(Aug 21 2019)
Famous for 131 years
Richard Strauss, 1864-1949, wrote movie music before movies were invented. In other words, his sweeping, Romantic way of composing, complete with so many different, colorful instruments in every way foreshadowed the music of great film composers of the 20th and 21st century. He had a very long life for a composer of that time and actually lived long enough so that he could have written film scores
Don Juan is a musical composition that is “programmatic”, meaning that it suggest a story. You can look up that story, and it’s a bit confusing as to just what it is really about, but it falls into the “swashbuckling” genre in terms of the sound. When John Williams wrote the music to Star Wars, he was so close to Strauss’s orchestration ideas and style that you could easily believe that Stauss was Williams’s teacher, and in a way he was, not through direct influence but rather because he studied Strauss’s music very carefully.
(Aug 16, 2019)
Popular for 42 years…
The original music to Star Wars appeared in 1977, and this march, the Darth Vader March, uses exactly three minor chords in the theme. The theme modulates to several keys. It starts out G minor, then moves to A minor, Bb minor, B minor, C minor, then back to G minor, but in each key the chords are the same: Im, bVIm and bVm
In the key of G minor they are: Gm, Ebm, C# or Db minor, depending on spelling.
So it’s a piece using all minor chords, very simple. Two of the chords, Gm and Ebm for example, are morphs of each other, where one note stays the same (common tone) while the other two slide in opposite directions.
John Williams, the composer of Star Wars, used many of the orchestral effects of Richard Strauss. Before movies were invented, Strauss wrote the kind of music now used in film scores.
(Aug 15, 2019)
Popular for 131 years…
(As a side-note, again and again there are X7b5 chords here, very close to half-diminished but with a higher third (like C E F# Bb.) This was a favorite chord also of Wagner and Mahler, and many others – and also of John Williams.)
Here is a Wiki article that tells how Rimsky-Korsakov composed this:
Here is the story of Scheherazade itself:
Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer who is most famous for writing music that is “programmatic”, meaning that it tells a story.
I’m linking to only the first part here, a legendary recording from early in the stereo age. The name is “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship”.
You can also find the other three movements on Youtube by the same conductor.
Here is another amazing recording by Stokowski, the amazing conductor who was so famous as the man with the baton in Disney’s “Fantasia”, and this is complete, all four movements. It is my personal favorite recording of this work:
(Aug 10, 2019)
Also Sprach Zarathustra, popular for 50
years- (Around for 102 years)
- Also Sprach Zarathustra – Thus Spake Zarathustra – is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel of the same name.
- The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour.
(Aug 9, 2019)
Eleanor Rigby, popular for 52 years…
- Eleanor Rigby, a song by the Beatles, was released in 1966, and I first heard it in my first year of college. It was written primarily by Paul McCartney, and credited to Lennon–McCartney. I was blown away by the originality.
- Eleanor Rigby broke sharply with popular music conventions, both musically and lyrically. (This is a common theme, typical of the greatest music ever written for hundreds of years.)
- Eleanor Rigby employs a classical string ensemble with 8 studio musicians, comprising four violins, two violas, and two cellos. The score was composed by producer George Martin.
- The players kept moving away from the microphones until Martin ordered them to “Stop moving the chairs!”.
(Aug. 1, 2019)
From Star Wars, popular for 41 years…
The composer of the Star Wars and countless other film scores, John Williams, writes music that often sounds like it could be from any time, in almost any style.
- The first Star Wars film was released on May 25, 1977. The rest is history.
- Williams’ scores for the eight saga films count among the most widely known and popular contributions to modern film music.
- They utilize a symphony orchestra and use about fifty recurring musical themes to represent characters and other plot elements.
- These themes are “Leitmotifs”, used also by Wagner, with the same purpose. They identify characters. Princess Leia’s Theme, which I think is one of the finest short orchestral pieces ever written, is a perfect example.
(July 31st, 2019)
The William Tell Overture, Popular for 189 years- (Also known as the Lone Ranger Theme).
- Gioachino Rossini (29 February 1792 – 13 November 1868) He wrote 39 operas and was known as “the Italian Mozart.”
- His last opera was the epic William Tell (Guillaume Tell), featuring its iconic overture which helped to usher in grand opera in France. The overture premiered in Paris on August 3, 1829.
- Rossini was one of the most popular opera composers in history, and opera was not high brow music for the elite. It was the most popular music of its time
- He also earned the nickname “Signor Crescendo” for his use of an exciting buildup of orchestral sound over a repeated phrase, which is now commonly known as a “Rossini crescendo”.
- It is the last part of the William Tell Overture that is used as the Theme Song for The Lone Ranger, and the whole world knows that theme.
And now the whole thing, from start to end, as he wrote it.
The whole overture…
(Jul 28, 2019)
A Fantasy, famous for 296 years…
Warning to students: DO NOT COPY THE PHYSICAL HABITS OF THIS MAN!!!
Glenn Gould was without doubt one of the most controversial and neurotic human beings ever to play the piano. His tics and odd habits were famous, and when he recorded he insisted on humming, which drove sound engineers nuts. He insisted on conducting himself. His mouth moved. He sat too low. His posture was horrible. About 50% of everything he did physically was not only unnecessary, it was also very bad for his health. He died at age 50.
But he was a genius, and many people think his playing of Bach was as interesting or more interesting than any other interpreters. I would agree that at his best he towered above most other players.
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue
Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue was written between 1717 and 1723. This is the Fantasy. There are many other good recordings, but this one is both highly interesting and iconic. If you know enough music that came much later you can hear in this modulations and chromaticism that was later used by everyone from Liszt to Wagner to Rachmaninov, to Bill Evans and to John Williams – and in a huge number of more inventive pop tunes.
(Jul 26, 2019)
An overture famous for 137 years…
There is a long, complicated story behind this.
I am not personally much interested in the story itself, and I could no more listen to a complete Wagner opera than go through minor torture for a few hours. It’s just not my thing and never has been. I am in no way an opera lover.
But this music stands alone, and for way more than a century overtures of this sort have been extremely popular around the world. In a way they sum up musically everything that happens in very long operas, so they are musical overviews in way.
Wagner was not a nice man. In fact, of all the major composers I know of, he may be the most unlikable. This one sentence from a Wiki article tells you as much as you probably want to know about this hateful human being:
“Until his final years, Wagner’s life was characterized by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors.”
That’s just the start. It gets worse from there. And yet musicians from his own time right through today are fascinated by his music. This overture is as good as it gets.
The Overture to Parsifal reminds you of how much slower life used to be. Imagine, this is a “prelude”, meaning something that goes before. It is like a both a summation and an introduction. I think it contains some of the most magical sounds I’ve ever heard, and it has haunted me since I was around eight years old. I have always been hard-wired for sound. I was born that way. If I am around a total experience, the first thing to be engaged will always be what I hear.