If composers and arrangers have long reworked the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, they have followed the lead of none other than the composer himself, for Bach was an inveterate transcriber of his own music and the music of others. For solo organ Bach transcribed Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins Op. 3 No. 8, while his G major Concerto BWV 592 acknowledged the musical efforts of Prince Johann Ernst, nephew of his employer at Weimar, discreetly tidying and improving details in the process. Bach’s great Mass in B minor is a compilation of his earlier compositions, while the exuberant opening sinfonia of Cantata No. 29 is an expansion of the Prelude from his E major Partita for solo violin.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics over, I’m reminded of one of the key traits all entrepreneurs possess and all would-be entrepreneurs must develop: the ability to recognize opportunities. You see, one of my favorite Olympic sports is bobsledding. I love the speed and excitement, the precision with which the sleds must be steered to gain the most speed—but also avoid disaster. I’m also fascinated by the tracks themselves.
From the start, audiences liked Claude Debussy’s music. Critics, perplexed by its originality, were less enthusiastic. It seemed so non-traditional that they found it difficult to grasp, and a challenge to categorize. That’s what eventually led to the term Impressionism being applied to it. It became an easy way both to classify it and make it seem less unusual. Prior to linking Debussy to it, Impressionism was solely associated with the visual arts.
I discovered the violin and piano version of The Lark Ascending in my youth, and I still remember how much I loved playing the violin part, unaccompanied. I was impressed by the programmatic transformation of the underlying poem as well as the liberating setting of the pentatonic scale and transcendent cadenza. Even then, I was already thinking of adapting this wonderful work for a different instrumentation.
The recent resurgence of virtual reality (VR) has seen an exciting period of innovation in the format, as developers explore the fresh new possibilities that it brings. VR differs from the video games you might play on a standard television in that the head-mounted display engulfs the visual field, producing a more immersive sensory experience. In VR, not only can you see a virtual environment, but you can also turn your head to look around it.
The historical record of women making music extends back as far as the earliest histories and artifacts of musical performance. For example, artwork from Ancient Greece and Rome suggest that women’s choruses were featured in rituals and festivals. And throughout Chinese imperial history the courts, civil and military officials and wealthy households employed women to sing, dance, and play musical instruments.
The most recent publication by leading theorists Michael Tenzer and Pieter van den Toorn brings to the fore issues relating to the analysis of African music. Well known for work on Balinese music and for championing the new movement towards analysis of world music, Tenzer here indulges a long-standing interest in African music by exploring deep parallels between two compositions: a beautifully elusive flute-and-voice piece recorded in 1966 by Simha Arom and Genevieve Taurelle and given the title Hindehu; and Nhemamusasa, a standard item from the Shona mbira repertoire recorded by Paul Berliner in 1977.
The process of ‘creating order’ through categorisation has always constituted an essential part of our social progress because of its measurable functionality. Vocal categorisation has been no exception, but given that all singing voices are unique – the musical equivalent of fingerprints – any attempt at fitting them neatly into categories ought to generate a clear justification for how this might benefit the art as well as the performer.
Even by the standards of musical genius, George Enescu (1881–1955) was quite an extraordinary figure. A musician of a precocity that rivals Mozart or Mendelssohn, Enescu was equally proficient as a composer, performer, and teacher. Remembered nowadays primarily as a violinist, he numbers securely among the foremost instrumentalists of the twentieth century and a very capable cellist besides.
We like to get an insight into the musical lives of Oxford composers by asking them questions about their artistic likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges.. In part 1 we spoke to composer David Bednall in August 2017 about what motivates him, and how he approaches a new commission. Here he tells us why he wanted to be a composer, the challenges he faces, and his musical guilty pleasures.
Occasionally, we ask Oxford composers questions about their musical likes and dislikes, influences, and challenges. We spoke to Alan Bullard about who or what inspires him, his writing habits, and what he likes to do when he’s not composing.
Faced with a blank sheet of paper, how does one begin when an invitation is received to compile an anthology of music? Compiling the two recent volumes, Oxford Book of Christmas Organ Music for Manuals and Oxford Book of Lent and Easter Organ Music for Manuals, has been a rewarding journey of musical discovery, which I decided had to begin at Perry Barr in north east Birmingham, on the campus of the University of Central England, at the library of the Royal College of Organists.
The young violinist Kerson Leong looks back with affection on his preparations for the premiere and subsequent recording of a work by John Rutter. The work, featuring a solo violin part of great lyricism and transparency, was moulded by the composer to fit Leong’s particular playing style.
A rich sensuality of touch permeates Luca Guadagnino’s new film Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name. This tactile quality comes through not only in its evocative visual imagery: close-ups of hands and fingers and feet, shoulder rubs, sweaty bare skin glistening in the sun, bodies lounging on lush grass or jumping into chilly spring-fed ponds, soft-boiled eggs and ripe fruits bursting with juices, the broken limbs and pitted patina of ancient bronzes.
“You’ve got to have technique: composition is like aircraft design; you can’t just go in and do it without training. You’ll never find your voice if you don’t have the technique to express what you want to say.” One of the most prolific of choral music composers, John Rutter is known throughout the world for music which has sustained choirs for almost half a century. Here he is in dialogue with composer Bob Chilcott.
The concepts of altered states and psychedelia creep in to a great deal of visual art. According to Lewis-Williams, some early forms of Palaeolithic rock art may have been shamanic in origin, and represent forms seen during visionary states. 18th Century works such as Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) depicted the ‘old hag’ phenomenon, a type of hypnagogic hallucination that is experienced on the threshold of sleep, during which a person feels as though a daemon or other supernatural entity is suffocating them.