By Patty H.
Welcome back to Classical Music Spotlight, the one-stop shop for a little exposition to classical music at The Comet!
Today’s issue is quite the varietal one: with a piece by an underrepresented female composer that is finally starting to get recognition. Nonetheless, the show is ready to begin, so let’s get to it!
Classical Music Review Florence Price’s Piano Concerto:
*Classical Music Review goes over a certain instrumental work in as much of its entirety as possible. Talking about the history that goes behind the composition, and what happens throughout it, so to speak. CMR is basically your average review. Today’s topic: the one movement piano concerto by Florence Price!
Before I delve into the concerto, we need to talk about the composer herself. Being the first female African-American composer to get nationally recognized, and the first one to have her symphony performed by a major orchestra, Florence Price was renowned during her life. She became a significant composer of the 30s and 40s, and her 300 works were performed by many musicians. She studied at the New England Conservatory at Boston after first being instructed by her mother. The director, George Chadwick took her in as his private pupil and Price already composed for several years after her graduation in 1906.
Price began to win awards for her compositions, and other orchestras began to play them after her successful debut of her first symphony. Soon enough, Marian Anderson and Leotyne Price began to perform her works, earning her further recognition. Her many works, beside 100 songs, are four symphonies, violin and piano concertos, overtures, tone poems, suites, and more. Speaking of which, her Piano Concerto in One Movement, premiered in Chicago in 1934 with her being the soloist. Unfortunately, there is barely evidence of it being performed after this and Price’s manuscript is nowhere to be found. Recently, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed this concerto with Michelle Cann as the soloist. That being said, let’s finally start talking about it!
The sections of the concerto highlight the honoring of not just composers, but Price’s heritage with African dances and spirituals. She ingeniously crafts everything about music in her own way. The trombone and winds begin the piece with a somber tone. The piano enters with an arpeggio across the piano, before ascending in chords in the same somber feel, while also adding an urban tone. A feeling of unsettlement ranges in the piano as it grows louder, before acting simplistic. The strings enter with a big melody, before exiting. The melody is repeating with strings and the flute, being very fluent as it transitions to the violas. The percussion gets moments adding tension into the scene. The piano comes back repeating the melodies given in octaves, giving again that sense of uncertainty. before the strings join. It grows back to the drawing point, feeling like a movie score. A majestic, but sorrowful tone results from both the solo piano and orchestra before winds share melodies. The piano has octave melodies and arpeggiated accompaniment, along with the clarinet. The timpani creates “time” for the music to march along forward. As a frantic feeling sets in, Price’s use of the key makes it feel bright as it grows to a triumphant climax with the brass, and the piano plays chords over the orchestral sound. For a brief period of playing time, the music seems to stop before moving again musically again. The piano is swaying back and forth as the orchestra follows, growing big via chords and arpeggios until repeating the melody in a variated way.
Going faster, it stops and starts again, this time like the falling action into the resolution. The oboe comes with a brief solo, before the piano takes over, feeling calm and safe. As if a new day has risen, the piece sounds like almost nothing had happened before: a complete change in tone. For a one-movement work, Price succeeds in putting several motifs and themes throughout the piano and orchestra. They play in and out as the orchestra grows to a gospel like tune with the piano, giving that spiritual sound. The piece settles in a major feel, like the rest after a long day’s work and relaxing with family and friends one cares about. The cello gets a counterpoint melody over the piano’s chords before the winds and viola join with the same motif one after another, brass coming in now and then. Feeling very safe and secure, the piece grows before settling down again, like a bird resting its wings. Then, we come back to what could be the recap of both sections of the concerto, before getting a little bit frantic like before, going into a ragtime tune with the piano and orchestra. Feeling different, Price once again shows versatility by adding this urban like tone, switching in and out between the sections. The percussion adds to the ragtime show as it feels like a component of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in a way while modulating to several keys, before picking up speed. A scale leads into a triumphant time before repeating the them, more majestically and upbeat with everyone now bringing in their part, before ending brightly and immensely.
Despite being only three sections, the concerto feels like a travel through music history from Romanticism to 20th century styles of ragtime and jazz. I’m glad that orchestras are starting to bring Florence Price’s works to light, and this is a great place to start. As much as I want to go on however, we have other things to do, so let’s move to the next stop of the spotlight: OperaTime!
OperaTime! – The Barber of Seville
*OperaTime! covers a certain classical voice work, either an opera, lieder, or operetta. It goes over the acts, and the overall feeling of the show, as well as its reputation. Today’s opera will be a classic comedy by Giaochino Rossini: The Barber of Seville! And no, there won’t be any Looney Tunes references, as hard as the temptation may be.
The Barber of Seville is a two-act comic opera by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto (basically a script) by Cesare Sterbini. It was based on Pierre Beaumarchais’s French comedy of the same name. It premiered on February 20, 1816 in Rome. After over 200 years, it has proven to be one of the great comedy-within-music masterpieces of all time. The opera recounts the first of three plays by Beaumarchais, with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (with has similar elements to this opera) being the second part. The music was supposedly composed in only three weeks, yet the famous overture was actually recycled from Rossini’s earlier operas.
