Archive pour March, 2015

Humour in music

31 March 2015

Tomorrow is April Fools’ Day, a day when practical jokes and hoaxes are played on one another. References are made to this day as far back as 1392 in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Since weather is not always on the same page as the calendar and morales are not at their highest, why not celebrate a day early with a post on humour and classical music because, yes, believe it or not, composers and performers can be funny – and I’m not talking just about all those viola and trumpet players’ jokes!

When did music and humour first come in contact with one another? It is difficult to assess, but for sure you have to include court jesters and minstrels in the equation. They were paid to make people laugh and some of their songs are most definitely on the fun side. Yes, some of those may have been tavern songs that were not heard in poshed circles, but some Renaissance songs can definitely be included in this informal survey.

Let’s travel a few centuries forward with Haydn, certainly a true master of humour, whether he surprises the listener with unexpected twists and turns in the score or whether the humour element is integrated right in the subtext of the work. Impossible here not to mention the famous “Surprise” Symphony (No.94), composed in 1791. Rumour has it he was more than a little fed up with patrons falling asleep (and possibly snoaring) at concerts after they had way too much to eat and drink. You can imagine then the composer’s sheer delight when he woke all of them up with this loud chord in the slow movement. His protégé and friend Mozart also wrote a piece called A Musical Joke, a fun and lively page that ends with chords filled with wrong notes – a direct wink to not so good amateur players probably. Beethoven also wrote a little rondo known as Rage Over a Lost Penny (handwritten on the autograph, most probably by Beethoven’s friend Anton Schindler. Humour can also be a bit more indirect, for example in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with depiction in “Autumn” of peasants dancing, drinking loads of wine and then falling asleep.

The scherzo itself, a form Beethoven brought to the forefront, can also be perceived as a display of humour in music, “scherzo” being after all the Italian word for “joke”. The movement is generally playful in character and aims to bring a breather in the middle of the more serious movements of the symphony. The “Humoresque” is also a musical form associated with humour. The most famous – and lovely – is indeniably Dvorak’s Seventh Humoreske (he wrote a set of 8 for the piano), now known through various arrangements.

Opera also has a humorous side. No, not all operas are filled with unrequited love, betrayal and death. Opera buffa always has a happy end and might include some comedy. In the 19th century, for example, Jacques Offenbach wrote many “Operettas” including his Tales of Hoffmann with its famously fun-loving Can-Can and Johann Strauss II wrote “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat).

If this subject tickles your fancy, you’ll want to read this lenghty article on the matter…

Boulez at 90

27 March 2015

He was born on March 26, 1925 and undeniably changed  the word of composition and conducting. Through the years, he was rewarded with 27 Grammys, far more than any big rock or pop star. His 90th birthday was celebrated with splendour at the Philharmonie de Paris yesterday and an exhibit devoted to his works – mostly through his milestones  Second SonataLe Marteau sans maîtrePli selon pliRituelRépons and Sur Incises – can be experienced until June 28.

A student of Messiaen, he devoted the first segment of his life exclusively to composition but soon realise that having his works conducted by someone else was often very complicated and this is why he turned to conducting. After all, who better than the composer who understands from the inside out his music to conduct it? He could program some of his works next to cornerstones of the repertoire (he has been celebrated for his Mahler symphonies for example) and he got to lead major orchestras in London, New York, Chicago and Cleveland (for more than 40 years now, he has a very close connection to the orchestra), conducting a width swath of classical music from Handel to the contemporary British composer George Benjamin.

You may want to read and listen to this NPR profile to know a bit more…

In The Telegraph, Ivan Hewett also pays tribute to classical music’s most contentious revolutionary. Read The modernist maverick here…

The Brandenburgh Concertos

24 March 2015

It was Bach’s birthday just a couple of days ago (he was born on March 21, 1685) and it is apparently on this day that in 1721, he completed his famous dédicace (in French, no less) of what was going to become the Brandenburgh Concertos.

In 1719, Christian Ludwig,  Margrave of Brandenburg, stopped in Cöthen and met Johann Sebastian Bach. He was completely taken with what he heard and commissioned a set of pieces, a request he apparently forgot just as quickly as he thought about it. Nevertheless, Bach will complete a couple years after his Six Concerts Avec plusieurs Instruments (“Six Concertos With several Instruments”). Bach left a brief but telling account of their origin in his dedication, handwritten in somewhat obsequious French, that could be translated as such:

“Since I had a few years ago, the good luck of being heard by Your Royal Highness, by virtue of his command, & that I observed then, that He took some pleasure in the small talents that Heaven gave me for Music, & that in taking leave of Your Royal Highness, He wished to make me the honor of ordering to send Him some pieces of my Composition: I therefore according to his very gracious orders, took the liberty of giving my very-humble respects to Your Royal Highness, by the present Concertos, which I have arranged for several Instruments; praying Him very-humbly to not want to judge their imperfection, according to the severity of fine and delicate taste, that everyone knows that He has for musical pieces …”

It seems that the Margrave never bothered to perform these fabulous works, and perhaps never even examined the score, if one is to believe the mint condition of the original. Maybe they were just too difficult for the musicians the Margrave would have on had, as explains Joshua Rifkin: “As would happen so often in his life, Bach’s genius shot so far above the capabilities of ordinary musicians that his greatness was veiled in silence.” Indeed, the Brandenburgs remained unknown for a half-dozen generations until they were finally published in 1850 in commemoration of the centenary of Bach’s death. Their popularity would have to wait nearly another century when the music was first performed on disc. Since then, the Brandenburgs may have become Bach’s most famous works,

You can listen to them, as performed by Ensemble Caprice, here…


Spring is here

20 March 2015

Spring is in the air… or at least it says so on the calendar since today is the first day of Spring 2015. So what would one want to listen to on such a day? Certainly, a good start would be the Atmosphere – Spring compilation, available only in download, with pieces by Liszt or Piazzolla. You could also go for Serhiy Salov’s The Sacred Spring of Slavs, featuring lovely Watercolours from Shamo or Stravinsky’s mythical Rite of Spring.

Everybody knows Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but do you know the poems that go with them, written on the score by the composer himself? Here is his take on the upcoming – hopefully warmer – season.


Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring

Einaudi: a fascinating journey

17 March 2015

As Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà’s latest album devoted to the music of Ludovico Einaudi continues to raise to the top of the charts, one may wonder how the composer became a real Internet sensation. But actually, his popularity didn’t only come from that medium.


Born in Turin, he trained as a classical composer and pianist at the Milan Conservatorio before continuing his studies with Luciano Berio, one of the most important composers of the twentieth century avant-garde. His career began with a series of prestigious commissions for institutions such as the USA’s Tanglewood Festival, Paris’ IRCAM and recently the National Center of Performing Arts of Beijing, but he decided to follow his own path and that meant mixing in one appealing sound his numerous influences. It all paid off when was premiered his electric harp suite Stanze (1997) on BBC Radio. People went wild with enthusiasm and even jammed the switchboard! The story repeated itself with Le onde (1998), to this day one of his most popular pieces, originally for piano. (He performed it himself.) Once again, the listeners were completely hooked and the piece became a permanent fixture atop the Classic FM charts. Le onde also led Ludovico Einaudi to film and TV music and that brought new fans who couldn’t get enough of that particular sound. Amongst his greateast soundtrack, once finds Doctor Zhivago (2002), Sotto falso nome (2004), This Is England (2006) and its television sequel This Is England ‘86 (2010), and of course Intouchables by Olivier Nakache and Eric Soledano. The film has been voted as the cultural event of 2011 in France and it has been submitted for the 85th Academy Award.

He nows travels extensively to reach out to audiences on all continents (his take on African traditional music is most interesting) and his star continues to shine bright.

Go on the Analekta website to listen and download the album. (Only there can you access some bonus tracks, not available on the CD itself.)

Classical music’s offering fantastic at the FIFA

13 March 2015

The International Festival of Films on Art starts soon and 230 films from more than 30 countries will be presented from March 19 to 29. In the lot, the following ones will surely interest the classical music fans.

JONAS KAUFMANN – BERLIN 1930 by Thomas Voigt and Wolfgang  Wunderlich. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle  – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium  29/03/15 – 4 p.m.)

EVERYWHERE AND FOREVER: MAHLER’S SONG OF THE EARTH by Jason Starr (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 26/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

RICHARD WAGNER ET LES JUIFS by Hilan Warshaw. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 21/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m. and 29/03/15 – 1:30 p.m.)

CALLAS VS TEBALDI, LA LÉGENDE DE LA TIGRESSE ET DE LA COLOMBE by René-Jean Bouyer deals with the legendary rivalry which opposed in the 1950s the two greatest singers of the era. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 4 p.m. and / 27/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

THE INDIAN QUEEN by Peter Sellars. An unforgettable version of Purcell’s last, unfinished opera. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 29/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin – 22/03/15 – 1:30 p.m.)

I’M A CREATIVE ANIMAL by Barbara Seiler follows Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan. (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 29/03/15 – 4 p.m. and Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 25/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

NDIPHILELA UKUCULA: I LIVE TO SING by Julie Cohen is the portrait of three rising opera stars, black students at the The Cape University. (Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 22/03/15 – 4 p.m. and 27/03/15 – 6:30 p.m.)

RAMEAU, L’INCOMPRIS MAGNIFIQUE by Olivier Simmonet is a vibrant homage to a composer too often misunderstood. (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Auditorium – 21/03/15 – 1:30 p.m. and Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle – 28/03/15 – 4 p.m.)

You can view the complete program and reserve your tickets on the FIFA official website here…


Alain Lefèvre’s Rive Gauche

10 March 2015

You were waiting for it with much anticipation. Here is Rive gauche, Alain Lefèvre’s latest album of compositions. Once more, the pianist-composer offers us musical journeys as diverse as the stories he shares with us. You can listen to and download the album here…

Rive gauche

Alain Lefèvre talks about the compositional process with George Nicholson.

I have always composed to tell a story, a story that helps listeners find their own. When you have had, for almost half a century, a special connection with the greatest masterpieces, you need a large dose of humility and innocence in order to give music lovers these special moments of life, as everything I compose starts simply with a smile, a phone call, an emotion.

Classical? Absolutely not! Popular? Neither! Crossover? Oh no, not at all. So? I am really walking a fine line here. Maybe the answer lies hidden in the fact that composing has always been an outlet for my sorrows, fears and passions. A music critic at Le Devoir said: “There must be a demand for romanticism […] (but)Fidèles Insomnies (Blissfully Sleepless) cannot be categorized”. I believe I must agree with him.

Writing is not something I choose; the themes come flooding to my mind. Quite often, I wake up in the middle of the night and save on my phone a theme that pops to the surface just like that, without even looking for it. Then, the work really begins. When I sit down at the piano, all the pianistic knowledge I have accumulated goes into action hand in hand with all the information stored in the back of my mind, suddenly all made available to shape, enrich and bring these themes to life. If the theme does not come by itself, the piece will not be, because composing is a relaxing time and paradoxically it is also some kind of exorcism or auto psychoanalysis.

It saddens me to see a particular audience turn up its nose at Maurice Jarre, Michel Legrand or Alexandre Desplat or even our own André Gagnon, who has written marvellous pieces. How can we not break down in tears after just a few bars of Brel’s Ne me quitte pas? Because what we retain most from it, is that it is a gorgeous theme and I believe that inspiration is a state of grace. I can’t help but reiterate that André Mathieuhas been blessed more often than not. I see my own pieces like films for the ear, images for the piano.

Although my compositions tell simple stories, the day-to-day discipline to which I have submitted myself to for decades cannot not interfere in the making of these pieces. All these digitally illuminated networks add their own colours to the story and bring structure to it. Though they hold pleasant titles, both amateur and professional pianists who have tried to play them have come to realise just how dauntingly diffi cult they are.

Einaudi’s Experience: powerful

6 March 2015

The power of Ludovico Einaudi’s music is undeniable, whether you listen to it by itself or juxtapose it to a beautiful short film produced by Montreal based Antler Films. An unforgettable day for all those we encounter in this film certainly and it is impossible to not let this enthralling score stay with you long after the last frame is over, especially when performed as beautifully by Angèle Dubeau et La Pietà.

You can listen and download the complete album launched officially on March 3, here…

Simon Rattle will lead the LSO

3 March 2015

This is certainly the news of the day in the international classical music world: the London Symphony Orchestra just announced the appointment of Sir Simon Rattle as its Music Director, starting in September 2017. He follows in the footsteps of André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev.  

At the announcement of his appointment, Simon Rattle said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the Orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it. Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community. In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra. We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.”

LSO Chairman Lennox Mackenzie spoke of the Orchestra’s delight at Simon Rattle’s appointment at this morning’s announcement: “I am thrilled that Sir Simon Rattle has accepted our invitation to lead the Orchestra into the future. On behalf of the whole Orchestra, we welcome him as our Music Director at this hugely important moment in the LSO’s history.

This is a real coup for the LSO since Simon Rattle, at the helm of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 2002 (his contract expires in 2018) is considered by most experts one of the three top conductors in the world today. He first led the LSO when he was in his twenties. More recently he conducted the Orchestra at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and in two acclaimed concerts at the Barbican Centre in January of this year.