Raging Contagion

Raging Contagion

Raging Contagion

Music so good it will make you sick!

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Modest Mussorgsky – Night On Bald Mountain

October 28, 2012

The finale of October’s “spooky” classical music is none other than Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s (mo-dest, not maw-dest) diabolical work, Night On Bald Mountain. This is another famous work that has been used and referenced numerous times in pop culture. It was one of the first tone poems from a Russian composer (remember tone poems from Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre?). The story that this tone poem tells goes something like this (taken from program notes included in the score):

“Subterranean sounds of unearthly voices. Appearance of the Spirits of Darkness, followed by that of Chernobog. Glorification of Chernobog and celebration of the Black Mass. Witches’ Sabbath. At the height of the orgy, the bell of the little village church is heard from afar. The Spirits of Darkness are dispersed. Daybreak.”

As with Danse Macabre you can definitely hear the story as the music progresses (fyi, chernobog means “black god” in Russian). Any of you who watched Disney’s Fantasia as a child will be familiar with this piece. I believe it’s the last song, the creepy one with the big demon on the mountain. The version in Fantasia is slightly different, however, being an arrangement made by that conductor, Leopold Stokowski. In fact, that’s not the only time this piece has been re-arranged. It’s got quite the convoluted history, so if you care to find out, continue onward.

Mussorgsky originally wrote and titled it St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain, but his mentor at the time refused to perform it. Mussorgsky then took parts of his tone poem and used them in other subsequent compositions. The original version was never actually published until 1968, 100 years after Mussorgsky finished it in 1897. In fact, the version I present you with here and the one most widely recognized and performed is an arrangement from fellow Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (if I haven’t covered him yet, rest assured I will in the future). This version was composed in 1886, 5 years after Mussorgsky’s death, as Rimsky-Korsakov was going through the late composer’s works to prepare them for publication. Rimsky-Korsakov came across one of the compositions using some of Mussorgsky’s ideas from his original work and turned it into a full orchestral edition. Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t actually use the original tone poem in his re-working of Mussorgsky’s music; he didn’t realize at the time that the original St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain was in fact already a finished work. This is a condensed version of the history; you can find the complete background here.

I had fun picking out the songs for this month. I think they definitely show that not all classical music is boring, slow, and sounds the same. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! Here’s Stokowski’s version for Fantasia if you’d like to listen and compare:

– cheerlubber

Edvard Grieg – In The Hall of the Mountain King

October 21, 2012

Ahh, a classic. I touched on composer Edvard Grieg a bit once before (looks a bit like a Norwegian Albert Einstein, don’t you think?), also with a song from the Peer Gynt Suite (see my post on Anitra’s Dance). I told you then that you’re probably more familiar with Grieg than you’d think, and now here I am again presenting one of his most famous songs to you. We lost our CD that had Peer Gynt on it, unfortunately, so I’ve been on the hunt for some good recordings. Haven’t quite found one yet I’m totally in love with so sorry the quality of this mp3 is a little crummy. However, while searching for a good copy, I did discover that Apocalyptica apparently did a cover of this iconic song once upon a time too. Interesting.  > o>

Now I can’t quite remember the story behind this song off the top of my head–something about the lad Peer Gynt trying to rescue someone from some trolls I think?–but I do remember that when I would listen to the Peer Gynt Suite CD many times over as a child, I always got especially interactive with this particular song. As the song starts out slow I would tip-toe around, but as it picked up speed and got faster (the version we had was a particularly fast recording), I would start running in place like a madman, pretending I was running away from the Mountain King, whoever he was. Thank goodness I usually did it with just myself in my parents’ bedroom because there’s no doubt I looked mighty silly doing it. I swear I don’t do it anymore, guyz.

Anyway, this song is frequently used in commercials or movies for a frantic or mischievous scene. You should recognize it right away. I thought it would go along mighty well with the whole October theme with classical music I’m doing here. Hope you enjoy it! Look forward til next Sunday for the big, grand, spooky finale!

