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Freya Parr An introduction to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8

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Symphony No. 8 Op. 65 (1943)

Premiered: Moscow, 1943 

Following the Seventh’s success, Shostakovich was expected to produce another rousing wartime symphony. In the event, he blew apart its structure, like the Sixth, and created a work of emotional ambivalence which did not please Party officials. 

VASILY PETRENKO: ‘By 1943, Rachmaninov had written his Ode to Victory and people thought that the war was almost won. But the Eighth Symphony wasn’t a celebration; already he was asking, “At what cost? What’s next?

The Eighth is a view of the “underside” of war, the contribution of people far from the frontlines. Evacuated to the village of Ivanova, he saw how the women suffered and struggled on.

‘The ending is a requiem: that really bothered people. There’s a sense of strain and exhaustion here, partly because he worked through gastric typhoid, but also he was reflecting the life of ordinary people, which was extremely hard.

He was saying “we are doing this for our homeland, not for those bastards in power”. In some ways I find it the most patriotic symphony.’ 

 

 

 

Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School. In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey.

‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’ 

 

 

Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era.

He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.

‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context.

There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’ 

 

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Freya Parr Composer and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood launches classical music label

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Jonny Greenwood has made a name for himself as a classical composer in recent years, alongside his role as lead guitarist in British rock band Radiohead. He has now launched Octatonic, a new classical music record label. 

Two releases have been announced as part of the label’s launch: violinist Daniel Pioro performing JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor on one album, and Michael Gordon’s Industry and Jonny Greenwood’s Three Miniatures from Water on the other. The two releases will be sold on vinyl and in digital format.

In the BBC Proms this year, Greenwood’s Horror vacui received its premiere as part of a Late Night Prom, curated by Greenwood himself. He has also written for film, with his score for Phantom Thread receiving an Academy Award nomination in 2018. 

Greenwood has also announced new recordings of music by Steve Reich in the works, as well as more of his own unrecorded material.

‘I’ve decided to start documenting the musicians I encounter in the contemporary classical music world,’ says Greenwood. ‘I’m only recording soloists, or small groups, and as it’s my party, I'm including in the release some of my own small ideas that have never been recorded.’ 

 

 

Octatonic will be an imprint of Council Music, which launched in November 2018 and records music across all genres. 

 

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Music Freelance Five of the best musicians who use extended technique

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Extended techniques became popular in the early 20th century, when the boundaries between classical and jazz blurred. Composers began to borrow some of the sounds heard in blues and bebop. Probably the most famous example of the first use of extended techniques is the clarinet’s drawn-out trill that moves into a bent glissando at the beginning of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924). Extended techniques do not appeal to everyone, but the fact that we can still find new timbres from well-established instruments – some that have barely changed in a century – is an achievement worth celebrating.

 

 

Rebecca Saunders – Caerulean

Carl Rosman (clarinet)
Huddersfield Contemporary Records HCR 12CD

Caerulean features multiphonics, air sounds and glissandos (notated as ‘sexy gliss’), as well as circular breathing.

 

 

Jörg Widmann – Viola Concerto 

Antoine Tamestit (viola)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902268

Widmann has his soloist tapping the fingerboard and drumming the chinrest. The bow is used ‘normally’ only midway through the work.

 

 

Liza Lim – Sonorous Body

Manfred Spitaler (clarinet)
Hat Hut Records LC 6048

A showcase of the clarinet’s remarkable range with microtonality, keyclicks and both slap- and flutter-tonguing.

 

 

 

Almeida Prado – Cartas Celestes 

Aleyson Scopel (piano)
Grand Piano GP746

Prado calls his harmonic language ‘transtonality’ – his Cartas Celestes features almost every type of sound the piano has to offer.

 

 

Takemitsu – Voice

Emmanuel Pahud (flute)
Warner Classics 9029570175

As the title suggests, the flautist becomes a vocalist in Takemitsu’s Voice, speaking into the instrument.

 

 

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Music Freelance Who composed the theme tune for the Great British Bake Off?

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The bright, high-pitched melody which rings in every new episode of the Great British Bake-Off was written by the young UK composer Tom Howe. In this iconic jingle, violins lead the way, supported by a lively rhythmic line from the cellos and percussions.

After a short cello intro building up tension, the violin kicks in with a fast-paced tune which is repeated for a few bars. With these 30 seconds of television music, Tom Howe has signed a recognisable score which has accompanied the series since their creation almost ten years ago.

