This minute-long jewel is one of my earliest memories of feeling like I was a PIANIST.

It is also an early memory of connecting with Chopin. Who was this Chopin guy? How did he ever come up with such a beautiful and poignant melody? (I didn’t actually know the word “poignant” when I was eight.)

We had an upright Baldwin Acrosonic piano in our living room, like the one I’ve attached a picture of. I was eight, I had been taking piano lessons for a year or so, and it was late on a Friday evening, maybe 10:00—late night for an eight year old. The only light in the room was from a piano lamp that was sitting on top of the piano, otherwise the room was dark and the house was dark.

My teacher at the time, Harriet Seeberger, was having me learn from the John Schaum books—meaningful information only to pianists, of course, but this was a graded series of piano books, arranged from absolute beginner to early intermediate level. I was probably in book two or three.  All the pieces in the book were either written by John Schaum or were his simplified arrangements of famous pieces. All of these pieces were given names by Schaum in order, obviously, to make playing them enjoyable for children.

The A Major Prelude was titled, if memory serves, “Stopping By an Inn on a Winter Evening.” Perhaps Schaum had been inspired by the Robert Frost poem of a similar name. And, there was the requisite drawing of an inn, out in the country somewhere—I presumed in Poland, wherever that was!—with travelers arriving at an inn and walking through snowdrifts to get there.

I felt like practicing this Friday night, so there I was playing the A Major Prelude. Even in its full version, it is only a minute long, and I suppose in the arrangement I was playing, it was even less. But the melody! The melody stays with you forever.  Its simple beauty is breath-taking.

This performance is by Daniil Trifinov. At just 26, Russian pianist Trifinov has justifiably become one of the greatest living pianists. Many are already proclaiming him to be one of the great pianists of history. I will certainly be posting other works played by him. For now, enjoy this teaser. He is marvelous. His playing—to me—is like Artur Rubinstein’s—he allows himself to be a conduit for the great composers. Hearing him play is like HEARING Chopin.

The Prelude in A Major was, and is, a piece one does not forget hearing.







Does it get more tragic than this??

One wonders just what great works of music the world was denied by the early death of Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Even though he died at the age of 34, Purcell was the greatest English composer between the Baroque era and the mid-20th century, when Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten appeared.
Perhaps unsurprisingly—from the cornucopia of works left to us by Schubert, Mozart and others whose lives were cut short—Purcell was quite prolific. He had started composing at the age of nine. His opera, Dido and Aeneas, is variously dated at any time between 1683 and 1688. Either date would put Purcell in his twenties when he wrote it. Dido and Aeneas is regarded by many as Purcell’s most outstanding accomplishment. It was Purcell’s only opera as well as his only all-sung work.

The opera is based on Virgil’s Aeneid, which recounts the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. As Dido commits suicide, she sings a lament—Dido’s Lament.

Musically, Dido’s Lament—“When I Am Laid in Earth” is a classic example of the use of what is called a “ground bass”—a recurring pattern of notes which is repeated verbatim again and again over which a melody is written. We saw a ground bass being used in Pachelbel’s Canon. If you listen attentively in Dido’s Lament, you will hear a repeated chromatically-falling bass pattern: G – F sharp – F – E – E-flat – D – B-flat – C – D- G over and over again, laying a foundation for the gut-wrenching aria that is occurring above it.

The clip I’ve chosen has French subtitles and it would seem was intended for a French audience. Since the aria is in English, these French subtitles are not necessary for us. There are a number of fine Dido performances on YouTube. I think this is the one that conveys Dido’s anguish and her actual death the best.

Dido’s Lament is heart-breakingly sung by Swedish soprano Malena Ernman, you can see Dido taking the poison that will kill her. Dido first speaks to her servant Belinda:

Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.

Dido’s Lament starts at 1:10—where we hear the first occurrence of the ground bass pattern all by itself—and ends at 4:46.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.






I have let too much time go by since my last Beatles posting.

This will be a lengthy post. I realize that only Beatles aficionados or those who want to recapture a part of their youth—or both—will be interested in my lengthy Beatles’ album summaries. To everyone else, though, there still may be something of interest here. There are many—myself included—who feel that the 1960’s were a true pivot, a hinge in the arc of history, and that the Beatles played no small part in that. These commentaries will be primarily about the music, but they cannot help but also touch the societal influence the Beatles had.

A little recap is probably needed. As usual, all previous posts are at music-i-love.com.

Previous Beatles posts have been:

#113 11-11-17 general Beatles information
#151 12-28-17 Preface #1
#152 12-28-17 Preface #2
#153 12-28-17 Preface #3
#160 1-5-18 Nine U.S. singles #1-3
#164 1-9-18 Nine U.S. singles #4-6
#183 1-28-18 Nine U.S. singles #7-9

Overall, the Beatles released 18 albums in the U.S., followed by a 19th—PAST MASTERS, which included material they had not released on other albums up to that point. Additionally, a compilation of their number one hits was released in 2000 as BEATLES ONE. Just as a review, here are those albums with their respective dates of release:

1 MEET THE BEATLES January 20, 1964
3 HARD DAY’S NIGHT June 26, 1964
4 SOMETHING NEW July 20, 1964
5 BEATLES 65 December 15, 1964
6 EARLY BEATLES March 22, 1965
7 BEATLES VI June 14, 1965
8 HELP August 6, 1965
9 RUBBER SOUL December 3, 1965
10 YESTERDAY AND TODAY June 20, 1966
11 REVOLVER August 5, 1966
13 MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR November 27, 1967
14 WHITE ALBUM November 22, 1968
15 YELLOW SUBMARINE January 13, 1969
16 ABBEY ROAD September 26, 1969
17 HEY JUDE (singles) February 26, 1970
18 LET IT BE May 8, 1970
19 PAST MASTERS I/II 1988/2009
20 BEATLES ONE November 13, 2000

Things to remember:

• The era of multi-track recording was just beginning around 1963, and the Beatles were quick to utilize it. The Beatles seemed to use this in the early albums in order to add a unison vocal line—say, John recording the exact same vocal line over something he had already recorded—and also for the addition of hand-clapping to a song. If you listen carefully, you will be surprised at the amount of hand-clapping in Beatles songs.

• Studio time was expensive, in all studios, everywhere. If the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had reserved a recording studio for, say, three hours at night—8 to 11 PM (20 to 23 for my non-American friends)—they had to be perfectly ready to play at 8:00 and they could not go one minute past 11:00. Most Beatles songs—I guess “all” would be more appropriate to say—are the result of multiple takes. Consequently, many recording sessions, because of these time limitations, left them feeling uneasy about certain songs. The last song in a session would often feel hurried, and would require additional takes in a later recording session. This would not have been a problem were it not for their demanding performance schedule. The Beatles were ALWAYS performing.

• John Lennon and Paul McCartney had met in their teens, and were a song-writing TEAM from the very beginning. They made a pact of sorts with each other that even if one or the other of them was 100% responsible for writing a song that they would both claim equal credit.

• Perhaps for marketing reasons, or simply as a public display of equality, the Beatles tried to include a solo vocal track for both George and Ringo in each album.

• One thing to keep in mind when thinking about the Beatles’ first eight albums—up to HELP—is that “album rock,” “album radio,” and FM radio in general were all in their infancy in the late sixties. The real money made by the record producers, up until that point in time, was through the sales of singles, which were then played on AM radio stations in the U.S. (or in Europe, on the shortwave station, Radio Luxumbourg). Although the Beatles did not single-handedly change this, they were certainly in the mix when it came to society switching over from purchasing and playing singles to purchasing and playing albums.

So—while still in the era of singles as the most important “thing”—in order to capitalize on their anticipated U.S. success, the Beatles released nine singles before, or simultaneously with, the release of their first album, which was MEET THE BEATLES. Those nine singles—which I am chronologically listing here according to their U.S. release, and with my ratings (5 stars being the highest that I rate an album or an individual song)—were:

• LOVE ME DO ****
• P.S. I LOVE YOU ****

We’ve talked about these single releases in previous posts. Our plan now is to take a look at each one of the albums, rate each track, and in general assess whether the Beatles deserve the stellar reputation they acquired (they do  ). We’ll look at MEET THE BEATLES today and the BEATLES SECOND ALBUM next post.


• MEET THE BEATLES was released January 20, 1964. It topped the charts just three weeks later and stayed there for almost three months. Simultaneously released in Britain was WITH THE BEATLES. The two albums have slightly different songlists. It would not be until RUBBER SOUL that the U.K. and U.S. albums would replicate each other.

• Robert Freeman was the Beatles’ favorite photographer, and he took the photo on the cover of MEET THE BEATLES, and imbued it with a blue tint. It is one of the most famous photographs of the group.

• MEET THE BEATLES occupies the 59th position on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

• When thinking about the song choices in the Beatles’ first two albums, it is important to keep in mind that the Beatles were—and started out as—a great cover band. As I’ve said before, they may have been the greatest cover band in history. They seemed to know every song from the 1950’s on, and they would rehearse all the songs by other artists until they “owned” them. They performed on stage many hundreds of times playing, almost exclusively, cover songs. The lengthy time they spent on stage in Hamburg, in particular, made them extremely confident about playing just about anybody else’s music. The Beatles’ initial albums consisted of both original and cover songs. But it would not be too long after MEET THE BEATLES and the BEATLES SECOND ALBUM that they would only play original music.

As a reminder: because of copyright and legal ownership battles, one cannot easily find Beatles’ tracks on YouTube. So, I will continue to give Spotify links.

My ratings:

Album Rating: ****

***** (2)

**** (4)

*** (5)

** (1)

1 I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND 2:27 **** also discussed in MIL #164

• Written by Lennon and McCartney.

• Inexplicably, in October of 1963, Capital Records was still refusing to allow Beatles songs to be released in the U.S. Brian Epstein, their manager, and the Beatles themselves were getting very frustrated by this obstruction, which was clearly an impediment to their career. They felt they needed to come up with a song that would unquestionably sell in the U.S., and perhaps attract another company to sell their “product.” I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND was the result, written by Lennon and McCartney “one on one, eyeball to eyeball” as Lennon recalled. The song, of course, ended up being a smash hit in the U.S.

• Sustained melody was of no concern for the Beatles here, everything about IWTHYH was based on its shock value and its appeal as a rock song.

• Capital Records finally did give in and agreed to release IWTHYH just after Christmas 1963. America was still grieving over the loss of President Kennedy, and the Beatles, in no small part, helped lift their spirits over the months of January and February, culminating in their appearances on the Ed Sullivan show.

• A musical convention that the Beatles disdained was the “fade-out”—where, at the conclusion of a song, the music gets softer and softer until it can no longer be heard. They felt this should only be done for artistic reasons. Consequently, they composed very intricate endings for most of their songs, including IWTHYH—in this case, a definitive penultimate measure of triplets.

2 I SAW HER STANDING THERE 2:56 **** also discussed in MIL #164

• I SAW HER STANDING THERE started out as a lyric only, written by McCartney. The start of it was supposed to be “She was just seventeen/Never been a beauty queen.” Lennon persuaded him to change it to the more risqué, “She was just seventeen/If you know what I mean.”

• The Beatles sang it in their act for a full two years before recording it. It was originally titled “Seventeen.” Only at the last minute before releasing it was the title changed.

• In their live performances, McCartney has always counted off—one, two, three, FOUR—and that was retained in the recording. In those live performances, the song often went on for ten minutes or more, allowing for extended guitar riffs by George. Because of the necessity to keep all recorded songs less than three minutes in length for radio play, his role in ISHST was reduced to a sixteen-measure solo—his first on a Beatle release—in the middle of the song.

• The harmony here often relies on “open” fourths or fifths. “Open” intervals are those that have no other notes occurring in between the outer notes—say, C and G, not C, E, and G.

