The Devil's Violin

"Tartini's Dream" by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). Illustration of the legend behind Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill Sonata".

The story behind "Devil's Trill" starts with a dream. Tartini allegedly told the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande that he dreamed that The Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant. At the end of their lessons Tartini handed the devil his violin to test his skill—the devil immediately began to play with such virtuosity that Tartini felt his breath taken away. The complete story is told by Tartini himself in Lalande's Voyage d'un François en Italie (1765 - 66):

"One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and - I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the "Devil's Trill", but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me."


Keep Your Brain Young with Music

Music can be medicine for your mind, with benefits from memory improvement to stress relief.

If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music.

“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says one Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”

Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.

Learn an Instrument

When 13 older adults took piano lessons, their attention, memory and problem-solving abilities improved, along with their moods and quality of life. You don’t have to become a pro, just take a few lessons.


The Brain-Music Connection

Experts are trying to understand how our brains can hear and play music. A stereo system puts out vibrations that travel through the air and somehow get inside the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brain stem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music.

Johns Hopkins researchers have had dozens of jazz performers and rappers improvise music while lying down inside an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to watch and see which areas of their brains light up.

“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist.

Everyday Brain Boosts from Music

The power of music isn’t limited to interesting research. Try these methods of bringing more music—and brain benefits—into your life.

Jump-start your creativity.

Listen to what your kids or grandkids listen to, experts suggest. Often we continue to listen to the same songs and genre of music that we did during our teens and 20s, and we generally avoid hearing anything that’s not from that era.

New music challenges the brain in a way that old music doesn’t. It might not feel pleasurable at first, but that unfamiliarity forces the brain to struggle to understand the new sound.

Recall a memory from long ago.

Reach for familiar music, especially if it stems from the same time period that you are trying to recall. Listening to the Beatles might bring you back to the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse, for instance.

Listen to your body.

Pay attention to how you react to different forms of music, and pick the kind that works for you. What helps one person concentrate might be distracting to someone else, and what helps one person unwind might make another person jumpy.








Ten Reasons to Read Dr. Fuddle: A Review



Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton was sent to me to review a while ago, and my eight year old stole it, read it and hid it on me. Thankfully it has resurfaced and I can do my long-since overdue review.

10. Piano practice is more fun if you pretend that you have to turn evil monsters into harmless pets by resolving the scales.
9. You’ve memorized The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and you want another story about children being called into a magical land to save it.
8. The book explains what a glass harmonica is, something I’ve been curious about since listening to a particular version of the Carnival of the Animals which acknowledged a section that was meant to be played on a glass harmonica being played on a gluckenspiele instead.
7. You need some new creative names for foods, like Bellini Bread or Rossini Rolls.
6. Reading Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton can be a balance reminding us of the importance of music, when we otherwise read way too many novels about math and science.
5. The abundant references to musical concepts, to composers and songs can help normalize the importance of musical knowledge. It encourages a child to say “I’ve heard of that!” It raises the bar for what is seen as normal everyday knowledge.
4 . The book contains a glossary of music terms a child can refer back to.
3. The book provides positive role models. The children within it are struggling with different challenges – wanting to figure out who they are, and what they want in life. They deal with both guilt and forgiveness.
2.  The book reinforces the idea of practice, that it takes time and energy to improve one’s skills at an instrument, but at the same time that music is not just about developing technical skill and bored routine.
1.Most importantly: the book is fun. It is well written, reasonably fast paced and has a bit of a surprise at the ending.

The book mentions many different songs, most of which one could find samples of on YouTube. If you read the book outloud with your kids, you can have a musical soundrtrack to go with it.

October 5, 3013 by ChristyK of the blog Christy’s House full of Chaos:


Happy Birthday Pablo Casals

Pau Casals i Defilló was born 29 December 1876, usually known in English as Pablo Casals, was a cellist, composer, and conductor from Catalonia, Spain. He is generally regarded as the pre-eminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest cellists of all time. He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but he is perhaps best remembered for the recordings of the Bach Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy (though the ceremony was presided over by Lyndon B. Johnson).





The man who would become the world's greatest cellist never heard one until age 11. By then he was an accomplished singer, pianist, violinist and (once his feet could reach the pedals) organist.

Three years earlier, when he had been enthralled by a street performer on a makeshift upright bass consisting of a bent broom handle with a single string, his father made him a crude replica from a gourd. (As a reminder of his humble origins, Casals kept it displayed in his home all his life). When Casals finally heard a cello in a trio visiting his remote Catalan village, its sound stirred him as human and profound.

