Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spam Roundup May, 2016

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.

Non sequiter plus ultra 

 - I read this post completely about the resemblence of most recent and preceding technologies. It's an amazing article. [This in response to a review of some Dvorak piano trios.] 

 - Hi, its good piece of writing concerning media print, we all be familiar with media is a great source of data. [Again, the post was about Dvorak piano trios.]

 - Thanks for your marvelous posting?! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author. [I may very well be -- but how would I know?] 

Lumbering along goes on

My short post about small vintage Japanese tinplate toy (The Straco Layout, Part 23 -- Lumbering Along) continues to be popular among the spambots. Clearly, it's not the content that's attracting them.

 - thank you for the good writup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you. [I'm all about adding agreeable.]

 - What I don't understood is if truth be told you've no longer actually much more smartly-favored than you may be right now. [You mean I'm past my prime smartly-favored-wise?] 

 - It's like your read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something [Or something.]

RE: Fastidious 

No comments used -- or rather, misused -- the word fastidious this month. But the comments to my post Fastidious Spam more than made up for that lack.

 - these are really enourmous ideas in regarding blogging. You have touched some pleasant factors here. [Nothing pleasant about the mis-use of "fastidious," bub.] 

 - great points altogether, you just won a emblem new reader [I wonder what an emblem new reader is.]

Awesome! Its really remarkable paragraph [Which one? The post had seven.] 

Pretty section of content. [Yes, just gorgeous.] 

You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write. the world hopes for more passionate writes like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. [I'm not afraid. Misuse the word "fastidious" and I'll tell the world.]

That's all for this month. Try to touch only pleasant factors, and remember -- you, too, may be a great author.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Diabelli Project 112 - Wind Trio

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

This isn't the first flash composition sketch of a wind trio I've done (see parts 106 and 076). But it is the most fully developed. Looking at the three sketches together, I think this one might work very well as a slow middle movement while the others could work as outer movements. Hmm. This one I'll have to explore further.

As always, this sketch, in all or in parts, is available for anyone to use. I'd love to see the direction someone else takes this. Just be sure to share the results.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 006 - Field Cross

006. Field Cross
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

006. Field Cross

Even though this construction set has dowels and grommets, the first twenty or so toys in the instruction sheet just involve stacking the metal parts on each other without securing them.

I'm not sure, but I think I cheated a little when I built the field cross. No matter how I bent the pieces, I just couldn't get them to stack properly. So I ran a dowel rod down through the cross, and that helped to stabilize the structure.

The instruction sheet just has the one image for this toy. Without a back view, I don't know if using a dowel is "allowed" or not.

But it worked.

Even with the dowel running through the lower part of the cross
it still doesn't look all that stable to me. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tasmin Little: British Violin Sonatas, Volume Two

You don't have to be Czech to play Dvorak, Spanish to play Rodrigo, nor British to play Vaughan Williams. And yet an artist who shares the composer's nationality often brings a deeper understanding to the music, a certain authenticity to the performances. That thought occurred to me as I listened to British Violin Sonatas, Volume 2.

In my review of Volume 1, I said: "Tasmin Little played with an expressive yet precise manner, letting the merits of the compositions speak for themselves." Her performances in volume two are just as beautifully clear, but with (I think) more emotional investment. And the musical chemistry between Tasmin Little and Piers Lane is just as strong as it was in Volume 1.

The disc opens with Frank Bridge's 1904 Sonata. It's a somewhat conservative work for Bridge, who in the 1920s abandoned English pastoralism, if not tonality altogether. Although this is is an early work, there are times when the melody threatens to slip the constraints of late-Romantic tonality.

John Ireland's Violin Sonata No. 1 features long phrases that extend across wide intervals. Little's violin practically sings these melodies, bring out their structural and emotive beauty. Little and Lane make the shifting textures and moods of the work seem like a conversation between two close friends.

The Sonata of Arthur Bliss is an eleven-minute work densely packed with musical ideas. In some ways, it's the most English-sounding of the lot, especially with its melodic turns. But the texture and cross-currents make this so much more than just another pretty pastoral.

