Musical Moments with Anthony Tommasini:Two Operas, Giacomo Puccini's Turandot and Richard Wagner's Siegfried

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, performs some of his favorite classical music moments on piano and explains why.

Turandot –The opera's story is set in China and involves Prince Calàf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death.

The Prince tries to convince Turandot to love him. At first she is disgusted, but after he kisses her, she feels herself turning towards passion. She admits that, ever since he came, she had both hated and loved him. She asks him to ask for nothing more and to leave, taking his mystery with him. The Prince however, reveals his name, "Calàf, son of Timur" and places his life in Turandot's hands. She can now destroy him if she wants. Turandot and Calàf approach the Emperor's throne. She declares that she knows the Prince's name: Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore! – "It is ... love!" The crowd cheers and acclaims the two lovers (O sole! Vita! Eternità).

Siegfried, is the third of the four operas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology.

Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock. At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man. However, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath. At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear. In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep. Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods. Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."

Leonardo da Vinci the musician.

Viola organista (Codex Atlanticus, 1488–1489)

Watch Leonardo da Vinci’s Musical Invention, the Viola Organista, Being Played for the Very First Time

First performance of the viola organista made by Sławomir Zubrzycki. INTERNATIONAL ROYAL CRACOW PIANO FESTIVAL 18TH OCTOBER 2013, Aula Florianka.

As the archetypal example of the polymathic, intellectually omnivorous “Renaissance man,” he not only attained mastery of a wide range of disciplines, but did his most impressive work in the spaces between them. Given the voluminousness of his output (not to mention the technical limitations of fifteenth-century Europe), many of his multiple domain-spanning ideas and inventions never became a reality during his lifetime. However, just this year, 494 years after Leonardo’s death, we now have the chance to see, and more importantly hear, one of them: the viola organista, an elaborate musical instrument that had previously only existed in his notebooks.

We owe this thrill not just to Leonardo himself, who left behind detailed plans for the (to him, purely theoretical) construction of such devices as this behind, but to a reported 5000 hours of physical effort by Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki, who actually put the thing together.

You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald, whose article (on “Leonardo Da Vinci’s wacky piano“) quotes Zubrzycki: “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” and playing it, which involves hitting keys connected to “spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair,” and turning those wheels by pumping a pedal below the keyboard, produces exciting unusual waves of cello-like sounds.

The Composer and his Muse: Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Countess Josephine von Brunsvik

Probably the most important woman in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, as documented by at least 15 love letters he wrote her where he called her his “only beloved”, being “eternally devoted” to her and “forever faithful” was  Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Given that there is no other similar evidence that he might have been in love with any other woman, she is generally considered to be the most likely recipient of the mysterious “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”

Josephine came from an aristocratic family of amateur musicians who lived in a magnificent castle near Budapest. She and her sister Therese were brought to Vienna in 1799 for private piano lessons with Beethoven. His feelings for her are documented in at least 15 love letters penned over a long period. Although she appears to have been attracted to the great composer and moved by his devotion, the surviving correspondence indicates that things never progressed beyond close friendship – family pressure and her suitor’s lack of title and social graces may have had something to do with it.

Josephine married twice: first to the much older Joseph Count Deym, with whom she had four children. When he died in 1804 Beethoven resumed his advances, seeing the young widow far more frequently than decorum permitted. At this most intense period in their relationship, the composer was writing the jubilant finale of his opera Leonore (later revised as Fidelio), a work exalting a virtuous wife and the power of married love. The most tempestuous sonata of his middle period, the Appassionata, was written during this time and dedicated to Josephine’s brother Count Franz von Brunsvik.

By 1810 Josephine had re-married, and her union with Baron von Stackelberg proved an unhappy one.

Beethoven composed the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope) and the piano piece Andante favori as musical declarations of love. He seems to have carried the torch for a long time: it is widely thought that Josephine is the subject of his famous, tormented letter to The Immortal Beloved, written in 1812: “…you know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never – never…”

Peter Schreier, tenor. Walter Olbertz, piano. Adele Stolte, soprano.

Powerful connection between music, memory helps dementia patients

There's a powerful connection between music and memory. So much so, there's a program named just that -- It's tough to have a conversation with Socorro Kennedy, better knows as Miss Cora. She's 90 with dementia and often sits quietly all day.

That is, until the music in a pair of ear phones is turned on.

"She comes alive when you put that music on, from her toes to the top of her head," Naomi Mathes said.

The oldies playing are specifically researched and chosen for her, based on family interviews. Then they're tested and a full playlist is set.

"When you can no longer reach them with words, you can reach them with music," Mathes said.

Mathes is part of the Juliette Fowler Communities. She says music primes your brain to get active again.

"Music is one of the last things to leave that is connected with emotions and memories and is stored in multiple parts of the brain," she said.

Listening to music stimulates Cora's brain so much, she now responds to conversations. She even speaks full, recognizable words.

