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25 May 2017

Beethoven Overlooked: 5 Less Popular Works

In his relatively short lifetime (and 56 years is short for Europe today!), Beethoven composed several hundred music pieces. Those are 722 registered works (with or without opus number), as well as unfinished pieces (27) and a number of unpublished sketches, plans and musical studies.

Beethoven Overlooked: 5 Less Popular Works

Out of all this diversity, we are most often faced with Beethoven’s gorgeous symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets. For example, the revolutionary Symphony No.9 is known to the entire world today and there have been a lot said and written about it, not mentioning the fact that it sounds every minute in some music hall in the world. But today we would like to give more spotlight to the lesser known masterpieces by Beethoven that for some reason are not to be heard and performed as often as the great composer’s ‘essential set’. Let’s have a look at 5 examples and learn the stories behind them in this article. And, finally, let the music speak for itself!

Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II

Emperor Joseph II died in 1790 when Beethoven was just 19 years old. Saddened by the news, Beethoven’s native town Bonn started a big preparation for the memorial ceremony. This is when the young, unknown yet ambitious composer got the chance to showcase his talent. The University of Bonn announced call for the music composition to sound at the ceremony. There was a text already written by Severin Anton Averdonk, a university student, but music was lacking. Considering the fact that there was only a month left until the event, ‘serious’ composers decided not to take up the task in a rush. But young Beethoven was ready and full of enthusiasm. Now we have this brilliant elevated cantata as part of his legacy. As for the ceremony, Beethoven’s music did not get its deserved attention because the ceremony was cancelled for reasons unknown today. Maybe this is why the composition did not get its initial kickstart, remaining a bit underrated until nowadays?

The Battle of Vitoria

The work is also known as ‘Wellington’s Victory’, Wellington being the Duke of Wellington who led the joined army of Britain, Spain and Portugal at the Battle of Vitoria that took place in Spain in 1813. The piece is a glorious celebration of Joseph Bonaparte’s defeat, Joseph - the Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother. The composition represents a dramatic 15-minute music work for orchestra and has a number of vivid music effects including the use of real cannons. The confrontation of the troops is pictured through the sound of national tunes like the British “God Save the Queen” and the French “Marlbrough S'en Va-t-en Guerre”.

The Symphony got to live quite a few twists in terms of its popularity. The fun thing is that at the time of its publication, the composition was way more popular than it is today, being considered one of Beethoven’s biggest achievements. Who knows, maybe in a dozen years The Battle Symphony will regain its glory among the audiences?

12 German Dances

Still being a young fellow in 1795, Beethoven wrote Twelve German Dances at the age of 25. Very simple and pure, the 12 pieces are no longer than 2 minutes each. This well-crafted music was intended for entertaining the upper classes of the Viennese society who loved gathering in salons every week. The atmosphere during these parties was mainly created with the help of such ‘background dance music’, therefore, it had to be kept easy in melody and harmony and not to be too complicated for comprehension. This factor did not shade Beethoven’s genius, though, for the pieces turned out to be very colourful and substantial as independent music work.

The compositions were initially scored for orchestra but the original manuscript is lost. Luckily, the dances had been transcribed for piano for playing at home.

British Folk Songs

A certain George Thomson loved Scottish music so much that he travelled the country in search of the most interesting folk songs, collected them all carefully and later published 5 volumes with the results of his activity. Not only Thomson collected music but also transcribed some of the melodies himself as well as collaborated with many talented men of art of the time. Thus, he asked poets Walter Scott and Robert Burns to write texts, and composers Haydn and Beethoven – to make arrangements. All in all, Beethoven arranged 179 songs, which brought him a pretty decent income – Thomson was ready to pay well for the work. By the way, Haydn was paid twice less per piece for some reason.

Just like the German Dances, many of those folk song arrangements could be heard at the salon parties for they were very well suited for the social occasions, ranging from joyful to melancholic. Perhaps the most well-known of the settings is Beethoven’s rendition of the Scottish traditional “Auld Lang Syne”.

Missa Solemnis

You might say that this Mass by Beethoven is a quite well-known work and wonder why it should be on this list. Yes, Missa Solemnis can’t be called a neglected piece of music, but it is a less frequently played thing compared to the rest of Beethoven’s ‘fame set’. Being less heard in concert and on the stage in general it is placed on here under the label ‘under-performed’.

In Beethoven’s most famous portrait by Karl Josef Stieler, the great composer is painted holding nothing else but the score of Missa Solemnis in his hands. This deeply spiritual and sacred piece was of great significance to Beethoven himself, he even called it his greatest work. Not the 9th symphony, not any of the string quartets, but the Mass. Dedicated to composer’s friend, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria, the 90-minute mass was to be performed at the latter’s installation ceremony.

The fact that any of the music works mentioned above are less performed or somewhat neglected does not at all diminish the musical significance or historical value of any of them. The master’s hand can be seen in each of his composition, no matter what popularity they enjoy.

Image from under Creative Commons CC0 license

17 Apr 2017

6 Drinking Songs from Classical Music

6 Drinking Songs from Classical Music

Frank Sinatra used to say: “Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy!”

Humanity invented booze a long time ago and it’s been used for relaxation and having a good time for ages by now. It is believed that creative professions are more prone to alcohol consumption, as people of art have been finding it helpful in terms of stimulating the imagination. Musicians being perhaps one of the most widespread layers of creative workers are therefore known for make use of the power of drinks too. Liquors have various effects on them: some are just inspired by them, others are encouraged for something, and someone suffers from the abuse.

Today we’ll talk about the specific genre of a “drinking song”, i.e. the type of composition that was used at the so-to-say ‘parties’ at various periods of the history as a uniting element either to cheer up the people and get them closer together or to encourage further drinking. But the choice of the drinking songs will be specific too: we have looked for such pieces among the works of classical composers. What we’ve found in there – for your attention.

“Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms

In 1879, Brahms was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Breslau (current Wrocław, Poland). Honored by the occasion, the thankful composer sent a note of gratitude to the university officials. However, the management thought it wasn’t enough and asked Brahms to make something grander than that, for example, compose a symphony! Expecting a well-orchestrated serious music work, they couldn’t believe what their honoured doctor came up with. Instead of a deeply ambitious symphony, Brahms orchestrated a what could rather be called a potpourri of drinking songs for students. He conducted the premiere if the “Festival Overture” himself and did it, as it’s noted, very contentedly. Unlike the university management, obviously disappointed by the result of the pay-back, the students stayed more than happy with the new ‘drinking music’.

Academic Festival Overture at the Royal Albert Hall

“Ah! Quel Diner” by Jacques Offenbach

In 1988, the author of the famous “Can Can” composed the three-act operetta titled “La Périchole”. This is a story about two poor street singers from Peru – too poor to get married officially (get a marriage license). The tipsy aria ‘Ah! Quel Diner” (‘Ah! What a diner’) is definitely a highlight of the opera bouffe. It is performed by Périchole in an inebriated, least to say, condition, and is sung before the ‘unaware marriage’ with her beloved Piquillo. Well, Piquillo is both jolly and unaware too. In the scene below, the part of Périchole is brilliantly performed by Joan Sutherland who theatrically accompanies her aria with the hiccups.

The Wedding Scene from La Périchole

“Finch’han dal Vino” by Mozart

This is the original Italian title of the famous aria from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” which is also known as ‘the Champagne aria’. In the opera, the aria is performed by the famous seducer Giovanni as an order for his servant called Leporello. According to the song’s lyrics, Giovanni is preparing for a night-long party, so he tells the servant to get stocked up on vine enough for everyone to drunk on. A perfect drinking song with a classical flavour.

Finch’han dal Vino (Peter Mattei, La Scala)

“Libiamo Ne’Lieti Calici” by Giuseppe Verdi

“Let's Drink from the Joyful Cups" is the English version of the popular drinking aria from Verdi’s “La Traviata”. The young but modest Alfredo is convinced by his friend Gastone and his crush Violetta Valéry to put his beautiful voice on display. Alfredo starts singing his brindisi and the two join him in the rapturous chorus: “Ah! Let's drink, and the love among the chalices will make the kisses warmer.” The duo is considered to be one of the most popular singing choices for tenors today.

Libiamo Ne’Lieti Calici  by the Three Famous Tenors

“Votre Toast” by Georges Bizet

There’s only one small reference to drinking in this aria from Bizet’ “Carmen”. However, it doesn’t make it a less suitable drinking song out there. “Votre Toast” (‘your toast’) is better known under the popular title “Toreador Song” and is a perfect ode to accompany an indulgent night. You be the judge!

Votre Toast / Toreador Song  (Erwin Schrott)

“Certain Rat, dans la Cuisine” by Hector Berlioz

This song translated as ‘a certain rat in the kitchen’ is part of Berlioz’ 1846 opera “The Damnation of Faust”. The composition is basically a sorrowful tale about a rat that got killed by a portion of poison in a kitchen. Why a drinking song, you’ll ask? Well, because according to the plot, it was sung as such by a student, already drunk, and sung as a preface to and encouragement for further drinking.

La Damnation de Faust, Chanson de Brander (Montréal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)

Drinking song can be, as it turns out, an important prelude-and-part of a feast. So next time you are going to have a party, may you consider one of these classical brindisi. Have any special song preferences on the topic? Drop them up here on the playlist and let’s have a drink!

Image from under Creative Commons CC0 license

19 Feb 2017

What Matters Most in Music and Life According to Vladimir Malganov

Almost 7 years ago, Vladimir Malganov joined the musicians’ community of MusicaNeo and has been its active member ever since. Today we would like to tell you more about this talented musician and a very sincere and kind person. We asked Vladimir a couple of questions and are sharing his creative vision with you.

Vladimir Malganov

Vladimir Malganov – composer, arranger, guitar player, teacher. Major instrument – guitar. Born in Russia, lives and works in Belarus since 1990.

Vladimir, tell us where your creative journey started?

«It all began with learning to read sheet music which I did on my own at the age of 10, with the help of various guidebooks on guitar. The new world and language that were discovered back then are still bewildering me and inspiring for creating. The very first simplistic composition that I notated became the most notable milestone and a turning point. Unparalleled happiness»

The boldest move in the life of Vladimir was the change of profession: he switched from engineering to music. He says that it rather was a ‘providence, destiny and vocation altogether’. At an already ripe age he went for a university degree and graduated from Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts becoming a ‘teacher of classical guitar and bandleader’ by major (2012).

In what styles, genres and for what instruments are you composing? Who influenced your creative work?

«In my music works, I am trying to use as many various styles and genres as possible. There are compositions for various combinations of instruments, but the guitar is always an essential part.

As for the influences, those are hundreds, perhaps thousands of names both from the epochs of Renaissance and Baroque and from contemporary time. But first of all, it is Johann Sebastian Bach – an ultimate lighthouse for musicians of all styles and genres. At least this is what I believe. I’m in love with classical music and jazz»

Vladimir admits that in his music the Good always wins over the Evil without his being aware of it. He cites Love in all aspects of human life among the essential sources of inspiration, while his main creative principle is honesty. “If you are sly, who’s gonna believe you? It can relate to many things in life, and to art – especially”, says Vladimir.

Who do you consider to be your target audience, what kind of a listener? And what should the performer of your music take into account?

«I address people of all ages and various levels of musical expertise, both in concerts and, indirectly, via my compositions. Being a performer and author simultaneously, I possess the happiness of being able to do it. As a non-indifferent person myself, I would like to address involved and caring people as well, people with an open heart. As for the performer of my music, I would like him/her to be a musically-educated and intelligent person»

Vladimir is not vain, he is not purposefully looking for performers of his music, but he is trying to be visible and active in his sphere. His music mostly sounds in his native country but to the author’s joy, the geography keeps expanding from year to year, including through such resources as MusicaNeo.

The musical activity of Vladimir Malganov is closely connected with both writing music and performing in concerts. Recently he has been most actively performing in a duet with his friend, a laureate of numerous international competitions – Daryan Shakhab. The duet is solely performing the pieces composed by Vladimir: “It is rare luck for a composer-performer. We are trying to perform regularly in solo and mixed concerts. We’ve already recorded the album “Своя игра” (‘Own Play’) and are working on the second album. The new season is ahead and it promises to be very intense. But those are plans that should not be a goal in itself. God willing”.

"Summer Breeze". Duet "Own Play" (V. Malganov, D. Shakhab)

What’s a sign of quality for you, in a work of art/ music composition?

«Absolute completeness. To the extent that no one would want to add or remove anything. A very strong emotional component can also serve as a sign of perfection. Plagiarism and ‘creative diarrhea’ is what I consider to be totally unacceptable. In art, technical falsity is not advisable but sometimes explainable. But there’s nothing like that in life. One just can’t live falsely»

During his academic activity, Vladimir Malganov has taught thousands of young musicians to play guitar professionally. Some of them later became laureates at music competitions on republican and international levels; others went on to become educators and professional guitar players. As pedagogue, Vladimir thinks that the connection between generations must not be lost for a single moment and that one should daily pass the baton of knowledge and skill to the young generation: “Spirituality in broad sense should unite generations and peoples. Otherwise, we will not survive. That’s what I believe.” Thus, he names his wonderful family as his lifetime achievement and calls the rest just ‘a bonus for labor, love and patience’.

Share your recipe of success, if you have one.


What would you advise to yourself of 10 years ago?

«Going forward no matter what. Unhurriedly but steadily»

Share the happiest moment of your life.

«Not every human is lucky to taste the happiness in full. My happiness is perhaps yet to come»

What would you like to achieve within the next 10 years?

«I would like to live. Let God not deprive me of inspiration. And ‘plans’ is a category embracing a part of the future that’s unknown to everyone. I prefer living in the present and a little bit in the past»

Despite his self-restraint and circumspection in evaluations, Vladimir considers himself to be a big optimist. He is convinced that any art should bring positive energy, or rather ‘bring to a common positive denominator’, because real life is full of frustration anyway. And we can’t but agree with him.

Today, Vladimir’s personal website at MusicaNeo counts over 140 music scores. Among them – compositions for the youngest performers, sheet music for guitar duet, quartet, ensemble, solo pieces. Here one can also download music arrangements of popular compositions, various exercises and educational materials. The majority of the scores are available for free.

For our part, we would like to thank Vladimir for the longstanding cooperation and wish him inexhaustible inspiration, enthusiasm and creative success!

12 Dec 2016

Bob Dylan: the Elusive Genius

For the first time in the history, the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to a musician, which took the world by surprise, including the musician himself. In 2016, Bob Dylan is named the holder of the Nobel “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. For two weeks, the press heard nothing but complete silence from Mr. Dylan who, as it became known later, said he would not be present at the ceremony either.

Bob Dylan, always known for his unshakeable views on the subjects of politics, social life and so on, has been one of the brightest figures in the world of music for 5 dozen years already. Today we are gathering a few memorable facts from Bob Dylan’s music, life and career to refresh knowledge/find out more on the man whose contribution has been recognized and rewarded by the Nobel Committee.

Below is a short compilation of the most interesting facts about this outstanding man of music art – the elusive figure of Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s real name):

  1. Dylan was often referred to as the mouthpiece of his generation, his songs becoming anthems of the time. His early compositions “The Times They Are a-Changin” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were an important part of the anti-war movement in America, while “Masters of War” remained the most influential protest song for a long time.

    Dylan, however, does not like to be called the voice of the generation, preferring to keep a rather obfuscated identity.

  2. Another powerful song by Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”, written in 1965, has come through a lot of editing to date: the original lyrics used to take up to 20 pages.
  3. In school/college times, Dylan used to be much of a rebel. In the 10th grade, he and his band were rejected from a talent show because their performance was considered ‘too shocking’ by the council. He would often scam his friends out of clothes and cigarettes. And finally, he did not come to the graduation party.
  4. Before becoming Bob Dylan, Robert Zimmerman went by the stage name Elston Gunn for some time. He also made music under a couple of other pseudonyms: Bob Landy, Blind Boy Grunt, Robert Milkwood Thomas.
  5. The 20-year-old Bob (which is minor age in the U.S.) got a contract with Columbia Records without his parents’ legally compulsory signature by convincing John H. Hammond he was an orphan. By the way, Hammond was the man who, despite his bosses’ opinions, also signed Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Billie Holiday.
  6. Among his biggest lifetime influences, Dylan named Charlie Chaplin. James Dean and Elvis Presley are no doubt on that list too. As for personal inspiration sources, musician’s girlfriend Suze Rotolo served as one for many years: the songs "Ballad in Plain D”, "One Too Many Mornings", "Tomorrow Is a Long Time” are among the compositions that were born thanks to her. She is also on the cover of Dylan’s famous The Freewheelin’ album.
  7. The current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict), for some reason strongly disapproved of Dylan’s music and even tried to stop his performance in 1997 when Dylan played for John Paul II. The then-cardinal Ratzinger named the musician ‘the wrong kind of prophet’. What was Dylan playing? "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Forever Young".

  8. Dylan tried himself in other spheres of art too. He is actually a very prolific painter (6 books of drawings/paintings), participated in various art exhibitions and wrote the experimental novel “Tarantula” (1971)
  9. A popular bumper sticker reading “World’s Greatest Grandpa” is proudly placed on Dylan’s car: the songwriter has 9 grandchildren.
  10. Dylan became the 1st rock artist to receive a Pulitzer Prize (2008). He was introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen in 1988.

Bob Dylan is a unique, versatile and prolific artist. He never stops playing music, performing in over a 100 concerts annually, which is a part of his so-called “Never-Ending Tour” that he embarked on back in the 1980ies (by the way, he learnt about the unexpected Nobel Prize while on tour too). Having already explored most of American Song traditions from folk, country and blues to gospel and rock’n’roll, he keeps embracing music. And we wish him to have an even longer journey.