Saturday, March 10, 2012

HT Mockingbird: When Harry Met Sally and Ruined the Romantic Comedy

Normally I consider almost anything in Salon to be almost unbearably shrill but the title alone, linked to by Mockingbird's David Zahl, was enough to get me to read an article in Salon for the first time since ... when was the last time I actually read a whole article in Salon!? 2006? Well, recently I made an exception, all thanks to my esteemed blogging associate and shrewd editor David Zahl. 

It isn't just Mystery Science Theater 3000's Mike Nelson who has come to believe that Meg Ryan and Nora Ephron, together, warped the romantic comedy into a horrifying reanimated corpse that lurches toward you in order to sate its endless hunger with your gray matter.

Internet Monk has found a device that will revolutionize Baptist preaching

It would appear that getting a feedback loop of one's own words can stymie the cognitive processes in the brain that permit one to keep talking.  This discovery could prove revolutionary in Baptist preaching and for pastors who insist on preaching for at least an hour or more.

Then again ... some of these guys are so eager to preach that the echo effect of this device might encourage them to preach for three hours instead of 1.5 hours, couldn't they?

Practical Theology for Women: Husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the Church

Here's an excerpt from what Wendy recently posted about husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the Church:

A few years ago, a friend shared with me the sacrificial love her husband had shown her early in their marriage as they encountered the effects of her sexual abuse as a child on their own sexual relationship in marriage. Her husband is a very physical, masculine pastor (I shouldn't have to note that but do to pre-empt anyone who would write him off as less than a man). She had been sexually abused as a child and subsequently experienced fear and tension in sex with her husband their first year of marriage. Her husband talked with an older, wise counselor who encouraged him to love her unconditionally without pressure to have sex, building up a relationship with her that made her feel safe until she was ready to initiate in sex. She told me she didn't even realize that he had stopped asking for sex, but several months later, it dawned on her, and when she asked him, he told her the counsel he had received and what he was trying to do. He hadn't put pressure on her or put out the vibe that she was disappointing him sexually that entire time. It worked, and they eventually resumed a healthy sex life. It ministered great grace to her heart to see her husband's sacrificial love for her and his willingness to lay down his longings because he didn't want her to feel exploited by him as she did by her abuser. That story reminds me much of Ephesians 5's exhortations of sacrificial love for husbands toward their wives.

A photo I saw a while back.

It looks really familiar ... like some other logo I've seen but I'm not ... quite ... sure ... which one that would be. 

Rebay's chamber cycle for guitar and Hindemith's chamber cycle

Having spent quite a bit of time writing this week about chamber music, most obviously the works of Ferdinand Rebay, I would like to write more.  But, of course, there's something to be said for any given week having its weekend.  I've written thousands of words about the music of Rebay and provided a pretty lengthy discussion of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Fantasia for piano and guitar.  I've written about all of Rebay's sonatas for oboe and guitar and for clarinet and guitar (that I now of). That's a lot of writing. 

So by now I think I can safely reserve writing about the quartets of Rebay or, say, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's song cycle for soprano and guitar on the Divan of Moses-Ibn-Ezra for later. One can't always do everything one planned but covering most of what I intended to write about should count for something. Now I'd like to propose a pet idea I've been considering throughout this week about Rebay's big cycle of chamber music for the guitar.

This may seem like an astonishing comparison but Rebay's approach to his chamber works for guitar in a way similar to Paul Hindemith's approach to his chamber sonata cycle, you really can't grasp the flow of the musical process without constantly having both parts of the duo in mind. I make this comparison as well because Rebay's cycle of chamber works for the guitar, the more we get to see of it, looks as though it may play a role in the chamber repertoire for the guitar not unlike that of Hindemith's giant cycle of chamber sonatas for the piano. Though Rebay could hardly be said to be as daring in the 1920s as Hindemith was being I'm willing to run with this admittedly oblique comparison.

Rebay, as liner notes by Johann Gaitzch and Javier Suarez-Pajares indicate anyway, in the first issue of Osterreichische Guitarre-Zeitschrift in 1926 that he came to find the guitar made for a more pleasing accompaniment to woodwind instruments than the piano. The more we have guitarists and musicologists bringing Rebay's music back from obscurity the more it could be said, at least tentatively and at this point, that it would seem Rebay's chamber music for guitar could at least be compared to Hindemith's monumental cycle of duo sonatas.  Perhaps further Rebay's work could be considered a contribution to chamber music for the guitar that may prove to completely go beyond what any single composer in the history of the instrument has created. So perhaps a Hindemith comparison is merely that, an analogy that won't ultimately do justice to what the significance of Rebay's contribution to chamber music for the guitar may prove to be. 

Now that I've been blogging about other people's chamber music for guitar all week (for the most part) I might have to remember that I've got a number of chamber works I'm working on.  There's a sonata for tuba and guitar; a trio for clarinet, guitar and bassoon; a sonata for violin and guitar; considerations for new movements for a sonata for trumpet and guitar; and some string quartets.

So I hope you've enjoyed my first, and probably not last Chamber Music Week here at Wenatchee The Hatchet. Have a pleasant weekend and we'll see what I end up blogging about next week.

