Thursday, November 30, 2017

Continuo Playing According to Handel

I'm still slugging it out with Sanguinetti, but I just put this in my cart to get next.

There is also a book about Mozart's lessons for Thomas Attwood, but it seems to be out of print. Pity!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Art of Partimento - Georgio Sanguinetti

This is the most ambitious book about partimenti yet, and once I've been through it, I'll order the books logically and go through them again.

Only about half way, so it will be a bit.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

More Partimento Studies

It still amazes me that I went through all the coursework for BM, MM, and DMA degrees and never heard the word partimento. The explanation is simple though; all the traditional history and theory I was exposed to concentrated on the north German organ school - Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck to J.S. Bach - the subsequent German classical school - C.P.E. Bach to Brahms - and the Italian sacred music that peaked with Palestrina. There were bits and pieces of other things, but the Neapolitan Conservatories and their teaching methods were completely ignored. I understand the reason for that now: The partimentos are forbiddingly complex and indecipherable without having been instructed on how to realize them. Just understanding the basics of figured bass, which I learned as early as my days at the Guitar Institute SW, is not nearly enough.

So I'm just devouring these books and learning about the practice until I get to a critical mass of understanding that will allow me to take some of the simple partimenti and realize them for the guitar.

Over the last couple of months I've read Partimento and Continuo Playing in Theory and in Practice, four overviews by modern scholars, and the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments by C.P.E. Bach (Nice link to the German school). Though a lot of it is concerned with fingering and other technical aspects of keyboard performance, there is a lot about improvising from a figured bass, which is the heart of partimento realizations. I'd known about this treatise for decades, but was not interested in it at all, because I didn't know what was in it!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Ten Years with the iPhone

Hard to believe it has been ten years since I bought my first iPhone, but there it is. The first iPhone wasn't exactly a Christmas Experience, but I did get it successfully activated... eventually. I actually blogged about it here at the time. The photo of the iPhone between my - still working! - original iPod and Video iPod, is priceless.

Left to right: original iPhone, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 5c.

Just last month, I got the iPhone 7 Plus, and it's wonderful for us old guys. With the large screen and magnify on, I don't need reading glasses to use it!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Taking a Break from Music Books: Agent Garbo, by Stephan Talty

This book was recommended by a friend, and it is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the espionage and counterespionage efforts of the allies against the axis powers leading up to D-Day. Very well written and engaging. I had no idea any of this went down, and Juan Pujol is an amazingly likable character. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Beethoven: The Music and the Life, by Lewis Lockwood

This is the best combination biography and music analysis book about Beethoven that I've yet read. No surprise, really, as Dr. Lockwood is the greatest living Beethoven scholar. His writing style is lucid and engaging, without making me scramble to the dictionary all the time with obtuse verbiage. So it's also no surprise that this book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the biography category (I don't know what beat it out for the award, but this book certainly could have won).

Particularly astute are his formal analyses - which are harrowing in Beethoven, with his myriad liberties taken with sonata and rondo processes - which shed light and bring focus to the dark and fuzzy world of form in Beethoven's music. A lot that will be of practical use to me as a composer as well.

So, if you haven't read this yet, and you're a Beethoven aficionado, by all means read it!


With all of this Beethoven reading, I'm preparing myself for a critical listening marathon of his music, and I've thought of some neat strategies for that. I have the Complete String Quartets, which are a cinch to follow, but getting all of the full scores for the symphonies would be expensive, and to be totally honest, I suck at score reading (Like I often say, I read music much better than 90% of guitarists, which is still admitting that I'm not very good at it). So, in a flash of intuition, I decided to get the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies, which come in two volumes by Kalmus.

But wait, there's more. A pianist named Cyprien Katsaris has actually recorded them all, so I got that too.

I also got the Brendel recordings of the complete piano sonatas, and the sheet music those are available in two volumes as well.

I've put this off for many years, because I didn't think I was ready until now. Well, having composed two sonatas for solo guitar, and one for guitar duo (With a third solo sonata in progress), I think I'm ready.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Scherzo in C Major for Solo Guitar

The Waltz from the previous post has grown into a Scherzo now, just by my rendering the tune in 4/4 for a Trio, and then the original tune in 3/4 returns. I have an idea for a 6/8 rendering - and it is written out in a alpha test version - but I haven't gotten it perfect yet.

The main challenge in juxtaposing one time signature against another is that you either have to create a metric modulation, or an effective pivot. In this simple little piece I decided to pivot.

Here's the AIFF audio file: Scherzo in C Major

The song remains the same - haha - until the second ending of the B' section, where two eighths appear under the open G on the final beat. This pivots the piece perfectly into the 4/4 rendering, which has an Alberti bass in eighth notes. So, whereas the 3/4 section has eighths only in the axial return to the tonic level, in the 4/4 rendering, it's constant eighths. This has a surprising and humorous effect, which is what scherzi are all about.

As you can see, the melody is pretty much the same, except in those measures where the melodic trajectory returns to balance with the eighth notes in the lead. This 4/4 version allowed me to use the entire four note chromatic lick in the bass of the C section, and a true dominant lead-in to the final measure of the D section. You can also hear that I had a lot of fun with the Alberti bass. The final measure of the D' section, we get the pivot back to the quarters of the 3/4 version. It is in these pivots, which look so simple, that student composers often foul up. To pivot from quarters to eighths, it is only the final beat that needs eighths in the bass to pivot, but to slow from eighths to quarters requires a full half measure.

Then the original tune returns, but without repeats. In performance, the guitarist could play the waltz - considered a scandalously sexual dance when it first appeared - very slutty, but the Alberti section all prim and proper. It is a very effective and humorous musical contrast.

And so we're done. I don't take composition students anymore - frankly because there aren't any who I'm interested in teaching at present - but I encourage student composers to write lots and lots of miniatures. If someone tells me they are a composer, I ask them to show me the simplest piece they've ever composed that they think is perfect, because if you can't compose perfect miniatures, you can't compose at all. And my smallest perfect miniature is much smaller than this compound form (Though this is the smallest compound form miniature I've ever done).

This will be the Scherzo for my third sonata for solo guitar. I already had the Allegro and the Finale, so now all I need is a slow movement, which I think I'll do as a theme and variations.