Daily listening Friday 24th April

Swedish group ABBA released this iconic song in 1976. Like pretty much every song that is still popular a long time after it was created, it has survived because it is a truly excellent piece of music. ABBA’s songwriters, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson, were brilliant songwriters, and their singers, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, were brilliant singers. Their songs were superbly orchestrated and produced.

This song is one of ABBA’s disco-style songs, with a lush, multi-layered approach reminiscent of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound‘. The song’s success rests on its killer combination of fabulous hooks and bittersweet twists.

To listen to a brilliant podcast which talks through exactly how this song is put together, go to Strong Songs.

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Daily listening Thursday 23rd April

This piece follows on from Vivaldi’s take on winter yesterday. This is Winter from Astor Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, written in 1969. Piazzolla was an Argentinean composer who pioneered the ‘tango nuevo’ style, which put a more modern spin on traditional tango music. Tango is the national style of Argentina.

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In this piece, you will see the traditional Argentinean instrument the bandoneón. This is a type of accordion with buttons on both sides. It is extremely difficult to play, as you get different notes depending on whether you are pushing or pulling. This is Astor Piazzolla playing his bandoneón:

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We have already had some tango in our daily listening: compare this piece with our post from 27th March.

Daily listening Wednesday 22nd April

Antonio Vivaldi was a priest and composer who worked in Venice at in the first decades of the 18th century, putting him into the Baroque period:

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The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) is a set of four concertos for violin, with one for each season, written around 1716. A concerto is a piece for a solo instrument (in this case the violin) with orchestral backing. Typically for the Baroque period, the orchestra in this piece consists only of stringed instruments together with a harpsichord:harpsichord2

There are lot of things in the music that bring to mind an icy winter’s day.

In 2012, Max Richter ‘recomposed’ The Four Seasons. He discarded around 75% of Vivaldi’s music, and applied phasing and looping to what he kept, to give it a post-modern, minimalist feel. Here is his version of Winter – compare it with Vivaldi’s original.

Daily listening Monday 20th April

This piece was released by drummer and bandleader Art Blakey in 1959. The style is hard bop, which is a subgenre of jazz. You’ll hear the really distinctive call and response at the start: this is the ‘head’ section of the piece, which returns at 12:34 after the trumpet, tenor sax, piano and bass have all had solo improvisation sections.

If you like this piece, find out more about it in this episode of the fabulous Strong Songs podcast.

Daily listening Saturday 18th April

This song was written in 1972 by David Bowie for his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The album is very loosely a concept album, where Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust brings messages from extra-terrestrial beings. Starman brings a message of hope to the youth of Planet Earth.

Daily listening Friday 17th April

This piece was written in 1904 by Italian composer Vittorio Monti. It is based on the Hungarian folk dance the czárdás, which starts slowly and gradually gets faster. In Monti’s Czárdás, the sections alternate between slow and accelerando, and major and minor keys. From 2:56 you can hear the violinist playing stopped harmonics, where you press down normally on the string, but also (with a different finger) 5 semitones above, creating a note 2 octaves higher with a ‘ghostly’ tone.

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Daily listening Wednesday 15th April

This is one of the dances from Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 musical, West Side Story, which is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in New York, with rival Puerto Rican and white gangs. The mambo originated in Cuba in the 1940s. This is possibly the most fun that you could ever have in an orchestra!

Here is a video showing the choreography for the Mambo, from the 2009 Broadway production of West Side Story: