If you have five minutes to spare, listen to this episode of the BBC World Service programme The Srand on music from Iceland, and specifically to the segment which starts at 11.20. In it, composer Hafdis Bjarnadottir explains how she has written a piece of music based on a knitting pattern. Taking a chart for a lace shawl, Hafdis has translated both its colours and stitch sequences into sections of the orchestra, notes, chords, rests and so on. If you were a speedy knitter, could you knit the shawl in time to the music, I wonder, and along the same lines, I'd love to know what music might emerge if based on the colours and rhythms of a fine piece of Fair Isle.
By the way, for more on knitting in Iceland, see this post.
Over on Cornflower Books we've had one or two posts about writers' dogs, so let's balance things up and look at the canine companions of well-known musicians here. When I was writing about Aldeburgh and Benjamin Britten yesterday I remembered this picture of him with his dachshund Clytie which I'd seen in the newspaper recently, and on looking for it online, I discovered this lovely post on composers' dogs - well worth a look to see who had which breed (Grieg shares my fondness for Labradors, for instance, and there's a link to a very touching story about Glenn Gould's closeness to his dogs).
We had a literary curiosity yesterday, and I have a musical one for you today. I heard the piece on Radio 3 this morning and couldn't quite believe my ears, but yes it is what it seems, a ragtime version of Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde: click here (listen to the Chopinata first, if you want) and skip to the 3.23 mark and enjoy the "novelty piano solo" Isoldina by Clément Doucet - rather catchy in a toe-tapping way, though I expect Wagner is turning in his grave, and don't you think this must have been part of Mrs. Mills' repertoire?
"The Guardian editor's account of a remarkable musical
challenge during an extraordinary year for news.
As editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger's life is dictated by
the demands of the 24-hour news cycle. It is not the kind of job
that leaves one time for hobbies.
But in the summer of 2010, he managed to make his annual escape
to a 'piano camp'. Here, inspired by another amateur's rendition,
he set himself an almost impossible task: to learn, in the space of a
year, Chopin's Ballade No.1, one of the most challenging one-movement pieces ever composed, with passages that demand
outstanding feats of dexterity, control, memory and power – a
piece that inspires dread in many professional pianists.
His timing could have been better.
The next twelve months were to witness the Arab Spring, the
Japanese tsunami and the English riots, and were bookended by The Guardian breaking two remarkable news stories: WikiLeaks
and the News of the World hacking scandal. It was a defining year
in the life of The Guardian and its editor, and one of the most
memorable in the history of British journalism.
Such was the background against which he tried to carve out
twenty minutes' practice a day, find the right teacher, the right
piano, the right fingering – even if that meant practising in a Libyan
hotel in the middle of a revolution. Fortunately, he was able to
gain insights and advice from an array of legendary pianists, from
theorists, historians and neuroscientists, from a network of
brilliant amateurs unearthed online, even occasionally from
secretaries of state.
But was he able to play the piece in time?"
Click here to see Jorge Bolet playing the Ballade, and still on matters pianistic, Lang Lang's extraordinary life is profiled in this recent documentary, part of the Imagine arts series (and look out for the delightfully serious little boy Lang Lang is teaching at about the 20.40 mark).
... a couple of points to follow on from the last two posts. Re. learning things as an adult, I don't think the programme is available on iPlayer, but Radio 3's Breakfast on 20th. September included a short interview with pianist James Rhodes (as part of their Piano Season) in which he gave advice to someone who had recently given up piano lessons having felt he just wasn't getting anywhere. James - who was quite evangelical about it - urged the man to find another teacher, someone who is empathic and sympathetic in the sensitive sense, and then to keep at it, practising for as little as 20 minutes a day. I just thought I'd mention that in case the advice is of use to anyone struggling to master anything: find a 'good' teacher, if applicable (granted, that's easier said then done), and then devote a short while each day to working on the skill. It sounds obvious, but sometimes these things need to be stated.
And now back to notebooks. I love Janet's coining of the name "Journal Phobic Association", and Ann's suggestion to write a favourite poem or some such on the first page to 'break in' the book and then take it from there on subsequent leaves is a good one. Or, you could do as I have now done and buy a cheap notebook (I got these) to slot inside a pretty cover. The pages are perforated for easy removal should you want to delete something, but the smart exterior makes it more special. There will be numerous online tutorials for making similar covers, but if you happen to have The Liberty Book of Home Sewing, you'll find instructions on page 82, together with the suggestion that you cover favourite books in this manner, too, "and fill a whole shelf with Liberty prints"!
