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Classical Music Spotlight: Year 2 -Winter Issue

Written by: Patty H.

Welcome back to Classical Music Spotlight, the one-stop-shop for all things classical music at The Comet!
Today, it may be a little one sided, but the variety is still here. Classical Music Review will talk about the
Snow Maiden Suite by Rimsky Korsakov, OperaTime! will discuss the popular opera, Carmen by
Georges Bizet, and History of Music will talk about the 20th century and the Clarinet. Without further
ado, let’s get going!

Classical Music Review – Snow Maiden Suite

*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 in it, CMR is basically
your average review. Today’s topic: The Snow Maiden Suite!

The Snow Maiden Suite is a collection of musical pieces from the opera of the same name by Nikolai
Rimsky-Korsakov. A four-act opera with a prologue by Rimsky-Korsakov himself, it was based on the
similarly named play by Alexander Ostrovsky. The suite contains the “Introduction” and (presumably)
the “Dance of the Birds” from the Prologue, “Procession of Tsar Berendey” from Act 2 and “Dance of the
Tumblers” from Act 3.
The Introduction starts out very mellow and mysterious, with some loud moments, but
mostly it remains in the shadows. This brings the setting of the winter landscape and the Red Hill, where
the title character resides with her parents, Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost (sounds familiar?). It
soon starts to grow, still maintaining its mellowness. Never being big and bombastic like other opera
overtures or intros, it goes to show that, sometimes, you can set the stage soothingly. A perfect way to
sit through the winter.
Dance of the Birds is lively and gives off some vibes of “Carnival of the Animals”. It sounds like a very
catchy tune, just like a hummingbird. The strings imitate the sounds of birds, which sound
indistinguishable when executed well. The winds share the melodies well, balancing between upper and
lower, and even the brass get a share in it. Overall, it’s a lively dance and it’s peppier compared to the
Introduction. It sounds like something you would hear in a cartoon!
Now for something completely different, the Procession of Tsar Berendey, or Cortege as its also called. It
starts as a royal march entrance, with some dissonant melodies. The movement switches between going
loud and soft, like a snake. Eventually coming a big moment before going soft again, the march-like feel
is maintained throughout. There a hint of content before going into uncertainty, transitioning into Dance
of the Tumblers.
The final movement begins with a hyper action in the strings as it grows to winds and brass. The
percussion soon join as the orchestra grows then instantly gets soft. The dance is
very upbeat, and, unlike the Dance of the Birds, it’s catchier. The strings are the huge facilitator for this
movement. The soft moments still hold the upbeat feeling. It’s more fun than it seems, which I why I
recommend you hear it not only in the suite but in the opera itself. If you find yours lf head banging or
moving along with this movement, it’ll be completely understandable. It’s cheerful and probably the
most content of the whole suite. Each instrument family gets their fair share of time – even the
percussion! Near the end, the movement begins to accelerate, like running a race. And it goes until the
end, like a huge, but short, finish to a symphony.
The Snow Maiden Suite has picked quite the selection from the opera it’s named after. From a soft,
sullen beginning to a bright, triumphant finish, this suite is something new. It’s not like other opera
suites you would hear, such as the Carmen Suites, which are much more popular. Then again, you can’t
expect the same for all operas. I highly recommend you listen to this suite and the opera to get a better
understanding of where the movements take their place.
Speaking of the Carmen suites, I have an expected surprise. That’s it for this portion of the spotlight.
Next up is OperaTime! I’ll explain more as we go on.

OperaTime! – Carmen

*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.

Carmen, which I have said too many times now, is a four-act opera by French composer Georges
Bizet. The libretto, or script, was written by Henri Meilhacand LudovicHalevy, and it was based off of
the novel of the same name by Proper Merimee. First premiering in the Opera-Comiquein Paris, it left
the audience shocked and scandalized. Bizet died after the 33rd performance, never knowing the fame
the work would achieve in the coming years.
The opera is more like a tragic comedy, with musical numbers separated by dialogue. Set in southern
Spain, it follows the downfall of soldier Don Jose, who gets seduced by a gyspy named Carmen. Jose
ends up abandoning his childhood sweetheart and his military duties just to be with her. Unfortunately,
Carmen’s love goes to a bullfighter named Escamillo, after which she is killed by Jose in jealous rage. This
broke new ground in French opera and was almost like how Shakespeare’s play broke ground in British
theater in a way.
The music is widely acclaimed for brilliance of its melodies, harmonies, atmosphere, and orchestration,
with Bizet skillfully used to represent the emotions and suffering of the characters. This opera has been
recorded many times since its first acoustical recording in 1908, and the story has been the subject of
many adaptations on the stage and silver screen.

Characters

• Carmen, a gyspy girl (Mezzo-Soprano)
• Don Jose, Corporarl of Dragoons (Tenor)
• Escamiilo, Toreador (Bass-Baritone)
• Micaela, a village maiden (Soprano)
• Zuniga, Liutenant of Dragoons (Bass)
• Morales, another Corporal of Dragoons (Baritone)
• Frasquita, Carmen’s companion (Soprano)
• Mercédès, another companion of Carmen (Mezzo-Soprano)
• Lililas Pastia, an innkeeper (Spoken)
• Le Dancaïre, a smuggler (Baritone)
• Le Remendado, another smuggler (Tenor)
• A guide (Spoken)
• Chorus: soldiers, youngemen, cigarette factory girls, Escamillo’s supporters, Gyspsies,
merchants and orange sellers, police, bullfighters, people, urchins

Act 1

In a Sevile square, a group of soldiers relax, waiting for the changing of the guard and commenting on
passers-by. Micaela makes her appearance, finding Jose. Morales tell her that “he is not on duty” and
invites her to wait with them. But she declines and would return later. Soon enough, Jose arrives with
the new guard, who is greeted by a crowd of urchins.
As a factory bell rings, the cigarette girls emerge and exchange talk with the wound men in the crowd.
This creates the famous entrance of Carmen, who sings her provocative habanera on love ’s untamable
nature. If you heard it once, you’ll hear it all the time. The men plead with her to choose a lover, and
after a little bit of teasing, she throws a flower at Don Jose, who has been ignoring her so far but now is
annoyed by her. The women go back to the factory and Micaela returns, giving Jose a letter and kiss
from his mom. He reads the letter, saying that she wants him to come home and marry the village
maiden, who retreats in embarrassment on learning his. Yet just when he is ready to heed his mother’s
wishes, the factory women stream the place in great agitation. Zuniga, a guard officer learns that
Carmen attacked a woman with a knife. Yeesh! That woman is TOTALLY not trustworthy!
When challenged with this accusation, Carmen mocks defiance. Zuniga orders Jose to tie her up as he
prepares the prison warrant. This is where Carmen starts to get sneaky, as she beguiles him with a
seguidilla, singing of a night of dancing and passion with her lover in Lilias Pastia’stavern (which we get
to in the next act). This gets Jose to untie her, and as she runs off laughing, he gets arrested for
dereliction of duty. 100% sly, stay aware of this woman immediately!

Act 2

Two months later at the supposed tavern, Carmen, Frasquita, and Mercédès entertain Zuniga and two
other officers. While Carmen is delighted about hearing of Jose’s release from detention, a chorus and
procession announce the toreador Escamillo’s arrival. He introduces himself with the famous “Toreador
Song”, setting his sights on Carmen, who brushes him aside. Lilias Pastiahustlesthe crowds and soldiers
away.
When the ladies are left, the two smugglers, Dancaïre and Remendado arrive, revealing their plans to
dispose of a recently acquired contraband. Frasquita and Mercédès are eager to help, but Carmen wants
to wait for Jose. The smugglers leave and the man of the hour arrives. Carmen treats him to a private
exotic dance, butit’s joined by a bugle call from the barracks.Jose sees this as a return to duty, but gets
mocked by Carmen. He answers by showing her a flower from the square. The leading lady demands he
show his love by leaving with her. When refusing to desert, Zuniga comes in and the men
fight. Frasquita and Mercédèsrestrain Zuniga, and Jose ends up having no choice but to join the club
since he attacked Zuniga.

