Thursday, July 31, 2014


The nine instruments in general use among the ancient Irish including the professional names of the various performers were:
  1. Cruitire [harper]; 
  2. Timpanach [timpanist]; 
  3. Buinnire [flute player]; 
  4. Cornaire [horn player]; 
  5. Cuisleannach [player on the bag-pipes]; 
  6. Fedanach [fife player]; 
  7. Graice [horn player]; 
  8. Stocaire and Sturganaidhe [trumpeter]; 
  9. Pipaire [piper].

The CRUIT is called crwth by the Welsh, and crowde by the English. Originally a small harp or lyre, plucked with the fingers (as in the case of the Roman fidicula), it was subsequently played with a bow, and is mentioned by an Irish poet who flourished about four hundred years before Christ. 

It is justly regarded as the progenitor of the Crotta, the German Rotte, and the Italian Rota. St. Venantius Fortunatus (the great Christian poet, A.D. 530-609) calls the Cruit a CROTTA; and we learn from Gerbert that it was an oblong-shaped instrument, with a neck and finger-board, having six strings, of which four were placed on the fingerboard and two outside it—the two open strings representing treble G, with its lower octave. 

In fact, it was a small harp, and was generally played resting on the knee, or sometimes placed on a table before the performer, after the manner of the zither.


The CLAIRSEACH was the large harp, "the festive or heroic harp of the chiefs and ladies, as also of the bards," having from 29 to 58 strings, and even 60, but as a rule 30 strings. Its normal compass was from CC (the lowest string on the violoncello) to D, in all 30 notes, that is, about four octaves. 

It was generally tuned in the scale of G, but, by alteration of one string a semitone (effected by means of the ceis or harp fastener), the key might be changed to C or D. "In those keys the diatonic scale was perfect and complete, similar to ours now in use." It may also be added that the ancient Irish played the treble with the left hand, and the bass with the right.

The so-called "Brian Boru's Harp," though not dating from the time when the hero of Clontarf flourished, has a venerable antiquity, and was almost certainly a harp of the O'Briens. 

It really dates from about the year 1220, having been made for the famous Donnchadh Cairbre O'Brien, King of Thomond, whose death is recorded on the 8th March, 1242-43. 

A detailed account of its workmanship is given by Petrie and other writers; and it is here sufficient to mention that it is furnished with 30 metallic strings, having a compass from C below the bass stave to D above the treble stave.


The timpan was a small stringed instrument, having from three to eight strings, and was played with a bow or plectrum, being also called a benn crot, or peaked harp.

The body was a small flat drum or tympanum (whence the name) with a short neck added; the strings were stretched across the flat face and along the neck, and were tuned and regulated by pins or keys and a bridge, something like the modern guitar, or banjo, but with the neck much shorter. It was played with a bow, or with both a bow and plectrum, or with the finger-nail; and the strings were probably stopped with the fingers of the left hand, like those of a violin.


The Fiddle was used in Ireland as early as the eighth century, as is quoted by O'Curry from the poem on the Fair of Carman:

"Pipes, fiddles, men of no valour, bone players and pipe players; a crowd hideous, noisy, profane, shriekers and shouters."  


By the end of the 9th Century, the ancient Irish were responsible for the spread of music in Europe.

  • They were acquainted with the ogham music tablature in pre-Christian ages; 
  • They had their battle-marches, dance tunes, folk songs, chants. and hymns in the fifth century
  • They were the earliest to adopt the neums or neumatic notation, for the plain chant of the Western Church; 
  • They modified, and introduced Irish melodies into, the Gregorian Chant; 
  • They had an intimate acquaintance with the diatonic scale long before it was perfected by Guido of Arezzo; 
  • They were the first to employ harmony and counterpoint; 
  • They had quite an army of bards and poets; 
  • They employed blank verse, elegaic rhymes, consonant, assonant, inverse, burthen, dissyllabic, trisyllabic, and quadrisyllabic rhymes, not to say anything of caoines, laments, elegies, metrical romances, etc.; 
  • They invented the musical arrangement which developed into the sonata form; 
  • They had a world-famed school of harpers; 
  • They generously diffused musical knowledge all over Europe.


In ancient Ireland the systems of law, medicine, poetry, and music, according to Keating, "were set to music, being poetical compositions." Vallancey tells us that the bards, specially selected from amongst noble youths of conspicuous stature and beauty, "had a distinctive dress of five colours, and wore a white mantle and a blue cap ornamented with a gold crescent." The curriculum for an ollamh (bard) extended to twelve years and more, at the expiration of which he was given the doctor's cap, that is, the barréd, and the title of ollamh.

  • Cormac Mac Art, Ard Righ [Head King] of Ireland (A.D. 254-277), had a chief bard and musicians
  • The Bards were poets, not musicians
  • They were a literary people long before the coming of St. Patrick
  • The invented the earliest form of musical tabulature (Oghams)
  • The Greek Harp was introduced to Ireland by the Melisians, 
  • They played 9 musical instruments (sic)
  • They sang songs worshipping Apollo, played on the harp
  • They demonstrated the first certain examples of rhyme
  • They had the Diatonic scale

Irish psalmody and hymnody were distinctly Celtic in the first half of the seventh century, and were mainly "adaptations" of the old Irish pre-Christian melodies.

The very word ogham suggests at once a musical signification, and, therefore, it is of the very highest importance to claim for Ireland the earliest form of musical tablature.

Ancient Irish Music: Prior to 1100, there were no unified forms of musical tablature

The main reason there is no written record of Irish music prior to 1100 has to do with the systems in which the music was taught and performed:

The pre-Christian Irish had their ogham music-tablature, and the Irish of the seventh-eleventh century had the neumal accents, after which the Guidonian system was adopted The Guidonian hand was known in Ireland at the close of the eleventh century

Ogham = An ancient British and Irish alphabet, consisting of twenty characters formed by parallel strokes on either side of or across a continuous line.  The very word ogham suggests at once a musical signification, and, therefore, it is of the very highest importance to claim for Ireland the earliest form of musical tablature.

A neume (/ˈnjuːm/; spelled neum in, for instance, the Solesmes publications in English)[1][2][3] is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation. The word is a Middle English corruption of the Greek word for breath (πνεῦμα pneuma).

The Guidonian hand was known in Ireland at the close of the eleventh century

The Ancient Irish were largely responsible for the Gregorian Chants

In regard to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentarium which Pope Adrian sent to the Emperor Charlemagne by John, Abbot of Ravenna, between the years 788 and 790, Dr. Haberl, one of the greatest living authorities on Church Music, says that "it was altered in the copying, and Gallican elements were introduced." Moreover, it contained only the Roman Station-festivals, with additions made by Popes that came after Gregory," so that Duchesne justly observes that "it should rather be called the Sacramentarium Hadrianum." The Pope also sent two famous Roman singers, Peter and Romanus (author of the Romanian notation) to the Irish monastery at St. Gall's, who brought with them a faithful copy of the Gregorian Antiphonarium, but Duchesne considers that this great musical work was also altered by the monks of St. Gall.

The Celtic monks, from the time of Sedulius, unquestionably introduced and composed many original melodies for the early plain-chant books, and these musical arrangements were afterwards retained in the service of the Church. As a matter of fact, the name Cantus Gregorianus, or Gregorian Chant, is first mentioned in the first half of the eleventh century, by William of Hirschau, who died July 5th, 1091.



AD200 Beginning of High Kingship at Tara, Meath.
377 - 405 Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King
432 St Patrick comes as a Christian Missionary.
795 Vikings attack the Irish Coast
852 Norse occupy Dublin and Waterford
900 - 908 Cormac MacCullenan, King of Cashel
940 - 1014 Reign of High King, Brian Boru, killed at Battle of Clontarf
1119 - 1156 Turlough Mor O Conor, High King
1134 - 1171 Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster
1166 - 1175 Rory O Conor, last native High King of Ireland
1170 Arrival of the Normans
1258 Gallowglasses ( mercenaries ) come to Ulster from Scotland
1366 Statutes of Kilkenny enacted to prevent Anglo-Normans from
integrating with Irish by using the language, laws or customs
1376 - 1411 Art MacMurrough, King of Leinster
1460 Irish Parliamentary independance declared
1477 - 1513 Ireland ruled by Garret Mor Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare
1513 - 1534 Ireland ruled by Garret Oge Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare
1536 Anglo-Irish parliament acknowledges Henry 8th of England as
King of Ireland. Suppression of Monasteries.
1569 - 1583 Revolt of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond
1588 Spanish Armada wrecked off Irish coast
1592 Trinity College Dublin founded
1594 Beginning of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, nine year war
against the English
1598 Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and Rory O Donnell, Earl of
Tyrconnell, defeat the English at the battle of Yellow Ford
1602 Irish, reinforced by Spanish, defeated at Kinsale
1607 Flight of Irish Earls to Spain, led by O Neill and O Donnell
1608 - 1610 British colony founded in Ulster
1641 Rising, which begins in Ulster, spreads
1649 - 1651 Cromwellians devastate Ireland
1660 Restoration of Charles 2nd
1689 Seige of Derry
1689 James 2nd loses English throne to his nephew and son in law,
William of Orange
1690 Having rallied a Jacobite Army in Ireland, James 2nd, deposed
Stuart king, is defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by
William of Orange
1691 11,000 "Wild Geese" soldiers sail for France
1692 - 1829 Exclusion of all Catholics from Parliament and professions
1695 Penal Laws enforced
1778 Irish Volunteers organise
1782 Independant Dublin Parliament
1791 Society of Irishmen founded
1798 Rising takes place
1800 Act of Union. Ireland loses its independant parliament
1829 Catholic Emancipation is inspired by Daniel O Connell
1842 - 1848 Young Ireland Movement
1845 - 1847 The Great Famine. Population falls from 8 million to 6 and a
half million
1867 Fenian Uprising
1877 - 1891 Charles Parnell
1916 Easter Rising
1918 - 1921 Anglo Irish War
1920 Six counties in Ulster vote themselves out of Ireland

Copied from a handout given out at a meeting of the Irish Family History
Society in Liverpool.

"Ar Éirinn 'ní neórainn cé hí."

"For Ireland I would not tell her name"—"Ar Éirinn 'ní neórainn cé hí." a boat-song by Cormac MacCullenan, Prince-Bishop of Cashel, who died in 908

Ancient Irish Music: St. Notker Balbulus, the author of this valuable book of hymns, about the year 870, is the inventor of Sequences

St. Notker Balbulus, the author of this valuable book of hymns, about the year 870, is the inventor of Sequences.

Sequences were also called Tropes, just as Tropes, properly so-called, were denominated Proses. Although the original meaning of Sequence was a prolongation of the last syllable of Alleluia by a series of neumes, jubili, or wordless chant, yet the name was more generally given to a melody following the Epistle, before the Gospel.

Quoted in the Book of Lismore for an explanation of the term Sequence: "Notker, Abbot of St. Gall's, made [invented] sequences, and Alleluia after them in the form in which they are."

In process of time a special Sequence was introduced for every Sunday and feast-day, but Pope Pius V. eliminated all but five.

The words "In the midst of life we are in death," quoted as Scriptural, but the text is only one of the many contributions to the Sacred Liturgy due to Irish writers and composers.

Not only was it superstitiously supposed to be a preservative against death, but the singing of it was believed by many to cause death; and hence, the Council of Cologne, in the twelfth century, forbade the chanting of "Media Vita" without the express permission of the Ordinary of the diocese.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Which came first? The Church Modes or the Cantorial Modes?

My email to Dr Klez (Joshua Horowitz)


I teach a Klezmer class on Tuesday nights in South Hadley, MA.  I am researching the origins of Klezmer modes and would like some insight from a scholar such as yourself.


Adam R Sweet

Hi Adam,

Since Judaism predates Christianity, the assumption is that the cantorial modes came first, but, for instance, Freygish, although used in ancient Greece, is a relatively new mode to Jewish music (its not officially a cantorial mode, but belongs to zmiros and niggunim mostly).

Although we like to consider the klezmer modes as being specific to Jewish music, I think if you look at the majority of tunes played today, you'll find that they have more in common with Ottoman Makamat than liturgical music.

Here's a great link:

The oldest surviving musical notation so far discovered, dates from c.1950 BC

by Michael Levy

In ancient musical history, once must first distinguish between the oldest surviving written musical notation, and the oldest surviving written melody. The oldest surviving musical notation so far discovered, dates from c.1950 BC - this was a set of musical instructions to play the hymn, "Lipit-Ishtar" (King of Justice), found inscribed in Cuneiform on a clay tablet discovered at Sumer. Basically, this is no more than a quote of specific tuning intervals for lyre, followed by a tuning scale of the musical mode to be used in the Hymn.
Here is a rendition of the musical instructions for Lipit Ishtar, as arranged for solo lyre, by "Ensemble De Organographia" in their album from 2000, "Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians & Greeks":

Klezmer Musican Profile: Ilya Magalnyk

Accordion artist, composer, arranger and producer. Ilya Magalnyk was born in Moldova, where he also got his education and started his career as a professional musician. In 1990 Ilya made Aliya and soon after became a prominent figure in the Israeli music world.

Accordion Artist

Ilya has performed with some of the best musicians in and outside of Israel: ShlomoGronich, Effie Netzer, Leonid Ptashka, Dan Almagor, TzvikaHaddar, Alex Anski, Chaya Samir, Elisha Sweigeils, Lev Jorbin and many others.

Ilya uses the accordion to combine different music styles, such as Klezmer, Yiddishkeit, French chansons, contemporary music, and Jazz, among many others.

As an accordionist, Ilya has taken part in many plays for Israel’s leading theaters (Habima, the Cameri Theater, the Haifa Theater and the Han Theater). Ilya has gone on many radio and TV shows, took part in the TV show “Shemesh”, and spent innumerable hours in recording studios.

Composer and Arranger

Ilya is a member of the compositors’ union, and is writing music and arrangements for all sorts of musical ensembles and individual artists, as well as theaters and films. The Israeli Office for Science and Culture awarded Ilya with a stipend for the original scores he had written for the album  “Wandering Stars” (KochavimNodedim) which came out in 2000.

Musical Producer

Ilya is the founder and musical manager of the “MagalnykKlezmer Band”. The ensemble has been performing for over 20 years, and has won much acclaim in Israel and abroad.

Klezmer Musician Profile: Hankus Netsky

A multi-instrumentalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, Hankus Netsky chairs the Contemporary Improvisation Departments at the New England Conservatory. Netsky is founder and director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, an internationally renowned Yiddish music ensemble, and serves as research director of the Klezmer Conservatory Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of traditional Eastern European Jewish music. He has taught Yiddish music at New England Conservatory, Hebrew College, McGill University, and Wesleyan University and has lectured extensively on the subject in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He has also designed numerous Yiddish culture exhibits for the Yiddish Book Center, where he served as Vice President for Education. His essays on klezmer music have been published by the University of California Press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, the University of Scranton Press, the University Press of America, and Hips Road.

His film scores include, “Theo Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” (2013) “The Fool and the Flying Ship,”(1991) a Rabbit Ears children’s video narrated by Robin Williams, “The Forward: From Immigrants to Americans,” (1989) and “The Double Burden: Three Generations of Working Women.” (1992). He adapted and composed the scores to the musicals “Shlemiel the First” (1994) (for the American Repertory Theatre) and “King of the Schnorrers”(2013)and composed the incidental music for the NPR radio series, “Jewish Stories From Eastern Europe and Beyond.” His other significant compositions include “The Trees Of The Dancing Goats,” for Rabbit Airs Radio (PRI) and “Chagall’s Mandolins,” commissioned by the Niew Sinfonietta of Amsterdam. Netsky is currently an instructor in jazz and contemporary improvisation at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He holds a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and Bachelors and Masters degrees in composition from New England Conservatory. He has also taught Yiddish Music at Hebrew College, the New England Conservatory, and Wesleyan University, and has lectured extensively on the subject in the US and abroad.

Netsky is musical director for “Eternal Echoes, violinist Itzhak Perlman’s Sony recording and international touring project featuring cantor Yitzkhak Meir Helfgot and “In The Fiddler’s House,” a klezmer music video, recording, and touring project. He served as musical director and arranger for Joel Grey’s “Borshtcapades ’94,” and was artistic director for “A Taste of Passover,” and “A Taste of Chanukah,” PBS and PRI concert productions that featured Theodore Bikel, recorded live at New England Conservatory and broadcast nationally. He was a consultant, arranger, and featured performer on “To Life! America Celebrates Israel’s 50th,” broadcast internationally by CBS. In December 2002 he conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in a special holiday program also featuring the Klezmer Conservatory Band. He has produced numerous recordings, including ten by the Klezmer Conservatory Band.

He has been the recipient of the New England Conservatory’s outstanding alumni award and the Yosl Mlotek Award for the perpetuation of Yiddish culture and was honored twice by New England Conservatory for excellence in teaching with the Louis Krasner and Lawrence Lesser awards.

Klezmazzical Ecstasy - Study for a Portrait

by Ben Malkin

Pt. I
"I tell you, the dances of a Jew are prayers and the purpose of dancing is to lift up the holy sparks. In a sacred dance, the lower rung of spirituality is raised up to the higher." - The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, by Yitzhak Buxbaum

Masada String Trio: straight out the gate all excitement, blood boiling, flying through the desert, diving headfirst into another genius John Zorn melody, all old world majesty, first bowed, then plucked, very middle eastern, very Ashkenazi tear the roof off the sucker, take off for the stratospheres. For those of us who've loved crazy jazz improv flights of fancy, classical chamber ensemble instrumentation, and klezmer (freygish scales in freylekh time), in equal measure there could no more perfect band than Masada String Trio. The old country pointing towards home, rippling out into the ocean of the twenty first century, made new by mixing & matching innovations in the postmodern pastiche. Only out of NYC could such a mutant hybrid be born: Jewish + Jazz + Classical = Klezmazzical.

There have been jazz combos who improvised lyrical dialogues akin to this (albeit with horns); chamber ensembles who have played with this level of virtuosity and gorgeous lyricism; and old world Klezmer outfits that played with this much feeling and made weddings dance for days on end, but never have the three, in conjunction with a penchant for avant garde experimental Lower East Side bombast, combined so perfectly in a trifecta. That trifecta is Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Feldman on violin, and Greg Cohen on double bass. Brought together simply to express one aspect (of many, many, many) of one of the greatest composers of the last hundred years (John Zorn) discovering his religious identity (Judaism) and expressing it through music (the Ahava Rabboh melodic mode), while simultaneously doing what he always does: combining it via his postmodern transformation dance into something wholly new, combining elements of things that shouldn't go together, and somehow making something not only new, but incredibly beautiful.

One aspect of Zorn's genius resides in mixing and matching. That's what makes this now. That's what makes him such a towering figure in the postmodern playground. He doesn't draw distinctions. He's not high culture or low culture. He's just Zorn. And part of the Zorn Parthenon is Masada String Trio. And to me, this particular part is the sound I'd been waiting to hear. At my son's bris, this is what we played. On Shabbat and Hanukkah this is what we play. As family and tradition move to the fore, this is home. A new home for a new age, which is our age, which isn't blind to the innovations that have occurred the last few centuries.

What makes New Jewish music Jewish? It comes out of a tradition, acknowledges that tradition, nods to it and then takes it a few steps forward into the 21st century. This isn't new for Zorn, he was mixing and matching through the '80's. His old band Naked City is the ultimate in this, though albums of his like The Big Gundown, Spillane and his improvisational game pieces all mixed and matched like there was no tomorrow. What's new is how masterful this particular group of musicians, Masada String Trio, have become at combining these particular three elements to create a sound that's never been heard before.

What's the major innovation here? Improvising like the greatest jazz players in the world in the Jewish scale (Phrygian dominant, flat 2nd, flat 6th, flat 7th, augmented second interval [between the second and third note], which are the Jewish notes [that third note to flat second, think 'Nagila hava' in 'Hava Nagila']) and time signatures (for example: the Freylekh circle dance, counted 123-123-12, Sher in 2/4, Hora in 3/8, etc.), with chamber ensemble instrumentation (and the improvisations dynamics and arrangements of the tunes conducted by Zorn himself). That drop on a dime telepathic interplay of the melodies soaring in and out like molecules jumping orbit in no small part due to Zorn conducting, pulling instruments in and out of the proceedings, rising higher and higher to dizzying heights, crescendo then glissando, searing dynamic peaks that fall and back to the head (of the chart) effortlessly: The crazed impassioned dance of ecstasy which is entwining strings rising to the heavens. Not jazz, not classical- some beautiful mutant hybrid out of the old country, the Middle East, the Lower East Side, wholly unique music. Radical Jewish Culture.

