Two Songs by W. A. Mozart (Julianne Baird, Soprano; Colin Tilney, Fortepiano)

W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian composer, pianist, violinist, violist, and organist. He is recognized as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western Classical music. He was a child prodigy (as a performer and as a composer.) Mozart composed pianos sonatas, piano duos, piano trios, piano quartets, sonatas for piano and violin, symphonies, organ works, and string quartets, among other works. He had great success as a child prodigy, but when he grew up he struggled to find steady work as a musician. Before he died, he was working on a Requiem (some say he was writing it for himself because he knew he was dieing) which he never finished. The first completion of Mozart’s Requiem was undertaken by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Mozart died when he was just 35 years old.

Julianne Baird (1952 -)

Julianne Baird is an American soprano that is best known for singing Baroque music (opera and sacred music). She has recorded over 130 CDs, and has performed around the world as a recitalist and soloist with major orchestras. Julianne is also a noted voice teacher.

Colin Tilney (1933 -)

Colin Tilney is an English harpsichordist, fortepianist, and teacher. He began his music career in London, England working as a piano accompanist. In 1979, Tilney moved to Canada. He taught at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Ontario. In 2002, he moved to Victoria BC where he performed with the Victoria Symphony playing continuo parts on the harpsichord. Colin Tilney has a large discography of recordings to his credit. He teaches part time at the University of Victoria.

Here are a couple of songs by W. A. Mozart from an album recorded by Julianne Baird and Colin Tilney called “Songs of Mozart”. I hope that you enjoy this beautiful music.

Ashokan Farewell (the theme song for Ken Burn’s Documentary on the Civil War in the US)

The Ashokan Farewell is a waltz in the style of a Scottish lament that was composed by folk musician Jay Unger in 1982. In 1980 Jay Unger and his wife Molly Mason started an annual fiddle and dance camp called the “Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp” at what was then called the Ashokan Field Campus of SUNY New Paltz (now the Ashokan Center) in Upstate New York. In 1982 after the camp had closed for the season, Jay was feeling a sense of loss. He missed the music, dancing, and the people and the way of life at the camp. He composed a lament (which was unnamed at the time.) His wife Molly suggested the tune be called Ashokan Farewell. It was recorded in 1983 by Jay and Molly’s band Fiddle Fever. Ken Burns (the famous documentary maker) heard it. It was featured in Ken Burn’s series “The Civil War.” After that the piece became a major hit (and the rest as they say is history.) Here is the recording that Jay Unger and Molly Mason and their band Fiddle Fever made for Ken Burn’s Civil War series.

Scott Joplin: RagTime Dance – Itzhak Perlman, violin; André Previn, piano

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American ragtime pianist and composer. He wrote over 100 piano rags, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. Joplin is famous for rags such as the Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, The Ragtime Dance, Elite Syncopations, and The Easy Winners. When he was 16, Scott Joplin performed in a vocal quartet with other boys in and near Texarkana, played piano, and gave guitar and mandolin lessons. In the late 1880s, Joplin left Texarkana (and a job he had as a railroad labourer) to become a travelling musician. He performed in various red-light districts in the mid-South. He briefly had his own band in which he played the cornet and arranged the music. Throughout his life, Joplin taught and played the piano. Near the end of his life, Scott Joplin tried to compose a ragtime opera but it wasn’t a success. He composed a second ragtime opera, Treemonisha, but that wasn’t a success either. He couldn’t find a publisher, and financed a publication of his opera in a piano/voice form. He invited an audience to a rehearsal in 1915. The opera wasn’t staged properly and only had Scott Joplin accompanying the singers. Joplin had a nervous breakdown. He didn’t have any money. In 1916, Scott Joplin was suffering from neurosyphilis. In January of 1917 he was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital (which was a mental institution). On April 1st, 1917 (the day the United States entered World War I), Scott Joplin died of syphilitic dementia. Because of World War I, Joplin’s death went unnoticed in the press. His opera Treemonisha was largely forgotten and didn’t get a full staged performance until the 1970s.

