Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here are Five Awesome Renaissance and Medieval Works that – Surprise! – You’ve Never Heard of

Most people never listen to music from the Renaissance or Medieval eras. It’s no secret why: no funky beats, catchy melodies, or danceable rhythms. The style is completely foreign to contemporary ears. BUT… is it all really so unlistenable and boring?

Below are five pieces that are quirky, beautiful, crazy, or just downright weird. 10 points if you’ve heard of any of them. 20 points if you listen to them all the way through. How many points can you get?

5. Carlo Gesualdo: "Moro, Lasso"



Gesualdo is a famous late Renaissance composer… mostly because he murdered his wife and her lover. As a nobleman, he basically got away with it, but he was overcome with guilt for the remainder of his life. His remorse is made manifest in much of his music, which is hauntingly beautiful, very complex, and often terribly sad. “Moro, Lasso” is a quintessential example – such extreme chromaticism would not again be heard for 200 years or more.


4. Solage: "Fumeux Fume"


Easily the strangest piece in the list. We know almost nothing about Solage, a 14th century composer of a complicated style of music called ars subtilior. Much of the music in this style is rhythmically complex, but “Fumeux Fume” is unique for not challenging rhythms, but rather harmonic and melodic weirdness. Notably, the piece dwells on an interval called the ‘tritone’ (think the interval from C to F#), which at that time was called ‘Diabolus in musica,’ or the Devil in Music. It was generally diligently avoided.


3. Luca Marenzio: "Solo e pensoso"



Luca Marenzio was a 16th century composer, incredibly influential in his day. I included this piece because of the prominent chromatic scale at the beginning, which I think is really cool.


2. William Byrd: "Agnus Dei from Mass for 4 Voices"



As a practicing Catholic in England at a time when the government viewed Catholics with great suspicion, William Byrd had to tread lightly. That didn’t stop him from getting in a lot of trouble, however. This decidedly Cathloic Mass features a remarkable section towards the end of the Angus Dei in which there is dissonance on every single beat. In addition to being masterfully well written, it also sounds gloriously awesome.


1. Pérotin: "Viderunt Omnes"




This might be the most obscure piece in the list. Pérotin was an early 13th century composer who was highly regarded for his advances in polyphony (music with multiple, independent melodies running simultaneously. Viderunt Omnes is a very early example of polyphonic music – in this case, three similar, though distinct, melodies are sung over a drone.


Monday, November 3, 2014

10 New Release Books About Your Favorite Musicians That You NEED to Read

If you're the ultimate fan to your favorite artist, you'll appreciate the provocative, intimate look at their lives that only books about them can truly accurately capture.

1. "Weird Al Yankovic: The Kindle Singles Interviews" by Mara Altman
The man who basically invented the music video parody as we know it somehow continues to keep it fresh and inventive. He's at the top of his game and from what I've heard, a super fun and kind guy. With the interviews conducted by humor writer Mara Altman, the banter is bound to be hilarious, witty, and fun. A quick read but a delightful one.


2. "Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970's" by Tom Doyle
"Man on the Run" is a portrait of McCartney in a time little discussed. The 1970's had begun, and the Beatles were over. He was back in England without any clear direction in his life, adrift from goals and direction. However, what he then thought to be the end of his career, but it ended up being a turning point towards simply a new artistic direction.


3. "One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brother's Band" by Alan Paul 
Written by music journalist Alan Paul, who has followed the band since their formative years, this one gets it all out about the classic band. An incredibly in-depth look at the entire history of the band, this should be your go-to for all things Allman.


4. "Please Be With Me, A Song for My Father, Duane Allman" by Galadrielle Allman
Another about the Allman brothers, but such a different portrait. Galadrielle Allman, the daughter of Allman Brothers founder and legendary guitarist, Duane Allman, was 2 years old when Duane was killed at the young age of 24 in a tragic motorcycle accident. However, Galadrielle has always wanted to hear the stories of her father, to be able to fully understand her own. She published the stories she learned here.


5. "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol
Come on, how do you see a title like that and not know immediate that it is going to be fascinating as heck. It's Billy Idol, who only comes in "bold and spicy" flavor.


6.  "Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones" by Bill Janovitz
More of a listening guide and walk through history than an exposing novel, the book represents a fan's love for his favorite band, coupled with thoughtful research and fascinating insight. A fun time and a celebration of the fan experience.


7. "Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life" by Graham Nash
The legend of the Hollies, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash finally got around to writing an autobiography. Refreshingly, the book isn't just a little black book of nights gone crazy, but more of a love story between a man and music.


8. "Joni Mitchell - In Her Own Words" by Malka Marom
A journalist recounts the interviews over the course of years that developed into a close understanding and friendship between her and Joni Mitchell. An intimate and creative portrait of the singer, revealed through her own words and conversation.


9. "Turn Around Bright Eyes" by Robert Sheffield
Sheffield, granted, is not a musician. But the renowned music writer has become a voice so entwined with the music industry, that it would be criminal not to include his book. Sheffield has a fascinating story - a young aimless widower who found solace to his loneliness through the local karaoke bar, a solace that eventually turned into a deep passion for music. A music nerd's proud anthem.


10. "Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in his Final Days" by Bill Whitfield
A bittersweet tribute to remembering the man without the controversy as how his loved ones knew him. A devoted father, a brilliant artist, and an incredibly caring man. Fans of Jackson adore this version celebrating the life of the man who brought us so many wonderful musical moments.





Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top Five Toccatas for Solo Piano

Everyone knows Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor for the organ as soon as they hear it. But what exactly is a toccata? There’s no set structure, and different composers have had different ideas in their compositions they call toccatas, but generally a toccata is simply a difficult piece with a fast tempo. Most often for a solo instrument, toccatas are played to demonstrate virtuosity. 

The following five pieces are good examples of toccatas. As usual, the title of this blog is complete fiction; the works below are my favorite 5.

5. Robert Schumann – Toccata, Op. 7



This toccata is among the most challenging pieces in piano solo repertoire. Take a look at the score to see why!

4. Aram Khachaturian – Toccata, Op. 24



Another famous toccata, formerly part of a 3-movement suite. This work has an epic and often mysterious quality, particularly in those sections where the higher register of the piano is used.

3. York Bowen – Toccata, Op. 155



The English composer York Bowen isn’t as well known as the others featured in this list, but his piece is no less interesting or virtuosic.

2. Maurice Ravel – Toccata from “Le Tombeau de Couperin”



“Le Tombeau” is a 6-movement suite for solo piano dedicated to several friends of the composer who died during the First World War. Like many toccatas, there are few moments of respite in this technically demanding work, though Ravel’s work is perhaps more lyrical than the others on this list

1. Sergei Prokofiev – Toccata, Op. 11



Prokofiev’s Toccata is a favorite among piano virtuosos for obvious reasons. It has a mechanical drive punctuated with a recognizable motif featuring a stream of repeated notes.