(Side-note: I'd absolutely love to write an entire book on solely the 500 songs which make up Zorn's Masada song book. All the chapter titles would be the different incarnations and line-ups which perform this wholly Jewish songbook, from Acoustic Masada to Mycale and the Bar Kokbah Sextet, all of whom have moved me eternally.)

Pt. II

Top Ten Masada String Trio songs (w/ever so slight personal impressions)

1. "Tufiel" (from Masada String Trio - Azazel Book of Angels Vol. 2) - The dance of Masada String Trio is often the dance of Greg Cohen's double bass. He is the one running, all his own funk, twisting and turning round the beat like a one man sand storm straight out the desert.

2. "Turel" (from Masada String Trio - Haborym: Book of Angels Vol. 16) - Pizzicato dreams. I've never heard a cello player pluck this much feeling out of his instrument. Erik Friedlander has made plucking cool. No small feat. Revolutionary in fact.

3. "Tahah" (from Masada String Trio - 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 1) - You can have your Ramones It's Alive, your Great Concert of Charles Mingus and Meditations on Integration, your Who Live at Leeds, your Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard. I'll take Masada String Trio live at Tonic any day.

4. "Yesoma (Cello)" (from John Zorn - Filmworks XI) - Erik Friedlander is our John Coltrane. Not in terms of how they sound, but how their virtuosity transcends technical playing rising into the realm of pure feeling in each of their respective fields. His virtuosity allows for just pure improvisational genius to effortlessly express itself as if it were the most natural voice on the planet.

5. "Mispar" (from John Zorn - The Circle Maker) - Cat (cello) and mouse (violin) chase each other's tails, and when they solo together, it's like heaven descending.

6. "Khebar" (from Masada String Trio - 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 1) - Khebar is just ridiculous joy. Byron Coley once said Zorn "seems as restive as a hummingbird on meth." If you wrapped that idea in a freylekh and gave it a melody it would sound like this.

7. "Shabbos Noir" (from John Zorn - Filmworks XI) - When plucked, it's the space between notes that creates the noir. The rests as breathes that create the sigh. Then the sobbing strings, like old world klezmer, sobbing that noir melody.

8. "Sippur" (from John Zorn - The Circle Maker') - My supper time melody. Perfect Jewish dining music.

9. "Tabaet" (from Masada String Trio - Azazel, Book of Angels, Volume 2) - This song is all tip toe at nightsneaking around the house (shhhh). Go stretch out into another gorgeous melody, go ahead, wake up the baby.

10. "Garzanal" (from Masada String Trio - Azazel, Book of Angels, Volume 2) - Looking out across the barren fields, a cold desolate morning that taps you into the mystical tune which is life. Mark Feldman performs a rough ballet in a poor peasant village, and makes some damn beautiful noise doing it.


To understand the Ahava Rabboh melodic mode is to understand the soul of a Jew. A Jew is inundated with this scale from the moment they set foot in a temple, in every prayer, through the streets of Israel, through any movie about any Jew, any wedding, from "Hava Nagila" to "Dayenu" to "If I Were a Rich Man." This is the scale that sings to us. It is considered minor in Western music, which in Western music also connotes sad and dark, but to us, it is neither sad nor dark. It contains just as much joy and tradition as anything that ever was. It is Middle Eastern in general, though achieved a full flowering in Eastern Europe of all places, or rather, evolved, and it is evolving yet again, mixed this time with that great melting pot experiment which is America.

Zorn's Masada song book in the hands of Masada String Trio is so awe inspiringly Jewish: whenever I play this for another Jewish person, any Jew, it stirs something in their blood that they instantly understand. It's in their blood. Old Jews especially understand, even if they have no love of music. The scales are their scales and the rhythms are their rhythms and they feel their power written into their DNA. What is it about an augmented second interval that so hits home? Why is it written into our DNA? Non-Jews I play this for don't normally get why this music makes me so excited. It's not a slight, it's just an observation. Every Jew I play this for gets it instantly. Must be something in the scales. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Franz Josef Haydn

Franz Josef Haydn was certainly one of the greatest creative geniuses who ever lived. Born March 31, 1732, in Rohrau, Austria, into a musical family, Haydn received musical training at a very young age. When he was eight years old he was sent to Vienna to sing in the Vienna Boys Choir. When he left the boys choir he became a freelance musician, giving piano lessons, playing organ and violin in church serves, and sometimes playing in the court in Vienna. He tried his hand at composing during those years as a freelance musician and he realized that his counterpoint was weak, so he studied the famous instruction book on counterpoint by Johan Fux. During this time he also made a serious study of the music of other composers, mostly CPE Bach (the eldest son of JS Bach), whose music became a strong influence in his early works.

Haydn was loved and respected from Moscow to London during his lifetime. What composer prior to Haydn could boast such international fame? None, not even Handel had been so universally loved during his life. Haydn was jovial, friendly, and sociable. He was said to have gotten along with everyone, from cooks and stable boys to emperors. His affable nature and fatherly charm earned him the nickname Papa. He handled his fame and fortune with dignity and stoic equanimity.

