Friday, December 21, 2007

Celtic Music

Episode Number: 014
Title: Celtic Music
Introduction Music: The Marsh of Rhuddlan - Traditional; Performed by Cheryl Ann Fulton, Triple Harp*
Exit Music: Megan's Daughter - Traditional; Performed by Cheryl Ann Fulton, Triple Harp*
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - December 21, 2007

Let us begin by discussing the meaning and origin of the word “Celt.” It has been used over the centuries to describe many different things. Archeologists and historians usually associate the term with the indigenous peoples of Europe that thrived before Roman conquest. However, the adjective “Celtic” can refer to the styles or traditions of the peoples of the British Isles, past or present.[1] “Celtic” can also refer to the ancient languages of Gaulish and Old Irish and modern languages like Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton. The term is loosely used now to describe anything Irish or Scottish especially in art and music. You can thank marketing execs for the last one.

The word Celt comes from the Greek word keltoi which was used by authors such as Herodotus to describe the peoples living in what is now southwest Germany.[2] The Romans later called these people the Gauls and many accounts of them were recorded by Julius Caesar at the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul. However, whom Classical authors were referring to is still rather ambiguous. Allow me to quote Michael Dietler’s article in the September 1994 article of American Anthropologist:
Julius Caesar, for example, noted that Romans used the term "Gauls" to designate people who called themselves "Celts" (De Bello Gallico 1.1). Strabo, on the other hand, wrote that the inhabitants of the hinterland of the Greek colony of Marseille in southern France were called "Celts" and that Greeks simply projected this name onto all the barbarian peoples of northwestern Europe (The GeographyIV.I.14).

Around In this same region of continental Europe, archeologists have discovered significant amounts of artifacts with like designs and patterns that we refer to as the La Tène style, after a site in Switzerland where a large trove was discovered in 1867. Some characteristics of La Tène style artwork is “intricate spirals and interlace, on fine bronze vessels, helmets and shields, horse trappings and elite jewelry, especially the neck rings called torcs and elaborate clasps called fibulae. It is characterized by elegant, stylized curvilinear animal and vegetable forms, with elements akin to Scythian animal designs from the area of Ukraine, allied with the Hallstatt traditions of geometric patterning.”[3] It was in the fifth century B.C.E. that the La Tène culture first emerged and over the next five hundred years Celtic groups spread out over Europe.[4] They spread out as far East as modern day Turkey and as far west as the British Isles. Modern archeology has assumed that the Celts referred to by the Classical authors were the same peoples of the La Tène culture because they both inhabited the same region and because the Classical authors really did not mention anyone else living there. [5] The only written history of Celts in the British Isles comes from Caesar, who recognized that the inhabitants on the British Isles were closely related to the Gauls of the mainland.

Over the last couple of centuries, there has been much interest Celtic origins for the sake of national identity. In the early nineteenth century it was discovered that the surviving Celtic languages (referring to Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Manx and Cornish) were part of the Indo-European language family. All of a sudden they were taken much more seriously by the academic communities in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as in German and other universities on the mainland. The Celts were seen as the first people to emerge as a unified culture in Europe, though probably they were individual communities that were united through trade and common religion practices. After the French revolution a national identity was needed to unify the people and Celtic heritage was the perfect solution. After Rome declined in the West, a Germanic group called the Franks established their kingdom over what was previously Gaul. Through the late 18th century the French nobility traced their lineage back to the Frankish king Clovis to establish their right to rule.[6] Therefore, it was the people of Celtic ancestry that stormed the Bastille and overthrew the long-reigning Frankish regime. At least this is what the revolutionists would claim. Napoleon even funded many archeological programs to uncover more evidence that further identified the French as the natural descendants of the Celts. Old Celtic maps defining Gaul’s ancient borders gave credence to Napoleon’s plans to expand over Europe.

When we use the word Celtic to describe nationalities we are describing the same nationalities that share the languages listed above. These languages are themselves split into two categories: Irish, Scottish, and Manx are referred to as “Q” Celtic and Welsh, Breton and Cornish are referred to as “P” Celtic.[7] What unites all these peoples is the fact that they now (or did) speak some Celtic language. When we use the word Celtic to describe music, the situation gets even more complicated. Nowadays the term is used to describe music that is traditionally Celtic, as well as anything that could be remotely included in the Celtic category if it means more record sales. According to Celtic Music by June Sawyers, “Traditional music refers to music that is oral and belongs to a living popular tradition.” Each Celtic area has its own unique customs and traditions but they all share common similarities. Piping is a common tradition throughout all Celtic lands. The Highland bagpipe, or Great Highland bagpipe of Scotland is probably the most commonly known, but Ireland has the uilleann pipe, northern England has the Northumbrian pipe, Brittany in northwest France has the biniou and Galacia has the gaita. The way notes are ornamented is also somewhat similar. Ornamented notes as applied to singing have singers playing with the syllables of words to stretch or shorten the word. For example, again citing Celtic Music: A Complete Guide: “...the word country – two syllables – may be turned into count-ter-ie, with three syllables, if the song demands it.” One might think of traditional Celtic music as music created by peoples that speak a Celtic language, or simply the “indigenous music of the Celtic lands.” [8]

As I mentioned previously, each Celtic land has its own unique musical history and tradition. When the Normans entered Ireland, music was already an established part of Irish life. Bards were patronized by the aristocracy until the English began invading the island. In an attempt to subdue the Irish culture in the early 16th and 17th centuries, musicians were persecuted. Henry VIII realized how important music was to Irish social life and he issued laws forbidding the practice of Irish musicians. Queen Elizabeth even decreed in 1603 that any bards or harpists found would be executed and their instruments destroyed.[9] It was not until the late 18th century that these laws were relaxed. In 1792 Edward Bunting (who was a young folk music collector,) transcribed the music played at the Belfast Harp Festival, but being classically trained he recorded the tunes in a major/minor tonal system rather than the modal system that they were conceived. This was evident in the fact that some of the pieces of music would have been impossible to play on the Irish harp as he had recorded them. Still, many Irish tunes may have been lost if he had not recorded them.

Traditional Irish singing or seanós is very ornamented and can be traced back to the days of the bards, when poetry and music was passed down orally. Macaronic songs were songs that alternated English and Irish text, as English became the dominant language in Ireland.[10] The jig, found in 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 time may have originated in Italy but have become a stable of Irish dance music. There are three forms of the Irish jig: the single, which is usually in 6/8 though can be in 12/8; the double that is also in 6/8; and the slip that is in 9/8 time. Instruments common to traditional Irish music include the flute, tin whistle, uilleann pipes, the Irish harp and the fiddle. The oldest Irish harp still in existence dates back to the 14th century. It is named the Brian Boru harp, after and Irish king who died at the battle of Clontarf, on Good Friday, 1014.

