Archive for mahler

Scordatura: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Scordatura (simply retuning of the strings from their conventional pitches) is not a technique exclusive to modern music; it dates back to the 16th century, when it was employed by French lutenists, then taken up for the violin by many composers, most notable of whom was Biber. After falling out of fashion in the 18th century (though employed for the viola part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for violin and viola), many 19th century violin treatises mention it (including that of Baillot from 1834), and it was a speciality of Paganini, and after him de Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and others. Also employed in Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.

The technique is also common in much non-classical music, especially amongst folk fiddlers in various places. It’s questionable how meaningful the term is when alternative tunings can themselves become standard (as apparently an a-e-a-e tuning is in parts of Scotland and North America).

It is also impossible to play Nick Drake’s songs on the guitar because nobody knows how he tuned the instrument for different songs.

The Biber Rosary Sonatas are surely the classic examples where each sonata is tuned differently. On the only occasion when I heard them performed live the violinist (Elizabeth Wallfisch) had three different violins, each of which was immediately tuned for its own next sonata once it had been played, laid down, and then retuned again when its turn came round. It’s actually a bit of a palaver which detracts a bit from the whole performance because so much time is spent tuning the instruments.

Some Italian words that used to begin “dis” now begin with just “s”. So scordatura probably used to be discordatura.

Anton Webern

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

This piece was composed in 1908.

When I started to listen to the music of Anton Webern 35 years ago the most modern music I could stand was Tippett’s piano concerto, a very tonal work.

I resolved to unplug my conditioned expectations about cadences and resolution of discords, and simply listen as carefully as I could to one sound after another. And click! It suddenly fell into focus. This was the Fünf Sätze für Streichquartett, Op. 5. I never had any trouble listening to Webern after that.

Webern believed that his music was as natural as the flowers in the field and that is, I am sure, how he would have liked people to listen …

10 things to know about Webern

In the 12 years between 1908 and 1920, he moved house 27 times.

He wrote nearly thirty pieces before the Passacaglia, his official Op. 1.

He wrote the shortest piece in the world, ever: Op. 11 No. 2, for cello and piano, which lasts less than 30 seconds.

His great passion in life other than music was mountain climbing.

He loved nature and was a keen gardener.

Though his music sounds very modern, he regarded it as a continuation of the Viennese romantic tradition from Schubert to Mahler.

He was a fine conductor, and worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on many occasions in the 1930s.

He taught music at the Jewish Cultural Institute for the Blind in Vienna.

He was shot dead in mysterious circumstances in 1945 by a chef in the American army, after he had stepped outside to smoke half a cigar obtained on the black market.

Posthumously, he was possibly the most influential composer of his generation, heralded as the new Messiah by composers such as Boulez and Stockhausen.

The influence of Mahler on Lennon & McCartney

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Seen in a recent review of a Mahler complete edition on EMI:

Mahler’s influences on subsequent generations have been extensive and wide – Zemlinsky, Schönberg, Berg and Webern in Austria, Shostakovich in Russia, Britten in Britain and Copland in America are just a few to acknowledge their debt. He also spread beyond the limits of classical music with Paul McCartney writing, “I have always adored Mahler, and Mahler was a major influence on the music of the Beatles. John and me used to sit and do the Kindertotenlieder and Wunderhorn for hours, we’d take turns singing and playing the piano. We thought Mahler was great.”

Mahler’s songs often have a folk-like simplicity which is actually very moving with hints of nostalgia, lost love, absence and grief. Some of the Beatles’ songs, especially the slow numbers, explore these emotional effects musically. They are less inclined to use folk song: rather paraphrases of the popular ballads of the interwar years, although sometimes a very Russian-sounding folk song will pop up. Their songs wander in and out of keys and often have more than three chords. They were on a higher level than most of their contemporaries, except the Beach Boys.

What we can never be sure of is the level of influence that Sir George Martin had in his arrangements and the musicians that he recommended they studied. After all, he was working with them one week and Barbirolli or Boult the next.

There is also the infamous article that William Mann wrote pointing out similarities between the pandiatonic discords that end Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and begin A Hard Day’s Night. Perhaps this encouraged the two to play (or attempt to play) Mahler’s songs.

Lennon never mentioned this, but then he didn’t mention Martin’s attempts to get him to listen to Ravel. (I forget the exact words, but Lennon is reported to have said something along the lines of “Nice tunes, but they go on too long”).


Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Has anyone got any old scratchy vintage recordings which they love to death?

I have Alma Rosé. She was the niece of Gustav Mahler, at the time director of the Vienna Opera, and the daughter of Arnold Rosé, concertmaster of the Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. She was detained in Auschwitz and died there, but organised the orchestra.

The disc also has Vasa Prihoda and recordings of Arnold Rosé from 1900. It’s heart-breaking stuff.

I know that many 78s end up in skips, but I’m not crying, there’s plenty of 78s at the record fairs for the few collectors that there are nowadays. If we saved all 78s then there would be nowhere to keep them and they would really be worth nothing. For every hundred 78s in a skip there will be one or two rare ones.

I still buy and listen to vinyl LPs and 45s, I am not a “collector” as such, i.e. I don’t pay exorbitant prices for recordings that are available on CD.

I buy from charity shops and car boot sales and give unwanted or finished with stuff back to the shops. Some of the sound on the early 60s vinyl is unsurpassed, especially Decca, EMI and Mercury, although of course playing them too much is a problem.

The finest sound I have come across is on the first pressings of Decca classical recordings of the late 50s and early 60s, a combination of excellent reproduction and great engineering.

I always end up with many records that are no use to even the charity shops (although they would take them to be polite), “Des O’Connor’s greatest hits”, “Christmas with Andy Williams” type of thing. They usually end up on a skip.

Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Another clip from Sir Simon Rattle’s farewell concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1998.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is performed by the Hallé Orchestra under Markus Stenz this Thursday at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, part of the complete cycle marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.


Modern composers on Gustav Mahler
Tom Service explores the passions that powered Mahler’s music

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Urlicht by Gustav Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on November 10, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

This was Sir Simon Rattle’s farewell concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which he led for 18 years. Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, of course. I wish I’d been there.

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Igor Stravinsky conducts L’oiseau de feu

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

Here are some of Stravinsky’s thoughts on other composers, taken from Robert Craft’s less than reliable book Conversations with Igor Stravinsky:

I remember seeing Mahler in St. Petersburg. His concert there was a triumph. Rimsky was still alive, I believe, but he wouldn’t have attended because a work by Tchaikovsky was on the programme (I think it was Manfred, the dullest piece imaginable). Mahler also played some Wagner fragments and a symphony of his own. Mahler impressed me greatly, himself and his conducting.

Rachmaninov’s immortalizing totality was his scowl. He was a six-and-a-half-foot-tall scowl. He was the only pianist I have ever seen who did not grimace. That is a great deal.

Ravel? When I think of him, for example in relation to Satie, he appears quite ordinary. His musical judgement was quite acute, however, and I would say that he was the only musician who immediately understood Le Sacre du Printemps.

Satie was certainly the oddest person I have ever known, but the most rare and consistently witty person, too. No one ever saw him wash – he had a horror of soap. He was always very poor, poor by conviction, I think. His apartment did not have a bed but only a hammock. In winter Satie would fill bottles with hot water and put them flat in a row underneath his hammock. It looked like some strange kind of marimba.

We – and I mean the generation who are now saying “Webern and me” – must remember only Schoenberg’s perfect works, the Five Pieces for Orchestra, Herzgewächse, Pierrot, the Serenade, the Variations for orchestra and the Seraphita song from Op. 22. By these works Schoenberg is among the great composers. They constitute the true tradition.

If I were able to penetrate the barrier of style (Berg’s radically alien emotional climate) I suspect he would appear to me as the most gifted constructor in form of the composers of this century. His legacy contains very little on which to build, however. He is at the end of a development.

I would like to admit all Strauss operas to whichever purgatory punishes triumphant banality. Their musical substance is cheap and poor; it cannot interest a musician today. I am glad that young musicians today have come to appreciate the lyric gift in the songs of the composer Strauss despised, and is more significant in our music than he is: Gustav Mahler.

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