A River Franz Through It

Full disclosure: I stole this title from my brother. Good punnery should never go to waste in a Drafts folder, collecting a gentle sifting of e-dust.

I’d like to say that this post was inspired by the lovely river that meanders through my neck of the woods, or inspired by the electric green of spring brought on by lovely soaking rains.  In truth, it was inspired mostly by my washer and dryer and less by rivers and spring and rain.  This proves my point that even if you don’t listen to classical music, it will sneak up on you, and your home appliances are in on the conspiracy.

The first time I heard my washing machine chirp Franz Schubert’s Die Forelle (“The Trout”), I thought I was having some sort of aural hallucination.  Then the dryer did the same thing.  What a refined way to end all of the churning and spinning, instead of a pitch-less and, quite frankly, rude buzzing noise.  Way to go, Samsung! (Can I have my money now?)

It is widely agreed that Die Forelle is Schubert’s most popular art song, and it showcases Schubert’s inimitable gift of turning a simple story into something memorable and extremely pleasing to the ear.  The text was written by poet Christian Friedrich Schubart (yes, that’s an “a”) in 1782, and creates a lovely scene in which a fisherman pursues a rather quick trout, while the poet watches from the riverside.  Employing a strategy beloved by anglers the world over, the fisherman muddies the water, confuses the doomed fish, and catches it. (Schubart does have the good sense to describe the fisherman as being kaltem Blute, cold-blooded.)  Schubert set the poem to a most cheerful piano melody, in which the right hand leaps, trout-like, over sixteenth notes that purposely conjure the image of fish swimming and jumping in the river.

As listeners, we suffer the same fate as that poet standing at the riverside.  We’re drawn in to those alacritous notes and the (for once) cheerful-sounding German text just as he was enjoying a day off from rhyming words by observing an innocent fish bask in its watery paradise.  We’re so drawn in, in fact, that we may not notice when the piano emits some minor arpeggios and the vocal line lowers in register.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe die Zeit zulang.
Er macht das Bächlein tückish trübe
Und eh ich es gedacht, so zuckte seine Rute,
Das Fischlein, das Fischlein, zappelt dran,
Und ich mit regem Blute Sah die Betrog’ne an.

At last the thief became impatient.
He maliciously made the stream opaque
And I thought, his rod quaked
The fish, the fish was writhing on it,
And I, filled with rage within, looked at the deceived.

We can assume the poet, shoulders slumped, walks back through the woods with his inner rage for company.  Our own inner rage can be directed at Schubert, who lured us in with his vivacious melody and assumption that we could not translate German.  Thus ends the tale of the trout, and the melody has become the Schadenfreude motif of the fisherman instead of the poet.

Here are three noteworthy recordings:

Classical Mac n’ Cheese

A new chapter in my family’s story has taken us over 800 miles from our previous home, down and down and down into the bucolic green and genteel part of our country.  Over the past few months of living in this New Place, I’ve found myself with head spinning and heart longing for the familiarity of my community, my family and my friends.  A fine thing, then, that our New Place is bucolic and genteel and brimming with life and “y’all”s.  Nonetheless, I’ve needed comfort more times this summer than I care to admit.

We all have our comforts, those lovely little things that cosset us when things “get weird”, to borrow a term from the American Psychological Association. Oftentimes that comfort is food, and oftentimes that comfort food is mac n’ cheese.  Whether the is-it-actually-food form out of the blue box or a schmancy sort laden with three cheeses, nothing assuages the psyche quite like that classic.

Which brings me to my actual point: there have been several classical pieces in constant rotation in my home that have served in the place of mac n’ cheese.  All of the comfort, none of the calories (my diet book is forthcoming!). (Kidding.)  When my spirit was/is low, hearing these pieces slowed the spinning of my head and the ache of my heart.

2x04_Good_Grief_(32)

You get the picture.