– cheerlubber

Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre

October 14, 2012 1 Comment

Thought we’d have some fun, being that it is October, and present some darker, “spooky” classical music to fit with the season. I’ve introduced Camille Saint-Saens before with “Aquarium” (pronounced like sayn-saww; he’s French) and he’s been one of my favorite composers for a while, and this is one of my favorite pieces of his. It’s just a great piece that’s loads of fun to listen to even when it’s not October.

This particular piece is classified as a “tone poem,” a single, continuous movement that illustrates or evokes a story, a poem, or even a painting or a landscape. Danse Macabre is based on an old French legend that says Death comes out at midnight every year on Halloween and calls forth the dead from their graves to dance while he plays the fiddle. To start the piece, you hear the harp play a single note twelve times, signifying the twelve strokes of midnight. Then Death’s fiddle chimes in (the violin) with dissonant chords; this particular chord is called a tritone, which is also commonly referred to as the “Devil’s internal.” The violin’s E string has also purposefully been tuned down to an E-flat to achieve this. Saint-Saëns uses the xylophone to imitate the sound of rattling bones as the skeletons dance until the rooster crows at dawn (played by the oboe), at which point they have to return to their graves.

It’s all quite clever, really. If you listen to the piece with these things in mind, it really brings it so much more to life, for a song about the dead. Maybe it’ll even get you up and dancing with your creaky bones too.

– cheerlubber

Antonio Bazzini – La Ronde des lutins

September 23, 2012 2 Comments

cheerlubber here and yes, I’m posting on a Sunday! I know I haven’t done a Sunday classical post in a long time–I always want to, but sometimes taking a Sunday nap sounds nicer than writing a Sunday post. Today, though, it shall be done!

This rendition of this lively number composed by 19th-century Italian Antonio Bazzini is by none other than master virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman. After we went to his concert years ago, we bought a 2-disk CD of a lot of short, violin/piano arrangements and I love listening to every single track, multiple times. This song is track number 1 on the second CD and is a great way to start the CD off. It’s fast, exciting, and the little, quick pizzicato notes (plucking of the string), which Perlman seamlessly plays in-between bow strokes, add a little spice to the song. Just something light and whimsical for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I do!

Arvo Pärt – Fratres for Cello and Piano

June 24, 2012

This song is rated: 2 Pills – intermediate musicologist level

cheerlubber again!

Posting three days in a row! Sick of me yet? I want to get back on track with our Sunday Classical posts again, even though I’m probably the only one who cares about it. Today I feature Arvo Pärt with his piece titled Fratres for Cello and Piano. This will be the first classical song I mark as a two pill! :0  Yes, even some instrumental music can be for certain ears only. I did this because Fratres is a more modern composition; from about the turn of the century on, composers became more and more experimental and these works also became more accepted, because of course each new generation tries to do something different from the last. Arvo Pärt is actually an Estonian composer. Now I know Estonia Week is officially over, but I found this when I was looking for a classical post last week and liked it so much that I knew I wanted to share it. I listened to some of Arvo Pärt’s other works and I’ll be honest, they didn’t tickle my fancy all too much. He is known for being a minimalist composer, and while some of his works had their little magical moments, most of them didn’t really hold my attention all too well. Fratres is a lot of variation on the same few notes, but I think it’s very melancholy and beautiful. I like the exchanges between the piano and the cello, and when the cello plays the high notes (known as “harmonics”), I think it creates a very ethereal, otherworldly feel. In fact–bet you didn’t know–the cello has the largest range out of all string instruments. It can hit low notes and sound like a bass or it can hit high notes and sound like a violin. Whuzzerface says: “The cello is like the all-star of string instruments, and I’m not just saying that because I used to be a cellist.” Oh reeeally…

You know what this song reminds me of? The music in The Village (composed by James Newton Howard). It’s got the frantic feel at the beginning, then soothes out, glides along, and hits those high harmonics. This is also the longest song I’ve posted thus far, but don’t let the 10 minutes in length scare you. Press play and let it go in the background as you do your thing. I think you’ll find it’ll give a great atmosphere to whatever you’re doing. Enjoy below!

ESTONIA WEEK!! Rudolf Tobias – Otsekui hirv kisendab

June 17, 2012

This song is rated: 1 Pill – entry-level for music novices

Howdy ho, cheerlubber here~

Like when we had Kimbra Week a few weeks back (or…half-week rather, but the intended concept is the same), we’ll be doing themed weeks now and then. The very special theme for this week is music from ESTONIA. “Estonia?” you say with a raise of your brow. “I have not heard of such a place.” There’s no need to fret–thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the internet, there is a magical place of all knowledge called Wikipedia. Now that you’ve clicked on that handy-dandy link I so graciously gave you and have glanced a bit at what Estonia is all about (and in case you didn’t read too far in, here’s an interesting fact I know you didn’t know just two seconds ago: Skype was created in and is largely still operated out of Estonia. The same developers were also behind Kazaa, if you’re enough of a veteran to know what that was), you may be wondering, “Whyyy Estonia?” with another raised brow.

One of mine and Whuzzerface’s sisters lived in Estonia for about a year and a half. She left for Estonia two years and two days ago exactly, so we thought we’d commemorate–if you will–the occasion with a week dedicated to music from Estonia. Don’t worry, it’s gonna be good. Estonia may be a teeny country but its artists’ have talent that is anything but. Let’s see if we can do this themed week properly this time! To start off, I’ll be highlighting the Estonian composer Rudolf Tobias. I only just learned about Tobias this week. I have not had the fortune of ever listening to any Estonian composers before because there simply aren’t that many of them. I have found many new interesting composers to look further into while preparing for this post, but unfortunately I will only have to share one with you for now. Estonia has a strong tradition of choral music (read a bit about their Singing Revolution against the Soviet Union) so I thought I’d share a choral piece. Usually I’m more of a fan of purely instrumental classical music, but this piece–translated (according to our sister) as Like the Deer Cries Out–is haunting and beautiful, a gorgeous requiem. Estonia has also had a history of being repressed, so I also kinda imagine that this song is them crying out like a deer, mourning what they’ve lost and yet still maintaining some hope for the future. Rudolf Tobias emerged as a composer during a time known as the Estonian national awakening, so this makes sense. Enjoy the moving piece below and keep a look out for other Estonian songs this week!

Claude Debussy – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

May 20, 2012

This song is rated: 1 Pill – entry-level for music novices

cheerlubber here for the Sunday classical post.

Continuing with the relaxing little ditties I’ve been featuring, today’s post features a piece called The Girl with the Flaxen Hair by Claude Debussy, the same French Impressionist composer that brought us lovely tunes such as Claire de Lune and Reverie, among others. Debussy has always been a favorite of mine. His pieces aren’t over-complicated or complex but they’re absolutely gorgeous and engaging. I’m not sure what this piece was originally composed for but I’ve had this violin and piano arrangement for quite some time. The mute on the violin makes the piece especially soft and I can just imagine myself sitting in a field of tall grass with the wind gently tickling my face and blowing my hair…until I realize that I’m still stuck in Arizona and that summer is upon us. Good thing there is music like this to transport us to those places. Enjoy this wonderful piece below, and please–don’t be afraid to comment!

Edvard Grieg – Anitra’s Dance

May 6, 2012 1 Comment

This song is rated: 1 Pill – entry-level for music novices

cheerlubber again.

Last night, Dr. Whuzzerface and I, along with some friends, attended the Phoenix Symphony’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with acclaimed piano virtuoso Olga Kern. It was an amazing concert. In the first half, they played a symphony by a Polish composer whose work had been previously lost, due to him having to escape the Nazis and then barely survive through Russia under Stalin’s rule, but has recently been gaining more interest. The conductor told us that this was the North American premiere of this particular work. Pretty cool. I just love going to the symphony.

However, for today’s classical post, I’m going to highlight famous Norwegian composer of the late Romantic period, Edvard Grieg, with Anitra’s Dance from his popular Peer Gynt Suite. This music was originally written as incidental music for the play Peer Gynt but these few pieces collected into the suite have lived on as memorable works. You’re probably more familiar with the Peer Gynt Suite than you ever thought: I’m sure you’ll recognize the sounds of Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King very well. I’ve been familiar with Grieg for years; I’m pretty sure our Peer Gynt CD was one of my favorites for awhile growing up (alas, I think we have since lost that CD), and I also remember always dancing around when In the Hall of the Mountain King came on (more like running in place as if I’m running from the trolls that the song is about…). Some of my favorite piano pieces I’ve played over the years have been by Grieg. He’s probably the most well-known Norwegian composer and often includes Norwegian folk melodies in his music. Apparently, composing Peer Gynt was one of Grieg’s least favorite tasks, particularly In the Hall of the Mountain King, of which he said: “something that I literally can’t stand to listen to because it absolutely reeks of cow pies, ultra-Norwegian-ness and trollish self-sufficiency.” (NY Times article on Grieg)

