All posts by Michael Barone

The curiously elusive date of Bach’s birthday

painting of JS Bach
Painting of JS Bach (photo by Guido Bergmann).
In recent years, the question has been raised about Bach’s birthday, and the calendar in effect at that time. Some posit that because of the shift from use of the old Julian calendar to the new Georgian calendar (in present use) the actual birthdate is March 31.

To help me out of my confusion, I wrote to Bach scholar and Harvard University professor Christoph Wolff:

Christoph,
I understand that recent reevaluations of the calendar have moved Bach’s birthday to March 31. This, of course, messes up our long-enjoyed belief that his birthday and the spring equinox more or less coincide. Is it inappropriate to celebrated the birthday on 3/21 these days, and should one now observe the ‘new’ 3/31 anniversary? Or do traditions die hard? Always curious.
Cheers,
Michael Barone

And I received this cordial reply:

Dear Michael,
Moving Bach’s birthday is absolutely ridiculous. True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700 — but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid. My Bach book discusses the situation a bit in conjunction with the trip to Lüneburg. Hold on to March 21, and feel good about it!
Best,
Christoph

So we’ll continue to enjoy Bach’s birthday on March 21. Happy birthday, J.S.!

Re-creating the music Vivaldi wrote for the women of Venice

Everyone who knows about Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) knows that he spent the major part of his career making music at the Ospidale della Pietà in Venice, an orphanage and convent that became famous for its music. The majority of Vivaldi’s instrumental and sacred choral compositions were created to be performed at, and by the resident women of, the Ospidale.

The women of Ospidale achieved an extraordinarily high standard of performance. Their orchestra was large, and the soloists within it as fine as could be heard anywhere in Europe.

And the choir? Well, that brings up the interesting question of how the SATB choral works might have sounded, and in this BBC documentary film, an all-girl ensemble from Oxford, England, travelled to Venice to investigate — and to recreate — the music of Vivaldi and the Pietà.

Some thoughts on a Sunday playlist

CDs on shelf

We have music on the stereo at home all the time, usually from CDs that I am auditioning (of which there are piles and piles). Yesterday, though, Lise was outside weeding, I was inside beginning to go through stuff brought back from my brother’s house.

But we breakfasted together, in the glowing morning sunlight, to Messiaen’s “Turangalila” Symphony — the new Finnish Radio Symphony recording on Ondine, with Angela Hewitt playing the important piano part — what music is more filled with joy and amazement?! A perfect accompaniment to nature’s cheery brilliance.

Then followed an eclectic mix. Here’s what we listened to:

Barone’s Sunday Playlist

MESSIAEN: Turangalila Symphony … nothing could be finer! (Ondine)

TAFELMUSIK FAVORITES: Jean Lamon’s picks as she retires from 33 years at the helm of one of Canada’s most successful ensembles; I met Jean when she and some other Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute kids came out to play with my little Keith Hill harpsichord in one of the prototype concerts of the Chamber Music Society of Saint Cloud. She’s done well since! (Analekta)

MOZART: Symphonies 38-39-40 in trio arrangements by Hummel … rather disappointing, I must admit, couldn’t listen to more than a few minutes before finding something else (Naxos)

GLIERE: Symphony #3/Buffalo Philharmonic — a sprawling, lush, underappreciated score; Russian Mahler? (Naxos)

PERSICHETTI: Music for Violin and Piano, including a piece he never published that was discovered by the CD soloist, first recording; chewy music but worthwhile (Naxos)

HAYDN: Lord Nelson Mass/Boston Baroque … this one irritated me, sounding as though it was a competition for the most virtuosic and slick performance of the piece, lacking humanity, again I hit “[r]eject” soon (Boston Baroque)

YORK BOWEN: Phantasy Quintet for Bass-clarinet and Strings (and other chamber music) … what a beautiful thing! (Chandos)

STOKOWSKI conducts MOZART, with Philadelphia Orchestra on tour in Milan … they don’t play this way today, but what soul! (and a wild cadenza in the 20th Piano Concerto) (Guild Music)

ROSSINI: Overtures/Prague Chamber Orchestra … perky background (Naxos)

Got through a lot of music on a beautiful Sunday.

A couple uncanny concert coincidences

The Wanamaker Organ is located in the grand court of Macy’s in Philadelphia (photo by Kent Miller Studios for Macy’s)

Just before heading up to Saint Cloud, Minn., to record the Dover Quartet on Friday, Sept. 12, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu was bringing two choral colleagues (singers for a new professional choir in town) through the Classical MPR area and routed past my office.