Anyway, let’s move on to more pasta and less cheese.  Gabriel Fauré wrote his lovely, mystical Pavane Op. 50 in 1887.  “Elegant, but not otherwise important,” remarked the composer in what was most certainly the catalyst for the “bewildered” emoji.  The piece was originally written for piano, but is most often heard in an orchestral arrangement featuring a small group of strings, winds and horns. Here, however, is a very enjoyable trio performance of flute, harp and viola.

Murray Perahia’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations never fails to clear my head.  Listening to it is like giving my brain a good spring cleaning, because the music is just that: clean.  Clean and lovely and rippling and vibrant. Note: adjective level exceeded.  While my Sibling will rally for Glenn Gould’s recording, you’ll find me firmly planted in Camp Perahia.  His fingerings are extremely light and crisp, which is exactly what the Variations require.  #Perahia2016 #TakingAmericaBach

Lastly, Renée Fleming’s recording of Debussy’s Beau soir has served me well these last few months.  Accompanied by the stellar Jean-Yves Thibaudet, her lustrous soprano sails through the poem written by Paul Bourget around the mid-1880s and set to music by Debussy not long after.  I first learned this piece in college and find the melody just as haunting today as I did then.

What classical music has met you well during difficult times?  We’d love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaffeeklatsch!

One half of Sibling Revelry, and the husband of the other half, loves coffee. That would be the half with the pen at the moment. And by “loves,” I mean that a morning without coffee looks like a black-skied, dust-blown, radioactive post-nuclear apocalyptic hellscape. This magical elixir of the gods is the sine qua non of your wayward, deadbeat blogger.

Recently, I was in blissful attendance at a They Might Be Giants concert. That’s right, sports fans, the normally high-and-mighty Sibs occasionally doff their crushed-velvet pantaloons and change into street garb to blend in with the howling masses and investigate their strange, rhythmic musical traditions. Naturally one must wear a cloak and eyepatch in order to avoid detection.

Kidding aside, I adore They Might Be Giants and have for a very long time (to which the other Sib who used to share a wall with me will attest). I remain deeply inspired by their creativity over the years; well into their third decade of making music together, they have released no less than THREE albums in the last 15 months, each brimming with their usual wonderful weirdness. But I also deeply respect their musicianship and, certainly not least, incredibly deft and inventive ability to write melody. Without those two things, just being weird for weirdness’s sake…that doesn’t have any pull with me. These guys have the ability to get inside music (of truly any genre) and do their own thing with it. It’s quite rare. It’s genius at work, friends: not only in its individual parts, but the partnership at its core. And, to use that abused adjective, unique. I’d also say REM was always true to their own unique north star, yet the fame differential between the two is vast. And REM’s creativity in later years was, I’ll humbly say, nowhere close to the Johns. Those two things are probably related. A topic for a different day. Here is a great example for the uninitiated (one of 1,000 I might have picked):

After the concert, still radioactively aglow (I mean, they played the Fingertips medley, one of my all-time favorites. Oh, you don’t know what that is? Gee, let me see if I can scare up the studio version…….)

…I was reading old interviews, and what do you know, one of the Johns of TMBG (Linnell) happens to be a great admirer of the one, the only, the original melodic genius and prolific baby-maker, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach! A man whose praises have been sung, oh, from time to time here. No surprise, there’s a TMBG connection.

Linnell mentions Bach’s so-called “Coffee Cantata,” a very interesting and famous composition. The great JSB didn’t compose any opera (raising his estimation here yet higher), but the Coffee Cantata comes pretty darn close (coming back down). It’s not rock opera, it’s Bach opera! (cue laugh track)

The complete cantata will last longer than your morning cup, however good its first or last drops, at about half an hour. In keeping with opera’s insistence on over-dramatizing everyday life, the protagonist, Aria (snicker), loves coffee but her overbearing father won’t let her drink it. Causing her to exclaim (this should really be done from a fainting couch) that lack of coffee will cause her to shrivel up like a piece of roasted goat. Neat imagery. Seriously, you couldn’t think of anything else that might shrivel? (Bach didn’t write the libretto, so we are not insulting The Master). Here it is in German, with a translation:

http://emmanuelmusic.org/notes_translations/translations_cantata/t_bwv211.htm

My favorite line is probably, “You may not go to the window and watch anyone passing by!” You people need a hobby. And yes, I did mean, “YOU PEOPLE.”

