Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family

recorder
Was I born in England? Yes I was. In the 1980s? Yes I was. Am I a girl? Yes I am. Therefore I can play the recorder. Am I exaggerating? Only slightly.

The woodwind family is part of a vast and ancient family of wind instruments, all of which are played by blowing air across a hollow pipe or pipes of varying length. The air stream is concentrated in some way, either by being blown at an angle or by having a narrowing or a ‘reed’ positioned inside or just below the mouthpiece. As the name would suggest, once upon a time all the woodwinds were made of wood, although these days many are made of metal or plastic. The only instrument I can play with any degree of competency is a woodwind – the recorder. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Musical Instruments: The String Family

Violin Mae
World-famous violinist Vanessa Mae in concert.

Stringed instruments, strummed, plucked, or played with a bow, have been with us since antiquity: the psalms, for example, contain a number of references to various ‘stringed instruments’. In the world of classical music the term ‘strings’ usually refers to the violin, viola, cello, and double bass, all of which are played with a bow, although the harp, which is plucked and strummed, is also a stringed instrument. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The String Family”

Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)

Chopin at 25 by his then fiancee Maria Wodzinska
Chopin at 25 by his then-fiancée Maria Wodzinska

The unquestionable musical genius of Frederic Chopin is perhaps most remarkable for the extreme narrowness of its focus: he composed almost exclusively for the piano, and none of his music fails to feature the instrument. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)”

Local Culture: The Air Force in Concert at the Whanganui Opera House

It’s been a while since I had a local cultural experience to blog about, but my Significant Other’s birthday provided the perfect excuse to head along to the Wanganui Opera House and hear the New Zealand Air Force band in concert, performing music from, and inspired by, the stage and screen.

Air force in concert 2017.jpg

Continue reading “Local Culture: The Air Force in Concert at the Whanganui Opera House”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)

the-barber-of-seville-video-coverThis was another opera that I really did watch in my pyjamas, one Sunday night before a recent public holiday, because I get really wild on the weekends. It’s basically the story of Rosina, the teenaged ward of Bartolo, a doctor prone to fits of rage who is effectively keeping Rosina under house arrest until she’s of an age that he can marry her for her dowry. And, probably, the sex.

Possibly on the basis that almost anything is likely to be a more attractive option than marrying Bartolo, Rosina falls for the poor student Lindoro, who is really the young Count Almaviva, who has disguised himself in order to test Rosina’s love by concealing his wealth. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)”

Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

swan lake image.jpg

Seldom in the history of classical music has a name been linked so thoroughly in people’s minds with a particular style of music than the way Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s name has been linked with ballet. Ask any layperson to name a ballet and the odds are fairly good that their answer will be one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions – ‘Swan Lake’ (this link is to ‘The Dance of the Little Swans’, which is amazing) or ‘The Nutcracker’. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)”

Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker

The_Nutcracker_(1993_film)_poster.jpgWith Christmas fast approaching I decided it was high time I watched the quintessential Christmas ballet: Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’, which was first performed in St. Petersburg in December 1892.

I elected to watch the 1993 Warner Brothers film version, and I rather suspect that this was a mistake. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker”

Ballet on the Sofa: Don Quixote

don-quixoteBased on two chapters from the 17th century Spanish novel of the same name by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote was first performed in Moscow by the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in December 1869. It was choreographed by Marius Petipa (1818-1910) to a score by Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917), but subsequently heavily revised and is now performed along the same lines as a version staged by Alexander Gorsky (1871-1924) in 1900. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: Don Quixote”

Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth

willow-treeThis short orchestral work was composed by George Butterworth (1885-1916) in 1913, and has become the best-known and most widely-performed of his small output. It’s a charming little work in the English Romantic tradition which is based on a number of folk songs, most notably a less-than-charming tale of a country lass who falls in love with a sailor, becomes pregnant and runs away to sea with him only to suffer a difficult labour. Dying, she asks her lover to throw her and the baby overboard, where they both perish. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth”