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Noon Edition

Drip Drip Drop: Ether Game Playlist

We are welcoming the rainy season in Bloomington this week, and Ether Game is celebrating with a show dedicated to downpours. Enjoy nine soakin' wet selections below. 

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) Prelude in D-flat, Op. 28, No.15 'Raindrop' The year was 1838, Frederic Chopin had just met his now famous companion, the French novelist, George Sand, when the two decided to spend the winter on the Spanish island of Majorca. Chopin had been plagued by poor health nearly his entire life, and he hoped a little vacation would do him some good. They stayed in a former monastery in Valldemossa, but it rained all throughout their stay, and Chopin became gravely ill. Nonetheless, Chopin composed some of his most well-known works there, including the opus 28 preludes. The 15th prelude from this set has become known as “The Raindrop” because the repeated A flats (or G sharps, depending on the context) are said to represent the unending rain Chopin and Sand had to endure during that stay in Majorca during the winter of 1838.

Nacio Herb Brown (1896-1964) Singin' in the Rain The songwriting duo Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown began contributing songs to MGM motion pictures in the earliest days of the sound era, and their many memorable scores for film and Broadway shows cemented their rise to fame.  Their most famous collaboration was the song “Singin’ in the Rain” which was a smash hit in the version performed by Gene Kelly from the famous movie by the same name.  “Singin’ in the Rain” was originally written over 20 years earlier for a musical review entitled simply “The Hollywood Review of 1929”.   An all-star review featuring many MGM contract players, “The Hollywood Review of 1929” is now long since forgotten, but “Singin’ in the Rain' ' remains one of the best loved songs from the early days of sound motion pictures. 

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Estampes: Jardins sous la pluie “Jardins sous la pluie”—or “Gardens in the Rain, the final piece from Claude Debussy’s Estampes, or “Engravings”—depicts the impressionistic interplay of light through rain, mist, and clouds. This artistic allusion should come as no surprise, as Debussy always regretted not pursuing a career in the visual arts, holding a deep love for painting especially.  His love for the visual arts was so great in fact that he associated himself with many of the famous artists living in Paris at the time, including painter Jacques Emile Blanche, to whom this collection is dedicated. Blanche relates a story about the origin of the last piece from Estampes, a party the two friends attended when it suddenly began to rain: “We all took refuge in the house, but Claude refused to follow our example, determined to enjoy to the full the smell of the wet earth and the gentle patter of rain on the leaves.”

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78 During the time he was establishing himself as the unofficial successor to Beethoven’s musical legacy, Brahms made a habit of spending his summers in the countryside, focusing on composition. It was in the summer of 1878 in Portschach that Brahms completed his first violin sonata. Colloquially called the “Rain Sonata,” the composition incorporates a motif Brahms developed in one of his lied, a setting of the poem Regenlied  by his friend and poet Karl Groth. In the poem, Groth uses rain to evoke a sense of melancholic nostalgia. The rain turns to tears over memories of a shared happiness long past. The sentiment clearly deeply resonated with Brahms to the extent that he developed an entire three movement sonata around the theme.

Judith Weir (b.1948) The Welcome Arrival of Rain Unlike many classical composers who have used folk music to add a nationalistic style and flavor to their work, British composer Judith Weir used folk music from various traditions as an alternative source for creating a method of composition, a means to build melody and structure. Particularly inspired by the pibroch tradition in Scottish piping, which develops extended variations over a relatively narrow melody, Weir used the same idea to develop The Welcome Arrival of Rain in 2003, where an opening sequence of four pitches is used for the entire development of the work which follows. Also favoring the direct expression and storytelling aspect of folk music, Weir has indicated that this piece expresses the arrival of monsoon season in India, the title and text of the composition quotes from an eighth century Hindu devotional text, the Bhagavanta Purana. 

Thomas Wiggins (1849-1908) The Rainstorm Few American pianists have such a unique and troubled history as Thomas Wiggins. Blind from birth and likely mentally impaired, he was bought as an infant by Georgia slave owner General James Neil Bethune in 1849. Shortly after, his prodigious talent was recognized, and he became Blind Tom, an attraction in a traveling P.T. Barnum-type show, showcasing his amazing piano skills and his ability to accurately mimic other performances, all while being promoted with cruel racial stereotypes. Wiggins’s talent was so grand that he ended up becoming the highest paid pianist of the 19th-century, although much of that money went to the Bethune family. Despite his 19th century fame, Blind Tom’s legacy was eroded by the 20th century, and he was buried in an unmarked grave. In addition to learning thousands of works, Wiggins also composed. He wrote this evocative work The Rainstorm when he was only five years old. While no recordings exist of him performing, there has been a resurgence of interest in his published sheet music. In 1972, residents of Columbus, Georgia, his hometown, raised a commemorative headstone in his honor.  

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) Rain Dreaming A particularly important concept in Japanese aesthetics is the idea of a “meaningful void,” a space that is full of energy. The idea is central to the Japanese gardens composer Toru Takemitsu often likened his music, where he played the role of gardener. He once said, quote, “Listening to my music can be compared to walking through a garden and experiencing the changes in light, pattern, and texture.” With little to no musical training, Takemitsu used the works of Debussy and Messiaen as guides to compose in an avant garde Western style, however, he maintained that there should be no divisions of east and west in art, and that artists should be in free dialogue with each other regardless of tradition or background, sharing their thoughts and emotions and making sense of the world together in the present. 

William Alwyn (1905-1985) Invocations: No. 5 Spring Rain The majority of William Alwyn’s vocal works were written in the latter part of his career. Many of his song cycles, including his multi-movement composition Invocations for piano and soprano, are settings of poems by writer Michael Armstron, who became an admirer of Alwyn’s music after hearing it broadcasted on the radio in 1972. The two began a correspondence and friendship that lasted to the end of the composer’s life. Invocations was written for the soprano Jill Gomez, who sang the title role in Alwyn’s opera Miss Julie. She appeared again as a featured soloist when Invocations was performed in-studio for the BBC in 1977. The seven-movement song cycle is a combination of nature poems and love poems, with movements 4 and 5 written to memorialize a long drought and following rain storm in 1976.

David Paich (b. 1954) Africa Keyboardist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro thought they had something special in the late 1970s after playing in many session recordings together in Los Angeles for Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Sonny and Cher. They formed a rock band with fellow session bassist David Hungate, Jeff’s brother, Steve Porcaro, and guitarist Steve Lukather, who was a high school friend. In fact four of the five founding members of Toto all went to highschool together. They ended up forming one of the most successful American rock bands of the 80s and 90s, buoyed to stardom by their crisp, technical playing and fusion of jazz and rock. Africa, from their 1982 album Toto IV, hit number one on the top 100 Billboard, and remains their most popular song. Following a resurgence of popularity for the song, especially on social media, David Paich has said that the song was inspired by a memorable documentary he saw on Africa, in which harsh living conditions were juxtaposed with a deep love for the continent. 

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