Classical works about Scotland

This famous concert overture is most commonly known as Fingal’s Cave – the source of its inspiration. After a visit to the island of Staffa in 1829 Mendelssohn was so taken by the echoing waves in the cave’s natural acoustic that he immediately wrote the opening few bars. Sending the music to his sister Fanny Mendelssohn, he wrote “’In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.’ The piece’s enduring appeal has encouraged people from all around the globe to visit this natural wonder.

A Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch

Despite having never visited Scotland before its composition, the German composer took elements of traditional folk tunes such as Hey Tuttie Tatie, The Dusty Miller and Auld Rob Morris to create this four-movement composition for violin and orchestra. Bruch had a special place in his heart for the music of Scotland, saying that the folk tunes ‘pulled me into their magical circle’. The prominent role of the harp as an accompaniment to the violin is also a nod to Scotland’s earliest music. Highly popular at the time of its premiere, this piece remains one of Bruch’s most

You know that Music demonstrated to alleviate cancer

A systematic review published by the Cochrane Library found that there is significant evidence that music interventions help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients, while also boosting their quality of life.

Led by Joke Bradt, PhD, associate professor in Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, a team looked into studies that examined the impact of music therapy (a personalized music experience offered by trained music therapists) and music medicine (listening to pre-recorded music provided by a doctor or nurse) on psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer.

“We found that music therapy interventions specifically help improve patients’ quality of life,” explained Bradt. “These are important findings as these outcomes play an important role in patients’ overall well-being.”

A total of 52 trials were examined in the review, constituting of 3,731 participants with cancer. Twenty-three of the trials were categorized as music therapy and the remaining 29 were classified as music medicine interventions.

Overall, one of the most impactful findings was that music interventions of all kinds resulted in a moderate-to-strong effect in reducing patients’ anxiety.

When it came to pain reduction, the researchers found a large

Trill on music that you should know about it

Now this one’s simple, isn’t it? A trill is one of those extended wobbles on a long note you tend to hear at the end of a show-off solo in a concerto or coloratura aria. In the Baroque or Classical eras it’s virtually a fixture. Yes, the wobble must be on two notes – neighbouring notes to be precise (either a major or a minor second) – but surely that’s it.

Alas, no. Go back to the very early Baroque period (at this point regular readers of this column may be experiencing a slight anticipatory contraction of the stomach muscles), to the vocal works of Monteverdi and his contemporaries, and there you will find the word ‘trillo’ identified with something significantly different. There it’s not so much a wobble as a shake, and on just one repeated note. The kind of trill described above is usually smooth, legato, but this one is jerkier, more like a vocal spasm.

The gorgeous ‘Duo Seraphim’ from Monteverdi’s Vespers contains plenty of these, as when the word ‘Sanctus’ becomes ‘Sa-ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-han-ctus’. When historically minded performers first revived this kind of trill, critics and listeners found it rather funny; now we’re

Productions of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Herbert von Karajan’s 1972 production with the Berlin Philharmonic has long divided critics because some believe the performance is too studio-bound and that there is not enough ingenuity in the production. But this recording endures because Karajan’s baton summons such wondrous charms from the orchestra, which in turn galvanize the singers. The brass are treated with due temperance, and Karajan commands the strings in such a way that respects Wagner’s famously extensive note at the beginning of the score. This spine-tingling performance captures both the power and the tenderness of the opera brilliantly. The thrilling conclusion to Act I is hammered out at a terrific tempo, rousing any budding conductor’s hands into the air as the music thrusts towards a close. In contrast, passages like the dream music in Act II are granted apt softness, and Wagner’s genius for gentle orchestration is showcased perfectly. As for the final Liebestod, soprano Helga Dernesch burns with white-hot passion, complementing the rich harmony that breaks through from the cellos.

Daniel Barenboim’s 2007 production at La Scala (available on DVD) marries an impressive set design with superb acting. Both are displayed admirably in the first act: the former throughout and the

Music Festival On Aspen

The Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado is a celebration of classical music like no other. Founded in 1949, it hosts over 600 students from around the world for eight weeks of intense study with top tutors, world-class performance opportunities and a whole load of fun. And generous scholarships ensure many of them don’t pay a penny despite returning three, sometimes four seasons in a row. For the audiences that descend on Aspen for the summer, there are more than 300 events to savour, from masterclasses and talks to orchestral concerts and recitals. It’s an environment that blurs boundaries between student and master, as each feeds off the other for new insights and reminders of the magic of ensemble music-making.

