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09 Aug 2019

It’s Raining Classical

rain

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.

̶  said Roger Miller, American composer and musician. 

Whether it is a light shower or a heavy storm, there is definitely something spirit-stirring about the water falling from the sky. If you go to YouTube in search of some music for ‘relaxation, study and concentration’, it is highly likely that the search engine will suggest you some 10-hour tropical rain set among other meditative options. The force of nature has been stupefying people for centuries and the water is among its most magnetic elements.

We love summer rains, do you? Warm and powerful as they may get. Getting inspired by the phenomenon ourselves, we decided to track the influence of rain in the creative work of some classical composers. There must definitely be something in it that brought these people of art to sit down and pen a piece or two. Below we put together a short selection of really ‘wet’ classical compositions that could be a perfect alternative for your YouTube search request. The way rain is pictured in this music is a special sort of pleasure. 

Depending on the mood, you can indulge yourself with a playful embodiment of water in music, or let in a bit of melancholy and summertime sadness. Recommended to listen to during the rainfall or instead of it. Enjoy!


Frederik Chopin, Raindrop Prelude

This is the 15th piece out of the 24 Chopin’s preludes under Op.28. A clear association with the rain is established from the start – composer adds the repeated A flat into the piece’s pattern that can’t but produce the effect of heavy raindrops. Chopin, however, did not like the fact that his work was called an imitation of the rain. According to George Sand, his lifelong partner, he even got angry at such a comparison. Rather, he called it a translation of nature’s energy through his artistic genius. The woman recalls a dream that he shared with her: a vision where he was in a lake and the raindrops fell heavily on his chest inspired him for creating this work. The Raindrop Prelude is the longest in the set. It is also believed to be deeply introspective and quite intimate for Chopin, something way more than just a rainfall on the roof.

Video: Raindrop Prelude

Benjamin Britten, Noye’s Fludde

In this opera for children, Benjamin Britten tells the Biblical story of Noye’s Ark. The rain here is not created by the musical means but is produced with the help of simple domestic utensils. It was Gustav Holst’ daughter Imogen who was Britten’s assistant at the time. She was the one who showed him the experiment she made during teaching percussion to women at wartime. The sound of the raindrops was reconstructed with the help of the mugs hanging on a string and a big wooden spoon hitting them. The rain that we hear in the opera precedes a heavy storm, both natural and musical.

Video: Noye’s Fludde

Claude Debussy, Jardins Sous la Pluie

The third movement of Debussy’s solo piano piece “Estamps” is translated as “gardens in the rain” and couldn’t be titled better. The rain can be heard in all its forms here, from the soft touch of the first drops to the massive storm over Normandy. The story takes place in a garden of a small community of Orbec. Debussy masterfully interweaves two popular French nursery songs into this episode, and in general, the influence of childhood dreams can be clearly traced through many of his works. The rain here is illustrated with sparkling vividness and anyone playing the work on the piano can perfectly feel the rapid spring shower ‘fall down’ on the keyboard. The composition closely reminds a toccata in technique and requires good hand coordination skills to play it well.

Video: Jardins Sous la Pluie

Judith Weir, The Welcome Arrival of Rain

Composing this work, Judith Weir looked much further into the essence if the rain rather than just imitating its meditative sound. The idea was to highlight the life-giving power of this water and the growth it provides in so many ways. The Welcome Arrival of Rain is thus a renewal metaphor set to music. The piece was inspired by an extract from a Hindu text about the coming of monsoon rains to India and bringing new life to all living things. Just listen to the delicately captured sense of the fluid and trembling downpour. 

Edvard Grieg, Spring Rain

One of the six songs from Op.49 (Seks Digte) by Grieg is fully dedicated to rain. The lyrics of the entire set are in the Danish language and were written by the poet Holger Drachmann. The Spring Rain song is an example of a glorious marriage of music, lyrics and voice. The flowing vocal line portrays the way of the water drops down to the earth through the cascade of trees. It is not among composer’s most performed works but it nevertheless is unique in its charm.

Video: Spring Rain

Other notable ‘rainy’ pieces include:

  • Grieg’s Spring Rain from Op.49 (the raindrops portrayed through the falling chords)
  • Wagner’s Die Walküre (the moment Siegmund emerges from the storm incredibly conveyed through the strings only)
  • Britten’s Peter Grimes (with the timpani signaling about the ominous storm)
  • Strauss’ Alpine Symphony (with the full-orchestra thunder blast)
  • Shubert’s Rain of Tears (a poignant love song about a farewell before the rain)
  • Frede Grofe’s Cloudburst (about the growing storm over the Grand Canyon) 
  • Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (the fishermen sheltering from September tempest in Act II)
  • Ravel’s Jeaux d’Eau (the sounds of cascading waters, not the rain but the after-rain)

Set your playlist ready for a rainy day and dive in. In case after this article you’ve had a sudden desire to perform any of the above compositions yourself, note that most of them can be learnt here at MusicaNeo. Just print the needed score and go practice your rainy classic!

11 Jun 2019

David Cuff: the Mood of Happiness

I didn't start composing until my late 50s; having spent a lifetime in logistics management, I found that I was good at something completely different. This discovery proved totally refreshing and inspirational for me.

Originally from the UK, I lived in Western Australia between 2006 and 2018. A few years ago, I visited my recently deceased mother's home in a Perth suburb. My mother was a very creative and inspirational person. Driving home, a powerful image grew in my mind, and the next day I bought a keyboard, and obtained music notation software. My creative journey continued and grew from there. I’ve now “had quite enough” of managing people, have given that up after nearly 40 years, and now plan to spend much more time creating beautiful music.

My style is broadly classical, but with some experimentation. Most of my scores are short pieces for solo piano, but I have also composed duets for piano / oboe, or flute. I have also published one larger piece for full orchestra - more on that later - and have many other pieces in my unpublished repertoire. My music is, simply, targeted for anyone who wishes to enjoy it. All the published pieces so far should be fairly easy to play, so would suit learners / intermediate players, but also those who enjoy playing and listening to them in their own right.

There are many problems in the world today, so I try to write joyous, uplifting music as a balance. I hope that most of my pieces will convey this mood to the listener, and give them the chance when playing it to finish the piece a little happier than when they started. In creating a work, I try to follow the principle that, if it sounds good to me and delivers the intended mood of happiness, then others will also enjoy playing and listening to it.

I have been influenced and inspired by a wide range of classical composers, but particularly enjoy exploring the music of composers whose style strays away from the mainstream (see the score “Scharabaj” on my Musicaneo site). I plan to further develop my own style, and write longer pieces, and more which are scored for fuller orchestras.

In 2016 I wrote a piece entitled “16 Million Souls” (score available for download at no cost on my site) which is a bit different. It is in memory of those killed in both World Wars, timed as it was during a range of WW1 commemorations. I consider this as an achievement, to write a piece about a subject which has always mattered to me.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a keyboard which I enjoy playing, and find this greatly helps my personal relaxation. I am not as yet a good enough player to be able to play my own pieces fluently. So I use notation / playback software to assist. It seems to me that (whatever your views may be on such software) the methods available to composers have been transformed in recent years. It is the music, synthesized by this software, which you can hear in the samples saved on my site; I have placed them there as an aid for you, to give just an idea what the music might sound like when played on “real” instruments.

I hope my music is enjoyable.

03 Apr 2019

Cheese Gets Milder with Mozart

cheese

This is the official conclusion of the Swiss experts from ZHAW Food Perception Research Group, and yes, it’s real news.

You must have heard a lot about the powerful influence of classical music played to the embryos but who would have thought that dairy products can also be affected in a tangible way.

It was the initiative of Beat Wampfler, a cheesemaker from Switzerland, to couple with Bern University of Arts and carry out a 6-months experiment on the well-known Emmental cheese. During this time, the three main cheese samples were exposed to classical music (The Magic Flute by Mozart), hip-hop (We Got It from Here) and rock (Stairway to Heaven). There were other options too – ‘listening’ to UV by Vril, Monolith by Yellow, to low-, medium- and high-frequency soundwaves and one of the samples lay in complete silence.

All of the sounds were transmitted directly into the cheese wheels and resonated inside them 24/7.

In half a year, as a result of a few blind testing rounds, technologists, scientists and renowned cheese specialists made their conclusions. It was commonly agreed that the music-exposed cheese in general had a completely different texture, looks and taste compared to the ‘silent’ one. As for the genres, Mozart made its Emmental clearly milder in taste, while the hip-hop lead to a strong fruity flavour. It is now planned to continue the research by playing other types of music to the cheeses. Who knows, maybe a third success ingredient will be added to the milk and bacteria duet sooner than we think.

28 Mar 2019

Love for Shallow

shallow
Now that the Oscars and all major ceremonies are over, when all the prizes have been awarded and all the emotions have settled a bit, when all wows were exclaimed and the winners cherished – it’s time to look at the compositions that stirred up so many emotions during the shows with a cool heart and a sober eye. “Shallow”, a love song about abandoning the fears and diving deeper into the relationship, is obviously among the pieces that have recently earned much praise and accolade. 

How often do we hear that a certain song is so widely loved by the public? What does this phrase actually comprise? Is it about climbing up the charts and being played at the radio stations? What is it to ‘love’ a piece of music so much that it shifts into that ‘widely-loved’ category? 

The Oscars became a win-win for both Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Their spontaneous soulful duet performance of the ballad “Shallow” on stage proved once again why it is the kind of popular music that deserves the public affection. Trying to track the birth of that love for the song, it appears the reasons lie in a number of aspects that were meant to become the basis of the entire success story. 

As Gaga highlights in all of her interviews, it’s always about really hard work. On one side, we have a highly productive woman named Stefani Germanotta who learned to play piano by ear at the age of 4, and despite all the hatred and peers’ disbelief received in her earlier years, managed to path her way as an artist all the way throughout to the well-deserved Oscar and a few entries in the Guinness Records Book. 

Then we have a talented yet humble actor, director, and musician who showed himself as a scrupulous film director of "A Star Is Born" and the man who meticulously planned not just the movie but also every second of the live performance taking millions of viewers off guard, which was the final drop in convincing us. It was Cooper who silently directed beyond-the-standard scenario of the staged show and created the vision of epic chemistry and ideal harmony between him and Gaga singing the love song together. Tiny details such as postures, moves, looks, is what made it work for each one of those who were watching it. 

What do we have as a result? “Shallow” is leaving Beyoncé’s “Formation” behind in the number of wins (32) and is bumping Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” from Billboard’s Top 200. The point is – we relate to it, we wanna listen to it often, after all - we have a desire to get the sheet music and start learning to play the piece ourselves (even if we don’t play a musical instrument yet!). This is how good quality pop music is created, through hard work and details that conquer the hearts. Let’s enjoy every note of this memorable duet again.

 
   
 
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