Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spam Roundup December, 2013

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

I'm sorry, what?!

- It's very straightforward to find out any matter on net as compared to books, as I found this piece of writing at this web page.
- "Straightforward" -- unlike this comment.

So that's what the kids are calling it!

- Simply want to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity for your publish is just cool and i could suppose you are a professional on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grasp your feed to stay updated with approaching post. -
- Keep your grasping hands off my feed, please.

I will immediately snatch your rss as I can't in finding your email subscription link or newsletter service. Do you've any? Kindly let me realize in order that I could subscribe.
- No thanks, I don't want to play grab-RSS.

The No Comment Comment

- Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article. I like to write a little comment to support you -
- Please do! Oh -- that was it?

- This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me.
- Thanks! Your comment, on the other hand was... how do you say it? Irrelevant!

Here's a first Ηello there! Would you mіnd if I sharе yoour log with my zynga group? There's a lot of people that I think woulԁ rеally appreciate your content.
 - This comment was for a post profiling classical composer Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk. His music's very good, but not my first choice for a Zynga session.

Randomly generated words of wisdom
It is аppropriate time tto mаzke some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I hve read this pοst and if I cold I want to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you could write neхt aгticles referring to this aгticle. I wish to reaad more things about it!
- I'd love to hear your suggested suggestions. 

This is just a fraction of what I received this month. I guess my clarity for publish is just too cool. Until the next roundup, make some plans for the future. Be happy, but don't let anyone snatch your RSS.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Diabelli Project 022 - 3-voice Fugue in G

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.

This time I decided to be a little more ambitious and add more voices. The result is the beginning of a 3-voice fugue.

So what happens next? Will this stay in G major, and move to D major? Or will it go to the relative minor? Or will it move to a mode? That's up to you! Just let me know you're inspired to finish this.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Getting with the Christmas Program -- The Results

Yesterday I hosted a Christmas Morning program on WTJU. In my previous post (Getting with the Christmas Program), I outlined the challenges of lining up music for the show.

So how did I end up balancing sacred/secular, familiar/obscure, choral/instrumental, original version/arrangement in this three-hour classical music program? Here's the playlist, and where it fell in each of the four criteria.

"Lauda perla Nativita del Signore" - Otterino Respighi
 - This work for chorus and orchestra is decidedly unfamiliar to most listeners. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful setting of the Christmas story.

Romanian Christmas Carols - Bela Bartok
 - These would be unfamiliar to most, also. These are arrangements of Romanian carols by Bartok. The solo piano provides contrast to the sound of the previous large-scale work.

Commonwealth Christmas Overture - Malcolm Arnold
 - Arnold's work was commissioned in 1957 by the BBC to commemorate the first Christmas broadcast by a British monarch. It has been performed very few times since the premier. Another unfamiliar work, this was almost all original material by Arnold. The orchestral score contrasts nicely to the Bartok solo piano piece.

"Walking on Air"  - Howard Blake
 - This song from the animated film "The Snowman" is known world-wide. I aired the version from the original soundtrack, so count this under the familar and original music columns. And secular as well, of course.

"Three Moravian Carols" John Antes
 - John Antes was an early 19th century American composer, and a member of the Moravian community. These are his arrangements of Moravian carols for trombone ensemble. A vivid contrast to the sound of "Walking on Air." 

"Frohlocke, were Christenheit" Christoph Graupner
 -  Playing a Christmas cantata is an easy choice for a classical music program. Rather than air selections from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, or any of his cantatas for Advent, I went with a Christmas Day cantata written by a contemporary, Christoph Graupner. This work featured a baroque ensemble and soloists.

"Die Natali, Op. 37" Samuel Barber
 - Barber's 1960 orchestral work quotes some traditional carols, but mixes it with original material as well.

"Bethlehem" - William Billings
"Exultation" - Anon. 18th C.
 - I chose two early American shape-note hymns to provide real contrast. These performances for chorus and period instruments made a sharp contrast to the Barber composition. 

"Weinachthistorie SWV 435 Choruses" Heinrich Schutz
 -  Heinrich Schutz' Christmas Oratorio predates Bach's by a generation, and is one of the greatest of the mid-Baroque period. I didn't have time to air the whole thing, so I chose the opening and closing choruses, which were Schutz's harmonisations of congregational hymns (with new text).

Trois chants de Noel for soprano, piano and flute - Frank Martin
 - These small, intimate carols by Swiss composer Frank Martin changed the mood from the grand choruses of Schutz.

"Fantasia on Christmas Carols"  - Ralph Vaughan Williams
 - Vaughan William's settings of Christmas carols presented the familiar in an original fashion. This work for chorus, orchestra and baritone solo sounded very big following the small chamber carols of Martin. 

"Noel No. 3 Une bergere jolie" Michel Daquin
 - Late Baroque period composer Michel Daquin originally wrote his Noels for organ. The version I aired was an arrangement for period instruments, which gave this work some much-needed tonal variety. 

Nativity Carol - John Rutter
 - If you've sung in any church choir worth its salt, you've probably sung at least one Rutter composition. So call this one familiar. But the setting I chose (conducted by Rutter) was for chorus and orchestra, making it sound different than the way most folks would hear it in church.

"Silent Night from Three Carols, Op. 20" Kevin Oldham
 - It's a holiday tradition. Every program closest to Christmas I end the show with this recording. Oldham retained the words to this carol, and set it to entirely original music. Performed by soprano, flute, and harp, it captures the simplicity of the original carol. Yet at the same time, Oldham's composition helps us hear the overly familiar words anew. 

You can hear the program by going to the WTJU archives. It will be available for streaming through 1/7/14.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Getting with the Christmas Program

My radio program, "Gamut" only airs on Wednesday mornings (on WTJU, 91.1fm), so it isn't often that it lands on Christmas morning -- but it did so today. So with three hours to fill, I had some musical choices to make. And actually, it was a lot of fun to do so.

Choice 1: Sacred or secular?
Because "Gamut" is a classical music program, my choices are already focused (but by no means limited). Should I just pretend it's just another Wednesday, or air music appropriate for Christmas morning?

The latter, I think.

Choice 2: Familiar or not?
Personally, I'm burnt out on a lot of the holiday music that regularly gets programmed. "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," etc. -- pass. And even among just classical programming, I think Praetorius' "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming" is somewhat overplayed.

So what's left? Plenty. How about some Early American shape-note hymns? Sure, Bach wrote sacred Christmas music for church services, but so did other German Baroque composers. How about a cantata by Telemann, Schutz, or someone else for a change?

Choice 3: Choral or Instrumental?
One can be pretty wide-ranging with classical Christmas music. There's plenty of material from the Middle Ages through to the modern era -- and most of it choral. So while on paper, playing a medieval chant followed by a Benjamin Britten carol followed by a renaissance motet may seem to offer variety, to the listener it's just a whole lot of singing.

So I'll be choosing orchestral works, piano works, and some early music instrumental selections to have some real variety.

Choice 4: Original music or arrangements?
There are plenty of arrangements of popular Christmas carols. And some are quite imaginative. But how many arrangements of "Joy to the World" can one hear before it all sounds the same?

I'll be searching out original compositions written for Christmas. Must be classical, must be appealing, and must be of the highest compositional quality. I have plenty of choices.

I always make a few adjustments on-air, so the program is never 100% set until it's over. Stay tuned. I'll post the playlist tomorrow (Getting with the Christmas Program -- The Results), and you can see how these four choices guided my selections.

And Merry Christmas!

You can hear the program by going to the WTJU archives. It will be available for streaming through 1/7/14. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pearls Before Jumble

You may recall when Dick Tracy and Jumble referenced each other in their respective strips (Dick Tracy and the Jumble Crossover). This Sunday's sequence of Pearls Before Swine references Jumble, although this time it's one-sided. (Click on image to enlarge)

Steven Pastis' treatment is genius, because it work on so many levels. First, all you have to do is skim the second panel, the Jumble, and you get the joke. Rat's using his new job to heap insults on Pastis. But there's more: Pastis went to the trouble of actually creating a Jumble, and in some ways actually did one better than the regular creative team.

If you unscramble all the words, the circled letters do indeed form an anagram. And it's an anagram of a word that provides a punchline to the Jumble cartoon.

But here's the thing; when you unscramble the words, the words themselves reveal a hidden message That's why the two-letter word doesn't contribute any letters to the Jumble -- it's just part of the message.

And that's what makes this a great sequence. There are three levels of insults built into the Jumble puzzle. So the deeper you dig, the more you're rewarded. Brilliant!

Solutions below for the curious (and lazy)

„snɹǝɯnɥ„ :ǝuoq sıɥʇ ƃuıssıɯ sı sıʇsɐd sʎɐs ɹoʇɔop ǝɥʇ :ɹǝʍsuɐ
 ˙ʎuunɟun puɐ qɯnp ɥʇoq sı sןɹɐǝd :spɹoʍ

Thursday, December 19, 2013

McTee: Symphony No. 1 Ballet for Orchestra

Cindy McTee: Symphony No. 1
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin, conductor

If you're not familiar with this talented American composer (who I wrote about earlier. See CCC 059 Cindy McTee), this album provides a great introduction.

The release opens with "Circuit," a five-minute work that generates high-energy action from start to finish. By contrast, "Einstein's Dream" is a slow-moving atmospheric work for orchestra and electronics. Conservatively atonal, its evolving soundscapes are quite appealing, and draw the listener into its world.

"Double Play" was written for the Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit symphony Orchestra, and they perform it with confidence. The second movement is especially effective, bristling with jazzy, good-natured spirits.

McTee's Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra is just that -- a work of symphonic proportions that practically begs to be choreographed. Each movement has a dramatic narrative to it and a pulse that keeps the music moving constantly forward. McTee's carefully crafted melodies make her music easily accessible without resorting to triteness or cliche. This is a substantial work that merits revisiting.

Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra know this music well, and it shows. Ensemble playing is clean and precise, the narrative flow of the music is clear, and the blend between instruments and sections seamless.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Machaut: Songs from "Le Voir Dit" - Intimate music in an intimate performance

Machaut: Songs from Le Voir Dit 
The Orlando Consort

Machaut’s poem Le Voir Dit, written when he was in his sixties, recounts a love affair between himself and a young girl. Machaut included several pieces of music to help illustrate the text – a true multimedia medieval work of art.

This is spare, yet intimate music. Machaut was acknowledged to be one of the greatest poets and composers of his age – and that dual mastery is apparent. The 20-minute Le Lay De Bon Esperance, for example, is set for solo voice. Yet the text and music so perfectly match that the emotion of the poem is communicated even when the listener (such as myself) understands not a word.

The polyphonic songs, such as Se Pour Ce Muir, are textbook examples of ars nova. Macheaut uses isorhythms to develop each line independently. And yet all the voices work together, making the sound an organic whole that is as stark and beautiful as the Gothic architecture that inspired it.

The Orlando Consort is recorded with microphones closely placed. It’s a very clean record with virtually no ambiance. And in this case, that’s a good thing. Unlike Machaut’s religious works, meant to be sung in the resonant spaces of cathedrals, these songs are private messages to the reader of Le Voir Dit. Which is how the Orlando Consort performs them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meta Blondie

For years, Blondie has been the subject of ridicule by younger comic strip artists. Take a look at Meta Barney & Clyde 3, for example. There's a perception that some things never change in Blondie. Dagwood's always being clobbered by his boss, Dagwood always crashes into the mailman, Dagwood always creates gigantic sandwiches, etc.

But that's not really true. While the comic strip has settled into routines from time to time, it hasn't become frozen in its tropes like some other strips have. When Chic Young began the strip in 1930, Blondie was a dizzy blonde flapper who dated Dagwood, the scion of an upper class family. Over time, the focus changed.

Blondie and Dagwood were married, and his family disowned him (a convenient way to reboot the strip). By 1934 the strip had become a middle-class domestic comedy. Baby Dumpling was born in in the late 1930's -- he's now a teenager and is called by his given name, Alexander. Cookie, his younger sister came along in 1941. She's also now a teenager.

After Chic Young died in 1973, the writing chores were taken over by his son, Dean. And then things really began to change. Dagwood's office now uses computers instead of typewriters. He carpools instead of taking the bus. And more importantly, Blondie is no longer a housewife -- she runs a successful catering business.

Other supporting characters have been added, and now the strip has ventured into new territory. What exactly is the J.C. Dithers company where Dagwood works? His mishandling of contracts has been a source of comedy throughout the years, but contracts for what? Chic Young originally represented it as a construction company.

In the long-running movies (28 films between 1938-1950) starring  Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake, the Dithers company is an architectural firm.

Chances are any reader who began reading it after 1950 has only seen it referred to as J.C. Dithers Company. Which is what this recent sequence is all about.(click on image to enlarge)

Kudos for Dean Young and John Marshall for taking a meta look at Blondie.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Diabelli Project 021 - Canon in G Lydian

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.

This week's sketch, like the one I posted last week, is a simple canon. And like last week's, it's also in a mode rather than a major or minor key. With such a long opening subject, it takes a while for this sketch to get going. But while I didn't fill up the paper with notes, I did write for the prescribed time before stopping.

So what happens next? Does this little canon stay in G Lydian, or does it change mode? That's up to you, of course, should you wish to finish this sketch. If you do, please let me know. I'm curious to hear how this one ends, too.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Garrick Ohlsson: Liszt with Fluency and Finesse

Franz Liszt, Vol. 2
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Bridge Records

The challenge with playing Franz Liszt's piano music is finding that balance between technical brilliance and insightful musicianship. The technical challenges in the music are huge -- which is why so many pianists take them on. If you can play Liszt without breaking a sweat, you can play just about anything. But what sometimes gets lost is the reason for all those notes.

Liszt had tremendous piano chops, and he used them to express his musical ideas. Garrick Ohlsson understands that, which makes his new recording of Liszt piano works so exciting.

Mastery of the music is a given with Ohlsson. He moves beyond that to get to the essence of the compositions, and expresses those insights clearly and effectively. In "Adelaide," for example, one hears Beethoven's voice coming through Liszt's arrangement. Ditto with the "Fantasy and Fugue." Bach-inspired, Liszt-arranged, both composers are given equal weight in Ohlsson's performance.

Purely Liszt compositions, such as "Mephisto Waltz No. 1" have plenty of showy drama -- but it's not over wrought. Ohlsson keeps the fireworks in check, delivering one cohesive musical work after another. This may well be the Liszt album for people who don't like Liszt.

The recording itself adds greatly to the enjoyment. Ohlsson performs on a Bosendorfer Imperial, which has an extended bass register. That gives the overall piano sound added weight. Yet the instrument's recorded clearly with just enough resonance to give it a natural sound.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Telemann Double Concerti a welcome reminder

Georg Philipp Telemann 
Double Concerti for Winds & Strings 
Rebel ; Jörg-Michael Schwarz conductor
Bridge Records

I always forget about Telemann. Unlike his contemporaries Bach and Handel, he didn't write anything that became a breakout hit, like the "Air on a G String," or "Water Music." But his music was all of a very high quality, full of inventiveness and skill -- as Rebel reminded me with this new recording of Telemann double concerti.

Played with authentic instruments, Rebel presents these works as fresh, robust compositions, brimming with energy. And that makes this a very appealing recording.

The soloists balance nicely between authentic performance practices and individual expression. As a result, these concertos sound like living, breathing works rather than museum pieces.

Recording Rebel in a church was an excellent call. The ambiance is well-suited to the ensemble, vibrant enough to give the music depth, yet intimate enough to hear every detail.

This release is a welcome reminder, indeed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sharon Bezaly - Great Works for Flute and Orchestra

Great Works for Flute and Orchestra 
Sharon Bezaly, flute
Residentie Orkest Den Haag
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

Sharon Bezaly has been steadily gaining attention in the classical world, and this recording simply adds to her reputation.

Bezaly plays with a very clear, pure tone that's well-suited to the material in this collection. Her command of the flute is exemplary. She maintains control in the extremes of the upper register, keeping the sound warm and rounded, never edgy or shrill. Her agility and precision make difficult passages seem easy -- and makes them easy to follow.

The "Great Works for Flute and Orchestra" are a mixture of pieces originally written for that configuration, and some interesting arrangements.Original works include concertos by Carl Nielsen and Carl Reinecke, a concertino by Cecile Chaminade, and the Poem for flute and orchestra by Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Arrangements include Tchaikovsky's largo and allegro, and the perennial encore piece, "Flight of the Bumblebee." Lennox Berkeley's orchestration of Francis Poulenc's Flute Sonata retains character of the work, fleshing out the structure in an interesting fashion.

The Nielsen concerto is the most aggressive of the works in the program, and one Bezaly plunges into with great relish. By contrast, she performs the Chaminade concertino with a charming tenderness entirely appropriate to the work.
Neeme Jarvi draws a warm, sympathetic sound from the  Resident Orchestra of the Haag, and BIS (as always) delivers a natural-sounding recording. Although available for download, I recommend the SACD version if you have the playback equipment. The subtleties of Bezaly's phrasing (and remarkable breath control) can only be fully appreciated in this higher fidelity format.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Diabelli Project 020 - Canon in E Dorian

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.

This time I went with something simpler -- just a canon in two parts. Of course, it's not that simple. It's in E Dorian mode. But still, I think this opening suggests a piece that would be fairly short with no complex rhythms.

