TBT: Mahler’s Composing Shack

We’re getting into the time of year when my personal creativity seems to spark.  I should be way more productive creatively in the summer, when I enjoy loads of unstructured time, but I find that I work better in the constrains and confines of a busy schedule.  For whatever reason, that extra pressure helps me to eke out, if not diamonds, then at least some lesser gems.

One well from which I have drawn some considerable inspiration the last couple of years was my Pre-AP Music Appreciation class.  It was a broad survey of Western music from the medieval period to the present, with a strong emphasis on the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods.  Due to a combination of scheduling difficulties and lower enrollment last year, the class did not run this year.

On the one hand, I’m thankful—it’s given me more time to focus on other endeavors.  On the other, I do miss the almost-daily baptism in the works of some of the greatest composers in the Western canon.

One element of the course that was particularly intriguing was learning about the lives and creative processes of the composers.  Many of them lived quite tragic lives; others (rarer, it seems, among composers) lived quite contentedly.

Gustav Mahler seemed to have developed a nice little work routine, as detailed in this post from October 2021.  I like the idea of having a stripped-down cottage by the sea, with a healthy breakfast brought to me as I work.  Sounds like the good life!

With that, here is 13 October 2021’s “Mahler’s Composing Shack“:

Read More »

Beethoven’s Routine

Long-time readers know that I love Beethoven (particularly his Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral”).

Readers also might know that I keep a fairly busy schedule.  Doing so requires sticking to routine, but that’s not always my strong suit.  My mind tends to jump from one task to another, but I find that writing out a detailed “to-do” list and crossing it off helps me to focus in on a task for extended periods of time.

When I really get into something—working on a new collection of piano miniatures, grading papers, or writing blog posts—I can focus in for hours, and often do that.  But working into that flow state takes time and, more importantly, motivation.  It’s the latter that I have been lacking the past week, a combination of end-of-the-school-year exhaustion and a renewed interest in Civilization VI.

So I thought it’d be interesting during this winding down season—when my own routine is about to change to the more leisurely pace of summertime—to look at Beethoven’s daily routine, care of YouTube channel Inside the Score.

Read More »

April Bandcamp Friday: Péchés d’âge moyen II: One Week in March

Today’s post is no April Fool’s joke:  I managed to eke out another release in time for the April Bandcamp FridayPéchés d’âge moyen II: One Week in March.

It’s half the tracks of Péchés d’âge moyen, which was not my original intent.  I’d hoped to record at least another ten, but with time dwindling, I opted instead to record the five pieces I wrote the week of 14-18 March 2022.

I managed to compose one piece each day that week, and it was an eventful one:  Pi Day (14 March), The Ides of March (15 March), and Saint Patrick’s Day (17 March) all fell within days of one another.

The track listing is as follows:

  1. Pi Day” (Monday, 14 March 2022)
  2. The Ides of March” (Tuesday, 15 March 2022)
  3. Downpour” (Wednesday, 16 March 2022)
  4. Saint Patrick’s Day Jig” (Thursday, 17 March 2022)
  5. An Impressionist’s Friday Afternoon” (Friday, 18 March 2022)

There’s also a bonus track version of “Pi Day,” which I recorded at school on a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano (the same piano used in Péchés d’âge moyen.  Again, I’d hoped to record the whole thing on there, but it just wasn’t possible given time constraints and work commitments.  Instead, I played the tracks on my Casio CDP-S100.

And, if you’re feeling really generous—or would like something pretty to hang on your walls—I’m selling the one-of-kind painting I used for the album cover.  It’s called “Springtime.”

Finally, there’s all of my other great music.

Happy Listening!

—TPP

TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”

It being a week of romance and lots of artistic endeavors, I decided to look back this Thursday to a post about the great French composer, Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz is the quintessential Romantic:  he wrote the subject of today’s post, the very fun Symphonie Fantastique, to deal with his lovesickness—and he ended up getting the girl because of it!

Another Berlioz heartbreak anecdote:  after his fiancée left him for another man (note, this woman is not the same as the subject of the Symphonie Fantastique), Berlioz plotted her and her new husband’s murder.  He traveled to Nice, where the couple was living, and took along weapons, disguises, and other murder paraphernalia.  When he disembarked from the train, he came to his senses, and abandoned his ill-conceived plot.  Instead, he spent a couple of weeks in Nice composing.

Talk about a whiplash!  I’m a sensitive poet-warrior at times, and I’ve experienced lovesickness, but never to the extent of Berlioz.  Still, I identify with his desire to compose music to get (or to cope with not getting) chicks.

With that, here is 29 January 2021’s “The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’“:

Read More »

Péchés d’âge moyen

During the last eleven years of his life, the great composer of Italian opera Gioachino Rossini, enjoying a sumptuous retirement after a successful career, composed a collection of 150 pieces.  He dubbed these pieces—intended for intimate and private performances in his home—Péchés de vieillesse, or “Sins of Old Age” (that title is actually affixed to only two of the fourteen albums, but later was applied to the entire collection).  The pieces are a mix of chamber, vocal, and piano music, all meant to be played in Rossini’s home.

