Music Composers

Happy 328th Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach

According to some historical pundits, today is Johann Sebastian Bach's 328th birthday.

Although I can't say that he's my favourite composer, I do have tremendous respect for his genius. To be able to hear how five voices can weave together harmoniously in a fugue and create that - it's just amazing.

I must admit that I enjoy listening to Bach's music more than playing it.

A quick search on Amazon reveals that these are 10 of the most popular recordings of the master of the fugue:

  1. Joan Kennedy: The Joy of Classical Music- The Audio Companion to the Best Seller
  2. Bach: 6 Brandenburg Concertos / 4 Orchestral Suites -Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert (1989)
  3. Best of Bach
  4. Bach: St. Matthew Passion by The Collegiate Chorale, Charles Bressler, Betty Allen, William Wildermann and Adele Addison (1999)
  5. J.S. Bach: Matthäus-Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach, Herbert von Karajan, Walter Hagen-Groll, Berlin National Cathedral Choir and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1990)
  6. Bach: Matthäus-Passion (St. Matthew Passion) by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf / Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Walter Berry, Raymond Clark / Bela Dekany, Ralph Downes / Christa Ludwig and Nicolai Gedda / John Carol Case (1989) - Original recording remastered
  7. Build Your Baby's Brain 1 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, George Frederick Handel, Franz [Vienna] Schubert and Antonio Vivaldi (1998)
  8. Leonard Bernstein - A Total Embrace: The Conductor by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach and Bela Bartok (2003) - Original recording remastered
  9. Paper Music by Bobby McFerrin, Peter Howard, Johann Sebastian Bach, Luigi Boccherini and Gabriel Faure (1995)
  10. UltraSound - Music for the Unborn Child by Claude Debussy, Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann, Jules Massenet and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1999)

If I had to choose which three to add to my library on my next music order, I'd have to go with the following:

#5 - Herbert von Karajan, Walter Hagen-Groll, Berlin National Cathedral Choir and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's recording of St. Matthew's Passion:  A solid group of performers and at a price point that I might - just might - loan out to a responsible student.

#8 - Leonard Bernstien's recording: I have fond memories of studying Leonard Bernstein in music history.

#9 - Paper Music with Bobby McFerrin: I've enjoyed Bobby's music in my youth. I admire him even more with the work he has been doing with The Music Instinct: Science and Song, which looks at music and the brain.

I leave you with one of my favourite works by Johann Sebastian Bach, the Brandenberg Concerti

World Music Exploration - Claude Champagne

This time, we are exploring some classical-style Canadian music. Our featured composer is Claude Champagne. 

Claude Champagne lived from 1891to 1965. Born in Montréal, he started piano and music theory at the age of 10. He was a composer, teacher, adjudicator and administrator. 
Champagne wrote for orchestra, piano, organ and choir. He also wrote five solfège teaching manuals, served as assistant director of the new Conservatoire de Musique du Québec and later became the editor-in-chief of the Canadian publications department of BMI Canada Ltd. (1949-65) and as an adjudicator or juror for many competitions. Fellow Canadian Clermont Pépin once said that Champagne "established the basis of a modern teaching approach for the training of young musicians in Québec."
This week's clip is from Champagne's first major work, the symphonic poem Hercule et Omphale (1918):
(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration - Kanno Yoko's Song for the Victims in Japan

Japanese composer Kanno Yoko has uploaded her latest song, Kimi de Ite, Buji de Ite (Please be yourself, please be safe on Youtube. This song is a tribute to the victims of last week's massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. One cannot help but get teary-eyed while listening to the melancholy, yet hopeful song. Kanno Yoko has composed music for many popular anime, including Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Cardcaptor Sakura and Darker than Black.

Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for all those affected by last week's tragedy. However, the notes of Kanno Yoko's song come pretty close. Hoping and praying for everyone affected, and by all who are affected by natural disasters throughout the world.