Or does it? What happens next is up to you, if you're interested.   If you see an possibilities here, it's all yours. Just be sure to send me the results!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Meta Barney & Clyde 3

Barney & Clyde (Gene and Dan Weingarten, writers; David Clark, art) is one of those comic strips that sometimes comments on comic strips (see: Meta Barney & Clyde, and Meta Barney & Clyde 2).

In this case, there's some harsh criticism all around -- but I can't deny it's justified. Every gag comic has its tropes -- situations the creator returns to again and again. But when they're overused, well, they just might end up in Barney & Clyde. (click on image to enlarge).

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

John Musto: Piano Concertos

John Musto: Piano Concertos
John Musto, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor
Greely Philharmonic Orchestra; Glen Cortese, conductor
Bridge Records

John Musto performs his piano concertos with telling effect. While these works are technically challenging, I don't hear keyboard prowess being the purpose of these works. Rather, the focus seems to be on the beauty and integrity of the musical expression. Which is what makes this recording work so well. Musto has the ability to play with precision and authority -- which he does -- but it's his phrasing and articulation that gets to the heart of these works.

Musto's first piano concerto (composed in 1988) opens with a solo clarinet that sets the tone for the work. It begins with a lyrical atonality that gradually builds in intensity. While this is a big composition, there are places that are surprisingly intimate. As the work progresses, the aggressive dissonances begin to soften. The second movement introduces a touch of ragtime, leading into a bustling and satisfying final movement.

The Piano Concerto No. 2, written 18 years after the first, shows how much the composer's skill has developed. The orchestration is more varied, and more adventurous. While the first concerto flirted the vocabulary of popular music, this one fully incorporated it, in the way that Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" encapsulated jazz. Unlike Gershwin's Rhapsody, Musto's concerto is more fully realized, and highly structured.

That's not to say the second concerto's a stuffy academic exercise. The music flows seamlessly from start to finish in an inviting fashion. It's only later that you realize that the engaging first movement cadenza involved some deftly written counterpoint.

Separating the two concertos in the program are two of Musto's concert rags. They're appealing light classical compositions, perfect encore material.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 30-31

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)

Days 30-31 finish up this sequence, and answer a very important question. For several years now, Walt Wallet has been having dreams about vintage comic strip characters. There was some speculation that this visit to the Old Comics Retirement Home would be a loving send-off for Walt (now over 100 years old) and he would retire from the strip. As you can see in the final installment, that didn't happen, and both Walt and his grandson-in-law Slim Skinner drive off, back in to the real world (or as real as the world of Gasoline Alley gets). (click on images to enlarge)

Jim Scancarelli clearly had fun with this story arc, and I think a lot of vintage newspaper comic strip fans had fun as well. I certainly enjoyed the challenge of identifying all the characters. And even though I wasn't 100% successful, I'm hoping in time some reader of these posts will help me fill in the blanks.

Since the penultimate strip only had a single vintage character in it, I decided to pair it with the finale, rather than draw out the series yet another week! Note in the final panel there are not only characters, but a few other visual references to vintage strips.

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

1. Mutt - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
2. Pops - Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) by Cliff Sterrit
3. Happy Hooligan - Happy Hooligan ( (1900-1932) by Frederick Burt Opper
4. Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
5. Winnie Winkle- Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner (1920-1996) by Martin Branner
6. Mac MacDougall - Tillie the Toiler (1921-1959) by Russ Westover
7. Harold Teen - Harold Teen (1919-1959) Carl Ed
8 Ostrich - Krazy Kat, (1913-1944) by George Herriman
9. Sparkplug - Barney Google (1919 - ?) by Billy DeBeck
10.Yellow Kid  - Yellow Kid (1895-1897) by Richard F. Outcault
11 Albert Alligator - Pogo (1948-1975) by Walt Kelly
12 Kilroy
13 Toonerville Trolley tracks - Toonerville Folks (1908-1955) by Fontaine Fox
14 Signpost reference to Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Diabelli Project 019 - Fugue in B-flat major

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.

Cranking these sketches out week after week, I've noticed I tend to fall into patterns. Last week's sketch was a fugue in lydian mode. This week's is a fugue in.... B-flat major. Eventually. Actually, it starts off on E-flat, which would make this E-flat lydian if I had continued outlining the triad. But I didn't, and so it eventually returns to B-flat as its tonal center.

Is that; a permanent return, or will the counterpoint wander in to another mode? C dorian, perhaps? Or F mixolydian? The choice is yours! If you use part of this sketch, let me know! I'm curious to hear how this one ends myself.