The program concludes with  the Romance and Pastorale of Ralph Vaughan Willimas leading into William Lloyd Webber's beautiful "The Gardens at Eastwell." Both are quintessential examples of the English pastoral style and make a lovely way to end the program.

My review of Volume 1 concluded: "I look forward to volume two!" Three years later, I can say it was definitely worth the wait. Now I look forward to volume three!

British Violin Sonatas, Volume 2
Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Lane, piano
Frank Bridge: sonata; John Ireland: Sonata No. 1 in D minor; Sir Arthur Bliss: Sonata; Ralph Vaughan Williams: Two Pieces; William Lloyd Webber: The Gardens at Eastwell
Chandos CHAN 10899

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Seeking Sakai, Part 2

In part 1 I shared the details about an early H0-scale tinplate set I found. It was manufactured by Sakai, a company that was founded in Japan around 1947.

Recently I found out quite a lot about this set from a variety of sources.

Turns out this is Sakai also.
There was a Japanese company called Seki that operated before the war. They competed primarily with Marx in the US, offering some interesting variants on Marx and low-end Lionel and American Flyer 0-gauge sets.

Seki and Sakai are sometimes confused, but they were different companies. Seki ceased operation during the Second World War. Sakai Seisakusho Ltd. began operation after the war, offering different products.

From a Seki/Sakai online group, I learned that Sakai manufactured the mystery train set (at right) I've talked about before on this blog. They also made an 0-gauge tinplate train set sporting "Hudson & Pacific" livery that's quite desirable.

I've seen boxed examples on eBay of their H0-gauge switches and tracks. They survived into the 1960s, offering plastic H0 rolling stock and at least one locomotive.

And eventually, I found what I was looking for -- an example of my set in its original box. The set was made by Sakai for Macys Department stores and offered under their Stalwart house brand. Although the example I found only had the train, I'm sure it came originally came complete with track and transformer.

No question. It's a match. Too bad this example's missing the track and transformer.

The headline reads "Macys Own Stalwart H0 Electric Train Set"
But when was this set offered? There's no copyright notice on the box to indicate the year, and I don't have access to an archive of Macys catalogs. But I did find a newspaper ad from 1953, featuring the set. So there it is. This set was made by Sakai for Macys, imported and sold in 1953 for $9.98.

Don't be fooled by the price. In today's dollars, that set would sell for $89.61. This was a premium set offered for a premium price. And well worth it, I think. The quality of the materials and details of construction are in keeping with what one would expect from Macys. Nomura, Straco, and Bandai battery-operated toy train sets may have been good enough for Woolworth's and Western Auto, but not for Macys.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Seeking Sakai - Part 1

I'm always on the lookout for vintage Japanese tin H0-gauge trains for my Straco display layout. There's not a lot of collected information about any of the manufacturers involved in early postwar production, so I've been slowly discovering what was available and from whom one piece at a time.

They looked like a good fit for the Straco display layout. However...

A set of rolling stock came up for auction on eBay. Having only the photos to go by, I determined they would be a good fit. I won the auction for a price I was comfortable with, and everything was fine -- until the pieces arrived.

It was then I discovered that these cars were of a much higher quality than the ones I had been collecting. Not only was the quality higher, but they weighed far more than the Nomura, Bandai, or Straco pieces I had.

Below are side-by-side comparisons:

Top to bottom: Straco, Nomura, Haji (Nomura), Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Nomura, Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Bandai, Sakai

Top to bottom: Straco, Bandai, Nomura, Sakai

In time, I discovered that the pieces were made by Sakai, a post-war Japanese company that specialized in H0-gauge track and accessories (such as switches). They also manufactured O-gauge trains that competed with high-end Marx and low-end Lionel in the American market..

And eventually, I found a locomotive for my set. And it's a monster, as it needs to be to haul those cars. On average, the rolling stock for all the examples I owned -- Nomura, Bandai, Straco, and Haji -- weighed about 2.5 oz. The Sakai rolling stock was closer to 5 oz. per car. The Nomura and Bandai diesels each weighed 7 oz.; the Straco diesel weighed 5 oz. By contrast, the Sakai locomotive weight 20 oz. -- 1.4 lbs.

The Sakai locomotive shell is diecast metal. And it's heavy.
The shell of the Sakai diesel is diecast metal, which accounts for most of the weight. But that weight was necessary. As you can see from the chart below, it had more weight to pull. The Nomura diesel can only pull its two cars weighing a total of 6 oz. I've tried adding a third 3 oz. boxcar -- the engine's wheels just spin. By contrast, the Sakai diesel is designed to pull 4 cars weighing a total of 17 oz..

The Sakai chassis. Those wheel frames are diecast metal, and the
motor is also pretty substantial. Both give the locomotive a lot of traction.
The lithographed metal construction makes the set seem more toy-like. But this train was designed for true H0-scale track, rather than the taller tinplate track of the toy train sets. Note the scale-proportioned flanges of the wheels of the Sakai rolling stock as compared to those of the Nomura set.

Note the difference between the wheels of the Sakai boxcar (l) and the
Nomura car (r). The Sakai train was designed for standard
H0-gauge track, as opposed to the bigger tinplate track of the
Nomura/Bandai sets.
The diesel I found was in rough shape, but the price was right. And it works as a display piece placeholder until I can upgrade.

The train is complete, for now.

My next project is to see if I can get the engine to work again.

And this past week I discovered a bit more about this unique set which I'll share in Part 2.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Diabelli Project 111 - Piece for Solo Marimba

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.

And the sketches for some yet unfinished solo marimba piece continue (seven posts and counting). This one's the most challenging. In each measure, the player has to strike two notes together, then continue the melody.

It's possible with some careful planning, as sometimes the two notes are best played with a mallet in each hand, sometimes with two mallets in one hand. In the final completed measure, the little turn on count four might be best executed with two mallets in one hand. A challenge for sure!

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 005 - Bench with arm rests

005 - Bench with armrests
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

005. Bench with armrests

This is another toy that is made of just pieces stacked on each other. And unfortunately, it involves the thinnest pieces resting on their thinnest sides. I had to bend the sides to get the pieces to sit properly . And as long as there was absolutely no wind (or I didn't sneeze), it held together.

I must say, though, that my skill at stacking these featherweight little pieces has improved with practice. The final result looks very much like the drawing. Although to me this looks more like a sofa than a bench with armrests.

Bench with armrests, according to the instruction sheet.
Personally, I think it looks more like a sofa.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ferdinand Ries Cello Sonatas in the Rough

Ferdinand Ries was an accomplished pianist and composer who came to Vienna to study with Beethoven. The two became quite close (in addition to being his student, Ries also served as Beethoven's copyist and personal assistant).

And one can hear that closeness in most of Ries' compositions. The statement of the themes, the organization and working out of those themes, even the character of the pieces all echo Beethoven in some fashion -- even in his cello sonatas.

The first two sonatas were composed in 1807, just two years after Ries left Vienna. They bear the strongest resemblance to Beethoven's style. That's not to say Ries was derivative. The sonatas are well-constructed works, taking their opening themes to their logical conclusions in imaginative ways. All three sonatas bear the title "Grande Sonata for the piano-forte with violoncello obbligato," which suggests the cello plays a subservient role. In reality, all three sonatas evenly balance both instruments, making them truly collaborative works.

The Op. 125 sonata was composed in 1823 and bears only a trace of Beethoven. Ries has moved forward to the early romantic aesthetic. The best way I can describe the work is that it's Schubertian in character, with the melodies falling just a little short of Schubert's best.

One caveat about this recording -- cellist Gaetano Nasillo and pianist Alessandro Commellato perform with instruments of the period, which gives these works a somewhat raw sound. The 1825 Joseph Boehm piano-forte sounds especially harsh.

In the final movement of the Op. 20 sonata I heard some clinking that was definitely distracting. Had something shaken loose and fallen on the strings, or was the mechanism really that noisy? The extreme upper register of the instrument also seemed to be slightly out of tune.

