Archive | June, 2013

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Richard Egarr’s blog, Vermeer and Music

Posted on 30 June 2013 by admin

The feeling I get from the music of Vermeer’s time is the same I get from Vermeer’s paintings. A sense of freedom, spontaneity, naughtiness and passion.


Making music together has always been a way for people to interact, but that’s particularly true of the music from Vermeer’s time. The first half of the 17th century saw the dense, complex contrapuntal works by 16th century composers such as Palestrina give way to an expressive and freer art form, music based on single clear lines with a highly emotional impact – it’s this period too that saw the birth of opera. New ideas about simplicity took hold, and much of the new music being written was for just two players – a melody line that was usually accompanied by a chordal instrument, often a guitar, or a lute. This of course involved both a very intimate level of contact and also allowed room for much spontaneity.

It is this that Vermeer captures so wonderfully in his paintings – the sense of music created in the moment. Perhaps my favourite of his works – Girl Interrupted at Her Music, in New York’s Frick Collection, beautifully conveys that singular moment when you’re playing music with great partners and you find you’re working off each other. Look at her expression, the look she’s giving back over her shoulder to the camera, so to speak, which captures perfectly that moment of shared intimacy that’s part of music making. And of course part of that intimacy is the flirtation that would have gone on. After all, one of the reasons why music was such an important part of European society at the time was that it was a chance to meet and flirt, especially in such an intimate setting as that of a student and teacher. I think her expression is one of being “caught in the act”, something all musicians will recognise! Like with the best photographs, Vermeer’s paintings invite thoughts of what’s going to happen next, and what has just happened.

The instrument alone in The Guitar Player (above) carries a meaning lost on us today. The guitar was a relatively new instrument at the time. In the wealthy Dutch homes of the mid 17th century that Vermeer was painting, people would generally have played the lute – deemed a more “noble” instrument. The Spanish guitar was at that time something quite exotic, with exciting, erotic and new repertoire being written for it. This is quite a racy image! And look at her expression. Who’s she looking at? Who’s she playing with, just out of shot?

The Young Woman Seated at a Virginal might be alone, but there’s another instrument in the picture, a Viola da Gamba. This young woman is perhaps waiting for somebody to come and make music with her.

The instrument itself meanwhile, like the guitar in the previous image, is beautifully and lovingly represented. The positioning of her hands and the way she’s playing is absolutely correct in its detail. The Virginal we see in this painting was also known as a Muselar. They’re basically the domestic, amateur version of the harpsichord. The sound is a little different (it’s been said that Muselar sounded like pigs grunting!) as they’re plucked more towards the centre of the string than the harpsichord. Contemporary composers simply wrote keyboard music that could pretty much be played on any keyboard instrument. The Rolls-Royces of harpsichords and virginals were made by the Ruckers dynasty from Antwerp, a family who made instruments from the 16th to the 18th century. Their instruments are what you would have wished to own if you were a wealthy 17th-century Dutch family. The Queen has a Ruckers harpsichord in her collection today, but we didn’t quite have the nerve to ask to borrow it for our performances alongside the National Gallery’s Vermeer and Music exhibition (but if anyone at the palace is reading this it’s not too late…!). Our harpsichord is a modern copy of a Ruckers one, and the rest of the instruments we’ll be playing – a viola da gamba, lute, violin, baroque guitar, recorder and flute are also either copies or originals from the same period that Vermeer was painting.

Period performance means using instruments as close as possible to the period when the music was written. With them we aim to create a sound as near as we can get to that which the composer would have heard, but what’s more important is the sensibility of the time – the freedom. This music has to be passionate and free, and that is what we hope to convey as we play in the gallery alongside these Vermeers. Different pairs ofAAM musicians are going to be performing short sets every hour on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for the exhibition’s duration. We hope people will pay attention, but if they want to get up and leave that’s fine too. The idea of sitting down and listening in silence to a musical performance is only a 20th century one after all. In Vermeer’s time being involved in a musical performance was a live interactive experience. People weren’t expected to be quiet. Throw things at us if you feel the urge. Well, maybe not while we’re playing, but interact with us, or at the very least come and talk to us afterwards.

The feeling I get from the music of Vermeer’s time is the same I get from Vermeer’s paintings. A sense of freedom, spontaneity, naughtiness and passion.

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Jenkins’s first album for DG Adiemus Colores

Posted on 30 June 2013 by admin

Many listeners will know Karl Jenkins best of all for his series of Adiemus albums, all of them variations on the unique musical concept which he pioneered with the million-selling AdiemusSongs of Sanctuary in 1995. It has been 10 years since he last released an album under the Adiemus umbrella, so there’s keen anticipation for the brand-new Adiemus Colores. This time Jenkins has looked to South America for inspiration, adding arresting musical colours and Latin rhythms such as the tango and the samba to the mixture.

Adiemus Colores is the first album Jenkins has made for DG. Jenkins went in search of musicians who would share an instinctive feel for his new music, and he was delighted to be able to call upon the services of other performers from the Universal Music roster. These included the trumpet of brilliant Venezuelan musician Pacho Flores, a superb Lisbon-based fado singer Cuca Roseta, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón, and the fast-rising classical guitar star Milos Karadaglic.

Adiemus Colores is packed with intense and characterful musical performances. As the title suggests, Jenkins has named the tracks after different colours to suggest their character – red for passion, white for innocence, turquoise for sensuousness and so on. “They’re pegs on which to hang the music, and it gives an idea of the mood they evoked in me when writing,” he says.


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Pianist Stephen Hough has uncovered a mistake in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1

Posted on 29 June 2013 by admin

After looking at the manuscript online in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, Stephen noticed a ‘wrong note’ F had been changed to a B flat in blue pencil.

Initially, Stephen believed the correction to be in Tchaikovsky’s writing , describing the revelation as ‘one of the most exciting musical discoveries’ of his life. It’s since emerged that the manuscript was a copyist’s manuscript , prepared for Hans von Bülow as he performed the concerto throughout the world, and the correction may have been made by Bülow himself.

Before seeing the manuscript, Stephen cited a number of reasons for wanting to change the note in the score: the theme appears a number of times throughout the concerto, but only once with the F in the flute part. The rogue F also creates a clash between the G flat in the strings and changes the symmetry of the theme, which spans five notes up and five notes down in the four-bar phrase.

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HMV’s original shop opened by Sir Edward Elgar in 1921 will re-opened

Posted on 29 June 2013 by admin

After being destroyed by a fire in 1937, the original shop was rebuilt and reopened by conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. The shop closed down in 2000, giving way to the larger store down the road at 150 Oxford Street. HMV’s flagship music store is returning to its historic roots, downsizing from its current location and returning to the original site opened by Sir Edward Elgar in 1921, 363 Oxford Street.

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