fun into the proceedings.

The album opens with Hill's 1926 Divertimento for piano and orchestra. It reminded me quite strongly of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (written just two years before). The difference is approach. Gershwin came from the rough-and-tumble world of Tin Pan Alley, and his rhapsody is a jazz piece cast in a symphonic mold. Hill is classically trained, and his use of jazz elements seems more polite and restrained. (Still, I think prefer Hill's Divertimento to Gershwin's Concerto in F major.)

The two concertinos for piano and orchestra reminded me strongly of similar works by Bohuslav Martinu. Hill's orchestrations are sometimes spare, and there's a strong sense of syncopation and rhythm throughout. The jazz elements are more smoothly integrated into these works.

Hill's Symphony No. 4, completed in 1941 is a good example of American neo-classicism. This 30-minute work follows the general symphonic form, but this is no Brahms knock-off. Once again, Hill's orchestration and strong rhythms reminded me of Martinu. The lush harmonies of the slow movement, though, brought to mind the music of of another mid-century composer -- Eric Korngold. That's not to say Hill is derivative -- he just happened to be writing in a similar vein.

The Austin Symphony Orchestra under Peter Bay is in fine form throughout this recording. The ensemble really digs into this music, presenting it in the best possible light. Anton Nel nimbly runs up and down the keys, making both the jazz and classical sections sound convincing.

Perhaps Edward Burlingame Hill's greatest strength was as a teacher. But these works show he knew his craft. And they provide some fascinating insight into the musical zeitgeist of between-war America.

Edward Burlingame Hill: Divertimento for Piano and Orchestra; Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 47; Concertino No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 36; Concertino No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 44
Austin Symphony Orchestra; Peter Bay, conductor; Anton Nel, piano
Bridge Records 9443