This week, we were in the reeds and taking deep breaths with a show dedicated to the woodwinds. Browse our playlist below from "Breath Control."
Paul Dukas (1865–1935) The Sorcerer's Apprentice The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the most well-recognized pieces of classical music, made famous by Disney’s Fantasia in 1940. The plot of the cartoon is faithful to the original poem by Goethe. As the sorcerer finishes his work for the day, the apprentice continues to fetch pails of water for his master. When the sorcerer retires, the apprentice tries to use magic to make a broomstick do the rest of the work for him, but soon the workshop is filled with water. Dukas’ symphonic poem is also regarded as one of the first orchestral pieces to treat the contrabassoon as an independent instrument. Capable of the same range as the tuba, the contrabassoon had previously been used to double a bass line and add extra depth to orchestration. Dukas takes advantage of the instrument’s deep buzzing tone for comedic effect, providing the contrabassoon with a solo passage to represent the broomstick coming to life.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Duos, K. 487: Excerpts The clarinet rose in popularity in the middle of the 18th century, particularly with Joseph Stamitz and the various Mannheim orchestras, but it was Mozart who is often credited for truly bringing it into prominence. After Mozart started working with the famed clarinetist and basset horn player Anton Stadler, he began to treat the clarinet like a true solo instrument. Mozart wrote both his famous clarinet quintet and clarinet concerto for Stadler’s basset clarinet, and the duo we just heard for the basset horn. The basset horn was the first attempt to create a bass instrument for the expanding family of popular clarinets in the late 18th century. It is not a true horn, having a reed like a clarinet, however it does have a large, flared metal bell, and is tuned in F, as some horns are. The recording that we just listened to features a Viennese basset horn that has survived since the late-18th century.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Fuga y Misterio Valerie Coleman founded the wind quintet Imani Winds while she was a student at Mannes College of Music in New York City. The music group has since developed into a premier chamber ensemble specializing in traditional chamber repertoire for winds as well as works by under-represented contemporary composers. The ensemble has recorded 9 studio albums, with two receiving Grammy award nominations. This recording of Fuga y Misterio is the perfect snapshot of the Nuevo Tango: a mixture of authentic tango rhythms and ornamentations, mixed with more “high-brow” fugue techniques and classical instrumentation that was developed by Piazzola in the 1960’s, and which became especially popular internationally in the 1980’s as Piazzolla gained more commissions from classical musicians.
Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) Concerto in C for Two Oboes, Strings and Continuo, Op. 7, No. 5 Although concerti for strings had already appeared in Italy by the 1690s if not earlier, it was not until after 1700 that a concerto for oboe was published, thanks to Tomaso Albinoni. The oboe was more popular in France and Germany, and Albinoni may have been looking to serve that market when he published his Opus 7 concerti in Venice in 1715. Curiously, the dedication included with these twelve works for one or two oboes is to a local patrician: Giovanni Donato Correggio, who was not an oboe player at all. Whatever the reason, the concerto in C for two oboes was one of the first of its kind published in Italy, and would become the model for the woodwind concerti written by VIvaldi.
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) Five Bagatelles, Op. 23 No. 2. Carol While Gerald Finzi may not have enjoyed the lucrative career of fellow Englishmen Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, his music has gained a growing appreciation in the years since his death from Hodgkin’s Disease. The Five Bagatelles for piano and clarinet were written for clarinetist Pauline Juler, the niece of English pianist and composer Mary Lucas. They were later orchestrated, as heard in this recording. Finzi had originally intended Juler to debut his earlier Clarinet Concert, however she had withdrawn from performing due to her marriage and subsequent pregnancy. Each movement of this set of bagatelles has its own title referencing a song or dance form, such as Prelude, Carol, Romance, Forlana, and Fughetta. It should be noted that while Finzi is appreciated for his contributions to English music, he was also a keen apple grower, and saved many rare English varieties of apple from extinction.
Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) Dead Elvis Dead Elvis is a new spin on the Faustian legend. American composer Michael Daugherty wrote his “Dead Elvis” in 1993 for bassoonist Chuck Ullery. The work tells the tale of Elvis Presley, a modern day Faust, who instead of selling his soul, sells out to Hollywood, Colonel Parker, and Las Vegas for wealth and fame. The piece used the Dies Irae chant from the medieval requiem mass as its primary musical material. The chant tune becomes the subject for a set of variations by the solo bassoon over fifties rock and roll ostinatos in the ensemble. The work is historically performed with the soloist dressed up as an Elvis impersonator. To further the Faustian parallel, the ensemble for “Dead Elvis” is the same as that for Igor Stravinsky’s L’HISTOIRE DU SOLDAT (1919), another contemporary retelling of the Faustian legend by a composer who favored the bassoon.
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)Piece pour flûte seule Although he could write in a manner conventional enough to please French academics when they awarded him the prestigious Prix de Rome on his first try, Jacques Ibert cultivated a unique and personal compositional style that was influenced by improvisation and experimentation, as well as practices influenced by Baroque music. His 1936 unaccompanied solo piece for flute, which was debuted at a dinner party by the famed flutist Marcel Moyse, uses daring, modernistic chromaticism, but incorporates florid, baroque-style ornaments. The work feels improvisatory in nature, and bears a striking resemblance to Debussy’s unaccompanied flute piece Syrinx, written in 1913. The work also builds on fragments from the third movement of Ibert’s flute concerto, which had been composed a year earlier.
Thea Musgrave (b.1928)Two's Company: Concerto for oboe, percussion, and orchestra Thea Musgrave’s concerto for oboe and percussion, titled Two’s Company, is all about dramatizing the differences of the two featured solo instruments. Not only is this expressed musically through the emotional narrative of the concerto, but it is in fact illustrated explicitly by the changing physical location of the soloists throughout each section of the composition. At the beginning of the work, which is marked “desolate and lonely,” the percussionist is downstage left behind the cellos, and the oboe is offstage to the right. As they move through each part of the piece marked with different descriptions such as “frivolous” “dramatic” and “passionate” the soloists position themselves next to different sections of the orchestra, who are vying for their attention as the soloists are also trying to get each other’s attention from across the stage. Finally in a section marked “exaltant,” the soloists meet in the center of the stage playing a whirling joyful coda.
Lou Reed (1942-2013) Chelsea Girls Nico’s 1967 debut solo album was recorded and released right as she finished performing and touring with the Velvet Underground, effectively ending her tumultuous collaboration with the Warhol-mentored music group. Nico never intended or really aspired to be a singer, but her distinctive, indifferent baritone voice combined with her melancholy and icy mystique led to many lifting her up as an inscrutable muse of the counterculture. Though she would write much of the music on her later albums, all the songs on Chelsea Girl were written for her, many being unreleased leftovers from her Velvet Underground days. The chamber-folk elements were later added by the producer Tom Wilson without consulting Nico, a decision the performer always bemoaned that instead of the drums and guitars she asked for, the producers gave her strings and a flute.