In 1975 (two years after the movie Sting was released), there was a Scott Joplin revival. Violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist André Previn recorded an album of Itzhak Perlman’s own violin/piano arrangements of some of Scott Joplin’s most famous rags called “The Easy Winners.” Here is Scott Joplin’s RagTIme Dance (arranged by Itzhak Perlman) from Perlman and Previn’s album “The Easy Winners”. Enjoy.

Victor Borge plays eight pianos in amazing comedy skit

Victor Borge (1909-2000) was a famous Danish comedian, conductor, and pianist. He was well known in Denmark before World War II but had to move because of the Nazis. Victor moved to the United States and became monstrously popular on the radio and television in the United States and Europe. in 1953, Borge started a one man show at the John Golden Theatre called Comedy In Music which became the longest running one man show in history with 849 performances.

In this video (made in 1937), Victor Borge is playing the part of a piano tuner. He starts by testing the pianos. He then does something amazing which has to be seen to be believed. Enjoy.

John Field – Nocturne No. 5 in B Flat Major (John O’Connor, piano)

John Field (1782-1837)

John Field was an Irish pianist and composer. He wrote many compositions, but it is for his nocturnes that he is best known today. When people think of nocturnes (or night pieces) they often think of the nocturnes for piano written by Frederic Chopin. Many composers wrote nocturnes including: Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann, and John Field. Field has been referred to as the “Father of the Nocturne.”

Not much is known about John Field. He was one of the top piano virtuosos of his day, and visited and played for Ludwig van Beethoven who praised his playing highly. Franz Liszt was another who thought very highly of John Field and published an edition of Field’s nocturnes. These pieces may not reach the great emotional heights of Chopin’s Nocturnes, but they are little gems in their own right. Listen to the beautiful melody of John Field’s Nocturne No. 5 in B Flat Major and the little embellishments that Field adds to it. Field’s compositions had an influence on many composers including: Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. Chopin’s early nocturnes sound like they could have been composed by Field.

John O’ Connor, pianist

John O’ Connor is one of Ireland’s top pianists. In 1973, John won the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and has since toured around the world giving recitals and playing with major orchestras as soloist. His recordings of the complete Beethoven Sonatas led one reviewer to say that he should “by now be recognized as the world’s premiere Beethoven interpreter.” His album of John Field’s nocturnes is a personal favourite of mine and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy listening to piano music and hearing music by a lesser-known composer.

George Gershwin: Someone To Watch Over Me (Marieke Koopman, Vocal; Ton Koopman, Harpsichord)

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin was an American pianist, composer, and painter. His most popular compositions include: Rhapsody and Blue, An American in Paris, Swanee, the opera Porgy and Bess, and the tune Summertime. Gershwin also composed many film scores. Several of his compositions became jazz standards. He died in 1937 of a malignant brain tumour.

Here is an unusual video clip of Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” sung with harpsichord accompaniment. Marieke Koopman (who is a jazz singer) sings the tune, while her father (the famous organist, harpsichordist, and conductor Ton Koopman) accompanies her on the harpsichord. Ton Koopman has devoted his career to the study and performance of baroque music on historical instruments. He isn’t a jazz musician and a harpsichord doesn’t “support” a singer like a piano does. On a piano the note decays slower and less abrupt than on a harpsichord. On the harpsichord a string is plucked and the note dies right after it is played. The harpsichord also can not do subtle dynamics like a piano can. It sounds very different from what you would expect, but it was done for fun as an experiment. I hope that you enjoy watching it.

Alfred Schnittke: Waltz of Farewell

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)

Alfred Schnittke was a Soviet composer, music teacher, and theoretician. He composed several really beautiful works and many works written in the avant-garde style. One of his beautiful melodies is a waltz tune that he wrote as part of a film score for the film “Story of an Unknown Actor.” In the original film score, the waltz was not written as a complete piece, but instead was featured in various fragments in the score.

Conductor Frank Strobel took the various fragments and put them together into an orchestral arrangement of the Waltz (which is known as the Waltz of Farewell.) This is the only complete arrangement of this piece that I have come across. The composer to my knowledge never bothered to put the musical fragments together into a complete piece of music. Here is the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Frank Strobel performing Strobel’s arrangement of the Waltz of Farewell by Alfred Schnittke. I hope that you enjoy this music.

Scott Joplin on the Pedal Harpsichord (played by E. Power Biggs)

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. He was famous for his piano rags during his lifetime and was known as the “King of Ragtime.” Scott Joplin composed over 100 rags but is well known today for only a few such as the Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, The Strenous Life, and the Ragtime Dance. Joplin also composed two operas and a ragtime ballet. He died in 1917 on the day that the US entered World War I.

E Power Biggs (1907-1977)

E Power Biggs was a celebrated organist who was one of the leaders in an organ reform movement in the US that advocated playing historical organs and using original registrations. He travelled to Europe in the 1950s and played many historical organs. He liked the clear crisp sound of the early instruments. Upon his return to the US, Biggs met with well known organ builders and many new organs were built based on the European Baroque organ sound. E. Power Biggs is particularly well known for his recordings of J.S. Bach’s organ music on historical organs.

E. Power Biggs also made recordings on an instrument called the pedal harpsichord. Pedal harpsichords were used during the baroque period. A harpsichord can have multiple manuals (keyboards) just like a pipe organ. The pedal harpsichord has multiple manuals as well as a pedalboard for the feet just like an organ.

In 1973, E. Power Biggs recorded two albums of Scott Joplin Rags on the pedal harpsichord. During the time of Biggs’ recording, Scott Joplin’s music was having a revival of popularity. Biggs also arranged several Scott Joplin Rags for the organ around the same time. Here is a Scott Joplin rag called the Paragon Rag and a waltz by Scott Joplin called Binks’ Waltz played by E. Power Biggs on the pedal harpsichord. Notice how different the music sounds on the pedal harpsichord compared to a piano.

Tamezō Narita: Hamabe no Uta (Song of the Beach)

Tamezō Narita(1893-1945) was a Japanese composer of classical music. Today he is best known for his song Hamabe no Uta (Song of the Beach) which he composed in 1916. The song became popular among flute players in the West because of a recording that James Galway made in 1979. In 2007 the song was named one of the 100 best songs of Japan. It is still very popular today. Tamezō Narita was born in Akita, Japan and died in Tokyo, Japan.

Here is an arrangement of Hamabe no Uta for cello and piano played by cellist Masatoshi Hirano and pianist Maria Mikulić Śtimac. This is a very beautiful little piece. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Johann Strauss Sr. – Radetzky March played on the pipe organ

Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-1849)

Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-1849) was the first musician in his family to be famous for composing Viennese Waltzes and German Dances. During the 1830s and 1840s, Johann Strauss Sr. became one of the most famous dance composers in Vienna. With his own orchestra he toured France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, England and Scotland. In 1845 his son Johann Jr. made his debut as a composer of waltzes and other dances and became his father’s competitor. Strauss Sr. became jealous of his son and refused to play at Dommayor’s Casino where he had played many times, and where his son made his debut. In 1848 Johann Strauss Sr. composed his most famous orchestral piece called the Radetzky March (which was dedicated to Austrian Field Marshal Radetzky.) Whenever this piece was played the soldiers would clap and stomp their feet. Today in Vienna that tradition has continued and people clap and stomp their feet whenever the piece is played.

Jonathan Scott

Jonathan Scott is an English organist and pianist. He has travelled all over Europe and Asia playing the organ, and also performs with his brother Tom Scott (a pianist) as part of the Scott Brothers Duo. He has a very popular YouTube channel where he plays his own organ arrangements and well known organ pieces. His brother Tom (when he isn’t performing with his brother Jonathan) does an excellent job making attractive videos of the organs and churches where Jonathan plays in his videos. Here is an organ arrangement by Jonathan Scott of Johann Strauss Sr’s Radetzky March. I hope that you enjoy it.