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Piece of the week (March 16th)

This week’s piece (requested by Sophie and Laura Jeffs) is by American/British composer Stephen Montague, whose best pieces blend (tongue-in-cheek) experimentalism with a sense of theatre. This piece for wind quintet dispenses with the main body of all the instruments leaving players just with their reeds and mouthpieces. Montague explores the dramatic and sonic possibilities of this very fully in this short piece.

Youtube link

Piece of the week (March 9th)

This week’s piece is by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), an extraordinary composer, who mostly lost the unequal fight to gain acceptance as a composer in the early twentieth century. She was a viola player and most of her fairly small catalogue of works features this instrument. Her most well known piece (a viola sonata) nearly won first prize in a competition but the judges could not believe that a woman might have written this work so ended up awarding the prize to Ernest Bloch instead.

Another piece that was entered for the same prize is this piano trio (1921), in some respects builds on the colourful musical language of Debussy but has its own distinctive voice

Youtube Link

Read more about Clarke on Wikipedia and on the Rebecca Clarke Society Website

Piece of the week (March 2nd)

This week’s piece is by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) who has written an works in a bewildering range of styles, experimenting extensively with serialism and electronic music but at the  same time producing some hauntingly beautiful and accessible works. The Seventh Symphony (“Angel of Light”) is perhaps one of his best known pieces outside Finland. The glistening and transparent high string chords that begin the second movement are particularly memorable:

Youtube Link


Piece of the week w/c 16th February

Pierre Boulez is a giant of C20 music and his 1984 piece Repons is a real masterpiece. It combines instruments and live electronics in an energetic and sparkling score with much detail to discover on repeated listenings.

Give it a go – it really is worth a listen

YouTube link

Boulez, who will be 90 in March, spent much of his career at the experimental electronic music studio he founded in Paris (IRCAM). Repons, like much of his work, is serial but has a panache and flamboyance not always found in modernist composers

Piece of the week (February 9th)

This week’s pick is courtesy of George Bandy, who requested “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from Holst’s The Planets. Written during World War I,  Holst’s colourful and inventive score has remained a firm favourite with concert goers nearly 100 years on. The energetic pentatonic semiquavers that kickstart “Jupiter” are as simple as they are memorable and effective. There is lots in this and indeed the rest of the suite that is crying out to be pinched for influences for AS and A2 composition …

Youtube Link

PS. requests always welcome!

Piece of the week (January 26th)

I’m following Classic FMs lead in marking what would have been the cellist Jacqueline du Pre’s 70th birthday. Her bravura and highly romantic style of playing suits the Elgar cello concerto brilliantly and it this piece, as well as her tragic early death from MS, that she will be remembered for:

Youtube Link

Both Elgar’s cello and his violin concertos are late Romantic masterpieces (Nigel Kennedy’s version of the violin concerto is similarly scintillating)

Piece of the week (January 19th 2015)

This week’s is the beautiful aria “Ich habe genug” from Bach’s Cantata of the same name. Written in 1727, Bach manages to express both the pain of death and the joy of Christian salvation in this aria (see translation below). Bach’s ability to convey this sort of bitter-sweet emotion is one of the things that makes him such an incredible composer.

Youtube Link

1. Arie B
Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.
1. Aria B
I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy
to depart from here.


Piece of the week (w/c 12th January)

It is hard not to love the joyous effervescence of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Around 1’28 of the first movement (the codetta at the end of the Exposition) there is a real rush of adrenaline! The piece is inspired by the style of Haydn but Prokofiev is a clear presence throughout.

As pretty much the earliest Neo-Classical piece (1917) this is of relevance both to AS and A2.

YouTube link

Read about Prokofiev on Wikipedia. His early style was spiky and aggressive (particularly his Scythian Suite) but he is most famous for his more accessible and tuneful works such as children’s favourite Peter and the Wolf  and his music for Romeo and Juliet.

Piece of the week (w/c 5th January)

Dvorak’s Mass in D is the first pick of the new year on the grounds that we are going to perform this mass (or most of it anyway) as our major piece in choir.

We are going to start with the rousing Gloria this Tuesday:

YouTube link

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) is a Czech composer whose most famous piece is his Symphony from the New World, in particular the slow movement, which has featured in Classic FM charts as well as a Hovis advert that first appeared in the 70s. His lyrical Romanticism is infused by the rhythms and modal harmonies of the folk music from his native Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).

Piece of the week (w/c 22nd December)

This week one of the best carols from the green/orange book era: Adam lay ybounden:

YouTube link

It has to be that or Poston’s apple tree.

Merry Xmas

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