• As Ian McDonald says in his excellent book on the Beatles, Revolution in the Head: “its hero’s heart (in ISHST) didn’t ‘sing’ or ‘take wing’ when he beheld his lady love; this guy’s heart ‘went boom’ when he ‘crossed that room’—a directness of metaphor and movement which socked avid young radio-listeners deliciously in the solar plexus.”

3 THIS BOY 2:16 *****

• Written by Lennon and McCartney.

• 3-part harmony throughout; audiences loved it when Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison would scrunch up together mid-stage and all sing on one mic.

• I happen to really like this harmony, which is why I rate it 5 stars.

4 IT WON’T BE LONG 2:14 ****

• Written by Lennon and McCartney.

• Capitalizing on the Yeah Yeah Yeah of SHE LOVES YOU, IT WON’T BE LONG has a lot of “yeahs” in a call-and-response pattern.

• George Martin, their producer, wanted the Beatles to start this song with the chorus, which of course was not the way things were usually done. He advocated for this in a number of Beatles songs—like SHE LOVES YOU.

• Although it is a song utilizing only three chords, it nevertheless took the Beatles 23 takes to perfect.

5 ALL I’VE GOTTA DO 2:05 ***

• Written by Lennon and McCartney.

• This was not a song that the Beatles included in their live performances. It was under-rehearsed even for this recording: 8 of the 14 takes of it were complete failures. The lyrics show Lennon’s “well-guarded serious side.”

6 ALL MY LOVING 2:10 *****

• Primarily written by McCartney, the song started out as lyric only, with no music.

• By everyone’s agreement, it is one of the best recorded songs on this album, with McCartney’s happy singing and Harrison’s impressive guitar playing. As Ian McDonald says: “The innocence of early sixties British pop is perfectly distilled in the eloquent simplicity of this number.”

• McCartney’s voice was double-tracked here, making his solo singing sound that much stronger.

7 DON’T BOTHER ME 2:29 ***

• This was written and performed by George. The lyrics of the song are pretty dark; overall, it was unlike anything the Beatles had yet recorded.

8 LITTLE CHILD 1:48 **

• Written by Lennon and McCartney.

• The original plan for LITTLE CHILD is that it would be the song on their first album that Ringo would sing. It was ultimately decided that John would sing it. His harmonic playing would be overdubbed on top of his vocal track.

9 TILL THERE WAS YOU 2:17 ****

• In 1963, when this was recorded, The Music Man—Meredith Wilson’s super-successful Broadway show—was only 6 years old—still fresh in everyone’s aural memory.

• This is a showcase for Paul’s solo singing, which he does with ease and flair.

• Not knowing the original song (in 1964, when I first heard this), it took me a few hearings to understand that “sahr” was the way Liverpudlians say “saw.”

• The Beatles included this, no doubt at Martin’s suggestion, in their Ed Sullivan Show appearance, to soften their rock and rollers image, and widen their audience.

10 HOLD ME TIGHT 2:33 ***

• Written mostly by McCartney, with little input from Lennon.

• Neither McCartney or Lennon had much regard for this song or for their recording of it. The critics of the time also did not care for it. Only a few seconds of listening to it reveals a lower recording standard—in my opinion.

• The group opted in a microphone format that became standard for them: John on one microphone, and Paul and George on another.

11 I WANNA BE YOUR MAN 1:59 ***

• Written mostly by McCartney.

• This ended up being the “Ringo” song for their first album.

• It seems that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who were at the time friendly with the Beatles, sat in on the recording session and observed McCartney and Lennon making up lyrics and chords on the spot. They were so astonished that “a song could slung together in a few minutes that they resolved from then on to write their own material.” They, of course, became the main competition for the Beatles for the rest of the 1960’s.

12 NOT A SECOND TIME 2:08 ***

• Written exclusively by Lennon. His singing is overdubbed.

• It is doubtful that McCartney was even at the recording session.

• The bitter lyrics and unorthodox composition (unusual phrase lengths) prompted a humnorous anecdote: the critic from the London Times drew attention to Lennon’s use of Aeolian cadences. Lennon admitted in a later interview that he had no idea what Aeolian cadences were, that he was just writing the sounds of “an exotic bird.”


I AM SORRY FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS POST! I know you have to really love the Beatles to get into all of this detail….







I hope no one will mind a brief walk off the “Music I Love” road for this post.

Almost all of my Music I Love posts, with the exception of those dealing with Turkish music, have dealt with the western music tradition—going back in time about a thousand or so years. I have some planned future posts that will go further back in time to ancient Greece—there is actually extant music from that time, surprisingly, and some of it IS music I do love—but the common denominator among all of these posts, including that of Greece—and the common denominator of most of our collective musical experience—is that it is “western” in origin.

Geographically, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of “western” when we talk about the western music tradition. I personally would say everything west of Moscow and nothing further south than Israel qualifies as “western.” I suppose one could quibble about whether middle eastern and north African music has made its way into western music enough to be considered part of it. But I think that would be a stretch.

So, I’ll take the blame for the possible conservative inadequacy of my definition, which is simply to say all of Europe (western and eastern) and all of the Americas constitute, geographically, “western” when it comes to western music. That is a lot of territory, of course, and a lot of music, covering a lot of history.

But as large as it is, it is only a part of the world. The larger continents—Africa and Asia, with continuous histories of thousands of years—and therefore thousands of years of musical traditions of their own—are entirely excluded from our consideration. Actually, what I should say is that they are excluded from our knowledge, not excluded from our consideration. We do not purposefully ignore the music of other cultures. We just don’t know enough about it—yet.

That is where the work of musicologists—and ethnomusicologists—comes in.

A few definitions.

From time to time in my posts, I have mentioned “musicologists” without any commentary on the term. A musicologist is someone who participates in musical research. He/she is interested in the scholarly aspects of the analysis and history of music. There are different branches of musicology.

HISTORICAL musicology is what we would simply call “music history” and is what most of us can easily relate to.

SYSTEMATIC musicology is concerned with what I would call the scientific properties of music—acoustics, psychology, aesthetics, neuro-science and other similarly scholarly endeavors.

ETHNOMUSICOLOGY is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people that make it. This is what I’d like to address today.

Although professional ethnomusicologists might find fault with my analogy, I always think of the ethnomusicologist as a music archaeologist. That may be romanticizing a bit what the ethnomusicologist does. But nevertheless, in the same sense that, say, Howard Carter and so many other archaeologists of the 19th and early 20th century were led by their thirst for knowledge, for the simple pleasure of finding things out about our past—it is through that same lens that I see the ethnomusicologist, led by in inexplicable desire to know cultures through their music. The knowledge is the ONLY reward, therefore it has to be a passion.

There have been some famous ethnomusicologists. Some names we know would be Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, who both traipsed all over the countryside of their native Hungary, lugging heavy and primitive tape recorders to find the melodic and rhythmic roots of Magyar folksong—as did Leos Janecek for the folk music of Moravia. Bruno Nettl examined the music of Native American indigenous peoples. Hollis Urban Lester Liverpool—better known simply as “Chalkdust”—is a living ethnomusicologist (and performer) who concentrates on the calypso tradition of the West Indies.

These are the famous names. But most ethnomusicologists labor in relative obscurity. They have an enduring love of humanity mixed with a passion for music that pushes them forward in their studies and for which they expect no reward other than the knowledge they acquire. It is a selfless profession. You cannot help but admire ethnomusicologists, they are a rare breed.

Since the inclusion of “World Music” in most music curricula became standard a few decades ago, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several ethnomusicologists. If you know that particular look that astronomer Carl Sagan had—always in wonder and awe—in my observation, that is something that ethnomusicologists share. It’s like they see something the rest of us aren’t equipped to see…

Why this digression from my usual posts, to ethnomusicology??

Well, I happen to have a childhood friend, Debbie Wick, who, when she visited Tiraje and me last year, happened to mention that her son, Palmer Keen, is an ethnomusicologist, living and working in Indonesia, and that he has his own site: auralarchipelago.com. I have been checking auralarhcipelago out lately, and it is so good that I want to share it with everyone who reads my posts.

Spending time at auralarchipelago.com causes many very basic questions to rise to the surface:

• WHY does music exist? WHY have people from time immemorial HAD to have music in their lives? Is music ESSENTIAL to our existence—is that why? And if it is essential, WHY is it essential? Why do we find music not only existing, but thriving, all over the world, if we just look?

• How MANY musical instruments that currently exist—out there in the world—and how many musical instruments that have existed throughout history—do I have no idea about? How did they sound, and why did their creators make them sound the way they did? Can we say that there are basic, and perhaps inevitable, similarities among the instruments we can expect to find in culture at any time in history–that we WILL find stringed and percussive and wind instruments?

• When I hear music on strange instruments, or sung in strange ways that I am not used to—say, very nasally or throaty—is that a sign of a culture that is in an embryonic, less developed, stage–as compared with western societies? Or not? Given enough time, would we expect cultures that we regard as being different than our own to some day develop (musically) in a way similar to our western world? Is even thinking that way a conceit that we mentally thrust upon cultures BECAUSE they are different than ours?

• Why do some cultures rely on the passing down of a musical tradition through apprenticeship and imitation rather than some more systematic means of preserving itself?

• I think we expect to find melody in all cultures. But why do we almost always find harmony and rhythmic complexity, too? And should it surprise us when we hear major harmonies (as in, say, C Major) in cultures so far, historically and geographically, from the western world? Does this tell us something about the inevitability of tonality (as Leonard Bernstein seemed to have believed)?

For me, ethnomusicology is fascinating primarily because it makes me really think about these questions.

I once had a professor who started his first class of the year by asking, in a booming voice, “Is music the universal language?” Every student had to take a stand, yes or no, and defend—on the spot—the truth or absurdity of the statement. His particular stance was NO, it is not. I had answered YES.

His point of view was that only through the acquisition of a common music education can a person in this part of the world and another person in another part of the world share common insights about, say, the Beethoven Fifth Symphony. Only then is there a common “universality” to music. Without that education, the person hearing the Beethoven only hears noise. I wouldn’t go so far as to fully agree with that, but I understood what he meant.

My answer was more broad-based, though. Music, it seems to me, is something that exists everywhere because its existence cannot be denied. It is GOING to happen in every culture. In that regard, music seems to be a universal language. I was likening music to something elemental, like human speech. My professor was thinking in more specific terms, equating music to one language—the western language. If you don’t know French, you’d better not go to France…that seemed to be what he was saying.

How easy it is for me to start rambling…

I would strongly suggest, if you have even a slight interest, that you check out the AURALARCHIPELIGO.COM site. It is one of the most interesting (as well as most beautifully presented) enthnomusicology sites I have seen.

If you do go there, I would suggest clicking on “MAP”, where you will see the entire map of Indonesia. We sometimes forget how enormous Indonesia is–the 14th largest country in the world, comprised of thousands of volcanic islands—the alliterative “aural archipelago” is quite appropriate for Keen’s site. While you’re at “MAP,” you will be able to click on any of about 100 places where Keen has visited and where he has recorded not only the music from these individual places, but a story about that particular music and its Indonesian location and how interwoven these are. This is vintage ethnomusicological work, done for the love of the discovery.

As I’ve mentioned before, when talking about viewing my site, music-i-love.com—I would recommend Chrome or any other browser other than Internet Explorer for really appreciating this wonderful site. I think you will be intrigued, and it may make you think some of those same questions I always have—or questions of your own.

The television program VICE Indonesia has a brief, but informative, interview with Palmer Keen and how he regards his work–“Meet the American Cataloging Indonesia’s Endangered Indigenous Music.” It can be found at:







A personal observation on appreciating Bach:

As a classical pianist, all through my life I’ve played the keyboard music of Bach. I suppose I started playing 2-part Inventions when I was 10 or so, and over the course of a lifetime, I’ve played a lot of Bach, perhaps more than the average classical pianist plays. I never felt any kind of resistance to playing Bach. Counterpoint—playing equally important voices—is central to much Bach keyboard music, and I’ve always loved that. Bach keyboard music was, and is, a great experience to play and listen to.