Haydn is sometimes called the father of the symphony, though he did not invent the symphony. The symphony came about as a confluence of the French Orchestral Suite and the German Orchestral Serenade, and I don’t think it is known who wrote the first one. The symphony was considered an easy-listening genre at first, but eventually certain composers, such as Abel (1723-1787) and Stamitz (1745-1801) began to take the symphony more seriously and their works were quite popular and were influential on both Haydn and Mozart. It was Josef Haydn who did more for the evolution of the symphony than any other eighteenth century composer, though Mozart made a few outstanding contributions.

Some people are confused by the fact that Haydn is said to have composed 115 symphonies, but his last one is called his Symphony # 104. This discrepancy is resolved by the fact that Haydn’s symphonies were collected and put in chronological order shortly after his death, and many years later some early symphonies were discovered. The belatedly discovered ones were given numbers such as 16a or 12a and 12b and interpolated into his repertoire of symphonies. The same thing happened with Mozart, who composed 55 symphonies, but his last one is called symphony # 41.

Haydn transformed the string quartet from the easy-listening genre that it was into something quite artful and sophisticated. Before Haydn transformed it, the string quartet was nothing more than a simple divertimento, with the first violin almost always having the melodic material while the other three instruments accompanied. In 1782 Haydn composed his opus 33, which was a set of six string quartets. It was not mere hype when Haydn announced that they are in a completely new style. When the sixteen year-old Mozart came across Haydn’s opus 33 quartets he was profoundly affected by them. With one set of six quartets Haydn changed the string quartet forever. Rather than being merely in a simple style of melody and accompaniment, these works sound more like a conversation taking place among four instruments. True, the first violin still has the melodic material more often than the other three instruments, but these quartets paved the way for the more ‘democratic’ string quartets of Beethoven, in which all four instruments are given almost equal importance. There exist 68 string quartets by Haydn, though he composed somewhat more than that, several having been lost to posterity.

Haydn pioneered such devices as having an accompaniment figure change fluidly and subtly into the principal melodic voice. He was the first composer to really develop his themes in a concentrated manner, an aspect of his style that deeply affected Beethoven. His themes are often terse and based on a simple short motif, making them ideal for development. Haydn was much more unconventional than Mozart. He delighted in sudden surprises. Such things as jarringly unexpected changes of harmony, false reprises, and irregular phrase structure, were part of his stock and trade. He loved to shock the listener with sudden and unexpected changes to remote keys. Sometimes he will stun the listener with an abrupt silence that comes without warning. Many of his stylistic techniques can be found in the music of other composers, most notably C.P.E. Bach, but Haydn used these procedures in a more coherent and effective manner than any prior composer. No other composer in history ever had his facility at appealing to the average listener and the music connoisseur at the same time. There is always a superficial attractiveness to his music, making it enjoyable to anyone, but if you listen carefully you will find deeper levels of musical invention.

Haydn loved to break all the “rules.” His earlier works are much more in line with the standard model of sonata form, but one finds in so much of his later works that he creatively distorts, and even sometimes inverts the traditional sections of a sonata form movement. A true bohemian, he was always unconventional, always experimenting, and even when following conventional forms there is usually something of a nonconformist nature in his music.

Haydn was very fond of folk music and incorporated folk songs into some of his symphonies. The theme of the finale of his symphony 104 is my favorite example. It is a catchy and simple melody and Haydn uses it to great effect. Sometimes it is hard to tell when Haydn is using an actual folksong or is using a melody which sounds like a folk song but is actually a melody of his own creation.

A large part of his genius was his ability to make so much out of so little. Many of his works, particularly first movements of symphonies and chamber music, use thematic material that is terse and simple, but pregnant with possibilities, and the development, or working out of these themes is what gives the music so much of its expressiveness. His ability to make a large movement grow out of a simple germ of an idea had a profound effect on Beethoven.

His music is full of wit and humor. There are many places in his symphonies and string quartets where he expected to evoke laughter from the listener, though this is for the most part, lost on modern audiences. His music is almost always jovial, happy, cheerful and exuberant. He seems to have been almost incapable of composing sad music.

Though his operas are considered second-rate and most of his concertos are not well loved, he composed a huge amount of quartets and various types of chamber music, and of course symphonies.  A great deal of his music was very popular in his lifetime and remains popular today, though his popularity is somewhat eclipsed by Mozart.

In the classical age, the same composers who were good at opera were good at concertos, because a classical concerto movement is more or less the same thing as an opera aria, the only difference being that the star is an instrumentalist, not a singer. Haydn’s only truly great concerto is his trumpet concerto, but it is a rather conventional work for a composer as unconventional as he was. His church music was strongly criticized in his lifetime and deemed inappropriate for the church. His masses are really just symphonies with choir and orchestra. Unlike his younger contemporary Mozart, Haydn did not have a strong grasp of baroque style, and the church did not deem the new classical style as appropriate for ecclesiastical music. His masses contain some moments of beauty, but for the most part do not approach the greatness of his symphonies. In his last mass however, Haydn finally accomplished a true masterpiece of church music in the classical style. Reacting to the criticism of his church music, Haydn once made the comment that his younger brother Michael was a better church composer than he himself was.

In 1761 Haydn obtained the job of music director and composer for Prince Anton Esterhazy, an immensely wealthy prince who lived in a lavish country estate near Vienna. Haydn worked at the Esterhazy palace for 30 years. The prince played an unusual instrument called the baryton. The baryton was a bowed instrument with sympathetic strings and was about the size of a cello. It has a rather unusual sound. Haydn composed 175 chamber works that include this instrument, 126 of them being trios.

At the Esterhazy palace Haydn was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, and in a famous quote he attributed his originality to his isolation. He said, “I could make experiments, observe what made an impression and what weakened it… I could run risks. I was set apart from the world with nobody to confuse me and intrude on my development; and so I was compelled to become original.”

Besides symphonies and string quartets, the other genre of music that Haydn perfected was the piano trio. The piano trio is a work that was written for piano, violin, and cello, but is called a piano trio because the piano dominates the musical texture. Haydn composed only a few piano trios in his early years and those early ones are rather banal, but most of the later ones are outstanding. There are twenty-six piano trios by Haydn and several more spurious ones that are sometimes attributed to him. In Haydn’s piano trios the cello rarely attains an independent role and almost always has the job of doubling the bass line of the piano. Mozart gave the cello much more independence in his piano trios, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better than Haydn’s. Of the five piano trios by Mozart, only two are masterpieces. The other three are merely charming and pretty. Haydn gave us many masterpieces in that genre.

As mentioned above, the cello in Haydn’s piano trios has almost no independent parts, but merely doubles the bass line of the piano. Had Haydn been using a modern piano he probably would have given the cello independence in those trios. The fact is, the piano of the time had a rather weak-sounding bass and could not sustain a note, either bass or treble, for any appreciable length. The sound died quickly. In Haydn’s piano trios the cello not only adds strength and fullness to the bass line of the piano, but it is used to sustain notes whenever the music calls for a bass note to be held for any length. In his piano trios the violin mostly has the role of accompaniment, but has the melody now and then, usually being doubled by the treble in the piano when it does take the melody. It can be said that his piano trios are actually piano sonatas with a violin and cello helping to overcome the deficiencies of the eighteenth century piano. It can also be said that the artistry and invention in Haydn’s piano trios is far beyond that of his sonatas for solo piano.

I should mention that the stringed instruments and pianos of the eighteenth century created a smoother blend of sound than our modern ones. Players of modern instruments, especially violinists, have to understand this and adjust their playing accordingly when playing these piano trios, or for that matter, any chamber music for piano and strings from the classical period.

Haydn retired in 1790 from his job as director of music at the Esterhazy palace. Feeling somewhat restless, he planned a trip to London.  His young friend, Wolfgang Mozart begged him not to go, but off he went. On his way to London he stopped over in Bonn, Germany and met the 19 year-old Beethoven. In London he was a raving success. He composed his symphonies 92-98 while he was there. The British audience was electrified by these symphonies, and in awe of Haydn, who conducted them from the piano, as was the custom at the time.

On his return to Vienna in the summer of 1792 he found out that Mozart had died the previous December. Saddened by the loss of his incredibly talented friend, he said, “The world will not see genius like that for another hundred years.”

He returned to London in 1794 and while there composed symphonies 99-104 as well as his most famous piano trio, called the Gypsy Trio because of the use of a gypsy melody as the theme of the last movement. Again he was a smashing success in London. He had retired comfortably from his service at the Esterhazy palace, but his two London trips made him a wealthy man.

Having returned to Vienna in 1795 he spent the remainder of his life there. Baron Von Swieten, a man who was influential to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, encouraged Haydn to compose an oratorio in the style of Handel. He composed two of them. His oratorios The Creation and The Seasons are among his finest works.

Haydn left the world with fifty-one piano sonatas and numerous other works for solo piano. No composer at that time period treated any form of solo piano music as a serious art form, and Haydn was no exception. The piano of the time was too limited in its ability. It only had five octaves. The sound died quickly, thus it was impossible to achieve a legato sound or to hold a note over several measures. The responsiveness to touch was not very good. For both Haydn and Mozart the music for solo piano is rather simple, but the music for piano in combination with other instruments is much more creative. His last three piano sonatas are an exception, and helped pave the way for Beethoven. He rubbed elbows with the best musicians and composers in England during his two visits and absorbed a certain amount of the English style of piano composition. And he had access to the newest and best pianos in London.

That last point is very important. During the 1790s improvements were constantly being made to the piano. Piano makers added another octave to the piano and they were always looking for ways to make the keys more responsive to touch. London piano makers preferred a louder, more robust instrument than their Viennese counterparts and the British Broadwood Company led the way. The clear articulation of the Viennese pianos was not possible on the English Broadwood pianos, but the louder, richer sound of the Broadwoods lent itself to grand gestures such as explosive full-bodied chords, fast runs across the keyboard, and stronger dynamic contrasts. Not only did Haydn find new inspiration from the Broadwood piano and British composers, but he had the luck of meeting a woman in London who was a true piano virtuoso. His last three piano sonatas were composed for this woman, with the new six-octave Broodwood in mind. Thus his last three sonatas go far beyond the simple musical invention of his previous ones.

In 1794 Haydn returned to his old job as director of music at the Esterhazy palace, but only on a part-time basis. Prince Anton had passed away and Prince Nicholas Esterhazy replaced him. The Esterhazy headquarters was moved to Vienna. It was
Prince Nicholas who commissioned Haydn’s best masses.

There are extant 13 masses for choir and orchestra by Haydn. The first seven were written before 1782. The last six were written between 1796 and 1802, and were commissioned by Prince Nicholas Esterhazy II for the celebration of the name-day of his wife. Some people consider these masses to be among Haydn’s greatest masterpieces, but they are rather uneven in that there are some great passages here and there, and even some entire movements that sound wonderful throughout, but there is much material in them that simply doesn’t achieve the greatness that Haydn achieved in other genres, such as the symphony.

The one genre in the classical period that was most problematic for composers is church music. The classical style is a dramatic style and is simply not suited for ecclesiastical service. The Church, both Catholic and Protestant, has always been resistant to stylistic change and innovation, but was particularly resistant to intrusions of the classical style. To make matters worse, the Austrian government, under Joseph II (Emperor of Austria 1780-1790), imposed restrictions on the use of instruments in the church. Haydn’s masses and other church music were roundly criticized in his life as being trivial works, unsuitable for the church, and still to this day are criticized for the same reasons.

In the last two decades of the eighteenth century, use of the old baroque style in church music was analogous to using old-fashioned language in a sermon, lending a sense of dignity and solemnity.  But what significant composer of the late eighteenth century besides Mozart had a good grasp of the baroque ecclesiastic style? Haydn, though familiar with Handel’s output from his trips to London, didn’t imbue his masses with much baroque influence, save for a canon or fugue here and there. Late in his life he was very much influenced by Handel’s oratorios, which are not true ecclesiastical music, but are stage works, written with a theatrical performance, and are sort of a mixture of ecclesiastical style and opera. Haydn’s fugues are completely different from anything by Bach, but sound as if they could have been written by Handel himself, though he seems to not have known Handel’s true church music, such as the Chandos Anthems and Dixit Dominus. Unlike Mozart, Haydn was not familiar with the music of J.S. Bach.

As stated above, Haydn’s masses are essentially symphonies with choir and soloists, though a certain amount of concerto-like effects are used in these masses, contrasting the soloists with the choir, as well as contrasting the soloists with the orchestra and the choir with the orchestra. As mentioned above, the concerto was not one of Haydn’s strong points, however he did occasionally use the concerto-like contrasts to good effect in his masses.

Haydn’s last two masses are without a doubt his best. The very last one is considered by music historians and critics to be his finest. It is called the Harmoniemesse because of its lavish use of wind instruments (Harmonie is an old-fashioned German word for wind instrument.). It is the longest of the last six masses and is generally considered his best mass, melding the classical style to ecclesiastic music with more perfection than any of his other works. If you choose to listen to only one of Haydn’s masses, this should be the one you choose. In his so-called Harmoniemesse Mass, Haydn achieved a high level of artistry and beauty throughout.

Before I end this discussion of Haydn’s church music I would like to mention two ecclesiastical works of Haydn that I find quite enjoyable. The Te Deum is a rather brief work, consisting of three continuous sections. The middle section is a C-minor adagio and the outer two sections in C-major, are very festive, and full of grandeur. This is a splendid work. The other work I would like to mention is The Seven Last Words of Christ and it is very different from the Te Deum. This work exists in three versions. The first is an orchestral work from 1785. The second version is a string quartet version from 1787. The final version, and the one I’m familiar with, is the oratorio version. In 1796 Haydn adapted this music to a text and thus created a short oratorio. It has a certain darkness and poignancy not found in Haydn’s other music. The composer himself highly valued this piece of music and it is unique in his output.

In 1797 Haydn set the poem “God save Franz the Emperor” to music, and he later used the same melody for the slow movement of his string quartet Opus 76, #3.  In the year 1922 this tune, with new words, became the German national anthem. It also became the Austrian national anthem.

The last five years of Haydn’s life are very sad. He was constantly ill and was so weak that he couldn’t even sit at the piano and compose (Haydn was one of those composers who had the habit of composing at the piano. Some composers, such as J.S. Bach had told their students not to compose at the keyboard or your imagination will be fettered by what your fingers can do, but Haydn seemed to do very well with this method).This was very frustrating to him because he kept saying that his head was constantly flooded with new musical ideas but he didn’t have the strength to sit at his piano and work them out. On May 31, 1809, with Napoleon’s army sieging Vienna for the second time, Haydn quietly passed away. Mozart’s Requiem was performed at his funeral. The young Franz Peter Schubert was one of the choirboys in the funeral service.

Haydn’s music was largely forgotten after his death and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that his greatness was once again widely recognized and his popularity restored. Though his influence on Beethoven was profound, he was not much of an influence on other nineteenth century composers, Brahms being perhaps the only exception. Beethoven had deep love and respect for Haydn the man as well as Haydn the composer. A portrait of Joseph Haydn hung in Beethoven’s apartment, staring downward at Ludwig as he composed his titanic masterpieces.

Les Poules huppées

CRESTED HENS, THE (Les Poules huppées). French, Bourrée à 3 temps (3/8 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). Composed in 1983 by French...