Ferdinand Rebay: Sonatina in B flat major for clarinet and guitar

Gerta Hammerschmid may turn out to be an influential guitarist you've never heard of before.  The niece of Ferdinand Rebay, Hammerschmid was the guitarist who inspired the composer to begin writing for the instrument and the Sonatina in B flat major was written in 1926 and dedicated to her. We can surmise merely from the key that as early as 1926 Rebay was confident writing in keys guitarists avoid assiduously and that his niece, though she may not have premiered the piece until 1931, was ultimately not put off by the key of B flat either.
After one has head the D minor and A minor sonatas for clarinet and guitar Rebay's sonatina is striking not just for being in B flat major but also for being relaxed, jovial, and unassuming.  The work is not unserious in ambition as I can attest from observation and musical activity that guitarists do not normally choose B flat without resorting to a capo and will avoid the key.  Though the key can be considered dark and lacking resonance because open strings are rarely called for this Sonatina opens with a pleasant, even bright sound.  We can chalk this up to the B flat clarinet, I suppose, but this Sonatina's first movement is as charming, unassuming and conversational as the D minor and A minor sonatas are grand and serious.  True to the title "Sonatina" the first movement opens with, yes, a sonatina.  The movement is four and a half minutes long so a guitarist would be forgiven for not wishing to prolong B flat and F major too much.

Although the second movement opens in what could be considered the terrifying key of E flat major this elegant, lyrical movement moves into keys like B major and G major soon. Rebay also wisely leans on chords that use open strings to help ease potential strain on the left hand.  It can seem that in many cases it can take a combination of an ambituous composer and a willing guitarist to demonstrate that many key regions avoided by soloists, in chamber repertoire, are not nearly as frightening as many imagine. 

The third movement is a jocular, light-hearted piece and throughout this work I find myself listening to it and thinking of this sonatina as a work that evokes the friendliness of Haydn. If compared to all sorts of works Rebay's music seems conservative, not least compared to composers like Schoenberg or Stravinsky, it is conservative in a way that is welcoming and affable. Given how far and wide composers seeking to be avant garde sought for the ideal in musical effrontery there's hardly anything wrong with a composer of good will and conservative interests creating works such as these. 

Any guitarist who considers the key of B flat major may point out that a piece of music that, as music, can seem undemanding and warm to a listener may present numerous physical and musical challenges to musicians.  That is true, and to that I suggest that Gene Kelly's approach to dance may be a way to consider approaching Rebay's Sonatina in B flat major, the goal is that a great deal of effort should find it's realization in warm and fluid art that seems effortless and is effortless in its expression.

A guitarist may be reluctant to take up literature such as Rebay's in as much as in Rebay's works the guitar is consistently providing a supporting role and does not usually shine in the spotlight but having spent a few months immersing myself in listening to and considering his work I would say that guitarists should champion his work as his chamber works are worth being heard and because their musical value goes considerably beyond the glamor associated with the guitar part.  As Matanya Ophee said in his lecture Repertoire Issues over the years, you must consider the value of the music as music and not merely what you'll get to show off doing as a guitarist.  Whether or not Mr. Ophee agrees with me here I would submit that Rebay's work has been overdue for champions among guitarists willing to play his chamber music for close to half a century. 

Fortunately it seems that in the 21st century we're finally getting and it is good news that Luigi Magistrell and Massimo Laura put so much care and effort into recording Rebay's complete works for clarinet and guitar.  Their CD was released last year and I would urge you to snap it up if you can.  The literature for clarinet and guitar has been greatly enriched by the rediscovery (or discovery, depending on the piece) of these charming and ambitious works.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Ferdinand Rebay: Sonata in A minor for clarinet and guitar

This is a work in four movements and is also on Luigi Magistrelli and Massimo Laura's 2011 recording of the complete music for clarinet and guitar.

The first movement opens with a slow and ominous introduction in A minor with phrygian inflections builds anticipation for the first theme. We're given A minor moving to F major before setting things up for a swift clarinet tune with sparkling accompaniment by the guitar in A dorian. This theme could be taken as a mutated form of 12-bar blues but for the fact that it's not a recursive theme and leads, as we come to expect from Rebay, seamlessly into the beginnings of a new theme. 

Theme 2 in the opening sonata form is, as expected of a more pastoral character than the first theme. The first theme leaned heavily on the dorian mode in the guitar part and on pentatonic gestures in the clarinet.  Here in the F major theme we get the clarinet playing a more languid idea but still retaining pentatonic gestures and threading them through diatonic major rather than the dorian mode. The F major section rounds off with a cycle of resolving phrases that wind down the momentum of the exposition to a standstill, something that Rebay seems to have had a penchant for.  I'm not always into it myself but it may be your thing and there's no denying Rebay's impeccable gift for writing some wonderful tunes. For a non-guitarist his demonstrated command of the instrument's possibilities is superb.

Now in the recording there's no repeating exposition for this sonata. I don't know if this is because Rebay specified no repeat or the repeat was simply not taken. The development begins with an E minor reprise of the introduction but this passage builds not up to a minor key but to a pleasant surprise, a glowing rush of theme 1 transformed into a witty theme in B major. This leads into a flourish, a busy guitar solo that hints at the introduction again and pauses to give the clarinet a brief solo before rushing back into the recapitulation with the original form of theme 1.

