Monday, October 31, 2016

Yeah. Still listening. Same song and performers, but with scrolling sheet music. Around 14 seconds in, the basso continuo ensemble is informed they will be playing this single phrase, briskly, for the next 114 measures.

Recall from the other day that the continuo is anchored by this monstrosity on the left, that looks like a giant lute.

It's a theorbo. It's basically a giant lute. It lives in a long tradition of taking a perfectly good string instrument and tacking on a bunch more strings.

There's an extensive quote discussing the piece, and its historical and musical context; as one hopes from such a thing, it improves the listening.
Although it is sometimes performed in a "straight" manner, it is most frequently interpreted as a comic parody of madrigals as they had evolved by the early seventeenth century, particularly the mannered conventions of the seconda prattica, in which the musical setting is largely driven by the text, and dissonance is used with extreme freedom as an expressive tool.
I first heard about this stuff when I was going to school with this devilishly handsome fellow, long ago. I've always thought of Henry as whatever the modern world can serve up as a polymath: with a handful of dedicated acolytes, he cared for the numerous large fish tanks in the science building, and has many stories of--and I would never have imagined this--operating on sick fish.

(I remember him with a genuine humility about this, as though it were barely worth mentioning that yesterday he anaesthetized a tiny fish from the South Pacific, removed a tumor, sutured it, and ended the process with a fish which was not only not sick, but also still alive.)

Above and beyond fish-doctoring, Henry was a gifted musician with a passion for early music. He was one of just a few students who were allowed to touch the harpsichord, and had a key to the pipe organ. Bless his heart, he tried to tell me about figured bass and improvised continuo; but I've always been slow where music is concerned, neither he nor I had the patience for other humans that we no doubt have now, and there was no Wikipedia to look things up in! (We had a library, but I had way more than enough actual work to do.)

I see that Henry settled just up the coast in Seattle--maybe he has a day job requiring easy access to fish?--but his website hasn't been updated since last year, so I bet he had a kid. It'd be a trip to see him play, although an organ recital is almost enough to make me play video games.

Anyway. Thanks, Henry! I did understand what you said. Mostly. Just...later.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Often the new songs I listen to on repeat are catchy classical numbers; there's no denying that I have a favorite bass line. In a fit of listening to various Bertali Ciaccona renditions, YouTube gave me this amazing Monteverdi by the L'Arpeggiata ensemble.

Which, of course, has my favorite bass line. (Unrelated: I've listened to just about every recording of this on YouTube, which gives a new appreciation for how incredible this ensemble is. In particular, that weird black wind instrument next to the lead violinist is a cornett, or cornetto, not to be confused with a cornet, coronet, or a corneto. I think I may have at last internalized the correct spelling. Regardless, Wikipedia is plagiarizing someone's book somewhere that says it's a devilish hard instrument to play, which explains why maybe 5% of the YouTube performances have one.)

I recognize the style, from years ago when I performed Monteverdi's Beatus Vir with a local chorus.

See? The round/call-and-response between voice sections, and the voice parts mirroring the instruments.

For some reason, I remember covering Renaissance music (Josquin, Palestrina, Praetorius) in Music Theory, and also Bach, but not Monteverdi, who apparently bridged Renaissance and Baroque music; so it makes a lot of sense that his music has elements of both.

That's all normal, right?