20/21th Century

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Charles Ives

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was born in Danbury, CT, studied organ and composition in New York, but got employed as insurance agent, a job in which he was quite successful. Composing became an activity for his spare time. Because his income did not depend on his musical activities, he was able to do whatever he liked. That he did, indeed. In fact, he did that so fanatically that contemporary musicians and composers could not (or did not want to) really understand what he was doing.

Charles Ives

Charles Ives

Charles was surrounded with musical originality from his earliest youth. His father showed an unrestrained interest in all kinds of musical experiments. For example, what do you hear if you let two brass bands march towards each other while they are playing different music and you take position in the middle of them? Or, what happens if you accompany a song in another key than the singer is singing in? In both cases, existing material is used to make something that is both unexpected and new. Exactly this is a main theme in the work of Charles. Did you ever hear such a diversity within half a minute as in this fragment from the Country Band March: (mp3source
The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives
The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives. By: Orchestra New England, James Sinclair (Koch 3-7025-2)

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)
.

Ives was not only interested in subsequent juxtaposition of musical ideas, but also in simultaneous combinations of different kinds of music. An extraordinary example of this is Fourth of July. Imagine strolling around in an American town on the 4th of July. A diversity of sound would reach you from all directions: a brass band, people singing songs, a baseball game, fireworks, etc. Ives put all these 4th-of-July-sounds in 6 minutes of music: (mp3source
Americana
Americana. By: Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Donald Johanos (Vox CDX-5182)

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)
. It takes three conductors to perform the work.

Another main theme throughout Ives’ career is his interest in well-known American melodies. This involves church songs as well as folk songs. In about all of his compositions these melodies are incorporated in one way or another. In the fourth symphony, his largest work, dozens of melodies are used, from “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to “Home, sweet home”.

Ives was not really popular during his lifetime, but after his death this changed completely. Apparently, it was only then that other musicians and composers got interested in things that Ives did already years earlier. He had been far ahead of his time. It was only in 1965 that his fourth symphony was performed for the first time. He did not hear it himself. Nowadays, Ives is regarded one of the first major American composers.

Recommended cd’s

The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives
The Orchestral Music of Charles Ives. By: Orchestra New England, James Sinclair (Koch 3-7025-2)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Americana
Americana. By: Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Donald Johanos (Vox CDX-5182)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Symphonies 1-4/Holidays Symphony [...]
Symphonies 1-4/Holidays Symphony [...]. By: Chicago Symphony Orchestra en Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas (Sony SB 3K87746)


If we go back in history in search of the beginning of classical music, Gregorian chant appears to be one of the most important sources. According to traditional knowledge, it was Pope Gregory the Great who composed the melodies for the liturgical texts of the catholic church. Gregorian chant is named after this Pope, who lived around the year 600. He is often depicted with a dove on his shoulder. This dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who whispered the melodies into Gregory’s ear.

Gregory the Great

Gregory the Great

As usual, the story is nicer than the history. There was not just one tradition of monophonic liturgical singing in the Middle Ages. Instead, there were many local traditions. In the eight century, the Frankish king Pippin III wished to harmonize all liturgical chant in his vast empire with that of the church of Rome. His son, Charlemange, continued this policy. Thus, the tradition of Rome became very influential. The Roman chant books that were copied by the Frankish scribes named Gregory as the composer of the melodies. It is very well possible that these Roman books referred to Pope Gregory II instead of Gregory the Great, but the Franks assumed the latter was meant. This made the chant tradition of Rome the standard for the entire Western church.
The chants we know from Roman sources are, however, not the same as the chants in the Frankish copies. Probably some alterations were made during the dissemination of the melodies across the vast Frankish empire. The exact history of Gregorian chant is therefore still obscure.

Starting form the ninth century, we find indications of polyphonic singing in the historical sources. To the Gregorian melody one or more other parts were added. Initially quite simple and straightforward, but as early as 1200 in the Notre Dame at Paris, very complex compositions were made. One example is the Alleluia Nativitas by Perotinus. (mp3source
Perotin
Perotin. By: The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 837751-2)

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)
. The genesis of these early polyphonic compositions can be considered an important starting point of western classical music.

After the Middle Ages, Gregorian chant kept its influence. Except for being the ‘breeding ground’ for later styles, the melodies themselves were used often in all kinds of compositions. Let’s have three examples.

When Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Credo of the Hohe Messe, he included the Gregorian melody for “Credo in unum Deum”. Listen to the Gregorian melody: (mp3source
Thomas Stoltzer - Missa duplex
Thomas Stoltzer – Missa duplex. By: Weser-Renaissance; Manfred Cordes (CPO 999 295-2)

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)
, and to the beginning of Bach’s Credo: (mp3source
J.S. Bach - Messe in H-Moll
J.S. Bach – Messe in H-Moll. By: Collegium Vocale, Ghent; Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin Veritas VCD 5 45163 2)

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)
.

