December 9, 2008

First Paper

Sounds of the Sea
On a beautiful Friday evening, when the Twins were playing host to the Royals and a presidential debate was going on, there was also a Minnesota Orchestra concert going on. Although the attendance at the concert wasn’t record-breaking, it still proved to be a wonderful performance. Arriving at the venue, I went inside and took my seat. Anticipation began to build as the start time drew near, and the audience appeared to be excited for the concert to start. Many aspects went into this performance, including framing, flow, and impact.
Framing begins with location. In this case, the location was Orchestra Hall, built in 1974, and home of the nationally respected Minnesota Orchestra. Seating 2450, with a main floor and 3 tiers, this hall is designed for classical orchestra performances. With 114 cubes built into the ceiling to assist with acoustics, the sound is phenomenal. Start time was set at 8 pm, but the concert didn’t actually begin until about 8:02, because of a live radio broadcast that evening. While the entire crowd had to have a ticket, many of them had complimentary tickets received from an employee, and many had rush tickets, which were purchased just before the concert began. This concert marked the 2nd series in the subscription season for the Orchestra.
The Minnesota Orchestra is a top-notch ensemble, having just completed recording all of Beethoven’s Symphonies. A prime example of their excellence is their warm-up. Two hours prior to the concert’s start time, they begin to play their instruments, and take their seats on stage. As the audience enters the auditorium, they see the orchestra members on stage already in their tuxedos and evening dresses. With the stage being 4 feet off the ground, there is a great sound projection throughout the hall. Regarding the audience’s dress standards, there were people dressed similarly to the performers and there were people very casually attired. However they appeared, they were all primed and ready for a great concert.
In the Minnesota Orchestra there is a Music Director and a Concertmaster, both of whom play irreplaceable parts in the structure of the organization. Below them are the Principal section leaders who guide each instrument during the concert. This evening there were 3 soloists, the first of which, Lise de la Salle was an up and coming French phenom at the piano. Only appearing in a few concerts in the United States right now, this was a golden opportunity to hear a fine musician. Measha Brueggergosman, soprano, and Christopher Maltman, baritone, rounded out the soloist line-up. The Minnesota Chorale, directed by Kathy Saltzman Romey was also to perform that evening. All of these great artists had put together one heck of a show!
Being prepared for a classical music concert includes knowing what to discuss before the show begins, and this crowd certainly knew. As the orchestral ranks grew on stage, the conversations grew louder, about the reputation of the orchestra, about the program to be played, and about the soloists featured that evening. When the lights dimmed, so did the chatter. Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis appeared on stage, tuned the orchestra, and then Maestro Osmo Vanska took the podium to begin the concert.
This concert was well-organized, with programs (a) handed out to the audience prior to the start. In addition to having the order of the concert, the program also contained program notes that detailed each piece, movement, and participant that evening. This helped the audience to understand the big picture of the evening. To kick off the first half of the concert, Sibelius’ “The Oceanides? was played. While this particular piece is quiet for the most part, it does peak every couple minutes, and then quiets down and eventually ends. This emotional, beautiful composition set the mood for the evening. Next up was the Ravel Piano Concerto, and de la Salle delivered a performance quite up to the expectations of the crowd. Containing 3 movements altogether, a fast-slow-fast order, the concerto demonstrates virtuosic ability by both the orchestra and the pianist. Needless to say, this was received quite well by the people in attendance.
Coming out of the first half into an intermission, the audience was quite excited, and was eager to re-enter the hall. The second half of the concert was filled with Brahms’ 1st Symphony, otherwise known as the “Sea Symphony.? This piece is very long, a total of 64 minutes, and ranging in tempermant from exciting to beautiful, from warm to cold. Captivating the attendees spirit with it’s joy and drama, this long piece ended the concert wonderfully, and got a standing ovation.
