Archive pour November, 2014

The violin: one instrument, many personnalities

28 November 2014

From what we can tell from the paintings and writings of the period, it is thought that the first violins appeared about 500 years ago, well before the piano. They belonged to what was then known as the viola da braccio family, an Italian term meaning “viol for the arm.” These early instruments had four stings and a slightly slanted fingerboard that ended in a scroll. Oddly enough, at the time, the violin was not a popular instrument, and its sound was considered rather unpleasant—its chief purpose was to accompany country dances and drinking songs.

At the end of the 17th century, composers began to accept the violin and write specifically for that instrument. By the 18th century, we start to see the emergence of some remarkable European soloists. The violin came into its glory during the Romantic era, and many pieces were written with it in mind.

Niccolò Paganini, who was regarded as a genius and a great violin virtuoso, pushed the instrument to the limits of its technical and expressive capabilities. He played so fast that people thought he was possessed by the devil! He had exceptionally large hands with long fingers that offered him an unusually wide span. From a very young age, he caused quite a stir with his playing technique. It is said that his ear was so extraordinarily well developed that he could tune his instrument perfectly, even when surrounded by noise and commotion.

The technique
Bowing and the subtleties of articulation are central to the technique of a violinist in obtaining different effects, including:
 legato: connected, smooth
 staccato: detached, short
 pizzicato: played by plucking the strings with the finger, somewhat like a guitar.
 vibrato: making the string vibrate by moving the finger back and forth to create a very expressive sound, especially during long, sustained notes.
 harmonic: a tone produced by lightly touching a string at certain specific points.
 sul ponticello: meaning “on the bridge.” An indication to play close to or on the bridge, which produces a thin, glassy sound.
 A violinist can also use a mute, which is a small device that fits over the bridge between the strings, resulting in a softer sound.

Prix Opus finalists

25 November 2014

The Conseil québécois de la musique has just released the list of finalists for 20 of the 27 Prix Opus to be awarded at the 18th edition of the Gala on February 1, 2015, at 3 p.m. at Salle Bourgie in Montréal.

Amongst them, there are of course several Analekta artists.


Kent Nagano leads Mahler, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, February 15, 2014 


The sublime Jennifer Larmore, Orchestre symphonique de Québec, September 18,2013

La Chapelle de Québec sings Haydn, Les Violons du Roy, November 15, 2013

Solomon, Les Violons du Roy, March 20 and 21, 2014

Soirée au théâtre, Orchestre symphonique de Québec, April 9, 2014


Stéphane Tétreault plays Strauss, Orchestre du Festival, Festival de Lanaudière, July 12, 2014


A. Vivaldi Oratorio ‘Juditha triumphans’, Ensemble Caprice, January 18, 2014

Solomon, Les Violons du Roy, March 20 and 21, 2014

Voix et trompette, Clavecin en concert, March 28, 2014

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Emmanuel Pahud et Les Violons du Roy, Domaine Forget, June, 2014 


Kent Nagano leads Mahler, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, February 15, 2014


25 years of Québécois music with Louise Bessette (concert 1), Louise Bessette, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, October 30, 2013  


Fantastic Russia, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, April 13, 2014


Handel and Porpora, Julie Boulianne, Luc Beauséjour, Clavecin en concert, ANALEKTA

Trobairitz, Shannon Mercer, soprano, Seán Dagher, direction, La Nef, ANALEKTA


The moon as creative inspiration

21 November 2014

The moon has always invited reverie. The play of light and shadow forming shapes on its surface has been interpreted in various ways, depending on the culture and the stirring of the imagination. Some people gaze up at the moon and see a rabbit, others, a buffalo, or the face of a man. Early astronomers thought that the dark areas (the plains) were great seas. The moon figures largely in mythology and folk beliefs. Some consider it as a deity, while others believe causes periodic insanity, giving humans the power to change into their bestial form, like werewolves, during a full moon.