Anitra’s Dance is one of my favorites from the Peer Gynt Suite. I managed to find a free copy of the violin sheet music online and I plan on tackling it someday, but I’d also love to get my hands on a piano arrangement. I’m not always good at explaining why I love certain classical pieces, so I’ll just let you listen and see if you can discover it for yourself.

Robert Schumann – Prophet Bird

April 29, 2012

This song is rated: 1 Pill – entry-level for music novices

Dr. cheerlubber again.

I know there was a bit of a problem with the classical piece I posted last week…I investigated and it turns out the file was 14 MB! So I reduced the file size, re-uploaded, and now you should be able to listen to it~

Today’s Sunday post is a lovely, short piece by Robert Schumann, a famous and influential German composer from the Romantic era, called Prophet Bird. I first heard this when we bought an Itzhak Perlman CD after a concert of his that we went to years ago and it quickly became one of my favorites. Perlman, a world-renowned violin virtuoso, plays the piece beautifully; while I have no idea what the song title means, the piece is light and mysterious and somehow the title Prophet Bird fits.

Years later I’m flipping through some old piano books I’d never been through, and I find we have an entire Schumann compilation book. I couldn’t be happier because Schumann is a great composer, and I also discovered in that very same book was the sheet music for one of my favorite piano concertos that I had dreamed of learning for a long time (I’ll have to highlight that piece later). As I was going through the rest of the giant volume to see what other Schumann works it had, I come across one that looks nice and decide to start sight-reading it, when the melody started sounding rather familiar. Rather joyously, I realized it was Prophet Bird in its original form written for piano. I was so excited. I was actually practicing it earlier today so it inspired me to do it for today’s classical post. Enjoy!

Gustav Holst – Mercury, The Winged Messenger

April 22, 2012 1 Comment

This song is rated: 1 Pill – entry-level for music novices

Dr. cheerlubber again.

Back again with another classical Sunday post. Today we feature Mercury, The Winged Messenger by Gustav Holst, movement number three of his The Planets suite, undoubtedly his most well-known work. While his most famous composition of his career is probably Mars, Bringer of War from the same suite (which was no doubt the inspiration for every early, epic space opera movie score), I enjoy the light-hearted Mercury just as much. Still easing you guys into classical with another short song, but this time featuring a full orchestra, whereas the past two Sunday classical posts featured small ensembles. Don’t worry, I’ll get around to introducing you to full symphonic movements shortly enough (get excited!). c:

Mercury, The Winged Messenger is quick and light and you can perfectly imagine the messenger god flitting frantically to and fro (hooray for alliteration!). He flies in and out through just about every section of the symphony, always keeping things moving. I have to say my absolute favorite part of this piece comes when the full orchestra starts building into a crescendo starting around 1:26, and when the cellos come in at 1:36 with a racing line. It’s quite subtle in the scheme of things but in my opinion, it’s the cellos that launch the orchestra into the song’s climax. I actually only really picked up on the line about a year ago, surprisingly enough, (after having been somewhat familiar with the piece for quite some time). The melodic theme that the violins and the trumpets belt out is great too, but there’s something about that cello line that gets me excited. You may have to listen for it a couple times before you recognize it, but I think you’ll see what I mean by it’s the cellos that are responsible for that climax. Orrr you’ll see that I’m just a bit odd and that line is of no consequence to you at all. Things quiet down quickly again after that, although don’t slow down, and the rest of the song simply follows Mercury around as he finishes delivering the last of his messages, just like any other typical workday.

This may be more analysis than you ever wanted to hear on a short classical piece (not like you’re really listening to this anyway), but oh well. This blog is as much for me to get my ideas and thoughts out as it is for you to consider them.