Walter Bitner

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Anton Bruckner and his Romantic Symphony

Linz, Austria ~ engraving by J. Ouartlev, 1863

Linz, Austria ~ engraving by J. Ouartlev, 1863

Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner is primarily known today for his symphonies – his music is often paired with that of Gustav Mahler as the apotheosis of the late Romantic Austro-German symphonic tradition. Although Bruckner and Mahler symphonies share many characteristics – a common musical heritage and language, the robust late nineteenth century orchestra, sprawling scales and harmonies in which the symphony seems to encompass an entire world of expression – in many ways their music also differs.  Mahler was 36 years younger than Bruckner, whom Mahler admired and considered his forerunner – at 17 years old, Mahler was present at the premiere of Bruckner’s Third Symphony in 1877.  Mahler famously said “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” and his symphonies contain myriad references to themes, experiences, and objects from life. Many of Mahler’s symphonies incorporate vocal soloists and chorus – and hence text – whereas Bruckner’s symphonies are without exception purely instrumental works (which is interesting to note as Bruckner also composed many sacred choral works in addition to his symphonic output). Bruckner’s symphonies inhabit a more abstract, elemental “tone world” than Mahler’s – every bit as overwhelming, inspiring, and at times terrifying as Mahler’s, but for the most part at more of a remove from direct references to the world we live in. The Romantic Fourth Symphony is an exception.


An Interview with Matthew Halls

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Part 1 of 3

This week Matthew Halls is in Nashville to conduct the Nashville Symphony in four performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, complete in one concert. The performances will be held October 22-25 and feature Mark Niehaus, trumpet, and Jun Iwasaki, violin. Tickets are available here.

British conductor Matthew Halls is one of the most versatile musicians in classical music today.  In the early years of his career he worked as a keyboard player and early music conductor but he is known today for his dynamic work in music of all periods. Matthew Halls is Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival, and conducts symphony orchestras and opera all over the world.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Matthew and talk about music and his career for an hour this week before rehearsals began – here follows a transcript from our conversation.


How to Teach Recorder Fingerings

This post is especially for those teaching the recorder to children in school settings – but it might be worth a look if you are learning how to play the instrument as well.

playing recorder with Blue Rock School students, 1991

playing recorder with Blue Rock School students, 1991

I hope that this brief post will be helpful to those teaching recorder in elementary school who have little or no background with the instrument as players themselves.  My impression is that most elementary school music teachers haven’t actually studied recorder for its own sake (e.g taken lessons, played in a consort or performed solo recitals on recorder, etc.). I thought about the topic of this post recently when I remembered that I have never encountered middle or high school students that had been taught recorder in elementary school (by someone other than me) who were familiar with this system.


Francesco da Milano

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

The Lute Part II

In one of my first lute lessons with Pat O’Brien (c. 1993) I must have enthused about the music of Francesco da Milano, which I had been listening to on one of the first CDs of lute music I came across at Tower Records, a collection of this composer’s works played by Paul O’Dette that had just been released by Astrée. (This superb recording – still one of my very favorites – is now out of print.)

In what I was to learn was Pat’s typical unrestrained style, he took down two large, thick, heavy, volumes off of the bookshelves that lined the back wall of his studio – or perhaps dug them out from under a pile of other books, I don’t remember – and put them in my hands. This was Arthur Ness’s monumental The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano published by Harvard University Press in 1970, which by then I believe was out of print and generally difficult to come across.  American musicologist Arthur Ness is to Francesco like Ludwig von Köchel is to Mozart: Ness was the first to collect all Francesco’s known works from prints and manuscripts found in libraries all across Europe, catalog, and number them.  As Mozart’s works are known by their Köchel numbers, Francesco’s extant pieces are known and differentiated by their Ness numbers – especially helpful as more than ninety of them are either untitled or simply named Fantasia or Ricercar in the original sources.


The Brandenburg Concertos

disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early to mid thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

disputed portrait of Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early- to mid-thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are in the front rank of the masterpieces of Western music, and are his most-performed and best-known works. Ironically, these remarkable pieces are not simply the best or most popular works from a large number of similar efforts, as for instance is the case of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – they are unique in Sebastian’s oeuvre in almost every way.  The Brandenburgs are not representative of Sebastian’s output except in the masterful manner of their composition and in the virtuosic forces needed to perform them.


Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Saturday

Part 2 of 2

This is the conclusion of the story I began in Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday

Participants Chorus - Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo

Participants Chorus – Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo


On Saturday morning I made it back to Lipscomb before the 9 am voice masterclass in Ward Hall with Margaret Carpenter.  Brooke sang first and worked with Margaret for a half hour, followed by countertenor Patrick Dailey, who sang Thomas Campion’s Never Weather-Beaten Saile: another lute song, which I also accompanied.  Margaret had many helpful suggestions for each singer – mostly focusing on expression – and the hour went by quickly.  I ended up staying in the room for the next session as well – Participants Chorus with Terri Richter and Mareike Sattler – and served as impromptu accompanist as we sight read sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria.


Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday

NEMFlogoPart 1 of 2

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in Music City’s first ever festival dedicated to music from before the time of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.  The inaugural Nashville Early Music Festival was held Friday & Saturday, September 25 & 26 at Lipscomb University (the festival’s sponsor), and included copious performances of (mostly) baroque music by local musicians as well as visitors from around the country, as well as more informal presentations, masterclasses, and opportunities for musicians, students, and anyone else interested in Early Music to listen, learn, converse, enthuse, and make friends.

I know that I am not alone in hoping that this is only the first annual event for a festival that will grow into a tradition, bringing Early Music to Nashville for years to come.


Nashville Symphony Announces Accelerando

AccelerandoIn 2016, the Nashville Symphony will launch Accelerando, an intensive program designed to prepare gifted young students of diverse backgrounds for pursuing music at the collegiate level and beyond.

Accelerando seeks to create professional opportunities for musicians from ethnic communities underrepresented in today’s orchestras by providing them with instruction, mentorship, performance experience and assistance with applying for music schools.  With the resources of a major American orchestra, these students will be able to realize their full potential and will form the next generation of orchestra musicians.


Free Day of Music 2015

FDOM-800x800Here is your interactive, one-stop rundown of the Nashville Symphony’s 10th Annual Free Day of Music. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, October 10, as always at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Performances showcasing more than 20 different musical acts will be held from 11 am to 9 pm on four stages located both inside and outside Schermerhorn.  A diverse array of performers from throughout the community will present a wide range of musical styles including classical, jazz, rock, pop, Latin, traditional music from India and China, and much more.  Follow the links to learn more about each performer or ensemble.



Meet the Lute

Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?

William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing,  2.3.57-58

musician angel by Rosso Fiorentino, circa 1520

musician angel by Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista di Jacopo), circa 1520

The first in a series of posts about the lute.

I would wager that while many, perhaps even most people in our culture have heard of the instrument called the lute and may even know what it looks like, most have never heard one played – either live or on a recording. Yet this paragon of musical instruments, this “instrument of angels” was the most popular instrument in Europe for hundreds of years.  Throughout the Renaissance, the lute occupied a position in European society analogous to that of the piano in the nineteenth century.  Lute virtuosi played for royalty and popes and were famous throughout the continent, and a rising middle class created demand for the new industry in printed sheet music, providing for music making at home.  The art of music took its place at the center of culture on an unprecedented scale. This musical revolution gave birth to the invention of the instruments we use today and intensified the position of music at the heart of both religious and secular ceremonies, while the public and royalty alike acknowledged famous musicians as celebrities and prophets.  At the forefront of all this was the lute – a symbol of music’s divine place in human life and the most popular musical instrument of the age.