Scottish music has three major sources of influence – Celtic culture in the Highlands, Anglo Saxon culture in the Lowlands, and even Norse culture near Shetland and Orkney. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Scotland, the Highland Boundary Fault roughly runs northeast from the bottom of the middle third of the country in the West to the top of the middle third of the country in the East. Look up this episode on the website and you can see a diagram of this. The Orkney Islands are at the northern tip of Scotland and the Shetland Islands are still north of the Orkneys. Scottish Gaelic is mostly spoken in the Highlands and Islands, but there are multiple dialects of Gaelic spoken. In the Lowlands, English and Scots is primarily spoken. Music that is unique to Scotland is the waulking (which means working) songs and bothy songs. Waulking songs were very rhythmic and bothy songs were about living conditions under the bothy system. The bothy system was a system of housing unmarried males that worked on a farm for the farmer.[11] Traditional Scottish music is more vocal than instrumental, and traditional vocal music is usually unaccompanied. There were times when Scottish music was also banned so musicians developed techniques of emulating instrument sounds with their mouths. “Mouth music, for example, consists of nonsense syllables sung rapidly in a rhythmic manner.”[12] Generally speaking, bagpipes and fiddle dominated the dance music in the Highlands. The Highland bagpipe is comprised of a chanter with three drones, which is attached to a bag. The bag is filled with air through a blowpipe, which is refilled every few seconds to keep a continuous flow of air. The air then passes through the three drones (pitched at A) and through the chanter, which has a double reed in it to produce the melody. The chanter has holes that allow the player to play a melody. Applying modern terminology, the notes of the chanter make up the G Mixolydian mode. Nobody knows for sure when the bagpipe gained its popularity in the Highlands, but some scholars estimate it was around the year 1400. Traditional bagpipe music can fall into two broad categories: Piobaireachd and Ceòl Beag. Ceòl Beag, or “light music” is the more common of the two styles. Light music consists of marches, airs and dances such as the Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe or Jig. Piobaireachd can only be played by a solo piper and is usually more expressive. Piobaireachd is the traditional style of Bagpipe playing. There is no steady rhythm, and each piece of essentially a theme and variations; the ground is played, and then repeated with different grace notes and ornaments to differentiate each variation from the others. A Piobaireachd can last between 10 and 20 minutes.

The native Welsh are the ancestors of the original British Celts. The Celts, being pushed westward out of continental Europe and then southwestward again by the Anglo-Saxons ended up in Wales. The Anglo-Saxon word for foreigner was weahlas and this is what they called the people living in what became known as Wales. When Henry VIII was king of England he ruled that any Welsh-speaking person could not own land or hold public office. This was yet another attempt to squash Celtic culture. Luckily some of traditional Welsh music prevailed and there is still a unique brand of “Welsh” music. The Welsh choir and the Welsh triple harp are good examples. The triple harp is different from the modern pedal harp in that it has three rows of strings to make all the chromatic pitches available rather than a pedal. The outer rows of strings are tuned to a diatonic scale (no accidentals) and the middle row contains the sharps and flats. Traditional Welsh musicians still play the triple harp though many players have begun to favor the modern pedal harp.

Brittany is a peninsula on the northwest tip of France. It has more cultural ties to the British Isles than that of France – it remained culturally independent from France as a duchy until the French Revolution in 1789. Dance music dominates traditional Breton music. Traditional accompaniment for dance music is played by the sonerion, which is made up of the bombarde and biniou playing the same melodic line. The bombarde was an early form of the oboe and the biniou was a bagpipe with only one drone. Breton music uses various modes which gives it a distinct sound. Here are some examples from the July 1918 issue of The Musical Quarterly that were collected by Charles Quef after his regiment was forced to retreat into Brittany during World War I[13]: EXAMPLES IN PODCAST.

The Anglo-Saxons also pushed the native Celts directly west into an area they called kern-weahlas, or, the land of the West Welsh. By the 10th century England absorbed this area, translated to Cornwall, into its formal boundaries. Carols are very popular in traditional Cornish music. However, rather than being associated with Christmas, in Cornwall carols can be any dance tune played at any religious feast. The feast could be Christian or pagan. The Isle of Man shares many musical similarities with Cornwall, though the native language was Manx. The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974.

All of the Celtic lands mentioned above have struggled to maintain cultural independence from larger bordering nations. Fortunately, they all were able to retain at least a portion of their unique brands of music that we can trace back to the middle ages in some places. Cultural revivals or renaissances have been chiefly responsible for modern interest in what is Celtic. These revivals occurred independently in each region, some in the mid-1800s and many in the 1970s. The folk music boom of the late 60s and 70s played a large role in modern interest in Celtic music and culture as well. On a side note, have you ever wondered why Boston’s professional basketball team is pronounced seltic and not keltic? The pronunciation of this word is a largely debated throughout the world. Most dictionaries list both pronunciations as being correct, though keltic is usually listed first. As mentioned before, the word came from the greek word keltoi (k-e-l-t-o-i). This word was borrowed by the Romans, but they did not have a K in their alphabet so they used a C. The Roman version may have found its way into English and they pronounced it with a soft C. Meanwhile German scholars pronounced it still with a hard C and that way was also introduced into English. Technically both pronunciations are correct but if I ever find myself in a situation where I am discussing East-Coast basketball teams I will probably still say keltic to avoid confusing looks from bystanders.


[1] Peter S. Wells, Who, Where, and What Were the Celts?, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 102, No. 4.  (Oct., 1998), pp. 814-816
[2] Ibid.
[3] La Tène culture “”
[5] Wells, 814-816
[6] Michael Dietler, “Our Ancestors the Gauls": Archaeology, Ethnic Nationalism, and the
Manipulation of Celtic Identity in Modern Europe” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 3.  (Sep., 1994), pp. 584-605.
[7] June Sawyers, “Celtic Music: A Complete Guide”.  Da Capo Press, 2000., pg 5
[8] Sawyer, 7
[9] Ibid., 28
[10] Ibid., 10
[11] J. Drummond Smith The Housing of the Scottish Farm Servant, The Economic Journal, Vol. 25, No. 99 (Sep., 1915), pp. 466-474
[12] Sawyer, 12
[13] Charles Quef; E. Adcock, Breton Music The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 1918), pp. 402-408

*These pieces are available for purchase at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part II

Episode Number: 013
Title: Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part II
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - Recorded December 20, 2007

The Nazis in Germany preferred the style of post-Romanticism[1], and Hitler especially liked the music of Richard Wagner.[2] Atonality was shunned because it could not be incorporated into propaganda very easily;[3] music with text was expected to be in German. Carl Orff (1895-1982) was one of the most famous composers of the Nazi era and he got along well with the Nazi regime for most of the time that they were in power. Orff never joined the Nazi party but he benefited much from their patronage. Orff’s music fortunately shared many of the same aesthetic features the Nazis looked for, such as “the use of ostinato rhythms, melodic economy, rudimentary diatonicism, repetition and monophony, and thematic allusions to Volksmusik (folk-music).”[4] Carmina Burana (which was comprised of all the aesthetic features listed above) propelled Orff into the international spotlight and it soon became very popular with the Nazis. Orff was not commissioned to compose Carmina Burana and he was anticipating it being rejected by the government.[5] Fortunately for Orff it became a success and was granted a prize of 500 Reichmarks (RM) only two weeks after the premier.[6] Orff was motivated by financial rewards for working with the Nazis, even though he may not have agreed with their ideologies.[7]

In March of 1938 Orff was asked by the Nazis to write music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Orff desperately needed the RM5, 000 cash advance and quickly jumped at the opportunity.[8] The significance of new music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in the fact that it was intended to replace Felix Mendelssohn’s famous version from the mid-nineteenth century. The Nazis blacklisted all of Mendelssohn’s music because of his family’s Jewish background. Even if Orff was not a Nazi at heart, it was still morally wrong for him to take on that endeavor and he knew it. As soon as the Nazis left power, Orff tried to distance his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Third Reich as much as possible. Apparently, Orff created multiple legends to justify his own reasons for writing the new music that “gave away his bad conscience.”[9] By 1944, Joseph Goebbels had taken particular interest in Orff and Goebbels’s Reich Culture Chamber asked Orff and several other artists to contribute a homily in honor of Hitler. Orff did so and never worried again about falling out of favor with the Nazis.[10]