The cello also had, to my ears, a slightly pinched tone to it. Some of these issues are inherent in the instruments, of course. After the first sonata, I got used to the instruments and could listen past them to hear the music itself. If you want to experience these works as contemporary audiences did, then this release should be of interest. If authentic performance practice isn't your thing, then it's probably best to pass on this one.

Ferdnand Ries: Cello Sonatas
Grande Sonate Op. 20 in C major; Grande Sonata Op. 21 in A major;  Grande Sonate Op. 125 in G minor
Gaetano Naillo, cello
Alessandro Commellato, fortepiano

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New recording of Dett's "The Ordering of Moses" pays a debt

This release of R. Nathaniel Dett's "The Ordering of Moses" is important for several reasons. It's a performance by the commissioning ensemble, it revives a major work by a black composer and it rights a wrong.

R. Nathaniel Dett (born in Canada) was a well-known black pianist, choral conductor, arranger, and composer who spent most of his career in the States. Dett used African-American spirituals and folk music in his compositions. He took Dvorak's admonition that a composer should look to their own culture for inspiration to heart.

"The Ordering of Moses" was commissioned by the May Festival Chorus in 1937, and premiered by the Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that same year. The premiere was broadcast live on NBC, but the network cut the program short. Although no official reason was given, it's alleged that the network caved to complaints about airing black music.

All of which makes this recording so meaningful. James Conlon leads the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a live performance broadcast by WQXR in New York. This time, the work was broadcast in its entirety. That's all fine -- but is "The Ordering" any good?

I think so. Dett's composition is in a conservative post-romantic style that lends itself to rich harmonies and expressive melodies. Spirituals are used throughout the work, providing the motivic foundations for the oratorio. And those spirituals become somewhat refined in the process. There's no bending of pitches, and the rhythms are foursquare and lose some fluidity.

And yet, the use of the material gives the work its power in a way that European-inspired motifs could not. The fugal treatment of "Go Down Moses" in "And from a burning bush" is particularly effective. The opening movement features a clanking of chains, viscerally illustrating the concept of the Israelites' slavery.

Also of note (I think), is the "March of the Israelites." It's a beautiful movement with unusual harmonies that anticipates the Biblical epic scores of Miklos Rozsa by twenty years.

The performances are all first-rate, as is the recording. Highly recommended.

R. Nathaniel Dett: The Ordering of Moses
Latonia Moore, soprano; Ronnita Nicole Miller, mezzo-soprano; Rodrick Dixon, tenor; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone
May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; James Conlon, conductor
live recording
Bridge Records 9462

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Dick Tracy On the Fastrack

According to the current creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton, the characters in Dick Tracy's universe are well aware of those in Bill Holbrook's On the Fastrack. In a sequence from January 15, 2015,  Honeymoon Tracy was reading an e-book starring Dethany Dendrobia, an "On the Fastrack" character (see: Dick Tracy and the Literary Double).

January 15, 2016, the following appeared in Dick Tracy (top), and On the Fastrack (bottom).

Dick Tracy discusses the e-book case with Dethany in person, while in Fast Track, Dethany investigates in cyberspace -- and crosses paths with Dick Tracy.  It's a great crossover, thoughtfully executed by both strips.

And I found a few noteworthy things to consider. First, does this mean that Dethany -- and by extension -- the entire Fast Track cast exist in the same world as Dick Tracy? That's a change from having them exist as literary creations in said universe.

Second, note how Holbrook reinforces the concept of identity theft in his strip. He first shows Dick Tracy, then in the final panel, Fearless Fosdick, Al Capp's satirical take on Tracy -- a character that in some ways did indeed steal Tracy's identity.

