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Archive for October, 2013

David Guerrier
David Guerrier plays the keyed trumpet

The trumpet goes back a long, long way. Trumpeters are depicted in art from ancient Egypt, dated in the 14th century BCE.

For most of its centuries of existence, the trumpet was an instrument of royalty, used for playing fanfares. Frankly, that’s about all it was good for. These early trumpets couldn’t play all the notes of the scale. They played only the first few notes from the harmonic series, which is already a subset of the scale’s notes.

The Natural Trumpet's Harmonic Series (thinkquest.org)

By the 16th century, instrument makers had figured out how to make trumpets play more of the notes from the harmonic series. Now, the further up you go in the harmonic series, the closer together the notes get. If you could push your trumpet far enough, and fudge the pitch of some notes a bit, you could play all the notes of the scale. By the 17th century, trumpets could actually be used to more or less play melodies.

I say "more or less" because they still didn’t do a very good job of it. It took a really talented (and fit!) player to get all the notes in tune. (Many of today’s period instrument specialists use trumpets with tiny, inconspicuous, and inauthentic "cheater holes" that help them with this challenge.) Even then, the timbre (tone quality) of the notes varied radically.

In the 15th century, a few instrument makers had experimented with adding slides (like a trombone’s) to trumpets. We have pictures! But given the design – they were straight trumpets – it’s hard to see how a player could’ve flung that slide around fast enough to play any but the slowest music. He might well have knocked his own front teeth out trying. For centuries more, trumpet players had to pretty much depend only on skill and lungs to coax a real tune from their instruments.

In the 17th century, Vienna became something of a Mecca for trumpet players. The very earliest trumpet players had been little more than vagrants, but Viennese trumpeters were given a place of honor. On high feast days the court’s string orchestra was augmented by a choir of trumpets, playing sonatas composed by the likes of Schmelzer and Biber.

But by the late 18th century the trumpet was going out of style, giving way to more agile and tonally consistent instruments. A few trumpeters, determined to salvage their careers, scrambled to develop a trumpet that could compete with the violin, flute, and oboe. Some of them achieved a measure of success by adding keys to the trumpet, so it could play all the notes of the scale, even in its lowest register.

Enter Anton Weidinger (1767 – 1852). Weidinger was a Viennese court trumpeter. Around 1793, he began experimenting with some of these keyed trumpets, refining them and practicing with them. By 1796 he was making enough progress that he convinced Haydn to write a concerto for his Klappentrompette (keyed trumpet). He took that concerto on the road in 1803, playing it in France, Germany, and England. Weidinger caught the interest of composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who composed yet another concerto for him and his curious keyed trumpet.

The critics had good things to say about Weidinger’s trumpet and his playing. But it was too late. By 1820 the valved trumpet had appeared in Vienna and was rapidly taking over. Weidinger’s keyed trumpet hung on for a little longer; some musicians and composers preferred its tone to the valved trumpet’s. But by 1840 the Klappentrompette was forgotten – obsolete.

Although the Baroque natural trumpet has no shortage of proponents (and makers and players), not many musicians have shown much interest in reviving the Klappentrompette. Who can blame them? After all, what’s the point of reviving an instrument for which only two major concertos were ever written? (See also the arpeggione.) Rainer Egger has built modern reproductions, as has Christopher Monk, but they don’t seem to have had many customers. The few recordings that have been made with their instruments have quickly gone out of print, presumably for lack of interest.

But if you’d like to see and hear the keyed trumpet, here’s a rare opportunity: David Guerrier playing the first movement of the Haydn, recorded at the Festival de l’Epau in May of 2009. He’s accompanied by the chamber orchestra "Les Siècles."

Further reading:

The story of the keyed trumpet, by Norwegian trumpeter Ole J Utnes

The natural trumpet in Wikipedia

Rainer Egger’s workshop

Trumpeter David Guerrier from Trumpet World

This article was first published in WKSU Classical on 28 December 2009.

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Osmo Vanska
Osmo Vanska
(Minnesota Orchestra)

Last year at about this time, unable to reach a contract agreement with the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians, the orchestra’s board took extraordinary measures: they locked out the players and cancelled the 2012-13 season.

As the 2013-14 season looms, the two sides are no closer to a resolution, making Minnesota’s the longest labor dispute in US orchestral history. With the upcoming season now in doubt, many music lovers fear for the Minnesota Orchestra’s future.

On Tuesday (1 October 2013), the musicians voted to reject the board’s fourth contract offer. The board promptly cancelled this Friday’s season-opening concert, and two Sibelius programs set for Carnegie Hall in November.

In 2003, noted Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska moved from Finland to the Twin Cities to take the helm of the Minnesota Orchestra. Over the last decade, Vanska has raised the orchestra’s status worldwide and has helped them win Grammy nominations for recordings of Beethoven and Sibelius.

"The Carnegie Hall project represents for me one of the most significant goals of my entire Minnesota Orchestra tenure," Vanska said in a letter to the orchestra’s board in April. He said he would resign if the Carnegie concerts were cancelled. Tuesday he made good on that vow, casting a still darker cloud over the orchestra’s future.

Last summer, former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell tried to mediate the dispute between the orchestra’s management and the musicians. He proposed a compromise which would have kept the music flowing while negotiations continued. However, the orchestra’s management rejected his proposal.

According to the musicians’ union, the board’s fourth contract offer Tuesday (1 October 2013) bypassed the mediation process altogether. Their proposal called for pay cuts spread over 3 years, from the former contract’s $135,000 to an average of $104,500. (Earlier proposals from the orchestra had included salary reductions of 30%.) The musicians said "No thanks."

In addition to the regular season and the Carnegie Hall concerts, Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra were scheduled to record for the Swedish label BIS next spring. That’s now in doubt.

Orchestra Hall may be dark, but Minneapolis won’t be musically muted – at least not yet. The orchestra’s musicians will play their season opener as scheduled, this Friday and Saturday – but not at Orchestra Hall. They’ll perform at the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall. Pianist Emanuel Ax will solo in Mozart and Beethoven, just as originally planned. Who will be at the podium? That’s not yet clear, but rumors point to Vanska as a strong possibility.

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When Whoopi Goldberg moved into the convent as Sister Mary Clarence in the 1992 film Sister Act, the abbey was forever changed – or at least changed until Sister Act 2 a year later.

The music world might have seen a similar revelation and revolution, if not for society’s limitations on women in centuries past.

Consider two highly musical sisters, Maria Anna Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn. Both received outstanding musical instruction. Both impressed thoughtful, unbiased contemporaries as immensely talented – equal to or perhaps even superior to their more famous brothers.

Maria Anna Mozart
Maria Anna Mozart

As a child, Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl) studied with her father Leopold. She and younger brother Wolfgang were both on show as prodigies, touring Western Europe and Vienna with their father.

Maria Anna developed into a thoroughly capable composer, an accomplished keyboardist, and a fine improviser. Her father proudly touted her talents: "My little girl plays the most difficult works with incredible precision … although she is only 12 years old, [she] is one of the most skillful players in Europe."

And yet, as little brother Wolfgang rapidly progressed, Papa Leopold put the brakes on his big sister’s career.

Despite her father’s restrictions, Maria Anna served as Wolfgang’s agent, inviting Haydn to her home and playing some of Wolfgang’s quartets for the older composer. And in one of her letters, Maria Anna said that she had been Wolfgang Mozart’s only music advisor. Indeed, Wolfgang sent her most of his piano concertos, at least up to #21. He expressed amazement at Maria Anna’s skill as a composer, and – despite Leopold’s admonitions – encouraged her to write more. Alas, none of her compositions survives.

As the decades passed, although no radical changes developed, the climate improved somewhat for women musicians.

Fanny Mendelssohn

In the early 1800s, another dynamic sister-brother duo appeared on the scene. Both prodigiously talented siblings in the prominent Mendelssohn family, Fanny and Felix, studied with the finest instructors that Berlin could offer, thanks to their father’s encouragement (and his substantial financial resources).

Fanny Mendelssohn wrote a significant amount of music. But if her brother Felix encouraged her to compose, he drew the line at publication. He wrote that publishing her music "would only disturb her" in her "primary duties" of managing the home.

Of course, he was just echoing the cultural norms of the day – and papa Abraham’s exhortation to his 14 year old daughter: "You must become more steady and collected, and prepare more earnestly and eagerly for your calling, the only calling of a young woman — that of a housewife … music will perhaps become [Felix’s] profession, but for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and doing."

Despite these restraints, Fanny persevered. Her surviving works include over 250 lieder, a string quartet, an overture, a piano trio, 125 solo piano works, and four cantatas.

In one of her late songs, Dein ist mein Herz, Fanny Mendelssohn quotes the poet Nikolaus Lenau. She bares her soul to many of those who held her back – perhaps most pointedly to her brother, whom she adored: "The dearest thing I may acquire in songs that abduct my heart is a word to me that they please you, a silent glance that they touch you."

– Sylvia Docking

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September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s dedicated to folks with roots in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Spain. But it’s also a time for all of us in this great melting pot to celebrate who we collectively ALL are.

PBS Western Reserve Public Media (Channels 45/49) is airing a month long series. Latino Americans is six one-hour documentaries featuring interviews with nearly 100 Latinos – and more than 500 years of History. (See times and dates here.)

I. Foreigners in their Own Land (1565-1880)
II. Empire of Dreams (1880-1942)
III. War and Peace (1942-1954)
IV. The New Latinos (1946-1965)
V. Prejudice and Pride (1965-1980)
VI. Peril and Promise (1980-2000)

Uncounted musicians from Central and South America have transformed lives round the world through their artistry. Here are just a few:

Manuel Barrueco is a Cuban classical guitarist, born in 1952 in Santiago de Cuba. He has toured in the US, Europe and Japan, and serves on the faculty of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland.
Manuel Barrueco
Manuel Barrueco (ML Films)
Carlos Bonilla
Carlos Bonilla
Carlos Galo Raúl Bonilla Chávez – better known as Carlos Bonilla – was born in Quito, on March 21, 1923 and died there on January 10, 2010. He was one of the pioneers of the Ecuadorian classical guitar and an important figure in 20th-century Ecuadorian music.
Juan Leovigildo Brouwer Mezquida was born March 1, 1939 in Havana. He is a Cuban composer, conductor, and guitarist. He usually goes by the name of Leo Brouwer.
Leo Brouwer
Leo Brouwer
(Wikimedia Commons)
Gustavo Dudamel
Gustavo Dudamel
(Music Education UK)
Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez is a rising Venezuelan conductor and violinist. He is the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and honorary conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony.
Antonio Lauro (August 3, 1917 – April 18, 1986) was a Venezuelan musician, one of the foremost South American composers for the guitar in the 20th century.
Antonio Lauro
Antonio Lauro
(WVPM)
Tania Leon
Tania Leon
(Wikimedia Commons)
Tania León (born May 14, 1943 in Havana) is a composer, conductor, educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, and Telemundo. She’s also been the subject of independent films.

— Sylvia Docking

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