The Edinburgh International Festival drew to a close last night with its annual fireworks concert. For the uninitiated, this is when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays a 45-minute programme from Princes Street Gardens at the foot of the Castle Rock while way up above them a stunning and sympathetically choreographed fireworks display is set off from the Castle ramparts.
We were fortunate to have a superb vantage point from the rooftop terrace of a building in George Street, a stone's throw from the action, so here are some 'before' and 'during' shots. It was, as always, spectacular!
This post is specially for Shirley who has fond memories of Edinburgh at Festival time.
Did you see last night's Olympics closing ceremony? Slightly less mad than the opening one which was brilliantly bonkers, but still fun. Highlights for me were Timothy Spall's Churchillian "The isle is full of noises", Eric Idle who brought the house down in beautifully silly fashion, Queen - including Freddie in spirit if not in body, but best of all the wonderfully over the top (and Queen-like) Muse and Survival. You can see their bit from 2.10.12 here (and were the backing ladies perhaps regretting their choice of heels by the end of the evening?), or if you haven't got access to iPlayer, you may listen to it here on Youtube as the official song of the Games.
"Happiness consists in frequent repetition of pleasure" said Schopenhauer, and be that as it may, a harmonically pleasing and frequently repeated musical motif (as you find often in Michael Nyman's work) does the trick for me. By way of illustration I'll offer you Time Lapse from A Zed and Two Noughts (the score described by Alex Ross in The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century as giving "a courtly Baroque air to chugging minimalist patterns") or Chasing Sheep is best left to Shepherds from The Draughtsman's Contract.
With children as young as six playing their part - and practising for many hours a week in order to do so - this is not only fun music-making but an ethos and an event which demonstrate the difference that the commitment, dedication and discipline involved in playing an instrument and being part of an ensemble can make to confidence, teamwork and aspirations, and how that in turn can benefit a whole community.
The programme includes works by Purcell, Beethoven and Bernstein (particularly exuberant - watch from the 1.19.45 mark) and a spectacular finale with fireworks on and off the stage. It's very exciting and very moving, too.
Edited to add: re. Mary's comment about tickets for the orchestra's London rehearsal on Tuesday, click here.
Here's a story which brightened my breakfast this morning: in writing a song for the Diamond Jubilee, Gary Barlow took guidance from the Prince of Wales, and the eventual end product - 'Sing' - will feature more than 200 performers including a guest appearance by Prince Harry on tambourine!
Read all about it here, and while we wait for its release*, just for fun watch Barlow and co.'s jaunty Shine (guaranteed to get your toes tapping, especially if wearing these Britannia pumps by Helen Bateman).
This weekend there are many tributes to the singer Kathleen Ferrier, who was born on this day one hundred years ago, and who died tragically early (in October 1953). This is mine.
The shock and grief at her loss were both a reflection of her enormous popularity, and an echo of the emotional response her voice brings forth to this day. From the very first note she is utterly distinctive; a warm, rich contralto, clearly lower than the average female singing voice - she occasionally sang tenor parts in mixed choirs - and very much part of a lusher, richer style which even in her own time was being superseded by a more austere approach. Although her career lasted barely ten years, she recorded a great deal, and some of her songs - the showstopper arias from the Messiah, folk classics like Blow the Wind Southerly - are part of the 'national soundtrack'. But if you are coming to Ferrier for the first time, let me suggest a less famous starting point: the aria Come to me soothing sleep from a now forgotten Handel opera, Ottone.
She showed great courage in her final years, raising that lovely voice above the cancer which eventually killed her until one day, her bones weakened by the disease, her leg broke when singing the role of Orfeo and she had to be carried off the stage. I also think of her in the post war years, walking to rehearsals and performances through the bomb damaged cities of Britain, singing of forgiveness and redemption in the St Matthew Passion, or entrancing audiences with German songs at the Edinburgh Festival. She brought hope, happiness and consolation to millions; there can be no finer memorial.
But here's a man who is particularly well known for his 'extravagant podium demeanour', Yuri Temirkanov. He's not being quite as flamboyant in this video as I've seen him in the flesh, but I chose the piece - Shostakovich, Festive Overture - in the hope that it (and the Bernstein) will put a spring in your step today.
If you could do with some uplifting music, pause your day for a few minutes and listen to this piece, Seek him that maketh the seven stars, by Jonathan Dove. A word for those in a hurry - it does take its time to build and for its shape to become apparent, so stay with it and you'll be glad you did. For those who like to know a bit about structure, you can read a brief analysis by composer Phillip Cooke.