Once again the main theme is back and full of renewed energy. Rebay is so eager to get to his pastorale second theme and have it in A major for his recapitulation he all but skips past any non-modulating transition and takes us quickly into theme 2. He adds a bluesy coda to theme 2 that turns out to foreshadow a return of the introduction, this time as a brief coda showing us we will end this first movement firmly in A minor, not A major. Now is not the time to end with contentment.

The second movement is a set of variations on the folk song from Schumann's Album for the Young. Now I'll admit to not being the world's foremost fan of Schumann and have never been a big fan of the Romantics in general but Rebay gets me to enjoy variations on one of Schumann's themes. The sound of the clarinet and the guitar together is simply charming enough to overcome my personal lack of engagement with Schumann and Rebay has some fun contrapuntal writing. 

The third movementis the expected scherzo we find in a traditional classical form.  This scherzo is nice and lievely in its outer sections. It's central section is a slower waltz in which the guitar gets a laid-back, jazzy solo. Rebay does a nice job using the central waltz as a way to give the return of the scherzo even more momentum than it already had at the start of the movement.

The finale is a moderately fast sonatina, but not for its brevity. The movement clocks in around six minutes. The finale can be called a sonatina because it has an exposition and a recapitulation but no formal develompent. Rebay opens with a bluesy theme that shifts from major to minor and back to major freely. This rondo shifts into a second theme with a darker mood and the transition back into the refrain comes in the form of a minor key memory of material from the scherzo. 

Theme 1 recapitulates but this time with triplets in the guitar's accompaniment, a clever touch to ensure that the returning theme feels new even as it reassures and the guitar's subsequent transitional solo takes up this new pulse. What began as more of a march ends as a waltz, and as so often in Rebay's work darkness ends with light.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Ferdinand Rebay: Sonata in D minor for clarinet and guitar

This work, so liner notes in Luigi Magistrelli and Massimo Laura's admirable recording tell me, dates from 1941.  By this time Ferdinand Rebay had lost his teaching post during the Anschluss and such accounts as have been provided about his life and times he had a Jewish wife and had attempted to protect her from what was happening in Austria at the time and lost his teaching post. There is no indication as yet what happened to her but that Rebay's music was consigned to near oblivion since that time and that he did not have an easy time of things is about all that could be said at this point.  I'm a fan of chamber music for the guitar but I have already mentioned I'm not a musicologist of the sort who can just dig things up from German sources.  So I shall have to be content to write in as much detail as I can about a large sonata for clarinet and guitar in D minor that took a few listens to grow on me.

The first movement opens up low register octaves on the guitar and a winding, rising lament from the clarinet. This clarinet line is arresting and, for some reason, reminds me of klezmer music.  At first I wasn't sure if I was hearing this and I "could" hear an association with Brahms but as more about Rebay's life gets mentioned it has turned out that Rebay's wife was Jewish so an influence from Jewish folk and popular musical traditions seems possible.  I'd have to leave it to musicologists and others far better trained than I to field that. 

Anyway, after an assertive call from the guitar we get a rising lament from the clarinet, stopping and starting and not quite finding its way until its turned into a second theme in F major.  A crucial detail in phrasing and thematic development for this tune is that at any given point where the melody could resolve the music transforms that apparently final phrase into the beginning of a new phrase that keeps pushing forward. This keeps happening until we reach a pause and begin a lyrical second theme in F major, a kind of happier or nostalgic memory of a happier time than the D minor of the present, if you will.  Interestingly this F major theme doesn't take long to transform into F minor before the exposition repeats. 

When the development comes, after the second play of the exposition is complete the development continues from F minor into C major where the second theme is taken up mostly unchanged. Rebay then takes us into a guitar solo that leads back to the recapitulation and the lament. That Rebay's development section is relatively short is common in sonata forms in which expositions repeat, at least in works of comparable scope by Haydn. Rebay offsets what might be heard as too short a development by adding some development to his themes within the exposition, another technique Haydn often employed.

I have spent quite a bit of describing "what" the notes do.  How the music comes across in this first movement, easily the largest in the cycle, is another matter.  Despite the fact that the guitar is in drop D tuning and could have at its disposal a variety of complex textures and possibilities Rebay invariably aims for a spare, spartan, even dour mood in the minor keys.  Even the happy theme in F major shifts into F minor and seems full of a kind of remorse or sense of loss. This cumulatively creates a mood in which the clarinet laments freely and the guitar, though loud in several places, seems to hold itself back, as though a friend who will not let a friend be held back in giving words to sadness. Given that the work is considered to date from 1941, almost two decades after Rebay's first essay into writing for the guitar this sense of holding back is one of deliberate restraint rather than uncertainty. 

After such a movement the second movement is a striking contrast, a sort of Brahmsian serenade with variations. Rebay, at least in this sonata, could be said to have placed elegance and symmetry over rawness of emotion.  Rebay's work may not strike everyone as unfettered in its emotion. This set of variations flirts with moments of unbuttoned energy but the variations only gradually, perhaps tentatively take on more energy and momentum.