Paul Hindemith was another famous composer of the Nazi era, though he did not share the same level of success that Carl Orff had found. Before the Nazi party took over Germany Hindemith was known for his avant-garde stage works and his modernist style of compositions.[11] By the 1930s, Hindemith’s style shifted slightly towards a style representing “an extension of traditional harmony”.[12] In 1932, he began working on his next opera, Mathis der Maler. He formed a three-movement symphony based on excerpts from the yet unfinished opera, and this was a huge success. Even Nazi critics of Hindemith greeted the work with enthusiasm.[13] One critic hailed, “[Mathis] conformed very precisely to the official expectations for modern German music in the Third Reich”.[14] Unfortunately for Hindemith, his modernist and avant-garde works predating Nazi-Germany could not be forgotten. Despite all attempts to “rehabilitate” himself he could not escape his own past. He had many enemies in the Nazi party as well as outside, all of which constantly made efforts to keep Hindemith from being successful. He wrote music that conformed to Nazi ideals and even met with representatives of the Hitler Youth to discuss grand plans for the musical education of the “new” Germany.[15] These actions suggest that Hindemith was conforming to Nazi ideologies. They also suggest that he was attempting to “play a constructive role in Hitler’s Germany for as long as was humanly feasible.”[16] Many high-ranking Nazis noticed these efforts, yet Hindemith still had powerful enemies intent on ruining him. In a last effort to restore his grace with the party, he traveled to Turkey as an ambassador of music education to promote German culture and values. All of these efforts were to of no avail and Hindemith was forced to leave the country. He remained in self-imposed exile until after World War II. When he returned in the mid-1940s, his music was once again played and he enjoyed much more success than he had during the Nazi rule. Still, though the Nazis were no longer in power, the German people had been brought up with the “phony culture of the National Socialists”[17]and not everyone was open to Hindemith’s bold style.

Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had similar goals, and similar means to reach those goals, even though their ideologies were not exactly the same. Each had a dictator that ruled with an iron fist, though in Germany the Nazi party fell with Hitler while in the Soviet Union the communist party continued well after Stalin’s death. Each nation sought to shape public opinion by manipulating the media and by means of propaganda. This required the cooperation of many, including artists, writers, and musicians and composers. If a composer was not willing to cooperate, each country had various methods of achieving cooperation. Both countries used public humiliation as a punishment and both could keep work and income from the composer until he had to choose between starving and cooperation. By cooperating, these composers created bodies of work that reflected the ideologies of their government. This meant the rejection of ideas from outside the country’s borders and usually revered past musical aesthetic features while shunning modern aesthetic features. Eventually these regimes would both fail, inviting innovation and fresh ideas back into their musical communities. When studying the music from these countries during this period one must consider the political atmosphere. One must know that the choice of notes the composer used in a particular may have been based on whether he or she wanted to have running water again or if he or she would be able to provide food for their family. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Music History podcast. Please visit the website at and take a moment to sign the guestbook or take a listener poll. I’ve recently added a bibliography section so you can see my sources and if you’re interested, read them for yourselves. There’s also a section to look up names and dates of composers and theorists, and I’m working on a searchable database of complete composers’ works. Thanks for listening.

       Paul Hindemith in 1928 Carl Orff Felix Mendelsohn Adolph Hitler


[1] Michael H. Kater, Composers of the Nazi era: eight portraits (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 123
[2] Barry Millington: “(1) (Wilhelm) Richard Wagner,” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 21 October 2007),
[3] Eric Levi, “Music in the Third Reich,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 3. (June 2006), (accessed October 22, 2007), 867.
[4] Kater, 128.
[5] Ibid., 123.
[6] Ibid., 124.
[7] Ibid., 118-19
[8] Kater, 125.
[9] Ibid., 127.
[10] Ibid., 132-3.
[11] Ibid., 31.
[12] Ibid., 33.
[13] Kater, 33.
[14] Ibid., 33.
[15] Ibid., 35.
[16] Ibid., 35.
[17] Kater, 50.

Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part I

Episode Number: 012
Title: Government Censorship of Music in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia - Part I
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - Recorded December 20, 2007
Exit Music - Violin Concerto I: II. Vivacissimo - Sergei Prokofiev*
Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia each controlled their own country’s media, including the music that was written by their composers. Some composers cooperated and some fought the system, but ultimately the government helped shape the collective body of music that emerged from these countries while their dictators were in power. Both countries used propaganda to shape public opinion to have continual support from the citizens living there. In Germany, the Reich recognized the importance of the arts as a means to "promote German culture on behalf of the German Volk and Reich."1 The Soviets were concerned with arranging historical events prior and directly after the revolution in order to help create a solid Soviet ideology. Composers and musical societies were heralded as either revolutionary villains or heroes, depending if the framers of communism felt the music supported or hindered their cause.2 It is interesting to note that though the Nazi and Soviet parties despised each other’s ideologies they both used similar means to achieve their own goals. Composers in Germany could be accused of Bolshevism3 while composers in the Soviet Union could be accused of fascism.

Both regimes used similar methods to control their artists, ranging from methods of positive reinforcement to methods of negative reinforcement. Awards, prizes and coveted employment positions were used to encourage artists to conform to party ideologies. Blacklisting or banning composers’ works and public humiliation were also used to control the artistic community. In the Soviet Union, shutting off the composer’s water was not unheard of either.4 Some composers happily went along with the party line while others struggled to voice their own opinions that were not part of the parties’ ideologies. Whether or not the composer went along with the party willingly or grudgingly, the body of music produced in these two countries while Hitler and Stalin were in power was ultimately affected by the government.

Soviet domination of the arts did not immediately begin after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. Intellectual revolutionists like Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, who would become the first Commissar of Education and Enlightenment,5 and Leon Trotsky felt that the party need not meddle with the arts because the arts would eventually conform to whichever type of society prevailed6. Vladimir Lenin is quoted saying:

Art belongs to the people. It must spread out with its deep roots into the very thick of the vast labouring masses. It must be understood by these masses-- loved by them. It must create and develop artists from among them.4

In other words, the early leaders of the communist party felt that once they had achieved a classless society by means of social manipulation, the culture and art would automatically reflect this new society. Before the classless society could be implemented, a temporary dictatorship was needed to organize the economy. This resulted in the nationalizing of the Moscow and Petrograd conservatories, as well as all music stores, warehouses, and publishing houses in July of 1918. Lenin and Trotsky did not expect the temporary dictatorship to last so long. When Stalin took over for Lenin it was realized that the arts could be manipulated as well to create great propaganda.7

During and after Stalin’s reign composers were closely watched to make sure their music conformed to Soviet ideologies. In Soviet Composers and the Development of Soviet Music (1970), Stanley Krebs writes about the creative elements of Soviet nationalism:

-Party glorification and service, exclusive creative and critical recognition of the Russian nineteenth century, denial of Western influence and isolation from the West, methodical eclecticism, concentration on programme genres, high propaganda content, humourlessness, and simplicity of idiom geared to the widest audience of the moment. Generally, the more fame the composer had the closer he or she was watched by the government.

Dmitri Shostakovich was a Russian composer who felt the oppression of the Soviet regime no less than any other of his colleagues did. Though he never lessened his hatred for the tyranny of the state he lived in, he was forced pretend to go along with the government.8 Since the glasnost in Soviet Russia, much information has been made available about the type of society Shostakovich lived and worked in.9 It was important for the sake of propaganda and public morale to keep popular composers in the spotlight. If a composer rebelled, he or she was forced to undergo “rehabilitation” which usually involved public humiliation. Eventually the composer would see the error of his or her ways and make a public statement proclaiming their own folly. Posthumous rehabilitation also occurred when a deceased composer’s reputation is altered to reflect that of a composer who was a model communist.10 Often the famous would be asked to sign statements supporting a colleague’s rehabilitation or denouncing a fellow colleague as a traitor. It was common practice for most people to just sign what they were given without even reading what they were signing. Shostakovich did this quite often, to keep the government from interfering in his life too much. With this attitude, Shostakovich was able to get by, because he knew that most people understood that he did not believe any of public statements attributed to or made by him. 11 Galina Vishnevkaya, a well-known soprano whom Shostakovich remained loyal to all of his life12 stated:

…He made statements in the press and at meetings; he signed ‘letters of protest’ that, as he himself said, he never read. He didn’t worry about what people would say of him, because he knew the time would come when the verbiage would fade away, when only his music would remain. And his music would speak more vividly than any words. His only real life was his art, and into it he admitted no one…

Thus, the oppressive system Shostakovich worked in helped shape the music he created, because it was his only outlet to express himself truthfully. Often his music was a response to government meddling in his personal life.