Although Cora wants more, Mathes said they have to limit her time with music or she will wear herself out.

Mathes says the ear phones are key. Blaring the music on a speaker comes with too many distractions and doesn't have the same affect.

With headphones, Cora gets lost in the moment -- proving that there's much joy left to share -- thanks to every beat, tap and clap.

Reposted from

Clara Schumann

 Composing gives me great pleasure... there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.
— Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. She exerted her influence over a 61-year concert career, changing the format and repertoire of the piano recital and the tastes of the listening public. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms. She was the first to perform publicly any work by Brahms.

Clara Schumann had a brilliant career as a pianist from the age of 13 up to her marriage. Her marriage to Schumann was opposed by her father. She continued to perform and compose after the marriage even as she raised seven children.

In the various tours on which she accompanied her husband, she extended her own reputation further than the outskirts of Germany, and it was thanks to her efforts that his compositions became generally known in Europe. Johannes Brahms, at age 20, met the couple in 1853 and his friendship with Clara Schumann lasted until her death. J. Brahms helped Clara Schumann through the illness of her husband with a caring that bordered on love. Later that year, she also met violinist Joseph Joachim who became one of her frequent performance partners. Clara Schumann is credited with refining the tastes of audiences through her presentation of works by earlier composers including those of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven as well as those of Robert Schumann and J. Brahms.

Although for many years after her death Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer, as a pianist she made an impression which lasts until today. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making that the standard for concertizing. Trained by her father to play by ear and to memorize, she gave public performances from memory as early as age thirteen, a fact noted as something exceptional by her reviewers.

She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist's technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. And, as it was also customary to play one's own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). However, as she became a more independent artist, her repertoire contained mainly music by leading composers.

Clara Schumann, "one of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day", according to Edvard Grieg

Clara Schumann's influence also spread through her teaching, which emphasized a singing tone and expression, with technique entirely subordinated to the intentions of the composer. One of her students, Mathilde Verne, carried her teaching to England where she taught, among others, Solomon; while another of her students, Carl Friedberg, carried the tradition to the Juilliard School in America, where his students included Malcolm Frager and Bruce Hungerford.

Clara was also instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognized, appreciated and added to the repertoire. She promoted him tirelessly, beginning when his music was unknown or disliked, when the only other important figure in music to play Schumann occasionally was Liszt, and continuing until the end of her long career.

A Violin Concerto Back From Beyond The Grave

Schumann Violin Concerto, a work buried for nearly a century and recovered — or so the story goes — by a message from the beyond.

In the summer of 1853, the young violinist Joseph Joachim asked a friend, pianist, composer and conductor Robert Schumann, to write a violin concerto for him. Schumann, though suffering from depression, went into a frenzy of activity, completing the Violin Concerto in D Minor (fully scored for all the different musical parts) within 13 days in late September and early October. Within months, however, the composer attempted suicide and was confined to an asylum until his death two years later at the age of 46.

Neither Joachim nor Schumann's wife, Clara, nor their young friend Johannes Brahms, thought the piece was good enough. In fact, Clara didn't like much of what Schumann wrote in those last years, according to Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. She was a famous pianist and musical personality and, Eschenbach maintains, she used her influence with the younger Joachim and Brahms to bury the Violin Concerto.

"Brahms was easy to convince that she was right, and there is also the story of the love affair between Clara and Brahms," says Eschenbach, who notes speculation that the alleged love affair might have caused Schumann's suicide attempt.

The concerto was not performed or published, and it would end up in the Prussian State Library in Berlin, with the proviso that it not be performed for 100 years after the composer's death. But a grandniece of the violinist for whom the concerto was written had an interest in the occult — as did the Schumanns. Her name was Jelly d'Arányi and she too was a violinist. At a seance, she is said to have received word from the beyond urging her to find and perform an unpublished work for the violin. Who, she asked, is the composer of this work? The dial on the Ouija board is said to have pointed to the letters spelling out the name: Robert Schumann.

Maestro Eschenbach treats all of this with a grain of salt, but the fact is d'Arányi somehow tracked down the concerto in the Prussian State Library. "Because she wanted to play it," Eschenbach says, "but Berlin said no, no, no, no, no."

The year was 1933, and Hitler's Germany wanted a German to play the debut performance. The honor went to Georg Kulenkampff, who played the premiere four years later. "He was unfortunately not so good a violinist," Eschenbach says, "but a terribly good Nazi."

Famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin loved the piece, calling it the "bridge" between Beethoven and Brahms, and he played the American debut shortly thereafter. D'Arányi played the British debut. But only recently has the concerto been played more and more. Eschenbach's eyes sparkle when he talks about the piece, calling it "visionary" and "courageous for its time."

Of the beautiful and heart-wrenching second movement, Eschenbach says, "When you listen to this very simple theme, it is so from deep down and so heartbreaking." Schumann would write variations on this theme, which, like the Violin Concerto, were suppressed until the 1930s. They are now known as the Ghost Variations.

