Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wolfgang Rihm Violin Works -- Serious music for serious listeners

Rihm: Complete Works for Violin & Piano 
Tianwa Yang, violin; Nicholas Rimmer, piano 

This is music not for the faint of heart. Wolfgang Rihm is an expressionist composer, who cites Mahler, Schoenberg, and Boulez among his influences. Rihm's an extremely prolific composer, and while his music may reflect his influences, it's certainly not derivative. Rihm has a distinctive voice and his music unfolds according to his own logic.

Unber die LInei VII for solo violin is a massive work that presents Rihm at his bare essence. Double-stops and arpeggios are rare in this work -- most of the music is a single-line melody. But what a melody! It skips around in a pointillist fashion, then becomes tenderly lyrical, then hops up to the extreme register for some softly played harmonics. All the while, though, the music has a sense of direction. And that sense helps the listener follow the player through this world Rihm sets them out to explore.

Eine Violinsonate and Hekton come from the early 1970's, and share a similar style. The music is disjunct, with sudden, wide leaps in register. By contrast, Antlitz and Phantom und Eskapade, composed twenty years later, show significant growth in Rihm's style. The leaps are still there, but its now but one aspect of Rihm's musical language, rather than the defining feature of it.

Tianwa Yang and Nicholas Rimmer have firm command of this material -- which is no mean feat. If you're up for some active listening of thought-provoking music, then this may be the disc for you. Rihm's music is adventurous and challenging, but never dull. And you'll hear some darned fine playing, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

C.E.F. Weyse - A Danish Treasure Rediscovered

The premise of "Gamut" is that the program is a continual survey of the rich repertoire of classical music. By never repeating a work, I'm forced to continually seek out both lesser-known works by famous composers, and lesser-known composers of merit.

This lead me recently to Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse (1774-1842), a Danish composer I had never heard of before. Given his life story, that's not surprising. But I was pleasantly surprised by his music, and for the next two months I'll be airing works by this interesting figure.

Weyse was born in Altona, originally part of Denmark , but now in Germany. At the age of 15 he moved to Copenhagen to with prominent Danish composer J.A.P. Schultz, and remained in the city for the rest of his life.

Weyse was deeply influenced by the music of Mozart and Haydn, and was inspired in the 1790's to compose seven symphonies in the then-prevalent early classical style of his heroes. It was to remain his musical language throughout his career.

The New Groves Dictionary calls his symphonies "not of real importance as independent concert works." Ouch. I disagree -- which is why we'll be airing all seven symphonies over the course of the next seven weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

Weyse made his mark in the realm of vocal music, particularly operas (mostly singspiel), cantatas, and smaller choral and songs for solo voice. He was also an excellent pianist, and his compositions for that instrument are quite fine, if somewhat conservative by nature.

Below is a sample from his Easter Cantata. As you can hear, the choral writing is on par with that of Haydn or Mozart. The work was completed in 1821. At the time it might have sounded old-fashioned. Today? Not so much.

As his fame grew (at least within Denmark), Wesye became the center of musical activity in Copenhagen. But he was also recognized outside his native country as well. Carl Maria von Weber, Ignaz Molchese and Franz Liszt all paid visits to Wesye, considering him a colleague in equal standing.

Which leads us back to "Gamut." Although Weyse is an unfamiliar figure outside of Denmark, he was respected by the major composers of his day. And if Franz Liszt thinks you're a pretty good pianist, well, that has to mean something!

We'll be airing a good sampling of Weyse's music, and you can judge for yourself. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard -- I hope you will be, too.

"Gamut" - Wednesday Morning 6-9AM on WTJU 91.1fm
Listen online at
Replay the archived show anytime at

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Iamus and the problem of soul

A new composer has entered the classical music scene, and not everyone's thrilled about it. Before you read further, give this short work a listen.

Is it the greatest piece of music written in the 21st Century? Probably not. Is it a coherent piece of music, though? Definitely. And one that seems to have a sense of motion.

It was a work created by Iamus, a computer cluster at the Unoversidad de Malaga. It was designed to compose contemporary classical music -- like the example above.

What makes this different, and perhaps less mechanical than other attempts at music generators? First, the algorithms used (melomics) are far more advanced than those of previous compositional computers. Second, the goal isn't to slavishly recreate the style of a particular composer, but take a small motif and develop it in different ways.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that Iamus isn't writing computer music to be played by itself. Its compositions are to be played by human musicians. Which allows for individual interpretation, and adds an important dimension to what could otherwise be a cold intellectual exercise.

As I said, not everyone's thrilled about it. Comment fields in articles about Iamus are filled with ragings against the machine. Will this put humans out of the composition business? (Hardly) Does it help us further understand the mysteries of artistic creation? (Perhaps) Is it music worth listening to? (You decide)

So what do you think? And more importantly, how much of your evaluation of the music comes from your knowledge of its origin? If Iamus was a human being, would the reaction to this music be the same?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Classical Resolutions

The start of a new year always seems to present an opportunity to improve oneself. If you're reading this post, then chances are you:
1) Listen regularly to WTJU's classical programming
2) Know how to use a computer

If you'd like to enjoy classical music more in 2013, both of those skills will come in handy.

Resolution 1: Listen to more classical music on WTJU
 - We don't air classical music all day long, but you don't have to remember the schedule to know when to tune in. All of our programs are recorded and stored online, ready for you to replay at your convenience. Go to our tape vault (under the Streaming tab), and select the show you want to hear. You can even pre-sort by genre, so only classical programs display on the list.

So if you're a late riser, you can still enjoy all three hours of Dawn's Early Light. Just go to the tape vault on our website and press play to listen through your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Resolution 2: Learn more about classical music
 - There are quite a few on- and off-line resources, but two of the easiest to use are also the most popular (and confidentially they're the ones we use quite a bit, too) -- Wikipedia and YouTube.

While Wikipedia can have accuracy issues, its entries about classical composers, famous works, and style periods are generally pretty accurate (although somewhat abbreviated on more obscure composers). And if the Wiki entry doesn't have the info you want, the websites cited at the bottom of the article usually will.

YouTube is more than just funny videos about cats in bags and dogs on skateboards. A surprising amount of classical music is available on the site, a good deal of it in good quality audio. Perhaps you're curious about the symphonic music of Joachim Raff. A quick search on YouTube will pull up several of his symphonies, concertos and chamber works. All available for you to listen to for free (like Raff's 3rd Symphony, below).

Resolution 3: Be a better member of the WTJU listener community
 - OK, I'm pretty sure no one will actually make such a resolution, but they should. WTJU is here to serve its listeners, but can only do so with support from said listeners. You don't have to wait for a fund drive to pledge your support to the station -- you can do it anytime 24/7 on our website.

So when you go access the most recent episode of A Time For Singing or Classical Cafe to play back, why not make a side trip via the Donate Now button?

Our resolution is to continue to improve the quality of the service we provide you, and improve the quality of the classical music we present.

Here's to a wonderful new year to us all.