Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Music Fridays – Showpieces

Posted by middlerage on February 9, 2013

Several years ago, a friend and I were discussing classical music – our likes and dislikes – when I happened to mention an instrument that I really didn’t care for.  Before I could get it out, he blurted (imagine gruff and funny voice), “You mean the violin?! ME TOO!”

Well, no, I was going to say the piano. I love violin, especially show pieces (the ones where the artist shows off amazing and lightning like skills). Now, of course you can’t have classical music without ye olde pianoforte, so don’t be offended if you’re a piano lover – it just goes to show how we are all different. Some hate the violin, some loath the piano.

Anyhoo, on yesterday’s commute, I heard the delightful Souvenir d’Amerique, played by Jule Bailey on cello(!) of all things. It was fantastique. Alas, youtube doesn’t have the piece, but here is Joshua Bell doing an interesting take on the violin. Wait for the minute mark, and you’ll suddenly smile.

As always, youtube will highlight other interesting bits to explore, and continuing in the theme of showpieces is Dance of the Goblins linked below (I first heard Dance years ago when the incomparable Itzhak Perlman played it on Johnny Carson).

Piano lovers are encouraged to respond with pieces they think I should at least try (no Chopin! please), and maybe one of these days I do a Music Fridays with harpsichord – which oddly, I do like; go figure.




18 Responses to “Music Fridays – Showpieces”

  1. Jerry said

    All musical instruments are going to rub some people the wrong way. Except bagpipes, of course – everyone loves those.

  2. Dahveed said

    I enjoyed the Bell video, but I must confess I was more entertained by the first user comment: “he moves too much men”. WTF?

  3. Dahveed said

    Not piano or violin, but these are a couple of my favorite vids for insane instrumental chops:

  4. Well as long as we’re sharing instrumental virtuosity, here’s an example of what can be done on trumpet:

    I own the studio-recorded album, which is cleaner, but I admire Vizzutti’s chutzpah for going out there and performing the same arrangement for audiences.

    Here’s another jaw-dropping example:

    How about this?

    And just for grins, here’s a past hero demonstrating what he did so well:

  5. Mark Leisher said

    Love Akariakov’s trumpet concerto! Beautiful piece.

    • Mark Leisher said

      That should be Nakariakov. Having a Monday on a Friday.

      • Your response perfectly illuminates the lack of perspective a trumpet-geek can have. I suspect this applies to many other instrumentalists, when it comes to their own axe.

        Of the tracks I linked to above, only the Arutunian Concerto was specifically written for trumpet. Not too surprisingly, it plays up the strengths of the instrument and avoids the weaknesses, and as a result is the best music. The Malcolm McNab track is a movement of a violin concerto being played on trumpet, and you really have to be a trumpet player to understand how hard some of that stuff is. But that doesn’t make it good, listenable music. The Vizzutti and Ferguson tracks fall in the same bucket — though they’re not transcriptions of arrangements originally written for other instruments, they’re arrangements written for no other reason than to awe trumpet players, which doesn’t necessarily make them good, listenable music.

        To level the playing field, here’s Nakariakov playing one movement of a cello concerto on flugelhorn:

        • Dahveed said

          As I was posting my links, I was thinking, “I wonder if anyone will get this” because of exactly what you’re describing – in some ways you have to play the instrument to realize how difficult something is to play. Especially when the players in question make it look so effortless (the Vizutti track was particularly so).

          As a non-trumpet player I have a question: One of the interesting things about guitar IMO is that people keep advancing the notion of what can be played on the instrument not just be getting better and better at traditional technique, but also by throwing traditional technique out the window and inventing new and twisted ways to play it that would make Segovia roll over in his grave. A lot of it is just novelty, but some of it really does change the scope of what can be done on the instrument. Do they do such things with brass?

          • Yes. There are a few approaches (that I can think of without straining) with brasses: you can modify the instrument itself, you can run it through effects, you can utilized “extended techniques” (a term I didn’t make up), or you can combine from the preceding menu. I’ll forego pasting in bazillions of links to pictures and video clips and just try to be accurately descriptive enough that you can google what I’m talking about… if you find yourself with absolutely nothing else to do.

            One modification that been around for over a century is adding additional bells — you press a valve and the sound emerges from a different bell. The double-bell euphonium has two bells with radically different tapers with the goal of producing noticeably different tone qualities. The echo cornet has a second bell with a built-in mute — the idea being that the player can play a phrase on the open bell and then “echo” it on the muted bell. The echo cornet concept keeps reappearing every decade or so, generally as two-belled trumpets with two standard bells, the idea being that you can stick a mute in one and quickly switch back and forth between the sound of open and muted trumpet. Less obvious search terms: “shew horn”, “eric miyashiro dual bell pocket trumpet”, “herb alpert gemini trumpet”

            Another is to have both a slide, like a trombone, and valves in the same instrument. The “Holton Superbone” was a valve/slide trombone, and the “Holton Firebird” was a valve/slide trumpet. To hear the Superbone at it’s best, search on “Ashley Alexander trombone”.

            Another is to add a fourth valve that plays quarter-tones. Don Ellis blazed the trail on “quarter-tone trumpet”.

            Then there’s running instruments through effects, a concept that has been used on pretty much every unlikely instrument since effects came into being. The aforementioned Don Ellis was an early adopter of effects, as well as quarter-tone brasses and both the Superbone and Firebird. I’ll break my promise to not link to videos to paste in a link to (in my bizarre opinion) Ellis’ magnum opus, an outrageous cover of “Hey Jude”:

            All the wacky stuff at the beginning is trumpet, running through analog effects, most notably a ring modulator. The octave doubler comes into play when he first plays the melody. He, and all his trumpet players, are playing quarter-tone trumpets. The most noticeable quarter-tone moment is at 4:01 to 4:03 — the trumpets play a chromatic descending line with too many notes in it.

            Then there’s “extended techniques,” which range from the intriguing to the pointless. I won’t try to list them all. You can sing a note while you play a different note, resulting in an effect called a multiphonic. The trombone falls in the sweet spot, as far as its range related to the average multiphonicizer (which is to say, most brass players are male and can’t sing high enough to do multiphonics on trumpet). James Morrison is one of the more prominent players of multiphonics out there now. There are trumpet players who can make their instruments sound like wooden flutes, either by playing with no mouthpiece and buzzing directly into the mouthpiece receiver or through sheer technique, like Arve Henriksen.

            I should have stopped a while ago, but there you have It. Only a bit of It, and yet quite a bit too much of It.

          • Dahveed said

            People are amazingly inventive! I did some youtubing on the Firebird and Superbone. Seems like there’s quite a bit of expressive capability that could be exploited with those instruments.


  6. middlerage said

    My kingdom for a friend who plays mouth harp.

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