Reposted from NPR

Musical Moments with Anthony Tommasini: Mahler

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, performs some of his favorite classical music moments on piano.

Tommasini discusses one of the songs from Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer', "Ging heut Morgen übers Feld" ("I Went This Morning over the Field"), contains the happiest music of the work. Indeed, it is a song of joy and wonder at the beauty of nature in simple actions like birdsong and dew on the grass. "Is it not a lovely world?" is a refrain.

However, the Wayfarer is reminded at the end that despite this beauty, his happiness will not blossom anymore now that his love is gone. This movement is orchestrated delicately, making use of high strings and flutes, as well as a fair amount of triangle. The melody of this movement, as well as much of the orchestration, is developed into the 'A' theme of the first movement of the First Symphony.

Three Quick Lessons From The Violin Wunderkind Who Became A Master

Joshua Bell was once a boy wonder of the violin. Now, at 46, he leads nine young musicians in Masterclass. HBO's 30-minute documentary series pairs young artists with world-renowned mentors such as Placido Domingo, Frank Gehry and Patti LuPone, and gives both the teacher and the students opportunities to learn from each other. During an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, Bell offers three solid pieces of advice to musicians new and old:

    "It's important to understand] your role in playing chamber music."

    "The key is to figure out what you're contributing. If it's rhythm, then you don't want to drown everyone out. You want people to understand the rhythmic basis."

    "To play with great energy and great character within [the soft dynamic] piano is something that one needs to learn how to do."

Fascinating Author Interviews Dr. Warren L. Woodruff

Dr. Warren L. Woodruff holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Piano Performance and a Ph.D. in Musicology with a concentration in Piano Performance. He has a twenty-five year distinguished teaching career and is currently head of the Woodruff School of the Arts in historic Roswell, Georgia. His interests include attending great musical performances across the country, reading books of philosophy, history and science as well as fiction. His favorite pastimes, besides music and writing, are fitness and weight-training. To learn more, please visit

About the Book:

When the dark musician Jedermann and his fierce Seirens of Dis gain control of the legendary Gold Baton, Tyler, his sister Christina and their friends are drawn into a perilous adventure foretold by an ancient prophecy.

Guided by the mythical Dr. Fuddle, the explorers must leave earth and journey to Orphea. Will the Messengers of Music be able to save the world of the immortal composers from chaos and destruction? For them to have even a chance at victory, they must master the most difficult instruments of all–themselves.

Author Interview:

Q. What excites you most about your book’s topic? Why did you choose it?

A. What excites me the most about my book is the mysterious, fantasy land of Orphea and what the Messengers of Music learn there. I chose this setting to likewise inspire our young readers to achieve excellence in all they do and find their passion in life.

Q. How long did the book take you from start to finish?

A. Two years, nine drafts total.

Q. What aspect of writing the book did you find particularly challenging?
A. Learning the technical skills of writing, when my professional background is music.

Q. Did you do any research for your books, or did you write from experience?

A. Both. Since I have a Ph.D. in Musicology, I have more information than anyone could ever dream of wanting off the top of my head, but there were some details I wanted to make sure were historically correct.

Q. What surprised you most about this process?

A. How difficult it is to get a book to tell a story and make it read like a “real” book.

Q. Did you have any notable experiences from writing your book?

A. Yes. There were times when I was working with my writing coach Mardeene Mitchell that I felt like I was no longer on earth, but that we were working on a spiritual plane.

Q. What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?

A. Primarily, I want them entertained and feel as though they’ve actually been in Orphea with Dr. Fuddle and the Messengers of Music and that they’ve fought in the battle against Jedermann to reclaim the Gold Baton. Secondarily, I want to pique their interest in classical music.

Q. What other projects are you working on?
A. The screenplay of Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton and a sequel to the first book. I’m also working on re-writing my six scene play Beethoven in Final Draft.

Q. Is writing your sole career? If not, what else do you do?

A. No. Writing is like a second career. I’ve been teaching the art of classical piano for over twenty-five years and with the autoimmune disease threatening my musical career, I’m transitioning to becoming a professional writer, but will always teach as long as my hearing allows.

Q. When can we look forward to your next book?

A. Within one to two years, then one a year after that. I plan to make Dr. Fuddle a series of five to seven novels. I’m also envisioning a children’s picture book series entitled The Adventures of Dr. Fuddle, which would be more educational musically rather than fantasy adventure, but still entertaining, something like The Magic School Bus series.

Classical musicians honor 'Batman' history with an incredible music video journey

The Piano Guys are probably having more fun than anyone else in the classical music business. The group — composed of a pianist, cellist, a videographer, and a music producer — has just released a music video that celebrates nearly 50 years of Batman. The video perfectly matches the group's new "Batman Evolution" composition, which travels through the classic ‘60s TV show, Tim Burton's 1989 take on the Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan's most recent trilogy.

