Who wrote it better? Tchaikovsky vs. Rimsky-Korsakov

“Want to hear ‘Dance of the Tumblers’?”

Ice Queen

Ice Queen (by ArtsyBee on Pixabay)
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“Sure! That’s a great piece!”

♪♫ music starts playing ♪♫

“That’s not it.”

“Um, yes it is. See the title? It’s from The Snow Maiden

“I know it’s from The Snow Maiden. That’s not it.”

“Yes, it is!”

And things devolve from there.

We’re used to ambiguous titles in classical music (how many Symphony No. 1s are there? Etudes in C Major?). But two composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, made things even more confusing by writing similarly-titled dances for two theatrical versions of the story, “The Snow Maiden”. That were released within 10 years of each other. Both in Russia.

Tchaikovsky composed his version as part of incidental music for Alexander Ostrovsky’s play. It premiered in 1873 at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow. His piece is often translated as “Dance of the Tumblers” or “Dance of the Jesters.”

Rimsky-Korsakov composed an opera based on the same story. It premiered in 1882 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. His piece is often translated as “Dance of the Buffoons” or “Dance of the Tumblers.”

Tchaikovsky wasn’t pleased that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his own Snow Maiden. He wrote to his friend (and publisher) Pyotr Jurgenson, “our subject has been stolen from us; that Lel sings the same words to different music—it’s though they’ve taken from me by force something that is innately mine and dear to me, and are presenting it to the public in bright new clothes. It makes me want to weep!”

I do feel for Tchaikovsky; it had to sting for a colleague to use the same source material just a few years after his own use of it. However, he did write in his diary, “Read Korsakov’s Snow Maiden and marveled at his mastery and was even (ashamed to admit) envious.”

Side note: copyright laws weren’t as strict as they are now. Even so, ideas aren’t copyrighted, just the fixed tangible expression of those ideas.

But now, on to the music!

We’ll go chronologically, and listen to Tchaikovsky’s first:

And on to Rimsky-Korsakov’s:

They’re both fast, energetic pieces. Yet they’re still quite different from each other. I think it’s easy to hear why both have remained in the repertoire. They’re very effective as concert openers or encore pieces, and have been arranged for many other ensembles over the years (concert band, clarinet choir, etc.)

Do we have a winner?

Who wins for you? I’ll confess I lean toward Rimsky-Korsakov’s offering, but that doesn’t mean that I dislike Tchaikovsky’s version. Why should I have to choose just one? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

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What’s Playing at Tonal Diversions – September 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, and thought it was time to do another.

Rarètes Romantiques

Just for Winds recently ran a promotion to receive a free CD, so I took advantage of this and ordered Rarètes Romantiques, performed by Anne A. Watson (clarinet) and Gail Novak (piano). It’s a compilation of lesser known works for clarinet and piano from the Romantic period. All of which happen to have been composed by women. This is an important recording, as women during that time period 1) weren’t encouraged to pursue composition (or music in general) as a career, and 2) societal norms at the time dictated which instruments women were and weren’t allowed to play, so there were very few female clarinet players.

I’m enjoying this CD quite a bit. I think the performers are excellent. I like the selection of pieces, and have already found the sheet music to one of the pieces (“Griechische Sonate” by Ella Adaïewsky). I need to listen to the CD a few more times to thoroughly absorb everything, and I’m looking forward to that.

2017 Tony Awards Season

Apparently this is the first year they’ve done a compilation CD, and one wonders why in the world they hadn’t done one before. But, better late than never! I liked getting a taste of what appeared on Broadway recently. I’ll probably get around to listening to all the individual cast albums, but I have more of an idea of where I want to go first. One of my favorites is the first track (“Deep Beneath the City/Not There Yet”), which was from In Transit, the first a cappella musical. It had a great energy that set the scene of the subway during a daily commute. The song from Amélie (“Times are Hard for Dreamers”) was enjoyable and I’d like to hear the rest of the songs. I liked the storytelling in “Me and the Sky” (from Come From Away). “Sincerely, Me” (from Dear Evan Hansen) was quite entertaining and I’m curious to know more of the story.

The Science of Mindfulness by Ronald D. Siegel

While it’s not music, and I’m only about 1/4 the way through, I really like this entry in the Great Courses series. Dr. Siegel is an excellent presenter and the subject is something I’ve been interested in more lately. A lot of public libraries carry these series, so you might be able to check it out from your local branch.

So, what are you listening to? I’d love to hear from you!

Help Celebrate the 150th Birthday of This Pioneering Composer

Happy birthday, Amy Beach!

Photo of Amy Marcy (Cheney) Beach (1867-1944)

Amy Marcy (Cheney) Beach (1867-1944)
No known restrictions on publication.

Who’s Amy Beach, you ask? Sadly, too many people ask that question, despite her being one of America’s foremost woman composers. As today is the 150th anniversary of her birth, I wanted to introduce you to her.

I do have to admit, that while I knew of Amy Beach, I had not heard much of her music. This post gives me a chance to really sit down and listen to some of her work. (I won’t get through her entire catalog right away; she was quite prolific and composed over 300 published pieces!)

Born in 1867 in New Hampshire, Beach was a music prodigy. She was memorizing a large catalog of songs at one, playing hymns and composing by four, performing pieces by the likes of Chopin on piano at seven. She made her public performance debut at age sixteen in Boston, as well as getting compositions published that same year. Two years later, she performed a Chopin piano concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

 

Here are some of Beach’s earlier works, composed between 1887 and 1891.

At this point, Beach’s story has a familiar aspect to it, especially for female artists. Her family discouraged any sort of true career in music, and her new husband (Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach) wanted her to limit performing in public. Although he encouraged her to pursue composition instead, that encouragement still came with strings attached. Her husband did not allow her to take any lessons or classes that would have furthered her studies.

But Beach was determined. While she’d previously had one year of formal training in harmony and counterpoint, she largely taught herself. She studied and analyzed the music of great composers before her. She read books on composition. She gave herself an education.

Her education paid off. In 1892, the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston premiered her Mass in E-Flat Major.

Then, in 1896, her “Gaelic” Symphony was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

While her music was accepted and praised, there was often a shadow of “… for a woman” involved; in one instance, a critic praised her by basically saying she didn’t sound like a woman (“… difficult to associate with a woman’s hand”).

A recent New York Times article goes more in-depth on Beach’s life and attitudes about women in music. It is a worthwhile read, and served as part of the impetus for my own post.

In 1910, Dr. Beach died, leaving Amy a widow at age 43. With no one to tell her “no,” she traveled to Europe to resume performing and present her own works. After a successful tour, she returned to Boston in 1914. She later divided her time between New York City, Cape Cod, and the MacDowell Colony.

She continued to compose a wide variety of music before her death in 1944, such as:

String quartet:

Piano music (solo and duet):

Woodwind quintet:

And so much more (like I said, she was prolific!) I hope you take some time to explore her work. I know I’m ready to hear more!

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In High Praise of the Adult Amateur Musician

I attended the first-ever Chicago Clarinet Symposium this weekend at Northeastern Illinois University. It was two days filled with everything clarinet: master classes, concerts, vendor displays and sample instruments. I enjoyed my time there. I took lots of notes, discovered new-to-me repertoire, heard amazing performances, and met some nice (and talented) people. I even met my bass clarinet hero. We were all kindred spirits in our love of the clarinet.

One thing that became clear to me, however, was that I was not part of the target audience for this event. I am not a college student, professor, or full-time professional performer. I have a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition, a Master of Library Science, and work as a cataloger for a public library.

Me performing "The Old Grumbly Bear" with the Crystal Lake Community Band, July 2015

Me performing “The Old Grumbly Bear” with the Crystal Lake Community Band, July 2015

I do cobble together some of my income from music. I teach private clarinet and piano lessons to middle and high school students, sell my compositions and arrangements at Sheet Music Plus, and sometimes get paid for performing. I consider myself a semi-pro musician in that I do make money from music, but it is not my primary income (and as of yet, does not come remotely close to matching my primary income).

I felt some inkling of not-really-belonging as I registered, as the master class performance options were nearly full already. Once I arrived and saw my fellow conference-goers, it seemed even more clear that I was an outlier. On the second day, I appeared to have completely flummoxed one woman I was chatting with in that I didn’t fit any preconceived notions about The Attendees beyond the fact that I played clarinet (and even that seemed to stump her when I said my degree was in theory/comp, not clarinet performance). She seemed surprised that I’d even heard about the event, much less had the interest and inclination to attend.

I do want to reiterate here that I did enjoy myself. I may not have been part of the target audience, but I still gained immense value by attending. Besides, I’m actually kind of used to being the odd duck and a bit of a loner, so I wasn’t uncomfortable by any means. I also know that a couple of my peers would have liked to attend, but the scheduling just didn’t work out for them this time.

But this did get me to thinking about so many of us musicians who are my true kindred spirits: those of us who took the practical route after getting our BMus degrees (or didn’t pursue music degrees at all); those of us who earn most or all of our income through non-music careers; those of us who still want to participate even if we’re not the ones taking center stage at a prestigious concert.

Those of us who still want to learn. We are in community bands, teach private lessons, have jam sessions with friends, play the local pit orchestras, and participate in any number of other musical activities. We’re out there.Just because we’re not full pros or still in our youth doesn’t mean that we are done learning. Click To Tweet

Just because we’re not full pros or still in our youth doesn’t mean that we are done learning. In fact, some of us finally have the resources (and some time) to put toward that goal. I have felt a pull toward taking lessons again myself, though finding a college-level teacher when you’re not in college anymore is a challenge. It’s hard to know where to start, how to discover who is willing to take on a middle-aged clarinetist who isn’t working toward landing a symphony job, how to work lessons and practice time into an already-crammed adult life schedule. And I don’t even have kids that I’m shuttling back and forth to their own numerous activities.

