Archive pour July, 2014

The “Archduke” Trio

29 July 2014

The Trio opus 97 was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria (hence its nickname), the youngest son of emperor Leopold II of Austria. Rudolph had studied with Beethoven and remained his friend and a loyal protector. The trio may have been composed in 1811, but was premiered on April 11, 1814, 200 years ago. Violonist Ignaz Shuppanzigh, cellist Joseph Linke and Beethoven himself at the piano (in one of his last public appearances, his deafness being almost complete at that time) were the performers. 

The “Archduke” trio is not only an indisputable masterwork of the piano trio literature, but one of Beethoven’s finest lyrical achievements. The composer opted for a string texture that is very rich (which includes sustained double-stops in the violin and exquisite pizzicato passages) and achieved an extraordinary balance between piano and strings, the latter often serving as inner voices. The result is so superbly blended sonority wise that you often have the impression of dealing with a string quartet.

You can learn more about the work and listen to it (or download it) here, as performed by the Gryphon Trio… 


A busy weekend at the festivals

25 July 2014

Festival season is well on its way and classical music lovers will have trouble deciding, the offering being just too interesting, whether you were thinking of visiting Lanaudière, the Eastern Townships, Charlevoix or if you thought about staying in Montreal.

Tonight, 7:30 p.m., at Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, you can catch the recital of pianist Beatrice Rana, grand prize winner of the MIMC in 2011. She plays Bach’s First Partita (in B-flat major) and then something completely different: Chopin’s Second Sonata (the one with the “‘Marche funèbre”) and Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata. If you live in Montreal, you can even hop on the navette to and from the festival. Details here…

There are no tickets left, but in Orford, about the same time, pianist Oliver Jones will celebrate 75 years of a wonderful career. Tomorrow, Mozart fans will surely flock to hear British pianist Christian Blackshaw who will make a first stopover at 65 years old.

I Musici and violinist Vadim Gluzman will be at Domaine Forget tomorrow night, under Jean-Marie Zeitouni, in a program featuring four works not often performed by Pärt (Fratres), Holst (Suite St-Paul), Sibelius (Rakastava) and Mendelssohn’s (his Violin Concerto in D minor – not his famous one in E minor), as well as the better-known Holberg Suite by Grieg. Details here…

Those who will want to saty in Montréal wont want to miss the free concert at Maison symphonique offered by the Orchestre de la francophonie under Jean-Philippe Tremblay on Sunday afternoon. The program includes a premiere (and commission of the OF) by Simon Bertrand (his Piano Concerto, as performed by Jean Desmarais), Éric Champagne’s Mouvement symphonique , Glière’s Horn Concerto (Ryan Little, soloist) as well as three beloved works by Ravel (Tzigane with Alexandre da Costa, La Valse and the famous Boléro). Details of the 2014 season of the OF are here





Beethoven and Nature

22 July 2014

Summer is here and we may be more sensitive to the beauties of Nature. Beethoven was certainly a fan. More than anything, he loved to walk in the country, soaking up nature’s beauty. His valet, Michael Krenn, recalled that he could roam through the fields from sunup to sundown, notebook in hand, waving his arms, completely carried away by inspiration. It was almost inevitable that Beethoven would choose to integrate nature into one of his symphonies. “I love a tree more than a man; woods, trees and rocks give man the response he needs,” he wrote. Influenced by both social movements and historical events, Beethoven protested against the gradual disappearance of Vienna’s forests, which were helpless against the attacks of urbanization.

Rather than a realistic portrait of country scenes, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was, rather, a depiction of the essence of nature. Even though we hear birdsong and shepherds’ song, and even if we believe we are hearing a gurgling stream, we must be guided by what he famously noted on the score: “The Pastoral Symphony, Recollections of Country Life, more the expression of feeling than painting.”

