“Symphonic Picture No. 2: The American West”

I’m taking a brief pause from writing about composers to post this video of my newest piece. I’m finding that the natural beauty of my home is a great source of inspiration. This piece is written in the symphonic tradition of Aaron Copland. I like to experiment with putting melodies and harmonies together to see what colors happen when things come together.


Franz Schubert

With all of the changes that and taken place during the Classical Era and which were continuing to happen, composers of the early Romantic like Franz Schubert were beginning to emerge, “freelance” musicians who, while they often still worked for the church and the court, had another source of income and audience: the public. The Industrial Revolution and the call for universal education and the dignity of man (as can be seen in the Declaration of Independence) gave rise to the “middle class”, people who were not nobility or dignitaries but were laborers, people with trades, and businesses that wanted to have access to education and culture. The piano-forte became an outward symbol of culture and the goof life and thousands and thousands of pieces were written for it because of the high demand. How-to books were published and sold at high volumes. There was a spirit of creativity and optimism into which Schubert was born.

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) is often called the “youngest of the great composers”. While many composers lived and worked for many years in Vienna, Austria, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms to name a few, Schubert was one of the few who was a Vienna native. He grew up in a small, crowded house located in the city, the son of a poor schoolmaster. His father was his first teacher. At age eleven he was admitted into the imperial chapel choir as a boy soprano. He played violin in his school orchestra for which he wrote his first symphony and later became a theory student of Salieri. Vienna, like many of the large cities of the time, had a large opera house which Schubert frequently attended. He wrote his first opera in 1814. It is clear that music was always an important part of Schubert’s education and growing up in Vienna he was exposed to one of the most musical environments in the world.

On Octover 19, 1814 something happened that was to influence the rest of Schubert’s life. He set Goerte’s poem Gretchen am Spinnrade to music and that sparked and enormous amount of inspiration. He was to go on to write over 600 songs in addition to his nine symphonies, masses, many solo piano pieces, and chamber music. These songs, called Lied, were not songs about Greek or Roman mythology, they were poems written in German by poets of his time, notably Goerte and Schiller, and poems written by his friends, sung for the first time by his friends, and performed for his friends. They were writing music and art based of their own experiences, their discussions, and their own ideas. Friends, fellow artists, and admirers of Schubert’s music would meet with or without the composer at informal musical and social gatherings which came to be known as Schubertiads. It was a vibrant cultural scene, one that fostered and encouraged the creation of new art which spoke directly to the time.


Schubert’s “Sonatine”, Op. 137, No. 3, also known as “Violin Sonata in G minor”, D.408, is a fine example of Schubert’s expressive and highly varied instrumental style. Like many composers before him, Schuberts employs the same musical means to convey emotion in his instrumental music as he does in his vocal works, though colorful yet logical harmonic and melodic progressions and phrases and rhythmic contrasts. Schubert is definitely a Romantic composer in the subjects that he treats and the often unbridled emotion of his music, but he also balances this with the logical and graceful manner of writing often found in the Classical compositions of Haydn and Mozart. I would say that this quote by Leo Treitler, in his introduction to the chapter “The Late Eighteenth Century” of the 1978 edition of “Strunk’s Source Readings in Music History” (pg. 738 – 9) could refer to Schubert’s D. 408, “Rather than a prefabricated vessel filled with striking musical ideas (a description more appropriate to Romantic sonata form), a movement of a musical work was to these teachers a canny manipulation of these musical lengths or phrases, conceived in rhetoric, as it were, and generated in dance”. I would say in this case, “generated in song” because you could easily imagine this piece having a story or lyrics. It has so many striking contrasts and abrupt emotional shifts, that one could easily imagine being at a Schubertiad and listening to all of the conversations taking place amongst a wide range of characters.

Published on Jan 11, 2013

2012 ©
Франц Шуберт Сонатина соль-минор, опус 137, №3
Евдокия Ионина – скрипка
Любовь Громогласова – фортепиано
Большой зал Всероссийской Государственной библиотеки иностранной литературы, 28 ноября 2012
I. Allegro giusto 00:02
II. Andante 03:47
III. Menuetto: Allegro vivace 06:58
IV. Allegro moderato 09:10

Prelude to Schubert

Since I am writing in preparation for a concert, I am not going to write about Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven today but am going to go right on to Schubert. However, this requires setting the stage as it were because a lot happened during the Classical era that made it possible for Schubert to have the musical life he did. Here I am including some of the pertinent information I have discovered in my studies.

If you would like to read more about the composers of the Classical era, you can go to http://daniellerosariaviolinist.com/music-appreciatio-historical-eras-classes-9/. The information on this current post is taken from that page.

The Classical Era (c. 1750 – 1820)

By the time Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were composing, European history had undergone some major developments that affected many layers of the human experience.The age-old belief that royal rulers were divinely appointed directly by God was challenged because of the many new ideas based on ancient Greek and Roman culture that had been explored during the Renaissance and following, ideas which lead to social reform, individual cultivation, and a general questioning of traditionally help beliefs. This time of struggle and growth lead to a flowering of art and a renewed interest in the dignity of man as God’s masterpiece of creation. However, it also had ramifications and caused many religious divisions, reformations, and conflicts. It challenged the social strata and brought into question the idea that the nobility were somehow better than the “common man”. These ideas of the universal inherent dignity of man lead to the American Revolution and the birth of the United States of America in 1776.

This was a time of great scientific discoveries. Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) discovered the very elegant “Laws of Motion” and “Laws of Universal Gravitation” which unlocked our understanding of the physics of the universe. Unlike the prevalent idea of today’s science in which science takes the place of religion, Newton and other famous scientists of his day believed that the order of creation showed the grandeur of the Eternal Mind and that being created in His image, human beings had the capacity to discover how the universe works. (See Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953.) People during this time, though it was a time of revolution and questioning, still had a strong sense of spirituality, of the unseen, and of of universal truths. This is evident in the clearly stated belief in the rights given to all human beings by Nature’s God as set forth by Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence. Thus we see during this time a concern for universal education, the cultivation of anyone with the capacity and willingness to learn, and an investigation into truth in many areas. The classical era also directly corresponds to the Industrial Revolution and this impacted the building of instruments, allowing people to come up with many new inventions while adding range, reliability, and volume capabilities to the instruments that already existed.

In music, the priorities of the time such as universal education, the universal dignity of man, and the rise of the middle class can be seen in the proliferation of public concerts, in the construction of large concert halls, in the rising popularity of the expressive and versatile piano-forte, and in the thousands of works composed for that instrument. We see the growing capacity of instruments that can carry and fill large concert halls and can sing out over and above the orchestra in the classical concerto. We see the creation of masterpieces such as the Marriage of Figaro, based on the play which was originally so shocking to elite society that it was banned from Vienna. In regards to science and observation, there is a virtual explosion of “how to” books from this period which allowed people to educate themselves in a variety of subjects. Many famous music treatises were written during this time, notably Francesco Geminiani’s “The Art of Playing on the Violin” published in London in 1751, Leopold Mozart’s “Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule” (A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing) from 1756, and Giuseppe Tartini’s Traité des Agréments de la Musique from between 1751 – 56, each discussing a slightly different style of playing, Tartini and Geminiani being more “Baroque” and L. Mozart with newer style.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was born into a family of musicians who had been at their craft for many generations. He was born in the city of Eisenach, Germany, the city where Martin Luther, the man whose protestations against the Catholic Church had sparked the protestant Reformation, had been in hiding in the castle that still overlooks the city. Being born into such an environment had a profound effect of J. S. Bach throughout his life. He was a devout Lutheran and composed literally for the glory of God. His great output of music, much of which was written for the church, demonstrates a sincere spiritual devotion and faith. There is no way to understand Bach’s music unless we understand that he was a man of faith. Bach never traveled outside of Germany but studied the music of composers from other parts of Europe, notable the Italian composer Vivaldi, and incorporated their styles into his own music. He wrote the famous keyboard French Suites and also composed a Catholic Mass, the B minor Mass. However, he never wrote opera, though his cantatas and oratorios have the same dramatic expressivity.

J. S. Bach was a craftsman. He did not think of himself as a “genius” or and “artist” as these were concepts which came to be priorities for people later on in history. Bach had a craft, just as many Bachs had had generations earlier, and it was a craft that could be learnt and taught yet allowed him the ability to experiment, express, and develop ideas as well as praise and make offerings to God.

Bach is a prime example of how musicians lived in society at this time. The two main patrons during the 1600 and 1700’s were the Church and the court. Bach worked for both, as church organist in Weimar, as capelmeister in court in Cöthen, and as the music director for the city of Leipzig where he was in charge of writing the music for four of the city’s churches and teaching and rehearsing four boys choirs. It was there in Leipzig that Bach wrote an amazing number of church cantatas, two complete cycles of one for every week of the Lutheran church year. Yet it was a difficult environment to be a composer and music director in. Bach didn’t always have the support and understanding of his employers, the town council as we can see in his famous letter, “Short but Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music, With Certain Modest Reflections on the decline of the Same (1730)”.

It is easy to deduce that Bach was of a very strong character and yet also had many things and experiences in his life that his music helped him to deal with. After the death of his first wife he re-married. He was the father of 20 children, three of whom became famous composers in their own right and made significant contributions to music history. He was an organ virtuoso and could improvise on the spot. They say he could play as well with his feet as most organists could play with their hands. Though he was a devout spiritual man, he also had a strong temper and opinions which he often shared. He spent time in prison for not listening to one of his employers and had a brawl in the street with a bassoonist who he insulted for inferior playing. He was a passionate, inspired, unique individual.

“Bach: A Passionate Life” with John Eliot Gardiner

Excerpt from “Short but Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music, With Certain Modest Reflections on the decline of the Same (1730)”

[Here Bach is requesting more musicians and more money for them so as to provide for the musical needs of the city of Leipzig. Students from the university of Leipzig participated and were formerly given honorarium but because the meager money or beneficia that was allotted to them had been successively withdrawn, fewer and fewer were performing in the church orchestras.]

“[…] Now, however, that the state of music is quite different from what it was, since our artistry has increased very much and the taste [gusto] has changed astonishingly, and accordingly the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears , considerable help is therefore all the more needed to choose and appoint such musicians as will satisfy the present musical taste, master the new kinds of music, and thus be in a position to do justice to the composer and his work. Now the few beneficia, which should have been increased rather than diminished, have been withdrawn entirely from the chorus musicus. It is, anyhow, somewhat strange that German musicians are expected to be capable of performing at once and ex tempore all kinds of music, whether it come from Italy or France, England or Poland, just as may be done, say, by those virtuosos for whom the music is written and who have studied it long beforehand, indeed, know it almost by heart, and who – it should be noted – receive good salaries besides so that their work and industry is richly rewarded, while, on the other hand, these things are not taken into consideration, but they [that is, German musicians] are left to look out for their own wants, so that many a one, for worry about his bread, cannot think of improving – let alone distinguish himself. To illustrate this statement with an example one need only go to Dresden and see how the musicians there are paid by His Royal Majesty. It cannot fail, since the musicians are relieved of all concern for their living, free from chagrin and obliged each to master but a single instrument; it must be something choice and excellent to hear. The conclusion is accordingly easy to draw: that with the stopping of the beneficia the powers are taken from me to bring the music into a better state.”

(Oliver Strunk, “Source Readings in Music History”, Leo Treitler, General Editor, 1998, 1950, Yew York: W.W. Norton & Company, 565 – 566.)

Bach wrote in every significant genre of his time except for opera. He never wrote one single opera. But he did write about 200 cantatas. A cantata means the piece is “to be sung”. Most of Bach’s cantatas were written for the Lutheran church services at the various churches he worked at throughout his life. Though they are not staged like opera, Bach’s cantatas have the same dramatic power and emotional variety and contrasts. Cantata No. 156 is an example of this type of piece. It’s title is “Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe” (I stand with one foot in the grave), a seemingly dismal title, but for a man of faith life Bach, it is an opportunity to call on the mercy and care of God. This is reflected in the text from the second movement,

Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe,
Mach’s mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt

I am standing with one foot in the grave,
Do with me, God, according to Your goodness,

The famous so-called “Arioso”, so often heard today in chamber groups and church settings, is the first movement of the cantata and is purely instrumental. It is titled “Sinphonia”, a word which speaks about many sounds harmonizing ans sounding together. The Sinphonia is so much like a conversation between the soul and God, with distinctive high and low voices answering each other. It is originally scored for oboe (with the melody), violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, and basso continuo. Apparently Bach made use of this same melody in a harpsichord concerto as well. It is also speculated that he had previously used it in a lost oboe concerto, so it seems appropriate that today it is played in a variety of settings by many different instruments. (See Zohn, Steven and Payne, Ian. “Bach, Telemann, and the Process of Transformative Imitation in BWV 1056/2 (156/1),” The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 17, No. 4. Autumn, 1999: 548.). Here is the link to the IMSLP website containing the score in case you are interested in seeing the music for yourself.  http://imslp.org/wiki/Ich_steh_mit_einem_Fu%C3%9F_im_Grabe,_BWV_156_%28Bach,_Johann_Sebastian%29

In my opinion, the Brandenburg Concertos comprise some of the most glorious, motivating works of art in the world. Written during his time at the court of Köthen, Bach had marvelous musicians under his direction and some of his most famous instrumental music originated during this period of his life, including his sonatas and partitas for violin solo, solo cello suites, and the orchestral suites. Here the Brandenburg Concertos are beautifully performed in a historically informed manner by the Freiburger Barockorchester.

Isabella Leonarda

Imagine living your whole life in one city! Isabella Leonarda (1620 – 1704) lived her whole eighty-four years in Novara, a city in Northern Italy. It must have been a cultural center for the region, being situated between trade routs from Milan to Turin and from Switzerland to Genoa. The city of Novara is the capitol of the Novara province. It’s name is very musical in itself, “Nov” which can be translate as “new” and “aria” which we see all the time in music as “song”. Indeed, Novara was no doubt a musical center during Isabella Leonarda’s lifetime.

This was the Baroque, when a few decades earlier, the composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) had begun his musical life in his birth place, the nearby city of Cermona, that famous city known for being the home of the workshops of the famous violin makers Andrea Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guaneri. Italy was coming out with all kinds of music during this time. It was a new, different kind of music that used the basso contiuno as its foundation. You can always know that music is from the Baroque when you see the basso continuo line, a single bass line that served as the foundation for the harmonies for the music. Composers used this harmonic foundation to express human emotions and literal meanings of the texts they employed. Opera composers such as Jacopo Peri even stated outright that they derived their ideas for harmonies from observing human speech and the sounds we make when we want to express joy, grief, ect.

Through music, people told stories and explored ways of thinking about and communicating the human experience. The music of the Baroque is highly expressive. This applies to vocal as well as instrumental music. Composers employed the same exact means to express emotion through abstract instrumental sounds as they did in vocal music. A very fine example is Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Clearly Baroque music does have meaning and a connection to reality.

These musical developments taking place in Italy quickly spread throughout Europe. The violin and the violin family of instruments were all the rage, and nobility in other countries made orders for their own instruments. Italian musicians were also sought after and came to live at the courts of the nobility outside their native land. This was a time of printing, and Italian music was circulated throughout Europe. Isabella Leonarda may not have ever left her native city of Novara, but musically speaking she didn’t need to because she was at the center of the action. She was also at the spiritual heart of her city. She was an Ursuline nun, entering the convent at the age of sixteen, eventually becoming Mother Superior. She came from a family of nobility and members of the Leonardi family still live in Novara today. Four years after entering the convent, some of her music was published along with that of Casati, Maestro di Capella at the Novara Cathedral. It is speculated that Casati was Leonarda’s music teacher. She eventually came to publish twenty volumes of her works, almost two-hundred pieces, making her one of the most published composers of her time. Her music can be found today in monastery libraries in Bergamo, Siena, Bologna, Como,Pistoria, Einsiedeln, Beuron, and Ottobeuron. Her music is suited to liturgical and non-liturgical church settings. The bulk of her works are for voice and instruments, Op. 16 being her only collection of instrumental pieces. Her “Sonata Duodecima” is a beautiful violin and continuo piece written in a typical Baroque expressive style. It is much like Corelli’s sonata da chiesa being that it has multiple alternating slow and fast movements, each containing its own way of moving and suggesting little separation between movements. This music welcomes the creative ingenuity of the musician and invites a multitude of thoughtful interpretations.

Notes: Specific information about the city of Novara taken from http://www.lifeinitaly.com/tourism/piedmont/novara. Biograohical facts about Isabella Leonarda taken from “Sonata Duodecima from Op. 16 (1693) for violin and continuo”, Barbara Garvey Jackson, ed., Baroque Chamber Music Series Number 16, Dovehouse Editions, Canada, 1983.

Interpretación en directo a cargo del conjunto “El Concierto Ylustrado” de la Sonata Duodecima de Isabella Leonarda. Primer ciclo de música de Cámara “Palacio Conde del Pinar”, Chiclana (Cádiz, ESPAÑA), 19 de abril de 2007. Programa: Mujeres Barrocas.

Rose Life Concert, composer notes

This weekend I’ll be playing another Rose Life concert to benefit the moms dads and babies served at Assure Pregnancy Clinic in Fontana, CA (www.assurepregnancy.org). It will be a St Peter and St Paul Church, 9135 Banyan St, Alta Loma, CA 91737 at 7:30 PM. Admission is free and we’ll be taking voluntary donations for Assure. You’re invited!

In preparation for the concert, I’m going to be studying up on the composers whose music we’ll be playing. I’m going to write my notes here. It helps me study and share what I find 🙂 I’ll be working on it over the next few days, so if you’re interested in these artists, you can follow along. I’m hoping to cover all of the following:

~Isabella Leonarda

~Johann Sebastian Bach

~Franz Schubert

~Jules Massenet

~Armas Järnefelt

~Lili Boulanger

~Amy Beach