Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2015

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is undoubtedly one of Western music’s most controversial figures.  His operas (he called them music-dramas) redefined the genre and pushed it to its limits.  His epic Ring cycle spans four operas and about 16 hours of music.   For this, he invented the leitmotif, a recognizable melodic theme connected to certain characters, places, events, or moods in his operas.  He also invented new instruments (e.g. the Wagner tuba) and had his own opera house built (at Bayreuth) in order to get exactly the sound that he wanted.  He pushed harmonic boundaries ever further, eventually eschewing any tonal resolution in the opera Tristan und Isolde (which is often regarded as the first modern opera).  For all of these operas, he assumed near total control, writing the librettos and designing the sets himself.  He was also a writer whose opinions on many things,especially Judaism, have remained a stain on his character.  In short, he was a large, uncompromising personality whose effects are still strongly felt in music and beyond.

Wagner finished the opera Lohengrin in 1848.  It tells the story of Elsa, a princess in Brabant (what we now call Antwerp), who is rescued and wedded a by a knight in shining armor who insists on remaining nameless.  Drama and tragedy ensue, ending with the death of several characters in typical Wagnerian fashion. Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral comes at the end of Act II, when Elsa is on her way to be married to the knight, who we later learn is Lohengrin, knight of the Holy Grail.  Even in its original form, this section is almost a band piece, dominated by winds and percussion.  It has become a staple of the band repertoire as a standalone piece.

The Baylor University Wind Ensemble performs the classic band arrangement of Elsa, created by Lucien Cailliet in 1938:

Here is the version from the original opera, in a production at La Scala in Milan in 2012:

You can read more about Lohengrin on Wikipedia and at the Met Opera website.  As for Wagner himself, here is just a small sampling of what the Internet has to say about him: Wikipedia, Biography.com (video), the Jewish Virtual Library,WagnerOpera.net, ipl2, and PBS Great Performances.

Advertisements

David Holsinger was born in Hardin, Missouri, December 26, 1945. His compositions have won four major competitions, including a two time ABA Ostwald Award. His compositions have also been finalists in both the DeMoulin and Sudler competitions.  He holds degrees from Central Methodist College, Fayette, Missouri, and Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. Holsinger has completed course work for a DMA at the University of Kansas. The composer was recently honored by Gustavus Adolphus College with the awarding of a Doctor of Humane Letters Degree for lifetime achievement in composition and the Gustavus Fine Arts Medallion, the division’s highest honor, designed and sculpted by renowned artist, Paul Granlund. Holsinger, as the fourth composer honored with this medal, joins a distinguished roster which includes Gunther Schuller, Jan Bender, and Csada Deak. Holsinger is the Conductor of the Wind Ensemble at Lee University, in Cleveland, Tennessee.

(short biography courtesy http://americanbandmasters.org/award/HOLSINGER.HTM)

Holsinger is a prolific composer for band. While he has his occassional tics (ostinatos, an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to percussion), his music is consistently thrilling to play. His faster pieces blaze by in a whirlwind of excitement, and his slower numbers are thoughtful and genuinely beautiful. It is for these reasons that he is a favorite of players and audiences alike.

Holsinger has his own website: davidrholsinger.com, which answers really ANY questions you might possibly have about him, including a fascinating testimonial about the search for his birth mother. There is much multi-media content as well, including videos of him ruminating on expressive performance.  Definitely check it out!  Also, Absolute Astronomy did an extensive profile on him that is worth a look.

The score for On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss (1989) provides the following program note:

On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss is a radical departure of style of this composer.  The frantic tempos, the ebullient rhythms we associate with Holsinger are replaced with a restful, gentle, and reflective composition based on the 1876 Philip BlissHoratio Spafford hymn, “It is Well with my Soul“.  Written to honor the retiring Principal of Shady Grove Christian Academy, On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss was presented as a gift from the SGCA Concert Band to Rev. Steve Edel in May of 1989.

Here is the North Texas Wind Symphony performing Holsinger’s version:

Here is a contemporary reading of the hymn, complete with the lyrics.  They come from a dark place, penned by Spafford after he lost his four daughters in a shipwreck.

Read more about the hymn in Spafford’s bio (above), and on Wikipedia and ShareFaith.  You can learn more about Holsinger’s version at TRN Music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a child prodigy born in Salzburg, Austria who toured Europe as a boy, playing keyboards and violin for nobility and the general public.  He began composing at age 4, amassing an impressive output of over 600 pieces by the time of his untimely death at age 35.  His compositions encompassed solo keyboard works, symphonies, operas, string quartets, concertos, chamber music of all stripes, and religious works.  He famously died while composing his Requiem, K. 626.  It is possible that he believed himself to be writing his own funeral music, but it is unlikely that he was poisoned by the composer Antonio Salieri, as is asserted in the film Amadeus.  In life, he had a reputation as a prankster, which shone through in his music at times (witness the 4-voice canons Difficile lectu and O du eselhafter Peierl).  He is remembered today as perhaps one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

The Serenade K 361 (370a) has long been known by its more famous nickname, Gran Partita.  This was not Mozart’s invention: his manuscript for the piece originally had no heading, but some unknown hand scribbled the nickname on it, and it has stuck.  It means, essentially, “big wind symphony,” which is not inaccurate: the Gran Partita uses an unusually large ensemble (13 players) for the era, as well as a seven-movement form that is larger than either a four-movement symphony or the more conventional six-movement serenade or divertimento that formed the core of the wind repertoire at the time.  In addition to the usual harmonie ensemble of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons, the Gran Partita adds two more horns, a pair of basset horns, and a string bass.  The seven movements consist of a sonata-allegro with an adagio introduction, a minuet and double trio, an adagio, another minuet and double trio featuring an obvious ländlera tripartite Romance, a theme and variations with a curious interruption, and a spritely finale, totaling nearly an hour of music.  Its composition date remains in dispute: it could have been as early as 1780, although it was not performed in any form until March 23, 1784, when it was presented at a benefit concert put on by famous clarinetist Anton Stadler.  This is the only known performance during Mozart’s lifetime, and it only included four of the movements!  Thankfully, the manuscript has survived in complete form to the present day, and it has become a cornerstone of the repertoire for chamber winds.

There are many performances of the Gran Partita out there, and no two will interpret it the same way.  Answers to the questions of eingangen (little cadenzas), double dotting, ornamentation, grace notes, tempos, and more can only be guessed at, since we have no concrete and specific style guide from the period, let alone any recordings.  I chose the recording below because of the fabulous assortment of period instruments they used (despite the fact that there is no conductor).  Each movement is a distinct video, so you can start anywhere.  Listen, but also watch!

I. Largo – Molto allegro

II. Menuetto I

III. Adagio

IV. Menuetto II

V. Romance

VI. Tema con variazioni

VII. Finale

Now for the links I promised.  The Gran Partita has its own pages at Wikipedia and Windrep.org. You can get certain versions of the score for free at the International Music Score Library Project.  It is also featured in program notes from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as this article by Roger Hellyer, who tries to get a fix on the elusive composition date.

As for Mozart himself, see Wikipedia, The Mozart Project, Studio-Mozart, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra kids site for something a little more interactive.  All of this only scratches the surface.

I couldn’t write about Mozart without including a scene from Amadeus.  Here, the fictional Salieri recounts his feelings on first hearing the adagio from the Gran Partita, which aptly serves to demonstrate the young Mozart’s genius: