Walter Bitner

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2016 Jazz OnStage: Birth of the Cool

BirthOfTheCool_188

Last night I had the great fortune to be a part of a fine ensemble of musicians performing our very first Jazz OnStage: part of the OnStage series of free chamber music concerts at the Nashville Symphony.

The OnStage series has been a part of the Nashville Symphony’s community engagement programming for many years now, and I’ve written about these programs in a number of previous posts here on Off The Podium. The concept of the program is simple: on selected weeknights throughout the season, Nashville Symphony musicians present an early evening chamber music concert in which the audience is seated on the stage with the musicians, and the program includes the opportunity for dialogue between the musicians and the audience.

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Meet Telemann

Telemannwide

To his 18th century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous, influential, and highly-regarded German musician of the day. Four years older than his friends J.S. Bach and Händel – both of whose reputations have now eclipsed his – Telemann was more prolific than either, wrote sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music in virtually every genre, published on a nearly unprecedented scale, and did more than any other musician of his time to break down barriers that kept music a separate and elite component of civic, court, and church ceremony to elevate the role of music in the life of the middle class.

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Orpheus

detail from Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875)

detail from Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875)

Apollo is the Sun. In the exalted solitude of his journey through the heavens each day, He hears the Harmony of the Spheres: the perfection of proportions in the orbits of the heavenly bodies – the Sun, the Moon, and the planets together resonating an etherial and celestial music never heard by mortals.

Perhaps it was this celestial harmony Apollo remembered when He saw young Hermes strumming on the strings of an instrument the child God had made from the shell of a tortoise. Hermes had stolen some of his cattle and Apollo was very angry, but when the Sun God heard the delicate yet enthralling sounds of Hermes’ lyre, His temper cooled and Apollo allowed Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the instrument. Apollo endowed the lyre with His solar power, inventing Music. Through His divine example He inspired men and women to live virtuously, to emulate the Gods, and to create Music and poetry for themselves.

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2015: What Kind of Blog Is This?

Offthe Podium

2015 Off the Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts

Disclosure: self-indulgent meta-post follows

It’s the last week of 2015, and looking back I decided to review my experience writing Off the Podium this year and share some statistics, what I have learned, and in a way give an overview of what exactly this blog is about.

Writing has been something I have wanted to do for years now, and I began to write in secret some time ago, but it was last year’s career transition that found me leaving the classroom to work at the symphony that finally enabled me to begin writing in earnest. I just couldn’t put it off any more!

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Petrarch’s Lyre

Petrarch

The Lute Part IV

The Lute and the New Humanists

The lute was already well-established as a favorite instrument in Italy by the 14th century (the Trecento). The happy circumstances that led to the rise of the lute as the emblematic and most revered instrument of the European Renaissance can be traced to its being readily on hand for the new humanist philosophers and poets who created the movement.

Already the lute was so familiar that in the early years of the century Dante (1265-1321) had used this simile to describe the counterfeiter Master Adam encountered in the eighth circle of Hell:

Io vidi un, fatto a guisa di lēuto
(I saw one, who would have been shaped like a lute)

~ Inferno XXX, 49

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante's Master Adam

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante’s Master Adam

But Petrarch actually played the lute, and equating it with the the lyre of Classical Greece, he imbued the cultural perception of the instrument with a rich symbolism that permeated European art, music, and poetry for centuries.

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The Medieval Lute

The Lute Part III

two lutenists from the manuscript of Cantinas de Santa Mariaof Alfonso the Wise of Castile (1221-1284)

two lutenists from the 13th century manuscript Cantigas de Sancta Maria of Alfonso the Wise

By the middle of the 16th century, professional lutenists led by virtuosi such as Francesco da Milano had established the lute, and more importantly secular instrumental music, as a deep, abiding, and richly developed component of Western culture. The impact the early lutenists made on both their contemporaries and on the generations that followed influenced the course and development of our musical traditions in ways that are still felt today.

How did the lute rise from a little-known cultural import to become the defining instrument and symbol of music in Renaissance Europe – including its elevation to preeminent stature as the instrument of princes?

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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.

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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.

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