Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spam Roundup March, 2015

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.

How's that, again?

 - My spouse and I stumbled over here different page and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to looking over your web page repeatedly.
[Did you and your spouse both stumble over, or did your spouse call this site to your attention after stumbling over? Let's get the story straight!]

 - It's truly a great and useful piece of info. I'm satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this.
[I'll stay you as up to date as I can.] 

I will immediately seize your rss feed as I can't in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlinik or e-newsletter service.
[Apparently, my blog feed is about to be annexed.] 

Lumbering along, collecting the comments

Hard to believe a vintage Japanese friction toy
could generate such interest.
The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along, my post describing an inexpensive early 60's Japanese tin toy truck remains one of my most commented-on posts. Of course, the subject matter is often, well, off-topic.

 - For most up-to-date information you have to pay a visit web and on internet. I found this site as a most excellent site for most up-to-date updates.
[Yes, I like to keep our updates mostly up-to-date!] 

 Howdy I am so excited I found your site. I really found you by mstiake while I was researching on Yahoo for something else. Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a incredible post and all round exctiing blog
[Must be a fellow American -- he said "howdy." An American with a low threshold for excitement, that is.] 

 Fastidious findings 

While the quantity of "fastidious" comments has declined, the quality, um, hasn't. 

 - Your way of explaining all in this piece of writing is genuinely fastidious all can effortlessly know it.

 - My family members all the time say that I am killing my time here at web. but I know I am getting familiarity all the time by reading such fastidious articles.

 -  I think every one is getting more from this web page, and your views are fastidious designed for new viewers.

And there it is. So if my RSS feed hasn't been seized by a frustrated subscriber, I'll have another up-to-date updated collection of comments at the end of next month. Till then, just keep looking over this web page repeatedly!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Diabelli Project 084 - Quintet for Clarinet and Strings

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.

In this week's flash composition sketch, I seem to have channeled Weber. I had recently aired Weber's Clarinet Quintet, Op. 34 on my radio program, so perhaps it's not surprising that I would spontaneously sketch one out. The sketch seems to have some of the transparency of a classical period work. The string parts aren't especially hard, and the ensemble is lightly scored.

Of course, there are other non-classical period elements -- like the 3/4 bar and the actual intervals found in those harmonies. But still, kind of a light showpiece by nature. (click on image to enlarge)

So what happens next? This looks like a score I'll revisit later on, but don't let that stop you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, you're free to use any of the material in your own work -- jsut let me know the results.

Friday, March 27, 2015

CCC 127 - Robert Groslot

Dutch composer Robert Groslot is the focus of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. The goal of this series is to hold up living composers writing accessible music of quality in some form of tonal language. That doesn't mean the music has to be pretty-sounding, though.

Groslot's music is tonal, but it's not easy listening by any means. He uses short, chromatic motifs to build his works, motifs with a strong tonal underpinning. His harmonies are also chromatically related, (rather than by the standard intervals of the major and minor systems). Still, the listener is never lost in a Groslot work (or at least, I wasn't). Groslot's style provides plenty of reference points along the way to keep the listener following the development of his ideas.

His Suite for Flute and Piano provides a good introduction to Groslot's music. The structural aspects of his composition is laid bare by the sparse instrumentation. Still, there is a good deal of complexity in this work as the melodic fragments come together.

Groslot's chamber work, "The Phoenician Sailor," is similar in style. Here the melodic elements are distributed among the various instruments, gradually coming together as the piece progresses.

A major part of Robert Groslot's catalog is made up of concertos. Like Paul Hindemith, he seems to have written a concerto for just about every instrument in the orchestra (and then some). According to his website, each concerto is designed to be "very challenging and inspirational pieces for the performer, and are written in a personal and accessible style."

In the Concerto for Marimba, Vibes, and Concert Band, note how the soloist is required to manage two instruments at once. And yet the music flows naturally without pause, and without calling attention to the physical challenges of the performance.

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra may have a more traditional ensemble makeup, but Groslot treats it in a highly original manner. Listen closely to the unusual percussion instruments he adds to the mix. That, plus the pairing of instruments within the orchestra are critical parts of Groslot's musical identity.

In my opinion, the music of Robert Groslot shows that tonality isn't a dead end. His use of key centers would be completely foreign to composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries, but that's the point. Groslot is living now, and his music reflects the sensibilities of the current world, not that of the previous centuries.

Not many works by Groslot have been recorded, and of the ones that have, not many are still in print. But Robert Groslot has posted sound files for several of his works on his website. It's there that you'll be able to more fully explore this composer's catalog.

Recommended recordings

FONTYN: Piano Works

Robert Groslot Conducts His Concertos With Concert

Robert Groslot: Works for Clarinet

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Got a Little Rhythm" has a lot of fun

It's always fun when friends get together to make music. And that's exactly what this intimately-recorded release sounds like. Pianist John Musto and soprano Amy Burton are a husband and wife team, steeped both in Broadway and classical music traditions. Baritone Patrick Mason is a long-time collaborator with both Musto and Burton, and the easy camaraderie of these three comes across in the release.

Many singers stick to the Great American Songbook when performing an album of show tunes, but mercifully that's not what happens here. Sure, there are some standards such as George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" and Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York."

But this trio goes deeper into the repertoire, coming up with some unusual gems like "I'll See You in C-U-B-A" by Irving Berlin and "Faithful Forever," by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger.

I'm used to the singing style of Broadway's current crop of full-throated performers. Initially Burton and Mason's voices sounded a little thin to me. After a couple of numbers, though, I began to appreciate the subtleties their restraint brought to the songs.

It sounds like"Got a Little Rhythm" was a lot of fun to record. I'm glad Bridge Records let us sit in on the fun.

Got a Little Rhythm
Amy Burton, soprano; Patrick Mason, baritone; John Musto, piano
Bridge Records 9430

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Zdnek Fibich Overtures a delight

Zdeněk Fibich was almost an exact contemporary of Antonin Dovrak. And like his fellow Czech, Fibish's music in infused with the energy of his country's folk music. Volume Four of Naxos' ongoing traversal of Fibich's orchestral music is perhaps the most exciting installment so far.

The disc collects several of Fibich's overtures, as well as the ballet music to hone of his opera, "Hedy.". The scores are from Fibich operas, and all are real curtain-raisers. If you're not familiar with Fibich, these works share the same freshness and energy of Dvorak's concert overtures.

The opera "Hedy" (based on Byron's Don Juan) is filled with exciting ballet sequences, and the 17-minute concert suite Fibich created from it is a high point of the release. While perhaps not quite on par with Tchaikovsky, Fibich nevertheless manages to create charming dances that practically command the listener's body to respond in some way -- if not by dancing around the room, then at least by tapping one's foot (as I did quite frequently).

Marek Stilec and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubic play these works with the deep understanding only a native ensemble can bring to Czech repertoire. The pace is quick, the fortes joyfully loud, and the ensemble is fully committed to making these works come alive. -- which they do.

Zdeněk Fibich: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4
Overtures; Ballet Music from Hedy
Czech Chamnber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Marek Stilec, conductor

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Straco Express Layout, Part 43 - Tower of Strength

Although this was made for H0 scale model
layouts, the size -- and the manufacturer --
made this a logical addition to the Straco
display layoug.
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

One of the major challenges in developing the Straco Express display layout has been finding appropriate scenery. The guidelines for the layout are pretty simple.

  1. Everything must come from a Japanese toy manufacturer
  2. Everything must have been made between 1948-1964 (or so)
  3. Everything should be tinplate, with minimal plastic

It's been relatively easy to fill the roads and rails with sort-of-H0-scale vehicles and rolling stock. Buildings and other accessories, though, have been another matter. When I first came across the Cragstan light tower, I wasn't sure if it would be a good fit (especially at its original asking price).

Cragstan was a major importer of Japanese toys, and a number of pieces on the display layout were brought in under the Cragstan brand. But this tower was designed not for the toy market, but for the model railroad market. After the Second World War, H0 model railroading blossomed, and both 0-gauge and S-gauge railroading declined proportionally.

The asking price for this particular tower also declined, and when it finally reached a reasonable amount, I bought it. And I'm glad I did.