This seemingly tentative moving toward a real climax in the second movement leads to the rough and tumble beginning of the closing Tanz-Rondo. It is the arrival of this aggressive dance movement that is arguably the climax of the work as a whole.  The restrained sorrow of the giant sonata form and the considered contentment of the variation form find their outlet in an assertive, celebratory rondo.  The outer parts of this seven-part rondo are jocular, even droll, while the central section is a kind of reprise of the second theme from the first movement that is now divested of its hints of melancholy and is free to be content without any worries.

But little by little even this theme takes on a few minor turns and dissonant notes and soon enough we're back to the minor key stomping dance. Rebay reassures us that this tale will end happily because in the final refrain we get the theme not in D minor minor but in a shimmering D major that ends the sonata not on a note of solemnity but of triumph. Rebay was probably not composing this sonata as an experiment in the musical narrative of Socialist Realism that Shostakovich and other Soviet composers were finding oppressive but what Shostakovich and others had imposed on them by Socialist Realism Rebay could naturally create within the tradition of Austro-Germanic music that Haydn and Beethoven and Mozart had all helped pioneer. The more I listen to the work in its parts but particularly as a whole the more I find a comparison to the musical narratives of Shostakovich's cyclical approach to string quartets to be a useful point of comparison.  I have other points of reference I intend to bring in later as Chamber Music week continues but let me add just a few more words about this sonata in particular.

I must confess I didn't warm up to this sonata right away. Many of the textures felt too thin and that the music could be more aggressive earlier but this would be to find Rebay's approach to the guitar and clarinet wanting by a set of ideas that are simply mine.  I came to classical guitar after years of interest in rock and pop and some jazz and so Rebay's approach in this sonata did not quite make sense to me the first time or two.  And, to be fair, audio engineering for Luigi Magistrelli and Massimo Laura's recording may not do justice to what sound like excellent interpretations of substantial works for clarinet and guitar. Clarinet/guitar repertoire is not exactly a huge segment of the literature for guitar and so Rebay's works being brought to commercial recording is going to be, almost single-handedly a great addition to the repertoire.

I intend to tackle writing about the Sonata in A minor for Clarinet and Guitar and the Sonatina in B flat major for the same instruments as Chamber Music Week continues here at Wenatchee The Hatchet

Ferdinand Rebay: Oboe Sonata in C major

In addition to recording the Oboe Sonata in E minor Maria Pilar Sanchez and Gonzalo Noque also recorded the Oboe Sonata in C major. Now there may be other original compositions Rebay wrote for oboe and guitar but as yet I have not had a chance to hear them (though I will mention that his arrangement of a work by Bach for oboe and guitar is nice and also on the Sanchez/Noque recording with Naxos)

The Oboe Sonata in C major opens with a gallant theme resembling a Baroque overture. This theme builds and builds as though it were an introduction to an elegant, serene theme in G major.  Indeed this second theme feels as though it were almost the whole point of the exposition. An alert guitarist will notice in the close of the exposition this movement employs drop D tuning on the guitar. This permits Rebay to employ a very low dominant pedal point in the run-up to finishing theme 2 in his exposition. In this case the harmonic momentum created by a tonic-dominent modulation lends itself more readily to a fully repeated exposition than the E minor to G major pattern in Rebay's Oboe Sonata in E minor.  While I stand by my preference to not repeat expositions in this case the repeating exposition works better.

The development begins firmly in minor.Rebay has given us so many light and happy themes he wisely decides to shake things up immediately in the development section. He also gives the guitar an extended solo that turns out to be the majority of the development!  The guitar solo winds down and then Rebay brings the recapitulation back matter of factly. 

As I noted in my discussion of the E minor Oboe Sonata Rebay does not approach sonata form in the way a Haydn or a Stravinsky would where a great deal of momentum pushes the development inexorably back into the recapitulation.  Rebay's developments taper off and this may take getting used to for some listeners (like yours truly). When the recapitulation arrives the opening theme is, of course, still charming as ever, and the second theme takes on the right kind of resonance and added emotional weight in a the recapitulation of a sonata form.  We get a strong feeling that we've finally arrived to where we wanted to be in our musical journey.  The sonata form ends placidly, maybe even too placidly for those of us whose tastes lean more toward Bartok, Hindemith, or Stravinsky.

Movement 2 is in E major and very evidently the guitar is back in standard tuning.  Here we get a kind of grand chorale or a slowly and stately procesional. As this theme comes to a sustained imperfect authentic cadence we're interrupted by a brisk march in parallel minor. This episode caries on for a bit and leads, unsurprisingly, back to a recapitulation of the stately processional theme. Though Rebay's work must be described as conservative and conventional his work, somewhat like Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work, is conservative and melodic in a way that is not necessarily parochial or staid.

The third movement is an unusually lively scherzo A minor that is balanced by a languid and even recitent trio. This trio is interrupted on its way back to the menuett but a number of intimate solo lines taken up by the guitar.  Then the scherzo's main theme bursts forth to quickly round off the movement.

