Jul 13

Finding a Lost “Friend”

Last year I came across a list of favorite music I’d started compiling years earlier and one of the pieces was a violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, one of my favorite classical composers. Unfortunately, the list didn’t show the name of the piece and he wrote over 230 violin concertos. I set about listening to Vivaldi CDs I owned and others from the library. I knew it was the second Andante movement, but none that I listened to quite matched the poignant and moving quality I recalled.

This afternoon I played an old LP that John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat had made together (Hooker n’ Heat, 1971). Then I noticed that among the records I’d gotten out to play some time ago was a 1980 Musical Heritage Society recording of Vivaldi mandolin concertos. On a hunch I played the last piece on side two and that was it: Concerto a Due Chori in B-Flat Major, P. 368/F.I. No. 60, “Con Violino Discordato,” strings and B.C [RV 583].

When I looked online for a CD of the piece, I found only a couple of recordings are available. You can listen to it here on YouTube.

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy and died July 28, 1741 in Vienna, Austria. He’s best known for “The Four Seasons” (circa 1725), but also for his 12 concertos “L’estro armonico” op.3 (1711). I enjoy these and other works by Vivaldi, but this concerto for “violino discordato” will always have a special place.

Jun 13

The Call and Response of Creativity

Alice Sara Ott gave an amazing solo piano recital at Symphony Center on Sunday, 2 June 2013. She played Wolfgang Mozart’s Nine Variations in D Major on a Minuet by J.P. Duport (1789), K. 573; Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in D Major (1825), D. 850 and Franz Liszt’s Grandes études de Paganini (1838 | 1851). The Liszt was described as especially challenging to play and it certainly sounded like it. Ott made it sound effortless, which made her musical ability and technical skill all the more impressive.

The program reminded me of the way creativity is in part a process of call and response. Works of art call to us and we respond in various ways. In classical music, composers have often written works as variations on the work of other composers, as Mozart did here.

Liszt was so powerfully affected by seeing violinist-composer Nicolo Paganini perform in Paris that he vowed to become the Paganini of the piano. Paganini inspired him to work on his piano technique for four or five hours a day. Later Liszt tried to create an equivalent of Paganini’s work on piano.

Ott played the entire program without music. How many hours must she have practiced these complex and difficult works to achieve the level of mastery she showed? Her calling to be a pianist (she began lessons at age 4) is obviously very powerful, as is the call of these composers. When one plays a song or piece of music until it becomes yours in some deep interior sense, then the magic happens.

This creative call and response also occurs throughout the history of the blues. Blues musicians responded to songs they heard and liked by adding them to their own repertoire. They also adopted or “borrowed” parts of lyrics, riffs or melodies, incorporating them into songs of their own creation. I’ve often heard a blues song and recognized a line or phrase I’ve heard in someone else’s song. Once the blues were more widely recorded (and copyrighted) this freely flowing exchange diminished.

Call and response is also an important concept within the blues and related music, but that’s a topic for another post.