Both the construction of the piece and the box's artwork suggest this is probably from the early 1950's. The tower itself is metal rather than plastic. The lens covers screw onto the light fixture, and the fixtures pivot on a moving metal bracket. It's a pretty elaborate construction.

The tower adds something to landscape, I think.
The lights don't work, but that's OK. None of these tinplate trains have any lights on them, so running them in a darkened room isn't the best idea anyway. When I have some free time, I'll see if I can replace the bulbs -- it would be nice to have it fully operational, after all.

As you can see from the photos, the tower fits well on the layout. The finish of the metal is in keeping with the finish of the cars and trains. The height of the piece adds some visual interest to the display, and it fills in a bare spot on the layout.

At this point, I'm not sure there's much more I can add -- or should add -- the display layout. I am on the lookout for a few things -- like the Sakai Hudson & Pacific diesel for my Sakai freight cars; the rest of the train for my lone Rosko box car; the Nomura Milwaukee Road engine and box car for my orphaned gondola car. But I expect it will be quite a while before I find any of those at a price I'm willing to pay.

For now, I'll just enjoy what I have.

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
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99
Cragstan HO Light Tower $20.49


  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $186.37

Monday, March 23, 2015

Diabelli Project 083 - Percussion Quartet

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.

I've already dashed off two percussion trios in this flash composition series. (see Nos. 055 and 075). And I speculated that they might actually be part of a much larger work, rather than two separate pieces.

Although this is the first percussion quartet I've written as part of the Diabelli Project, there's a possibility that it, too, may be part of some larger percussion work along with the trios. After all -- I've only sketched out a few measures of each. Who's to say that more instruments don't come in later on. Maybe those trios aren't trios after all.... (click on images to enlarge)

I may return to these another time and see if they all fit together. But you may have other ideas. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this music is made available for any and all to use as they see fit. Just let me know of your results.

Friday, March 20, 2015

CCC 126 - Luigi Zaninelli

American composer Luigi Zaninelli is this week's Consonant Composer's Challenge. After 125 entries, some patterns have emerged -- although not the ones I expected. I thought that tonal composers would be grouped into generations, that consonance might be a trend (like atonality).

But that turned out not be the case. Living composers from their 20's through their 80's have been features in this series, and each one has used the concept of tonal centers in their own unique manner.
But there are some trends.

Composers who specialize in band and choral music tend to write tonal music more frequently than those who write for a broader range of forces. Most of Zaninelli's compositions (at least, the ones available to me for audition) are for symphonic wind ensemble. Zaninelli was brought to the Curtis Institute by Gian-Carlo Menotti, and shares his love of melody. Zaninelli's also written extensively for film (another genre that tends to favor tonal composers), and for a time served as the conductor/arranger for soprano Anna Moffo.

As might be expected, Zaninelli writes in a rather conservative -- and therefore quite accessible -- style. His melodies are fairly regular in structure, and are usually idiomatic to the instruments their written for.

Zaninelli studied in Rome when he was in his 20's. And he also wrote film scores for Italian productions. Some of that background can be heard in his "Roma Sacra."

Composing for symphonic winds requires a high degree of orchestral skill. It's not the same as writing for marching band. Zaninelli uses the ensemble effectively in his "Symphony for Winds and Percussion." The complexity of the material is indeed symphonic in nature, as is the structure.

In the "Concerto for Piano and Wind Ensemble" you can hear that while Zaninelli may cast his music in a tonal framework, but he's not constricted by it. The soloist is presented with some serious technical challenges.


Many composers such as Paul Hindemith and Vincent Persichetti have written for symphonic wind ensembles Zaninelli is an able proponent of the genre, and his music is widely performed. While the perception is that modern classical music is ugly and confrontational, there are whole genres where that's the exception, not the rule. Just ask any wind player.

Recommended Recordings 

The Music of Luigi Zaninelli

Modern Sounds

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fresh approaches to Ravel and Chausson

The Trio Solisti perform two French piano trio repertoire standards, and have something substantial to offer with both.

The Ravel Trio in A minor benefits from a nice balance between delicacy and full-blown expressiveness. Trio Solisti means "trio of solists" and in this work that's what you get -- three soloists taking turns spinning out the exposed passages in Ravel's beautiful sonic tapestry. Soloists they may be, but the ensemble blend is there, too. And it's seamless.

Chausson's somewhat somber Trio in G minor, Op. 3, is also beautifully performed. Maria Bachmann's violin and Alexis Pia Gerlach's cello both seem to sound darker timbres in this work. The trio imbues the work with a sense of longing that only resolves on the final chords. Some performances I've heard make this trio sound pretty. The Trio Solisti give it real emotional weight.

Trio Solisti: Ravel & Chausson
Maurice Ravel: Trio in A minor
Ernest Chausson: Trio in G minor, Op. 3
Bridge 9440

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Woldemar Bargiel - mid-century Romantic masterworks

Music talent definitely ran in the family. Woldemar Bargiel wasn't just a well-respected composer. He was also the half-brother of Clara Wieck Schumann, a pianist and composer of no mean ability herself. Woldemar also won the respect of her husband Robert. He also worked closely with Brahms, co-editing editions of works by Chopin and Schumann.

Toccata Classics begin their traversal of< Bargiel's orchestral music with a major work and three shorter, more characteristic ones.

Bargiel's 1864 Symphony in C major seems a little old-fashioned, reminding me of Mendelssohn's first symphony written 20 years before. Like that work, the influence of Beethoven is easy to hear.

Still, Bargiel's symphony is a well-crafted work, delivering on the drama and heightened emotions that dominated the Romantic aesthetic. And Bargiel carefully develops his motifs, bringing them through to logical and satisfying conclusions.

The remainder of the release features concert overtures, the genre that Bargiel was best known for. In these short works, Bargiel uses dramatic contrasts between instrumental groups to keep things moving. It's easy to understand why they were popular. Bargiel delivers one tuneful episode after, catching up the listener in the excitement of the moment (well, at least this listener).

The Siberian Symphony Orchestra have a clean and balanced sound, and Dmitry Vasilyev should be given credit for directing performances that bring out the best in this music.

I can't wait for volume two!

Woldemar Bargiel: Complete Orchestral Music,Vol. 1
Symphony in C major, Op. 30; Overture to a Tragedy, Op. 18; Overture to Promethues, Op.16; Overture to Mediea, Op. 22
Siberian Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Vasilyev,conductor
Toccata Classics, TOCC 0277

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Frazz nods to Big Nate

Most of the newspaper comic strip citations I've done in this blog call out cameos appearances. That is, where a character from one strip appears in another (either with or without the cooperation of the first strip's creator). The January 24, 2015 of Frazz is a little different, though. (click on image to enlarge)

What makes this different? When one character appears in a second's strip, there's an implication that the two strips share the same universe (or at least part of it). So, for example, because Dilbert is shown in Blondie's shop, that it's located in the same unnamed city as Dilbert's unnamed company. Or that because Walt Wallet dropped in to visit Dick Tracy, that the events in Gasoline Alley occur in the same universe as those in Dick Tracy. (See: Blondie Cameo and The Alley Comes to Tracy)

The point is, when one character appears in another strip, then both share the same reality. Jef Mallet chose to do something different in Frazz. Caulfield says he's reading a "Big Nate" collection. So in Frazz's world, Lincoln Peirce's character isn't a real person -- he's a fictional comic strip character (just as he is in real life -- if you really think about it). 

And just for the record, here's what was happening in the fictional world of Big Nate that same day. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Diabelli Project 082 - Piece for Chamber Orchestra

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 flash composition is a little more ambitious than most -- once you consider the source. While the music isn't that complex, the forces involved are. It's a work for a small chamber orchestra. I envisioned just one player each for the brass and winds, with no percussion (at least for this sketch), and a small string section. (click on images to enlarge)

Below is the original sketch that I dashed off in my allotted 10 minutes. I tried to give myself enough information to make a fair copy without filling in too many blanks. After all -- the purpose of the fair copy is just to present a legible version of the sketch -- not to recompose it in the process.

As always, this sketch can be used by any and all -- just let me know the results.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Horszowski Trio lives up to its namesake

I first became aware of the Horszowksi Trio through their performances on Dan Visconti's "Lonesome Roads" release. There they played Visconti's music with steely precision and a sense of urgency.

This release shows the trio in a different light. Their namesake, pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowksi had first-hand experience with the composers on this album. As a child prodigy he performed Fauré's music for the composer. He also met Saint-Saëns, and was acquainted with Vincent D'Indy professionally.

Trio pianist Rieko Aizawa was one of Horszowksi's last students, and an inheritor of his deep understanding of these French composers. An affinity shared by violinist Jesse Mills and cellist Raman Ramakrishan.

As an ensemble, they capture the essential Gaulic nature of this music. Saint-Saëns' Trio No. 1 in F major is a pleasant, lyrical work. The trio seems to realize the richness of Saint-Saëns' harmonies, making this a real sonic treat.

By contrast, Fauré's Trio in D minor is more somber work. The strings adopt a darker tone, and the trio plays with just a hint of reserve that serves the music well.

d'Indy's Trio No. 2 is a work that wears its heart on its sleeve, and the Horszowksi Trio is properly emotive. Despite the expressiveness of their playing, though, the trio maintains a clean, precise ensemble sound. The result is a pleasing balance between emotion and intellect.

Horszowski Trio: Fauré; Saint-Saëaut;ns; d'Indy
Camille Saint-Saëns: Trio No. 1 in F major, op. 18
Gabriel Fauré: Trio in D minor, Op. 120
Vincent d'Indy: Trio No. 2 in  forme de Suite in G major, Op. 98
Bridge Records 9441

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Anders: Marimba Concertos - welcome repertoire addditions

The marimba is often an instrument of cliché, primarily because of its close association with Latino pop music (think: Baja Marimba Band). Danish composer Anders Koppel approaches the instrument from a slightly different direction. Some if it may be due to his nationality, some because of his background as a successful rock instrumentalist and jazz performer.

Whatever the reason, Koppel's four marimba concertos sound fresh, exciting, and accessible. And that makes them welcome additions to the repertoire. Although each work has its own characteristics, there are some stylistic similarities that bind them together. In all of them the soloist and ensemble are equal partners, sharing center stage throughout the work.

Koppel's concertos all have a strong rhythmic element. Sometimes it's rock-inspired, sometimes jazzy, but always strongly centered in the classical realm. The soloist (Marianna Bednarska) is always challenged. The music skips across the marimba's keyboard, making great demands on the speed, accuracy and musicality of the performer. Bednarska delivers on all counts.

For me, it's a treat to hear these through an SACD player. A marimba with rosewood keys has a very rich sound, and (in the lower register) notes have a long decay. Some of the expressive nature of music is in those very subtle musical details -- details that I could only hear from the SACD version.

Anders Koppel: Marimba Concertos
Mairanna Bednarska, marimba; Aalborg symphony Orchestra; Henrik Vagn Christensen, conductor
Dacapo SACD 6.220595

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Straco Express Layout, Part 42 - Express Duality

Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

When I started adding vehicles to the Straco Express layout, I started with what I had -- a Japanese friction cattle truck (See: Part 11 - Truckin'). I recently found a companion piece on eBay, an express van.

I'm always interested in the ways toy manufacturers vary a basic design to create new toys -- and the ways they don't.

This new addition still has its
rear door -- unlike my older cattle truck.
My childhood toy was a cattle truck, while this one is an enclosed express van.

Placed side by side, it's easy to see that there was really only one difference -- to create a cattle bed, they simply stamped slat openings into the sides of the truck body. Both have the same paint scheme and chassis.

There is a slight difference in the hubcaps, though. Mine looks to be a little newer, with hubcaps that were pressed into the rubber tires (which is probably why most of them went missing over the years). The express van has tin discs that are held in place by the axles.

It didn't take much to turn an express van into
a cattle truck. But note the differences in the
hubcap design.
Although the express truck (manufacturer unknown) is a welcome addition to the Straco Express layout, I wouldn't really call it an upgrade over my cattle truck.

On the plus side, the express truck has all of its original parts. My cattle truck is missing its rear door, and its hubcaps (as noted above).

On the minus side, though, the express truck was stored in a damp environment (probably a basement), which caused the front grill to rust. I don't have any complaints about the scratches, which are relatively few.

After all, this was a cheap toy that was meant to be played with. But the roof at one point had something drip on it that left a rough residue and caused the paint to craze.

All in all, though, I'm happy with the purchase and adds some more substantial traffic to the layout's newly-expanded motorways.

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
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99


  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $165.88

Monday, March 09, 2015

Diabelli Project 081 - Piano Piece in D

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.

Last week's flash composition was a little piano piece in D -- and so is this. My original intent was to make it a string quartet, but when it came time to make a fair copy I couldn't make out my own notation. So a piano piece it is. Perhaps this could be the slow movement to last week's sketch? (click on image to enlarge)

And there are a few more piano pieces in D -- Diabelli Project 078 is a 2/4-7/16 rapid-fire piece; Diabelli Project 054 is a 5/8 study in tone clusters, and Diabelli Project 045 is another 5/8 sketch. I've been thinking about what to do when the Diabelli Project concludes, and perhaps joining and developing collections of sketches may be that next step.

While that's what I may do with this, you can choose to do something else. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, any and all are welcome to use this as they choose. Just send me the results!

Friday, March 06, 2015

CCC 125 - Somtow Sucharitkul

Somtow Sucharitkul is a Thai-American conductor, composer -- and award-winning science fiction author. And he's this week's Consonant Composer's Challenge profile.

Although born in Thailand, Somtow spent a significant amount of time in England and the US. His compositions combines traditional Thai music with the conventions of Western art music. Somtow's experience as a conductor gives him an intimate knowledge of the orchestra. That knowledge (I believe) makes his orchestrations so effective.

Somtow's music has strong tonal centers, though they're not necessarily in major or minor keys. Rather, melodies tend to be primarily pentatonic. Traditional Thai scales have seven equally-spaced notes, of which five are used as principle pitches.

Deserted City is an evocative work for solo violin and orchestra. Sucharitkul has the solo violin bend notes and glissando between pitches, emulating the sound of traditional Thai stringed instruments.


Ganesha's Aria is an excerpt from Somtow's 2006 opera Ayodhya. The work is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana, and places Thai music traditions within the framework of modern opera -- to great effect.

The ballet-opera Suriyothai is based on the legend of 16th century royal consort Suriyothai. Although Thai elements are strong in the score, the work also seems to have a neo-baroque flavor to it.

Somtow Sucharitkul maintains an active career not only as a composer, but as a conductor and recording artist as well. Although he celebrates his native culture, Somtow's works are skillfully written to be accessible -- and enjoyable -- to Western ears. For orchestras trying to break the hold of dead white European composers, a well-written work by a living Asian composer might be just the thing.

Recommended Recordings

Somtow Sucharitkul - Requiem - In Memoriam 9/11

GONGULA by Somtow Sucharitkul

Perpetual May

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Dohnanyi Piano Quintets Have Potential

Ernö Dohnányi wrote his first piano quintet in 1895, while he was still very much under the influence of Brahms. Published as his Opus 1, Dohnányi's first piano quintet is a solid enough composition, especially for a young man of 22. Dohnányi's natural voice wasn't that far removed from that of his idol, so the music flows in a natural and unforced fashion. If you love Brahms, there's much to like in this quintet.

By 1914, Dohnányi had begun to establish his own style. His second piano quintet draws more on Hungarian musical traditions, especially with its modal tonalities in the first movement. The final movement's fugue is a delight; inventive and lively without sounding learned at all.

The Ensō String Quartet and pianist Gottlieb Wallisch perform well together, creating a seamless ensemble. The energy they bring to this music brings out its full potential, I think, and makes this release an enjoyable listening experience.

Are these the best piano quintets ever written? No. But as played by Wallisch and the Ensō String Quartet, they sound pretty darned good.

Erno Dohnányi: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2
Ensō String Quartet; Gottlieb Wallisch, piano
Naxos 8.570572

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Edvin Kallstenius -- A composer worth exploring

When I first read about Swedish composer Edvin Kallstenius and his claim that "musical religion is called harmonics – everything else is secondary," I thought he might be another Charles Ives. When I heard his music, though, I revised that opinion. If I had to characterize Kallstenius' music in terms of another composer, I'd choose Paul Hindemith.

Like Ives and Hindemith, Kallstenius worked out his own musical theory. While some of his music has a somewhat tonal framework, Kallstenius' harmonies often resolve in unexpected fashion. And though his melodies may seem atonal on first hearing, they're not based on a 12-tone system. Those tones are moving to the internal logic of Kallstenius' harmonic structures.

Does Kallstenius' music work? Indeed it does. Take his first symphony from 1926. There is straight-forward motivic development that keeps the music moving forward. Kallstenius always knows where he's going and how he's going to get there.

Kallstenius was also deeply interested in folk song. His 1946 Sinfonietta No. 2 is a light work, with some folk-like melodic elements. While the harmonies are sometimes quite thick, this is still a more accessible work than the symphony.

The Musica Sinfonica, Op. 42 of 1953 represents a distillation of Kallstenius' musical theory. If it were written a half-century later, I might label it "post-tonal." Kallstenius isn't concerned with tonality, but he's not concerned with avoiding it, either. For me, this work is the most interesting of the three on this album.

Even though Kallstenius reminded me of Hindemith, he doesn't sound like Hindemith. Kallstenius' voice is original, and not just for the sake of originality. Kallstenius is simply expressing ideas that could not be written any other way.

Edvin Kallstenius: Symphony No. 1, op. 16 in E-flat major; Sinfonietta No. 2, op. 34 in G major; Musica Sinfonica, op. 42
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Frank Beermann, conductor
CPO 777 361-2

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Dick Tracy Gets Funky

And the Dick Tracy crossovers continue.

In late January, Dick Tracy and Sam Ketchem visited Westview (home of Funky Winkerbean) to oversee an auction of impounded goods. According to Tom Baitiuk's blog, the idea for the crossover story came from Joe Staton, the current artist for Dick Tracy. Baitiuk also published the full sequence for both strips with their parallel stories. Below are a few samples. (click on images to enlarge)

Dick Tracy - note the Starman Jones cover in the center panel.
Funky Winkerbean. John Howard and Crazy Harry meet Dick Tracy.
Dick Tracy - Dick and Sam meet Funky Winkerbean.
Funky Winkerbean - John Howard provides a synopsis.

But to fully appreciate what's going on, there's a lot of back story that needs to be filled in.

In Funky Winkerbean there's a fictional Golden Age comic book series that's been the subject of a few story lines. John Howard, owner of the Komix Korner and comics collector Crazy Harry Klinghorn have referenced Starman Jones. There was reference to a Starman Jones movie being in development when English teacher/writer Les Moore went to Hollywood to write a screenplay for his book. A recent story line followed Holly Winkerbean as she tried to build a complete collection of Starman Jones for her son serving in the Middle East -- a story line that was concluded with this crossover.

Tom Baitiuk asked a few of his colleagues to create Starman Jones comic book covers -- including Joe Staton. And that's probably why Staton suggested extending the collaboration further.

Meanwhile, in Dick Tracy, the villain known as the Jumbler tried to steal a forgotten cache of Golden Age comics. That particular story line also marked a crossover with the Jumbler puzzle! (see: Dick Tracy and the Jumble Crossover). Starman Jones comics can be seen in the pile.

The multiple levels of this crossover are what made this enjoyable for me. And seeing such imaginative creativity at work is also a pleasure. Of course, this means that the world of Funky Winkerbean -- and by extension that of Baitik's other strip Crankshaft, are now part of the Dick Tracy Universe, along with those of Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, and Terry and the Pirates (among others)!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Diabelli Project 080 - Piano Piece in D

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.

Just a few weeks ago I posted another piano piece in D (see Diabelli Project 078). Like that sketch, this one also isn't especially concerned about staying within a major/minor or even a modal key structure. Rather, the idea is to use D as a destination point, and as a point of reference. (click on image to enlarge)

So what happens next? Does this sketch somehow tie in with the earlier one, or are these the start of two different works? That's for you to decide. As always, this sketch is offered freely to any and all to use as their inspired to. But you know -- I think I'll be revisiting this one myself sometime...