The fourth movement begins with a lilting waltz for both instruments with gestures that evoke the rising scale movements of the opening theme from the first movement.  This waltz resolves with the oboe reaching high into its range and then falling into a new lilting theme, this one in compound meter. When the rondo's refrain reappears, as we know it will, we've moved from C major into E major, giving the waltzing theme a brightness and clarity it didn't have in the less resonant key of C major.  This modulation into E minor turns out to be the set-up for modulating into the central C section of a seven-part rondo, in A minor. This minor theme leads into a return of the refrain but this time the theme is in G major and leads into the compound meter theme in C major.  From here Rebay includes a short, intriguing digression into minor before rounding off his rondo.

There is a lot to commend in this piece and it is certainly catchy and sweet but compared to the E minor Oboe Sonata I confess I can find this piece, on repeated listenings, to sometimes seem a bit TOO sweet and a bit TOO calm.  Rebay is capable of some assertive and aggressive writing but, to be fair, it may be his Oboe Sonatas are such early works he's still finding his way. I do recall that the Oboe Sonata in E minor is said to be his first essay into chamber music for guitar.  For that matter I intend to get to his sonatas for clarinet and guitar and even to his some quartets during Chamber Music Week.

Atanas Ourkouzounov and Mie Ogura play "Macedonian Song" from Four Legends for flute and guitar

This is one of my favorite pieces for flute and guitar.  It has a lovely melody and I happen to have the score for Four Legends.  If I happened to have an interested flautist I'd make a point of playing this piece.  Meanwhile, I'm linking to Ourkouzounov and Ogura playing this wonderful, melancholy little piece.  Watch out for the sneeze in the audience near the end, though. :(

Links: Ferdinand Rebay Sonata for flute and guitar #2 in D major

movement 1
movement 2
movement 3
movement 4

It happens I don't own any recordings of this work and only discovered these handy links on YouTube tonight but I'm posting them.  This is Chamber Music Week here at Wenatchee The Hatchet and that will include links to stuff.  I may find time to write about this sonata at another time.  I've got a bunch of other music I intend to write about, though, so for this piece I'll let links suffice.

Ferdinand Rebay: Oboe Sonata in E minor

In the last few years there has been a revival in the fortune of the music of Ferdinand Rebay, particularly his chamber music and solo music for guitar.  I have linked above to two fine recordings that include Rebay's Sonata for oboe and guitar in E minor.  Both are well worth investing in for anyone who loves the oboe/guitar literature and, as it happens, I have both. Maria Pilar Sanchez and Gonzalo Noque recorded this sonata for Naxos and the d'Amore Duo (William Feasley and on the self-titled second album Fatma Daglar)

The sonata for oboe and guitar in E minor, so all liner notes tell me, was the first significant chamber piece Rebay made for the guitar.  It is, at least so far as I have been able to absorb Rebay's work, one of his best pieces.  Clocking in at roughly 20 to 24 minutes (for reasons I'll get to shortly) it is arguably the most substantial work ever written for oboe and guitar not only in terms of the quality of musical ideas (which are generally high) but also in terms of sheer length. Now in terms of personal favorites Rebay's e minor oboe sonata has not really supplanted David Evan Thomas' gorgeous and adventurous Sonata for oboe and guitar that Chris Kachian and Merilee Klemp recorded years ago but the Rebay sonata is surely and steadily becoming a favorite of mine. 

The Sonata opens, of course, in E minor with an aggressive theme on the oboe and the guitar providing supporting. This is a dark and assertive, almost martial theme that is taken by the oboe and then by the guitar a while before being taken up by the oboe.  The oboe, in fact, dominates through the majority of this sonata and as Gonzalo Noque has noted in his notes on some of Rebay's works Rebay's approach to the guitar was not that of making the guitarist the star.  Instead the guitar is always sharing a cohesive musical substance.  Before long we get to a lilting second theme in the expected key of G major with a compound meter feel to it. It rises and falls in a wistful way until we discover it has transformed into a kind of reprise of the more martial ideas from the start of the exposition.

In the recording of Maria Pilar Sanchez and Gonzalo Noque the exposition of the first movement gets a repeat while in the recording by the d'Amore Duo the exposition isn't repeated. Personally, having studied under a teacher who emphasized the golden mean as a structuring principle I admit I prefer the opening movement without the repeating exposition because it makes the movement shorter but also gives it more momentum by not repeating the whole exposition. So I enjoy the structural proportions of the d'Amore Duo performance more but the energy and brightness of the Sanchez/Noque recording is infectious and so I can't say I prefer one recording of the Oboe Sonata in E minor more than the other.  You really should consider getting them both. 

In his landmark monograph on the development of sonata forms Charles Rosen notes that in many sonata forms the development would end not on the archetypal, academic ideal of the dominant key or dominant pedal tone but the submediant key. Rebay certainly reveals this pattern in his development. There turns out to be a reason for this as the second theme introduces a false recapitulation in C major that eventually resolves to E major.  As Rosen also notes it's not uncommon in sonata forms for the recapitulation to include an extended episode in a subdominant function.
Rebay's approach to development in sonata form, I must admit, is not always quite to my liking.  He can display a habit that Rosen attributed to Mendelssohn in which the end of the development in a sonata form has the the lowest point of harmonic and structural tension.  In this respect though Rebay's style may be considered neo-classical in a way that was typical, even conservative for an Austrian in the 1920s he's approach could be considered more Romantic by disposition.

