Daily listening Saturday 11th July

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1 / Sir Simon Rattle, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 5 November 2010

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) was an Austro-Bohemian composer and conductor from the late Romantic period of music. Today’s piece, the Symphony No. 1 in D major was mainly composed between late 1887 and March 1888.

The extract is from the start of the fourth movement.

Things to listen out for:

  • The introduction consisting of an abrupt cymbal crash, a loud chord in the upper woodwinds, string and brass, and a timpani roll, all in succession.
  • Fanfares in the brass section

The symphony is scored for a very large orchestra, consisting of the following:

  • Woodwinds – 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons 
  • Brass – 7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 1 tuba
  • Percussion – 6 timpani, 1 bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam
  • Strings – 1 harp, 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, double basses

Daily listening Friday 10th July

Flight of the Bumblebee is an orchestral piece written by Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899–1900 during the late Romantic period of music. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 –1908) was a Russian composer who is regarded as a master of orchestration. Orchestration is the practice of writing music for an orchestra.

The composition of today’s piece is intended to musically evoke the seemingly chaotic and rapidly changing flying pattern of a bumblebee. 

Things to listen out for:

  • The rapid chromatic scales played by the solo violinist. A chromatic scale is a pattern of notes consisting of semitones. A semitone is the smallest gap between 2 notes, for example C to C#. Using semitones creates musical tension.
  • The virtuosic melody line with a light accompaniment from pizzicato orchestral strings. Pizzicato means the instruments are played by plucking the strings with the finger instead of using the bow.
  • A steady pulse

Daily listening Thursday 9th July

Alexis Ffrench (born 1970) is a contemporary composer and pianist from the UK. He is known for his unique style of combining his classical training on the piano with a love of roots music and R&B (rhythm and blues).

Today’s piece, Waterfalls comes from his debut album, Evolution.

Things to listen out for:

  • The piece begins in 3/4 time with a 1-in-a-bar feel. 
  • The right-hand melody mainly consists of step-wise movement.
  • The opening melody is repeated several times. At 00:51 listen out for the violin counter-melody (a secondary tune heard at the same time as the main melody).
  • The music builds up to a climactic moment at 02:01 where the piano note values are halved, creating a cascading feel (like a waterfall)
  • A percussion instrument called a mark tree is used at various points during the piece. See if you can hear when it is being played.
25 Bar Mark Tree by Gear4music: Amazon.co.uk: Musical Instruments
A mark tree

Daily listening Wednesday 8th July

Mary O’Brien (1939 – 1999), professionally known as Dusty Springfield, was an English pop singer and record producer. Her career extended from the late 1950s to the 1990s and at her peak, she was one of the most successful British female performers, famous for her distinctive mezzo-soprano sound.

I'm making a chart to show vocal ranges and would love some ...

Today’s song, “Son of a Preacher Man” is a song written and composed by American songwriters John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins. Springfield recorded the song in September 1968 for her album Dusty in Memphis.

As a fan of US soul music, she brought many little-known soul singers to the attention of a wider UK record-buying audience. Since her death, Springfield has been widely commended as the leading British soul singer of the twentieth century. She is remembered as an icon of the Swinging Sixties, and her album Dusty in Memphis is recognised as a pop-R&B masterpiece.

Dusty Springfield Takes The Reigns Of Blue-Eyed Soul

Daily listening Tuesday 7th July

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (1685 –1757) was an Italian composer from the Baroque period although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style too.

Listen out for this piece’s bell-like quality from the outset and the use of ornaments. Music from this time often featured long flowing melodic lines using ornamentation (decorative notes such as trills and turns).

Harpsichord - Wikipedia
This piece was originally composed for the harpsichord. The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument in which the strings are plucked, rather than hit with a hammer (which is the mechanism for the piano, a more recent development). The distinctive sound of the harpsichord creates an almost immediate association with the Baroque era.

Daily listening Monday 6th July

Baker Street” is a song written and recorded by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty. It was released as a single in 1978.

The song features a prominent eight-bar alto saxophone riff played as a break between verses. A riff is a short, repeated melodic pattern, often forming the background to a solo or vocal line. 

The Mystery Behind Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' - The Atlantic
Raphael Ravenscroft ( 1954 – 2014) was a British musician, composer and author. He is best known for playing the saxophone on “Baker Street”.

The sax riff led to what became known as “the ‘Baker Street’ phenomenon”, a resurgence in the sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream pop music and television advertising.