The moon has inspired lovers, but also artists—fiction writers, poets, designers, filmmakers, and composers. Here are some examples:
• Jules Verne wrote two books about the moon: De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon) and Autour de la lune (Around the Moon).
• The moon was the muse of many a poet: including J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, and Robert Louis Stevenson, who penned The Moon.
• You might know Hergé: who sent his fearless adventurer, Tintin, on a couple of missions, in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.
• As early as 1902, filmmakers looked to the moon for inspiration: Méliès created the film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), and, more recently, Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey, which used an excerpt from Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem Also sprach Zarathustra.

Composers, too, got inspired of course: Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a well-known piece called the “Moonlight” Sonata, and Carl Orff created the comic opera Der Mond (The Moon). Like Debussy, Fauré composed a melody based on Paul Verlaine’s poem Clair de lune. It is interesting to compare how two contemporaries treated the same text and ended up with two entirely different works.

Here is the Fauré mélodie, sung by Jean-François Lapointe (accompanied by Louise-André Baril).

And there is Valérie Milot’s arrangement of Debussy‘s “Clair de lune” from Suite bergamasque…

Evolution of the symphony

18 November 2014

The term symphony first appeared in musical language around the 16th century. It derives from the Greek syn, meaning ‘together,’ and phōnē meaning ‘sounding.’ The term denotes a concord of sound, which is really synonymous with the word ‘music.’ In the beginning, it designated nearly any type of musical composition, but it would soon be applied only to instrumental music, as opposed to vocal music, such as opera.

It would progressively take shape as a specific form for orchestra, which had a fairly defined structure and was often in four major independent sections we call ‘movements.’ The symphony evolved in parallel with composition for the symphony orchestra. In the early 18th century, the orchestra was much smaller than the one we are used to today. It mainly consisted of strings, supported by a continuo (harpsichord and cello), to which wind instruments were sometimes added.

Composers of the Classical period, including Mozart, had a larger orchestra to work with. In addition to strings, it had expanded to include two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and timpani. Beethoven would significantly enlarge the orchestra. His Ninth Symphony, his last, was scored not only for strings but also a piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani, a triangle, a bass drum, cymbals, soloists, and a choir. You can listen to it in this boxset of the OSM, released recently

The orchestra continued to grow in the Romantic period and sometimes gained gigantic proportions.

A “musical” book wins the Giller

13 November 2014

Us Conductors

Sean Michaels of Montreal won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize earlier Monday night for his debut novel Us Conductors. It is extremely rare that this prestigious award is given out to a first novel, but even rare that the book is music-related. Indeed, the book tells the story of the Russian-born inventor of one of the first electronic instrument, the theremin, Lev Termen.  Through flashbacks and letters, the book tells the not-so-ordinary life of the scientist and spy from New York in the 1930s to the gulags of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Fittingly, jury members stated that the book made “music seem to sing from the pages of a novel.” The author is also the founder of the MP3 blog Said the Gramophone, one of the oldest music blogs. The Scotland-born, Ottawa-raised, now Montrealer beat out titles by Miriam Toews of Toronto, David Bezmozgis of Toronto, Frances Itani of Ottawa, Edmonton native Padma Viswanathan and Montreal’s Heather O’Neill. Congrats!

The Giller Prize was established in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. This year’s jury members were Canadian author Shauna Singh Baldwin, British novelist Justin Cartwright, and American writer Francine Prose. They read 161 books submitted by 63 publishers. 

While we are on the subject of “musical” books, you might also be interested in The Temporalists by André Pogoriloffsky, in which a Parisian drugstore owner, also a skilled amateur piano player, experiences a two year long mental trip to a parallel (Temporalist) world, as an avatar. Pogoriloffsky is permanently accompanied by a local musicologist – Jean-Philippe, an expert in the European musical tradition – and, for a while, initiated in the cognitive aspects of Temporalist music theory. The Kindle version will be available for free on December 1, but you can also get the book on line in the meantime.



The Art Remembers

10 November 2014

On Remembrance Day, tomorrow November 11 at 3 p.m., the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, the Opéra de Montréal and Veterans Affairs Canada, in collaboration with Place des Arts, join together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War (1914) and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, with the play Le Journal d’Anne Frank (TNM) and the opera Silent Night (Opéra de Montréal). This event, L’ART SE SOUVIENT, will take place in Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme at Place des Arts, with the participation of the following artists: Mylène St-Sauveur, Jorane, Vanessa Marcoux and Phillip Addis, who will have the lead in Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night in May 2015. He will sing an aria from the opera that recalls the World War I historical truce. Excerpts from Anne Franck’s Journal will also be read.

Premiered in 2011 and inspired by the film Joyeux Noël, Silent Night is a plea for peace and has won the Pulitzer Prize of Music. The lead roles will be held by Marianne Fiset, Phillip Addis, Joseph Kaiser and Daniel Okulitch. This production of the Minnesota Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Cincinnati Opera and Fort Worth Opera, will be shown in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on May 16, 19, 21 and 23.

The complete Beethoven Symphonies by the OSM

7 November 2014

You may have missed an instalment of the complete traversal of the Beethoven symphonies of the OSM under maestro Kent Nagano (just back from a very successful tour in Japan and China). Now, you can get all nine of them in this essential box set that offers you an essential portrait of the great master as symphonist. 

“The interplay of internal social forces and the new order in Europe created significant changes in people’s experience and values, and formed a new image in the contemporary consciousness, based on themes inherited from the Enlightenment – liberty, progress, self-determination, fighting spirit and responsibility, human dignity and happiness – apprehended afresh in a new image of humanity and a new representation of society and the world. It was for this “new humanity” that Beethoven composed his music, and in it he saw his duty as an artist and the ultimate truth of his art,” explains Kent Nagano in his introduction. “The idea of this new humanity, a new society and a new way forward, inspired him and dictated the inner programmatics of his musical thoughts even as they emerged from his pen. This is especially true of his nine symphonies. When Beethoven began his First Symphony in 1799, the symphony epitomized the generic type of complex work, in which the four movements are each defined independently in character and mood, and at the same time form a whole through their complementary musical relationships. What is so striking is that Beethoven still fundamentally adheres to the traditions established by Haydn and Mozart, always takes these as his point of departure, and then distances himself from them as far as possible. He keeps up appearances with the inherited features of his music, but the “meanings” have changed both in detail and the works as a whole. Beethoven composed nine symphonies, each so striking individually that it is best not to attempt a general description. With them, and in them, he endows orchestral music with new dimensions and qualities, and correspondingly new demands on the audience’s habitual ways of listening. There is reflection and sensation, a dominant constructive spirit, atmosphere and emotionality – all intertwined with a perspective that was radically new at the time.”

To listen and download…

Incarceration and musical inspiration

4 November 2014

MusicBox has just started yesterday what promises to be a very interesting series about teaching music theory in a maximum security prison. How did a then student teacher react when she was confronted with men who committed extremely violent crimes, but nevertheless wanted to know the rudiments of music to be able to express themselves in other ways?

The Music Theory and Appreciation course at Auburn Correctional Facility was implemented through the Cornell Prison Education Program. Through this program and for the past 15 years, incarcerated men can get associate’s degree (through Cayuga Community College) in genetics, constitutional law, medical anthropology, Asian meditation, writing, theater, economics, and music theory. The program aims to increase an incarcerated man’s chances of reintegrating into society upon release and lessens recidivism. Is this something all correctional facilities should consider?

Julia Adolphe writes:

“Each of the seventeen men seated around the room looked at us with calm curiosity and a sincere respect. Their eyes were wide like a child’s discovering the world, yet their capacity for intellectual and philosophical exchange transcended that of the average student. They were a striking mix of total inexperience and naïvety, having spent the majority of their lives within the narrow confines of prison, and a source of devastating experiences, having lived in dangerous communities, witnessing horrors, and committing the terrible acts that led to incarceration. One man, presumably involved in gang violence, told me that prison had saved him. He believes that if he had not been arrested and removed from his situation, he would be dead by now.”

To read more…