 

 

An album dedicated to the competition’s music was released in 2015. Entitled ‘Songs from the Bake Off Tent’, this album is a collection of Howe’s music and various pop songs also played in the episodes throughout the series. From ‘Bakewell Counting’ to ‘Happy Pizza’ via ‘Fresh Ingredients’, Howe’s music embodies the programme’s light-heartedness and devotion to high-flying baking skills.

 

 

 

Howe has contributed widely to British TV, with the main tunes of BBC Life and Channel 5’s Witch Hunt also to his name. After the Great British Bake-Off’s first season, he happily returned to composing music for food-related productions with the romantic comedy Love’s Kitchen in 2011, in which Gordon Ramsay makes an appearance.

 

 

Tom Howe has since scored several Hollywood productions, including the recent animated feature Early Man and A Shaun the Sheep Story: Farmageddon, which will be released in October this year. He has also written additional music for the scores of renowned film music composers Rupert Gregson-Williams (Wonder Woman, The Legend of Tarzan) and Harry Gregson-Williams (Monkey Kingdom).

The British composer uses modern sound design techniques to compose his scores, layering digital samples to create the effects and atmosphere he wants. He describes his writing as melody-driven, creating the perfect hook for spectators. For the Great British Bake Off, he explained that he aimed to compose music with a feeling of British sensibility, admitting that he greatly enjoyed compressing that into such a short format.

 

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Freya Parr Free Download: Lukas Henning plays 16th-century lute music

'Playing a six-course Renaissance-style lute, Henning draws a lucid, ringing sound and a gamut of timbres and tints to capture the variegated colours of each piece'

This week's free download is Il est bel et bon (After Pierre Passereau) by Marco Dall'Aquila, performed by lutenist Lukas Henning. It was recorded on Glossa and was awarded five stars for performance and four for recording in the October issue of BBC Music Magazine. 

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS:

If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.

Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.

If you experience any technical problems please email support@classical-music.com. Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.

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Music Freelance Six of the best Mozart operas

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Mozart wrote a total of 22 operas in his lifetime, including examples of opera seria and opera buffa. Mozart's sophisticated use of the orchestra and variety of colour, express his characters emotional state, even during fast moving dramatic action and comedic moments. 

 

Idomeneo 

The music of Idomeneo (premiered January 1781) is undeniably innovative in terms structure. Ensembles were not featured a lot in classical or mythological operas, known as opera seria. But in Idomeneo, Mozart uses a duet, a trio and a quartet for dramatic impact. The dramatic music mirrors the gripping plot.

Based on an Ancient Greek story, war hero Idomeneo makes a vow to sacrifice the first person he encounters after he is saved from drowning. Idomeneo is devastated when the first person he meets is his son Idamante. His inability to sacrifice his son causes the Gods to inflict harm on thousands of his people. Eventually Idomeneo tells the truth, and Idamante’s bravery is rewarded by being made king. Idomeneo was Mozart’s thirteenth theatrical work and, is a fine example of his refined compositional style.

 

 

 

The Marriage of Figaro 

The Marriage of Figaro was the first collaboration between Mozart and theatre poet, Lorenzo da Ponte. The story is based on a play by Beaumarchais, first performed in 1784. While the play was a hit in Paris, it was banned in Vienna, due to the troublemaking storyline. The plot sparked controversy due to its suggestions of inciting rebellion against a monarch.

Despite this, Mozart agreed to writing opera, after it was suggested to him by Da Ponte. Premiered in May 1786, the opera is a rollercoaster of emotions. The entire opera is based on a single day, the wedding day of Figaro and Susanna. Figaro’s master, the Count is found to be seducing Susanna, so Figaro seeks revenge. Following some comical revenge plots, the opera ultimately results in forgiveness, and a happy ending.

 

 

 

Don Giovanni

Premiered in October 1787, Don Giovanni was commissioned as a result of Figaro’s popularity in Prague. The plot follows the protagonist as he creates a trail of heartbreak and murder. His wicked ways of seduction and violence culminate in his refusal to repent, despite the efforts of the people around him. They are left to decide his fate, and he is eventually sent to hell.

The drama of the plot is thickened by Mozart’s rich and animated score. Interpretations of Don Giovanni still vary amongst audiences today. Some view the opera as highly emotional and tragic, while others perceive it as harmless mischief. 