Act 3

In a wild mountain spot, Carmen, Jose, and the smugglers (with their treasure) enter. Carmen now is
bored with Jose, and tells him to go back to his mother. Getting tired of this woman already? Yes?
Because I am too! Frasquita and Mercédèsspend the time by reading fortunes from cards, and Carmen
joins. She ends up finding that the cardsforetell not only her death, but Jose’s as well. The
smugglers depart to transport goods while the women distract the local customs officers. Jose gets
guard duty.
Micaëla returns (from an act’s absence) with a guide, trying to rescue Jose from Carmen. When she
hears a gunshot, she hides; the shot ends up being Jose, who fired at an intruder, who turns out to
be Escamillo. Jose is first happy to see the bullfighter, but soon gets enraged when Escamillo declares his
love for Carmen. A fight ensues, quickly ending when the smugglers and girls arrives (Uh
oh). Escamillomakes his exit, inviting everyone to his next bullfight in Seville, where the final act takes
place and where things will go DOWN. Micaëla is discovered and Jose won’t leave with her despite
Carmen’s mockery, but eventually gives in when being told that his mother is dying. Vowing that he will
return, Escamillo is heard in the distance, singing the toreador’s song.

Act 4

Here we are: the final act and the turning point. All the tension that has been mounting up this whole
time will come to a head, and you know what’s about to happen. Butlet’s walk through it, step by step.
Back in a Seville square, Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among the crowd awaiting the bullfighters’
arrival. Escamillo and Carmen express their mutual love as they enter. As he goes into the
arena, Frasquita and Mercédèswarn Carmen of Jose’s arrival. Carmen is unafraid and confronts the
desperate man. Pleading vainly for her to return to him, cheers come from the arena. As Jose makes his
last appeal, Carmen throws down his ring and attempts to enter the arena. Then, it happens: Jose stabs
her and as Escamillo is acclaimed by the crowd, the leading lady is killed. Jose laments what he has done
and confesses to his deed as he the crowd exits the arena.

Overall Thoughts and Reputation

Wow, what an ending! Obviously, anyone who has seen a summary of this opera knows what happens
at the end, but it doesn’t make it any more heart-wrenching and sad, even when reading it. It really
shows how Carmen wasn’t controlling love for different men, it was controlling her, eventually leading
to her demise at Jose’s hands. Just goes to show to be careful about who you have a crush on, and make
that an early decision choice (see college prep for high-schoolers in the Winter issue to understand this
“joke”).
Nonetheless, Carmen is a stunning opera from beginning to end. It has trademark songs, from the
habanera to the Toreador’s song. It has been woven into opera houses’ repertory, and since then is a
cult hit. There’s a lot more that goes into the opera, and I can’t do is justice enough by talking about it
here. You really just have to watch it for yourself. It might appear innocent in the former, but things take
a different turn in the latter.
The suites, known as the Carmen Suites, take notable music from the opera including the intros,
preludes, and more. It’s quite enjoyable to play through, and I recommend you listen to it along with the
opera!
Well, that’s it for this stop. Our final destination for today will be History of Music, where we’ll discuss
the 20th Century period of music, as well as the history of the clarinet!

History of Music: 20th Century and Clarinet

*History of Music goes in-depth about a certain period of music and an instrument, regardless
of it being string, woodwind, brass, percussion, or etc. Today’s period is the 20th Century, which
occurred from 1900-2000, coming after the Romantic period. Today’s instrument will be the clarinet,
third in the woodwind family, coming after flute/piccolo and oboe and before the bassoon/contrabassoon.

Period: 20th (Twentieth) Century

20th century classical music (1900-2000) was without a dominant style. Modernism, impressionism, and
post-romanticism all trace to the decades before the turn of the century but are included since they
evolved musician boundaries of the 19th-century styles before it, during the Romantic period. The
earliest aspects were neoclassicism and expressionism, coming mostly before 1900. Minimalism started
much later in the century, marking it as a change from the modern to the post-modern era. Genres
such as electronic music, jazz, and ethnic folk music became important influences on many composers
during this period.
At first, music was still late Romantic, with composers such as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Jean
Sibelius pushing the bounds of post-Romantic symphonic writing. Similarly, the Impressionist movement,
leading with Claude Debussy was developed in France, though he hated the term, saying “I am trying the
do ‘something different-in away realities- what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism is a term used as
poorly as possible, particularly by art critics. ”Another impressionist was Maurice Ravel and his music.
Many reacted to these styles and moved in quite different directions. In Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg
created atonality, later developing the 12-tone technique, which his disciples Alban Berg and Anton
Webern further worked on.
After World War I, composers started to return to the past for inspiration, writing works that drew
elements such as form, harmony, melody, and structure. This type of music became known as
neoclassicism; composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Manuel de Falla, and Paul Hindemith
all produced works in this style. In Italy, composers like Francesco Pratella and Luigi Russolo developed
what was musical Futurism, recreating everyday sounds in a “futurist context”. In the ’40s and ’50s, the
application of technology began to intertwine with music in musique concréte, which was utilizing sounds
as raw material.
Important cultural trends often referred to and informed music of this period, from romantic to postmodernist. Other aspects such as primitivism appeared, which Stravinsky (Rite of Spring) and Prokofiev (Chout) explored in their early careers. Additionally, Russian composers such as Dimitri Shostakovich
reflected the social realism of communism and worked within this in their music. Nationalism was also
important for expression, especially in US culture. It began informing an American vernacular style of
classical music, in the works of Charles Ives, John Alden Carpenter, and George Gershwin later on.
I recommend doing more research on the 20th century, from the movements that occurred during it, to
its transition from the Romantic period. It’s quite a doozy to look through, but it’s worth it. Plus, it’s nice
to see how far music has come from a century apart!

Instrument: Clarinet

The clarinet is a single-reed instrument of the woodwind family. It’s a straight cylindrical tube with a
bore almost designed the same way; it also has a flared bell. The earliest clarinets had a sound similar
to the trumpet, but during the late Baroque period, composers like Bach and Handel made new
demands of the skills of trumpeters, such as playing difficult melodies in the high register. At this time,
valves and pistons did not exist, so this “high register” had to come from the player’s own range. Johann
Christoph Denneris (generally) believed to have invented the clarinet in Germany, in the year 1700, by
adding a register key to an early baroque instrument known as the chalumeau, mostly in the
key of C. Overtime, pads and additional key work were improved to improve tone and playability.
Back to modern time now, the most common clarinet is the B♭ clarinet. Another common one is the A
clarinet, a semitone lower, which is used regularly in orchestra, chamber, and solo music. An orchestral
clarinetist must always own both of these types, since repertoire is evenly divided between the two.
Additionally, since the 19th century, the bass clarinet (now in B♭ but has keys to extend down to a low
C), was also an addition to the orchestra.
The clarinet family ranges from the extremely rare triple- B♭ octo-contrabass to the A♭ piccolo
clarinet. It has proved to be very flexible, and has been used in classical repertoire, various bands, jazz,
and many other styles. Clarinets have the largest pitch range of common woodwinds. The intricate key
organization making this possible makes the playability of some passages a bit awkward. Their bodies
have been made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, hard rubber, metal, resin, and ivory.
The vast majority used by pros are made from African hardwood, but historically, other woods like
boxwood were also used.
As said before, the clarinet uses a single reed made from the cane of Arundo donax, a type of grass.
Though, the reeds may also be created from synthetic materials. The ligature, which the read attaches
too, fastens it to the mouthpiece. When you blow air through the opening between the reed and
mouthpiece facing, it vibrates and produces the sound. Most clarinetists buy manufactured reeds,
although many make their own from cane “blanks”.
Once again, I encourage you to go into deeper research about the clarinet because I can’t do it justice
here and we’ve pretty much run out of time. I’m sure you have enough classical info to keep you warm
through this cold season.

Epilogue

Once again, another issue of classical music has been dished out. It’s a very hectic process making these,
but it’s all for the benefit of spreading the word and finding out more about this ever-growing genre.
See you next spring, with some spring-themed music!
Until then, see you next issue! And stay warm!

Works Cited

“The Snow Maiden”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Maiden.
Accessed 28 Jan 2021.
“Carmen”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmen. Accessed 28 Jan 2021.
“Clarinet”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarinet. Accessed 28 Jan 2021.

 

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Author

CCA

Published

February 22nd, 2021

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