And in a festival of Aspen’s scale and ambition, magic isn’t hard to find, sometimes revealing itself in the most unlikely of places… Here are a few highlights from three days up in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Masterclasses

Aspen invites an impressive roster of resident tutors from around the globe to teach and nurture their students. And masterclasses form the backbone of School, proving as

Healing powers of music

The researchers allocated 120 study participants as follows: half of the subjects were exposed to music for 25 minutes. Subdivided into three groups they were played recorded music by either W. A. Mozart, J. Strauss Jr., or the pop band ABBA. The remaining 60 subjects were allocated to a control group that spent their time in silence. Before and after exposure to music and quiet time, respectively, all participants had their blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol concentration measured.

Classical music by Mozart and Strauss notably lowered blood pressure and heart rate, whereas no substantial effect was seen for the songs of ABBA. In the control group, resting in a supine position also resulted in blood pressure lowering, but the effect was far less pronounced than for exposure to the music of Mozart or Strauss. All musical genres resulted in notably lower cortisol concentrations. As far as cortisol concentrations were concerned, the sex of the participants must have played a part, because the drop in cortisol levels was more pronounced in men than in women, especially after exposure to the music of Mozart and Strauss. Comparison with the control group showed that the effect of music was

International Youth Choir Festival

In April 2017, eight choirs from around the world will arrive in London for the inaugural International Youth Choir Festival. The choirs will perform a showcase of music from their own countries at the Royal Albert Hall, before uniting for a mammoth performance of Jonathan Dove’sThere Was a Child at the Royal Festival Hall.

The festival is a collaboration between the team at the Royal Albert Hall and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB). Artistic director of the festival Greg Beardsall, who is also deputy artistic director of NYCGB, said: ‘This festival will open people’s ears and eyes to the amazing difference that youth choirs make to people and communities across the world, and offer a unique opportunity to hear eight of the world’s best youth choirs perform together in an incredible public concert.’

As part of the festival, delegates will be able to attend workshops with the visiting choirs on everything from the secrets of Gospel Singing (Boston Children’s Chorus) to an African choral master class (Mzansi Youth Choir). In the weeks leading up to the festival, primary schoolchildren across London will be invited to ‘Songs from Around the World’ workshops. Local youth

Beat of music automatically

imWhat most people call the sense of rhythm — the mechanism that enables us to clap along or dance to music — is an intangible ability that is exclusive to human beings. For example, imagine a barrel before it is placed inside a barrel organ. On the barrel, you can see exactly which tones will be played and for how long they will be audible. However, the regularity of the rhythm cannot be read on the barrel. This rhythm exists only in our heads, where our brain recognises patterns in the sounds. This helps us to predict the music, enabling us to synchronise our actions with it, i.e. dancing, clapping, singing or playing the violin.

Swaying back and forth

Human beings are the only species that recognise these patterns and scientists suspect that an evolutionary development is at the root of it. Music can work as a social lubricant within a community and a sense of rhythm enables us to make music with others or sway back and forth on the bleachers of a football stadium.

For

Music is Last but not Least

As another Prom season is planned by the gods that deliver these concerts and their minds ponder what the programmes will contain, worry passes over their decision-making brows as they consider the Last Night. The lower case – last night – will not do to describe it, nor will what it was first described as, ‘the last concert of the series’. Upper case it has to be. And, as everyone one knows, the Last Night does not mean the whole concert but just the second half.

So traditional, so British as eggs and bacon, has the Last Night come to seem that one might imagine it has been the same since Queen Victoria hummed ‘Rule Britannia’ to herself in the bath. But like many traditions it is a much more recent invention. Every one knows, as Henry Wood knew, that you have to end with a party, but what kind of party should it be? Initially the Proms under Henry Wood and Robert Newman had been much more populist than nowadays. Somewhere in their background there had been experience of organising concert series involving promenading audiences (standing, or rather walking around – forbidden now), as well as

What is the meaning of invention on music

Decided you want to learn the classical piano? Seriously? Then sooner or later you’re going to have to get yourself a copy of Bach’s Inventions. If you’ve already heard someone good play them, you may be rubbing your hands in eager anticipation. Stick with them, and they should give you at least as much pleasure to play as to hear. But before that, the hand-rubbing may take on a rather different emotional complexion.

Bach’s two-part keyboard Inventions are probably the most beautiful and effective technical exercises ever compiled. But as with most exercise programmes, the early stages are likely to be gruelling and morale-draining. Take Invention No. 1, in the beginner-friendly key of C major. For quite a lot of the piece the two hands are playing the same thing (more or less), only not at the same time. It’s as if the left hand’s starting pistol went off a bar (about two seconds) behind the right’s. 

The beauty is that the two staggered parts not only fit together beautifully (like ‘Frère Jacques’ sung in imitation), they complement each other. As one descends, the other rises; as one lingers slightly,