But, unlike every other composer of keyboard music that I grew up loving—Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, Prokofiev, whoever—unlike my experience with them, in which I was drawn into the totality of their works from playing their piano music, whatever that totality consisted of—orchestral, chamber, operatic, etc—I somehow allowed myself to experience Bach in a rather limited way, through his keyboard music. Of course, I had listened and even purchased certain other Bach works when I was young—the Brandenburg Concerti, for instance, which I loved. And, as readers of my posts might remember, there were certain Cantatas—the Wedding Cantata, Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress)—that I heard and loved even in my teens.

But I KNEW I was missing something really substantial by having such an incomplete acquaintance with Bach. I mentioned this to a student of mine, Margaret Dill, who is a well-known handbell director in this area of Ohio—and who is also a Bach lover. I told her that becoming acquainted with all the works of Bach, and especially the Cantatas, was something I really looked forward to doing in my retirement—a bucket list item.

Well, I’ve held a weekly Piano Performance class for 37 years now, and about five years ago, the students in this class held a luncheon in my honor—which was really enjoyable and a nice gesture on their part. And at this luncheon, they presented me (per Margaret’s initiative) the complete works of Bach. That’s 172 CDs!

So, starting a few years ago, I would end every day listening in bed, headphones on, laying in the dark, to another Cantata. It’s easy enough to do—Cantatas are 20-25 minutes, so they’re easy enough to take in one at a time this way. By doing this, my appreciation of Bach exploded into what it is today. In an analogous way, it was very much like going from black and white—the keyboard music—into color—the cantatas. I can’t say whether the same kind of thing would happen to you, but I think I can accurately predict that, through listening to the cantatas—any of them, in any quantity—you will feel the breadth of your appreciation for Bach bloom into something far bigger than it was before.

OK, enough about me.

With a subject line like the one above—“The Oboe in Bach Cantatas”—it would be reasonable to expect something thesis-like, in length and depth and detail. Alas, all I am really saying is a repetition of something I’ve observed already a number of times, and that is that Bach clearly LOVED the oboe. And because of his various positions—in charge of music at large 18th century Lutheran churches—he had at his disposal a number of great oboists.

These three cantatas all prominently feature the oboe, and I want to highlight particular movements from each work. There seems to have been a predilection on the part of many Baroque era composers for the oboe—notably, besides Bach, Vivaldi and Telemann. But, for my money, Bach’s writing for the oboe was the most interesting and beautiful of all his contemporaries.

Cantata #21
This is a serious work, the title of which ICH HATTE VIEL BEKUMMERNIS—I HAD MUCH GRIEF. Bach wrote it relatively early in his career, in 1713, at the age of 28. The oboe is featured in the first, third, and fifth movements. This is one of those unusually long cantatas—eleven movements instead of the usual five or six. The first movement is all orchestra—a SINFONIA—and features the oboe. It is a piercing work of sadness. The performance is by Karl Richter conducting the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra. Manfred Clement is the outstanding oboist.

First movt: 0:00-2:57

Cantata #22
This cantata would be interesting for no other reason than it was one of the audition works (the other was cantata #23) through which Bach was evaluated in early 1723—and ultimately hired—at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, the post he held for 27 years until his death—which became the environment for his composing one cantata masterpiece after another. Also interesting is the fact that the position—probably the most highly valued church position in Germany at the time—had already been offered to Georg Philipp Telemann. Telemann had actually turned the position down! So, as history would have it, an inferior (but prolific and respected) composer–Telemann–in turning down this position, made way for the greatest composer of all time to create masterpieces in an ideal environment. Pretty nice.

This cantata—JESUS NAHM ZU SICH DIE ZWOLFE—JESUS GATHERED THE TWELVE TO HIMSELF—like cantata #21, has serious subject matter, Christ’s suffering in Jerusalem. Both the first and second movements feature the oboe. The oboe interacts with a tenor and chorus in the first movement, and with a countertenor in the second. This performance features the Collegium Vocal Gent conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. Marcel Ponseele is the oboist.

First movt and second movt 0:00-9:14

Cantata #23
Finally, yet another soberly beautiful composition. DU WAHRER GOTT UNDS DAVIDS SOHN—YOU TRUE GOD AND SON OF DAVID is the title of this cantata. Although the first movement is a soprano-alto duet, the oboe has an equally prominent—if not MORE prominent—role to play in this beautiful opening movement. As I mentioned, this was a companion cantata to #22 in Bach’s application for Kantor in Leipzig—therefore, it’s of both historic and musical interest. This performance is, once again, by Richter and his Munich musicians, with Manfred Clement on oboe.

First movt 0:00-7:02

Bach’s affinity for the oboe is on display time after time in the cantatas. If you happen to like the sound of the oboe, as I do, every movement he wrote in which he highlighted it is like a gift.

Pictures: Bach as a young man, the oboe he wrote for.






I love this song, and I have pleasant associations with it. It was the summer of 1983. Tiraje and I and our five-year old son, along with Tiraje’s parents, were spending a vacation in southern Turkey in a resort town called Bodrum. Daytime temperatures in Bodrum were over 100 degrees, night time about 90 degrees.

Even though Bodrum is right on the water—the Aegean Sea—there was a pool at this resort that was quite popular by day, and even more so at night. Beside the pool was a disco club with enormous speakers on stilts playing 110 decibels of rock/pop music—all night long. Even though Toto’s hit song, “Africa,” was a popular song the year before—1982—it was nevertheless being played by this disco a year later. Played at least once an hour. I can’t remember how many days we stayed at this resort, but by the time we left, it felt like I had heard “Africa” several hundred times.

But that kind of frequency did not diminish my love for the song. I still love it.

Toto was a Los Angeles-based rock band from the late 70’s and early 80’s. The original members of the band were session musicians culled from Steely Dan, Seals and Crofts, and Boz Scaggs—Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Jon Smith (tenor sax), Bobby Kimball (lead singer), Lenny Castro (percussion), Steve Lukather (guitars), and Jeff Porcaro (drums). They got their name not from the little dog in the Wizard of Oz (an enduring account) but from the Latin words for “all-encompassing”—in toto. Toto toured and made albums until 2014. Their most recent tour featured co-headliner Michael McDonald—and impressive display of talent all around.

These guys were really fine performers. They had success with other singles—like “Rosanna”—but for me, nothing else they did ever topped “Africa.” The song is like an addiction for me, I have to hear it again and again. I’ve listened to it five times while writing this. (I’m obviously not the only one. Look at the YouTube count number—301,000,000!)

Hope you enjoy.

Photos are Toto, and Tiraje and me in that Toto-drenched vacation–skinnier days!

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She’s coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

I’ll be returning to Bach Cantatas (#21) next posting.






Blues from a master…

Rounder Records has an impressively long artist catalog—over 100 artists including Bela Fleck, Blue Highway, Carlene Carter, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Gregg Allman, Natalie McMaster, Rob Ickes, Steve Martin, and They Might Be Giants. It is a diverse listing, heavily weighted, I would say, toward bluegrass music.
It was through the ordering of some Alison Krauss CDs from Rounder some years ago that I received a compilation promo disc of their greatest artists. I copied the disc to my Ipod, went off jogging, and listened to a lot of great new stuff—new to me. I acquired my long-lasting love of Nancy Griffith through that promo disc. And, I first heard blues artist Rory Block, someone I had never even heard of.

Aurora Block (born 1949) was born in Princeton, New Jersey and grew up in Manhattan. Her father ran a sandal shop in Greenwich Village—at the height of the late 60’s hippy craze—and people who would visit the shop, such as John Sebastian (of the Lovin’ Spoonful) would encourage the teenage Rory to take up classical guitar. She did so initially, but soon gravitated to a love of the blues. At 15, she left home in order to study blues guitar with Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Gary Davis, and Eddy “Son” House, three blues legends who lived in Washington D.C., Durham, and Detroit, respectively. Following this, she traveled to Berkeley, California and played clubs and coffeehouses there.

After taking a break from performing to start raising a family in the 70’s, Block returned to the music industry and was signed by Rounder Records—a label that was still in its infancy at the time. As a blues performer, she has never had to look back since that time. She has won five Blues Music Awards (formerly the W.C. Handy Awards)—two for “Traditional Blues Female Artist” (1997, 1998) and three for “Acoustic Blues Album of the Year” (1996, 1999, 2007). She has also received two NAIRD awards—from the American Association of Independent Music—for her 1994 album Angel of Mercy and again for her 1997 album Tornado.
As I mentioned, Block was a Rounder artist for quite some time, later moving to Rykodisc and (currently) to Stony Plain, a Canadian label that specializes in “roots music” such as country, folk, and blues.

Block has recorded 33 albums and regularly appears as a featured artist in blues festivals in Europe and in the U.S. “Angel of Mercy” is the title track from Block’s album of the same name.

A recent interview of Block’s is so interesting that I think it’s worth quoting a couple excerpts here:

Q: People have repeatedly asked you the same question: “Why did a young white girl from New York City play 1930’s era black blues from the rural South?” and you have answered “It’s not your skin, it’s your soul.” But I still have to point out that most girls your age were listening to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not crackly old 78’s of Willie Brown. What do you think drew you to the music?

A: I always make an analogy to falling in love. It’s a mystery. Who knows why we are drawn to things or why they resonate with us? That’s the mystery of why we are who we are. I can only say that it sounded like the most hauntingly beautiful music I had ever heard and that it spoke to what was in my heart.
I could list off various life events and experiences I have had in an effort to convince you that I have “the right to sing the blues,” but in the end that explains nothing. It’s a deeper matter, and it does come down to the soul. We are all one seed, and inspiration is not limited by skin color.
We also need to consider that as a young person, I was exposed to and surrounded by roots music. I met the blues masters in person and learned directly from them. I think that is how any kind of art and inspiration is passed on from person to person.
I should not forget to add that I also was in fact a Beatles fan and a Rolling Stones fan. When I heard The Stones singing “Just’a walkin’ the dog!” I was totally impressed. These were obviously musicians who loved blues.

Q: Can you describe how being a woman has affected you in the music business? Do you think you have been treated differently and faced different challenges?

A: Today women are clearly still sex objects, but I would say that it is by choice now and not by force. There are women out there who do nothing whatever to play into the sex game, and frankly, they make the strongest statement to me. Music is about talent, genius, art and skill, and not about sex. It may be sexy, and also sexual, but in my opinion sex has nothing to do with the person’s art. I love music for it’s emotion and beauty. I don’t need the element of sexual theatrics around it to like it. In fact that turns me off, it’s like being raped in a way. But clearly I am in a minority in this opinion as the video market will attest.
It’s no longer a minus being a woman guitar player – I might even say it has become a plus. People used to assume that if you were a woman you would automatically play in a delicate, fluttery folk style, and they were somewhat shocked by the aggressive blues style I played. But that has changed, and now people seem to be really ready for it.
I enjoy being able to blast people’s stereotypes, to completely derail their preconceived notions. But at no time in the past did I ever think: “Now I’m going to play like a man.” It was just my style from the beginning. Frequently women come up to me and say they are inspired by the way I play, that they love to see a woman play so powerfully.

For anyone interested, this interview in its entirety can be found here:


“Angel of Mercy” features Block’s bluesy voice set against a pop/folk backdrop, which has made it her most popular song.











Continuing our traversal of the Beethoven piano sonatas…


I happen to be reading a book right now about the sixteenth century wars that involved Charles V, Francis I, and Sulieman the Magnificent. Charles and Francis thoroughly hated each other. Charles—the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and therefore most of Europe—was continually challenging Francis to a duel—with swords, of course, since handguns were not yet in use.

The idea of settling things, mano a mano, goes back a lot further than the 1500’s, of course. I imagine the most famous duel that Americans think about was the famous one between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton—the Vice President and Secretary of Treasury of the United States!! Amazing that it ever happened!

