The arrival is spring is right around the corner, but that means the mighty winter wind is getting in his final blows. That means this week, Ether Game is catching the wind with a breezy show that we’re calling “Blowin’ In The Wind”!
Grab a parka for our windy playlist below:
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 no. 2 “The Tempest” – Beethoven frequently paid musical homage to William Shakespeare, like in his overture to Coriolanus, and a planned (but ultimately abandoned) opera on Macbeth. For a stormy guy like Beethoven, in what was certainly the stormiest period in his life, it’s no surprise that he was also fan of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Beethoven’s opus 31 sonatas were composed around the time the composer was coming to grips with his deafness. According to one story, when asked by Anton Schindler about the “meaning” of this sonata (perhaps a composer’s least favorite question), Beethoven curtly and simply told his friend to go read The Tempest! While we should probably take this anecdote with a grain of salt, it’s not hard to believe that this sonata could be a passionate, romanticized reaction to Shakespeare’s stormy play.
- Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Eine Alpensinfonie (“An Alpine Symphony”): Thunderstorm – This tone poem—the last that Strauss wrote—follows a climbing party scaling one of the larger mountains in the Alps, a trek he experienced firsthand. In his youth, Strauss partook in an especially rough hiking expedition. At one point during the descent, they were pummeled by a nasty thunderstorm. To create the effect of those gale force winds, Strauss called for the use of a wind machine or an aeoliphone among the battery of percussion. The wind machine used in Strauss’s time was basically a barrel on a frame with a crank attached to it. Draped over the barrel was a piece of weighted cloth. As the percussionist wound the crank, the barrel would rub against the cloth, creating the whooshing sound of blowing wind. Wind machines like this are still used in orchestral music, though they have increased in size as symphony orchestras have gotten bigger. Some even have barrels that are about as wide as a tractor wheel.
- Max Steiner (1888–1971), Music from Gone With The Wind – When the massive adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s popular Civil War novel Gone with the Wind swept the 1939 Oscars, Max Steiner’s score was nominated, but lost out to The Wizard of Oz. If sheer musical girth had been a factor, Steiner certainly would have won. His score is present under nearly the entire movie, just under four hours of music. Even more incredibly, Gone with the Wind was one of twelve films on which Steiner worked in 1939. The novel that the film is based on did not originally have its famous windy title. Mitchell tentatively titled the book Tomorrow Is Another Day (the book’s last line), before settling on Gone with the Wind, a line from a poem by Ernest Dowson. Mitchell toyed around with a few names, actually, including Bugles Sang True, Not in Our Stars, and Tote the Weary Load.
- Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), Études, Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major (“Aeolian Harp”) and No. 11 in A minor (“Winter Wind”) – Étude is the French word for “study,” meaning theses pieces are basically student exercises. Chopin’s études, however, are much more challenging and evocative than your average “study.” The techniques studied in these two include supporting a right-hand melody while playing arpeggios and creating dexterity and flexibility in both hands. All of Chopin’s etudes have some nickname attached, but none of these evocative names come from Chopin himself. The notoriously difficult and stormy “Winter Wind” etude was likely named by a publisher. And it was none other than fellow composer Robert Schumann who provided the “Aeolian Harp” etude with its nickname. An aeolian harp is a stringed musical instrument played by the wind and named after the Greek god of wind Aeolus. Schumann felt that the undulating A-flat major chord in this Chopin etude evoked the beauty of that wind-powered instrument.
- Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), “Zefiro Torna” – This delightful two-voice madrigal by Monteverdi, “Zefiro Torna,” was written in praise of Zephyr, the west wind that heralds the return of spring and brings with it flowers, beauty, and love. The light and breezy vocal lines sung in echo evoke the swift wind rolling across the landscape. The work comes from a larger set called Scherzi musicali, or “Musical Jests,” and would have been performed somewhat comically in the early 17th century. The accompaniment here is also a classic example of a ciaccona (or chacona or chaconne, depending on your language of origin). A ciaccona is a type of lively dance song based on a repeating pattern in the bass. This particular bass pattern repeats 56 times in succession in “Zefiro Torna,” almost making it feel like modern pop music, a genre that also relies on this kind of repetition.
- Anton Webern (1883–1945), Im Sommerwind – So far, we’ve looked at music for the winter wind by Chopin and music for the spring wind by Monteverdi. This is music for the summer wind by Anton Webern! If you’re familiar with the music of Webern, you probably won’t recognize this as a piece by him. Webern was a member of the so-called Second Viennese School, and he was the most angular, pointillistic, and atonal of that lot. But Im Sommerwind (or “In the Summer Wind”) is downright tonal, and brims with the lightness of something by, say Tchaikovsky. It was written in 1904, when the composer was still a young lad, and was inspired by his summers spent at the Webern family estate in southern Austria. Before Webern became a proponent of the forward-thinking teachings of Arnold Schoenberg, he studied the music of more traditional composers. For instance, when Webern was a student at Vienna University, he wrote a musicological thesis on the 15th-century Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer Heinrich Isaac.
- John Rutter (b. 1945), The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 book The Wind in the Willows is one of the most influential masterpieces of children’s literature, with numerous adaptations and references across multiple genres. The book’s title is a sensory reference to the idyllic riverside landscape where the story takes place, and where its charming animal characters like the River Rat, the Mole, the Badger and Toad of Toad Hall reside. Besides several movies, a TV show and a famous series of illustrations by Arthur Rackham, the book received a musical treatment in 1981 by British composer John Rutter. Rutter depicts the breezy title of the book in the opening bars of his piece with the gradual entrance of an ethereal vocal line written especially for his own choir, The Cambridge Singers. The Wind in the Willows recently received more music from Julian Fellowes, the creator of the incredibly successful costume drama Downton Abbey, after he adapted the book into a musical in 2016.
- John Blow (1649–1708), Voluntaries for Organ – It’s not just John Blow’s last name that makes him a good choice for this week’s theme. His instrument of choice was also the windiest of the keyboard instruments, the organ. He taught pipe organ at Westminster Abbey from 1669 to 1679, and among his students was a young Henry Purcell. In fact, it’s widely believed that Purcell’s only opera Dido and Aeneas was heavily influenced by John Blow’s own musical drama, Venus and Adonis. Most of Blow’s musical output consisted of sacred vocal music, including hymns, anthems and odes, but a fair amount of his keyboard music, such as the organ piece we just listened to, was published in his lifetime. After retiring from Westminster, he became the first appointee to the “Composer of the Chapel Royal” position, which was created to serve the musical needs of the court of James II.
- Frederick Loewe and Alan J. Lerner, “They Call The Wind Maria” from Paint Your Wagon – “They Call The Wind Maria” was a top ten Billboard hit for The Kingston Trio in 1959, and was a central song in the folk music revival movement of the 1960s. But it’s not a traditional folk song in any sense. It was written barely a decade earlier in 1951 for the Great White Way: it was a song from the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon. Paint Your Wagon was set in the California Gold Rush and later became a film starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. “They Call The Wind Maria” is a plaintive folk-like ballad sung by some lonely prospectors, thinking about the women they’ve left behind and hearing their names in the wind, rain and fire. The song became very popular in the early 1950s especially among the Korean War troops longing for home. And final fun fact: singer Mariah Carey was named after the wind in this song!