Shostakovich was in a position to reach many people though his music due to an early start at a successful composing career. On May 12, 1926, his first symphony premiered and received international acclaim. The Soviet system was starting to gain momentum and Shostakovich’s success was propagandized as a positive product of the new Soviet system.13 Shostakovich’s popularity continued to grow throughout the next ten years. In 1931 he completed his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk which was enormously popular at home and abroad.14 It remained popular until Stalin visited a performance of it in December of 1935. Even though Shostakovich intended it to satirize “pre-socialist, petty-bourgeois, Russian morality” critics in the Soviet press accused the opera of excessive eroticism.15 The result of this sudden reversal of popularity was devastating to the composer. In the wake of the criticisms Shostakovich even contemplated suicide, but later changed his mind.16 He put on a show of gratitude and subtitled his newly published Fifth Symphony, “a composer’s answer to just criticism”.17 It is probable that Shostakovich did not actually alter his style of composition for this symphony, as it can be viewed as a direct step in the evolution of his style. 18 After this episode Shostakovich decided to depart from the theatre altogether and the music of the next period of his life reflects this departure. This was his own decision that he made of his own volition, but “external factors would have forced such a decision in any case”.19 In the mid-1930s with his music being seen as “ideologically and socially” wrong, Shostakovich ultimately conformed regardless of how he felt about it.

Sergei Prokofiev was another Russian composer who suffered under the thumb of the Soviet party. Prokofiev enjoyed an early success as a Russian composer but decided to leave the country in 1918. Some speculate he left to avoid the turmoil of the revolution but many agree he left to earn more money. “All Russian musicians of accomplishment went abroad”.20 In 1927, he began to consider moving back to the Soviet Union. At this point in time the Soviets were trying to regain some of their lost intellectuals that left in the wake of the revolution.21 Around 1936 Prokofiev and his family officially returned to the Soviet Union, but not without serious negotiations with the party. It can be inferred that these negotiations included protection from party criticism and interference, release from the obligation to submit works-in-progress for peer review, a certain financial security and freedom to leave the country at will.22 By 1944, his protection began to wane with the premier of his Ballad of an Unknown Boy. Prokofiev believed that “more than one style [of music] was possible for, perhaps even demanded of, the contemporary artist.” 23 In Ballad he introduces some near twelve-tone passages to represent Nazi soldiers. He tried to balance these passages with diatonic passages representing other characters. Unfortunately, this work was attacked and so was most of his subsequent works.24 After Ballad Prokofiev issued an official apology which expressed his gratitude towards Stalin and the Party. However, there was still a small hint of insincerity which earned him even more criticism.25 For the remainder of his life Prokofiev struggled to write music that adhered to Soviet ideology. He even spent time reworking some of his earlier pieces. These actions seriously undermined the integrity of his compositions and as a result many (but not all) of his later works ended in personal and political failure.26



1 Alan E. Steinweis, Art, Ideology & Economics in Nazi Germany: the Reich chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c1993.), FIND PAGE NUMBERS.
2 Stanley D. Krebs, Soviet Composers and the Development of Soviet Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, 1970), 22-23.
3 Michael H. Kater, Composers of the Nazi era: eight portraits (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 34, 42.
4 Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, Shostakovich Reconsidered (City N/A: Tocatta Press, 1998), 9.
5 Steinweis, 33.
6 Ibid., 46.
7 Steinweis, 47.
8 Ho, 115.
9 David Fanning, “Shostakovich, Dmitry (Dmitriyevich),” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed October 24, 2007), <>
10 Fanning, 47.
11 Ibid., 65.
12 Ibid., 106.
13 Krebs, 185.
14 Ibid., 52, 192.
15 Ibid., 52-3.
16 Fanning, Section 2 (online).
17 Krebs, 53.
18 J. Daniel Huband, “Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony: A Soviet Artist's Reply...?,” Tempo, New Ser., No. 173, Soviet Issue. (Jun., 1990), 11-16.
19 Ibid., 195.
20 Krebs, 141.
21 Ibid., 151.
22 Ibid., 152.
23 Ibid., 154.
24 Ibid., 158-9.
25 Ibid., 161.
26 Ibid., 163.


*Exit music from the Columbia University Orchestra, (Sarah Kishinevsky, violin)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Three Untimely Deaths

Episode Number: 011
Title: Three Untimely Deaths
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale - Recorded November 8, 2007

Jean-Baptiste de Lully was a French Baroque composer of Italian origins. He is mostly known for adapting Italian opera for the French language. He became a court composer for Louis XIV of France in 1661 when the king came to power. Later this year Lully was naturalized as a French citizen. He wrote many ballets, opera, as well as various vocal and instrumental pieces. He became very famous working under the King and later was considered to be one of the King’s closest friends. By the time he was fifty-years old he had reached the peak of his career. He had already been involved in some scandals and legal disputes but he never lost the King’s favor. However, in the 1680s he seduced a male page that was assigned to him and thought he had enough popularity to flaunt this. This was inexcusable by the King and Lully was forced to find a new patron. In 1687 Lully was conducting his own Te Deum (which is a hymn of praise) that he wrote in honor of King Louis’s recovery from an illness. In these days the conductor’s baton had not been “invented” yet. Instead, a staff was used to beat the time against the floor. Lully accidentally smashed his foot, causing an abscess which eventually turned gangrenous. He died on March 22, 1687 as a result from this self-inflicted wound at the age of 55.

Maurice Ravel is another notable French composer that was a contemporary of Claude Debussy. He is considered a composer of the impressionist period, though not all of his works are impressionistic. Ravel considered himself a classicist, as he used many forms and the structure of Classical music as a foundation for his innovative and subtle harmonies. His most famous works are Bolero, his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Le Tombeau de Couperin, String Quartet in F, and Pavane pour une infante défunte (which can be heard at the end of the previous episode). In 1932, while riding in a taxi Ravel hit his head, but at the time it did not seem like a major injury. However, he later developed aphasia, which is a brain disorder that causes an inability to either write language or speak it. For the next five years Ravel suffered immensely as he was barely able to even sign his own name. Writing music was out of the question. His condition slowly got worse over the next five years and in 1937 his brother, Edouard Ravel, took him to the rue Boileau Clinic for tests. Unbeknownst to Maurice, his friends and doctors had decided to attempt an experimental operation to try and cure him (since he was only getting worse and not better). Brain surgery was still experimental and primitive in these days and as a result, Ravel died. Doctors were hoping to find a tumor but instead they found part of his brain collapsed. They injected it with serous fluid but Ravel only regained consciousness for a few moments, before slipping into a coma. He died nine days later at the age of 62.

Anton Webern was an Austrian composer who studied under Arnold Schoenberg in the early twentieth century. There he met Alban Berg, who also was one of Schoenberg’s first pupils. The three of them constituted what became known as the Second Viennese School of composition, though others are considered to be a part but not as important as these first two pupils of Schoenberg. Webern only wrote thirty-one pieces that he assigned opus numbers to. Opus is Latin for “a work” and works that are officially published are usually assigned Opus numbers. The music of the Second Viennese school departed from conventional tonality and made use of atonality. Atonality is a system of composing music that lacks any key or tonic note. This means each of the twelve pitches are equal, and the music is not required to return to any particular note. This music was banned by the Nazis when they came to power in the 1930s and was listed as “degenerate” music. Webern found it nearly impossible to make a living during this time and was forced to work as a proofreader for his publishers. Near the end of World War II Webern moved to Mittersill (near Salzburg) from Vienna hoping it would be safer for him and his family. While the Allied forces occupied Vienna they imposed curfews and Mittersill was no exception. One evening Webern stepped out after dark to enjoy a cigar so he didn’t have to bother his grandchildren with the smoke. An American soldier accidentally shot and killed him. He died at the age of 60.