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration 2010/11 Week 11 - Canadian Composers

It was really difficult for me to choose just one classical Canadian composer to highlight. Our composers are truly prolific and they are not afraid to push Canadian music to new levels. Then I decided that since I've been highlighting two Canadian pieces per week, why stop now? This week, we are exploring Healey Willan and Alexina Louie.

The first Canadian composer we will explore this week is Healey Willan (1880 - 1968). According to Timothy J. McGee in The Music of Canada, Willan is Canada's best-known composer(Toronto: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1985). He was a teacher at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music), as well as the University of Toronto. He also was a church organist, choirmaster and conductor.

Willan composed approximately 800 musical works, including operas, symphonies, concertos and liturgical music. He also wrote music for band, piano, organ, choir and solo voice. His musical style is considered conservative, incorporating late-romantic and post-romantic idioms.

This week's pick is How They So Softly Rest:

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies our second featured composer for the week: Alexina Louie (1949 - ). She is a composer, pianist and teacher. She has written for musical theatre, orchestra, chamber music, TV and film. She has explored electronic music and has blended elements of Asian music - a nod to her Asian heritage.

In 1986, the Canadian Music Council named Louie Composer of the Year. In 1994 she earned the Chalmers Award for her work, Gallery Fanfares. She received the Jules Léger Prize in 1999 for her composition Nightfall. In 2005 Louie became an Officer of the Order of Canada.

This is Fastforward. The performer is Israeli concert pianist Dorel Golan:

(c) 2010 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration 2010/11 Week 6 - Astor Piazzolla

This week is Group Class Week for my students. That is, they get a group class in lieu of their regular lesson. Not only does it give my students a chance to interact and socialize, but it gives me time to catch up (or at least attempt to) on paperwork. At the group classes, they will be exploring the Argentine bandoneon player and composer Astor Piazolla.

He lived from 1921 - 1992. Although he was born in Argentina, he moved to New York at a young age.

Thanks to a scholarship, Piazolla studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Boulanger taught many prominent American composers, including Aaron Copland and Phillip Glass. She encouraged Piazolla to explore his Argentinean heritage through music.

Piazolla developed the nuevo tango style, a fusion of Argentine folk music, jazz and contemporary angst. His jazz combo, the Quinteto Tango Nuevo, has performed throughout the world.

This video features Antonio Agri, Hector Console, Horacio Malvicino, Leonardo Marconi, Nestor Marconi and Yo-Yo Ma performing Libertango , a violently passionate tango:

(c) 2010 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


World Music Exploration 2010/11 Week 2 - Elena Kats-Chernin

This past week, my students and I explored Wild Swans and Alexander Rag by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. She was born in Uzbekistan in 1957 and received her musical training in Yaroslavl and Moscow before immigrating to Australia in 1975. Career highlights to date include: having her music featured at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup and having six published CD's under her belt.

Her discography is comprised of ballets, operas, piano concertos and commissioned works for many performers and ensembles, including Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Evelyn Glennie, Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras.

(c) 2010 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Music - medicine for the heart, mind and soul

Thank you to my friend and colleague Sharon Omura for sharing this with me. This is the Welcome Address that Karl Paulnack, Director of Music Division at the Boston Conservatory delivered to students and their parents in 2004. It's a moving speech on why art matters and more specifically, why music matters. There are many quotes I like in his speech. This is just one of them:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. "

Image source:

He shared a touching story about the most important concert of his life, which took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town a few years ago. A war veteran came to him after hearing Aaron Copland's Sonata and said, "How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?" The piece brought back one particular memory regarding a fellow pilot. Only afterwards did the war vet learn that the piece was dedicated to a fallen pilot who fought in WWII.

Click here to go to Karl Paulnak's speech.

Here's the videos of the piece that moved the war veteran:

The second movement especially makes the heart weep.

If you'd like to add Copland's Sonata for Violin and Piano to your music collection, click on the image below:

Now if you'd like to learn this piece, check it out here:

Sonata look inside Sonata (for Violin and Piano). By Aaron Copland (1900-1990). For Piano, Violin (Violin). Boosey & Hawkes Chamber Music. 36 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M051350834. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48002997)...more info

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.