The result is not just some impressive piano and cello work (the two instruments alone were used to make every sound in the composition), but a music video that displays some incredible attention to detail. Each of the three eras gets its own location, Batmobile, and visual style to go along with the shifts in music. (Pay close attention to the aspect ratio: even it is tailored to each era.) The Piano Guys have made a name for themselves doing these kinds of over-the-top classical music videos, and while this might be some of their best work, be sure to check out their Mission ImpossibleBourne Identity, and Star Wars music videos as well. And for more on the making of 

"Batman Evolution," take a look at the group's website.

Why Do All My Friends Like the Same Music?

Your weekend was radical. Your friends loved your “Bitchin’ Summer 2014″ playlist, and together you drove around for hours, singing along. Later on, at the barbecue, you were nominated DJ. As the party progressed, you got a little bolder and threw on some deep cuts. A cute friend of a friend of a friend complimented your taste, and the two of you started talking about music. Before long the conversation drifted to other topics, and you two talked for hours.

Music has chemistry, both in maintaining friendships and helping us forge new ones. But science is still pretty far behind in understanding music’s power to create social bonds. “To this day, it hasn’t struck people that there must have been tremendous evolutionary pressure for music,” said Petr Janata, a psychologist who studies music and the brain at UC Davis. But this doesn’t mean we are completely without answers. Since at least the late ’80s, researchers have been studying how music affects peoples’ social lives.

A number of studies have used surveys and controlled experiments to confirm what seems pretty obvious: People express their identity through music. In one study, from 2007, researchers had strangers meet in a chat room with the only instruction being to learn about one another. After analyzing the transcripts, the researchers found the most common topic, by far, was musical preferences. Another study from 2003 (paywall) used a series of experiments to establish how people link their taste in musical genres to their personality characteristics. “There’s a lot of correlation between the type of music you like and your personality,” said Janata.

Other studies have found people readily make assumptions about someone else’s identity based solely on their musical preferences. Several studies asked people to describe personality aspects of fans of various music genres. It turns out there’s a lot of agreement about the various stereotypes of music fans. One study showed that many people described top 40 fans as outgoing. In another, most subjects agreed that heavy metal fans have bad moods. Yet another showed people believe classical music listeners as more likely to enjoy a glass of wine than a doobie.

These generalities don’t necessarily hold up for all places and all points in time. In a 1989 study (paywall) asking women and men to rate potential dates, heavy metal dudes rated pretty favorably among the ladies (this was the heyday of Mötley Crüe and The Scorpions, after all). The guys went for women who were into classical (no doubt a sign of classiness and intelligence). Place probably matters too: It’s hard to imagine much common ground in the public perception of a mariachi fan in Mexico versus one in Connecticut.

People project their personalities through music, and make assumptions about other peoples’ personalities based on their playlists. But, how does this equate to friendship and romance? Is it reasonable to assume that music is a shorthand for compatibility?

In 2011, a group of researchers set out to see exactly whether music actually had the power to draw people with the same values together. The researchers used pairs of college kids who had been randomly assigned as dorm room mates for around 1-2 months. They had each kid describe their musical tastes and fill out a survey to determine their values. Also, each subject was asked how much they liked their room mate, and to rate how similar their own values were with what they perceived were their room mate’s values. After controlling for factors like difference in age and study subject, the researchers found with compatible tastes in rock, hip hop, and other western musical genres tended to share similar values, and be more socially drawn to one another. (The study also included genres like K-pop, Chinese Opera, and movie soundtracks, none of which showed strong correlations with values or likability.)

Studies like these show strong indications that people use compatible musical tastes to help them choose their friends, but a lot more research is needed before we know for sure. But there’s no doubt that music is a powerful force in many people’s lives. Whether you turn it up loudly and sing along, wearing the music’s emotion like garlands of your own inner feelings, or just use it as nonintrusive background noise while you work, your choice of music may be telling the people around you more than you realize about your personality and values. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the role music plays in our social lives, Janata says. “It is something that engages the brain so strongly that the brain wants it and is willing to put energy into it, therefore it’s a significant phenomena to be understood.”

Reposted from Wired

This Is What Your Favorite Music Does To Your Brain

No matter what type of music is heating up your earbuds this summer, your brain is responding to the beat—and not just by making your head nod. Research shows the right tune can temper your feelings of anxiety, energize your limbs, and even bolster your immune system. Here’s how.

Your Ideal Beat

Scientists who study music have identified something called “preferred motor tempo,” or the theory that everybody has an ideal rhythm when it comes to the jams they enjoy. “When you hear music traveling at your favored rhythm, the areas of your brain that control movement become more excited, making you more likely to start tapping your feet or moving along to it,” explains Martin Wiener, Ph.D., a psychologist at George Mason University who has investigated preferred motor tempo.

Generally, faster beats will pump up your brain more than slow ones, Wiener adds. But there’s a limit. “If a tempo is faster than you like to hear, your brain will become less excited as you become less interested,” he explains. The older you get, the more your “preferred tempo” tends to slow, Wiener says. (That’s why you get pumped up listening to Pharrell, while your parents snap their fingers to Josh Groban.)

