Friday, October 23, 2015

Ma Vlast: Vltava (Moldau) by Bedrich Smetana

The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe.
-Bedrich Smetana

Ma Vlast means My Land in Czech. 'Vltava', also known by its German name 'Moldau', is a river in the Czech Republic, very big, and it stretches through lots of different scenery.
Ma Vlast is actually a set of compositions that Smetana wrote in homage to his homeland, sort of like Finlandia. We'll be covering the second movement, which is about the aforementioned river Vltava.
The piece opens with a beautiful flute duet (which I think must be 'starting from the two small springs' that he talks of in the above quote). They are joined by other woodwinds, and it grows until the strings pick it up and it evolves into a rich and solelmn, but also gorgeous and bright melody. There is a lot of flute action in Vltava. In the middle of the song, there is another flute duet accompanied by quiet strings. This second duet sort of follows the pattern of the first one, but it is much quieter and is near transcendent at times; painting a musical picture of a stream running through the forest, with sunlight reflecting off it... [contented sigh] This one too grows and eventually becomes like a waterfall, all crazy and swirling around and such.
Smetana does an absolutely stellar job evoking the sounds of a river with his music. It goes from swelling and loud to quiet and peaceful, and everything in between. There are many different moods in the music, and it's another lovely example of music used to express love for one's homeland.

Next Up: Sheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov OR Romance in F Major for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven

Monday, October 12, 2015

Still Life: Ride the Samovar and Drink from the Troika

This one is pretty self-explanatory. My terrific chummie was reading The Brothers Karamazov [nods head in approval], and got the Russian words Samovar (teapot) and Troika (carriage) mixed up. Hilarity ensued!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Montagues and Capulets by Sergei Prokofiev

This is a selection of music from Sergei Prokofiev's ballet adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which we're playing in orchestra this semester!
This particular piece of music plays during a ball at the Capulet's mansion. In the ballet, it's called Dance of the Knights, but in the suite of music taken from the ballet it's renamed Montagues and Capulets.
The opening is rather clashy and dissonant, but I think it makes for an interesting prologue to the main thing.
The music starts with a vicious, heavy theme that uses many dotted rhythms and feels very dark and oppressive. This obviously shows the strife and darkness caused by the pointless feud of the two families. Then, as Juliet enters the ball, a softer theme played by solo flutes and accompanied by a viola glissando. Later, a celesta joins in, and the violins play pianissimo broken chords. I always thought this theme was rather slinky sounding.
Later the heavy theme returns, but with different instrumentation, leading to the piece's close.
I really like all of the cool stuff for brass to do here! They sound so menacing and foreboding, very cool!

Next Up: The Moldau by Bedrich Smetana