Category Archives: Music

Suite Gothique by Léon Boëllmann


Last week, while listening to a BBC Radio 2 programme, I heard a very interesting musical composition, Suite Gothique by a French composer Léon Boëllmann (1862 – 1897). I have to confess, I’ve never heard either about this composer or about this musical piece.

 Unfortunately, this composer seems to be forgotten by those who write musical history textbooks. You can venture to check this, but in books I am familiar with, under letter ‘B’, you can find the surnames of many other composers such as Bach (and his sons), Baird, Bartók, Beethoven, Bellini, Berg, Berlioz, Bizet, Brahms, Bruckner, Buxtehude, but not Boëllmann.

According to  www.classiccat.net,  Boëllmann composed about 160 pieces in all genres and his best-known composition is Suite Gothique, which he composed two years before his death  in 1895. Basically, Suite Gothique is a piece designed for organ and consists of four parts: Introduction – Choral; Menuet Gothique; Prière à Notre-Dame and Toccata.

Toccata in particular is the most absorbing; it leaves the field clear for a good organist, so he can show his skills with as high level of technique and performance. Generally, this piece is very dynamic and might be breathless, especially when performed by good musicians and in a new interpretation. Probably, further contemplation on Suite Gothique is useless. I would only say that Black Dyke Band’s – from Queensbury, West Yorkshire –  version of this piece would definitely suit my idea of a good rendition.

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An extraordinary, yet unappreciated voice – Cecilia Bartoli


A few days ago I read with quite a lot of interest a statement by a not very well-known singer, who claimed that she was born addicted to music like a drug addict. Indeed, music can be somehow enslaving, especially if you have an ability to sing or can play a musical instrument. Those with dry ears may be addicted to listening to music and performers who are gifted and have amazing vocal skills. But do we really appreciate these artists who are valuable? Judging by what we read in the press and watch on TV, I would say ‘No’. I find it surprising, which artist is being called ‘an extraordinary voice’ or ‘voice of the year’ by journalists.

However, Italian classical singer Cecilia Bartoli is one of those who knows how to captivate her listeners, but apart from occasional media coverage, she seems to be invisible to the wider public. Cecilia, who is now in her 40s, made her debut in 1996 at the Metropolitan Opera as Despina in opera buffa Così fan tutte (Thus Do They All) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Her repertory mainly consists of works by Mozart and Rossini.

I remember when I heard her voice for the first time like it was yesterday. Her pieces were shown to me my accompanist from the Music School, Ms Manuela Wielicka, who had been popular among the Music School pupils as a collector of music albums. I wonder if there is an album that she hasn’t had in her music library. Anyway, many years ago, when I heard Cecilia’s voice for the first time I had an impression of exceptional charm and warmth. It wasn’t too gaudy or light or too dark, it sounded very confident and was breath taking.  No wonder, that she became a singer, who I’ve admired.  She performs the plainest arias as if they were the most noble ones. Those  who know her performance of baroque pieces like ‘O cessate di piagarmi’ by Alessandro Scarlatti, Amarilli, mia bella by Giulio Caccini or Se tu m’a mi by Pergolesi, are also aware what I’m talking about.

 Some people dislike her facial expressions when she sings; others appreciate her outward appearance more than her voice. If we talk about personal tastes, we may find many things that would not match our idea of an ideal singer and his body language.  But considering determinants of pure art, her skills, range and charm of her voice are out of the question: she’s one of the best living classical singers.

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Sergey Trofimov – Russian troubadour


I like searching out musicians and music pieces which are not very well known to a wide audience. Sometimes I find rare pearl, like for example 44 – year – old Russian singer, composer and poet from Moscow, Sergej Trofimov (Сергей Трофимов). I had never heard about him till last year, when I accidentally googled his surname.

Sergey Trofimov has quite an interesting biography. He used to be a chorister regent clerk in a church, and he worked in a restaurant. In 1994 he started touring under the pseudonym ‘Trofim’. By 2010 the artist had recorded 17 albums. Dmitrij Shirokov, director of Russkoye Radio 2 said about Trofimov, that he is one of a few (musicians), who can write in different genres and it’s always interesting.