Also in keeping with opera’s simultaneous insistence on ridiculously implausible solutions to the over-dramatized problems of life and love, Aria is placated when her father has three daily cups written into her marriage contract. No mention of roast goat, sadly.

Obviously our proclivities lay far away from stilted Europeans whining in high register about preposterous, self-created culs-de-sac of puffed-up emotion. BUT. It’s Bach, and all Bach is by definition worthy. Especially on (or around) the Kapellmeister’s birthday! Here it is, in full, sung by people who have clearly practiced facial expression at home in long hours before their mirrors, mirrors, on the wall. Cool set, though.

So let’s see if all the puzzle pieces fit here. We like Bach. We like They Might Be Giants. We love coffee. They Might Be Giants are obsessed with coffee. John Linnell wants to have coffee with Bach. Bach wrote a cantata with a coffee theme. Look, it’s a litter of puppies knitting sweaters for roosters!

Or, in other words, by rocket to the moon, by airplane to the rocket, by taxi to the airport, by front door to the taxi, by throwing back the blankets, hanging down the legs…

 

Chorally Yours: Whitacre’s “Water Night”

Did you ever hear a piece of music that reverberated within every single cell of your body or caused each hair on your head to stand on end?  A piece of music that you craved over and over, and each time you listened to it you heard something new?

Today we’re taking an exuberant dive into the setting of Octavio Paz’s poem Agua nocturna, composed by the much-acclaimed Eric Whitacre as “Water Night”.

But first, a caveat.  My meager vocabulary, choral and otherwise, is not going to do this piece justice.  No amount of witticism or schmancy terms like “pan-diatonic” are going to convey to you, appreciated reader, just how much this music has changed the neurons firing in my brain.  All I can offer is what follows.

“Water Night was just one of those pieces,” Whitacre writes on his website.  After spending the day with his friend and mentor Dr. Bruce Mayhall and being convinced to finish his degree, Whitacre went home and opened his book of Octavio Paz poetry.

I can’t really describe what happened. The music sounded in the air as I read the poem, as if it were a part of the poetry. I just started taking dictation as fast as I could, and the thing was basically finished in about 45 minutes. I have never experienced anything like it, before or since, and with my limited vocabulary I can only describe it as a pure and perfect and simple gift. It has become one of my most popular pieces, and I’ve heard countless people who sing it or hear it describing the same feeling I had when I wrote it down. I remain eternally grateful for this gift.

“Basically finished in about 45 minutes.” Fact:  in college, it took me at least one week to write one mostly lousy 16-measure hymn.  Fact: despite my composing shortcomings, I am able to recognize that the music Whitacre wrote exactly matches Paz’s text.  “Sounded in the air” indeed. It’s stunningly beautiful.

Here is the text in its entirety:

Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night,
night with eyes of water in the field asleep
is in your eyes, a horse that trembles,
is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water,
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude,
two little animals moon-led,
drink in your eyes,
drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes,
night opens, doors of musk,
the secret kingdom of the water opens
flowing from the center of night.

And if you close your eyes,
a river, a silent and beautiful current,
fills you from within,
flows forward, darkens you,
night brings its wetness to beaches
in your soul.

Octavio Paz, 1914-1998
(Adapted by Eric Whitacre, Translation by Muriel Rukeyser)

Now listen to the Brigham Young University Singers, and read the text as you listen. (I’m not bossy, just excited.)

A few thoughts:  I love those opening measures.  I see them like a piece of obsidian- smooth, glassy, deep black.  The word “shadow” is beautifully jagged. The basses give “dream-water” perfect gravel.

Moving on, the diction on “solitude” is perfect- a gently curved “u” instead of straight and flat.  It’s extremely subtle but has a tremendous effect.  Can you hear and feel the slightest crescendo/decrescendo here? The tempo also picks up slightly, adding to the pulsating sound.

There’s nothing to say next except that you just heard the most brilliant chord ever written.  What better way to express the opening of one’s eyes?

Eyeschord

A beautiful, well-timed decrescendo takes us to “the center of night”.  The last measures, focused on “a river”, again pulsate with those tiny crescendos and decrescendos (“flowing forward” is flawless) and gets gradually quieter until the final word “soul”.  I want to hang onto that one word, that final chord, forever.

For those of you who have a hankering for a serious theory analysis of this piece, this Wikipedia page does a darn good job.  Thanks, Michael Scott, for the recommendation!

As you no doubt can tell, I am quite taken with this piece.  I’m perpetually in awe of the gift composers possess.  Whitacre achieves the remarkable in this stunning musical painting, paying great homage to a much-lauded and Nobel-winning poet, and giving us a timeless gift.

Catchy Khachaturian

Happy Friday, Revelers! We’re flashin’ back to a great post about Aram Khachaturian’s wild, whirling “Waltz” from his Masquerade Suite. For more classical revelry, follow us on Twitter @SibRev!

sibling revelry

These days, it is almost impossible to escape the vise-like grip of endless, pointless news about a certain person of Armenian descent whose last name begins with the letter K.  Just the thought of said person conjures bile in my throat and commands eye-rolling of the sort your mother warned you about.

Do you feel the same way, chèr reader?  Classical music has the balm your soul needs. Yes indeed, classical music has its very own Armenian (though Soviet-born, raised and devoted) whose last name begins with the letter K, and I daresay you will not lose precious brain cells by paying him mind.  I am pleased to make your acquaintance with Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) and his catchy, whirling “Waltz“, which is the first movement from Masquerade Suite.  Khachaturian composed the Suite as incidental music for the play Masquerade, written by 18th-century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov…

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Jan, a Czech

Every weekday morning I wake to the usually mellifluous, occasionally clangorous sounds of WETA 90.9. As this daily routine occurs on Rooster Time, WETA wisely crafts its playlist for the early morning hours – only very occasionally is there something like John Philip Sousa summoning you awake (and possibly inducing violence). Unfortunately, it’s never as nice as the royal awakening Eddie Murphy enjoys at the beginning of Coming to America, which every classical music lover and comfort enthusiast would enjoy. Oh, plus the bath. My god, the bath!

My favorite part of my decidedly less regal routine is when I lay in bed and listen, half-awake, for a while when there is something particularly interesting or new to me on WETA. While my dog re-cuddles under the bed, hoping against hope that it was all just a horrible, horrible mistake and that bipedal idiot isn’t really going to get up when the sun hasn’t even yet elected to do the same! (to her everlasting credit, she gets into our routine fairly quickly). One day this week, the annoyingly-not-on-Twitter David Ginder played a piece for us by Leoš Janáček entitled, “Moravian Dances” and explained that Janáček had made a great study of the folk music of his native lands (he was born 1854 in Moravia, then a crownland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now part of the Czech Republic) and used it in his compositions. He was a leading expert on this folklore and made the first recordings of Moravian folk music and published his adaptations and transcriptions. Since I am not an expert, I learned today that these are more closely related to Slavic music melodically and structurally; whereas Bohemian music gravitated towards its geographic German neighbors.

Word up, homies.

There was something about the melody in the first Dance that captivated me. Now, this isn’t exactly a stretch. Your correspondent is someone who has listened to hours of Jodeln and Alphörner on YouTube, worn out CDs of traditional Bavarian music, etc. So the affinity for European folk music was already extant (which, as you can imagine, makes me societal anti-catnip – hence I only mention it from the safety of a blog). I mean, my favorite scene in The Sound of Music is when they dance the Ländler! By the way, if you’re looking for otherworldly yodeling (and I have a sneaking suspicion that, clandestinely, you are), look no further than Franzl Lang, the Bavarian Jodler-König (King of the Yodelers). And you thought Brian Wilson’s falsetto was impressive!

