Friday Performance Pick – 145

Tárrega, Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), considered the “father of the classical guitar,” is best known for his Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of Alhambra) written in 1896. My travels in Spain have not taken me to Alhambra yet, but it appears to be a rather memorable place.

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Charles V Palace, Alhambra, Spain

Tárrega has not made it into the Western canon, but music from Spain at many points in its history tends to lie outside the mainstream classical repertoire. Of course, the significant influence of Moorish culture for 700 years put Spain on a different historical trajectory. The rhythms and dance forms of Spain provided composers in the rest of Western Europe with a rich source of exoticism. And so the most famous “Spanish” opera—Carmen—is French.

But Tárrega was thoroughly Spanish. His father, a flamenco guitarist, gave the young Francisco opportunities to receive a musical training. But despite the boy’s fascination with the guitar and the opportunity to study in Barcelona, he ran away at age 10 to play in restaurants. His father managed to bring him back, but at age 13 Francisco ran away again to join a band of gypsies. In 1874, after running away a third time, he entered the Madrid Conservatory. The elder Tárrega deserves some award for patience, or at least perseverance.

Francisco gained fame as both a composer and concert artist. In addition to his own compositions for guitar, he transcribed numerous piano works by other composers for the guitar.

In Classical Guitar Magazine, Rhayn Jooste says, “Recuerdos de la Alhambra is arguably the most iconic composition in the classical guitar’s solo repertoire—it’s a piece nearly every guitarist aspires to play. Alas, it can also be extremely frustrating to instigate, since plenty of practice is required before the aural illusion intrinsic to the music succeeds.” The aural illusion is the “tremolo technique” of repeated notes intended to give the melody the character of a sustained line. 

Friday Performance Pick – 144

Puccini, O mio babbino caro

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Gianni Schicchi Original Costume (1918)

This week we venture into opera with a popular aria “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s one-act comedy Gianni Schicchi. If you don’t know the opera, you may still recognize the tune from television ads or movies.

We have had 143 performance picks up to now without any opera arias, and this can’t continue. If you think you’re not a fan of opera, it’s time to change your mind. It’s not hard. I have seen Professor Carol put quite a few audiences through her Opera Boot Camp, and resistance is futile.

For people who complain that they can’t understand the words, I’ll give you the short version. She sings, “Daddy, if can’t marry the man I love, I will throw myself off the Ponte Vecchio and into the Arno River.” You can find a more elegant translation here. Gianni Schicchi then proves what a devoted Dad he is by committing fraud to get the fortune required to make this happen.

The aria’s utility in selling yogurt and automobiles shouldn’t count against it. Puccini was a great melodist and his works have always found favor with general audiences.

When we created Professor Carol’s Discovering Music course a few years ago, we faced a real shortage of available examples from the opera repertoire. We included a few audio examples on the Listening Set, but opera companies were not in the habit of releasing photographs, much less video, for use in projects like ours.

Fortunately that’s changing. The most significant development came with the Metropolitan Opera’s HD simulcasts. And now it’s becoming easier to find high-quality videos of opera arias, many of them concert performances like this one.

Entrepreneurship in Music

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Dr. Fabiana Claure

Dr. Fabiana Claure will make a special musical presentation at our symposium “Teaching the Arts Classically” this coming Saturday, October 7. Fabiana now holds the position of Director of Career Development and Entrepreneurship in Music at the University of North Texas. What does all that mean?

It means exactly what Fabiana and her husband, William Villaverde, have done. Their careers as concert artists, entrepreneurs, and educators make a good story. We featured a video of William a few months ago on one of the Friday Performance Picks.

When I studied music in graduate school, little was said (much less taught) about professional development. We just hoped to land a lucky job or, for the performers among us, perhaps to win a competition. Fabiana takes a more productive approach. And, as her title suggests, she didn’t just walk into a job as director of entrepreneurship. She is spearheading the creation of the program.

William and Fabiana both grew up in Latin America—Fabiana in Bolivia and William in Cuba. So there were some hurdles. We became friends with them years ago when they were graduate students at Southern Methodist University. Now, after many years studying and working in Miami, they are back in the Dallas area.

You can expect some music during Fabiana’s presentation. I have even heard it rumored that Professor Carol might join her for a few four-hand selections.

As for the career paths, I should let them tell their own story.

Friday Performance Pick – 143

Mozart, Sonata in A Major, K. 331

This week I have found myself searching through Mozart’s compositions for some musical examples related to a music theory project. The Mozart Sonata in A Major (K331) kept coming to mind, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

I needed to find examples that were clear and straightforward, things that a student could see easily. Clarity and Mozart go hand in hand, right? Yes and no. With Mozart there always seems to be a twist—some complicating factor that needs extra explanation.

This sonata has too many twists that distracted from the points I wanted to make. It begins with a theme and variation on a Czech folk melody instead of a typical fast movement in sonata form. In fact, it is unusual in having none of its three movements in sonata form. And the last movement, the famous Rondo alla turca, makes an excellent example of the Viennese fascination with exoticism. Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven (along with many others) wrote compositions featuring what the Viennese imagined as “Turkish” music. But that too was a distraction.

When I started looking for a recording of the sonata that would fit my criteria for this series, I came across many recordings that were, how shall we say, dull. A Mozart sonata needs to be performed with some restraint, owing to the general style and the sound of the fortepiano of Mozart’s day, but not at the expense of intensity and energy. This performance by Latvian pianist Olga Jegunova strikes the right balance, I think.

Friday Performance Pick – 142

Clara Schumann, Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22

Clara Schumann (1819-1896) became one of the most celebrated pianists in Europe for much of the 19th century. Her career began at an early age with a concert tour to Paris in 1830, spurred by the unrelenting discipline of her father and teacher, Friedrich Wieck. Wieck had another student named Robert who at age 20 was apparently so taken with Clara that he decided to give up his law studies and pursue music full time. (Someday I must write something about all the people who gave up the study of law for music.)

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Julius Giere, Clara at age 15

Robert proposed to Clara when she turned 18, and her father vigorously opposed it. The couple actually sued to allow the marriage. Robert could have used that law degree. Clara became the breadwinner, performing frequently. As late as 1846, someone at one of Clara’s concerts reportedly asked Robert, “Are you musical, too?” The marriage would produce eight children before Robert’s untimely death in 1856. Clara would outlive him by 40 years and be a major force in ensuring recognition of his works.

Clara was also a composer. She completed her first piano concerto at age 16 and performed it at the Gewandhaus with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. Much of her writing was accomplished in her earlier years before Robert’s death.

She composed the Three Romances in 1853, the same year she met the 20-year-old Brahms. Clara and Robert were both impressed with Brahms, and Robert published a glowing article about him. 1853, if you recall, was a very auspicious year for Brahms, the same year that he met Liszt. Liszt, along with his troublesome son-in-law Wagner, would push for musical innovations in what became known as the “War of the Romantics.” Brahms would personify the traditionalists, with Clara as his ally and friend for life.

It adds up to a pretty interesting biography. In fact, it was the subject of a 1947 movie with Katherine Hepburn playing Clara. I have not seen the movie, so I can’t recommend it or vouch for its accuracy.

Friday Performance Pick – 141

leonard-bernstein

Bernstein, Overture to Candide Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) sprang to fame in 1943 when he found himself conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice. He had studied with the top names in the music world at Harvard and the Curtis […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 140

Hildegard von Bingen, Caritas abundat Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1098-1179) is one of the earliest composers we can identify by name. A saint, doctor of the church, mystic, and abbess, she experienced visions throughout her life. She eventually recorded her […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 139

ragtime

Bolcom, Three Ghost Rags When you think of Ragtime, you probably think of Scott Joplin. Maybe you should think of William Bolcom (b. 1938) as well. Bolcom played a key role in reinvigorating interest in Ragtime and in Joplin back […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 138

monet-sunrise

Debussy, Sonata for Cello and Piano When you think of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918), you might conjure up big washes of sound—the kind of sonorities you would find in his seascape La Mer. Or perhaps you think of […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 137

Cimarosa

Cimarosa, Concerto for Two Flutes in G Major (G. 1077) As I was considering something by Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) for a performance pick, I searched the Professor Carol website to see what we might have already said about him. As […] Read more.