Your Workout Playlist

If you’re listening to your ideal groove while exercising, your brain’s amped-up motor cortex can make your workout seem less effortful, Wiener’s research suggests. Another study from Florida State University (FSU) also confirmed that, by distracting your brain, music lowered the amount of difficulty and effort people perceived while exercising. Why? Your brain regards good music as “rewarding,” which leads to an uptick in the feel-good hormone dopamine, Wiener says. “This increase in dopamine might explain the high that some people feel when they're listening to music that they greatly enjoy.” Dopamine may also dull the pain your body would otherwise experience, studies indicate.

U.K. researchers found that, just as upbeat music lights up the parts of your noodle responsible for movement, it also turns up the volume when it comes to brain activity related to attention and visual perception. Basically, up-tempo tunes can quicken your reaction time and your ability to process visual information, the FSU study suggests.

Music and Your Health

People who listened to relaxing music before surgery felt less anxious than those who swallowed anxiety-lowering drugs, found a review study from several neuroscientists including Daniel Levitin, Ph.D., of McGill University in Canada. Levitin and his colleagues have conducted lots of research on music and the brain. And they’ve found evidence that, apart from lowering levels of stress-related brain chemicals like cortisol, music also seems to boost your body’s amounts of immunoglobulin A—an immune system-strengthening antibody. There are also indications music cranks up the number of “killer cells” your body used to fight off germs and bacteria, Levitin’s research suggests.

While the mechanisms behind all of these benefits aren’t totally clear, the stress-lowering powers of music could help explain how groovy tunes bolster your body’s defenses, Levitin’s studies indicate. Even if the music is slow and somber, as long as you’re into it, you’ll feel good, shows research from Japan. When people listened to sad (but enjoyable) tunes, they actually felt positive emotions, the authors found. Why? A separate study from the U.K. that turned up similar results suggests that, because the sad music is beautiful, it may make the listener feel less bummed out.

So, fast or slow, energizing or enervating, music seems to be great for you as long as you’re listening to stuff you dig. Summing up one of his research papers on music and the brain, Levitin and colleagues hit the nail on the head when they say, “Music is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable human experiences.

Reposted from Shape

Top 10 Composers by Anthony Tommasini

Johann Sebastian Bach

Anthony Tommasini explores what makes these classical composers great.

In the first video of his series the chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini explains the importance of Bach and his influence on classical music to come.

Watch Videos Here

What Would Beethoven Do?

What Would Beethoven Do?

This is not your grandparents’ classical music. This is classical music for everyone.

For decades, this has been the story: classical music is at death’s door. With the advent of a technologically brave new world, who could be interested in this stodgy art form? Yet, classical music has enduring significance. It still stands as a pillar—if a somewhat wobbly one—of our culture today.

Although financial difficulties and declining attendance rates plague many orchestras, new technology and shifting audience demographics have inspired some artists to think creatively and step outside the box. Classical music lives.

“What Would Beethoven Do?” highlights recent innovations that are breaking down the genre’s highbrow perception and introducing classical music to a broader audience. Despite some institutional reluctance about maintaining the “purity” of the genre, many musicians and artists are taking risks to reinvent classical music for a new age.

The classical music world is at an exciting crossroads “What Would Beethoven Do?” focuses on individuals and organizations that are taking classical music to the next level and paving the way for future success.

Treble Productions, a documentary film crew that believes that there are many individuals and organizations out there doing great things to propel classical music forward. Their film, What Would Beethoven Do? shares the stories of people like Benjamin Zander, who is building the next generation of classical musicians in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Eric Whitacre, who is bringing classical music into the digital age with his Virtual Youth Choir; Bobby McFerrin who is challenging audiences with performances filled with fun and humor; and many more people who are doing amazing things with classical music.

What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.

Lang Lang Rocks Toy Piano During a Visit to Classic FM, London

The Instrument

Lang Lang was in the studio to tell Charlotte Green about his new Lang Lang Piano Academy and accompanying books, 'Mastering The Piano'. He was only too happy to play a snippet from the first book in the series for them

NPR Field Recording: Yuja Wang

"On A Chilly Factory Floor, Yuja Wang's Piano Sizzles"


Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang isn't one to do anything in half measures. So when NPR invited her to record a performance in a room at the Steinway & Sons piano factory, she showed up in Queens that frigid morning with her A game.

The 27-year-old ultra-glam artist wore one of her trademark dresses, significant stiletto booties and a Gucci fur stole, as well as some wrist warmers as a concession to the temperature. She played a piece that would chop shrinking violets to mulch: Prokofiev's blisteringly difficult Toccata in D minor, Op. 11.

Somehow, that combination of bling and brawn — in both the music and Wang's approach — seemed just right for the factory, where artisans labored nearby over raw material.