Before each piece began, the conductor prepared to start, and the orchestra paid rapt attention. Some pieces started with a bang, and some softly. In the piano concerto, the soloist, Lise de la Salle demonstrated her virtuosic ability throughout her playing. Expressive performing, technical ability, and the gifting to reach the audience with the music were all evident as she pounded the keyboard. Moving her body, she drew the audience in. Paying close heed to the music, they thoroughly enjoyed the piece. Brahms was similar, but with vocalists instead of a pianist. Powerful singing sought out the corners of the room, filling every inch of the space and reaching every listener.
At the conclusion of each piece, thunderous applause rang out. In the case of the concerto, the audience rose to their feet with a standing ovation. Appreciating the effort of the performers, the men and women in attendance gave yells of delight, shouting “Bravo!?, and whistling until they ran out of breath. The musicians appeared elated and pleased with the reaction. After the concert’s end, the orchestra left to go backstage and the audience exited for the lobby. Several artists came out to sign post-concert, and the others left by way of the stage door. Gratefully lining up for autographs, the audience chatted excitedly as they made their way through the lobby.
In terms of the variety of the people coming to the concert, there were all ages present, from young children to retirees. Many college students bought rush tickets and came to the concert. Men and women, businesspeople, musicians, rich, middle-class, the variety was huge. Before the event, the excitement built, and afterwards, it was released. Talking went on and on in the lobby about how great the concert was, and how incredible the performers were. A celebratory mood hung over the crowd as they left, and all were happy they chose to attend. All in all, it was a great concert.
What began as a gorgeous night ended with a great symphony and a cool breeze. The performers were pleased, and the audience was satisfied. That morning in the newspaper, there had been a glowing review, which may have been part of what drew some people to the performance. (b) When the critics are positive and give a good review, many fans will come to a concert that they normally wouldn’t. While the outside world spins on, the Twins lose and the debate sparks, the concerts still take place. Music transformed the audience from a calm mood to wild applause. Music fulfilled expectations that were made prior to the concert. Music gave these men and women a chance to take the spotlight and shine with all they had to offer. Several of the soloists made their Orchestra Hall debut that weekend, and if all goes as planned, they will return to the hall in future years to continue impressing Minnesotans. In trying to re-create the composer’s vision when they wrote their pieces, Vanska and the Orchestra keep striving for excellence and accuracy.
In summary, the concert took a calm, mostly upper-class audience, and brought them to their feet in cheering and clapping, then proceeded to usher them out the door, talking all the while, and finally calming back down as they exited the venue. Reaching the listener and satisfying them well, the Orchestra continues to churn out top-notch evenings, and probably will for years to come.

(a) Showcase, Minnesota Orchestra’s program magazine, September 2008
(b) Star Tribune, September 27, 2008,

Second Paper

Musicological Affect
Classical music formed much of our society. Without what most people think of as classical, the music scene wouldn’t exist as we know it. In many worlds, music gives society an idea of what it should be, and in return, society shapes music. There are so many varieties of music now, from jazz to pop, rock to rap, hip-hop to gospel, classical to country, and many more. In every single genre, there are multiple sub-genres included. The same goes for classical music. A major difference between classical music and the rest is that this tradition goes back for centuries. Even though it is an older style of music, it remains quite popular today among certain circles. Engrained into society are the names Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, and nearly every person has heard these names, even if they have not heard their music. From their manuscripts we can get a primary source of who they were and how they wanted their music to be played. From scholars, we can get secondary sources. Today, performances of classical pieces are many, and each concert has a different interpretation that is received differently by different audiences. In all cases, to begin a concert you must have a musical source.
Jean Sibelius, Maurice Ravel, and Ralph Vaughn Williams were all composers from roughly the same era, around 1900, making them fairly recent in terms of the large spectrum. We possess original scores of their works, making it easier to interpret them accurately. The Oceanides is a work by Sibelius, and while it is lesser known, is considered by many to be quite beautiful. Originally commissioned by a music festival as a choral work, it evolved more and more, eventually becoming an orchestral tone poem. In Ravel’s piano concerto in G major, there is evidence that George Gershwin influenced Ravel strongly, and so it should be. Ravel met Gershwin on a tour of the United States, visiting Minnesota, Chicago, Denver, and several other cities. Sadly, he didn’t enjoy his stay, having visited during mid-winter and suffering through the bleak temperatures. Vaughn Williams originally wrote his piece as Songs of the Sea. He eventually changed the title to A Sea Symphony, because of the symphonic form of the work. Both he and his lyricist believed that the ocean is a metaphor for the infinite, so in reality, this work is not really about the sea, but about the big picture of life.
All three of these composers are considered classical composers, but what does that mean? Classical music is a broad category, going back a long ways. The major periods of this genre are Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary. Each spans roughly 50-100 years, beginning in the 1600s. During the Baroque period, Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti were primary composers, using a delicate style, composing for harpsichord and mostly smaller ensembles. Developing keyboard works with multiple themes, Bach changed the face of the keyboard sonata. The symphony began to be explored, but was reasonably short and light, only to be expanded in later centuries. When the Classical music period began in the 1700s, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven were prominent composers. Oftentimes considered light and fluffy works, there were quite a few pieces that delved deeper into a musical world. Considered by some to be satisfying, but not fulfilling, this period ultimately led to the Romantic period.
Late Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin characterized this era. During this time, the piano sonata was majorly revised. With darker sounds, intensity of enormous proportions, and a variety of emotions displayed, the symphony was extended, made more dramatic, and hugely successful! Beethoven composed 9 symphonies, each of which were well-received by the public, and created a larger interest in that particular field. Once the Contemporary period began, a shift in styles occurred once more. Copland, Bernstein, and Williams were considered to be pioneers at this time. There was a lot of neo-period music being written, and a significant amount of musical theft. Personalizing American classical music and giving it a place in the classical world, these composers brought elements of dance, new instruments, and new sounds into the spectrum. Not always harmonious, the music often was very disturbing to listen to, but if you listen to todays popular music, you can hear much of the influence being carried out in the structure of the music. While there are just a few well-known composers from this era, hundreds and thousands lived and composed.
Sibelius lived from 1865-1957, grew up in Finland, studying law, and later moving on to music. Primarily influenced by Tchaikovsky and Bruckner, he composed 7 symphonies, and hundreds of other works. Ravel was born in 1875 and died in 1937 in France. Also a concert pianist, he is considered one of two Impressionistic composers, the other being Debussy. Schubert was a huge influence in his life. Vaughn Williams lived from 1872-1958, and spent most of his life in England. Ravel was one of his teachers, and Bruch taught him as well. Vaughn Williams was heavily influenced by Purcell, and made it a point to lecture about him when he got the chance. Writing 9 symphonies, a tuba concerto, and other works, he was quite prolific, but underappreciated. Some orchestras make an effort to program lesser-known composers into their concert series, and the Minnesota Orchestra (MO) is among them.
The MO is a well-respected ensemble. They recently completed recording a set of Beethoven’s symphonies, which are becoming world-recognized as the set to own. Osmo Vanska, Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, is a Finnish conductor, whose talent is acknowledged throughout the world. He has traveled extensively, conducting famous orchestras, in his favorite concert halls. The Orchestra employs dozens of soloists every season, and the 08-09 season was no exception. Among these performers were the following.
Lise de la Salle is French, and is making her international debuts quite often. She has performed in some of the largest concert halls in the world, from Turkey to Poland, and Minnesota to France. Measha Brueggergosman is a Canadian soprano who has won many a competition, and even a Juno award, which is the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. Christopher Maltman is an English baritone. He has sung at the Met and Royal Opera House, appearing with many a distinguished artist. The Minnesota Chorale, with Kathy Saltzman Romey as it’s artistic director, is Minnesota’s leading vocal ensemble, performing with the Minnesota Orchestra quite often. They are quite respectable, touring all over, appearing with many well-known ensembles, and in many venues. With great soloists, there is potential for great performances, but there is still much to be considered in the music.
Aspects of the music are communicated through the texts and the recordings. When a composer wants a specific sound, they will generally mark it somehow. Using phrasing, dynamics, markings, and more, they show the conductor what they expect. A well-documented score helps deliver an accurate performance. A basic score can have hundreds of interpretations. Oral traditions are quite important as well. While we don’t always know the stylisitic instruments, we can do our best to come up with something that is accurate for the time. Different timbres and tones are common from early eras. Skill is demonstrated differently now than before, because different skills are required to play the new instruments. All musicians must practice a lot individually, and quite a bit as an ensemble. Then they can put on a wonderful show!
Combining great soloists and a great ensemble gives great possibilities, but a composer is still needed to compose a classic to perform. Vaughn Williams was reasonably well off, able to study piano at an early age. However, his favorite instrument was the violin, he considered it to be his musical salvation. Studying with well-known instructors, he was obviously well-resourced. Ravel had a similar experience, studying at the Conservatoire de Paris, commissioning works, and obtaining many important friends. Being white and middle class, he was among the majority where he lived. Sibelius was quite well-off, he was sent away to school, and studied law at first, but eventually switched over to music, his passion. He was married, and had several children. All 3 of these men were white middle-upper class, however composers do come from many demographics.
Performers also can start anywhere. Even poor children randomly discover talents, and are often exploited to their fullest potential. The wealthy and educated are usually bred to be the best at what they’re gifted at, getting a lot of money to support their endeavors, touring internationally, and gaining fame and fortune along the way. The Minnesota Orchestra employs people from all schools, they just need to win the audition to get in. From Juilliard to Curtis, the University of Minnesota to St. Olaf, there are international musicians and locals in this ensemble. Osmo is Finnish, but is rapidly becoming a Minnesotan. White, Asian, Black, and Hispanic, there are all ages, colors, and creeds represented.
In the audience however, there is mostly white middle class attendees, with a lot of upper class people mixed in. There are a few black people, a lot of Asians, but very little Indians or Arabs. Europeans are prominent, being from quite musical countries, and being trained in this style. Sadly, the demographic looks the same, mostly white. The style of music appeals to this demographic, and so they attend. Sometimes other people don’t want to get involved in it, and sometimes other people don’t have the chance. Styles interest people differently, and money is a huge factor. Without money, you can’t get a ticket to a performance, an instrument to practice on, a teacher to learn from. Wealth is a huge advantage, with it you can shape future generations.
Classical music forms our culture. Many genres are alive and well from years gone by. Shaping our music, the culture displays what it is like, whether it’s corrupt or intact. Keeping out society together, people often tend to think of music as a pleasure, and unnecessary. But without it, our society will crumble. Music is one of the few things that brings people together. It is a universal language that all and understand. Scores survive for years, interpretations do not, but it is all worth something. Music will affect the world forever.

-Myers, Rollo H. 1960. Ravel, Life and Works. G. Duckworth.
-Pakenham, Simona. 1957. Ralph Vaughan Williams: A Discovery of His Music. St. Martin’s Press.
-Ekman, Karl. 2007. Jean Sibelius: His Life and Personality. READ BOOKS.

Third Paper

When the Grammy award nominations for the year 2008 were released in December of 2007, there were the expected pop and rock songs, but the classical category was quite interesting. Among the nominees was the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Also included were the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Nashville Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony, all of whom recorded well-known works. All of these orchestras are among the most respected in the world, and both for their recordings, and their performances. Accomplishing Osmo Vanska’s goal of making the Minnesota Orchestra one of the best in the world has started to happen, as evidenced by this distinctive nomination. But how is he doing this? What’s in his style that makes the Minnesota Orchestra so great? There are so many elements to making excellent music, from form to texture. Giving life to the music are rhythm, melody, and harmony. The timbre or tone is also a factor in making music, because that is the source of the music. All of these elements combine, forming gorgeous music!
Most music is sorted by a form of some sort, of which there are traditional types and erratic systems. Beethoven tends to follow the symphonic form of 4 movements, 1 of them being slow, and having a grand finale. The first movement of his 9th Symphony is written in Sonata Allegro form, which is comprised of an introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. It is quite dramatic, with many ups and downs. Weaving in and out, the minor theme is introduced very quietly, and returns with a bang later on, this time in a major key. This is quite unconventional, most composers retain their original theme’s style. Beethoven however, was not one to stay the status quo, on the contrary, he set new standards for the world to follow. The 2nd movement is a Scherzo, literally a musical joke, and is quite light and jovial. Having anything other than a slow, quiet, and contrasting 2nd movement is unusual, but it’s just the sort of thing Beethoven would do. The only thing from that list of qualifications that applies to this movement is the contrasting part, because it “contrasts? the 1st movement, although unlike any 2nd movement ever heard before.
Once the 3rd movement begins, the listener is finally rewarded with a slow movement. However, Beethoven once again manages to find new ways to do things. A strange solo assignment within a variation format, themes passing around the orchestra, and interchanging parts, these all catch one’s ear as the movement progresses. Eventually, the movement ends, and we come to the 4th and final movement, the dramatic conclusion. This is the part that everyone knows and recognizes as Beethoven’s 9th, and it is where the theme to Ode to Joy comes from. Within this lengthy movement is a miniature symphony, with 4 short movements following the same general patten as the entire symphony. Ending with the familiar Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee theme by a huge chorus, time after time the crowd is brought to it’s feet in wonder. Drawing a standing ovation nearly every time it is performed, the reception is generally pleasant and emotional. While this movement is cliché Beethoven, and kind of overplayed, it also demonstrates his ability to create incredible music. Imitated regularly, Beethoven changed the face of the symphony forever.
Symphonies became longer, fuller, and richer following Beethoven’s time. Bruckner, Wagner, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky, along with many others took on characteristics that Beethoven trademarked. Masterfully crafting symphonies, Beethoven managed to take many individual lines and combine them to form masterpieces. Sometimes he used monophony, or one single melody in his works, and the solos abound. Other times he utilizes heterophony, or a single melody in different simultaneous interpretations, particularly shown in theme and variation sections, which are several. Another style he exercises is homophony, or a single melody with one or more supporting lines, with varying harmonies. The 4th style he chooses to use is polyphony, or 2 or more independent simultaneous melodies, which is clearly seen in the 4th movement when he composed a fugue. These 4 styles are all used quite often in classical music, and Beethoven employed all 4 in just 1 Symphony, not to mention a single movement.
It is so hard to tell what may have been going on in Beethoven’s mind. Sometimes it feels as if he is going one way, and then suddenly changes. A phrase, leading to a climax, abruptly drops away to nothingness. A Sforzando within a Pianissimo section, a crescendo from Piano ending at Pianissimo, how do these things work? Not only in the 9th Symphony, but also his other works, particularly his piano sonatas, this is typical Beethoven, changing the norm once again. Most of the time though, he stays with a traditional system of harmony, chords, and bass lines as the accompaniment. This provides structure that the audience can follow, and doesn’t complicate things unnecessarily. Also, it makes for great music, the texture filling all of his works, especially his 9th Symphony.
Within the texture, there is rhythm, melody, tone, and more. The rhythm contains many components, including tempo. In this piece, the tempo varies from movement to movement, and the titles describe much of the change. The 1st movement is entitled Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso. Literally, this means fast and bright, but not too much, with a little majesty. Translated for non-musicians, this comes out to reasonably fast, but not overdoing it, but with a slower/grander section involved. The 2nd movement is a Molto Vivace-Presto, meaning very lively and fast-very fast. Basically, this translates to very fast, but Vivace implies that it’s not supposed to sound heavy, and then ends with blurring speed. Many tempi comprise the 3rd movement, from Adagio molto e cantabile-L’istesso Tempo. Ranging from slow, stately, and sweetly to a moderate walking speed, this movement progresses in a rather relaxed manner. The 4th movement is all over the map, and the tempos are many, from slow to fast, with some moderate tempi worked in.
All these movements demonstrate Beethoven’s use of differing tempi, creating versatility within his style. The contrast captivates the listener, keeping them involved through the very last note. Other elements include meter or groupings of beats, repeated patterns, and interlocking patterns. Beethoven changes the meter sometimes, going from groups of 3 to groups of 4, but maintains an easy to listen to pattern. He also uses repeated patterns and beat patterns, at different points in the piece. Interlocking patters are evidenced through all of his music, where it’s fast in one part, slow in another, and combined in a 3rd, but all the time they work together. Beethoven was excellent at intergrating forms of rhythm into his music.
Another important aspect that most people hear first is the melody. Often taken for granted, it should be emphasized, because today, people are creating more melody-less music than ever. Minimalism is also quite popular. Beethoven was also great at using melodies to move his audiences. Emotionally gripping, he could take people from anger, fear, and hatred, to joy, tears, sadness, and love, all within the space of 5 minutes. The 2nd movement of the 9th brings laughter because of the irregularity of the style. Within the 3rd movement, there are tears shed over the beauty and wonder of his music. Climaxing in the 4th movement, joy and love abound, bringing listeners to awe and grandeur of the dramatic ending.
Of fall composers, Beethoven definitely has clear melodies. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but there is no doubt that he wrote a melody. Themes interweave, varying, repeating, and interacting. Beginning in one key, ending in another, going from major to minor, up and down scales, and all over the orchestra, he incorporates incredible variety into his music. Sometimes he uses repeating patterns, also known as modes. Motives or motifs are short distinct ideas that he brings up throughout the piece. In the 2nd movement he alludes to a theme from the 1st movement, and other ideas come in and out during the piece. A final key component is the text. The 4th movement’s lyrics are full of joy and praise to God, which fits the music and it’s blasting melodies, full harmonies, and joyous sounds. Sometimes music doesn’t fit words well, but Beethoven was able to fit it perfectly.
Another thing he does well is using the different sections of the orchestra and individual instruments to bring about music. The string section bows with horsehair bows, and comprise the majority of the orchestra. Often filling the sound, they also bring beautiful melodies at times. In the woodwind section, there are flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, and related instruments. The sound is created by blowing air across or through a hole, across or between reeds, and as such, is often used as a solo instrument section. Virtually the same concept is utilized in the brass section, except this time, there is buzzing on the mouthpiece that creates tones based on length and size. Percussion is the primary rhythm section, but also contains some notes, building a foundation to work with. The choir uses words to communicate feeling and gives more meaning to the words, also filling out the sound. They express what music can’t alone.
Combining all of these elements takes an act of genius, and Beethoven certainly was that. With the warm sounds of the brass and the cool wind of the strings, the birds chirping in the winds and the sticks snapping in the percussion, Beethoven is relevant to our world. Adding people to the mix, the choir brings out emotions that are lost inside people, perhaps showing what Beethoven was trying to say. The music was his worship, and helps others to worship, and even those who don’t believe as he did enjoy it. Atheists often claim they feel something about music that moves their souls, and maybe this, his final Symphony, reflects his life, beliefs, loves, and losses in such a way that even people who deny God can understand.
The Minnesota Orchestra has taken these elements and created a wonderful album. Osmo Vanska, music director of the MN Orchestra, interpreted the dry paper, and brought it to life. As a result, this recording has been hailed as the Beethoven Symphony recording for our generation. What makes them different from others? Recording quality, interpretation, different voicing, and ways of looking at the music all contributed to the release of a new recording that stirred public feeling. A new spin and a fresh taste make this recording, along with it’s companion Symphonic albums worthwhile. Music, from great composers and great ensembles, when brought together, culminate in a wonder to man, which can only be marveled at. Beethoven and the Minnesota Orchestra have come up with such a wonder.