 

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Così fan tutte 

Following Figaro and Don Giovanni, this was Mozart and Da Ponte’s last opera together. While Figaro is known for its vibrant energy, and Don Giovanni for its fiery intensity, Così fan tutte is memorable for its incredibly witty plot. The original story was based on real-life Vienna. Although difficult to translate, the title means ‘they’re all like that’, particularly referring to women.

Despite sounding rather anti-women, the opera actually displays the men in an equally poor light. The opera begins with Guglielmo and Ferrando bragging about the loyalty of their lovers. However when they claim to go to war, they instead disguise themselves as Albanians, attempting to seduce their lovers and test their loyalty. Inevitably this does not go to plan.

 

 

 

La Clemenza di Tito 

Commissioned for the 1791 coronation of Leopold II in Prague, Mozart composed this two-act opera seria. It was the first of Mozart’s operas to reach London. Set in Imperial Rome, in the year 79AD, La Clemenza di Tito tells the story of Emperor Titus.

Many composers had set this story to music before however, Mozart set the opera in a new way. Emperor Titus is portrayed in a new light, as a humanist. The story depicts unfaithfulness and betrayal, in the form of seduction and murder plots, by both Titus and those around him. Yet Emperor Titus is in the end forgiving, and has mercy on those who plotted against him. Mozart intended Leopold II to see Emperor Titus as an example for his new leadership.

 

 

 

The Magic Flute 

In a mythical land between the sun and the moon, Prince Tamino, is lost. After being rescued from a monster by three mysterious ladies, he is shown a picture of Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night. He instantly falls in love with Pamina, and vows to rescue her from the evil Sarastro.

The common misconception is that The Magic Flute was a job Mozart was forced to unwillingly do, due to little work being offered to him at court. However, Mozart had long been a friend of theatre owner Emanuel Schikaneder. Writing an opera to be performed in Schikaneder's theatre, as The Magic Flute was, would have been natural. Theatre was a huge aspect of Viennese culture, so contributing to this would not have been degrading, it was expected from Mozart

 

 

 

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Music Freelance Five of the best twelve-tone works

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Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1928)

This was his first serial work for full orchestra and a demonstration piece of the possibilities of the 12-tone row. In the mysterious, then turbulent, Introduction, the row is assembled note by note; the expressive, long-phrased theme, played by the cellos, comprises four successive forms of the row – prime, retrograde-inversion, retrograde, inversion – harmonised by other row forms; Variation 1 has the Theme in the bass – and so on. The score alternates between the harshest and most delicate textures, vividly orchestrated.

 

Berg Violin Concerto (1935)

Prompted by the death of the young Manon Gropius and composed in Berg’s last summer, this concerto is a haunting study in ambiguity. For, although 12-tone in structure, it uses a note row comprising a succession of thirds which incorporate the tuning of the violin’s open strings plus a five-note scale – elements that enable Berg constantly to insinuate nostalgic echoes of tonality, and even to introduce a Carinthian folk tune and a Bach chorale. The work has a more secure place in the repertoire than any other 12-tone score.

 

Boulez 12 Notations (1945)/Notations I-IV, VII (1980/98)

In 1945, when he was still studying with Messiaen and Leibowitz, 20-year-old Boulez composed a set of tiny, violently contrasted piano studies, each only 12 bars long, exploring the possibilities of 12-tone technique. Thirty years later, be began to orchestrate these, completing Nos I-IV in 1980, and adding VII in 1998. These are not just arrangements, however, but recompositions, amplifying tiny gestures in the original pieces into great swirls and tirades of complex and colourful texture for vast orchestra.

 

Copland Inscape (1967)

Copland’s last substantial work for orchestra uses two 12-tone rows. The first forms the awesome 12-note chords that frame the work’s course; the second row generates the austere contrapuntal argument that builds to a rhetorical climax before dissolving in a passage of mystical withdrawal – the ‘inscape’ of the title.

Copland once said that he took up serialism because it helped him discover chords he would not otherwise have heard. Yet the hard-bitten textures of Inscape sound no less characteristic of him than his popular Americana.

 

 

Stravinsky Agon (1953-57)

Stravinsky’s ballet was composed over several years. In proceeding from modal fanfares, via dances devised from chromatic four-tone motifs, to fully 12-tone dances at its centre, it reflects his gradual approach to 12-tone composition. Its mix of stylistic allusions, from Medieval cadences and Monteverdi to Webern and jazz, also pre-echoes the status of serialism more recently as just one technique among many.

Yet, the pervasive influence of Stravinsky’s idiosyncratic personality ensures that this most disparate of his scores comes over as a perfectly balanced whole.

 

 

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Freya Parr An introduction to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7

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Symphony No. 7 ‘Leningrad’ Op. 60 (1941)

Premiered: Kuibyshev, 1942

When World War II broke out, Shostakovich was offered the chance to teach at a conservatoire in Tashkent, but insisted on remaining in Leningrad with his family, working as a fire officer, until they were finally evacuated. He took the draft score of the Seventh Symphony with him, completing the last movement in the war capital Kuibyshev, where it was premiered. 

VASILY PETRENKO: ‘The people of Russia were caught between two evils: which would they prefer? Stalin was a murderer but gave them national identity; Nazism promised genocide. I feel here he was raging against all anti-human force. At the beginning we are dealing with some of the most beautiful music ever written, which is then systematically destroyed.

You can hear that senseless, mechanical force in the motoric drums, the chilling banality of the march. You can hear his experience, too, of being a fire warden on the roofs of St Petersburg.

He refused to leave for a long time yet he was still evacuated before the really horrible things happened, before people started eating each other. What he had witnessed was the amazing strength of the human spirit, in defending each other and their city. 

‘He felt a responsibility to get as many musicians as possible back from the front line to play in the Leningrad performance. They were given food: that’s why there are so many extra brass, harps, woodwinds – he was literally saving lives.

And so the Symphony is a memorial to the people of Leningrad. The live broadcast was a powerful symbol of resilience, for the country, and for the Allies.’

 

 

Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School. In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey.

‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’ 

 

 

Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era.

He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.

‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context.

There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’ 

 

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Freya Parr An introduction to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7

Rating: 
0

Symphony No. 7 ‘Leningrad’ Op. 60 (1941)

Premiered: Kuibyshev, 1942

When World War II broke out, Shostakovich was offered the chance to teach at a conservatoire in Tashkent, but insisted on remaining in Leningrad with his family, working as a fire officer, until they were finally evacuated. He took the draft score of the Seventh Symphony with him, completing the last movement in the war capital Kuibyshev, where it was premiered. 

VASILY PETRENKO: ‘The people of Russia were caught between two evils: which would they prefer? Stalin was a murderer but gave them national identity; Nazism promised genocide. I feel here he was raging against all anti-human force. At the beginning we are dealing with some of the most beautiful music ever written, which is then systematically destroyed.

You can hear that senseless, mechanical force in the motoric drums, the chilling banality of the march. You can hear his experience, too, of being a fire warden on the roofs of St Petersburg.

He refused to leave for a long time yet he was still evacuated before the really horrible things happened, before people started eating each other. What he had witnessed was the amazing strength of the human spirit, in defending each other and their city. 

‘He felt a responsibility to get as many musicians as possible back from the front line to play in the Leningrad performance. They were given food: that’s why there are so many extra brass, harps, woodwinds – he was literally saving lives.

And so the Symphony is a memorial to the people of Leningrad. The live broadcast was a powerful symbol of resilience, for the country, and for the Allies.’

 

 

Vasily Petrenko is, like Shostakovich, a son of Leningrad/St Petersburg, and grew up singing the composer’s songs in its Capella Boys Music School. In 1997 he won first prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition and was made chief conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, during which time he took on the principal conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

On his arrival in the city in 2006, at just 30, he launched a project with Naxos to record all Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies. The series has drawn international acclaim and, as the final instalment is released, he looks back on his nine-year journey.

‘To work with an orchestra on one composer for so many years has meant we could build a style, an approach to his language,’ he says. ‘At first, it felt like an exhilarating challenge: there are huge demands. Now, we are of one mind.’ 

 

 

Petrenko, born a year after the composer’s death, grew up in the Soviet Union. A beneficiary of its uniquely rigorous teaching system, he witnessed its dissolution when he was 15, the re-writing of history books, and even the emergence of a nostalgia for that dark era.

He’s in touch with those who remember Shostakovich, and the times through which he lived, but has experienced the Western view of this controversial figure.

‘When I conduct these symphonies in Russia, there’s still an unspoken understanding of the songs, the messages. We talk more about the composer’s personal life. When I conduct in the West, it’s important to give the historical context.

There’s still so much we don’t know; the family destroyed many letters when Shostakovich died. The State would probably have requisitioned them anyway.’ 

 

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