Now in more complex or longer sonata forms it is customary to follow the sonata allegro movement with a menuett and trio, at least by Haydn's example and so Rebay gives us a very sweet and gentle menuett and trio in G major as the second movement. The music often conveys a mood somewhere between a serenade and a lullaby. Rebay was first inspired to write for the guitar because his niece took up the instrument.  As an uncle myself who has written a few pieces for my nieces and nephew over the years I can certainly relate to a composer deciding to write music inspired by spending time with nieces and having what I write informed by some shared interests.  So I tend to react to this menuett as an uncle who remembers singing some lullabies to one of my nieces.  There's something gentle, reassuring, and warm about this movement.

The third movement is a sombre aria in B minor. It reminds me, for some reason, a bit of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas #5's aria but that may just be me.  It is easily the most melancholy of the sonata but it ends on a sweet, delicate, reassuring B major chord that includes an artificial harmonic in the guitar part. Clearly for an early essay in writing for the guitar Rebay had a formidable command of what was possible for the guitar.

The fourth movement is a boistrous and extravorted rondo. The theme slowly transforms into a delicate but humorous call and response passage between the oboe and the guitar.  About 3 minutes into the rondo we get an abrupt jump into a new theme, which I confess I'm not entirely sure I like.  I like the theme, mind you, but I'm not sure about the abrupt transition into this  material in a rondo. Then again as the piece progresses a modal mutation reveals that we've been in a seven-part rondo and so the central theme that seems so abrupt can be seen as splitting parts of a seven-part rondo in a form that can still suggest an aria. Maybe I'm quibbling here. Overall the finale is buoyant, charming, and rewards repeated listens. 

The work overall is a charming piece and, as I've said, is arguably the most important work for oboe and guitar in terms of the quality of its ideas and in terms of sheer length. Rebay went on to compose more music for oboe and guitar and to his other sonata I intend to turn. Sanchez and Noque's recording includes Rebay's Oboe Sonata in C major as well.  But that, dear readers, will get a separate entry.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Atanas Ourkouzounov and Mie Ogura in San Francisco

I just got this forwarded to me by Atanas and so I'm excited to include it as part of my week of blogging about chamber music.  I think Atanas has been doing the most to pioneer chamber music for the classical guitar of all the living guitarist-composers I'm aware of.  If Ferdinand Rebay can be said to have created a massive set of works expanding the chamber literature for guitar almost a century ago that we're having a wonderful opportunity to rediscover and revisit then Atanas' work can be considered a fine example of how living guitarists are building on this great tradition of chamber music for the guitar. I'm looking forward to the possibility that Ourkouzounov can eventually play some gigs in the Seattle area.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fantasia for piano and guitar Op. 145--Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Quite a bit has been written about Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco for those who have any idea who he is.  He was a Jewish Italian composer who emigrated to the United States after Mussolini and the Fascists came to power.  While in the United States he ended up writing quite a bit of music in Hollywood, often filling in work when other composers failed to finish their work within the studio system.  He became well-known enough in the industry he got sought out by younger musicians and composers, one of whom is the now not-so-young John Williams.  Yeah, that John Williams, the one that wrote the music for Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Wars movies and a few others you and I have probably seen a few times by now.  Castelnuovo-Tedesco mentored the guy. 

Tedesco's own work was pretty conservative in his day.  He kept steadily composing mainly tonal music in a post-Debussy and post-Brahms neo-Romantic idiom during the hey-day of Stravinsky, Schoenber and other arch modernists.  If I were to cast about for a way to describe Tedesco's sound I might have to use a word that is usually employed as a put-down by a lot of critics, and that's to say Tedesco sounds Hollywood.  I, however, say that his work sounds Hollywood and mean that in the best possible sense of the term.  Just how Hollywood?  Well, if you're going to trust imdb ... this Hollywood.

His work on film I have not heard but his chamber music and music for guitar definitely exude a glamorous, upbeat, conservative, but stylish sound. You could fault him for his old-fashioned sense of style but his ideas are impeccably developed and winsome.  It happened he befriended Andres Segovia and eventually wrote the Fantasia this blog post is about. 

Now those of you who are fans of classical guitar music will notice that there have not been oceans of recorded music for the piano and the guitar.  There are obvious reasons for this.  The piano is capable of a great deal of volume and sustain the guitar cannot possibly match.  The guitar is capable of a wide range of timbrel changes and repeating notes across adjacent strings, sonic details a piano can easily cover up with one aggressively struck block chord.

Perhaps even more salient is the reality that the majority of piano/guitar literature is considered boring even by guitarists.  If you've ever sat through a merely average guitar recital you know that we guitarists can sometimes have a weirdly generous threshhold for not-very-exciting music compared to a merely average violin or cello or piano recital. This is to say when a guitarist considers some music really dull you can bet it's really dull.  So a mixture of sonic challenges in the combination and the tedium or lack of inspiration in the literature has meant that there just aren't as many commercial recordings of piano/guitar repertoire as there are of the warhorses.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Fantasia has been described by some as quite possibly the only duet for piano and guitar that actually "works".  Simply put, it's the one such duet where if you hear it once you'd ever want to hear it again.  Sounds mean and unfair, I know, but I'm blogging to get attention on some fine music so for the moment, bear with me.  I do, in fact, know there's more to the piano/guitar literature than just Tedesco. I just reaffirm that Tedesco wrote the best piano/guitar duet ever written.  His being an astonishingly capable pianist is part of why this is so ,and the other part was he befriended Segovia.  Talk about having an unfair advantage, eh?