See more at Field Recordings


Simone Dinnerstein Plays Bach's Inventions

Almost any pianist, from a budding beginner to a pro like , will tell you that one of the basic techniques of keyboard playing is also the toughest to master: making your hands to do separate things simultaneously. 

The great knew this to be true. That's the primary reason he composed his Two-Part Inventions. On one hand (pardon the metaphor) they are rigorous exercises he wrote in the 1720s for the musical education of his children and students. On the other hand, as Dinnerstein told the audience at this Tiny Desk Concert, they are "an endless well of musical knowledge and imagination." Some of the Inventions zing with the speed of a sewing machine. Others dance and some unfold like a gentle aria. 

Dinnerstein learned a number of Bach's Two-Part Inventions as a youngster. Later she used them to teach her own students how to divide their brains. And now, as an adult musician with a major career, she has returned to these deceptively simple pieces, finding their complexity especially satisfying. 

She also likes the way the inventions force the player to make the piano sing. That's not easy when you consider the piano is actually a percussion instrument of wires and hammers concealed inside a box. Bach himself noted that they are good not only for playing "neatly in two parts" but also "to achieve a cantabile style of playing." That's musical jargon for playing the music in a singable style. And oh how poetically Ms. Dinnerstein makes our Tiny Desk piano sing. 

 J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 1, 6, 8,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 9, 10,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 12, 13, 14

4 Unusual Ways Music Can Tune Up the Brain

By Bahar Gholipour

Music shapes the brain in many ways — it can alter brain structures in musicians, and enhance cognitive skills in children and adults alike, research shows. Still, scientists are continuing to learn much about the way the brain responds to music.

Here is a look at four ways that music is known to affect the brain.

Unearthing patients' lost memories

Music has the power to bring back memories, leading some researchers to say that music could be used as a treatment for people with memory problems.

In one recent study, researchers found that music could bring back old-age memories in people who had memory problems after sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

In fact, the musical treatment, which involved playing hit songs from different periods in people's lives, was better than an interview at eliciting past memories, according to the study published in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation in 2013.

Other investigations have found that for people with severe memory problems as a result of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, music can affect the memory when nothing else does. The effect can sometimes be so great that experts have likened it to "awakening" a patient who has been unconscious.

Sharpening emotion-detecting skills

Musical training may turn people into better emotion detectors, some studies have suggested.

In one study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience in 2009, 30 participants watched a subtitled nature film while listening to a very short, almost undetectable clip of a baby's cry. The researchers looked at the brain's electrical waves to measure how sensitive the people were to the sound, and whether their brain's emotional circuits were evoked.

The researchers found that the musicians' brains responded more quickly and accurately than the brains of non-musicians, suggesting the musicians may be better at perceiving emotions even when music isn't being played, the researchers said.

Blocking out the noise

The aging brain normally becomes less and less capable of blocking out background noise, but people with musical training may be better than others at hearing and understanding sounds in a noisy environment as they age.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013, researchers found that even people who took music lessons only in childhood still showed some long-lasting brain effects when it comes to detecting sounds amid a noisy background.

Noteworthy: Learning language through singing

It might help to practice a new language you're trying to learn by singing the words in the shower. Scientists recently found that when learning a new language, singing the phrases can help people learn the language better, compared with simply reading those phrases.

In the study published in the journal Memory & Cognition in 2014, researchers asked 60 adults to listen and repeat phrases in Hungarian, a language entirely foreign to the participants. Some of the participants were asked to simply repeat the phrases, some were told to repeat the phrases rhythmically, and the rest were asked to repeat the phrases by singing them.

The results showed that the participants who sang did significantly better than others in a series of Hungarian language tests.

Reposted From Live Science

Music ignites lost memories in 'good-news' film

Music has an unmatched power to bring back our pasts. But what if our memories have been lost to Alzheimer's or some other condition? Can music still work its magic?

A new film, Alive Inside, says yes. The film features the work of Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who started taking personalized iPods to people with dementia in nursing homes several years ago. Cohen's non-profit Music & Memory got a huge boost in 2012 when an early clip from the film, featuring a gentleman named Henry, became an online sensation. It has been viewed more than 10 million times at various websites, filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says.

In the clip, Henry, then 94, is shown slumped and unresponsive in a wheelchair – until a nursing home worker places a set of headphones over his ears. Henry comes alive. He scats along with Cab Calloway and sings a soulful I'll Be Home for Christmas. The music "gives me the feeling of love, romance," he says.
Henry has since passed away, but that clip is one big reason that the Music & Memory program is in 640 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Cohen says. He says he won't be satisfied until personalized iPods – loaded with music especially chosen for each participant – are in all 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, available to all 1.6 million residents.

"Ninety-nine percent of these people are still sitting around and doing nothing all day when they could be rocking to their music," he says.

The reasons for Cohen's passion become clear in what Rossato-Bennett dubs "the only good-news film ever made about Alzheimer's." In segment after segment, people with Alzheimer's and other conditions don the headphones, hear the music of their youths and light up. A World War II veteran named John dances in his chair as the Andrews Sisters sing Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Another man holds his wife's hands and sings a duet of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. An agitated woman becomes serene as she dances to strains of Schubert.