Grove Music Online

Monday, September 17, 2007

Impressionism in Music

Episode Number: 010
Title: Impressionism in Music
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on September 17th, 2007
Exit Music: Pavane pour une infante défunte - Ravel (1899)

Impressionist music is now seen as a response to the Romantic period’s emphasis on individual expression. The major-minor tonal system had been almost completely explored by composers such as Richard Wagner. Claude Debussy is seen as the main proponent of the impressionist movement, even though he did not consider himself an “impressionist” composer and despised being described as such. Maurice Ravel and others who studied Debussy’s techniques are also considered impressionist composers, though no composer strictly adhered to Impressionist styles and his/her music can not be completely dumped into the category of Impressionism. Some of these other French composers include Paul Dukas, Gabriel Fauré and Erik Satie.

Impressionism, according to Grove Music Online is "A philosophical, aesthetic and polemical term borrowed from late 19th-century French painting."1 The term was coined in 1874 by art critic Louie Leroy after visiting an exhibition featuring works by Monet, Renoir, Degas and a handful of other French painters. Monet’s Impression, Sunrise was targeted more than some of the other works and thus the term impressionism was coined. These painters used innovative techniques to portray their subjects that differed from the current standards of painting in the French art scene during the mid-late 1800s. Some of these techniques included using short dark strokes to portray the essence of the subject2 rather than the subject itself, the color black was avoided, and wet paint is painted over wet paint before it is allowed to dry, which produced softer edges as the colors mixed. There are more techniques than this and these techniques were certainly used before, however the “Impressionists” were the first to use all them together. The effect that these artists strove to achieve was to portray the essence of their subjects, or rather recreate the human eye’s first reaction to a real-life subject.

The term “impressionism” was not wholly connected to music until the 1880s. The word was first used to describe music in 1887 by the secretary of the Académie des Beaux Arts to attack Claude Debussy’s piece entitled Printemps.1 Much like how impressionist art sought to give the effect that seeing something has on the mind impressionist music sought to do as well through hearing. Debussy was not the first to do this; Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony is considered by some historians to be an attempt to recreate impressions of nature through music. Many other composers even earlier during the Baroque and Classical periods sought to portray their emotions through sound, which falls under the idea of impressionism. Though it may not have been Claude Debussy that first applied the ideas of the Impressionist movement to music, he extended any previous attempts made by earlier composers as mentioned above to paint the visual world through sound alone. It was Debussy’s music that made the largest impact on the musical community and the future of Western art music. Some of the musical techniques that Debussy used to evoke impressionist sounds in the orchestra included having singers hum rather than sing, using muted cymbals and harp harmonics. Delius and Ravel would later also use a closed-lip choir after Debussy. These techniques were used to not only represent nature (like many of the impressionist painters chose to do) but to “reflect mysterious correspondences between nature and the imagination.”1

Advances in acoustics and the study of sound intrigued the impressionist composers and they used new techniques to affect listeners in different ways. The rules for creating progressions of chords were broken down and more emphasis was placed on creating progressions of colors and rhythms. Dukas stated “[it is] a series of sensations rather than the deductions of a musical thought.” Techniques such as adding ninths, elevenths and thirteenths to chords to extend the harmonies even farther than simple major and minor chords were used, as well as using wide ranges of dynamics (from really soft to really loud) and wide ranges in the instruments’ registers (low notes versus high notes). Parallel chords were used by having all the musical lines move in the same direction. For example, if the melody moved up a major 3rd, so would all the other lines at the same time. This technique is also called planing. Sometimes 3rds were omitted and fourths and fifths were stacked upon each other creating quartal and quintal chords. The strong V to I cadences (also known as authentic cadences)used so much in Baroque, Classical and early Romantic music was often substituted for V9 to I or even III to I cadences. A cadence, for those of you unfamiliar with the term is the musical punctuation ending a phrase of music. Here is an example of an authentic cadence where the “five” chord moves to a “one chord”. Here is what it sounds like with a five-nine chord, when the ninth is added to the chord. Here is what it sounds like when the “three” chord is substituted for the “five” and goes cadences on “one”. The goal as composer Dukas puts it is not to create dissonances but “make multiple resonances vibrate”. It was believed that these techniques would have subtle effects upon the listeners’ nervous system, accentuating the impression of the subject the composer wished to portray. Some popular subjects were water, fog, clouds, and night, and the impressionist composers tried to “paint” these subjects with sounds. Nature was a popular subject in impressionist music, as in impressionist painting. Timelessness was a sensation written into the music, and to achieve this composers used extended tremolos (playing the same note repeatedly very fast), certain types of repetition of melodic fragments, and non-traditional scales such as pentatonic (only has five notes) whole tone (no half steps in between any notes) and medieval modes. The pentatonic modes used in Javanese gamelan music had a great influence on Debussy when he heard them at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889.

Impressionism was a brief period in the history of Western music that followed the Romantic period. By the twentieth century the movement fizzled out, but its techniques did not vanish. Neo-impressionism emerged as composers fused techniques made popular by composers like Claude Debussy with new innovations of their own contriving.

Maurice RavelClaude Debussy


1 Jann Pasler: 'Impressionism', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 10-11-2007),

3. Benward, Bruce and Marilyn Saker. Music in Theory and Practice, Volume II. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.

The Harmony of the Worlds - Kepler's Ideas on Music

Episode Number: 009
Title: The Harmony of the Worlds - Kepler's Ideas on Music
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on September 17th, 2007
Exit Music: In me transierunt - a motet by Orlando di Lasso

Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who lived between 1571-1630.  One of his biggest contributions to the study of astronomy was his three laws of planetary motion. Without delving too deeply into physics, basically these laws state that planets orbit the sun in ellipses rather than circles, and that the planets travel faster when closer to the sun and slower when farther away from the sun. It also states that planets with larger orbits move slower than those with smaller orbits. His work was grounded in the idea that God created the world according to a specific plan, and that plan could be realized through reason. In 1619 he wrote Harmonices Mundi (translated as The Harmony of the Worlds) which in certain sections investigates musical harmony in relation to planetary motion.

When we think of Kepler we generally don’t think about how much music was a part of his life. His discoveries and theories in the different areas of math and science tend to take the spotlight away from the other aspects of his life. In school and throughout his adulthood he was surrounded by music and as part of his schooling was required to participate in many musical activities each week. When Kepler was as young as five years old he practiced Latin hymns and sequences as well as German psalmody in school everyday; he also had weekly theory lessons to compliment his musical training. As a theology student at Tübingen he studied music along with all of his other fellow students. Singing three times a week to keep musicianship sharp was encouraged by the school and during this period Kepler participated in many musical gatherings. In 1600 he went into the service of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague, where practical and theoretical music on the court were equally appreciated. Here experimental instruments like the “perspective lute” which tried to relate color with musical tones and automatic keyboard instruments that played when exposed to sunlight were born. It was also here that Kepler tried to notate a Turkish priest’s prayers as the priest sang them for the Turkish ambassador. So, throughout Kepler’s life he was surrounded by and was either actively or passively a part of music. Around this time Kepler began advocating a new method of tuning (though he did not create this method). Previously instruments were tuned using the Pythagorean method, which is intended to make intervals of fourths and fifths as perfect as possible. However, this meant that intervals of a third and a sixth could not be perfect. This was acceptable though because fourths and fifths were the most common intervals in medieval music and thirds and sixths were considered dissonances. However, as philosophies changed during the Renaissance thirds and sixths were now considered consonant and more desirable so a different tuning method was needed so that these intervals would sound “in tune”. Just intonation was devised and to support it Kepler stated

[Pythagoreans] were so much given over to this form of philosophizing through numbers that they did not even stand by the judgment of their ears, though it was by their evidence that they had originally gained entry to philosophy; but they marked out what was melodic and what was unmelodic, what was consonant and what was dissonant, from their numbers alone, doing violence to the natural prompting of hearing.

Regardless of which tuning system is being used, the intervals between notes are measured in ratios, such as 3:2 or 3:5. Although Pythagorean tuning looked better in theory, Kepler valued practical judgment over numbers alone. By only using numeric ratios to devise musical intervals was foolish, as the ear would tell you that this is not practical.
Complex polyphonic music of the Renaissance replaced the monophonic music and simpler polyphonic music of the medieval period. Polyphony, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a type of musical texture that has more than one independent melody played together. Monophony is simply one melody sounded at a time. Gregorian chant is monophonic, but a Bach fugue is polyphonic. When there is one dominant melody supported by chords, we refer to that texture as homophonic. Kepler was trained in music dating back to the early medieval period through his present day. He was particularly fond of the late Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso, of whom Kepler cites many times in Harmonices Mundi. More precisely, it is one of di Lasso’s motets entitled In me transierunt that receives the most attention from Kepler. To Kepler, the planets in orbit sang together in harmony a la di Lasso’s harmonies creating a “cosmic motet” In Harmonices Mundi Kepler writes that with the advent of “modern” polyphony God reveals to us the secrets of the creation of the universe.

In this “cosmic motet” Kepler assigns a part to each known planet. Mercury gets to be the soprano voice because it is a “treble voice and is the most free”. Earth and Venus share the alto voices because of their “narrow distances between motions” and because “the alto which is nearly the highest is in a narrow space.” Mars gets to be the tenor voice because it “is free yet proceeds moderately.” Saturn and Jupiter share the bass voices because the “basses make harmonic leaps.” Each voice sings an independent song simultaneously creating a complex polyphonic work. Kepler notes that as the six songs interweave they create passing dissonance, as well as syncopations and cadences. When each planet reaches its farthest and closest distances from the sun it creates a rare consonance with the other planets. Of course Kepler notes that the planets do not actually make sound as they pass around the sun, but that the “cosmic harmony reflects the relative minimum and maximum angular velocities of the planets, as measured from the sun”. In other words, the differences between the minimum and maximum angular speeds of orbiting planets correspond directly to a harmonic ratio. Earth’s ratio is 16:15 which happens to be a semitone or half-step. In the six note hexachord system of Kepler’s time the half-step was found between only between mi and fa. In the cosmic motet Earth sings mi and fa, which also happens to be the first two letters of the words misery and famine. I guess this is what Kepler believed the Earth had to contribute to the polyphony of God’s universe. Di Lasso’s In me transierunt also opens with this semitone pattern, using mi, fa, mi. This may be why Kepler cites this motet so much in Harmonices Mundi. As to how the planets move, Kepler states

They advance from one extreme to the opposite one not by leaps and intervals, but with a continually changing note, pervading all between (potentially infinite) in reality. I could not express that in any other way but by a continuous series of intermediate notes.

Johannes Kepler made it clear that he himself was not a composer or even a very good musician. However, he understood music theory pretty well and was able to draw parallels between music theory and astronomy by using mathematics ratios. The fact that this comparison was more than just metaphor sets him apart from others who shared similar beliefs during and before his time. He believed that musical notes should not be governed by numbers alone because the resulting music ended up impractical. Kepler also liked to stress the importance of the practice of music over the theory of music.


Peter Pesic, “Earthly Music and Cosmic Harmony: Johannes Kepler’s Interest in Practical Music, Especially Orlando di Lasso” Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 11, no. 1 (2006)

The French Horn vs. The English Horn Part II

Episode Number: 008
Title: The French Horn vs. The English Horn, Part II
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on September 17th, 2007

The English horn is a double-reed instrument and a member of the woodwind family. It resembles the oboe, but is pitched lower and sounds more like an oboe d’amore. If these instruments were to form a family like the violin, viola and cello instruments do the oboe would be the soprano voice, while the oboe d’amore would be the mezzo-soprano and the English horn the tenor voice. The English horn is pitched an interval of a fifth below the oboe, and the bass oboe is pitched one octave below the oboe.

The oboe family of instruments evolved from the European shawm, which in turn evolved from the surnay of the Middle East. All of these instruments function almost the same way, by forcing air through a double-reed that is attached to a wooden tube. A double-reed is made by taking a stem of grass or cane (hence the name reed) and folding it in half. It is then scraped until it is thin and the two ends can vibrate against each other. Reeds don’t usually last too long so they have historically been made by what is readily available. The modern oboe reeds come from the Arundo donax plant, otherwise known as the Giant Reed. This plant grows in moderately saline waters in semi-tropical regions. Other instruments that use double-reeds are the bagpipe of Scotland, and most likely the aulos of ancient Greece. On a side-note, the aulos can be seen being played in the movie “300” as the Spartans march into battle. The aulos probably did accompany Spartan kings into battle so this is one point the movie actually got right.

As I’ve already mentioned the oboe developed from the double-reed instrument called the shawm, which was popular in Europe from roughly the 12th century until the 17th century. It appears that the oboe began to emerge as a different instrument from the shawm in the mid 17th century in France. At this point in time both the shawm and this new instrument were both referred to as the hautbois, which means “high wood”. Jean-Baptiste de Lully, a French baroque composer helped form what became known as an orchestra by combining wind instruments with stringed instruments. The early oboe now had to be able to play along and blend with the strings, which the shawm wasn’t able to do. The instrument was lengthened, the reed was altered and the holes were drilled differently which allowed more versatile fingerings as well as requiring less air pressure from the player. In 1685 King Louis XIV renounced the Edict of Nantes causing many Protestants to leave France. This would have a damaging effect on France but one positive effect was that the exodus of protestants, which included many skilled and industrious individuals (such as musicians) helped spread the oboe over Europe; French music and musicians were well received throughout Europe, in places like Madrid, London, Vienna and Venice. At this point the oboe lost all of its ties with France with the exception that throughout Europe the name for this instrument was based on the French name of hautbois.

In the late 1600’s the oboe was primarily used in bands much like how the shawm was used, but by the end of the century composers began including it in their chamber music compositions. From roughly 1700-30 we find some of the most innovative profound music ever written during one particular period of the oboe’s history. After 1730 however the manufacturing of the oboe began to use different methods in different parts of Europe. This caused the oboe (still called the hautbois) to vary in shape and sound depending on where it was made. The virtuoso hautbois of Europe during this time were actually found in Italy, rather than France. The Italian virtuosos that traveled through Europe helped standardize pitch, which had a’ at 440 cycles per second. This frequency had long been the standard in Venice and now was being spread throughout the continent. This standard remains today in Western music.

As the oboe was being built differently all over Europe, different sizes were being built to allow different ranges of notes to be played. The oboe da caccia, which was curved and leather-covered, was pitched in F to be a tenor oboe. It was only produced in a few places in Central Europe. Shortly after 1720 someone added a bulbed-bell to the oboe da caccia (which created a new instrument) and later in the century they were built with a gentler curve. Eventually the oboe da caccia with a bulbed-bell was built to be straight, but during this time while both curved and straight tenor oboes were being built they reminded people of the horns that Angels played, as portrayed in medieval and later religious artwork. In Middle German the word for “angelic” was engellisch. The word engellisch also meant English and eventually the two meanings became merged causing the “angelic” horn to be the “English” horn.

By the late 18th century, the english horn became closely associated with Italian opera and in the early 19th century it became an established instrument in France. Hector Berlioz used the English horn a lot in his earlier works. Oddly, in the mid 19th century German orchestration books barely even mentioned the instrument. It became popular in Germany again when Richard Wagner heard the english horn in Paris and returned to make extensive use of the instrument in his compositions. By the end of the 19th century and early 20th century it was now an established solo voice within the orchestra (meaning that it wasn’t interchanged with the oboe). The English horn is now used in solo, chamber and orchestral works alike.

Hopefully after listening to this episode and the previous episode you will now be able to explain the differences between the French and english horns to an inquiring individual. To recap, the French horn’s history is rooted in the actual horn of animal, justly giving it the right to be called a horn. The english horn is called a horn only because it reminded people of the horns that angels played in medieval artwork. The French horn as we know it today developed mostly in Germany but is called French because the concept and playing style probably was borrowed from France and the modern French horn does resemble the hunting horn used in France at the time it began being developed for use as an instrument. The English horn as we know it today developed in Central Europe between Germany and Italy but is called English because the German word for Angelic and English were the same, and remember it was named so because it resembled the horns that the angels played in medieval artwork. And, most importantly, the english horn is made from wood and uses a double-reed to produce sound while the French horn is made completely of metal and uses the buzzing of the lips on the mouthpiece to produce sound. Both instruments take great skill and a lot of patience to master because a good, clean tone is not easily produced without a lot of practice.

Cor Anglais (English Horn)


Grove Music Online

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The French Horn vs. The English Horn, Part I

Episode Number: 007
Title: The French Horn vs. The English Horn, Part I
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Exit Music: Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat major KV.495 - W.A. Mozart
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on September 9th, 2007

There are many differences between the English horn and the French horn, and each horn musician, respectively, is more than willing to explain the differences between the two. To those of us stringed instrument players and players of different instruments, or those of you not familiar with the two different horns at all, the naming of these two can be rather confusing. After all, the English horn isn’t really a horn, and really isn’t English either. The French horn is a horn, but not exactly French. And isn’t a horn something that grows on the head of an animal anyways?

Since prehistoric times, animal horns have been used by humans to create sounds, but not necessarily for music. By blowing air through a hollowed-out animal horn, the air vibrates the horn, which resonates inside, and the conical opening amplifies and projects the sound. Eventually, animal horns were duplicated with wood or metal and used the same way. The ancient Scandinavians used an instrument called the Lur, which looked like a wooly-mammoth tusk, in war to rally troops and scare the enemy.

In the early 17th century hunting became a popular aristocratic sport, and the horn was used in the hunt. The horn became curved rather than just being a straight piece of metal. Hunters began experimenting with different shapes as it was realized that this affected the sound and what range of notes could be played. In 1636 Marin Marsenne described four different types of horns in his book, Harmonie Universelle: Le grand cor, which means the big horn, le cor qui n'a qu'un seul tour which means the horn which has only one turn, the cor à plusiers tours, which means the horn of several turns, and le huchet which means the horn with which one calls from afar. These horns began to be introduced in concert halls, though they were usually used as special effects to help depict the hunt on stage because the method of playing them was too still too crude to be blended with an orchestra. Count Franz Anton von Sporck is credited with bringing the art of horn playing from France to Bohemia where a more refined method of playing the horn developed there, and as well as Austria and Germany. The Count was a hunting aficionado as well as a generous patron to the arts. Sometime in the 1680’s the Count was participating in a hunt in France and when hearing the cor de chasse (which was a type of horn to be heard from afar) being played during the hunt he instructed two of his men to be taught how to play it.

As the horn grew in popularity, Baroque composers began to write more refined parts for the horn, as the technique for playing began to be more refined. Since the instrument was simply a curved tube of metal it was limited to sounding the natural frequencies of which the metal was able to vibrate. This includes the fundamental pitch, as well as all the other notes along the harmonic series. The harmonic series is a series of notes that are double, three times, four times, etc. the frequency of the fundamental pitch and are very important to brass instruments. By manipulating a brass instrument these different harmonics or partials as they are often called can be individually sounded. Each harmonic gets closer and closer together as the series progresses, beginning with an octave, then a fifth, to eventually seconds and even smaller. If you thought that was too much physics for a music lesson, just know that the early horns were able to play multiple notes, but were limited to a series of notes related to one key signature. So, when a horn player had to play in a different key, he or she had to grab a different horn that had a different length of tubing, allowing a different series of notes. In the early 1700’s it was realized that by adding a length of tubing to one horn was more practical than carrying around multiple horns and thus the crook was invent. The crook was a piece of curved tube that could be attached to the horn, giving the tubing additional length. Now, the player could simply carry around his horn (which was usually pitched at Bb or F) and multiple crooks rather than carry around multiple horns. In the mid 1700’s a virtuoso horn player by the name of Anton Hampel playing on the Dresden court developed a technique that involved placing the right hand inside the bell of the instrument, which altered the pitches that sounded. By adjusting the hand, notes OUTSIDE of the harmonic series were able to be played, and combined with the use of crooks for the mouthpiece and middle of the horn, the horn of the Classical era (known as the Orchestral Horn) was a pretty versatile instrument. Mozart and Haydn wrote some very notable pieces for this horn, the most famous being Mozart’s horn concerti. Catch the third movement to Mozart’s 4th concerto at the end of this episode.

In the early 1800’s the valve was invented to automatically switch the flow of air through other lengths of tube included on the instrument. The piston valve was first invented which led to the rotary valve in the mid 1800’s. By the end of the 1800’s the rotary valve was more popular than the piston valve, and crooks were no longer needed along with the hand horn technique. These horns used three triggers to control three valves and in 1897 the first “double horn” was introduced by a German horn maker. The double horn consisted of two horns combined into one, with a fourth trigger to activate the other tubing. The second horn was pitched higher which allowed for clearer and easier-to-control notes in the higher registers. Now the triple horn, which combines an even higher pitched horn, is gaining popularity amongst professional horn players.

So after listening to me talk about all the German innovations to the way the instrument was played and built, why do we not call it the German horn? Well, actually the U.S., Britain and Canada are the only countries to really refer to this instrument as the “French” Horn. Most of Europe has always has and still does refer to it as simply “the horn” or “horn in F”. Nobody knows for sure why it became known as the French horn. The distinction was probably made back in its days as being primarily used as a hunting instrument. It could be that it was in France that the Germans got the idea from when the technique was brought to them by Count Franz Anton von Sporck. Another more popular possibility is that the British and French hunting horns differed in size, and the size of the horn eventually used in the orchestra reminded the British of the hunting horns used by the French.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Update and Correction

This is an update on Beethoven and a correction for Episode Number Six.

Fox News Article Featuring Beethoven:,2933,294980,00.html

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

West Side Story

Episode Number: 006
Title: West Side Story
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on August 28th, 2007
West Side Story was a musical that premiered on Broadway on September 26, 1957. The story was written by Arthur Laurents, and is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which in turn was based on Arthur Brooke’s narrative poem entitled “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” in 1562. Leonard Bernstein was called in to write the music and Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. Bernstein also wrote music “On the Town” and “Candide” while Sondheim’s projects also include “Sweeney Todd”, “Into the Woods” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”.

The plot revolves around two lovers named Maria and Anton, and like Romeo and Juliet are forced apart by their opposing families. In West Side Story, the two families are actually street gangs known as the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are made up of native Manhattan boys while the Sharks are made up of newly-arrived Puerto Rican immigrants. Maria has just arrived from Puerto Rico with her brother, Bernado, who is the leader of the Sharks. Anton, or Tony is a Polish-American and co-founder of the Jets. The plot takes place in West Manhattan in the mid 1950’s where there actually was an influx of Puerto Rican immigrants. Originally the plot was to take place in East Manhattan and focus on an Italian-American Catholic boy and an Israeli immigrant girl who had survived the Holocaust. The Sharks were originally a Jewish gang called the “Emeralds”. The main conflict would focus on anti-Semitism. This story was shelved for five years however because Bernstein, Laurents and Jerome Robbins (who would direct and choreograph the Broadway musical) felt the story was a little dated. In 1954 after seeing a wave of Puerto Ricans pour into the city, and reading about gang wars in the paper, the creators changed the characters to their present form.