The Fantasia is in two movements and opens up in D minor with a section marked "quiet and dreamy". On a bad day I have joked with my pianist buddy that this can come off as "slowly and tentatively" but it's wonderful writing for the two instruments.  The piano opens with a widely spaced D minor chord and the guitar jumps in quickly with a kind of chorale of planing block chords that outline the dorian mode in a simple, but lovely tune that leads both instruments arriving at A flat major dominant seventh. This contrast between a tonic and tritone will inform the rest of the movement and the fantasia as a whole.  Tedesco plays with how to resolve this harmonic tension structurally and melodically. 

The chorale of the guitar above the piano and drops out, the piano takes up the chorale idea and completes it in time for the guitar play an agitated rising line of triplets that culminates in a rising scale over which the piano jumps into sixteenth notes.  Tedesco has rapidly introduced a steadily shifting foundation for his core pulse in this opening movement. The triplets are going to set us up for a dancing middle section that become the bulk of the first movement. 

The quiet and dreamy section leads to an aggressive Spanish dance replete with the guitarist tapping the instrument in time to the piano's solo and zipping around with jazzy triads as the piano builds up to a climax of a subito piano section in which the guitar gets a dark, lilting phrygian solo, once again evoking Spanish ideas.  The climax of the first movement is a fiendishly difficult guitar solo that mimicks the chordal solo the piano played earlier over a rapid "buzzing" passage in which the guitar plays a dissonant chord over a piano solo mimicking trumpets. This section is lively and aggressive and slowly transforms and slows down into the quiet dreamy chorale the guitar played at the start.

But when the quiet and dreamy guitar chorale reappears it is no longer in D dorian but A minor and A minor quickly transforms into a shimmering A major section in which the guitar and piano revisit the ideas of the opening segment in a brighter, more cheerful mood.  The key has shifted from D minor to A major and ends with a piano chord punctuated by harmonics on the guitar.

The second movement is a lively dance that opens with frenetic figuration on the piano followed by a guitar solo featuring a descending pentatonic gesture that can be taken as an inversion of the idea from the danzante dancing section of the first movement.  After a minute of this lively back and forth between the piano and guitar an aggressive, stomping dance using rolled chords emerges with the guitar and piano trading block chords.  The guitar takes up the block chord motiff as the piano takes up the bustling pentatonic lines and builds steadily back into the mood and tunes of the start of the second movement. 

All of a sudden we have an evocation of the dorian harmonies from the start of the first movement.  These dancing figures we've been hearing in the second movement have taken on the harmonic language of the "quiet and dreamy" section that opened the work.  And within moments we're thrust into a surprisingly aggressive cascade of canonic passages--the pentatonic idea is relentlessly and explosively spilling over itself like wave after wave battering a shoreline.  The explosion of melody and chords steadily subsides as the guitar begins to emerge playing its solo with ever increasing note values and a declining tempo until it pauses for a moment on an F sharp major chord. The piano plays a rapid glissando across the black keys and both guitar and piano end the work on C major, the piano with its block chords and the guitar, once again, with harmonics floating above the rest of the sound.

There are so many fantastic melodies and rhythms that describing them in print is, for the most part, useless and counterproductive.  The mysterious and pensive music opening the first movement is set in stark contrast with the laid back dance hidden within the quiet and dreamy outer sections of the first movement. The second movement is full of riotus, happy music with hints of dark tones and gestures that hint not at real darkness so much as a kind of winking, jocular way of talking about dark things as things that are not things to worry about now.

You'll have to do some digging around for audio or video recordings but here's two links to the two movements:

In the last year or so there have been more and more people posting videos of performances of this work on the internet. I have linked to Nick Cutroneo's performance.  The audio is less than ideal but unlike a few performances on the net he plays the quiet and dreamy parts in a way that sounds quiet and dreamy to me.  Some guitarists hammer and scratch their way through the quiet and dreamy segments in a way that gets to me. 

Now I've been working on putting this piece together for years.  It's quite challenging to play but rewards pianist and guitar alike.  You'll never be wanting for showy, virtuosic playing in this beauty!  I happen to be a bit of a theory nerd so what I find compelling about the piece is how the tritone in the harmonies gets developed and resolved. 

In the first movement the D minor and A flat major chords set forth the central conflict, two chords that don't seem to belong next to each other.  How will Tedesco resolve this?  In a more modernist composer there would be no conflict to resolve and one of the cliches of indie/grunge rock that vanguard concert composers were playing with decades before metal existed would just get trundled out in some alternating pattern.  Tedesco dances us through a squad of different key relationships in the first movement and lands us firmly in A major.  The tritone gets resolved toward the fifth, the dominant key.  Along the way the guitar solos through a number of modes that hint at where we are going to land.  For those into these things, notice that the climactic guitar solo (and it's a scary solo for its technical demands) is in A major.  The guitar anticipates the key we'll be landing on at the end but it seems like a strange reverie within the bustle of the middle of the movement. 