Such scenes are interspersed with comments from doctors, including the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who says, "Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus." Others talk about the need to reconnect with lonely, inactive and neglected elders, in and out of nursing homes.

Viewers might come away with the idea that a skillfully loaded iPod is a proven and universally effective cure for all that. In fact, the first big study of Music & Memory is just getting underway in Wisconsin, as part of a state-funded rollout in 200 nursing homes. Researchers will look at whether the approach improves social engagement and reduces agitation, anxiety and depression, say University of Wisconsin researchers Jung Kwak and Michael Brondino. The study won't focus on memory but will look at overall effects on dementia, Brondino says. One thing they know, he says, is that staffs and patients "absolutely love this program."

The program, which relies on families and aides to work with patients, should not be confused with formal music therapy delivered by professionals trained in that discipline, says Alicia Clair, professor of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas.

Still, she says, "it's a wonderful thing" for many people. Caregivers need to know, she says, that not everyone will respond and that some people can even respond negatively. A song that stirs up sadness or anger might do more harm than good, she says.

Cohen says, "This is not a cure for Alzheimer's, and this does not work for everybody." But, he says, it is something just about anyone can try – something that might open up a whole lost world.

Cohen's tips for setting up an individualized music program and for donating used iPods to the program are at

Alive Inside will open in theaters and be shown in film festivals around the country through mid-September.

Language of Music: Derek Paravicini

Lesley Stahl profiles British musical savant Derek Paravicini, whose computer-like memory for music is matched by his creative abilities to play it in any style.

Seattle Authorizes Special Loading Zones for Musicians…

What’s worse than loading gear into a venue?  Getting a ticket for loading gear into a venue.  But that issue may soon go away, at least for a few musicians, thanks to an initiative by the City of Seattle that would authorize musician loading zones outside of venues.

The Musician Load Zone pilot program kicked off  in March and currently involves five venues.  “Seattle’s Music Commission strives to champion innovative ideas that help local musicians make a living making music in Seattle,” explained Jody McKinley, Chair of Seattle’s Music Commission (and an executive at Seattle-based Rhapsody).


Reposted From Digital Music News

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."

Tritone: The Devil in Music

In classical music, the tritone is a harmonic and melodic dissonance and is important in the study of musical harmony. The name diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music") has been applied to the interval from at least the early 18th century. People were actually executed "back in the day" for writing songs that used this interval. 

Because of that original symbolic association with the devil and its avoidance, this interval came to be heard in Western cultural convention as suggesting an "evil" connotative meaning in music. Today the interval continues to suggest an "oppressive", "scary", or "evil" sound and is known colloquially as "The Devil's Interval".

The theme features prominently in the 1949 film Portrait of Jennie, and is used as a musical motif for the ethereal heroine played by Jennifer Jones.

The theme opening Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune outlines a tritone (between C and G) About this sound Play 

Music Changes the Way You Think

Hum the first two notes of “The Simpsons” theme song. (If you’re not a Simpsons fan, “Maria” from West Side Story will also do.) The musical interval you’re hearing—the pitch gap between the notes—is known as a “tritone,” and it’s commonly recognized in music theory as one of the most dissonant intervals, so much so that composers and theorists in the 18th century dubbed it diabolus in musica (“devil in music”).

Now hum the first few notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or, if you prefer something with a little more street cred, the “I’m sorry” part in Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” This is the “perfect fifth.” It’s one of the most consonant intervals, used in myriad compositions as a vehicle of resolution and harmony.

Is it possible that hearing such isolated musical components can change the way you think? An ambitious new paper recently published by Jochim Hansen and Johann Melzner in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology argues precisely that. The researchers brought pedestrians into a laboratory and played them a short, stripped-down piece of music consisting of a series of alternating chords. Some people heard chords including the tritone; others the perfect fifth. A couple other tweaks were also made: in the tritone condition, the chords were played slowly—only once every four-beat measure—while in the perfect fifth condition, the chords went by rapidly, sounding every beat. Further, a “reverberation” effect was added such that the tritone chords sounded like they were being played in a cavernous cave and the perfect fifth chords in a carpeted closet.

What the scientists found is that the simple act listening to either of these two chord sets changed how people processed information in a very basic way. For example, the researchers asked people to take a list of shopping items and organize them into groups. Think detergent and paper towels: same kind of thing, or different? Results showed that “tritone” people formed fewer categories than “perfect fifth” people, indicating that they were thinking in broader, more inclusive categories than their counterparts.

In a separate measure, the scientists asked people to imagine buying one of two imaginary toasters. These toasters varied in what is known as “aggregated” versus “individualized” information. Do you know how on you can learn the average star rating of a given item? This is aggregated information; it’s pooled from a wide range of sources. Individualized information, by contrast, would be the customer reviews that appear at the bottom of the page. Which do you pay more attention to when these give conflicting messages—when, say, the aggregated information is largely negative but there is a single glowing customer review? Turns out that people who are exposed to “tritone”-type music samples are more likely to be swayed by aggregated information, and “fifth” people by the reverse.

Underlying these seemingly disparate questions is a relatively new theory in social psychology that has shown itself capable of explaining an impressive variety of human behaviors. It’s known as construal level theory, and its core premise is that there’s a link between how far things are from people and how abstractly they construe them. Distant things—a Hawaii vacation next year, say—appear to us general and decontextualized, their basic features (the beach, the sun) forefront in our minds. As they draw near, however, elements we never before considered (the packing, the possibility of rain) suddenly demand our attention. The forest, in other words, becomes the trees. Overall, the theory helps explain many seemingly disparate phenomena, like why we’re bad at predicting how long it’ll take us to fix the kitchen sink, why absence makes the heart grow fonder, and why we rarely follow through on New Years resolutions. In all these cases, what seemed a certain way from afar turns out, up close, to be a different beast entirely.

How does all this relate to repeating chord patterns? What the researchers have done, cleverly, is consider music’s ability to conjure up highly specific mental states. Tiny, almost immeasurable features in a piece of music have the power to elicit deeply personal and specific patterns of thought and emotion in human listeners. (One need only listen to Astrud Gilberto’s Grammy-winning performance of the Girl from Ipanema to re-appreciate music’s ability to capture strange and mysterious moods.) Hansen and Melzner have exploited this fact to provoke in listeners thought patterns corresponding to precisely those mapped by construal level theory.

Ponderous, resonant, unfamiliar tonalities—the proverbial “auditory forest”—cause people to construe things abstractly. By contrast, the rapid, consonant, familiar chords of the perfect fifth—the “auditory trees”—bring out the concrete mindset. The groups of shopping items, the reviews of toasters—these correspond to measures of abstractness that have been developed in experimental psychology. When you group a shopping list into only a few categories, it suggests that you are considering the list abstractly, clustering items according to a common core. And heeding aggregated (versus individualized) information implies the same: you’re seeing the forest rather than being swayed by a single tree.

That music can move us is no surprise; it’s the point of the art form, after all. What’s new here is the manner in which the researchers have quantified in fine-grained detail the cognitive ramifications of unpacked melodic compounds. This investigation of music’s building blocks may be more relevant than you suppose. Nowadays, experts in the production room can hone a track—the timbre, tone, rhythm, phrasing—with digital precision. These songwriters and producers are the true geniuses behind the success of popular music today, and they seem to have an intuitive grasp of the phenomena underlying the findings of this psychology article. An extra breath-sound here, a pitch adjustment there—these additives pepper the songs we hear on the radio. So the next time you hear a piece of music from the Billboard Top 40, it may be interesting to wonder, how many components were manipulated just so, in order to change the way I think?

Reposted form Scientific American

Daniel Yudkin is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at New York University and a jazz pianist. He graduated from Williams College, was a Fellow at Harvard University, and once attempted an eleven-country European busking tour funded entirely by street-coins. More here.

Yaacov Trope is a Professor of Psychology at New York University. He received his
Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and is a member of the American Association
for Arts and Sciences. He has edited several books, including Dual-Process Theories
in Social Psychology (1998), Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain (2010), and Dual-Process Theories of the Social Mind (2014). His general areas of interest are social cognition, motivation, and self-control.

Interesting Stories Behind Classical Compositions: Dvorak’s 9th Symphony

This beloved symphony is better known as “From the New World” or “New World” because the famed Czech composer from Bohemia composed this masterpiece in 1893, while he was staying in America. However, the nickname is somewhat misleading, because while he composed it in America (a.k.a. the New World), it’s not an exclusively American symphony. While American Indian and black American themes inspired the symphony, it has as much, if not more, influences from his native Bohemia. Leonard Bernstein said it best when he described the 9th as “multinational.”

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Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (Obertura) - Richard Strauss, 1896.

Eumir Deodato Almeida's singular rendition of "Also sprach Zarathustra" won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It is arguably the world's most renowned Latin jazz opus ever.

The introductory movement of the original work, a tone poem by Richard Strauss (1896), served as the musical motif in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Deodato's arrangement wondrously elaborates on the movie's modernistic theme.

Strauss, in turn, was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's iconoclastic philosophical treatise of the same title (1883-85). Zarathustra, of course, refers to Zoroaster, the Persian prophet and religious poet of antiquity (traditionally, 6th century BC), on whom Nietzsche based the principal character of his book.

Interesting Stories Behind Classical Compositions:Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (sometimes identified as No. 7) really is unfinished. A symphony traditionally has four movements; Schubert completed two movements but then abandoned the project for reasons that are not clear. However, he did sketch a third movement. Various composers have “completed” the symphony based on that sketch, and their interpretation of the first two movements, but for all intents and purposes, Symphony No. 8 remains truly unfinished.

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