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Appoggiatura: Ether Game Playlist


It's our most flamboyant and florid show yet. Below you can browse some serious frippery. THis week, we presented "Appoggiatura," a show about ornimented and decorative music. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331 Andante grazioso (Theme and Variations) This sonata in A major is among Mozart’s most beloved piano works. Instead of starting out with a movement in sonata form, typical of the genre, the first movement of this sonata does something different. It’s a set of variations on a lovely A major theme, with a lilting 6/8 siciliana rhythm. Mozart was renowned for his ability to improvise and ornament melodies, and one spectator wrote that “One had only to give him the first subject which came to mind for a fugue or an invention: he would develop it with strange variations and constantly changing passages as long as one wished.” The form that Mozart improvised in became known in the Classical era as the “theme and variations” form. A short musical idea, often of eight or sixteen measures, is reworked through different styles and ornamentations. It is likely that many of Mozart's written-out theme and variations, such as the piece we just heard, are basically transcriptions of his improvisations

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Varations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 When Tchaikovsky composed his “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” he used the term “rococo” to describe an original melody written in the classical style of Mozart, whom he greatly admired. Rococo is most often used to describe an interior decorative style most popular in France in the late 1700’s. Characterized by extensive (and some would say overuse) of curvilinear ornament inspired by shells, flowers, pastoral themes and bizarre combinations of humans and animals, the style has no real musical equivalent. However the grace, frivolity and natural lightness expressed in Rococo art is very much present in Tchaikovsky’s nine variations for cello and orchestra, written for cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen who was a fellow professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Fitzenhagen extensively altered the piece over subsequent performances, changing the order of the variations, splicing passages, and eventually eliminating the eighth variation altogether. 

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) Norma: Casta Diva In his short thirty-four years of life, Bellini established himself as the leading exponent of the bel canto style of Italian opera in the early 19th century. Meaning “Beautiful Song” in Italian. Bel Canto singing emphasized the brilliance of performance and sound over dramatic expression. “Casta Diva,” from Bellini's eighth opera Norma, is the quintessential Bel Canto aria. When it was rehearsed by Italy's most famous soprano, Giuditta Pasta, she baulked at singing the aria, believing it to be unsuited to her voice. Bellini asked her to keep at it for a week, and by their next meeting she had adapted her voice and changed her mind about the aria. Though the premiere of Norma was met with mixed reviews, “Casta Diva” became one of the most famous arias of the 19th century. 

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Deux Arabesques This very early piano piece by Debussy, one of his most popular, is a delicate expression of the French composer’s fascination with the exotic East. The word “Arabesque” first emerged in the world of architecture, referring to a decoration of intricate, swirling lines often found on many Middle Eastern buildings. Such swirling lines were also a hallmark of the art nouveau movement, an architectural style popular in Europe in Debussy’s time. It’s not hard to see how the architectural concept of swirling lines could also be easily applied to the world of music—Debussy’s first Arabesque swirls and twirls with these decorative flourishes. After all, there is that well-known aphorism, often credited to Goethe that says “music is liquid architecture. Architecture is frozen music.”

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) Sonata in G minor, "Devil's Trill" Giuseppe Tartini gained a reputation as one of the finest violinists in the world, and was the first documented owner of a Stradivarius violin. We just heard perhaps his most famous work, which he titled “The Devil’s Sonata.” Tartini dreamed he had made a pact with the devil, and asked if the devil might play his violin. What emerged was a sonata Tartini described as “so beautiful, performed with such mastery and intelligence,” that he wanted to possess it. He attempted to write out the music he heard in his dream, giving birth to the piece we now know as “The Devil’s Trill.” Legends about Tartini's violin playing would continue to follow him even after his death in 1770. It was believed, for example, that he had a sixth digit on his left hand which allowed him to play more skillfully than any other violinist in the world. 

François Couperin (1668-1733) Allemande L'Auguste Though François Couperin’s compositions were greatly desired by the French elite, Couperin faced a major social predicament among his admirers: he adored Italian music, and preferred to compose in the Italian style, even though the French Baroque style was highly distinctive, incorporating its own set of ornaments, called agréments, which were more florid than those heard in other music. By French standards, the execution and placement of  agréments defined whether a piece was in good taste. Couperin was uniquely specific at indicating ornaments in his scores, as these were most often left to the interpretation of the performer. While Couperin published his first solo pieces under an Italian pseudonym and though the pieces in his Premier Livre were well received, the French intellectual elite were outraged when they discovered his trickery. They argued that the Italian tradition of writing music for its own sake was artificial and not true art. Couperin appeased them by giving his future pieces titles that referenced French subjects and stories, such as Allemande l'Auguste. 

Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300–1377) Messe de Notre Dame Guillaume de Machaut was an extraordinary figure of the Medieval period. Respected as both a poet and a composer, he was so popular that more biographical information on his life survives than any other medieval composer. His Messe de Nostre Dame is the first complete setting of the mass ordinary attributed to a single composer. Machaut was central to a music compositional movement called the ARS NOVA or “New Art.” The principal development of this movement was a new form of notation that allowed for smaller note values in written music, resulting in a greater variety of rhythmic possibilities. However, there are no indications for any kind of ornamentation in Machaut’s manuscripts. The trills and tone bending heard on this recording are an intriguing but controversial choice made by the Ensemble Organum, and is based on the possibility that musicians and vocalists in the late Middle Ages could’ve been influenced by Arabic music. 

John Ireland (1879-1962) Decorations: The Scarlet Ceremonies When John Ireland visited the Channel Islands in 1912, the trip inspired a set of three pieces for solo piano, titled “Decorations.” This musical triptych contains emotional themes common to Ireland’s music, like introspection and spiritual longing, which were perhaps influenced by his friendship with the mystic and horror writer Arthur Machen. A short excerpt from Machen’s story The House of Souls even adorns the top of the score to the third piece in this piano set, titled The Scarlet Ceremonies, referencing secret and occult rituals.

Seamus Egen (p.1996) The White Petticoat/Stan Chapman/The Miller's Maggot The members of Solas were already well-established musicians in the American celtic music scene in their own right before they formed in 1996, in Philadelphia. Over a 20-year span, they recorded 12 albums and toured extensively, proving that some of the best Irish music was actually coming from across the pond. Irish music has a distinctive and intricate method of ornamentation. The many uses of cuts, strikes, rolls and crans developed out of bagpiping technique to subdivide notes or give a tune a lift and a lilt. As these ornaments were transferred to other instruments, more unique instrument-specific decorations were developed, for instance the Irish fiddler has a whole arsenal of ornaments to use that are made with the bow.  

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