This week, it’s time to lace up those walking shoes get moving! We’re strolling along in an andante tempo as we explore music about walking. Tread lightly for a show we’re calling “Walk It Off”
Take a stroll through out walking playlist below:
- Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), Pictures At An Exhibition: “Promenade” – Pictures at an Exhibition is based on artwork by Mussorgsky’s late friend, Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann, who was an artist, architect, and stage designer, died at an early age of an aneurism. Shortly after his death, an exhibition of over 400 of his works was organized, which inspired Mussorgsky to compose his tribute to Hartmann. Pictures at an Exhibition is more than just several musical representations of art. The listener is taken into the mind of the composer while he pauses and contemplates his friend’s work while walking between each image in the gallery, gaining emotional momentum with each movement. It was originally written for solo piano. But it became clear that this picturesque music needed more musical color. Several orchestrations of Pictures At An Exhibition were written after Mussorgsky’s death, including one by British conductor Henry Wood. However, Wood withdrew his arrangement after hearing the spectacular orchestral colors of the arrangement by Maurice Ravel.
- Claude Debussy (1862–1918), Children's Corner: “Golliwogg's Cake-walk” – Debussy dedicated the Children’s Corner to his only daughter Claude-Emma, affectionately known as “Chouchou.” The suite includes several character pieces that depict items in Chouchou’s toy collection. There is a lullaby for her elephant Jimbo, a serenade for her doll, and a Cake-Walk for Golliwogg, a character in the children’s books of American author Florence Kate Upton. Debussy’s “Cake-Walk” was based on a popular American dance style not unlike the polka, but incorporating syncopated rhythms heard in African-American music.The work also contains a little bit of tongue-in-cheek subversion. In the Cake-Walk you may have noticed a musical reference to Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Debussy extracted the famous opening from the opera in order to thumb his nose at the high-brow seriousness often accorded to Wagner’s music.
- George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Semele: “Where'er you walk” – Handel is often remembered as a formidable blender of musical styles, combining elements of French, Italian, German and English music all within the same composition. Also, he successfully blurred the lines between musical genres, not a small feat in the Baroque era, where composing by the rules was generally considered a sign of good taste. Semele is a prime example of one of Handel’s hybrids. He called the work a “musical drama after the manner of an oratorio,” although it really combined elements of opera, oratorio and classical drama. The plot follows a an erotic, adulturus relationship between Jupiter and the mortal princess Semele, daughter of the king of Thebes. We just listened to Were’er you walk, an aria sung by Jupitar as he tries to convince Semele to come live in his beautiful palace. Though the opera premiered in concert form, it is now performed as a fully staged and costumed opera.
- Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), Andante Festivo – “Andante” is a common tempo marking in classical music, indicating a moderately slow tempo—roughly 80 beats per minute. However, the true definition of “andante” in its original Italian is “a walking pace.” But as you know if you’ve ever walked down a busy sidewalk, “a walking pace” differs greatly depending on who is doing the walking. So what did Jean Sibelius consider to be an andante “walking pace”? We know the answer because we have a recording of Sibelius conducting his Andante Festivo. He wrote the work as a string quartet in 1922, but then rearranged it as an orchestral piece to be performed on a worldwide New Year’s Day radio broadcast in 1939. It’s the only document we have of Sibelius interpreting his own music. His tempo, despite the Andante marking, was around 54 beats per minute, which can mean only one thing: Sibelius was a very slow walker.
- Percy Grainger (1882–1961), Walking Tune – Grainger was born in Australia, yet from an early age, he was a world traveler. In the summer of 1900, when he was 18 years old, he accompanied his mother on a European tour that took him to the Scottish Highlands of Western Argyleshire. His Walking Tune, as the name implies, was written while the composer was out walking through the highlands of Scotland during that trip, as a quote, “whistling accompaniment to my tramping feet.” He was inspired by Celtic folk music and immediately arranged the piece for a wind quintet—although Grainger cheekily referred to the ensemble as a “wind five-some.” Grainger later wrote that he was especially proud of the final chord: a G-major triad with added sixth. That chord became a common 20th-century ending (it’s the exact same final chord heard in The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” for instance), but at the time, it was an innovative sound.
- Frederick Delius (1862–1934), “The Walk to the Paradise Garden,” from A Village Romeo and Juliet – The opera A Village Romeo and Juliet by British composer Frederick Delius only has allusions to the Shakespeare play Romeo And Juliet—young, forbidden love between the children of two warring families. However, this play was written by the Swiss-German poet Gottfried Keller, who takes the original love story and places it into a more provincial setting, where the two lovers come from rival farms. The opera is a rarity on the stage today, but this lovely interlude The Walk To The Paradise Garden is featured often on orchestral concert bills. The interlude comes just as the two lovers escape the judgmental eyes of the town folk, hoping to find some privacy. They end up at a rundown inn called “The Paradise Garden,” with this music playing as they walk hand in hand away from the village.
- Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859–1935), Caucasian Sketches: “Procession of the Sardar” – We’ve featured a lot of different kinds of walks on tonight’s show, but the procession is probably the walk most often set to music. We just heard a musical procession by Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, who has over seventy compositions to his name, though he’s mostly remembered for his Cacausian Sketches, two orchestral suites based on Georgian folk songs he heard while traveling through the Caucasus Mountains. The finale of the first suite, entitled Procession of the Sardar, is the most popular movement of the entire work and has become a favorite among pops orchestras. It evokes the entourage of a feudal lord or military leader, known in Georgia as a Sardar. Ivanov completed this finale after studying under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote an even more famous procession piece, his Procession Of The Nobles.
- Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687–1750), Passacaglia – A traditional passacaglia is quite similar to a chaconne—a repeating, ostinato bass line, upon which variations are typically improvised. And like a chaconne, the passacaglia has its origins in dance music. Passacaglias originated in 17th-century Spain as vamps during song interludes. The guitar would strum a pattern, and the dancers would move in a simple walking motion. The term passacaglia, in fact, comes from the word pasar (to walk), hence its inclusion on our walking episode! This particular passacaglia is by German lutenist and composer Sylvius Leopold Weiss. Weiss was almost an exact contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach. The two composers did indeed manage to meet once in Dresden, where Weiss was employed as a court lutenist. At the time, Weiss was considered the most technically proficient lutenist and Bach, the most technically proficient organist—so the two entered a friendly competition to see who was the better improviser.
- Run D.M.C., feat. Aerosmith, “Walk This Way” – “Walk This Way” might be the most important hip-hop record of the 1980s, at least when it comes to the mainstream popularization of rap music. Prior to 1986, hip hop music was either considered a fad novelty or an underground scene not suitable for pop music. But a young producer named Rick Rubin understood hip hop’s potential—and also understood that hip hop and rock music weren’t all that different. “Walk This Way” was originally a top 10 hit for the rock band Aerosmith in 1976, featuring singer Steven Tyler half-singing, half-speaking his way through the verse. Rubin played “Walk This Way” for the hip hop group Run-D.M.C., suggesting that they cover the song because essentially, it was a rap song sung by white rock musicians. In the end, Run-D.M.C. collaborated with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way,” creating the first rap/rock crossover hit and putting hip hop music on the pop charts.