Daily listening Sunday 5th July

Georgs Pelēcis (born 1947) is a Latvian composer and musicologist. A musicologist is a person who studies musicology (the history, theory and science of music).

Today’s piece is Concertino bianco (literally ‘Little White Concerto’). It’s name reflects its key signature. It is in the key of C major which means that the piece is played on all white notes as there are no sharps or flats.

Daily listening Saturday 4th July

Louise Farrenc ( 1804 – 1875) was a French composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher. She studied piano from a young age, and after becoming interested in composing she applied for the prestigious Paris Conservatory, aged 15. She became one of a handful of 19th century women who enjoyed success during their time, rising to prominence in the male dominated world of 19th century music by virtue of her talent and her family’s encouragement and support.

Despite not having the popular profile or pay of her male composer counterparts, Louise Farrenc never gave up writing music. She often protested to the authorities, trying to gain equality for nearly a decade. Louise eventually won her battle for equal pay. In 1842 she became the only woman to be appointed to the position of professor at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century – the only such appointment for a woman for the entire 19th century. 

In 1840, she wrote the All Things Considered theme: Louise Farrenc ...

In 1830, Farrenc produced an important collection of 30 etudes for solo piano. An etude is a short musical composition, typically for one instrument, designed as an exercise to improve the technique or demonstrate the skill of the player. Farrenc wrote these etudes in all the major and minor key signatures. Key signatures show the key in which the music has been written. The choice of key signature sets the tone for a piece of music.

Daily listening Friday 3rd July

Miles Davis (1926 – 1991) was an American jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader. He was one of the most important figures on the jazz scene and played a large part in introducing several new jazz styles. His album, Kind of Blue, is one of the most widely acclaimed jazz albums of all time. 

American jazz musician and composer Miles Davis

One of the tracks on his album Kind of Blue is today’s piece called All Blues. It is said that not long before the recording took place, Miles Davis gave the players a brief outline of the scales and melodies that they would improvise on. The album was recorded with hardly any rehearsal and today’s piece, All Blues was recorded on only the second take.

Things to listen out for:

The opening bar of the introduction is repeated several times. The snare drum is played using wire brushes swept across the drumhead.

After four bars of the introduction, the 4-bar riff is introduced. The piano, drums and bass continue their ostinati (repeated note pattern) and saxophones are added.

 After this riff, the muted trumpet plays the melody. Miles Davis uses a trumpet with a Harmon mute to alter the sound. In the opening bars the trumpet plays legato (smoothly). Listen out for the difference in sound when the mute is removed at 1 min 45.

The blues influence can be heard in the 12-bar blues chord structure and the use of blue notes. Compared with the major scale, some notes, known as blue notes may be flattened by a semitone or ‘bent’ by a smaller interval.

The music is in the Mixolydian mode (the white notes on the piano from G to G). All Blues is sometimes described as modal jazz.

Minor sevenths are added to most of the chords.

Chromatic harmony uses notes from outside the key to colour the chords. 

Each of the soloists improvises in the choruses.

Here is a live version of today’s piece:

Daily listening Thursday 2nd July

Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) By Joaquin Rodrigo. John Williams (guitar), Paul Daniel (conductor) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 2005 Proms.

This is the second movement (Adagio) from the Concierto de Aranjuez, a guitar concerto written by Joaquín Rodrigo in 1939. Rodrigo was a Spanish composer and a virtuoso pianist who lived from 1901 – 1999. This composition is Rodrigo’s best-known work and established his reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the 20th century.

Joaquín Rodrigo: Music, Life and Literature | SPAIN arts & culture ...

Things to listen out for:

The harmony: it is in a minor key

The tempo: slow pace. Adagio means ‘slowly’ in Italian.

The melody: It is quietly played and introduced by the cor anglais with a soft accompaniment by the guitar and strings. The cor anglais (or English horn in North America), is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family. Ornamentation is added gradually to the melody. Ornamentation is when notes are added to a melody to decorate it.

Many musicians have since reinterpreted the work such as the jazz musician Miles Davis:

An arrangement of the piece by Kevin Bolton for a brass band led by a flugelhorn was recorded by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band as part of the soundtrack to the excellent 1996 film, Brassed Off (age rating 15). The film is about the troubles faced by a colliery brass band, following the closure of their pit (coal mine). This arrangement is sometimes referred to in jest as the Concierto d’Orangejuice, due to the pronunciation used in the film by actor Pete Postlethwaite.