Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spam Roundup July, 2013

Spam's a fact of Internet life. But they sometimes can provide some unintentional humor. Here's a selection of some of the best(?) spam I've received this past month. My comments are bracketed.

Thanks for sharing such a nice idea, post is good, thats why i have read it fully
[You're fully welcome.]

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[Well, I was going to suggest in English, however...]

Posted to an article about a vintage Lionel train set:
I'm french, it's a terrific remedy, thanks!
[Non sequitur means the same in any language -- even French]

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commented at this place, I am really enjoying by these.

[Apparently you can't be a spammer without using the word fastidious -- incorrectly.]

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[It's not always about you.]

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[I'm sorry, what?]

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[That's overpro for short.]

So if you can maintain your excellent enthusiasm, I promise more overly professional posts -- and we'll see what comments they generate next month!

The monthly spam roundup

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 9

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 9 brought back a character that has been in the sequence before -- and I still can't identify. But I'm still researching...


Winnie Winkle changed hairstyles over the years. In the final decades of her comic strip's run Winnie sported a straight-haired pageboy cut. Scancarelli has consistently referenced the earlier depictions of characters who were drawn by difference artists over the years. Based on that assumption, I'm pretty confident that the blonde is indeed Winnie Winkle as drawn by Martin Branner, the originator.



1. Unknown

2. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
3. Winnie Winkle- Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner (1920-1996) by Martin Branner
4. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Diabelli Project - Contrapunctus XVIII by J. Lee Graham

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

Joseph Lee Graham, a composer currently based in Wichita, Kansas has once again taken up the challenge. He had previously used one of my posted themes as the basis for a three-part counterpoint (Contrapunctus XVI by J. Lee Graham). A good portion of his catalog (including some of his Contrapunctus series) has been posted by Graham on Soundcloud.

This time Mr. Graham found inspiration in No. 005: A Two-part invention at the 5th.

Here's my original sketch (click on images to enlarge):



Below is the opening to Contapunctus XVIII by J. Lee Graham. As you can see, there are some major revisions. First, he's turned a two-voice invention into a four-voice composition. He's also extended the opening motif by an additional measure, giving him something more to work with. And although the second voice does enter on the fifth, the turn in the third bar has been modified to make the harmony between the voices work better.


I'm glad that Graham didn't feel constrained to use the sketch as presented. An excerpt further into the composition shows how effectively the melodic elements (both original and from me), work in a contrapuntal setting.


Listen to Contrapunctus XVIII by J. Lee Graham on Soundcloud

I'm glad another one of my sketches inspired a composition. All I can say is that we're really just at the start of the project -- I still have two years' worth of material to upload, and I think it improves over time.

To obtain music for Contrapunctus XVIII, contact the composer, J. Lee Graham at tuthaliash at gmail dot com.

Friday, July 26, 2013

CCC 080 - Javier Pérez Garrido

This week the CCC features Spanish composer and clarinetist Javier Pérez Garrido. Garrido composes mostly instrumental music, and has an impressive catalog of wind ensemble and band music. Garrido uses traditional Spanish elements and musical forms in his compositions, set over mostly triadic chords. Nevertheless, Garrido's music has a fresh, new sound to it, with distinctive melodies that are easy to follow throughout the works.

The Missa Nupcial Op. 40, III Gloria is vibrant and energetic. Garrido uses the traditional counterpoint, but with modern harmonies. The result is work that, while clearly of our time, would fit in well with in a service using liturgical music from centuries past.


The Fantasia Op. 14 for wind ensemble is a good example of Garrido's instrumental writing. The sound is open, with sophisticated post-romantic harmonies. In style, it's not far removed from the music of John Williams, although Garrido's work has a much different character.


Tango Suite Op. 36a for solo clarinet shows Garrido perfectly at home with this traditional dance form. And being a clarinetist, he knows how to use the solo instrument to greatest effect.


Javier Garrido is a composer of depth. His Quinteto No. 1, Op. 19 is more angular and prickly, but the solid organization found in his other works is still evident here. The emotions express in this work are complex, and the musical language he uses encourages the listener to participate in the journey.


Javier Pérez Garrido is well-respected in Europe, and is starting to be recognized in America. And that's good, because his music would be a perfect choice for so many ensembles. College and high school wind ensembles would benefit from programming Garrido (and so would the audiences, I think). His choral works and orchestral compositions would mesh well with older works, which might get traditional-minded audiences feeling more comfortable about new music.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Collecting -- and collecting information 12

With virtually no documentation about what Japanese toy manufacturers created during the postwar era, primary sources -- such as the pieces themselves -- have to tell the story. It is well-documented that Linemar was the Japanese subsidiary of the Louis Marx Company.

No matter where you lived in the country, the Santa Fe
warbonnet graphic was a familiar sight on toy trains.
While some Japanese manufacturers used real companies on their transportation toys, for the most part they seemed to like generic choices. Although there were exceptions.

Many tin toy trains were marked "Santa Fe," because the distinctive red-and-silver warbonnet livery was so striking.

Mobilgas and Shell show up frequently on Japanese tin toy gas trucks and toy train rolling stock. But those were international companies with a presence in Japan, and so would have been familiar to Japanese toy designers.

I first wondered if Linemar was creating specialized vehicles for promotional use -- or at least regional sales -- when I discovered their Potomac Electric Power Company(PEPCO) truck in the corporate colors (Collecting -- and collecting information 5). A recent purchase of a Bond Bread truck, also in prototypical colors seemed to confirm this idea.

It would be a simple thing for Marx to contact these companies (or be contacted by them) to create these promotional vehicles, and then have the work done in Japan for a fraction of the price it would cost Marx to produce them in the states. Here's a gallery of the Line Mar 3" vehicles that seem to fit this pattern. What do you think? (click on images to enlarge)

Linemar Coca-Cola Truck

Linemar RCA Service Van

Linemar NYC Fire Department

Linemar Bond Bread van
(Eastern Seaboard-based baking company)

Linemar General Electric Courier

Linemar Central Coke and Coal Co. Dump Truck
Kansas/Missouri-based coal company)

Linemar Potomac Electric Power Company Service Truck
(Washington, DC regional power company)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tasmin Little: British Violin Sonatas, Volume One

British Violin Sonatas, Vol. 1 
Britten, Ferguson, Walton
Tasmin Little, violin
Piers Lane, piano
Chandos

Tasmin Little's off to a great start with her survey of British violin sonatas. Volume One features Howard Ferguson's quintessentially British Violin Sonata No. 2, Benjamin Britten's cosmopolitan Suite for Violin and Piano, and three works by William Walton that fall stylistically somewhere between. Tasmin Little plays them all with an expressive yet precise manner, letting the merits of the compositions speak for themselves.

Howard Ferguson was a somewhat conservative composer, writing in the English pastoral style after it had passed out of favor. His Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 10 is an elegantly crafted piece of music, sounding akin to Vaughan Williams' early string works.

The Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6 is an early work by Benjamin Britten. Written two years before his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, the suite shares the same sophisticated musical language. The angular melodic leaps, complex harmonies and sometimes frantic energy give the suite an international flavor.

William Walton's 1947 Sonata for Violin and Piano begins lyrically, seeming at times to look back to the English pastoral school that Ferguson never left. In the second movement, Walton shows he was quite familiar with atonality and serialism -- even if he didn't fully embrace them. Two short violin pieces by Walton round out the album, each a delightful vignette.

While each of the three major works has its own character, they compliment each other with their differences, and make a coherent program with their similarities. The result is a listening experience that is a pleasure from first to last. I look forward to volume two!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 8

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 8 of the sequence proved to be a little easier for me. Scancarelli has provided scant clues as to the vintage comic strip characters he references. Occasionally someone will be called by name, but for the most part the reader is on their own. (click on images to enlarge)


In today's sequence Scancarelli labels one of the characters -- and with good reason. In the 1930's, Gump was as popular as Mutt and Jeff. But since the latter strip lasted well into the 1980's -- thirty years after the Gumps were discontinued -- modern readers are most likely to assume the character was Jeff.  The ironic thing is that this was one character that I recognized. If only more nametags had been issued!



1. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
2. Andy Gump - The Gumps (1917-1949) by Sidney Smith
3. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Diabelli Project 005 - 2-Part Invention at the 5th

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

Well, it took a while, but I finally moved away from starting all my counterpoint at the octave. Not many of these little sketches are in 4/4. It makes the measures too long for my little five-minute exercises. (click on image to enlarge)



Using a single repeating note as a motif isn't anything new -- but it did give some idea on where this might go next. As I was copying this from the original sketch, I could remember -- even after two years -- where I wanted to go next. But you may have other ideas.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Diabelli Project - Contrapunctus XVI by J. Lee Graham

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

Joseph Lee Graham, a composer currently based in Wichita, Kansas found some potential in one of my postings. A good deal of his music can be found on Soundcloud.

Here's my original sketch (click on images to enlarge):


And here's an excerpt of Graham's three-voice fugue based on the idea. As you can see, he reworked the opening slightly, which is fine. His modification is what makes the counterpoint flow so smoothly.



 Listen to Contrapunctus XVI on Soundcloud

Although it's based on an idea of mine the resulting work, Contrapunctus XVI, is a composition by Joseph Lee Graham and he owns all the rights to it. So for information about performing or recording this music (I can dream, can't I?), please contact Joseph Graham. (In case you were wondering, he did give me permission to an excerpt of the score.)

I am excited that the Project's getting results so soon. And honored that Mr. Graham took the time to further develop my initial idea into a complete work.








Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Straco Layout, Part 30 - The name is Bond. Bond Bread

The Line Mar Bond Bread van.
(click on images to enlarge)
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

The most recent addition to the Straco layout/display is something of a curiosity. In Part 27, Local Power to the People!, I wrote about a Line Mar truck I obtained with Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) livery. Line Mar was a Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx & Co., a major American toy manufacturer.

I thought it unusual that the truck was branded PEPCO, as most Japanese trucks sported generic logos, such as "Coal" or "Milk."

Although not an exact match, it's easy
to see Line Mar used prototypical
colors and design.
Was this an advertising premium of some kind?

When I saw this Bond Bread van on eBay, it raised those questions again. Because this, too, is a Line Mar truck. And it sports the logo of the General Baking Co.'s Bond Bread -- a major product line in the 1950's and early 1960's.

I also was interested in this particular vehicle because of the outline. This is the only step van I have on the layout, and indeed, it's the only example I've seen in this size.

How was this originally sold? Was it sold loose in the bins with the rest of the Japanese tin toy cars at the five and dime? Was it something you had to collect Bond Bread wrappers for and send away? Was it included in specially marked General Baking packages as a premium? I have no idea. But I do wonder.

My two "real-world" Line Mar vehicles.
Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

Another shipment of delicious Bond Bread arrives
at the Areo Station. My new purchase fits in nicely.


Vehicles:
  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • Namura Red Sedan $5.00
Total Cost: $103.05

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fred Lerdahl, Volume 4: Spirals in Form

Fred Lerdahl, Vol. 4
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
eighth blackbird
Bridge Records

Volume Four in Bridge Records' ongoing Fred Lerdahl series features works from different stages of the composer's career. And what an interesting career its been!

Wake, a setting of Finnegan's Wake, was Lerdahl's first major composition. Finished in 1968, it's Lerdahl at his most atonal. Written (and performed here) by Bethany Beardslee, Wake is a jagged, spikey work that moves along like an wobbly wheel, threatening to spin out of control at any moment.

Fantasy Studies, a 1985 work commissioned and performed by eighth blackbird shows how much Lerdahl's own compositional voice developed. Rather than academic serialism, Lerdahl uses his concept of spiral development, continually revisiting motives that fold back on themselves.

The third major work included is Spirals, a 2006 orchestral composition. Here the linear nature of Fantasy Studies is replaced by sound clouds -- further developing his idea of spiral forms. The music wavers and flows, groups of instruments interweaving with each other in fascinating ways.

Some smaller -- but no less appealing -- works round out the release. There Diatonic Studies (2009) bubble along, proving that just using the white keys doesn't always result in bland music. Imbrications (2001) is more aggressive, with noodly lines working with and against each other in a sparkling mixture.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 7

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 7 of the sequence introduces something new -- a grouping of characters by type (not the last time Scancarelli will use this device in this story arc).(click on images to enlarge)


This was particularly challenging, because most the cats that enter the panel are supporting characters in their respective strips. And in the case of the Cicero's Cat, the strip itself played a supporting role. It ran as a "topper" to "Mutt and Jeff." That is, it was a short comic strip sold as a block with the main strip, to give the appearance that the number of comics had increased.

And while he's better known as an animated cartoon character, Felix the Cat was also a comic strip in the 1930's.



1. Unknown
2. Moon Mullins - Moon Mullins (1923-1991) by Frank Willard
3. Abie the Agent - Abie the Agent (1914-1940) by Harry Hershfield
4. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
5. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
6. Desdemona - Cicero's Cat, topper strip for Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fisher
7.Spooky - Spooky, topper strip for Smokey Stover (1935 - 1973) by Bill Holman
8. Krazy Kat - Krazy Kat (1913-1944) by George Herriman
9. Felix the Cat  - Felix the Cat (1923-1943) by Pat Sullivan and Otto Mesmer

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Diabelli Project 004 - 2-Part Invention

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

I admit I have a liking of odd meters. Perhaps it was my early exposure to Don Ellis. Whatever the reason, in my mind, odd meters (like 5/8 and 7/8) seem perfectly suited to counterpoint. (click on image to enlarge)


If you agree, you're welcome to take this snippet and run with it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

CCC 079 - Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk

Dutch composer Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk has found new inspiration in very old material -- which is why he's the subject of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. As he states on his website, van Nieuwkerk is "in search of a new classical music that combines contemporary rhythm and expression with the ensemble ethos and lyricism of classical-romantic forms.

And van Nieuwkerk sometimes goes farther back than the classical-romantic period (c.1790-1890). His Three Dance Capriccios for violin and piano, for example, are based on a medieval French melody. The blending of the old and new in van Nieuwkerk's music is quite effective -- and quite attractive.

His Kadenza for Recorders is new music written for very old instruments. And yet, by using a renaissance melody as his starting point, van Niewkerk's music seems modern, yet perfectly suited to the instruments.


van Nieuwkerk's Theater Tango takes the concept a step further. Still using a renaissance instrumental ensemble, van Nieuwkerk takes a distinctively 20th century form -- the tango -- and reworks it in a fascinating manner.


Deep River is an 19th century African-American spiritual. van Nieuwkerk makes it the basis of a four-movement sonata for violin and piano, and transforms the melody in the process.


Unfortunately, only a very small amount of Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk's music has been recorded.  Still, from the examples above, one can hear how  his adroit balancing of the old and new. It gives his music a fresh sound, while still offering a familiar point of reference to the listener. I would be very interested to hear how his orchestral music compared to Respighi's Ancient Aires and Dances.

Recommended Recordings

Vintage Brisk

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Collecting -- and collectiong information 11

I have a new virtual hobby -- gathering information about the Model A friction toy cars Bandai manufactured in the early 1960's. And it's taken a nasty -- but not entirely unexpected turn.

Things were lining up nicely. I had found enough examples to make some generalizations about the product line, and shared that information in a three-part post.

Part 1: Bandai Model A series overview
Part 2: Bandai Model A cars bodies 
Part 3: Bandai Model A truck bodies

When doing online searches for these toys I tend to cast my net pretty wide. If I just searched specifically for Bandai, I would have missed a good portion of what I found.

Bandai, like other Japanese toy manufacturers, produced products for Cragstan. Cragstan was a major importer of toys to the US, and marketed them under its own brand. Often, the manufacture's logo would also appear on the box in a corner -- but never on the toy itself.

The three Bandai Model A cars I owned as child are all clearly branded with Bandai on the car frames -- no question of origin there! And I had assumed the same was true with the rest of the line.

I had previously run across the Bandai Model A fire truck. As you can see from the image (click to enlarge), it's branded as a Bandai product.

The Model A fire truck -- with the Bandai brand

But then I found this version. Same model, only this one's branded Cragstan on the box. And there's no Bandai mark on the frame. The mark (lower right of the box) is NGS. This was Cragstan's Japanese export partner, Nipon Goraku Shokai, not the manufacturer.

The Model A fire truck -- by Cragstan/NGS

While I have no doubt that Bandai made both toys, it does add a new wrinkle to the classifications. Where there versions and/or color schemes of this toy that were exclusive to Cragstan? Which ones were sold under both brands?

It seems that with any type of intellectual pursuit, the more you learn, the more you learn what there is to learn.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Music of Ursula Mamlok, Vol. 4 -- Overview and insights

Ursula Mamlok, Volume 4
Various Artists
2 CD set
Bridge

Bridge Record's survey of Ursula Mamlok's music continues with a collection of works from all phases of Mamlok's career.

Although most noted for her serial works, Mamlock began as a neoclassical composer (albeit one that strained at the limits of tonality). "Grasshoppers" (1957) and Sonatina for 2 Clarinets (1958) show her affinity for counterpoint, even in a somewhat traditional melodic framework.

One can hear her move towards Schoenberg serialism with "Four German Songs" (1958) and fully embracing it with the Composition for Cello (1962). To my ears, the works of this period sound like notes hanging from an Alexander Calder mobile. Tone clusters and motifs align and move apart according to their prescribed paths, yet still yield unexpected and seemingly random combinations.

Most of the works with percussion on this release come from the 1970's when Mamlok was exploring the tactile aspect of music. Works like the "Variations and And Interludes for Four Percussionists" (1971) can sound like Varese at times, but the resemblance is passing.

For me, the most successful works in the collection are the most recent -- "Aphorism I and II" (2009) and "Rotations" for cello and piano (2011). Mamlok's grown into her own compositional style, synthesizing all the influences apparent in the different phases of her earlier career. The music sounds completely natural, while still conforming to its own internal logic.

Bridge doesn't sequence the works on this 2 CD set in chronological order, which helps the listener hear the connections between compositions that are sometimes decades apart. Well done.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 6

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 6 of the sequence reigns in the madness -- and the number of characters a bit.(click on images to enlarge)



Jiggs and Maggie serve major roles as this story arc continues. Commentators on Gocomics.com where Gasoline Alley is published daily expressed surprise as the way the characters looked. But Scancarelli is referring back to the depiction by the original artist, George McManus, who created Maggie and Jiggs in 1913 (possibly earlier), and was the primary artist on the strip through the 1940's.



1. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
2. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

< Series Start >
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Monday, July 08, 2013

Diabelli Project 003 - 2-Part Invention

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.

Since I had started dashing off these little flash-composition sketches over two years ago, I'd mostly forgotten what I had actually written down It's heartening to see that I didn't stick with just canons at the octave (although there are more to come in this serious).


I think now I could probably do something much more interesting with that opening three-note motif. And I bet you can, too.



If there's anything of interest here you'd care to use, please help yourself! (Actually, I think I might return to this at some point myself. I like the first two measures)

Friday, July 05, 2013

CCC 078 - Marcel Wengler

No one country has a complete monopoly on talent -- even in the field of classical music. This week's installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge focuses on Luxembourg composer Marcel Wengler. Wengler is one of several living composers from this small country that enjoys an international reputation.

While most of his colleagues have followed various schools of atonal and serial composition, Wengler remains rooted in classical music's tonal traditions. But that doesn't mean he hasn't expanded the repertoire in innovative ways. Wengler's chamber works, for example, include piece for violin, accordion and digieridoo.

Wengler has composed six concertos for various solo instruments and orchestra, as well as two symphonies. One of his orchestral compositions, "The Answered Question" seems to be a response to Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question" for trumpet and orchestra.

Perhaps there's a link between the two composers. One of Wengler's most-performed compositions is his March. Like Ives' Circus March, it's a little chaotic, and not always easy to march to. But Wengler's insertion of odd meters into what sounds like a run-of-the-mill march is slyly subversive, rather than confrontational.




Wendler's melodic gifts aren't limited to compositions for ensembles. His Hundred Measure Waltz is a good example of this. While superficially a very traditional work, careful listening reveals this is a waltz that could only have been written in the late 20th Century.




The Suite in D minor for violin and mandolin orchestra is a good example of Wengler repurposing traditional elements in imaginative ways. This neo-Baroque work doesn't just treat the mandolin orchestra as a substitute for a string orchestra. The music is composed and scored idiomatically for the mandolins. The shimmering effect of the strummed strings is an important element of the work, and provides contrast to the smooth, sustained notes of the solo violin.



Marcel Wengler is well-known (especially in the wind ensemble world) for his march. But there is much more to this talented composer. His music is immediately accessible, and is carefully constructed to provide a rewarding listening experience for both the casual audience and the serious music lover.

I'd like to see more of his works programmed -- I'd like to know what his symphonies sound like -- and I'd really like to hear the Pas de tois for violin, accordion, and didgeridoo.

Recommended Recordings

Timothy Reynish Live in Concert, Vol. 4
(features "March")

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Liberating the 1812 from the Fourth

This is an updated version of a post originally written July 4, 2007

Personally, I think it's past time to retire the "1812 Overture" from 4th of July concerts. I get it. It's got canons. Canons go boom. Fireworks go boom. We have a piece of classical music that goes boom.

But have you really listened to this work? Tchaikovsky wrote it to commemorate the Battle of Borodino, where Russian forces turned back Napoleon. The work contains the Russian and the French national anthems, and uses those two tunes to represent the ebb and flow of the two armies.

Is blasting out the "God Save the Tsar" really the best way to celebrate Independence Day? And what about "La Marsailles"? Perhaps an apologist could construe it as an acknowledgement of Lafayette's contributions, but it wasn't that long ago we insisted those potato strings be called "freedom fries."

