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06 Aug 2020

The Major Sound of the Extraterrestrial: Meet Theremin


Close your eyes for a second to remember Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Spellbound – what is the first thing that you hear thinking about the film? That eerie theme written by ‎the Hungarian-American composer Miklós Rózsa to depict the arrival of the aliens is created with the help of one of the weirdest yet most interesting instruments called theremin. Crowned the father of eccentric rare music instruments, it is the main focus of today’s article.

Hitchcock was not the first and the only one to use theremin in his work. Due to the specific sounding, it was widely featured in other films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann), First Man (Justin Hurwitz), Odna (Dmitri Shostakovich), The Delicate Delinquent (Jerry Lewis), Midsomer Murders (Jim Parker), Mars Attacks (Danny Elfman).

As you can notice, the theme of most these TV works is kinda intercrossing and the use of theremin revolves around similar topics and moods. But why did composers pick exactly this instrument? The answer may hide in the very mechanics of theremin’s sound. Rich and universal in nature, it was created as a no-contact electronic music instrument that produces a great variety of sounds with the help of two antennae. The horizontal loop antenna is responsible for the volume, while the upright one – for the pitch. The Russian physicist Leon Theremin, who patented it in 1928 in the US, was initially part of the Soviet research dedicated to proximity sensors. 

Although the invention did not immediately become a commercial success, it seemed to fascinate the audiences for its originality and suitability for various repertoires, from classical to rock. Thus, the first biggest fans to compose specifically for theremin were Henry Cowell (USA) and Edgard Varèse (France-USA). Below you can listen to Varèse’s “Ecuatorial” that was among the first pieces to mix traditional ensemble instruments and their new unusual colleague: 

It’s not only alien-themed works that sound great on theremin. For example, Gershwin wrote a beautiful Romantic suite (“First Airphonic Suite”) as a dedication to Leon Theremin, elegantly featuring theremin as if it were a leading violin or a cello. This is why you can actually perform most classical pieces on this instrument without fearing that it won’t fit in naturally enough. To begin with, try some suites by Percy Grainger (“Free Music Suites”).

Taking into consideration that theremin is basically the daddy of electronic music, it is no wonder that popular music found a spot for it too. You can hear the theremin or its analogues in “Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, “Between the Buttons” album by The Rolling Stones. 

Going back to the most popularized sphere of theremin’s use, it’s important to mention the real Extraterrestrial Concert, a broadcast that took place in 2001 in Crimea. The so-called concert was transmitted during three days as part of an interstellar radio message. The theremin recordings of seven melodies were played, among them Beethoven’s “9th Symphony”, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”, Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons. The scores to all of the above mentioned compositions can be found in our catalogue in addition to the separate theremin sheet music section.

We hope you’ve learnt something new about this unique instrument and, who knows, maybe had a desire to play a suite or two for the aliens.

24 Mar 2020

Musicians At Home: Things To Do In Isolation

Planet Earth

It’s impressive how an entire world can change within just a few months. Economies fall, health systems collapse and people get locked down for weeks. And all that happens not because of some huge extraterrestrial invasion or Godzilla attack but because of a tiny yet forceful virus.

While people worldwide have already learnt to wash hands well, keep the social distance and not panic, most of them have faced a problem of self-organizing at home. It’s not that easy to give up all the usual activities at once and get isolated in a limited space for an unknown period of time that is still quite vague in predictions. In order to alleviate this consequence, a lot of companies and organizations re-arranged the way of providing their services. Some TV streaming or educational platforms, for example, offer a month-long subscription free of charge to all their customers stuck at home. 

Now that most gigs and concerts are cancelled, big artists and concert halls try to transfer the performances into the digital format. Thus, noted pianist Denis Matsuev gave a live concert in Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow with zero viewers in person but thousands of viewers online. A lot of music bands and solo artists that also have to keep the quarantine do online streams of some songs or entire gigs. Common people in Italy and Spain get on the balconies to play music in unison with other musicians of the street block.

Fortunately, today if you have a PC and Internet connection, a lot of useful activities become available to you right in your room. Musicians are no exception to the rule of self-isolation but they have a little bonus with them – creative work. If you are a player, composer, arranger or music enthusiast of any kind, there’s quite a lot to do at home. Why not try to spend this time with profit?

Now that you’ve probably slept for as long as you hadn’t slept in a long time, time to start fighting procrastination and get down to doing things. We’ve made a short list of ideas you could use as guidelines to a rewarding quarantine time. 

Practice/Compose. Your major activity, of course. When else will you have so much time for it? You could also do joint Skype rehearsals and even little concerts with your colleagues (we hope your neighbors won’t hate you too much for that). There’s a chance that by the time it all ends, you will emerge as a different-level player already! Composers can focus on long-time works and commissions and finish minor pieces they had been putting on a shelf.

Advanced pieces. Remember that nasty complicated movement you could never handle? Time has come to conquer it. What about learning a few challenging etudes you always liked but feared?

Update CV. Having your resume neat and ready is always a good thing. Check if it needs updating.

Personal website. Take care of the main sections – categorize sheet music, update texts at the main page or bio, share your thoughts in an article, add more pics to the gallery and of course, upload more scores and audio samples. If you don’t have a personal site yet, consider getting one, it can be easily done for free.

Old scores. Check your earlier music works to fix the scores that often seem to have some little issues to correct. You’ll have plenty of time for editing those.

Recordings. Now anyone can become a successful YouTube blogger. Why not make a recording of a piece? Even if it’s not about blogging, it’s great for performers to have a look at themselves from the side, and for composers – to find someone who would perform their work on video.

Grants and contests. Search the web for interesting music happenings in the world to consider. Now most competitions hold the eliminatory stage in absentia by video applications. Visit our Music Competitions section for some options too.

Online collaborations. Enjoy communication in various music theme forums to find support and maybe even creative collaboration from fellow-stuck colleagues.

Artwork. How about learning to draw or to play a new instrument? Maybe you always wanted to add ukulele or a recorder to your skills? Now that delivery services work at maximum to help you out, you can think of a new hobby to take up.

Read. People often complain about the complete lack of time for reading. Now it’s there.

Tidy up, after all. Remember all those tasks you were eternally busy to deal with at home? Clean environment is believed to make a positive influence on the work process, even if it’s a ‘creative mess’, it’d better be fresh.

Now that you look up on the list, the labour day already seems quite busy, doesn’t it. We hope our little pieces of advice will make your quarantine more fruitful and joyful as well. Share your ways of making home time productive in the comments. 

Stay healthy and take care!

Video: British artist Stephen Ridley performs a re-worked version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a public piano at an empty metro station in London, dedicating the song to the world.

14 Feb 2020

Three Love Triangle Music Stories

Valentine's Day

Every year on February 14, we keep seeing a lot of music recommendations or make up playlists ourselves for the Day of Love. One could easily get lost in the variety of romantic ambient music for the occasion but sometimes you don’t need to overwhelm yourself in the quantity. 

On this day, we decided to focus rather on the stories behind the pieces that were composed ‘because of’ and ‘for’ love, picking three pieces that speak the universal language of love. Let’s have a look at them and get inspired right now. It’s time!

Franck: Piano Quintet

No doubt many of you played this piece but how many played it without knowing the story? Franck’s quintet is one of his most intense works in terms of emotion. Learning what lead to its creation brings more meaning and awareness to the performance. The Piano Quintet was composed when César Franck was 57 years old. At that time, he worked as professor at the Paris Music Conservatoire and that’s where he met Augusta Holmès. Augusta used to be his student attending organ and composition classes. Being a young attractive woman, she was quite popular among men who surrounded her with lots of attention and care, so Franck had a lot of competitors. One of them, was another talented composer – Saint-Saëns (44 at the time) – who even proposed to the young lady a few times. Being married, Franck was definitely out of luck on that battlefield. All the emotions he felt were poured right into this piano quintet, which is dedicated not to Augusta by the way, but to his rival Saint-Saëns.

Brahms: Intermezzo No.2 from Op. 118

In that famous tangle Schumann-Clara-Brahms, there are quite a few historical speculations and guesses that will never be entirely untangled. But a sure thing was Brahms’ deep love for that woman and the mutual respect they had. "Six Pieces Op. 118", Brahms’ penultimate work for piano solo, are officially dedicated to Clara and were published in their lifetime. Clara would read the tender lines from Brahms’ letters and listen to the virtuoso piano Intermezzo in A minor. “My Beloved Clara… I should like to spend the whole day calling you endearing names and paying you compliments without ever being satisfied…

Debussy: L'Isle Joyeuse 

The origins of another lovesong is based on another love twist that actually turned into a double triangle. Emma Bardac was a femme fatale for several men including Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy who she finally chose to spend the happy life with. At the time when she was married to the banker Sigismund Bardac, Fauré worked closely with her as a soprano and couldn’t help falling in love with this woman. He later composed his ‘L’Hiver A Cessé’ (from La Bonne Chanson) for her. But the woman opted to change her life in a different direction. Emma fell in love with Claude Debussy who was also a married man at the time. Well, seems that music artists were not the most faithful of people back in time. The two started seeing each other and spent a lot of time on the Jersey Island in La Manche. That’s where “The Island of Joy” was born, a beautiful lyrical work capturing the happy carefree time of Emma and Claude. The lovers got their divorces (Emma – easier, Debussy – with more drama), gave birth to a child, got married and with time purchased an estate on that beloved island of theirs. Now when you listen to or play this music work, it’s going to be much easier to envision and truly experience the joy of love together with the couple.

We wish all those celebrating Valentine’s Day a lot of mutual love, understanding and appreciation of the moment. Do not forget that going back to the history helps to live the full of a masterpiece and enjoy every note composed even more.



20 Jan 2020

Happy Beethoven Year

Beethoven 2020

January 2020 is not just the start of a new calendar round – it marks the beginning of the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth. So we can sincerely wish you a Happy Beethoven Year!

Even out of this context, Beethoven has been one the most performed composers and his music does not need much introduction. However, 2020 is about something more global, literally – the celebration will take place on the entire Planet Earth, as countries join the program and arrange special concerts, meetings, workshops and meet-ups dedicated to the great composer.

For example, Hong Kong will be featuring Beethoven music until May, performed by such acknowledged pianists as Lang Lang, Rachel Cheung, Vikingur Olafsson, Rudolf Buchbinder, and Nobuyuki Tsukii. 

It’s not only about people though. This year, the specialists are planning to use the Artificial Intelligence in order to reconstruct the famous hypothetical 10th symphony, based on composer’s sketches and Barry Cooper's version – a happening that both excites and terrifies many musicians, causing a lot of intrigue and polemic.

The House of Bonn, where Beethoven lived and worked, has created a special logo for the event, and encourages to use the hashtag #BTHVN2020 in the social networks to unite all the events that will be taking place during the entire 2020.

Below is the video about the creation of the new logo and people who have worked on making this year special. 

Video: New Logo for Beethoven Brand

MusicaNeo invites you to join the world invitation too and choose your favourite Beethoven pieces to play this year. Our catalogue currently counts over 570 works that include both original compositions and contemporary arrangements for all types of instruments.

Let’s celebrate Beethoven together!