The first of his songs I had ever listened to was ‘I miss you’ (Я скучаю по тебе). I was delighted by its softness and nice flow of sensitive musical notes. Actually, it was a very simple piece for a guitar but very charming. I could listen to it all day and never get bored, as also the lyrics were extraordinarily beautiful – very poetic and they made me gasp. The song was filled with a Slavic, romantic soul.

No wonder that I had never heard of him. Russian is not an international language and it may discourage non – Russian speakers from listening to Trofimov’s songs. Although Russian is a primary language for about 164 million speakers, and a secondary language for 114 million, it’s not widely spoken in western countries or in America or in Africa. However, sometimes words are not necessary to feel the piece. Music can play on our emotions much better than words can.

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The art of singing


Sometimes, when I speak to singers, they try to explain singing techniques and things like enunciation, vowel sounds or diminuendo. And I let them talk and pretend that I don’t know what they’re sermonizing about, as I can imagine what singing means to them.

So, what is singing? In plain terms, it is our voice’s natural ability to make musical sounds. A singer’s voice is also his musical instrument, so he needs to take care of it very well.

A few years ago, I studied singing at the State Music School in Lublin, and I would say I know all the secrets of this art: I look at a singer and see and hear what she/he shall improve. Singing is not only about a nice, natural voice. Correct voice emission or proper breathing for singing are also very important, not mentioning emotional layer of tunes.

Every professional singer or student – singer has a teacher or instructor, who practises with him and gives him advice.  During 5 years of studying, I had 2 teachers and one of them was very special – Ms Alina Naumowicz. For us students, she was a coach, accompanist, psychologist, and mother and at the same time a very strict critic. She used to say, ‘Look at yourself in the mirror. Do you like it?’ and I was always surprised by what I saw there. She was harsh, but on the other hand, she was the one who was gained respect from people within the school.

She taught us that ornamental singing is unpleasant to the ear, and mormorando should be the first exercise before starting singing.  She used to repeat that a flat sound is not music at all and she never said to anyone ‘You should resign from singing and start playing double bass or drums.’

I would not agree with those artists whose singing is limited to performing only what listeners want to hear from them. Smart vocals, when we don’t put our souls into them are just a masquerade or a miserable attempt of selling fake music.

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Mozart’s timeless music.


Mozart is undoubtedly one the most famous the composers in the history of classical music, as probably there is no one in the civilized world who has never heard of him. This can be proved very easily: when you ask the average man in the street which classical composer he knows, he will probably answer, ‘Mozart’. Maybe he would not be able to give you any names of Mozart’s work or at least will mention the great Symphony no. 40 or the serenade Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Many people are familiar with this composer and his works because of the biopic ‘Amadeus’ (1984). American Film Institute ranked the film at number 53 in its 100 Years…100 Movies.

Despite of his short life (he lived only 35 years), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed over 600 music pieces and wrote in every major genre of the classical epoch. His work included: opera, symphony, piano sonata, and string quintet, string quartet and solo concert. He also wrote religious works such as masses and also dances and serenades.

 The style of Mozart’s music is very characteristic; it is balanced, clear and somehow cheerful. If we compare his work to pieces which were composed by baroque artists, we can see that his music was completely new. Precisely, in his music we can see that the heavy baroque sounds were replaced by more informal and more individual textures; however, there were not as effusive as those which came later with romanticism.

 These days his music is used in many different experiments:  surely many of as have heard about the so-called ‘Mozart effect’, a concept described by French otolaryngologist, Alfred A. Tomatis in his book’ Pourquoi Mozart?’ who believed that listening to Mozart’s music has an effect on human brains. Today it is thought that listening to his music might improve both children’s’ and adults’ health. It might also help with many physical and psychological disorders such as stress, problems with sleeping, depression and different fears. Moreover, Mozart’s music is used in treating ADHD, ADD, autism and dyslexia.

Israeli scientists proved that prematurely born children who listened to Mozart’s music, put out on weight more quickly and were stronger than their peers. Furthermore, Amadeus’s music is used to develop intelligence, imagination and creativity and is applied to improve concentration or effectiveness in work.

It looks like Mozart’s music has been reduced merely to an applied art. However, this does not change the fact that it is immortal and will always be the work, that defines the canon of beauty.

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Tribute to Friedrich Gulda


 

Sometimes, when we go into someone’s creative activity which is unique in our minds, we wish to meet him in person or at least to see him somewhere giving his performance. I wish I could see one of Friedrich Gulda’s concerts. Unfortunately, he died ten years ago; unfortunately I only discovered him on youtube this year.

I remember it was quite accidental; I found Mozart’s Concerto 20 in d and just listened to the music without watching the clip. It sounded very skilful and I would be lying if I said that it didn’t charm me. Later I casually played the clip again and realized what was going on there. Anyway, if I had a set of false teeth they would have fallen out; I saw a crazily dressed man in a little yellow hat and black jumper. He was also wearing a talisman which was rather unrecognisable for me. It was Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000), the Austrian pianist. But it wasn’t his unconventional clothes that absorbed my attention; it was his performing – he was conducting the orchestra and at the same time playing the concert on the main instrument, the piano. In some moments he was playing with his right hand while conducting with his left hand. He played and conducted with all of his body; he was immersing himself in the music and sailing in his own expanse. I have never seen such an astonishing performance in my life.

There are not many online sources concerning Friedrich Gulda. Obviously, a quite extensive article about his life and his works of art can be found in Wikipedia, but as we all know, this source is not very reliable. Also, there are very similar articles about this artist at http://www.allmusic.com or at http://www.bach-cantatas.com. According to these materials Gulda’s nickname was ‘terrorist pianist’, because he refused ‘to follow clothing conventions or scheduled concert programmes’.

Friedrich Gulda was popular because of his original interpretations of Bach, Chopin, Ravel or Mozart. He was also a big fan of jazz and wrote several songs which were connections between classical music and jazz; among other things, he composed Variations on The Doors’ Light My Fire.’

The artist died on January 27, 2000, on the day of the composer’s birthday he admired most– Mozart’s. I wish I could see one of Gulda’s performances. Anyway, now I’m going find his interpretation of Someday My Prince Will Come, as I really like this piece in original performance.


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Astonishing classical music


I like the BBC. I have to confess that I’m fascinated by BBC Radio 3 and its Breakfast in the morning, which is broadcast between 7.00 am and 10.00 am. However, I don’t listen to it every day, just sometimes, especially when I’m studying.

Last week, I was really busy with my writing and other things, so I thought, ‘Why not change Mozart to something else? I ‘torture’ his music almost every day’. I turned on the radio and the music I heard beat me. Actually, I couldn’t have switched on the radio at a better moment. The music that flowed from loudspeakers was such a magic stream of harmony and like a balm for my soul. And I thought with amusement about Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek erudite who lived in the first century A.D and made up a very specific definition of music. He claimed that it is just an ability to distinguish between high and low sounds. Well, in the piece I heard there were so many colours and shadows.

Today it’s difficult for me to put this experience into words. The music is not a picture, or a written piece. It is much more; it is some inner experience that anyone who doesn’t feel the beauty of music will never experience. No other art is able to influence us as much as music that moves, touches and impels us to reflection. Anyway, while listening to that Breakfast I managed to catch with my dry ear that it was contemporary music than from immemorial times. The beginning of the piece was very interesting; it was played on strings which sounded like a beehive. Later it mixed with a low sound of French horns and trumpets which dialogued with each other. All of these instruments created an atmosphere of tension, especially when the music gradually got louder and took the shape of an amazing crescendo. Suddenly that beehive underwent to a hectic dance with the trumpet in the foreground. Also, later a tambourine there was introduced. This music sounded to me somehow lively, like the connection between some rustic dance and an orchestra of amateurs. Obviously, I mean the simplicity of harmony, not the work itself. The piece ended with a decrescendo. The next movement astonished me with its melancholy, but to be honest, I did not remember as many details of it as in the first movement. To be plain, the whole thing seemed to blend together in some significant sadness. There were definitely strings, bass drum and my favourite oboes. I don’t remember the third movement at all, as I was probably too absorbed with my work then.

Later, I found out more about this wonderful work. It was The Karelia Suite, Op. 11 by Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957), one of the most popular Finnish composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first movement was called ‘Intermezzo’, and my beehive and tension were actually intended by the composer to be march. The second part was called Ballade, and the third – Alla Marcia. According to some sources, the music was influenced by folk music and the history of the Karelia region, where Sibelius spent his honeymoon in 1892.

As we see, intensity of these sounds might be better understood with this little fact about the piece. Anyway, Sibelius couldn’t dress his longing and other feelings towards Karelia any better.

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