So let's forget the Russian overture written by a Russian honoring the victory of a Russian monarch over a French military dictator and trot out some red-blooded American classical music written by real Americans.

Here are some suggestions for rousing, American music written by Real Americans.




Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore
- Daugherty's composition embodies the vernacular of American music and culture. His Metropolis Symphony is a musical portrait of Superman (a distinctly American superhero) and his world. Mount Rushmore has four movements, corresponding to the four presidents it depicts: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Daugherty quotes Revolutionary War songs in Washington's movement, 18th Century French music in Jefferson's, and the finale is an inspiring Copland-esque setting of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" for orchestra and chorus. This should be a standard work for 4th of July concerts!

Charles Ives: Variations on "America"
- No composer sums up the American spirit of independence of thought than Ives. His variations on this distinctively American tune are original and inspired, and makes more traditional arrangements just sound uninspired.

Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 66, "Hymn to Glacier Park"
- Hovhaness was another American original, placidly making his own music without getting sucked into the academic fashions of the day. Hovhaness drew inspiration from mountains, and his symphony to Glaciar Park captures the grandeur and spaciousness of this national treasure.

Howard Hanson:
"Merry Mount" Suite
- Harris had a distinctly American voice, and his opera "Merry Mount" is a distinctively American story. Based on the short story "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it dramatises the conflict between the fun-loving colonists of Mount Wollaston, Massachussetts and their more serious Puritan neighbors.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Union Paraphrase en Concert
- Gottschalk was an internationally renowned piano virtuoso. In many ways, he was the American Franz Liszt, performing and composing. The "Union Paraphrase" is an excellent example of Gottschalk's technique and a rousing piece of musical Americana.

Many celebrations will features some Aaron Copland (usually "Fanfare for the Common Man"), or some Leonard Bernstein -- good choices, but there are so many more. We have a rich classical music tradition stretching back over 200 years -- music written by Americans that have a distinctively American voice that speaks to us today.

If you don't like the concept of American flags being made in China, then why settle for 4th of July music written in Russia?


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Magnus Lindberg and the NY Philharmonic -- Creative synergy

Magnus Lindberg: Expo, Piano Concerto, No. 2, Al Largo 
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Yefim Bronfman
Dacap

Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg served as the New York Philharmonic's Composer-in-Residence for three years. As this new recording attests, it was time well-spent. The release features three live recordings of Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic performing music Lindberg composed for them. And what compositions!

Lindberg's second piano concerto, finished in 2012, is a lush, post-modern work that never lets up on the drama. The roiling piano solo (effectively executed in this performance by Yefim Bronfman) has some of the quality Liszt and Rachmaninov, cast in a more advanced tonal language. This is an expansive and powerful work, and one that has the potential to become a repertoire standard.

Framing the piano concerto on the disc are two shorter works for orchestra. EXPO (2009) is a bristling showpiece that serves as an exciting and appealing curtain-raiser. Al largo (2009) is a more substantial work. It begins with a heroic fanfare, then as thematic crosscurrents play across the orchestra, the work seems to shimmer with continual motion. The combination and recombination of instruments and sections  the instruments keeps Al largo moving along until the listener arrives at its unexpected -- but in retrospect quite logical -- finish.

The works, the performances, and the recording itself is all top-notch. A triumph all the way around.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 5

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 5 of the sequence has only five characters -- but it's difficult. Brenda Starr is on the far left. Although her hair color is incorrect (it should be red), the highlights in her eyes are unmistakeable.  (click on image to enlarge).


Even at this late date, I still have some unanswered questions about this one -- and the frustrating thing is that characters 2 and 5 look really familiar. But I just can't place them.



1. Brenda Starr - Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter (1940 - 2011) by Dale Messick
2. 
3. Ostrich - Krazy Kat, (1913-1944) by George Herriman
4. George Bungle - The Bungle Family  (1918 - 1945) by Harry J. Tuthill
5. 

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Monday, July 01, 2013

Diabelli Project 002 - Canon at the Octave

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

Making myself dash of these sketches -- and now writing them out in a more formal fashion -- feels like starting an exercise regimen. At this point I was still doing very simple canons, so I wasn't stretching much creatively.

And when I wrote this out, my rusty manuscript skills weren't fully up to the task. I used to do a lot better job about spacing measures and notes within measures. And of course, the bass clef part should have a whole rest. But it's a start. (click on image to enlarge)



If there's anything of interest here you'd care to use, please help yourself! (Actually, I think I might return to this at some point myself. I like the first two measures)