As the story began to develop, the three creators asked themselves questions like “Should the play follow Shakespeare closely, almost paraphrase the original? Should it keep only key scenes and characters? Or should it simply use the original as a reference point and let the story wind its own way, led by the character of today's youth?” Arthur Laurents is quoted saying, “What we did want was to aim at a lyrically and theatrically sharpened illusion of reality. In the story, I have emphasized character and emotion rather than place-name specifics and sociological statistics. The dialogue is my translation of adolescent street talk into theater: it might sound real, but it isn't. The music has the feeling of juke box, of transplanted Puerto Rico, but the expression is pure Bernstein. The movement resembles jitterbugging in some places, street fighting in others, but it is all Robbins in dance.” In 1955 the creators teamed up with lyricist Stephen Sondheim and a year-and-a-half later rehearsals began. Robbins insisted on eight weeks of rehearsal because West Side Story was to have more dancing than any other Broadway musical to date. He also tried to keep the Jets and the Sharks actors separated during this time. The creators were constantly told that this project was doomed to fail. Bernstein is quoted saying “Everyone told us that [West Side Story] was an impossible project... no one, we were told, was going to be able to sing augmented fourths, as with "Ma-ri-a".... Also, they said the score was too rangy for pop music.... Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage? ...And then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers. Ultimately, some of the cast were teenagers, some were 21, some were 30 but looked 16. Some were wonderful singers but couldn't dance very well, or vice versa... and if they could do both, they couldn't act.” On a side note, the ending was also changed before the project was complete. Originally, Maria killed Chino and then herself at the end but preview audiences felt this was too depressing. An alternate ending was then used.

The show debuted on Broadway on September 26, 1957 and received mostly positive reviews, though there were a lot of negative reviews as well. Regardless of what the critics said, the show ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, which was a lot for that time. In 1960 it ran at the same theatre for another 253 performances and it also ran in London from 1958 to 1961 for a total of 1,039 performances. Robbins directed all of these runs.

In 1961 the musical was adapted for film and won 10 out of 11 Academy Awards nominations including best picture. It also won 10 Oscars. Robbins and Robert wise would direct the film, and Natalie Wood starred as Maria. Some scenes had to be changed in the adaptation to better suit the film medium. In the stage version, “I Feel Pretty” opens the second act after the deadly “Rumble” ends the first. “I Feel Pretty” was moved ahead to the bridal shop so that the story’s momentum could keep going after the fight. The location for “Gee, Officer Krupke” was also swapped with “Cool”. The stage version of America has different lyrics, and only has four girls performing it, while in the movie all of the Sharks and their girls are involved. Anita, Tony and Maria’s songs were all dubbed, though some to different extents. Betty Wand only overdubbed some of Anita’s songs and Marni Nixon only overdubbed the high or sustained notes that Natatalie Wood’s voice could not handle. She also overdubbed Maria’s closing line of “Don’t you touch him! Te adoro, Anton”. Nobody told Natalie that she was being overdubbed until all of her parts were filmed, in case she got angry and walked off the set. However, Marni never signed a contract though she was involved on a day-to-day basis. She felt she deserved some of the movie/album royalties but the studio and producers refused to pay her anything. Leonard Bernstein broke the stalemate by offering up a percentage of his income to go to Nixon.





Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Curse of the Ninth Symphony

Episode Number: 005
Title: The Curse of the Ninth Symphony
Introduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach
End Music: Symphony Nine, Adagio - Allegro Molto; Antonin Dvorak, recorded by the Columbia University Orchestra*
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and recorded on August 22nd, 2007

The "Curse of the Ninth Symphony" is a superstition among composers that implies that after their ninth symphony is written, they will die. This of course is only a myth, but some composers did actually take it seriously. The curse dates all the way back to Beethoven, but the composers who lived before him do not apply because they wrote many more than nine symphonies. For example, Giovanni Battista Sammartini wrote 68 symphonies, Mozart wrote around 68 (though it was commonly accepted that he only wrote 41), and Franz Joseph Haydn wrote 104 in his lifetime. Let’s save the debate about how many symphonies Mozart actually wrote for another episode, especially because he clearly evaded the curse. The composers that do fall under the category of victims are, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner, Anton Dvorak, Aleksander Glasunov, Gustav Mahler, Louis Spohr and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Let's throw in Dmitri Shostakovich too just for fun, but there is a large exception to be made when we include him. I personally do not believe in this curse, but it is fun to talk about nonetheless. For the sake of discussion, I will portray my point of view as if the curse is real. Maybe I will try and write nine symphonies and I'll see what happens to me. In the words of composer Arnold Schoenberg, "It seems that the ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter."

Beethoven lived from 1770-1827. As you could assume, or if you listened to the last three episodes you would know that he only wrote nine symphonies. He did in fact begin writing a tenth before he died. It is now believed that he died as a result of lead poisoning. Beethoven's innovations to the symphony set a benchmark for future composers, not only in quality, but for those who believed in the curse, quantity. Brahms luckily avoided the curse because he was always being compared to Beethoven, and because of this it took him over twenty years just to finish his first symphony! Brahms would only write four symphonies in his life.

Anton Bruckner was an Austrian composer who lived from 1824-1896. He died while writing the ninth symphony, though he was able to complete three movements. It was first performed in 1903. However, though he died writing what he considered to be the ninth symphony, he had in fact written two other symphonies that he didn't bother numbering. They were later discovered and given the names Symphony 0 and Symphony 00. Symphony 0 actually was his third symphony written but he didn't consider it to be important. Maybe composers who wish to write more than nine symphonies should just not number some of them. (Bruckner didn't do that because of the curse though).

Gustav Mahler lived between 1860 and 1911 and was a student of Anton Bruckner. As far as Mahler knew, only Spohr, Beethoven and Bruckner had died after writing or while working on their ninth symphonies. Mahler was obsessed with the curse, and compared all of his symphonies to Beethoven's ninth, claiming that they all had the same impact that Beethoven's ninth did. Mahler was terrified of writing a symphony numbered "nine". He went as far as writing a symphony/song cycle and calling it "A symphony for one tenor and one alto (or baritone) voice and orchestra" rather than giving it a number like the rest of them. However, he couldn't cheat the curse and died after finishing his ninth symphony and after starting the tenth. On an interesting side note, before he died Mahler raised his finger and moved it back and forth as if it were a baton. His last word was "Mozart".

Antonin Dvorak lived from 1841 to 1904 was a Bohemian composer who wrote his ninth symphony in New York, in 1893. This symphony was subtitled the "New World" symphony. He died eleven years later without writing another symphony. Maybe if he began writing a tenth he would have died sooner. At the end of this episode I will play an excerpt from this symphony for you, so stay tuned. Aleksander Glazunov lived from 1865 to 1936, but he lived another 26 years after publishing his ninth. Ralph Vaughan Williams, a British composer who lived between 1872 and 1958, and wrote his ninth between 1956 and 1957, a year or two before he died.

I would like to mention Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer, who was noted for his symphonies. He lived between 1906 and 1975 and actually wrote fourteen symphonies. Why am I including him then? Well, he did write a total of fourteen symphonies but his ninth symphony fell victim to the curse rather than the composer himself. When he began writing his ninth symphony, it was expected to be a triumphant piece celebrating Stalin's victory over Nazi Germany. Stalin and Shostakovich did not get along well, and I don't know why Shostakovich wasn't killed. I think even he probably was surprised because there were some nights that he slept on his porch in case the police came to arrest him in the middle of the night, his family wouldn't have to witness it. For whatever reason, Shostakovich didn't write a triumphant piece but a light and whimsical one, which I personally believe he did just to irritate Stalin. It was premiered on November 3rd, 1945 and within a year it was censored. It usually took the Soviets a little while to catch on, but at this point Shostakovich probably expected it. The work was eventually banned in 1948, essentially "killing it".

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*The Columbia Universtiy Orchestra is not affiliated with the Music History Podcast in any way other than providing good-quality music on their website