Category Archives: Music

The Swingle Singers

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In 1963, around the time the Beatles became popular in the United States, I began listening to the radio, and occasionally I’d hear a jazzy vocal arrangement of a Bach piece, like this one:

In Paris in 1962, a musician named Ward Swingle assembled a group of fine vocalists who sang lush arrangements of Baroque repertoire with no or minimal instrumentation, often just a drum set and string bass, using jazz techniques such as syncopated rhythms and scatting. When I was in my high school chorus, we sang one of their arrangements, maybe this one:

Bach, Sleepers Awake:

I recently googled The Swingle Singers and discovered that they are still performing and recording. The makeup of the group has changed, with new singers auditioning every time a vacancy occurred. Here are some of their more recent work.

Piazzolla’s Libertango:

Beatles’ Blackbird/ I Will:

Ciao, Bella, ciao is an Italian song that was featured in a Korean movie, Han Gong Ju:

Narnia:

Mozart: Rondo Alla Turca:

William Tell Overture:

Peter Gunn theme music:

Mozart Symphony No. 40:

Creative Juice #163

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Creative Juice #163

Yay! Weekend reading!

Video of the Week #226: How to be a Classical Musician

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If only it were this easy.

Muzio Clementi

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Muzio Clementi

I know of Clementi mostly because of his piano sonatinas, which are among the classical repertoire for piano students.

But his contributions to the field of music are so much more than just the sonatinas.

Born on January 23, 1752, in Rome, the firstborn of seven children. His father recognized his musical talent early and arranged for music lessons for him. By the time he was 14, he was the parish organist.

Around that time, Sir Peter Beckford of Dorset, England, traveled to Rome, and he heard the young Clementi play. He persuaded Muzio’s parents to allow the boy to come live with him in England to continue his musical studies until he turned 21. During that seven-year period, Clementi practiced harpsichord eight hours a day, learning the works of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Domenico and Allesandro Scarlotti, and Bernardo Pasquini. In 1774, he moved to London.

In 1780 he began a three-year tour of Europe. In Paris, he played for Marie Antoinette. On Christmas Eve of 1781, he participated in a competition with Mozart for the entertainment of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and his guests, improvising and playing selections from their own compositions. (The emperor declared it a tie.) Clementi expressed enthusiastic respect for Mozart’s brilliance; Mozart responded with less enthusiasm about Clementi, yet imitated Clementi’s style in a set of variations and borrowed one of Clementi’s themes for the overture for The Magic Flute.

Clementi

Muzio Clementi

Clementi returned to England, and, except for a couple other forays around Europe, spent the rest of his life there, performing on piano, composing, and conducting. In 1798, he took over a music publishing house, and won a contract as sole publisher of Beethoven’s work in England. He also started building pianos, making innovative improvements that are still used today.

Beethoven was a great fan of Clementi’s piano compositions, recommending them to his nephew for study. Clementi was also a piano teacher, and one of his students was John Field, who became a well-known composer in his own right.

Clementi wrote over 100 sonatas for the piano. But I didn’t know he also wrote 20 symphonic works. His most famous, No. 3, is nicknamed The Great National Symphony, because it uses God Save the King as one of its themes.

Video of the Week #223: How to Practice the Piano

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Today’s video has a limited audience. If you play the piano, are not a beginner, and would like to get to the next level quicker, the practice strategies in this video will be very helpful to you. It’s a little longer than what I usually post, but so worth your time.

Creative Juice #159

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Creative Juice #159

Lots of good stuff here, folks.

The Red Priest

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The Red Priest

On March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy, a little red-headed boy was born, and was immediately baptized by his midwife, though the exact reason for the haste is no longer remembered. It could have been because he was such a sickly little infant; or it could have been due to the earthquake that shook Venice that day.

It’s likely that the condition which afflicted him was asthma, but it didn’t prevent him from exercising his gifts, particularly his musical ones. Fortunately for us, he learned to play the violin and to compose music, because he was Antonio Vivaldi.Vivaldi; the Red Priest

He also studied for the priesthood (possibly the result of a deal made by his mother with God during the ordeal of delivering him in the midst of the earthquake) and he was ordained in 1703. He became known as the Red Priest because of his vivid hair, which ran in his family.

Vivaldi was granted a dispensation from saying daily Mass because of his ill health. Instead of parish work, he accepted the position of Master of violin at an orphanage, Ospedale della Pietá (Devout Hospital of Mercy). The boys at the orphanage learned a trade; the girls studied music, and the most talented were invited to perform with the orphanage’s famous orchestra and chorus. Over the years he was assigned additional musical duties at the orphanage. He was devoted to the girls and composed a large body of work for them, including sacred music, such as this Gloria:

His relationship with the board of directors of the orphanage was often contentious. His contract had to be reviewed and renewed every year, and one year the board voted 7 to 6 against him. Vivaldi freelanced for the year, and the next year the board voted unanimously to hire him back, apparently recognizing his valuable contributions to the girls’ education. Again, lucky for us, because he continued to compose beautiful music for them.

Perhaps Vivaldi’s most famous work is The Four Seasons, a group of four violin concertos. Here is Summer, with soloist Mari Silje Samuelsen:

At the height of his career, Vivaldi received commissions from various European royalty. In addition to more than 60 pieces of sacred music, he also wrote over 500 concertos, 46 operas, 90 sonatas, and assorted sinfonias and chamber music.

In his later years, Vivaldi’s work fell out of fashion, and he fell on hard times. In 1740, he relocated to Vienna, hoping to receive financial support from Emperor Charles VI, but the Emperor died before that could happen. Vivaldi died in poverty on July 28, 1741.

“Cessate, omai cessate” performed by countertenor Andreas Scholl:

This is a “Best of Vivaldi” two-hour playlist. I have embedded it to start with his Concerto for Two Horns. (You can also watch it on Youtube navigating from the description below the screen; then you’ll be able to read the names of the selections. Click “Show More.”)