Most readers will recognize Rossini from his memorable overtures—often written mere hours before the opening nights of his operas, much to the chagrin of theatre managers—which are probably better known to mass audiences than his operas.  Here’s the most famous of them:

Romantic Era music that even Audre Myers can enjoy!

Rossini was so successful as a composer, he basically spent forty years in retirement.  While music historians disagree on exactly why he stopped composing operas so young, I suspect it had to do with the fact that made so much money from them, he didn’t need to work anymore, and enjoyed a fun retirement (ill-health was likely a contributing factor, too).  He also exited gracefully at the top of his game, avoiding the common pitfall of overstaying one’s artistic welcome amid changing times and tastes.

As such, the Péchés de vieillesse are real gems, coming as they did from a great composer who had long retired from the craft.  Here’s just one example (of 150!), his “Prelude inoffensif” from Volume VII of the collection:

As readers know, I’ve been getting back into composing, and have been exploring composing by hand.  It is extremely satisfying to write pieces by hand (as opposed to a computer, which is certainly more convenient, but lacking in the same tactile satisfaction).  I’ve written a few short piano miniatures—some good, some desperately in need of revision—and Rossini’s “Sins” have inspired some of my own:  a small project I’m dubbing Péchés d’âge moyen.

Read More »

Lazy Sunday CLII: Romance

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!  As such, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the more romantic posts of yesteryear (and yesterweek) to commemorate this season of love:

  • The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’” – Hector Berlioz is my Romantic Era composer spirit animal, although I’m way more restrained them him.  He was so lovesick over the Shakespearean actress Harriett Smithson, he wrote an entire symphony for and about her.  In his Symphonie Fantastique, the main character is so lovesick over his beloved, he takes an overdose of opium in attempt to commit suicide.  Instead, he enters a fevered, drugged dream, in which his beloved is portrayed as a fixed musical idea.  When Harriett Smithson heard the symphony, she finally heard out Berlioz’s marriage proposals, and the two were wed—quite unhappily—for a few years before it all came crashing down.
  • Alone” – In retrospect, I think this post was a bit of whining on my own part, and throwing myself a pity party.  That said, my diagnosis of the current ills and travails of the modern dating scene are quite accurate.  It’s probably better being alone.
  • TBT: Phone it in Friday VI: Valentine’s Day” (and “Phone it in Friday VI: Valentine’s Day“) – A grab-bag of Valentine’s Day miscellany.  My brother thought I’d accidentally posted a Friday post on a Thursday.  Nope—I purposefully reblogged a Friday post on a TBT.

Happy Sunday—and Valentine’s Day!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT^2: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

One of the many benefits of teaching music is (re)discovering beloved favorite works.  During last week’s round of distance learning, I had to pull out some of the classics.  If we’re going to sit on a Google Meet call, let’s listen to some music, not just talk about it.

I really love programmatic music—instrumental music that tells a story, often accompanied by program notes explaining (usually very briefly) what the listener is supposed to hear in the musical “story.”  Students often like to imagine their own stories when listening to instrumental music, which is great, but I find that programmatic works give students (and myself!) some guideposts to follow.

Fortunately, Ludwig von Beethoven provided some handy ones for us in his Sixth Symphony, quite possibly my favorite symphony, and certainly my favorite of Beethoven’s.  It’s the so-called “Pastoral” symphony, as it depicts a pleasant trip to the country (besides the roiling thunderstorm in the fourth movement).

It’s also unusual in two respects:  instead of the standard four movements of the classical symphony (a fast opening movement, a slow second movement, a dancelike third movement, and a fast fourth movement), Beethoven includes five; and the third, fourth, and fifth movements all flow seamlessly into one another, without the customary pause between each.

It is also long, especially by the standards of the classical symphony (the Romantics, however, would have easily matched Beethoven for runtime), clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (the typical classical symphony averages around twenty-five-to-thirty minutes, but forty-five would have been the upper limit for the time).  But that length is in service to Beethoven’s vision, and he fully explores every theme in this symphony.

Here is a particularly excellent performance—the one I showed, in part, to my classes last week—by the Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Bernard Haitnik:

With that, here is 4 February 2021’s “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:

Read More »

TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau”

In “The Worst of 2021” post, there was a much-neglected gem amid all the filler:  this January 2021 post about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau.  My good friend and former colleague H. L. Liptak—herself a noted writer and a recent subscriber, *hint, hint*—praised it in her a comment on “The Worst.”

That got me thinking about this post, and that it deserved a comeback.  Thus, here is January 2022’s “The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’“:

Read More »

Mahler’s Composing Shack

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.

Read More »