You want and need that hat in your life. Just look in the mirror and admit it already. I know I did.

Swerving from the rumble strips back onto the highway, there was something so simple, yet so culturally expressive in the first Moravian melody that Janáček brought to us. I kept humming it throughout my ablutions, listened to it in the car on the way to work, and although the Jodler-König’s highwire act has now replaced it in my head, I listened to it a few times at work as well. I learned from some digging that it is called “Fur coat” (Kožich). Janáček took it down in 1886 from someone named Jan Myška, in Petřvald (eastern Czech Republic, close to the Polish border, as I now know). I like how the tempo slows and the volume diminishes when the melody is played, and how eventually, there is a harp playing triplets underneath it. Sublime stuff. Here are the 5 dances, played (ironically) by the Slovak Philharmonic:

Two related points. One, Janáček is not exactly who springs to mind when thinking of classical composers, awash as we are in the three B’s and Mozart and the other giants of the genre. Sometimes that hierarchy is correct – I’m sure the Beatles were outranked at times on the charts by long-forgotten bands – and sometimes it isn’t. Discovering these “other” composers is a true delight. Without inflated reputation (“I’m supposed to like this, right?”) one feels free to simply explore and enjoy. There are vast worlds outside Vienna and Italy! Janáček’s Wikipedia entry notes that “Through his systematic notation of folk songs as he heard them, Janáček developed an exceptional sensitivity to the melodies and rhythms of speech, from which he compiled a collection of distinctive segments he called ‘speech tunes’. He used these ‘essences’ of spoken language in his vocal and instrumental works. The roots of his style, marked by the lilts of human speech, emerge from the world of folk music.” I mean, I just HAVE to know more about that.

On the other hand, since I don’t value every piece of music that Bach wrote the same, it also throws the truly great works in harsher relief – mere mortals can write beautiful music, like Janáček, but the Chaconne is not of this world.

Second, obviously at one point in time, the music of Europe’s hoi polloi was not exactly celebrated in classical music’s lofty capitals. It is to the great credit of Janáček and others (his compatriot Dvorak springs to mind, even Debussy weaving French children’s songs into some of his compositions) that they recognized the simple beauty in these dances and songs – that, in the final analysis, they were as deserving of a place in the musical firmament as anything else. Spruced up symphonically, of course, for their big début. You comb your hair before you go out, don’t you? Well, you should start.

And, if you follow the chronology closely enough (or, rather, not closely, since now I’m bloviating), that eventually gave us the great gift of the Jodler-König. For which every single person on Earth thanks you, Leoš.

Strike up a tune, Moravian minstrels!

Shut Your Brassy, Magnificent Trap!

Well, Sib1 has been carrying all the weight of our return to the tumultuous, colorful carnival that is classical music blogging – it’s like Burning Man, but doesn’t make you weep for humanity. So it’s high time for Sib2 to step up and do his bit. And what better way to self-importantly announce one’s arrival than with a majestic chorus of brass instruments?

Full disclosure: I am a recovering brass player. I take it one day at a time. My habit of choice was the trumpet, otherwise known as “the gateway instrument.” Oh, they lure you in with phrases like, “This is God’s instrument!” as if God weren’t so obviously playing autoharp. And I’m pretty sure that when trumpets blow in Revelation, stuff gets messed up. But to a young, impressionable kid just wandering the streets of music, the offer seems too good to pass up. And then somehow, years later, you find yourself identifying the first movement of Haydn’s trumpet concerto after hearing just one note. You can – and have – drummed the entire thing, all 3 movements, with your fingertips while reading the newspaper. You know which recording it is by certain key passages even before the cadenza. You move on with your life, but the trumpet is always with you.

