Romanian Rhapsody no. 1 by George Enescu

George Enescu (1881-1955) was 3 when he heard some village fiddlers. The next day he tried to imitate the instruments. He made a violin by attaching some thread to a piece of wood and a cimbalom from some wooden sticks. He imitated the reed pipe with his lips. His parents noticed his growing preoccupation with music and gave him a toy violin with three strings when he was 4. Offended at not getting a real violin, he threw it in the fire. Once they bought him a real one, he started picking out tunes by ear, using one finger on … Continue reading

Sibelius and Nielsen: Two Scandinavian Sesquicentennials

Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, two of the most important Scandinavian composers, were both born in 1865. They met only once and had very different personalities. Nonetheless, they have more in common than being Scandinavian symphonists. For example, both of their names have unusual stories, and the year 1926 had special significance for both. On the other hand, their relationship to the controversy between Brahms and Wagner took opposite paths. … Continue reading

Around the net: what others are saying

Keeping up with my own research and identifying topics to write about is hard, considering I have four blogs to feed. I also have to keep up with what other bloggers have to say. All the “big time” bloggers seem to have gone from writing their own content to something called content curation. That is, their blogs are nothing but guest posts and links to other content. I have no intention of doing that, but it occurs to me that occasionally calling attention to interesting posts on other blogs does you, my readers, a service and takes some pressure off … Continue reading

Who composed the Seasons?

Nearly everyone knows that Vivaldi composed a set of violin concertos called The Four Seasons. As a matter of fact, when I looked at the various “answers” sites on line, that’s the only answer most of them gave! Everyone with any interest in classical choral music knows that Haydn’s last oratorio is called The Seasons. Maybe you know that other composers have written pieces or sets of pieces about the four seasons, but I’ll bet you don’t know all of these. Looking for such pieces on Google is a hopeless task, so I went to companies that sell classical CDs. … Continue reading

Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

The history of recording has gone through several phases, including cylinders (the first commercial format) and early discs (a less expensive format that opened the market to a wider cross-section of people, perfected in 1888). Electronic recording, which enabled far more accurate reproduction of sound than earlier technologies, appeared in 1927. According to Harry Smith, important recordings of folk songs were issued in both formats at the end of the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth. Shortly after the First World War, Ralph Peer of Okeh Records took some recording equipment from New York to Atlanta. There, a record … Continue reading

A "second line" in New Orleans (with video)

Probably no city in the country loves parades as much as New Orleans. As we all watch the progress of that horrendous oil spill and pray for Louisiana, it seems appropriate to highlight some of the musical aspects of the unique character of that part of the country. New Orleans was founded as a French city in 1718 and did not become American territory until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Where English-speaking southern governments dating back to colonial times attempted to stamp out all vestiges of African culture among their slave populations, the French did not. A west-African heritage of … Continue reading


Armies have used trumpet calls as signals to the troops for centuries. Because early trumpets had no valves and early trumpeters played only the lowest notes in the overtone series, only four or five notes are available. When trumpets became fully chromatic in the early nineteenth century with the invention of valves, military calls did not take advantage of the easy availability of extra notes. In fact, the military soon gave up trumpets in favor of bugles for their basic calls. As simple as these calls must be, someone had to compose them. In recent history, the task has usually … Continue reading