Anton Schindler, one of Beethoven’s first biographers, recounts how, during a walk with Beethoven in the grassy valley in Heiligenstadt, the composer asked Schindler if he could hear a yellowhammer singing among the birds. The composer then said: “It was here that I composed the ‘Scene at the Brook’ (the symphony’s second movement), and the yellowhammers up there, the quails, the nightingales, and the cuckoos composed along with me.”

You can listen to the Sixth Symphony as performed by the OSM under Kent Nagano here…

If you like to compare versions, you can also listen to the Orchestre de la Francophonie under Jean-Philippe Tremblay

From clock to metronome

18 July 2014

The metronome was invented by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel in 1812, and it was patented and perfected four years later by Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who had also fashioned various ear trumpets for Beethoven to try to help him with his deafness.

The metronome has a clockwork mechanism inside a box and a moveable metal weight on a calibrated pendulum rod outside the box. The pendulum swings back and forth, faster or slower depending on where the weight on the rod is set, producing a clicking sound. The tempo marks on the rod are in units per minute. For instance: 60 = 60 beats per minute. They range from 40 (very slow) to 208 units (very fast) per minute.

In 1817, Beethoven was the first composer to indicate tempo in his symphonies. He even paid tribute to the ticking of the metronome in the Allegretto scherzando of his Eighth Symphony.

Maelzel also invented a contraption known as the panharmonicon, which could imitate all the sounds of the orchestra. This gigantic mechanical orchestral organ reproduced the sounds of flutes, trumpets, percussion, cymbals, triangles, violins, cellos, and clarinets, and could even produce sound effects like gunfire and cannon shots!

He is also credited with devising an unbeatable automated chess player. His inventions made him a wealthy man, earning him, at the time, the equivalent of approximately half a million dollars today!


Lorin Maazel left us

15 July 2014

Lorin Maazel died on July 13, 2014, in Virginia, from complications following pneumonia, in his home, Castleton Farms, rehearsing and preparing for his annual Castleton Festival. He was 84.

World-renowned conductor, composer, teacher, he devoted more than 75 years of his life to music-making. Born in an American family of musicians in Paris on March 6, 1930, Lorin Maazel began violin lessons at age five, and conducting lessons at age seven. He studied with Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, and appeared publicly for the first time at age eight. Between ages nine and fifteen he conducted most of the major American orchestras, including the NBC Symphony at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini.

In the course of his decades-long career Maestro Maazel conducted more than 150 orchestras and recorded more than 300 albums. The Maestro was awarded Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur twice in France, the Bundesverdienstkreuz in Germany, the Premio Abbiati in Italy, the Commander of the Lion in Finland, the Großes Goldenes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich as well as the Honorary Membership of the Wiener Philharmoniker and Wiener Staatsoper in Austria, the Honorary Life Membership of the Israel Philharmonic in Israel, and together with Mae West and Pope John Paul II, the title of Kentucky Colonel.

Addressing the audience at the June 28, 2014 opening night of the Castleton Festival, Maestro Maazel described working with the young orchestra and singers as a “more than a labor of love – a labor of joy.”


11 July 2014


On this day, 77 years ago, George Gershwin passed away, not even 40.

Son of Russian Jewish immigrants, little George learned the piano early and listened with passion t0 jazz and ragtime tunes of the day. At 16, he got a job as presenter of new songs at JH Remick, a music publisher in Manhattan. He himself wrote melodies and, in 1919, found himself a millionaire thanks to Swanee, sung by the famous Al Jolson in the film Sinbad, one of the first talkies. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the disc would be sold in a few months.

Gifted with a talent for melody and a genius for rhythmic invention, Gershwin would then write many musicals (from 1924, almost exclusively his brother Ira’s librettos) in which he mixes in an original and ingenious way popular jazz formulas.

Ninety years after its very successful premiere, classical musicians as well as jazzmen continues to put Rhapsody in Blue on their programs. Gershwin had always wanted to integrate the fashionable tunes of his day with the more serious classical repertoire. Luck smiled down on him when Paul Whiteman asked for a work of symphonic jazz. On the train to Boston, while attending the premiere of his musical Sweet Little Devil, melodic ideas started flowing. “I often hear music in the very heart of the noise”, he wrote a few years later. “And, suddenly, I heard – and even saw on paper – the entire structure of Rhapsody, from beginning to end”. He wanted it to be “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America – of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” 

The now famous clarinet solo that opens the work was in fact something for which Ross Gorman was famous. Gershwin had thought, with reason, that this element would plunge instantly he listener into the unusual atmosphere of the Rhapsody. It begins with a slow trill in the lower register of the clarinet and then the glissando gives an impression of siren, which propels us into the first jazzy theme. Once it presented, it is quickly chased by another one, and yet another and another, as if inspired by the previous one. In the middle of the work, a lyrical theme that would have made Tchaikovsky proud (with the exception of course of the jazzy horns comment) arises. The work ends in a whirlwind of themes presented with virtuosity.

You cam listen to the work, as performed by Alain Lefèvre and the OSM (the team played it a couple of weeks back at the Jazz Festival) here…


Ten no-nos

8 July 2014

Concert etiquette has become somewhat blurred, one must admit. How many times in the last few months have you considered strangling your neighbour, whether he was updating his status in the middle of the symphony or unwrapping his candy with much ardour or – perhaps even worse – explaining to a friend what was so particular about an instrument or a composer. (Yes, of course, he was whispering, but so intently that everyone could easily follow the whole lecture.)

Is it the same at the opera? Now that some productions have become almost hollywoodian, some audience members have lost some of the points of reference that could make everyone’s experience more satisfying. To laugh a bit about this whole thing (sometimes a lot), Michael Kessler, a comedian many nicknamed the German Mr. Bean, explains to us the 10 major no-nos. (Even if your German is rusty, you will easily get his points.)

10 choses à ne pas faire à l’opéra par joebart72

François Dompierre receives the Order of Canada

3 July 2014

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, announced a few days ago 86 new appointments to the Order of Canada. The composer and radio host François Dompierre is one of the new officers, “for his contributions to music as a composer who is known in particular for his film compositions”. You can listen to his 24 Preludes, as performed by pianist Alain Lefèvre, here…

On the music front, other recipients include baritone Gerald Finley “for his achievements as an internationally renowned opera singer and cultural ambassador for our nation”, Manitoba composer Victor Davies “for broadening the appeal of contemporary Canadian music and for supporting the legal rights of Canada’s composers”, Earlaine Collins , “for her efforts as a volunteer and philanthropist who supports cultural institutions and emerging artists” and singer Eleanor Collins “for her pioneering achievements as a jazz vocalist, and for breaking down barriers and fostering race relations in the mid-20th century”.

The Order of Canada, one of our country’s highest civilian honours, was established in 1967, during Canada’s centennial year, to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Over the last 45 years, more than 6 000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order.Recipients will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.


1 July 2014


The action takes place in Sofia, Bulgaria, in a school for young prodigies, in 1987, two years before the fall of the Wall. Communism is still going strong, kids study how to use a kalishnikov or launch a grenade in school, visit the father of the country’s memorial on a regular basis.

Konstantin, a 16-year old pianist, tells his story. Of course, there is much talk about classical music in Wunderkind, a fascinating book by Nikolai Grozni who was also a child prodigy. Nevertheless, the author goes way beyong his personal experience to draw the portrait of an era, of a country, of a state of mind, so foreign to most of us that it will seem as having taken place decades ago rather than a quarter of a century. Each chapter is titled after a classical music work and some will want to listen to the piece before plunging in, because the story is told very effectively through the choice of works. This could be enough but even people not so familiar with music will appreciate the cast of characters, whether we’re following rather sexually active youngsters or hear about their teachers, sometimes understanding, most time castrating.

A book to read at the beach, in the country house, or in your living room with the sound system not too far.