(Of course, this also leads to examination of the past, and how much time I could/should have spent practicing and networking, but didn’t. For a variety of reasons. But that subject will have to wait for another post.)

What, then, can we do to encourage and include the adult amateur and semi-pro? I believe there are large numbers of us. Do we start our own conference? Do we speak up to event organizers to see if they will include some tidbits for us? Some sports have pro-am events—can we incorporate this idea into our music world? Or do things like this already exist? I’m not sure, and I’m just starting to really mull all this over.

Knock on Wood rehearsal, January 2017

Knock on Wood clarinet choir rehearsal, January 2017

I am the founder and organizer of Knock on Wood, a clarinet choir based in McHenry County, Illinois. We are a community group of over twenty musicians. We range in age from teenagers to octogenarians and range in clarinets from the itty-bitty E-flat sopranino to the ginormous contrabass. We play in this group because we love the clarinet family and the gorgeous music that can happen when you get large numbers of us together. We want to sound good. We want to improve ourselves. We want to simply enjoy playing our favorite instrument with fellow clarinerds. (And we’d love for you to stop by our Facebook page to see what we’re about).

We’ve discussed having our own Clarinet Day, with a few master classes and a mass choir that invites those who don’t regularly play with us to join us for the day. While yes, we want to encourage our high school (and even middle school) players to come to the event and participate, I want to make sure we still give opportunities to our adult players.

This is still in the very early planning stages. We have things to consider since we’re not affiliated with a university, namely the budget. We also have a challenge that we’re “way out” in McHenry County and not closer to the city of Chicago (that said, I’ll mention again that we have over twenty clarinetists on our roster, with more who would join us if their schedules could fit with ours. People are out here and interested). I do feel that an event like this would add great value to our community of musicians, though, and we can make it happen.We exist, we want to learn, and we want to be included. Click To Tweet

But until we get this event off the ground, I want to encourage those who are beyond the status of amateur to remember that we’re here. We exist, we want to learn, and we want to be included.

 

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What’s playing at Tonal Diversions – June 2016

It’s the end of June already! How did that happen? Time for another segment of “What’s playing?”

(Time for the disclaimer: I don’t have any affiliation with these artists or authors. I checked the albums and book out from my library and want to chat about them)

“Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

It’s the musical everyone’s talking about: “Hamilton.” While I haven’t seen the show, I did check out the cast album. I’m not usually a big fan of hip hop/rap, but it really does work with this show. Unsurprisingly, though, a couple of my favorites on the album were more traditional Broadway-style songs. I listened to this in the car and was essentially flying blind in that I didn’t have a song list, lyrics, or synopsis to prep me for anything. Due to that, “You’ll Be Back” (sung by Jonathan Groff) cracked me up when I realized just what the song was about. At the other end of the emotional scale, “Burn” (sung by Phillipa Soo) broke my heart.

If you haven’t seen James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” I recommend his Broadway version (especially the Les Mis section at the end!)

“Violet” by Jeanine Tesori

I’m a fan of both Jeanine Tesori and Sutton Foster. I first heard mention of the show “Violet” when I got to hear Sutton Foster in concert in Chicago a few years ago. Foster’s album “Wish” has a solo version of the song “On My Way,” which is from “Violet.” That show got a Broadway revival in 2014, and I finally got my hands on the full album. I really enjoyed it. Of course I liked “On My Way,” and I was really impressed with the actress who played young Violet. One of the other standout songs for me is “Luck of the Draw.”

Here’s a clip of the cast singing on the Today show.

“Phone Power” by They Might Be Giants

Ah, TMBG, how fun you are! They’ve still got it. Like with Hamilton, I was flying blind on this one in terms of titles and lyrics. This time it was the song “Shape Shifter” that gave me a good chuckle, especially since I hadn’t known the title beforehand. “I Love You for Psychological Reasons” is catchy and fun. Two songs in particular (“I Am Alone” and “Sold My Mind to the Kremlin”) feel like the embodiment of TMBG.

“Why You Love Music” by John Powell

Now we’ll switch gears to print media. This title came across my desk at work and I knew I had to check it out. I’m about halfway through and have found it very interesting. Powell talks about how music interacts with our brains. Some of this I’ve known (or suspected, even if I couldn’t articulate it) and some took me by surprise (how music can affect how we perceive wine to taste, or even which wine we buy). I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.

Lori with most of her summer band gear

Lori with her usual summer band gear

Part of what caught my attention when I first saw the book was the top lines of the back cover: “Did you know that… carrying a musical instrument makes you more attractive?” I had to laugh, because they must be talking about guitars or something. I’m not sure that being in my summer band polo shirt, hair in a ponytail, with a bass clarinet case strapped to my back and carrying a drum stool and a bag of music really ups my attractiveness level. I have a concert on Sunday– maybe I’ll have someone get a pic of me and let my readers decide 😉

That’s what I’ve been listening to and reading lately. Have a good summer and I’ll see you again soon!

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