Gustav Theodore Holst ( 1874 – 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher from the modern period of music. He is best known for his orchestral suite The Planets but he also composed many other works across a range of genres, such as today’s piece which was written for string orchestra and published in 1922.
During Holst’s earlier years as a composer, he took interest in folk music, and wrote many pieces based on folk tunes and songs. Today’s piece begins with the folk tune “Dargason”, a 16th-century English dance tune, followed by “Greensleeves”, a traditional English folk tune, played by the cellos.
Listen out for the polyphonic texture (different independent melodies happening at the same time).
Steel band music started in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. Calypso is a form of traditional music often played on steel pans. Calypso music has:
4/4 time with syncopation (rhythm patterns where stressed notes are placed off the beat)
acoustic and bass guitar or band with trumpets, saxophones, electric guitars, drum kit and Latin percussion instruments
the melody often uses call and response in the chorus
structure consisting of verse, choruses and instrumental sections
topical, witty lyrics – often satirical
Steel bands are characterised by:
instruments (known as pans), which were originally made out of oil drums
lead instruments known as tenors playing the melody
middle-pitched pans playing the chords (altos)
bass pans playing the lowest notes
a rhythm section for up tempo numbers including drums and percussion e.g. tambourines and maracas
sticks with ends padded with rubber bands
long notes played with a rolling tremolo effect (a trembling sound created by fast repetition of the same note)
smooth (legato) and expressive melodies
‘Yellow Bird‘ is a traditional 19th century folk song from the island of Haiti in the Caribbean. The song continues to be popularly associated with calypso and the Caribbean, and is often performed by steelpan bands.
The Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27, is a symphony by the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, written in 1906–07 which puts it in the late Romantic period.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, virtuoso pianist, and conductor. Following criticism of his first attempt at writing a symphony he suffered badly from depression. Fortunately, successful therapy allowed him to rediscover his love for music. His Symphony No.2 was composed in Dresden, Germany, where he and his family lived for almost four years from 1906. Rachmaninoff lacked confidence in his writing and it is said that he was very unhappy with the first draft of this piece. However, after months of revision he finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great applause and it has remained one of the most popular of all of his works. An excellent example of resilience and growth-mindset!
A symphony is a long piece of music, in three or four movement, for a full orchestra.
This symphony was originally scored for full orchestra with 3 flutes (the 3rd doubling on piccolo), 3 oboes (the 3rd doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A and B♭, bass clarinet in A and B♭, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, and strings.
The Rubettes were a British pop group of studio musicians assembled in 1973. Their songs were influenced by doo-wap and 1950s American pop. Doo-wop is a genre of rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll vocal music that was popular in the 1950s and ’60s.The term doo-wop is derived from the sounds made by the group as they provided the background harmony for the lead singer. In this song the lead singer starts the melody using a vocal technique called falsetto. When a male singer sings in the soprano or alto range, he is singing falsetto. The voice type is known as countertenor.
Things to listen out for:
The pizzicato (plucked) strings
A spoken middle 8 section
The “Wall of Sound” recording technique
Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique was one of the first attempts to use the recording studio as an instrument in its own right. This was created through the use of large ensembles of musicians. Echo chambers were then used to produce the final rich and booming result that came across well through the radios and jukeboxes of that era. The Beach Boys often used Wall of Sound arrangements. You can hear this in their classic hit ‘God Only Knows’ on a previous blog post: https://hayesmusic.blog/2020/04/04/daily-listening-saturday-4th-april/
Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. He was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and Brazilian music and make extensive use of polytonality. Harmony that contains chords belonging to several different keys is described as polytonal.
Milhaud’s Scaramouche is a three-movement work based on incidental music written for a play. It is named after the Theâtre Scaramouche on the Champs Elysées in Paris, where the play was performed. In today’s piece, listen out for the offbeat rhythms (syncopation) and fast, energetic tempo typical of the samba music style from Brazil.
Eva Cassidy ( 1963 – 1996) was an American singer and guitarist. She had a diverse repertoire of jazz, blues, folk, gospel and pop. Although she had been honoured by the Washington Area Music Association, she was virtually unknown outside her native Washington,D.C. Two years after her death, Cassidy’s music was brought to the attention of British audiences, when her versions of “Fields of Gold” and “Over the Rainbow” were played on BBC Radio 2.
Following the overwhelming response on Radio 2, a black and white video of Cassidy interpreting Somewhere Over The Rainbow was shown on the BBC television show Top Of The Pops 2. The video prompted an unbelievable response, the greatest in the programme’s history. Her posthumously released recordings, including three number-one albums and one number-one single in the UK, have since sold more than ten million copies worldwide.
In 1933, Florence Price was the first African-American woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Florence’s music brings together the European classical tradition in which she was trained and the haunting melodies of African-American spirituals and folk tunes. Today’s listening piece is the third dance movement from her Symphony in E minor. The Juba dance or hambone was a dance based in West Africa that was imported by African slaves to American plantations and could be performed at gatherings where instruments like drums (for fear of transmitted secret messages) were forbidden.
The Turangalîla-Symphonie is a large-scale piece of orchestral music by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). It was written from 1946 to 1948 and is considered a 20th-century masterpiece.
Turanga (time) and lîla (love) come together in this epic symphony by a modern master — complete with the mysterious sounds of the ondes Martenot.
The ondes Martenot or ondes musicales (“musical waves”) is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating “wavering” sounds. A player of the ondes martenot is called an ondist.
The ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot. Martenot was inspired by the accidental overlaps of tones between military radio oscillators, and wanted to create an instrument with the expressiveness of the cello.
A typical performance of the Turangalîla-Symphonie runs around 80 minutes in length. When asked about the meaning of the work’s duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, “It’s a love song.”
The unusual sounds of the ondes Martenot mean that it has featured in many films, particularly science fiction and horror films. It has also featured in popular music. Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes Martenot to a larger audience. He became fascinated with the instrument after hearing a performance of the Turangalîla-Symphonie when he was 15.
Spirituals are a genre of songs originating in the USA and created by African Americans. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition that shared Christian values while also describing the hardships of slavery.Although spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic (unison) songs, they developed into harmonised choral arrangements over time.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers are an African-American a cappellaensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University. Vocal performances without instrumental accompaniment are called a cappella. The first group was organised in 1871 to tour and raise funds for the college. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is an another famous spiritual. The earliest known recording of this spiritual was in 1909.
Frederick Delius(1862 – 1934) was an English composer. He was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire to a wealthy business family but he resisted attempts to recruit him into the family wool business. He was sent to Florida in the United States in 1884 to manage an orange plantation. He soon neglected his managerial duties, instead dreaming of becoming a professional composer and in 1886 returned to Europe. Having been influenced by African-American music during his short stay in Florida, he began composing. He incorporated the African-American spirituals that he had heard being sung, as well as other non-European musical sounds into his opera Koanga which was first performed in 1904. The story centres on Creole life and features an African prince and voodoo priest who have been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. Koanga is considered to be the first opera in the European tradition to base much of its melodic material on African-American music. Today’s melody, La Calinda, is the most famous musical passage from the opera.