Roles and Voice Types
Count Almaviva – Tenor
Bartolo, Doctor and Rosina’s guardian – Bass
Rosina, pupil in Bartolo’s house – Contralto or Mezzo-Soprano*
Figaro, a barber – Baritone
Basilio, Rosina’s music teacher – Bass
Berta, old governess in Bartolo’s house, a housekeeper– Soprano
Fiorello, the Count’s servant – Bass
Ambrogio, Bartolo’s servant – Bass
Police Sargent (Officer) – Bass
A notary – silent**
Chours: officers, soldiers, and street musicians
*Rosina’s role has originally been for a contralto, but since has been distorted for mezzo-sopranos, both types sing this role, it depends on the singer.
*Silent roles do exist but rarely, as much as spoken-only roles. These roles do exist in opera, so take note of that!
In a Seville square in front of Bartolo’s house, a musician band and a student named Lindoro are serenading Rosina’s window (of course it’s not going to work). This “Lindoro” fellow is actually Count Almaviva in disguise, planning to take Rosina’s love or himself. He pays off the musicians, who leave him. As said earlier, Rosina is the pupil of Bartolo, and barely has freedom to do what she wants. Why? Because Bartolo plans to have them marry when she comes of age! Ouch!
Figaro approaches, and since he used to work for the Count, said Count asks him for assistance to meet Rosina, offering him some good old cash if he goes along. Figaro suggests the Count disguise himself as a drunken soldier, to blend in with Bartolo, thus gaining him an advantage of get in the house. While this is happening, Rosina, in her room, writes a letter to “Lindoro” (This is the only way she knows the count at this point), and after leaving, Bartolo and Basilio come in. Bartolo has suspicions about the Count, so Basilio advises to create false rumors about him. After they leave, Rosina comes back, but with Figaro in tow. He asks her to write some words to Lindoro, which she already did. Although surprised, Rosina manages to pull the wool over Bartolo’s eyes.
Count Almaviva, in his drunken disguise, enters the house and demands to be accommodated there. Scared, Berta runs to Bartolo’s protection, and he tells him that he has an official exemption, excusing him from being required to quarter soldiers in his house. Pretending to be too drunk to understand, the Count dares him to a brawl. To make him see reason, Bartolo searches for the document proving his exemption, and the Count whispers to Rosina that he’s Lindoro and passes a love letter to her. She gets caught giving it however, and Bartolo demands knowledge of its contents. Fooling him once again, Rosina gives him her laundry list, and the two men argue. Basilo and Figaro enter, warning that the noise of the argument is catching the attention of the whole neighborhood, and soon enough the Officer of the Watch and troops. As they enter, Bartolo demands them to arrest the “drunken soldier” and the Officer obliges, but Almaviva (the Count by the way, it’s just easier to call him this from now on) reveals his identity and he backs off. Both Bartolo and Basilio are stunned, while Figaro quietly laughs at them, ending Act 1.
Later, Count Almaviva comes back to the house, with a new disguise in tow: Don Alonso, a priest and singing tutor apparently substituting for Basilio. To gain trust, Don Alosno tells Bartolo that he intercepted a note from Lindoro to Rosina, revealing that he’s the Count’s servant, and has deceptive intentions towards her. While pretending to give Rosina her singing lesson, Figaro arrives to shave Bartolo, who insists he shaves him in the music room. Basilio arrives for HIS scheduled lesson, but is bribed by Almaviva and persuaded to leave, with many a discussion about his ugliness. (Rude!) Bartolo overhears some conspiration from the lovers and drives everyone out.
We head back to Act 1’s location, where Bartolo orders Basilio to prepare the notary, for he and Rosina will marry this evening. He does his task and as Rosina arrives, Bartolo shows her letter she wrote to “Lindoro’, being able to pull the wool over HER eyes, says that Lindoro is a fluke and that Almaviva is toying with her at his behest. Rosina believes it and agrees to marry Bartolo.
Meanwhile, Almaviva and Figaro enter Rosina’s room through a window, and Rosina accuses him of what was already said above. After revealing his identity, the two reconcile, but Figaro urges them to leave for Basilio and the notary are approaching the front door. The trio attempt to leave via the ladder previously used to enter the room, but it’s gone. Almaviva convinces the notary, via bribes and threats, to have he and Rosina marry, with Basilio and Figaro as the witnesses. Bartolo tries to intervene, accompanied by the Officer and troops of the Watch, but he’s too late to the marriage to stop now! But, he’s allowed to retain Rosina’s marriage settlement. The opera ends with a love anthem, as happy times are all around.
The Barber of Seville may be shorter than other known operas, but it defines comedy at its finest. It’s definitely a show that will make you chuckle or two. And with a famous overture, it’s no wonder why this is one of Rossini’s best! Playing through the overture itself is fun enough, and the full thing has many big moments too. If you’re looking for a laugh in the opera world, this is one to stop by.
Quite a short outro too, but these spotlights are a handful to write, so a short one won’t hurt. But nonetheless…
…We’re almost done today! Our final stop is History of Music, where the topics discussed will be the Neoclassicism era and the trumpet!
History of Music: Neoclassicism and Trumpet
*History of Music goes in-depth about a certain period or era of music and an instrument, regardless of it being string, woodwind, brass, percussion, or etc. Today’s period will actually be an era briefly covered in the 20th-Century issue last time: the Neoclassicism era. Today’s instrument will be the trumpet, the first in the brass line of instruments, with the trombone, tuba/euphonium following behind it.
Neoclassicism was, as said before, a 20th-century movement that was very similar to the Baroque and Classical periods (17-18th century). It was a reaction in the early parts of the 20th-century to late-Romanticism and Impressionism, which in turned emerged with Modernism. These may get specified in later issues, so stay tuned for that I guess. Anyway, neoclassicism manifested the desire for a simple, clean style, allowing for dissonant phrases for classical procedures, but sought to dissipate itself from the Romantic period in favor of what Impressionism offered: bold rhythms, assertive harmony, and clean section forms.
A brief turn into dance for a moment, the 17th-18th dance suite had sort of a minor comeback before WWI hit, but Neoclassicists didn’t like what it had, with its unmodified diatonic, and instead went forward to empathize bright, dissonant suspensions and ornaments, modal harmony, and contrapuntal-art writing. An example of a work that embodies these qualities are Ancient Airs and Dances, composed by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi in 1917.
Although it’s common now, music has gone through periods where modern techniques are grouped with older harmonies/forms to make new works. Notably in the forms of referencing diatonic tonality and conventional composition forms. This was mostly perceived in the 50’s and 60s with such composers like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, who used reminiscent styles of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart.
Fun fact: Neoclassicism can be classified around the Age of Enlightenment in music! Pretty interesting, don’t you think? Well, that’s all for Neoclassicism, but it was again mentioned in last issue with the 20th Century, so check that out to see how this era fits into the overall period. Let’s move on!
The trumpet is an instrument in the brass family, used in orchestral, jazz, and band music. Its family ranges from the piccolo trumpet to the bass trumpet, pitched an octave below the B♭ or C trumpet. Historically, trumpets have been used as signals in battle or hunting, dating back to around 1500 BCE, and only began to be in music in the late 14th-early 15th century. As said before, they’re used in orchestras, concert bands, jazz ensembles, as well as popular music we hear every day. To play them, players blow air through almost closed lips, making a “bzzz” sound. This starts a vibration within the air column of the instrument. The most common type of trumpet is the B♭, which is a transposing instrument. If confused, a transposing instrument is an instrument not written in the concert pitch, for example C. This occurs mostly within the woodwind and brass family. B♭ trumpets have a tubing length of about 1.48 m (about 58 in when converted).
While being known for the valves used to change pitch, earlier era trumpets did not have them to change the tubing’s length. There’re 8 combinations of the three valves, making seven different tubing lengths. The two types of valves are piston and rotary, which is commonly used in orchestras, especially in Germany.
As stated before, the earliest trumpets date back to 1500 BCE and earlier. Tutankhamun’s grave had silver and bronze trumpets, as well as bronze lurs (another horn-like instrument) from Scandinavia and metal trumpets from China. The ram-horn made Shofar and the metal Hatzotzeroth are both mentioned in the Bible, as they were playing in Solomon’s Temple around 3000 years ago, and were used to blow down the walls of Jericho.
Besides the B♭ trumpet, A, C, D, E♭, E, low F, and G trumpets exist. The C trumpet is the most common orchestral instrument alongside the B♭. The smallest trumpet, piccolo, are common to play in both B♭ and A, with swappable leadpipes (which are used for the mouthpiece). However, piccolo trumpets can be in G, F, and C, but they’re a rare kind. A smaller mouthpiece is used on the piccolo, requiring a differing sound production, and it has four valves, different from the normal B♭ or C trumpet. The soprano trumpets, pitched in the key of low G, are adapted from military bugles and are traditionally used in drum and bugle corps. Bass trumpets (the lowest trumpet range) are usually played by trombone players, since it’s at the same pitch. Played with a shallower, trombone-like mouthpiece, much music for it is actually written in treble clef. So any treble clef readers may find this instrument a bit of fun to try one time. Common keys for bass trumpets are written in C and B♭, and both are transposing instruments.
That’s all for the trumpet! There’s a lot more to learn about it, so I recommend to do more research, especially for trumpet players themselves. It’s fun to learn about your own instrument for a while!
Phew! Another issue, another dish of classical music served out. Quite the journey to get this one out, but it was worth it. Hope you appreciated the variety presented here today, especially in CMR! Until next issue, see you next time for another Classical Music Spotlight!
Anderson, Don. “Price, Florence – Piano Concerto In One Movement”. Arkansassymphony.Org, 2019, https://www.arkansassymphony.org/price-florence-piano-concerto-one-movement#close.
“Neoclassicism – Wikipedia”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoclassicism#In_music. Accessed 28 Mar 2021.
“The Barber Of Seville – Wikipedia”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Barber_of_Seville. Accessed 28 Mar 2021.
“Trumpet – Wikipedia”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trumpet. Accessed 28 Mar 2021.