Thinking about this human—or maybe just “male” would be more appropriate?—predilection for settling things violently made the subject of piano duels come to my mind. And who better to write about in this context than Beethoven?

Pianist-composers from the mid-18th to the early 20th century obviously had more civilized ways of staging duels—but stage them, they did. It is amusing to read of these duels because they were civilized blood sports—these were no World Wide Wrestling fake piano duels! The ones that we know about the best, of course, are those in which both of the participants—there were always only two—were amazingly impressive to all that heard them—but in which one person was always soundly defeated. Such defeats were decided by audience reaction, but I would have to guess that there was never much doubt about the outcome, even to those who were losers—maybe especially to them.

Beethoven, pugnacious as always, was involved in three of these duels. It cannot be much of a surprise to us that he won all three. In 1793—at the age of 23—he “battled” a Czech composer-pianist named Joseph Gelinek. Such duels would start with each combatant playing whatever they considered to be the most impressive technical display they could muster, to really show their pianistic “chops”. Round two would involve the participants at two pianos, each one alternately improvising spontaneous variations on a theme that the other one would put forward. Finally, round three would involve each player sight-reading a work recently written by the other player, and while reading it, also play variations on it. Gelinek went into the competition saying he was going to make “mincemeat” out of Beethoven. By contrast, after Beethoven soundly beat him, he said “I’ll never forget yesterday evening! Satan himself is hidden in that young man. I have never heard anyone play like that! He improvised on a theme which I gave him as I never heard even Mozart improvise…He can overcome difficulties and draw effects from the piano such as we couldn’t even allow ourselves to dream about.”

Just one more Beethoven “duel” story: In 1800, the composer-pianist Daniel Steibelt challenged Beethoven to a duel, something he ruefully regretted the rest of his life. Beethoven played a Mozart sonata in the first round, Steibelt a Haydn sonata. Beethoven easily won the “variations” round. Then came the final round where each sight-reads a piece by the other, simultaneously making up variations on IT. Steibelt sight-read Beethoven’s Opus 22 sonata (#11, which we will eventually cover) and did OK. Beethoven then took Steibelt’s work—a newly written work for cello and piano (technically, this was cheating, to include another instrument in the score)—and turned the music upside down on the music rack, sight-read it backwards, and improvised for a full 30 minutes on this. Steibelt—and his reputation, forever—was destroyed.

I’ll return to a couple more duels in later posts—those between Mozart and Muzio Clementi—the first two composers of stature to write for this new instrument, the piano—and between Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg, the two towering virtuosos of their day, the 1840’s.

Neither one of these stories has anything directly to do with Beethoven’s sixth sonata. I just thought it would give a little insight into Beethoven, the man, in his 20’s, around the time he wrote this F Major sonata.

Beethoven was 27 when he wrote the sixth sonata. Like the sonata that came before it and the one that would follow, all three of the Opus 10 sonatas are dedicated to Countess Anne Margarete von Browne. She was the wife of a Russian diplomat stationed in Vienna and one of Beethoven’s benefactors.

Regarding composers and dedications, I suppose it is obvious, but I think it bears repeating that, historically, from the mid-eighteenth century on, composers were no longer reliant on their positions in the church or a court for their financial sustenance. Consequently, financial support was an ongoing, never-forgotten source of concern. Patrons and benefactors, therefore, HAD to be found in order to continue composing. It hardly mattered who this was. It could be nobility—meaning, those with titles and wealth—or business owners or well-to-do parents of students or really just about anybody. It would be a rare composition, say from 1770 into the 1900’s, that did not have a dedication preceding it—an homage and “thank you” for generous financial—and occasionally, just moral—support.

The sonata is in three movements, and is a relatively short work, taking just 13 minutes for all three movements. The first movement starts with two chords followed by a flippant little turn, which is immediately repeated—establishing a humorous mood from the get-go. The second movement is in the parallel minor key (“parallel” keys are those that start on the same note: F major/F minor) and it establishes a feeling of disquiet and restlessness. The third movement must be played with absolute control even though it is marked “Presto”—the fastest tempo indication—in order to convey the bustling merriness that Beethoven intended.

As usual in our Beethoven sonata traversal, the excellent pianist is Richard Goode.

Pictures are Beethoven, Gelinek, and Steibelt.






Astonishing beauty—it’s there for the listening…

When I posted an overview of the Franco-Flemish composers a few months ago (Music I Love, #168), I noted that there are three composers who mark the three peaks of that remarkable two-century long run of great imitative-counterpoint choral music. Those composers were Ockeghem, Josquin, and Lassus. We last looked at Ockeghem in MIL, #211. He was the “top” of the first wave of Franco-Flemish composers. Today, I want to highlight Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594), the “top” of the third, and last, wave. I’ll be posting Josquin—“top” of the second wave soon.

At the end of sixteenth century, the big three composers in Europe were the Netherlander Lassus, the Italian Palestrina, and the Spaniard Victoria. All three were, in their generation, like suns in a firmament of stars. Lassus, in particular, shone brightly because of the sheer quantity—over 2000 works—and the amazing quality of his writing. The common used forms of the day—motet, madrigal, villanelle, chansons, and lieder—were the vehicles through which his genius was heard. He works include 530 (!) motets, 175 madrigals, 150 chanson, and 60 masses.

In an age in which instrumental music was becoming more and more popular as art music, it is interesting that Lassus wrote no instrumental music, preferring choral and vocal music exclusively. The universal (meaning pan-European) appeal of his work and his style is reflected in the fact that he wrote to texts in four languages—Latin, French, Italian, and German.

Although born in what is today Belgium, Lassus left home at the age of twelve to study in Italy. His talent as a singer had been evident from the time he was a boy—he was supposedly KIDNAPPED three times by various parishes because of the beauty of his voice—and, in Italy, his aptitude for composition propelled him to be named maestro di cappella of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the ecumenical mother church of Rome, at the age of twenty-one. It was simply unheard-of for anyone so young to be appointed to such a position. It would be somewhat analogous to a young man of that age being named the conductor of a major orchestra or opera company. It was a spectacularly prestigious post.

