Guillaume de Machaut was born sometime around 1300 in Champagne. As is the case with so many medieval composers, and even beyond, no one knows his exact date of birth.
That means we never get to celebrate it.
So I wanted to share a song written by Machaut, called Rose, liz, printemps, verdure, performed by the Gothic Voices. Not only is this one of my favorite Machaut songs, it's one of my favorite pieces of music ever.
My ear is immediately drawn to the open harmony and the unusual cadences (endings of phrases). The cadences are, though, as they should be given the time period - it's just not how we're used to hearing phrases end.
For living in the 14th century, Machaut's music and poetry was well-preserved and cataloged. Although the majority of his music is secular, his mass, Messe de Nostre Dame, is the first extant copy of a composer's complete mass setting. Machaut's hundreds of poems tell tales of the Black Death, the French countryside, love and more.
September 5, 2012 marks the John Cage centennary. His contributions to music are remarkable, oft misunderstood and always captivating. One aspect of Cage's work I've always admired, is that anyone can perform something of his.
Now you can perform John Cage in the comfort (and safety) of your iPhone or tablet, with these two apps:
Developer Joseph Genden and Third Coast Percussion have released an app for the iPhone that allows you to perform Cage's Quartet. You can choose from the percussion instruments called for in the score, and perform your own version with digitized samples.
The official John Cage site has released an app for mobile and tablet, giving you fingertip access to the sounds of Cage's Prepared Piano. There is a free version, with access to more sounds and features in the paid version.
Hilary Hahn, Hélène Grimaud, Dawn Upshaw, Sarah Hicks, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Alison Balsom ... the list of female luminaries in classical music stretches endlessly. But there was a time in the history of classical music when most women would have been discouraged -- if not excluded outright -- from pursuing a musical career.
Mozart's Sister, a 2010 film by French director René Féret, explores one such story. Distributed by Chicago-based Music Box Films, Mozart's Sister gets released on DVD in the United States today.
Mozart's Sister re-imagines the story of Wolfgang's elder sister, Marie-Anne, familiarly known as Nannerl (and played by director Féret's daughter, Marie Féret). The film is loosely based on the Mozart family's 1770s visit to the royal court of France. Nannerl is known to have accompanied her younger brother in performances, and historic correspondence suggests Nannerl may have even composed music herself. Sadly, none of her compositions are known to exist today; in Mozart's Sister, writer/director Féret attempts to answer why that may be.
One explanation Féret offers is the sexism endemic to the 18th century. In a moving scene, Leopold Mozart (Marc Barbé), the father and music teacher of Wolfgang and Nannerl, offers composition lessons to his son but refuses his daughter's request for instruction. "You must know the rules of harmony and counterpoint," Leopold tells her dismissively. "These are beyond most people, especially women."
Despite her father's discouragement, the teenage Nannerl can't ignore her inexorable urge to compose; director Féret even suggests some of Wolfgang's works were actually penned by her. Féret also hazards a heartbreaking supposition as to why Nannerl's manuscripts have not survived. Nannerl's best friend in the film, a royal princess, offers scant consolation when she posits, "Imagine how different our destinies would have been had we been boys ... We would both reign."
Ultimately, the film is about a teenager struggling with her identity and her role in life in the face of the realities that surround her, which places Mozart's Sister on similar thematic ground as 2010's Winter's Bone. Certainly Nannerl enjoys much more love and security than Winter's Bone protagonist Ree, but her circumstances are no less crushing.
Variety described Mozart's Sister as "a treat for classical music lovers and cinephiles alike." Indeed, film fans will likely enjoy the period costumes and ornate sets (much of the film was shot on location at the Palace of Versailles).
For classical music lovers, the original music by Marie-Jeanne Séréro -- who bravely accepted the task of imagining how Nannerl Mozart's compositions may have sounded -- is certainly beguiling. And soprano Morgane Collomb, a student at the prestigious Académie Vocale de France, supplied the singing voice for actress Marie Féret. But the vocal dubs are obvious, as are the clearly pantomimed music-performance scenes. For a film so steeped in music, it's regrettable the musical sequences may elicit winces from classical aficionados.
Despite that vital shortcoming, Féret tells a compelling story that leaves viewers musing on the life and talents of Nannerl Mozart ... and what might have been.
Any prolific composer could surprise us with how they rank their own works. Perhaps it's as simple and as compelling as "What have I done lately?" This 19th century Titan might have dismissed one of our favorites with, "That's so 1808."
As we approach the coming of our special event this Friday, December 9th, the New York Polyphony Holiday Concert at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, we will take a look at an original work that was recently commissioned for and premiered by New York Polyphony this past November.
The work is titled Missa Charles Darwin, composed by American composer Gregory Brown and was set to text edited by New York Polyphony's bass Craig Phillips. You may think this title is counterproductive and contradictory, taking a structural paradigm of the Catholic faith and juxtaposing it with the principle text of evolutionary science. However, the piece seeks to exemplify the creativity and ingenuity of the human spirit, as well as portraying the unique position humans have within our reality.
Even though the composer claims this not to be a political statement, his purpose of exemplifying human language, human's curiosity into reality and its multi-functional viewpoints is certainly a spiritual and poetic one.
Under this light, this work could be considered one of the most important musical works of our time — perhaps not in a purely musical sense, but as a statement of cooperation among seemingly disagreeable mediums, between spiritual understanding and an understanding based on facts.
As humans we question the world, whether regarding the creation and meaning of our existence or to simply understand and grasp the world around us. This work shows that there is beauty in both the spiritual and the scientific and each can assist the other in the collective human effort to grasp and understand reality!