In conversation, it turned out that the fellow, Steven Soph, had been in Philadelphia the previous Saturday (Sept. 6) and attended the concert at Macy’s by the Symphony in C orchestra and featuring the Wanamaker Organ, at which I was emcee. It was a curious — but fun — coincidence that he should have heard my comments in Philadelphia and then met “the voice” the next week.

So I drove up to St. Cloud on Friday, recorded an interview with and concert by the Dover Quartet kids (everyone is so young!) and, in conversation with the players afterwards, I discovered that their first violinist had a girlfriend in the Symphony in C, and he, too, attended the concert at Macy’s … and sat where I was sitting — in the women’s shoes department.

It’s rather fun that two young musicians, neither of them organists, happened to attend an organ concert (in Philadelphia, no less) at which I was present.

What are some strange, interesting or fun coincidences you’ve experienced? Share your stories in the comments below.

The Dover Quartet on Performance Today:

Requiem Aeternum, Marie-Claire Alain

Marie-Claire Alain

I have just received word (confirmed) that Marie-Claire Alain, the foremost French organist, teacher and recording artist, has died today at age 86. I cannot think of any single person who had a more profound impact on the organ world than M-C A.

She was the ‘little black sheep’ daughter, the late last of four children of a very musical family (her father Albert was an organist, composer, and amateur organ builder; her eldest brother Jehan an exceptional composer, who was killed early in WW2 at the age of 29; her second brother, Olivier, a musicologist; her sister Odile, also musical, also died young in a tragic skiing accident). Marie-Claire, encouraged by Jehan, showed remarkable talent, and went on to become the first French woman to record the complete works of Bach (several times), and enjoyed an international reputation for her numerous recordings and concert tours. The list of her students is a ‘whose-who’ of the present-day organ world.

Madame Alain’s performances are included in numerous PIPEDREAMS programs. Her commentary, in particular, is features in two special broadcasts:

Hers was a bubbly personality, a quick wit, an elegant turn of phrase (musically and verbally), and a virtuosic yet also deeply perceptive and expressive performance style, as attested to by her dozens of recordings.

Her health had been deteriorating in recent months.

She will be sorely missed.

Requiem Aeternum, Marie-Claire Alain.

There really is Free Lunch…

Well, what I mean to say is…the free concert given last night by the excellent young Parker Quartet (Mendelssohn, Kirchner, Dvorak) at the UofMN’s Ted Mann Concert Hall surely should qualify as something extraordinarily nourishing.

ParkerStringQuartet.jpg

I attended the Accordo concert (Strauss, Schoenberg, Tchaikovsky sextets) at Christ Church Lutheran on Monday…vivid performances in an architecturally interesting Eliel Saarinen-designed church (National Landmark) with crisp, clear, if somewhat edgy acoustics (not particularly warm).

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I compare these two because of the impressive ‘support network’ that Accordo marshaled for their season: Schubert Club, Northrop Auditorium Concerts and Lectures, and Kate Nordstrum Projects. The related networking and publicity paid off, with the church nearly full (I’d estimate at 400+).

As MPR folks should know, the Parker Quartet does not suffer in comparison with any other group…they are, despite their real and obvious youth (such kids!), fantastic, and the enhancement of the Ted Mann acoustics (and the excellence of the auditorium’s sound system, employed in Leon Kirchner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Quartet No. 3) only added to one’s appreciation of their unanimity of of musicianship and elegance of tone. Audience? Perhaps 175, at least half of them students. The place should have been packed….

Is it all about PR? Or are all Twin Cities chamber music lovers also church choristers (Wednesday, traditionally, is Choir Night)?

Monday night I ate at the nearby Subway on Lake Street (convenient, inexpensive, OK). Wednesday night I “discovered” the Afro Deli on Riverside and enjoyed an excellent Beef and Veggie Stew…yum!

We forget the incredible array of musical activities (guest and faculty and ensemble concerts, undergrad and graduate student recitals…nearly every day) available, largely free (the Wind Ensemble premieres a new score by Judiay Lang Zaimont tonight). Keep attuned!

And keep tabs on the Parker Quartet. They are presenting additional intimate performances (“All Hearst Listen”) at the SPCO Room (Hamm Building) and elsewhere in the coming weeks/months. Don’t miss them!