Lassus felt he could not be tied to that post forever, though. And while still in his twenties, his musical travels and responsibilities were wide-ranging, all over France and England. When he was 33, he was offered the post of maestro de capella in Munich, a city he loved so much that he passed up all other opportunities thereafter in favor of staying in Munich for the rest of his life. Lassus’ fame as a master composer had spread to every corner of Europe; even at this relatively young age, composers were streaming from all over Europe to study with him there.

Lassus was a very serious man who remained a staunch Catholic even though the times he lived in were brimming with religious controversy and polarization. Especially attractive to him were the penitential psalms—those psalms expressing sorrow for sin. There are seven of these. In the Christian Bible, these would be Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142. (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 in the Hebrew numbering.)

Lassus was not the first Renaissance composer to compose works based on these psalms, but by common agreement, his (which were written in 1584) are the most impressive and beautiful. The Penitential Psalms were my introduction to Lassus—a falling in love at first listen—some forty years ago. __________________________

I hope no one will mind my taking a moment here to say a word about actually listening to the links in my posts. Those of you who have been with me from the beginning know that my motivation for posting music I love is to share music (and whatever I happen to know about music) with others. Truly, nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing I have successfully shared something of beauty with others. Now that I’ve started a separate Facebook page—ROBERT RUCKMAN, MUSICIAN—I am able to see that, although 100 people may check out a given post, very few readers are clicking on the YouTube links and listening to them.

Don’t get me wrong—I am very glad to share knowledge about composers and music. And I am aware that listening to anything at all requires time—a precious commodity. But—to make an analogy—if I had a genuine interest in, say, the history of art, but I was content to simply read about it—the artist’s life, how he compared with other artists, a description of his style and what was unique about him or her—but I never actually just beheld an artist’s work when it was right in front of me, I would be living life at a distance, once-removed from actual experience, a second-best existence.

So, I really do hope that it will be possible for you to find enough time to listen to the links in my posts. Maybe not so much with pop music or other music that you are already thoroughly familiar with, but especially in cases like today—with a composer like Lassus who may be unfamiliar to you. Listening to the music can be an opportunity for horizon-expanding.

OK, I hope that didn’t sound like a lecture. Not my intention at all.

If hearing Lassus IS a new experience for you, I would offer the suggestion that it might be more instructive, and probably leave a deeper impression, if, after listening to the first few minutes, you simply skipped around in the following link rather than listening straight through. These works are the high-water mark of Renaissance vocal polyphony. You will know in the first half-minute whether Lassus simply doesn’t appeal to you—or whether he opens up a whole new world of astonishing beauty. I think what is important is to get an aural taste of what the best music of the late Renaissance actually sounded like.

As I mentioned, Lassus wrote settings for all seven of the Penitential Psalms. I am linking here to a really fine performance featuring four of these settings. The singers are the Leipzig-based, world famous Kammerchor Josquin des Prez.

Penitential Psalm #1 – Psalm 6 0:00
Penitential Psalm #3—Psalm 37 13:45
Penitential Psalm #6—Psalm 129 38:50
Penitential Psalm #7—Psalm 142 46:35

Pictures are Lassus, the Penitential Psalm choirbook–notice how beautiful it is–and the Kammerchor des Prez.





BUS STOP (1966)

The Hollies were a British pop/rock group from the industrial town of Manchester. Although they were therefore not part of the Liverpool/Merseybeat crowd, they nevertheless styled themselves as a Merseybeat-type group. Graham Nash and Allan Clarke formed the nucleus of the group in 1962. The Hollies’ time of greatest popularity was the last half of the 1960’s—primarily before 1968 when Graham Nash left the group to join the super-group Crosby, Stills and Nash (no Young yet at that point in time).

The group’s name comes from their admiration for Buddy Holly, the American rock legend of the 1950’s who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 23. “The Hollies” at their peak consisted of Allan Clarke (vocals), Graham Nash (guitar and vocals), Eric Haydock (bass), Tony Hicks (lead guitar), and Bobby Elliott (drums). The group had considerable international popularity, charting 30 hits and recording 26 albums. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Hollies are one of the very few British bands—like the Rolling Stones—never to have disbanded (though their current line-up only retains two original members). They still tour every year throughout Europe. They were also one of the last 60’s “British invasion” bands to conquer the U.S.

Their American popularity took off with their 1966 hit “Bus Stop”—although, for me personally, I loved them from the first measures of “Look Through Any Window” in 1965. As I mentioned, founding member Graham Nash left the group in 1968. His last hit with the Hollies was “Carrie Anne.” Allan Clarke, the group’s other founding member, when he saw the success that Nash was having with CSNY, decided to leave the group as well. But his lack of solo success and his yearning to still be part of the group led him to rejoin the group after two years absence. The final two songs in my own personal favorites, below, include him as lead singer.

I’ve always felt that the Hollies were a greatly underestimated British group. They were more appreciated in Britain than in the U.S.—they had quite a number of chart-topping hits over there that had only mediocre success here. In 1964, at the time of the beginning of the Beatles’ great and long-enduring success, I would say the Hollies were the third best performing and writing group in Britain—ahead of a long list of impressive bands: Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, Cream, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, B.J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Yardbirds, and the Zombies. (I must confess that I have never been a Stones fan—for me, they have always been like a vaccination that just wouldn’t “take”—so I just can’t include them in this list. This, I know, will sound like sacrilege to my Stones-loving friends.) Only the Who—in my opinion—had more going for them, creatively, than the Hollies.

The musical quality of the Hollies that I am attracted to the most—as has often been the case for me with so many pop groups—is their vocal harmonizing, which is pretty REMARKABLE. Their inclusion of certain instruments—the 12-string guitar and the banjo—in their songs was also a real plus for me.

In addition to the five songs listed below—my own Hollies Hall of Fame—the group also had U.S. success with I Can’t Let Go, On A Carousel, Carrie Anne, Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, and King Midas In Reverse.

Good memories, fine music, well-performed.

My personal Hollies favorites, in the order of their release: