MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Serving up the music of memes

A Fourth with Ives

Celebrate American music! And you can’t do much better than Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for this rep.

As Charles Ives impishly recalled about this third movement from his Holidays Symphony :

I did what I wanted to, quite sure that the thing would never be played, although the uneven measures that look so complicated in the score are mostly caused by missing a beat, which was often done in parades. In the parts taking off explosions, I worked out combinations of tones and rhythms very carefully by kind of prescriptions, in the way a chemical compound which makes explosions would be made.

And for good measure:

Filed under: American music, Charles Ives, John Adams, Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony

Da Vinci’s Viola Organista

Originally posted on MEMETERIA by Thomas May:

Sketch from Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus Sketches from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus
Just ran across This Is Colossal‘s report on the Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki’s realization of one of tne wildly imaginative hybrids Leonardo da Vinci dreamed up in his notebooks. Sketches for this “viola organista” – a mating of the principles of stringed and keyboard instruments – are found in da Vinci’s massive collection of sketches known as the Codex Atlanticus.

Zubrzycki demonstrated his new version of this invention at the recent International Royal Cracow Piano Festival. The Colossal‘s story links to this more-detailed account at The History Blog of the background of the viola organista and attempts to realize it, including this early one:

Almost a hundred years [after the da Vinci sketches] in 1575, church organist Hans Hyden of Nuremberg created the first functional bowed keyboard instrument operated by a foot-treadle. He used gut strings (later switched to metal…

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Filed under: Uncategorized



Filed under: photography

Half Through the Year


Today’s position in the annual calendar makes me think of Friedrich Hölderlin’s most-famous poem, Hälfte des Lebens. Here’s the original, followed by my inelegantly functional translation (in which I deliberately stick close to Hölderlin’s word order/syntax):

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Halfway Through Life

With its yellow pears
And laden with roses,
The shore hangs right into the lake,
O lovely swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into the holy sobering water.

Alas, where shall I, come
Winter, [find] flowers, and where
The sunshine,
And shade of the earth?
The walls are standing
Speechless and cold, in the wind
The weathervanes rattle.

And Benjamin Britten’s setting:

Filed under: Hölderlin, poetry

The Sea, The Sea

Originally posted on MEMETERIA by Thomas May:

To prepare for a new essay, I spent some of last week immersed in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s breakthrough composition from 1910, A Sea Symphony – also known as the First Symphony (though he didn’t get around personally to numbering the first three of his nine symphonies).

While it has its weak moments, I wish this work were performed more often, but it’s never really caught on with American audiences, and the score poses a huge challenge for the chorus. By a remarkable coincidence, A Sea Symphony premiered exactly one month after Mahler’s Eighth (that incredible amalgam of medieval Church hymn and the final scene of Faust). Both works represent unclassifiable hybrids of cantata, symphony, and oratorio, taking the “model” of Beethoven’s Ninth to new extremes. And five years before that, Debussy’s La mer was first performed in Paris. (There was also a growing body of sea-oriented compositions by Vaughan…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Kirill Petrenko Goes to Berlin

The Berlin Philharmonic’s choice of the Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, a native of Omsk, as the new chief conductor to replace Sir Simon Rattle is the biggest piece of orchestral news this week.

Here’s an interview in English from Maestro Petrenko’s visit with the orchestra in 2009:

And here’s one from a visit to Israel (start at 4:50):

On a side note, FAZ reporter Eleonore Büning denounces some media commentators for marring the news with ugly anti-Semitic innuendo. But William Osborne, in the comments section here, suggests this may be a case of irony gone wrong rather than nefarious intentions.

Or does it come down to a repugnant example of clickbait? I’ve now learned a new term for that in German: Quotenjägergerüchteküche, which Osborne translates as “unappetizing quota-hunting-insinuation-kitchen.”

Filed under: Berlin Philharmonic, conductors, music news



Filed under: photography

Terry Riley at 80, on 20 Fingers


“That’s the sort of thing that’s always interested me: things where you can’t quite figure out what you are hearing,” says Terry Riley — and the maverick composer’s curiosity hasn’t abated a bit over the years.

Today Terry Riley has reached the milestone age of 80. “In addition to his artistic legacy — a long and varied creative record that includes some of the most notable works in the history of minimalism and post-minimalism — Riley must hold some kind of record as the happiest and least stress-afflicted musician now working,” writes Joshua Kosman in his recent profile.

A new release from the piano duo ZOFO offers an intriguing perspective on the work of this Minimalist pioneer (who played jazz piano early in his career).

Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi — the pianists who comprise ZOFO (decoded as a visual pun for “20” plus “fingered orchestra”) — started their collaboration with a performance of “Cinco de Mayo” from The Heaven Ladder, Book 5, a collection of the native Californian’s pieces for piano-four-hands originally commissioned by Sarah Cahill.

“There is nothing quite like hearing the full eight octaves of a piano sounding in all its orchestral richness,” according to Riley. “ZOFO realizes the full potential of four-hand playing. They think and play as if guided by a Universal mind.”

Riley was so impressed by what ZOFO had done with “Cinco de Mayo” that he encouraged them to take on the rest of his four-hand piano oeuvre, which consists of the four other piece in The Heaven Ladder, Book 5: “Etude from the Old Country,” “Jaztine,” “Tango Doble Ladiado,” and “Waltz for Charismas.”

To expand this body of work into a full-length CD, Nakagoshi made arrangements of two additional pieces, consulting and collaborating with the composer: “G String” and “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight” (both string quartets). Zimmermann meanwhile made a four-hand arrangement of “Simone’s Lullaby,” a solo piece from Book 7 of The Heaven Ladder originally written for Gloria Cheng. ZOFO commissioned Riley to write a short additional piece, “Praying Mantis Rag.”

Regarding the role of improvisation in Riley’s aesthetic, Zimmermann says: “For me to see Terry perform also played a big role in how I approached this recording session. He is so totally free when he performs, improvising over his own ideas. It’s so much about the moment and the essence of the music. This is so healthy for me as a perfectionist….”

Filed under: American music, anniversary, CD review, piano

Morlot’s intimate view of Mahler’s panoramic Third in Seattle


My latest review has now been posted on Bachtrack:

With the seemingly boundless D major chord that ends Mahler’s Third Symphony as final benediction, the departing audience encountered a series of suspended chimes in gentle tintinnabulation: part of a recent installation in Benayoya Hall’s grand lobby by Trimpin, Seattle Symphony’s composer-in-residence.
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Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, Mahler, review, Seattle Symphony

Mr. Hokanson at 100

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen - a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen – a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Amid all the horrible news of late, it’s comforting to be able to cheer something unequivocally positive: today, 22 June 2015 – a day after the solstice – marks the 100th birthday of Mr. Randolph Hokanson.

And this living legend — a gifted concert pianist, teacher, composer, and writer — is still sharing his music with us. Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing him give a recital to an enthusiastic crowd of fans. Mr. Hokanson offered poetically insightful performances of excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (I’ll never forget his take on WTC I’s E-flat minor Prelude), a movement from the Italian Concerto, and some Chopin Preludes — and was joined by the violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi for Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G, K. 379.

During his many years at the University of Washington, Mr. Hokanson taught and influenced generations of pianists and other musicians, and it was touching to see quite a few of these along with extended family in the audience on a glorious Sunday afternoon.

Here’s a profile I wrote about Mr. Hokanson back at the beginning of 2014:

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.
This gifted pianist and teacher has witnessed almost a century of not just ceaseless but accelerating change: epochal shifts in technology, in education, in how music and the arts are valued.

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Filed under: anniversary, Bach, pianists

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