Yet by the end of movement one everything has resolved together neatly.  One might even say it wraps up too neatly because it would seem that starting in D minor and ending in A major has covered a lot of ground.  There is, of course, that second movement coming up.

The second movement begins in G major and runs through a similarly wild range of keys and patterns before obliquely recapitulating the dorian mode and getting us into the closing key of C major.  Where Tedesco moves from D to A in the first movement this second movement moves from G to C.  Now G to C can be considered either a rising fourth or a falling fifth depending on how you parse it. In both cases the resolution can be considered a dominant-tonic resolution.  The modulation to a dominant key region from the first movement is here reversed.  Quiet and dreamy block chords surrounding lively, rising pentatonic and modal scale runs in the first movement is countered by a dance in which descending pentatonic scales surround an aggressive, stomping dance in the middle that uses loud block chords within the second movement. The modulation from D minor to A major gives us a tonic to dominant modulation, while the modulation from G major to C major gives us a dominant to tonic resolution.  Castelnuovo-Tedesco cleverly balances both his contrasting thematic materials and his use of harmonic momentum and rhythmic propulsion by creating two movements that are inversions of each other at multiple structural and thematic levels.

Well, that took longer to finish than I thought but that's day one of Chamber Music Week. Stay tuned for other entries dealing with more stuff by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Ferdinand Rebay.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Chamber Music Week at Wenatchee The Hatchet

Yep, this week I'll be blogging about chamber music and particularly about chamber music written for the guitar. It may take a bit of time to put together everything I want to write about but for this chamber music week I plan on writing about selections by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Ferdinand Rebay. So stay tuned this week and I plan to write about a few pieces in some detail and a bundle of pieces at a more general level.

You can anticipate a potentially lengthy discussion of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Op. 206 Fantasia for piano and guitar seeing as a friend and I have been rehearsing the work for quite some time. I also intend to finally get to discussing Rebay's sonatas for oboe and guitar and his sonatas for clarinet and guitar this week. I may even manage to get to the quartets a helpful anonymous commenter pointed out for me.

I also managed to see Batman: Year One and the new Studio Ghibli film The Secret World of Arietty. This blog is seriously overdue for some written content about cartoons here. I'm more than happy to link to my essays about Batman: the animated series over at Mockingbird but I do like to write about cartoons here once in a while. I may have to save that stuff for later times and venues, though, since I'm kicking off chamber music week. So for folks interested in reading about chamber music for classical guitar here's hoping this week at Wenatchee The Hatchet is your week.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Rick Phillips gives four reasons why public critique does not invoke Matthew 18

1. Matthew 18 establishes a procedure for dealing with personal sins not public debate
2. Just as private matters should be handled privately public matters should be handled publicly
3. When an author has confessionally submitted to a church writings that impact the application of the standards and polity of said church are public rather than private matters
4. Teaching, preaching, and publishing entail putting things in public that invite public enquiry and criticism

In other words, once you go on record you can be asked about or criticised for anything you've said on record. Phillips is referring to a specific dispute that you may not have heard of (or care about) but the bullet points may be applied across any number of situations.

Practical Theology for Women: Authoritarian verse complementarian

Even though the law of the day put all the power in Ananias’ hands and even though, according to Peter, Satan had put it in Ananias’ heart (not necessarily Sapphira’s) to lie about the sale of the property, because Sapphira knew about the deal and, like a good wife, decided to go along with him, Peter said that she had “agreed together” with her Satan-inspired husband to test the Spirit of the Lord.

The reason Sapphira died was because she did not cherish her union with Christ as more precious than her union with her man. While it is certainly stated in Scripture that a Christian women must submit to her husband, this is only done in the context of a more enduring and important reality. While it is true (and even mysterious) that she is one with her husband, that wonderful union is merely an illustration of a better union.

Thanks to my friend Wendy over at Practical Theology for Women here's a link to something interesting I'd encourage you to go read (and her thoughts on the blog entry, too). 

Slate on how a cashless society might effect charity and panhandling

I've remarked on how Slate linked to me without reading what I wrote, thus disappointing me with the level of real reading they did in the Mars Hill write-up.  However this time Will Oremus' article I'm in a position to agree that the Salvation Army has been adapting to the internet and that internet donations have been steadily climbing.  How do I know this?  Because I used to be the one who processed internet donations on their behalf here in the Northwest.

Of course for a lot of Christians in the United States the question raised by the specter of a cashless society is more likely to be whether Obama is the obamanation that desolates and will put Christians in concentration camps than whether or not a cashless society might make changes in how one gives to charity. Let's remember that as conservatives have at times pointed out it's the conservatives who are most likely to give to charity.  Would this change in any way in the context of a cashless society?  Would they give more because there are more efficient and faster ways to do it? Would they give less because evangelicals and fundamentalists would say that participating in a cashless society is the mark of the Beast? 

Of course whether or not we will ever even have a cashless society is not necessarily a sure thing, is it? At one point the USAF decided missiles had made guns a thing of the past but it didn't take much actual combat in a purely missile-using airplane for Air Force pilots to realize that the era of aviation that had supposedly evolved past the need for a gun was grossly oversold.