melody

Phrasing and Meter — by Robert Battey

Today’s ruminations have to do with musical phrasing.  As a music critic for the Washington Post, I'm regularly attending concerts of all kinds.  That, plus a lot of chamber music coaching, leads me to ruminate on this subject often.  The ability to produce clear phrasing is just as important as having good rhythm or intonation, but a lot of folks don’t do it well, or as well as they think.  Remember, in grade school, when we had to take turns reading aloud from the book?  And how some kids were flat, with little inflection and the same pause between every word, while with others it came out sounding like natural speech?  To a certain extent it’s the same with music, sometimes even at the professional level. It’s often been remarked that the [...]

The Swan — by Arnold Steinhardt

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, “The Carnival of the Animals.” I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his name in print before. I wondered why there was a funny line between his two-word last name and what could be the purpose of those strange dots perched on top. And was Saint-Saëns actually a saint? I thought that The Swan was very pretty and probably associated the music’s title with its general mood in some vague way. As a child, I often saw swans gliding regally through the water on the lake near where [...]

Pezzo Capriccioso, Transitions, Alterations, and Rosin (Edited Version) — by Robert Battey

I am indebted to Aron Zelkowicz for correcting factual errors in the first version of this article, and to Peter Close for locating an on-line version of the original score.   Today’s ruminations are on Tchaikovsky.  And his congenital weakness regarding transitions.  It’s kind of endearing, that such a genius would have this Achilles’ heel; for some reason, his muse regularly deserted him when he needed to stitch together two sections of music. It could be in a placid spot, such as the transition to the jerky second theme in the first movement of the Piano Concerto . . . or the connecting “music” preceding the waltz variation in the A minor Trio. It could also be in a transition meant to increase tension, like the second return to the [...]

Exploring Beethoven 5th, Variation One — by Jonathan Pegis

Continuing our discussion of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, let us examine the first variation. As I did with the theme, I will first talk about the technical challenges of this excerpt and then look at the musical challenges.  First of all, it is very important that you play this excerpt in the exact same tempo that you played the theme.  A common mistake is to play this variation much faster than the theme simply because of that long first down bow.  One trick that helps is when you finish the theme keep counting the quarter note rests at the end of measure  10, and then count off the two quarter note rests in measure 49.  (Almost like you were making a cut!)  You can do the same thing at the end [...]

I Found my “Dream Quartet” in an Unexpected Industry — by Margo Drakos

My love for string quartets drew me to the cello, or rather, it motivated me to practice. It isn’t just the repertoire—I was hooked by the music the first time I ever heard the early Guarneri recording of the Cavatina and Grosse Fuge.  I love the idealist concept of a quartet, and the feeling of playing an individual voice that joins together with three other voices to form a single interdependent expression.   I also love the cellist’s role in a quartet, as it requires a multitude of skills.  At once the quartet cellist is the anchor, sometimes quietly without notice, sometimes with declarative strength, sometimes a supportive counterpart, yet at other times is the prominent, docile melody.  I have taken great pride in seeking the seemingly unattainable perfection of [...]