While teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation last school year, I stumbled upon an excellent YouTube channel, Inside the Score, which features videos explaining and analyzing some of classical and Romantic music’s greatest works and composers. It’s a wonderful resource for exploring famous works in greater depth, and has greatly enhanced my own appreciation for music.
At some point, I ended up on Inside the Score‘s mailing list, and I receive little e-mail newsletters from the site periodically. These are like delicious, bite-sized treats compared to the longer videos (which themselves are by no means daunting, coming it at around twenty minutes a pop).
Recently, one of these morsels found its way into my inbox: a look at Gustav Mahler‘s daily routine. Mahler wrote incredibly long symphonies—to this day, the single longest piece of music I have ever sat and listened to live is Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which clocks in at an impressive seventy-five minutes—and did so while touring the world as a conductor. According to Inside the Score, Mahler had summers off to compose at a little shack on the Attersee in Austria, and stuck to a fairly consistent schedule.
It’s been a musical week here at The Portly Politico, so I figured, “why stop now?”
I’ve dedicated more and more space on the blog to musical and cultural matters, especially in the last year. Among the posts I most enjoy writing—and of which I am most proud—are those I write about music.
This week’s TBT feature, “Music Among the Stars,” is one I really enjoy, and I think (humbly) it’s one of my better posts. It’s about the golden records aboard the Voyager I space probe, and about the true purpose of music—to worship God.
The new year school year is back into full swing, with this week being the first full week of classes. Needless to say, yours portly is tired, but very much enjoying the academic year so far.
I’m teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation again this year, so I’m excited to dive back into some of the works we discussed last year—and some new ones! Of course, we’ve kicked the year off with a listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a favorite for introducing orchestral instruments.
My Pre-AP Music class this year is quite small—just five students—which makes for a more relaxed classroom environment. We’re able to explore tangents as they arise (and, based on my frequent use of em dashes and parentheses, you can imagine I go off on them frequently), and generally take the time to enjoy the music, which the students seem to be doing.
I don’t have much more to add that I didn’t write a year ago. Britten ingeniously weaves a whopping thirteen variations on a Henry Purcell theme, featuring nearly every instrument in the orchestra—including the percussion section!—in solo or soli. Even the neglected double basses get some love with a melody of their own.
The latest target of the woke elites and their braying mobs is—that great symbol of imperialism and Western dominance—sheet music.
Apparently, some Oxford dons are considering removing sheet music and the ability to read traditional notation from its curriculum. One quotation from The Telegraph article notes that “The Oxford academics went on to pronounce that teaching the piano or conducting orchestras could cause ‘students of colour great distress’ as the skills involved are closely tied to ‘white European music’.”
This latest crusade is the musical equivalent of the effort in English departments across the country to downplay the teaching of grammar. Sure, one can make plenty of excellent music without knowing how to read notation, but why limit one’s self to tabs or lead sheets? I can certainly communicate certain ideas without adverbs, adjectives, or even pesky commas, but doing so severely limits the range of expression.
After three Sundays, several SubscribeStar Saturdays, and some Mondays of movie reviews, it seemed like a good time to give the movies a rest. Don’t get me wrong—there’s a good chance I’ll be writing a movie review tomorrow—but I realized the blog has been skewing a bit heavily in that direction for a few weeks. Sure, it’s wintertime, the perfect time to vegetate while consuming schlock in the evening, but that doesn’t mean we can live on cultural junk food alone.
“Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony” (and “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“) – photog gave the TBT version of this post a shout-out in his most recent “Friday Finds” post. I’m grateful he did, in no small part because everyone should hear this beautiful, programmatic symphony. The Pastoral is a beautiful, melodious traipse through the countryside—all told musically.
“The Joy of Romantic Music” – For a very brief introduction to and primer for Romantic music, I humbly submit this post. I point out just a few of the many excellent composers from the time period, almost all of whom I’ve discussed in class this semester.
“The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’” – Due to a WordPress error, the e-mail preview for this post went out a couple of days before the post was published, meaning that many folks missed it. That’s a shame, because it’s an absolutely gorgeous bit of nationalistic (and naturalistic) composing, detailing a whimsical river cruise down the titular river, sailing through the Bohemian countryside, through Prague, and past an ancient castle.
“The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’” – I’ve become fascinated with Hector Berlioz, which is apparently quite common: music critics either love him almost as madly as he loved Harriet Smithson, or they reject him entirely. I tend towards the former camp. Berlioz was a Romantic’s Romantic—full of lofty ideals about the power of music and the passions it stirred. The Symphonie Fantastique—which he wrote for and about Smithson, and his intense love for her—is likely the first psychedelic work, as it features an opium-addled artist descending into strange dreams.
I’m sure I’ll write more about Romantic composers soon, but these four posts should give you plenty of listening to get you started.
The Sixth, often called the “Pastoral,” is one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for programmatic music, and there are programmatic elements embedded in the titles of each of the symphony’s movements, but the music sounds like the countryside.
But I covered all of this a year ago, so why repeat myself (except that I’m doing that below… hmm…)? Here is January 2020’s “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:
To take us into the last weekend in January, I thought it would be nice to do at least one more entry in my unplanned Friday miniseries on “The Joy of Romantic Music” (read the second installment here). I very much enjoy the music of the Romantic composers, and have discovered some new favorites as I’ve been covering them in my Pre-AP Music Appreciation class.
Last Friday I wrote of the beauty and power—the sheer joy—of Romantic music, a topic I’ve covered once before on this blog. In writing last week’s post, I noted briefly that Romantic music is nationalistic, which was certainly true in a number of cases.
Europe following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was a hotbed of political activity and nationalist sentiment. The Congress of Vienna (1815) redrew the map of Central Europe, reducing the hundreds of German principalities, bishoprics, duchies, baronies, and the rest into about a dozen political units, hoping these larger Germanic kingdoms would serve as a bulwark against future French aggression. They did, and more—under the steady Realpolitik of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Prussia gradually grew to unite these new lands into the Second Reich—a unified Germany.
Meanwhile, smaller nations chafed under Austrian or French influence. Bohemia—now part of the Czech Republic—fought against Austrian political rule and the German language that came with it. Bohemians championed the revival of their native Czech language, and began revisiting Czech folklore and music as the resting place of the national spirit.
This process was not unique to Bohemia or the Czechs, but today’s featured piece, Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau, is a prime of example of how nationalist musical ideas can capture beautifully a sense of a place, while also transcending national identity and borders.