Music Monday: LeBaron: After a Dammit to Hell

Let’s be real, this was pretty much inevitable. Music Mondays very deliberately don’t have a theme or central organizing principle (beyond being music I like), but still, there are patterns. Twentieth–Century works, works a little off the beaten path, bassoon features — these are all things I’ve come back to again and again. So how better to wrap up the last Music Monday with an off–the–beaten–path work for solo bassoon from late in the most recent century?

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Music Monday: Galbraith: Bassoon Sonata

Generally, when I discover a work via a recording instead of a live performance, it’s a recording on Spotify. I still like CDs, but my budget is limited, and if I bought a physical copy of every album I listened to online, I would literally be unable to afford rent or food. (I’d probably be able to build a pretty sizable room from all the jewel cases, tho.) Today’s piece is an exception: I first encountered it on a CD I bought on a whim at the final concert of the 2016 Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition at the Colburn School, and on my very first listen, I fell in love. When I decided to write about it for Music Monday, I assumed that I’d be able to find it to link to on Spotify. The good news is that there is indeed a recording I can link to, but the bad news is that it’s a different recording, and one that I’m not very fond of. I’m still sharing it, because I think the piece holds up, but if you’re on the fence about it and have $10 to spare, the Nicolasa Kuster recording is superior in every way, and comes with a bunch of other interesting bassoon repertoire to boot.

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Music Monday: Eckhardt-Gramatté: Bassoon Concerto

Christened Sofia Fridman-Kochevskaya, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté was born in Moscow in 1899 to a rather well-off family (her mother worked as a governess in Leo Tolstoy’s household), but she didn’t live there long. Her family moved to a commune in England, and Eckhardt-Grammaté entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of eight to study violin and piano. She had already made her public debuts in Berlin and Paris by the age of eleven, frequently playing both instruments on the same concert program. She was already interested in composition, but her teachers at the Conservatoire discouraged her from pursuing that path, presumably because sexism.

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Music Monday: Solomon: Rotational Games

So even tho this is technically my “getting back into the swing of things” post, today I’m going to be doing something a bit different. Instead of featuring music that someone else wrote and I like, today I’m going to be talking about a piece that I wrote. Specifically, I’m going to be talking about the work that I premièred on my recital in September: Rotational Games.

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Blame Your Tools

My low register was sharp.

This, in and of itself, was not terribly surprising. The bassoon is full of awkward acoustic compromises, and the low register on my instrument had never been particularly in tune, even under ideal conditions. I'd made some changes to my setup (including swapping out part of the instrument) senior year of college that had helped considerably, but still, it was hardly surprising that the first time I pulled out a tuner in LA, low B-flat was aspiring ever upwards.

So I did what I've been trained to do. I set about drilling myself with intonation exercises, training myself not only to be able to hear when notes are or aren't in their proper place, but also to be able to get them there from the moment they start to sound. For those of you unused to the joys of woodwind playing, this involves a lot of fiddly manipulations of parts of your body you don't normally think about: How high up in my throat is my larynx right now? Can I get it lower? What's the shape of the back of my tongue? Is there equal pressure coming from every direction around my mouth? All this while watching the needle on the pitch indicator stubbornly refusing to budge.

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Music Monday: Schickele: Summer Serenade

Peter Schickele (b 1935) is undoubtedly best known for his work with the music of PDQ Bach, the youngest and oddest of JS Bach's twenty odd children, but he's also a talented composer in his own right. His youthful musical environments were perhaps not the richest — he was the only bassoonist in Fargo, and subsequently the only music major in his class at Swarthmore (1957) — but he wound up studying with many of the giants of mid-century musical education, including Roy Harris, Darius Milhaud, and Vincent Persichetti. When he was only 26, he landed a teaching job at Juilliard, but, even more remarkably, he was able to quit four years later to embark on a career as a freelance composer. He's managed to keep this up right thru to the present — he currently lives with his wife in upstate New York and isn't affiliated with any institution (occasional research work on PDQ Bach at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople notwithstanding). 

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Music Monday: Williams: The Five Sacred Trees

We've come to that rarest of rare things: A living composer that almost everyone has actually heard of! It's May the Fourth, and to celebrate, today we're featuring a work by John Williams, the man who wrote the music for the Star Wars movies. The most fitting thing, I suppose, would be to feature some selections from those scores, but one of the purposes of these posts is to help get the word out about music that you might not have heard, and honestly Star Wars doesn't need my help to boost its popularity. (If you are one of today's lucky 10,000 and haven't seen Star Wars yet, I highly recommend getting one of your friends to show you Episode IV at least. Even outside of the quality of the film itself, there are so many references to it in popular culture that will suddenly make a lot more sense. It's iconic.)

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Because It's Hard

Ludwig Milde's tenth concert study for bassoon is a cantankerous, twisty little piece in C# minor. It is awkward and uncomfortable to play, and it is difficult to make the notes speak with the required rapidity. It is, in other words, Not Fun to practice.

I mention this specific étude not because it is unique in Milde's output for its difficulty, but because it's the one I happened to be working on when I was doing college visits my junior year of high school. On one such visit, I played for George Sakakeeny at Oberlin Conservatory. After working on some techniques specific to various problem spots, he asked why Milde hadn't written the thing a half-step lower in C minor. It would make everything much easier to play, and would probably sound better given the natural resonances of the bassoon after all. The answer he was looking for, and the only answer I find satisfactory, is that he wrote it where he did because it's hard.

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JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 3: IV. Sarabande

Hey all! The fourth movement of my project to record JS Bach's third cello suite is now online! (You can find the first three movements here in case you missed them or want to listen again.)

For an explanation of why I feel justified in being as free with the score as I'm being, I devoted last week's post to talking about the question of textual fidelity, so check it out!