Another example from the Baroque we can find in French organ music. François Couperin (1668-1733) composed a mass for organ, incorporating Gregorian melodies. Listen to the sung Kyrie: (mp3source
François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)
)
, and to Couperin’s organ verse, where the melody is played in long notes on the pedal: (mp3source
François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)
)
.

Maurice Duruflé is a twentieth-century composer who was profoundly influenced by Gregorian chant. One can hear it in almost all of his compositions. In his Requiem (1947) these ancient melodies are interwoven with the sound of the modern orchestra. At the beginning of the Introit, the choir sings the unaltered Gregorian melody. Listen to the chant: (mp3source
Chant - Music For Paradise
Chant – Music For Paradise. By: Cisterciënzer Monniken Van Stift Heiligenkreuz (Universal 4766774)

Details: Amazon.com
)
, and to the beginning of Duruflé’s Requiem: (mp3source
Fauré - Duruflé - Requiem
Fauré – Duruflé – Requiem. By: Richard Hickox (Eloquence 466 844-2)

Details: Amazon.com
)

Recommended cd’s

Chant - Music For Paradise
Chant – Music For Paradise. By: Cisterciënzer Monniken Van Stift Heiligenkreuz (Universal 4766774)

Details: Amazon.com

J.S. Bach - Messe in H-Moll
J.S. Bach – Messe in H-Moll. By: Collegium Vocale, Ghent; Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin Veritas VCD 5 45163 2)

Details: Amazon.com

François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)

Fauré - Duruflé - Requiem
Fauré – Duruflé – Requiem. By: Richard Hickox (Eloquence 466 844-2)

Details: Amazon.com


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An article about Saint Cecilia can not be missing from this site. Maybe you wonder what a catholic saint has to do with classical music, but that will be clear within a few minutes if you read on.

Not much is known about the historical figure of Cecilia. She lived during the first centuries of christianity, but it is not exactly clear when. The story goes that she had to mary someone called Valerianus. She told him that an angel guarded her virginity. If Valerius would deflower her, his final day would have come. Valerius wished to see that angel. That happened, after which Valerius became christian. Because of their faith, both were prosecuted, caught and sentenced to death. After a failed attempt to behead her, Cecilia lived on for three days, lying in her own blood. Then she died. Her last will was to build a church on the place of her house in Rome. Thus happened. Nowadays a church is still there.

The reason for this article is not Cecilia’s martyrdom. In her biography it is told that she sang to God in her hart during the festivities of her wedding, while others were playing all kinds of instruments. The latin word for "voice" is "organum". Probably this sentence was misunderstood in later days when she got the organ as attribute. Since the fourteenth century she has been associated with music. In most cases she is depicted with a small portable organ. When in 1584 at Rome the institute for church music was established, Cecilia became the patroness, and with that the patroness of church music. In the nineteenth century, an important reformation movement within church music was called after her: Cecilianism.

Rafaël - St. Cecilia

Rafaël - St. Cecilia

One of the most famous paintings of her was made in 1515 by Rafael. Cecilia is depicted in a state of exaltation. She listens to the singing choirs of angels. The instruments that lie around here are broken, and the organ she holds, is falling apart. She leaves earthly music behind and focusses on the heavenly.

Small wonder that much music was written to honor Saint Cecilia. Especially in England a large number of pieces have been composed for her day (22 November). An early example is the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day by Henry Purcell (1692) (mp3source
Henry Purcell - Hail, bright Cecilia!
Henry Purcell – Hail, bright Cecilia!. By: Gabrieli Consort and Players – Paul McCreesh (Archiv 445882-2)

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)
:

Hail, bright Cecilia! fill ev’ry heart
With love of thee and thy celestial art;

An example from the twentieth century is the Hymn to St. Cecilia, composed in 1942 by Benjamin Britten (mp3source
Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Collins 12862)

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)
:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

Recommended cd’s

Henry Purcell - Hail, bright Cecilia!
Henry Purcell – Hail, bright Cecilia!. By: Gabrieli Consort and Players – Paul McCreesh (Archiv 445882-2)

Details: Amazon.com

Purcell: Odes for Saint Cecilia's Day
Purcell: Odes for Saint Cecilia’s Day. By: (Harmonia Mundi France HAR 901643)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Collins 12862)

Details: Amazon.com

Blest Cecilia: Britten Choral Works I
Blest Cecilia: Britten Choral Works I. By: The Sixteen – Harry Christophers (Coro COR16006)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com


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