This week, we started slow and ended at a break-neck speed! Browse our playlist from "Accelerando!" our show featuring some of Classical music's most extreme step-on-the-gas moments.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) The Planets, Op. 32: Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity Gustav Holst was inspired to write his Planets suite by the astrological concepts associated with the planets of our solar system. That said, the planets themselves and the Roman gods and goddesses for whom they were named are inextricably linked to the astrological theories that so fascinated Holst. Why, then were some celestial bodies not included? Though the (former) planet Pluto is astrologically significant, it was not discovered until 1930, 13 years after Holst completed his suite. Conversely, the Earth is astrologically neutral, so it did not figure in his plans. Though the music was considered quite avant garde in 1917 Britain, The Planets became one of Holst’s most popular works during his lifetime. It enjoys enduring popularity to the point that many people could not name another work by Holst. Jupiter is one of the most popular movements of the suite, with its noble secondary theme that became a patriotic British hymn. As we just heard, that gives way to a triumphant conclusion via a grand accelerando.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in c-sharp (piano arr.) Franz Liszt’s strong ties to his homeland led to his appointment as the first president of the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in 1875. He considered Hungarian peasant music to be the only “real” folk music of Europe, and adapted this music into his 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies for solo piano, although later historians like Bartók revealed that Liszt’s so-called “folk melodies” might not be completely authentic. Liszt was also never satisfied with just one version of a piece. He arranged his Hungarian Rhapsodies for other ensembles, including piano four hands and piano trio. He even took six of the nineteen rhapsodies and arranged them for full orchestra. But the six he chose were completely out of order: for instance, piano rhapsody 14 turned into the first orchestral rhapsody, rhapsody 12 turned into orchestral rhapsody four. The Hungarian Rhapsodies, especially numbers one and two are still frequently performed as their original piano versions.
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 Rimsky-Korsakov composed his ‘Spanish Capriccio’ in 1887 as a companion piece to the Fantasia on Two Russian Themes. The piece makes such demands on the orchestra that Rimsky-Korsakov dedicated the work to the sixty-seven instrumentalists who played during its premiere. Several sections of the Capriccio are in the style of Spanish celebration and ceremonial music, hence the emphasis on trumpets and kettle drums. We just listened to the rousing finale of the piece, which features a particularly extreme accelerando. This recording with Leonard Bernstein on the podium is infamous for the final, breakneck speed he manages to get the New York Philharmonic to by the final cadence. Capriccio Espagnol remains a favorite concert piece for many orchestra and a crowd-pleaser, with its many solo sections featuring different instruments in the ensemble and tuneful melodies.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) Peer Gynt: 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' By the time Grieg composed his music to Peer Gynt in 1867, the idea of indicating “accelerando” in a score was a regular practice. However, before the Romantic era, those kinds of expression markings were uncommon. Baroque composers left them almost entirely up to the performer, and it wasn’t until 1834, that the word accelerando first appears in Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue, Op 37. The tempo of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” continues to increase to convey the terror and urgency of the situation: an intense accelerando coupled with a crescendo which builds to a thrilling ending. The work originally comes from Act II of Peer Gynt, incidental music to the Norwegian epic play by Henrik Ibsen. In this scene, the ne’er-do-well hero Peer is trying to escape the clutches of the Troll King, who tries unsuccessfully to force Peer to marry his troll daughter.
Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747) Les éléments [The Elements] Tambourin Jean-Féry Rebel was born in 1666 into a family of professional musicians, and was a famous violin prodigy by the time he was 8. He studied composition with Lully, and became especially successful at writing dance music. His last work, the orchestral dance suite Les Élémens, was daring and groundbreaking when it was first published in 1737. The suite depicts the creation of the world, beginning with a very modern-sounding musical depiction of chaos, and then moving through the four elements, which are represented by different dances. Water is represented by a lively tambourin. The tambourin was a popular type of 18th century character piece meant to evoke Provencal folk-dancing, which would’ve been accompanied by a small pipe and drum known as a tabor. Heavy downbeats and drones are a distinct characteristic of tambourins.
John Adams (b.1947) Shaker Loops: III. Loops and Verses Adams wrote Shaker Loops in the mid-seventies, when musical minimalism developed by composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich was at its peak. This four-movement work, originally written for string quartet and later re-worked for full orchestra, is built on the simple concept of shaking or trembling, as translated through tremolos and trills. However the title also references the Shaker religious sect, and the emotional intensity of their charismatic ceremonies, where Adams imagines them vibrating in rapturous ecstasy. Though he left for the west to study music in California, John Adams grew up near the rural New Hampshire town where the Shakers had established their community.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2: Toccata (O Tremzinho do Caipira) Villa-Lobos described Bach as a “universal folkloric source, rich and profound, linking all peoples,” and his nine Bachianas brasilieras were written as an homage to the composer. However the bachianas are less stylistic renditions of Bach but rather free adaptations of baroque counterpoint and harmonic techniques merged with popular Brazilian music. The second bachianias is noteworthy for its richness in texture, and also its unsentimental portrayal of north-eastern Brazil’s rural landscape and peasant life. The final toccata depicts a steam train clearly in need of maintenance, with its clanks, thumps and fluctuating changes in tempo, but one that still manages to trudge surely on through the backlands.
Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963) Malagueña The Cuban pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona was born into a musical family. His first piano teacher was his sister Ernestina, who was already a famous pianist and composer in her own right. Ernesto completed his first composition when he was 11, and after graduating with distinction from the National Conservatory in Havana in 1913, he began an illustrious career as a concert pianist, composer and bandleader. Lecuona mostly performed his own works and also other compositions by contemporary Cuban composers. Though he wrote in many genres including film, zarzuela, and art song, his solo salon piano music has remained the most popular. The “Malaguena” from his Andalucia Suite has been transcribed and arranged for countless instruments and ensembles.
Medeski, Martin & Wood (1997) Bubblehouse This jazz-fusion group was formed in the early 90’s when jazz vibraphonist and drummer Bob Moses brought together his student Billy Martin with the keyboardist John Medeski and the bassist Chris Wood. Originally starting as an acoustic jazz trio, the group began to experiment with elements of soul, rock, and hip-hop after Medeski started incorporating vintage electric organs and analog synthesizers into their sound, such as the Hammond B-3 organ, the Fender-Rhodes, the Mellotron, and the clavinet. Their eclectic approach to jazz has allowed them to cross many musical boundaries, opening for jam and alt rock bands while also headlining at classic jazz music festivals.