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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: May 17, 2007 Archive

Pieces of Spring No. 16

Posted at 8:00 AM on May 17, 2007 by John Birge
Filed under: Claude Debussy

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Pieces of Spring.

Every day, we'll play a springtime classic. Visit our online playlist to find each day's spring piece or, in the Twin Cities, listen to 99.5 every morning at 8. Enter the correct title here, and you have another chance to win fresh flowers delivered to your door for a year! Check back here every day to see if you got it right.

Yesterday's piece was Spring Rounds (Rondes du printemps), from
Claude Debussy's Images for orchestra. Debussy set out to capture the spirit of three countries: England ("Gigues"), Spain ("Iberia"), and France ("Rondes de Printemps" or "Spring Rounds"). On the first page of "Rondes de Printemps," Debussy wrote, "Long live May! Welcome to May with its wild banner." These lines come from a 15th-century Italian poem about May-Day celebrations, but Debussy ensures that the music is unmistakably French by quoting two French tunes, including one of Debussy's favorite nursery tunes, "Nous n'irons plus au bois," a melody he incorporated into a number of compositions.

Symphonic Variations on Themes by Garcia

Posted at 2:13 PM on May 17, 2007 by Don Lee

"I grew up studying 'dead' composers, but the other kinds--the Stravinskys, the Beethovens and all those," composer Lee Johnson tells Reuters.

Now he's written a "Dead" Symphony. As in Grateful Dead. Johnson based the symphony on the loping, meandering riffs that the iconic Bay Area rock band perfected during its 30 years of existence. You can read all about it here.

Johnson is chair of the music department at La Grange College, La Grange, GA. His list of composing credits highlights his film and video scores.

Because I love both rock and classical music, I'm a sucker for efforts like this. And I do mean sucker, because symphonic rock seems doomed to failure or, at best, inconsequence. A composer in the classical tradition is almost bound to filter out the raw energy and repetition at the heart of rock. The samples of the Dead Symphony on Johnson's Web site give me a glimmer of hope, but not much more.