One more thing -- the first crossover of these two strips (to my knowledge) occurred 1/15/15, the second 1/15/16. Is this going to be a yearly thing? No complaints from me if it is!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Diabelli Project 110 - Melody

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 more of a study than an actual piece of music. I started off with a simple theme and each time the phrase ended, carried it a little further. It's not designated for any instrument -- I didn't have one in mind when I wrote it. I'm sorry I didn't have more time to explore the concept further. Perhaps I'll have to move this one to the "work on later" pile.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 004 - Bench

004 - Bench
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

004. Bench

Of the 100 toys this set can build, the first twenty all seem to involve just stacking various metal shapes on top of each other. This bench was one of the easier of the toys in that category to make. It helped that the whole thing was low-slung, which made it more stable than the single and two-legged tables.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Both Scarlatti and Martini delight with La Dirindina

I wish I spoke Italian. If I did, I expect I'd enjoy these two versions of La Dirindina even more. Nevertheless, the broadly played performances of the singers (particularly Carlo Torriani), gave me a general idea of the humorous interplay going on in this opera buffa.

In the early 1700s, humorous musical interludes were inserted between the acts of operas. At that time, operas were concerned with the doings of gods and men (always of noble blood), had large casts, and were deadly serious. By contrast, the short opera buffa usually involved commoners or servants, with a cast of three.

In La Dirindina, an old music teacher (Don Carissimo) has immoral designs on his pupil (Dirindina), a young aspiring singer. Her attentions are drawn to a handsome castrato (Liscione). The libretto satirizes the world of opera and opera singers. Dirindina and Liscione, for example, fall in love while singing a duet about Dido and Aeneas, mirroring the action audience saw in the serious operas.

It's also a pretty racy text, with plenty of sexual innuendoes and sexually-based humor. Dominico Scarlatti's setting for the 1715 Carnival Season in Rome didn't make it past the censors. But Padre Martini's 1737 version did.

Scarlatti relies more heavily on secco recitative to move the story along, though his arias, duos, and trios are quite lovely. Martini, on the other hand, uses recitative more sparingly, letting duets carry the conversations. To my ears, Martini's music also seems to capture the humorous nature of the text better than Scarlatti.

This album expanded my musical knowledge in several directions. About the only opera buffa, I was familiar with before was Pergolisi's La Serva Padrona. Hearing these helped provide some context for that work.

Virtually all I had heard by Dominico Scarlatti were his keyboard sonatas, so it was nice to hear a different type of composition by him. I was familiar with Padre Martini through music history. He was a noted master of counterpoint and a sought-after composition teacher (his pupils include JC Bach and Mozart). But I had not heard any of his music before now. It was a pleasure.

Dominico Scarlatti: La Dirindina (1715)
Tullia Pedersoli, soprano; Carlo Torriani, baritone; Filippo Pina Castiglioni, tenor

Giovanni Battista Martini: La Dirindina 1737
Camilla Antonini, soprano; Filippo Pina Castiglioni, tenor; Paola Quagliata, soprano

I Solisti Ambrosiani; Enrico Barbagli, conductor and harpsichord 
Bongiovanni  2482-2

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cherubini and Cambini String Trios -- a Parisian pair

This collection of world premiere recordings makes for an appealing program. Luigi Cherubini and Giuseppe Cambini, though contemporaries, occupied different roles in the Parisian music scene of the early 1800s. These works show both the connections and the distinctions between the opera composer (Cherubini) and the master of chamber music (Cambini).

Cherubini spent most of his professional life in Paris. Most noted for his operas, he wrote very little chamber music -- and never any string trios. The works on this album are arrangements of his Solfeggio exercises.

Though Cherubini wrote these three-part exercises for training singers, they translate quite nicely to the string trio medium. And they work quite well as musical compositions to be enjoyed (rather than just studied).

Cambini was a prominent violinist and a prolific composer (100+ string quartets, 82 symphony concertante, 9 symphonies, etc.). He's sometimes credited with the development of the string quartet in France. And yet he's always been seriously underrepresented in recordings.

The three Cambini trios on this album all come from a set of six published in 1770. The trios are in the gallant style, with the first violin doing most of the heavy lifting. These works are elegantly crafted, and one can hear why Mozart considered Cambini his rival in Paris.

The Trio Hegel has a clean, tight, ensemble sound. Their performances of these pieces have the right amount of expression and emotion with tasteful restraint -- perfectly in line with the aesthetic of the gallant style.

Luigi Cherubini: Three Trios
Giuseppe Cambini: Three String Trios, Op. 2, Nos. 1-3
Trio Hegel
Tactus TC740001

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Collecting -- and collecting information 26

There's nothing like primary sources to get to the heart of a matter -- even if they drive a stake through it. In Collecting -- and collecting information 25, I thought I had finally discovered the maker of some unbranded signs.

As you may recall, I first ran across the signs back in 2014 (see: Collecting  -- and collecting information 16). They weren't branded, but were marked "Made in Japan." In Part 25, I shared my discovery -- an original Japanese tin toy playset with the same signs I owned. The set was branded Ichimura, so I assumed the signs came from them, too.

There's virtually no documentation for these inexpensive dime stores toys imported from Japan in the postwar era. Many of the toys weren't branded, though sometimes the packaging was. But as these were always considered cheap, disposable toys, the packaging was very rarely saved -- much less the toys themselves.

Nevertheless, caches of new/old stock keep turning up on the market. And that provides most of the information I've been able to find about these signs. I was confident that Ichiban had made the signs -- until I found the item below.

It is a playset in its original packaging from the 1950s. And it's clearly branded KHT -- Kawahachi Toy Co. Ltd. Is it the same firm as Ichimura & Co., Ltd.? I don't think so. What little I have found about the two companies includes their addresses, which are different.

So who made the signs? Did KHT make them and sell them to other manufacturers? Or did Ichimura? It's not clear. But there is one thing I did notice.

Perhaps this is the deluxe version of the set above.
I have purchased a set (without the packaging) that's very similar to the set above. Mine has a second passenger car and a fourth sign. Does that mean KHT offered two sets? Or was this, um, "deluxe" version sold under yet another name?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Diabelli Project 109 - Piece for Solo Violin

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

When I do one of these flash composition exercises, there are always surprises -- even when I think I know where the sketch is going. Recently I've been concentrating on music for solo marimba, creating themes and working with ideas that eventually I'll tie together into a single work. This sketch started out that way. The triplet motif is pretty easy to play with two mallets. But then the runs started, and notes they were driving to seemed too high for the marimba -- but not for the violin. So sometime around the third measure, the internal sound of this music changed to that of the violin. And that informed the articulation marks, and indeed, the rest of the sketch.

It's not the first sketch in this series I've written for solo violin (see Diabelli Project 071). Perhaps they, like the marimba sketches, are all part of a larger work?

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 003 - Living Room Suite

003. Living Room Suite
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

003. Living Room Suite

This was the most challenging toy to assemble to date. As before, I had to bend the sides of the metal pieces to ensure they sat flat on their respective surfaces.

The sofas proved the most difficult, as those very small pieces were set on their very small sides. Once again, this is a toy that looks good, but wouldn't hold up very long to any actual playing.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Robert Fuchs Chamber Music Rates a Listen

The perception of classical music is that its immutable -- the great composers have always been considered great, and the works we revere have always been so. Of course, the reality is quite different. Take Robert Fuchs, for example.

At the turn of the 20th Century, he was considered one of the greatest living composers. Brahms admired him, and he was much sought-after as a teacher. His list of pupils includes Erich Korngold, Gustav Mahler, Franz Schmidt, Hugo Wolf, Alexander von Zemlinsky and George Enescu.

Fuchs did little to promote his own music, often letting opportunities pass by. Nevertheless, his serenades and his chamber music were staples of the repertoire. And, as this release demonstrates, with good reason.

The Piano Trio of 1921 is a great example of Fuchs' mature style. His shimmering post-romantic harmonies were emulated by Zemlinsky and Schmidt. Fuchs uses a viola rather than a cello in this trio, and it gives the ensemble a lighter texture, making the harmonies even more ethereal.

Fuchs' 1915 Violin Sonata seems to be more concerned about delivering well-crafted melodies than showcasing technical challenges. Violinist Giulio Platino's expressive playing makes the most of those gorgeous melodies, without being overly dramatic (or even melodramatic).

The 6 Fantaiest├╝cke for viola date from 1927, the year of Fuchs' death. These pieces are warmly lyrical, and perhaps a little nostaligic. One can hear what appealed to Brahms in this work, I think.

This recording helped me understand why Fuchs enjoyed such high regard. I'm puzzled why he still doesn't today.

Robert Fuchs: Piano Trio in f-sharp minor, Op. 115; Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 103; 6 Fantaiest├╝cke Op. 117 for viola
Giulio Platino, violin; Claudio Cavalletti, viola; Enrico Maria Polimanti, piano
Brilliant 95028

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Michael Torke - Concerto for Orchestra true to form

I've liked everything I've heard by Michael Torke. In my opinion, his musical style seems to sit in the sweet spot -- his language is tonal without being tied to tradition, his rhythms propulsive without the intense repetition of minimalism (some consider him post-minimalist).

The Concerto for Orchestra starts with a very simple motif -- C-G-C-A. From that seed grows a 25-minute work that, while never straying too far from that opening motif, changes and expands in imaginative ways. While it's not quite the straightforward instrumental showcase of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, Torke's Concerto places heavy demands on the ensemble as a whole by the way he combines instruments from different sections.

Iphigenia for six winds and two strings is another example of Torke's organic approach to music. As he explains in the liner notes, each movement starts with an opening theme that Torke then expands by inserting new notes into it. These expanding themes are played against each other contrapuntally. The modest ensemble gives the music a transparency that helps reveal the interplay between the various lines.

Also included are two shorter works (Bliss and Oracle) that provide a nice transition from the Concerto to Iphigenia. All four works on the album were written in either 2013 or 2014, giving the listener a snapshot of the composer's current musical style.

After repeating listening to this release, my opinion remains unchanged. I still like everything I've heard by Michael Torke -- including this album.

Michael Torke: Concerto for Orchestra
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko, conductor (Concerto)
Quad City Symphony, Mark Russell Smith, conductor (Oracle)
Universty of Kansas Wind Ensemble, Paul W. Popeil, conductor (Bliss)
Camerata NY, Richard Owen, conductor (Iphigenia)
Ecstatic Records ER 092261

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Lio Breaks Free

Mark Tatulli often uses the fundamental elements of the comic strip in Lio. Part of the humor comes from taking something that passes without notice (like panel borders) and bringing it unexpectedly to the reader's attention.

That's what happened in the November 29, 2015, sequence:

It's a great gag, and one I think merits a closer look. First, consider this: it would be very difficult for this joke to work in a daily strip. There simply isn't enough room to set up the joke -- reading the poor report card -- and having Lio cut through panels to make his escape. Not in the space of three vertical panels.

Second, note how masterfully Tatulli leads the eye through the panels. The father looking through the hole starts us on the path. It's easy to follow. The white space in the hole really jumps out compared to the white spaces still bounded by panel borders. From the first lower panel, we quickly see the open white space of the next hole, then the next, then the next, until we've traced Lio's path through the grid and see him disappear into the distance.

And this is all done for a purpose. If Lio had cut a hole the far right side rather than the floor of his first panel, the joke would not have worked as well. Nor would it if he had cut through the floor of the first panel he entered, then cut through to the right. Because in both cases, our eyes would have traced his path but left an unanswered question -- what's in those other panels?

By making us go through every panel, Tatulli leaves no distractions. When we get to the last one, we see the scissors (explaining how), and Lio running away (who, and where). And it's so well done, we don't even notice that Tatulli has us scanning the second row of panels in reverse order.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Diabelli Project 108 - Solo Marimba

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 weekI continue with this solo marimba piece. I'll be sitting down soon and looking at all these fragments to see if they fit together -- or at least suggest ways that one can lead to another.  While some of the sketches use four mallet technique, for this sketch I started with the premise that the player would only use two mallets. What it immediately suggested to me was something quick and nimble.

While it is a fast section, I used the upper and lower registers to suggest two parts -- melody and accompaniment.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.