Eventually you learn to accept and embrace it. You know in your soul that the highest enjoyment you ever had playing music was Brass Choir, freshman year of college. That was when you first heard and played Bach’s incomparable Die Kunst der Fuge – Contrapunctus I. It moved you then and moves you now when you hear that singular melody shared and echoed among a small group of brass players. You feel uplifted and transformed! The best kind of high, really: an authentic one. I love Glenn Gould, of course, but I cannot truly compare the two:

 

Last night I turned on the radio (yes, it was still 2015) in the kitchen as I did some household chores, already tuned to the local WETA station, when immediately my ears perked up (possibly literally). In my opinion, Giovanni Gabrieli gave brass music the gift of his genius, a significant corpus that has rung (brassily) down the centuries. A Gabrieli “canzon” (it’s like a calzone, but less caloric) greeted me on WETA last night. Here is a video of brass players from the Bayerische Staatsoper playing it, conducted by Zubin Mehta:

 

Clearly I owe Gabrieli more than a mere ‘like’: his work actually pioneered this form and setup of instrumentation and playing. Brass music introduced me to polyphony and antiphony, two forms I’ve  dearly loved ever since. Gabrieli was instrumental (wink) in their development. He was the first composer to include dynamics notations (necessary when you’re blowing God’s wind through God’s chosen mazes of brass pipes, emptying the Lord’s spittle ever and anon). The above calzone, a revolution in Italian fast-casual brass dining, comes from a Sacra Symphonia that remains a landmark of this music.

We bid you a brassy adieu with this video from the Chicago Symphony Brass, which talks a bit about Gabrieli (Gabriel, blow your horn) before giving us a few clips of them playing his music:

 

Our undying thanks, as ever, to Jack McFarland, whose wit contributed our title:

 

Bach’s Melodious Underpinnings

Once upon a time, there lived a German violinist named August Wilhelm.  In 1871, presumably having some extra time on his dexterous digits, he decided to write a piano and violin arrangement of the second movement of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D.  By changing the key to C and transposing the melody down an octave, he was able to play using only one string of his violin.  Snicker, snicker…the G string.  And with that, Herr Wilhelm unleashed into the centuries a much-beloved Air punctuated with unavoidable jokes.  (I, for one, first heard such jokes in my college Music History II class.  We were super sophisticated.)

Bach composed his Orchestral Suite No. 3 around 1731.  In that time, orchestral suites were “easy listening” for parties and other occasions of entertainment.  This was not Bach’s preferred style of composing (remember, this is the man who gave us the Brandenburg Concertos and the St. Matthew Passion); however, he wrote four orchestral suites as acts of good faith to the Leipzig City Council.  Bach had a bit of a temper, and his relationship with the city council was often contentious. By contributing new music, his petitions for better wages and better teaching and conducting opportunities fell on open ears- a savvy move on Johann’s part.  Ah, were that the political climate of today!  Three of Bach’s four “acts of good faith” were written specifically for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a group of music students and aficionados who, under Bach’s direction, gathered together at Zimmermann’s Coffee House to crack wise and make music.  Bach devoted his time to this extracurricular activity from 1729 to 1741.

Interestingly, “orchestral” seems to be a misnomer, as the Suites are composed for small instrumental groupings.  The Third Suite is scored for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, and strings- with the exception of the Air, of course.

What I love about the Air is its dignity.  It’s slow but not stodgy, tender but not cloying.  In this beautiful recording on period instruments, the cello and violone provide this wonderful, velvety foundation and the violins and viola are refined and elegant.  Note the lovely additions of baroque organ and “archlute”.

Another of my favorite recordings is the fantastic duo of Bobby McFerrin (read more about his views on Bach’s “danceability” here) and Yo-Yo Ma.  They lend a unique and utterly gorgeous artistry to a melody that is often overlooked due to its familiarity.

Bach’s Air on the G string:  not just for wedding processionals and “Sounds of the Ocean” recordings!  We here at Sibling Revelry hope you’ll listen and enjoy.

Mad Men

Throwin’ it back today to the time when we revealed to the world that Richard Wagner liked to wear pink silk underwear. Read on to learn more about our favorite Mad Men! #tbt @SibRev

sibling revelry

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

Wait a minute…that sentence sounds awfully familiar. But I digress.

He said “Never judge a book by its cover”.  Ah, that most familiar of platitudes, that wolfish yet wise advice in fleecy sheep’s clothing.

Today I’m going to toy with that advice a bit and reveal why we Revelers shouldn’t judge composers by their lacy cravats, their square-toed, brass-buckled kicks, their prim tailored tweedy suits, their fits of tubercular coughing (okay, maybe not that).

Why? Because they were mad men all.  Here are some fascinating bits to absorb about composers you love.

Beethoven liked each cup of coffee he drank to be made with exactly 60 coffee beans. Today we affectionately call that “obsessive-compulsive disorder”.  Eins, zwei, drei, vier…

Éric Satie wrote three short piano pieces…

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Read On! A Classical (Book) Guide For Kids

At my house, amidst the buzzing-hive joy and chaos of everyday life, you will find two constants: music being played and books being read.  Every now and then, the twain meet, and we’re always happy to find a great children’s book about classical music.  I love them because they meet kids on their level, making classical music fun, interesting, and most importantly, approachable.  Here are three of our favorites.  We hope they’ll find their way into your home!

zinzinzinZin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! (Lloyd Moss, ages 4-8) For many years I listened to the rich baritone of Lloyd Moss, the much-beloved program host on WQXR. Little did I know that one day I would be reading his wonderful book to my children. Written in witty rhyme, the story highlights each member of an orchestra as they enter the stage for a concert.  Children will learn to identify each instrument, and may even remember the musical terms for each successive grouping (solo, duo, trio, quartet etc.). The Caldecott Honor-receiving illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are colorful and energetic- if you look closely, each player resembles their instrument! Two cats, a dog, and a mouse add to the fun with their onstage antics.

berliozBerlioz The Bear (Jan Brett, ages 4-8) Could there be a better name for a bear musician?  We were already big fans of this wonderful author and illustrator and were thrilled to discover her charming story about Berlioz, a nattily dressed, double-bass playing bear who is beleaguered by a strange buzzing sound in his instrument just before his orchestra is to play a big concert.  In Berlioz’s ursine group are a French horn player, a violinist, a clarinetist, bass drum player and trombonist.  After a hole in the road sidelines the bears’ “bandwagon” and threatens to make them late to their performance, many friends try to help…but the buzzing ends up saving the day!   I asked my five-year-old daughter what she likes the best about Berlioz The Bear, and she replied that seeing all the animals go into the town square to get ready for the concert is her favorite (Brett’s page-border illustrations add a particularly wonderful element to the story). She also likes that the orchestra plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” for their encore, noting that “it’s fast and sounds like a bumblebee”. It’s also a fitting homage to the hero of the story.

39aptsThe 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven (Jonah Winter, ages 4-9) Not only did Beethoven own five pianos, he owned five legless pianos.  Apparently the composer enjoyed composing on the floor!  Music history tells us that Beethoven lived in 39 apartments over the course of his life, but this funny, quirky story surmises exactly why he moved so many times (A stinky cheese smell? Fraülein Hausfrau couldn’t take the noise?). I crack up every time I see the illustration of baby Ludwig emitting some suspiciously famous-sounding cries: Wah wah wah waaah!  Barry Blitt’s illustrations are wonderful, and since Beethoven was such a genius it makes sense that he is depicted with an oversized cranium.

musiciansWhen we’ve worn these three ragged, I’m looking forward to diving into Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt (another artist fond of enlarging composers’ heads!). Short chapters and engaging pictures are sure to provide another wonderful window into the lives of composers.  Bonus: I learn a lot, too!

Happy Wednesday, dear Revelers!