Until then, the cello was deemed unsuitable for sensitive displays of emotion and was typically relegated to a role of accompaniment (as when chugging along with Baroque music). "Proper" technique of the time stemmed from strict training in which a student was made to hold a book under his bowing arm to restrict movement and to produce an unvarying tone. From his earliest lessons, Casals rebelled and resolved to liberate the cello from its chaste subordinate chore. Casals revolutionized bowing technique by using only portions rather than the entire expanse of the bow, lifting it from the strings and shading the tonal quality to emphasize the musical essence. He also pioneered percussive fingering (stopping the strings decisively rather than sliding the whole hand between notes),One of Casals' first Columbia 78s expressive intonation (varying the tuning according to harmonic demands), rhythmic vigor, varied attacks and decisive accentuation. His innovations bred interpretations having a compelling inner logic and an instinctive feeling for structure and meaning. Casals created a sense of style.

Throughout his career, Casals never forgot his roots and remained immersed in his deep abiding love of mankind. Rather than cater to the elite, Casals believed that the people who had produced a country's wealth should share its cultural riches. With his Barcelona orchestra, he launched wildly popular concert series to which only low-paid workers were eligible to subscribe (for six pesetas – about $1 – for an entire season) and insisted that their acclaim "meant more to me than any applause I had ever received."

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How World War I made Beethoven’s Ninth a Japanese New Year’s tradition

German soldiers, taken to Japan as POWs during WWI, played Beethoven’s Ninth to pass the time — decades later, it’s become a beloved Japanese New Year tradition.




 Since 1999, the Seattle Symphony has made a tradition of playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on New Year’s Eve. But a fondness for ringing in the new year with the Ninth began decades before that in an unexpected corner of the world: Japan.

Seattle Symphony principal trombonist Ko-ichiro Yamamoto recalls playing the Ninth nearly a dozen times in late 2003 while freelancing with Tokyo’s famed NHK Symphony, as well as another major Japanese orchestra.

A second-generation professional trombone player, Yamamoto said his father, Tatsuo, recalled performing the Ninth with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra on more than one occasion. “I’m sure that right now,” Yamamoto said, “some orchestra is playing Beethoven’s Ninth in Tokyo.”

In Japan, the German composer’s last symphony is nicknamed “Daiku” or “Big Nine.” According to The Japan Times, in December of 2009 there were 55 performances of the Ninth in Tokyo; on some occasions, the chorus has ranged from 6,000 to 10,000 voices for the famed “Ode to Joy” in the final movement. “Daiku” is the last scheduled performance for three of Tokyo’s most prestigious orchestras this year.

Japan wasn’t introduced to Western classical music until the late 19th century but didn’t waste time catching up — Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, has more professional symphonies than Berlin. But how did Beethoven’s Ninth become a national favorite?

In 1914, a colony of German soldiers living in Tsingtao, a city on the eastern shore of China, was captured by Japanese soldiers. World War I had erupted and Japan sided with Great Britain and the rest of the Allies. At the time, Tsingtao was a major German military base and Japan demanded its surrender. When Germany refused, Japan invaded and detained almost 4,000 soldiers as prisoners of war.

About 1,000 of those German soldiers were sent to Bando, a POW camp in Naruto, located in Japan’s Tokushima Prefecture. The soldiers occupied their time in a variety of ways, from printing a camp newspaper to supervised jaunts to local sights, as well as forming an orchestra.

The Ninth was a favorite among the POWs and the so-called “Bando orchestra” performed the piece inside the camp on a makeshift stage. After the war ended, the former POWs performed the Ninth outside Bando’s walls for an audience in Naruto; in 1927, the piece was performed in its entirety by the Shin Kokyo Gakudan (or New Symphony Orchestra), now known as the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

The Ninth continued to grow in popularity. On Dec. 31, 1940, a Polish conductor led a Japanese ensemble in a live radio performance of the Ninth to commemorate the creation of Japan. By the 1960s, the Ninth sold out concert halls across Japan as more musicians and choristers tried to tackle the difficult notes and German lyrics.

Using verse from a popular German poem titled “Ode to Joy,” Beethoven completed the Ninth in 1824. At its premiere in Vienna that same year, the composer’s health was worsening by the day — most scholars agree he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver — and he was almost completely deaf. A performer onstage had to turn Beethoven around to see the standing ovation from the crowd.

Simon Woods, president of the Seattle Symphony, said the composition is especially fitting for the end of the year with its broody, dark first movement and its exuberant finale.

“I think the journey that the piece is on, from the first movement to the last movement, is a symbolic journey,” Woods said. “I think that’s why it often plays a transitional role. It carries you through.”

Lynnsay Maynard: @lynnsaymaynard

Tales of Classical Christmas

The great composers of classical music celebrated Christmas just like us: they visited family, they reconnected with friends, they gave presents. While their Christmas stories might involve fewer gift receipts than ours, you might recognize some of your holiday experiences in these stories. Read on for tales of lavish meals, awkward moments and creative ways of getting over the holiday blues.

Bonn, 1790: Haydn Meets Beethoven for the First Time


Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven.

(Joseph Willibrord Mähler / Wikimedia Commons)

When Ludwig van Beethoven was 20 years old, Santa Claus brought him the chance to meet one of his musical idols. Franz Joseph Haydn was passing through Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn, on his way to London. On the day after Christmas, Bonn’s Elector, Max Franz, invited Haydn to a party in his honor with local musicians. While no records indicate the dinner party’s precise guest list — there was no Evite back then — Beethoven, considered Bonn’s best pianist and emerging composer, was almost definitely there. 

Whatever impression the young Ludwig might have made on the exalted master that Christmas, a year and a half passed before Haydn, stopping again in Bonn, concluded that Beethoven’s unprecedented talent demanded the cultivation of none other than Haydn himself. In November of 1792, Beethoven, his luggage full of scores and sketches, arrived in Vienna as Haydn’s newest pupil, beginning the most significant chapter yet of his instruction.



Mannheim, 1798: Aloysia Weber Swipes Left on Mozart


Aloysia Weber as Zémire in André Grétry's opera “Zémire et Azor,” circa 1784.



The theater singer Aloysia Weber was 17 when she started taking lessons with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Mannheim, Germany. The 21-year-old composer was soon smitten and wrote her an aria to showcase her talents. But his father Leopold didn’t want this growing infatuation to slow his son’s career and insisted that he leave for the bright lights of Paris.

Mozart returned on Christmas Day the following year for a brief stay at the Weber family home. But the thrill, as they say, was gone.  To Mozart’s dismay, Aloysia pretended not to recognize him! Not one to pout or cry on Christmas, the undeterred composer set his sights on Aloysia’s younger sister, Constanze, and the two eventually married.



Tribschen, 1870: Richard Wagner Nails the Whole Secret Santa Thing

Richard Wagner would never win Husband of the Year, but every once in a while he could bring his “A” game. After his wife Cosima gave birth to the couple’s son Siegfried in 1869, Wagner started working on a new composition. He kept it secret and made elaborate plans to surprise her on her birthday, December 25. That Christmas morning, Cosima Wagner awoke to the sound of a small ensemble on her staircase, playing her husband’s new piece called “Siegfried Idyll.”





Helsinki, 1911: Sibelius Beats the Christmas Blues With Song 

Though Jean Sibelius was not religious, he made an exception once per year for Christmas observances. But the composer wasn’t exactly a sweater-wearing and gingerbread-baking Christmas superfan. In fact, the holiday seemed to put him a remarkable funk: “Immediately after Christmas is over, things improve and life is fun once more,” he told his secretary. Nevertheless, Christmas brought the Sibelius family together: the children would sing songs their father had composed just for the occasion. His carols, which remain an important part of the Finnish holiday tradition, offer no hints of the composer’s dark mood.






Johannes Brahms drinking it up with family in Fellinger, 1896. (UNESCO)
If you wanted to find a composer who looked like Santa Claus, then look no further than Johannes Brahms. Not only did he have the beard, but he also had a joyful and generous spirit every Christmas. Christmas Eve for Brahms found him dining with friends, including an occasional celebration with Clara Schumann alone. Christmas Day, however, brought with it an ironclad tradition. It began with a lunchtime appointment at a tavern called The Red Hedgehog, followed by naptime at a nearby coffeeshop (why is that not still a thing?), and then packing for the annual festival held in his honor by the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen. Brahms kept this Christmas schedule — and Santa beard — until his death.

Leipzig, 1723: The New Guy Makes a Big Impression




There are some people who can vacation and unplug during the Christmas holiday and then there was Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1723, Bach arrived in Leipzig as the new choirmaster of the city’s St. Thomas Church. Determined to make a great first impression during the busiest time of the church year, Bach worked avidly to unveil his first major liturgical composition, his Magnificat, as well as four bonus hymns for that Christmas. Bach hadn’t been the first choice for the Leipzig job (Georg Philipp Telemann was the church’s first pick) but he more than beat expectations and remained happily in Leipzig until the end of his life.

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