20 August 2017

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto & me

Reading in Haydn Seek today:

We have seen in the past how Haydn’s concertos, in particular, have been rescued from total oblivion because one copy survived. The two cello concertos and then the horn concerto both lived this dream. And to them, we can add this trumpet concerto to the list of the fortunate. One, and only one, handwritten (by Haydn) copy exists in the Gesellschaft Musikfreunde in Vienna. Photocopies of it allowed for the first performance in England in modern times to occur. This was by Ernest Hall, in a BBC broadcast, presumably with an iteration of the BBC Orchestra. This broadcast of 30 March 1932, as part of a programme celebrating the bicentenary of Haydn’s birth, was the single beginning of a whole new appreciation of Haydn and his music.

To draw a line:  The renascence of general interest in Haydn owes something—owes much—to this inter-War broadcast of a concerto, a concerto with more-than-average interest for a concerto of its epoch, owing to the historical curiosity of the instrument (“...Christoph Friedrich Nessmann developed a version of the keyed trumpet in the 1790’s that he dubbed the Inventionstrompete” per Mike McCaffrey’s outstanding blog)—and this Concerto comes down to us via a single extant copy in the composer’s hand.  That the restored reputation of one of the greatest composers in Western history should (viewed from one angle) depend upon so slender a thread as a single manuscript is breathtaking, and even vertiginous.

Of the concerto’s second movement, Doctor McCaffrey writes:

... the feature of a modulatory passage from Ab major to Cb major in which the trumpet is a full participant had to be mind-blowing for the audience. These parts are only playable on a chromatic trumpet. But I am not so much of a technician as the writer above [Aaron Moore]; I am rather more enamored of the virtual musical poetry which Haydn wrote here. And I grew up in the heyday of Swing and Jazz trumpeting, so chromaticism on a trumpet is no big surprise to me. I can only imagine what concert-goers who had only ever heard fanfares and the like must have thought and felt about this emulation of a voice singing a song.

The Trumpet Concerto was my first Haydn experience:  we played a band transcription when I was in high school.  In fact, at that tender age I knew hardly any Mozart or Beethoven — I cannot say with absolute surety, but I should be surprised if the first LvB I heard was not courtesy of Chas M. Schulz’s Schroeder;  so playing these notes of “Papa’s” in an ensemble, as a young man, was really my entrée to the soundworld of the Classical Era.

The soloist, Steve Falker, was in the class one year ahead of mine, and was then, certainly—possibly is still, if we could put the question to the test—the best trumpet-player I knew/have known.   Our band director, the late Ray Heller, was a trumpeter himself, and had been an army bandsman;  and indeed, Steve’s facility with the instrument set itself in my ear as a benchmark of what one may expect from the instrument—to the undeniable discomfiture of more than one trumpeter I have met in the years since.  The combination of playing Haydn’s exquisite music, and with a wonderfully superior musician, was for me a musical watershed.  Which will explain why I must recuse myself from any pretense of impartiality about the Trumpet Concerto.

The additional holistic angle to the timing of the Haydn Seek post is, a week-ish ago I wrote to Steve to tell him about a piece I am presently working on, a jazzy adaptation of the JS Bach Wachet auf! Chorale Prelude for brass quintet, and he wrote back that he does play in a quintet which will be glad to read it.

To return to 
“Papa,” and related to Doctor McCaffrey’s note in his blog post:  at that tender age, I didn’t know from Theory (no really good reason why it had dropped out of our high school curriculum at that day), and it was the sheer poetry and the ebullience of the music that made an immediate and enduring impact upon me. And if (as consensus considers) the delay between composition and first performance of the Concerto was a result of Weidinger needing to tame the beast in order to serve the piece, there is no doubt that the superb beauties of the piece were a motivation to practicing into its technical and musical challenges;  and the project seems to have cemented rather than tried the friendship between the trumpeter and the composer.

19 August 2017

Saturday Morning Jukebox

String Quartet Op.9 № 2 in Eb (Hob. III/20)
Festetics Quartet

String Quartet Op.9 № 2 in Eb (Hob. III/20)
London Quartet

Call it an honest disagreement over the interpretation of Moderato . . . the Londoners play the first movement with measurably more breadth than the Festetics (whom I do not find in a rush there).

As the man said, it’s all good.

String Quartet Op.54 № 1 in G (Hob. III/58)
Amadeus Quartet

String Quartet Op.50 № 1 in Bb (Hob. III/44)
Buchberger Quartet

Trio for flute, cello & fortepiano in G (Hob. XV/15)
La Gaia Scienza

String Trio № 1, Op.34
(a first listen!)
Trio Zimmermann

String Trio, Op.45
Trio Zimmermann

Ave verum corpus, K.618
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Overture to Così fan tutte, K.588
Berlin Radio Symphony

Sacred Concerto № 24, I will lift mine eyes unto the hills
Russian State Capella
Valeriy Polyansky

String Quartet Op.130 in Bb
Emerson String Quartet

From the vault


My Muse bids me work up the Passion setting.

I didn’t plan it, but then, you may plan, and your Muse does just as she lists.

Having got the proofing of the Castelo dos Anjos score, and the percussion part, entirely in the can, there is the elation of the Job Done at last.

And the arrival of the Stravinsky box has maddened my ears like wine; these recordings are sounding so good, my enthusiasm for Igor Fyodorovich (which has never been inactive, mind you) has been restored to a pitch I have not experienced since my heady student days when each new Stravinsky score was a delightful discovery.

Of course, my Passion will not be especially Stravinskyan . . . but, howsoever that might be . . . .

As I laid my head on the pillow, musical ideas for the Passion setting came to me. And my sleep last night was unusually restful, so that I was awake at around 4:30, and couldn’t go back to sleep (didn’t feel in great need to, either) for all the musical thoughts of the Passion.

Ed Broms sent a “pre-season” message out to the St Paul’s choir this past weekend, and among the highlights he alerted the choir to, he mentioned my Passion setting (yes, if anyone asks you if it is nice to have a music director who has such respect for your compositional work, you tell him that the adjective “nice” doesn’t begin to cover it). When Ed mentioned that I would be writing this, at one of the last choir rehearsals last season, the choir responded very warmly.

Anyway, this message of Ed’s this past weekend ‘remindered’ me; and, I don’t know, the combination of having wrapped up Castelo, of having my musical mind open to the next fit of inspiration, and not least the earnest welcome from Ed and the choir—I’m just ready to write it.

Since composers such as Arvo Pärt and Ivan Moody have already creatively addressed a “back to the pristine beauty of traditional Orthodox chant” sensibility in their lovely Passion settings, I feel I want to do something a bit otherwise (not otherwise than lovely, I don’t mean). On the opposite end of the spectrum (maybe), the Bach Passions feel from our perspective (perhaps) a bit less like liturgical devotion and a bit more like concert monument (I do not mean by this simplification to cast aspersion on Bach, who was certainly devout, and who wrote the music as devotional). So my feeling is (and I think this is conditioned not only by the need to suit the St Paul’s performing forces, but musically) to use a discreet instrumental accompaniment; this is also probably something of a seed planted by Liszt’s Via Crucis. There will be plenty of unaccompanied singing, and probably the instruments will never all play at the same time, but I am using viola, Baroque cello, organ and drum; possibly also some medieval harp; this will make use of instrumentalists of the choir, and yet will leave a manageable mixed choir to sing.

And so:  10 years ago, not only was my Passion not yet composed—I was still planning on an accompanied setting.

10 years; so much has happened.

Although the first performance at St Paul’s was so well received (that Good Friday of 2008), no repeat performance on Tremont Street was to be.  However, there were the two exquisite performances given my Sine Nomine under the committed direction of Paul Cienniwa.

The Passion was the first large-scale Henningwork (considering the Evening Service in D as a kind of ‘anthology’ of smaller-scale pieces, although all composed together and to the purpose;  and setting aside White Nights which remains incomplete even at presentthough not for long).  And such a success, that from it all my subsequent musical boldness may be said to spring.

Many pieces which I wrote before the Op.92 remain (I believe) as good as I have ever written.  But the Passion is clearly (in the arguably obsolete sense from the old craftsmen, as the work which first demonstrates mastery) the Henning masterpiece.

17 August 2017

When Cutting Loose Is Letting Go

I spent two weeks in Costa Rica where I attended a continuing education class for yoga teachers. Here the daily practice of letting go physically, mentally and emotionally set me up for the months ahead. Slowing down, breathing and meditating are tools that I have used daily as I moved through the unknown.

In this blog post, Karen DeGregorio relates her experience of leaving one job (after 30 years of work) and not knowing just what the next step might be. Of stepping aside from the apparent logic of immediately lining up the next job. Doubts about paying the rent, apprehension over how that Gap would “look” on her CV.

Much less personally urgent, is the need to find a new organist for Holy Trinity Church. The most immediate parallel to Karen’s story is, the church were cautious about releasing the present organist, because we do not yet know where the new organist will come from. That caution, arguably, made the church more tolerant than the situation warranted, of recent conditions.

But it was necessary to let go, even if the net is not in sight.

The new choir season—which is always an adventure—will feel even a bit more adventurous still. But we shall find whom we need to find. Yielding to any feeling of urgency would be an error: A failed search is preferable to an unsuitable appointment.

We have subs lined up for the months of September & October while the search proceeds. And while the future is in part unknown, it is nothing fearful.

15 August 2017

From SpongeBob Scarlatti, Dear Lord, deliver us

Yes, Virginia, there is nothing wrong with Art which supposes an audience who grow into its appreciation. “Targeting the young”? Whatever for? As if Moby-Dick would be all right, if only it were more like The Cat in the Hat.

13 August 2017

Pagination Adventures, Some More

Eleven years ago, when it was my privilege to serve as Interim Choir Director at the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, I composed a fresh Evening Service in D.  We were to sing it during Lent, so the choral music is unaccompanied, and there were interludes played by a pair of trombones (tenor and bass).  The Canticles for this service may be my first Latin settings (I had set the Evensong Canticles in English before).

All in all, it is probably not practical ever to publish the Op.87 as a complete set:  it is hypothetical in the extreme to suppose that any church would (again) make use of it as designed.  So I have been concentrating on the Canticles.

The octavo of the Magnificat is a puzzler.  I doubt, if we keep the staves at 6mm., that we can keep it to 4pp.  It fits to 4pp. readily with the staves at 5.5mm.

There is no rush to find a solution to the puzzle.

The performance of the Evening Service in D in its entirety may remain a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor (rather an odd thought, really).

henningmusick: Less had been more

henningmusick: Less had been more

So five years ago today, I was griping about the spectacle at the closing ceremony of the London Summer Olympics.  Happy to report that I do not visually remember most of it;  so the reminder is amusing rather than sick-making.

That London had so much to celebrate then, however, I rejoice.  It is sobering to reflect how little London (or the US) has to celebrate, this year.