The Galaxy – Is it really almost July 4th?

A page for the score to Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major

A page for the score to Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major

We start the evening with a rather transcendent piece of music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s Symphony No. 41 in C (often referred to as the “Jupiter” Symphony).  Mozart finished the piece in August of 1788, during a six week timespan that saw him write three major symphonies, two piano trios, his Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, and a violin sonatina.  It is unclear whether the symphony was ever performed during Mozart’s lifetime, but once it and its two mates (Symphonies 39 and 40) entered the repertoire they were quickly recognized as being compositional masterpieces.  Mozart did not disguise his influences, borrowing a plainchant motif from Josquin Des Prez that he had also used in his first symphony (from 1764), and taking ideas from Michael Haydn, Haydn’s older brother Joseph.  His usage of sonata, rondo and fugal forms is reminiscent of Bach as well as Haydn.

In researching the background for this piece, I found this quote from a 1959 television documentary (“The Ageless Mozart”):

… Mozart constantly moves above and beyond his period, bursting out of his formulistic frame, and even using those very formulas in his own way to produce music of surprising originality and power.  It is a power that enabled him to produce works of towering strength, far indeed from the musical snuffbox in which people so often lock him up.  Take one of his minuets, for instance: what could be more anti-powerful than a dainty minuet?  And yet there stands that muscular movement from his G minor Symphony (note: they refer to Symphony 40), utterly transformed through the strength and ingenuity of its rhythms into a movement of rich pathos and grandeur.  Some dainty minuet!  Why, the rhythmic variety and surprises in those few bars could be typical of a twentieth-century composer, so bold and new do they sound.  And, as far as power, only think of the “Jupiter Symphony”, in particular the strength of that contrapuntal last movement, which looks back to Bach for its massive fugal complexity, its virility and architectural thrust.

Tonight’s recording is a 1984 recording by the Vienna Philharmonic, under the conduction of Leonard Bernstein.

English: Ian Anderson and Martin Barre, Jethro...

English: Ian Anderson and Martin Barre, Jethro Tull in concert, Chicago 1973. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Jethro Tull (the band, not the individual, especially as I know of no such individual) may not be quite as fastidious with compositional form as Mozart was, their music was no less of a thrill, especially in performance.  Tonight we heard a set from their Isle of Wight performance from 1970: My Sunday Feeling, My God, With You There to Help Me, To Cry You a Song, and Bourée.  Outside from the pure enjoyment of the music, there are some rather interesting aspects of this performance.  One, we hear what might have been (in my opinion) their most dynamic lineup, with Clive Bunker on drums and Glenn Cormick on bass, and John Evan on keyboards.  Cormick would leave the band later that year, and Bunker would leave the band after the release of Aqualung.  So the performance we hear of My God, the first portion of a song cycle which would take up the entire second side of Aqualung, is a truly interesting document given that this occurs a full year before the song was released, and may in fact be the first document of the song.  We also get a full glimpse of their progressive tendencies, with Evan quoting Beethoven during an extended piano solo, and finally with their performance of concert favorite Bourée.

This photo from around 1913 shows Ives in his ...

This photo from around 1913 shows Ives in his “day job.” He was the director of a successful insurance agency. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given the coming Fourth of July holiday, it is always appropriate to find something uniquely American to celebrate the Fourth with.  While it is certainly tempting to plug in some John Phillips Sousa (I perpetually have difficulty finding a suitable recording of his works), I am able to insert something from another great American composer, Charles Ives.  Ives began composition of his Three Places in New England as early as 1903, but wrote most of the work between 1911 and 1914, and added revisions in 1929.  The work is typical Ives, mixing his reverence for American traditional and popular music – the piece quotes from a number of songs, ranging from ragtime to patriotic Civil War tunes – with his willingness to color outside the lines and engage in at times chaotic dissonances, clashing time signatures, and competing instrumental sections.  The piece consists of three sections: The “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common (Col. Shaw and His Colored Regiment), Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut, and The Houstatonic at Stockbridge, and it was the first of Ives’ compositions to be published (1935).  Tonight’s recording is by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus joining in for the Houstatonic section.  Michael Tilson Thomas conducted.

The Art of Noise, in an unusually unabstract moment

The Art of Noise, in an unusually unabstract moment

I enjoy playing material from The Art of Noise whenever the occasion comes up.  Their material dates back to a day when “techno” (one might also call it “electronica”, but I tend to think that their music really defies easy definition) was more than just something to be heard on the dance floor.  This electronic music is introspective and thoughtful, and made innovative use of electronic technology during a time in which the techonology was in its infancy.  We heard two songs from Who’s Afraid Of (The Art of Noise): A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid), and Moments In Love.

We finished the show with Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood, a lovely song from St. Vincent’s album Actor.


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