Sunday, December 13, 2015

Discovering New Music

As a musician, I love discovering new music that I haven't heard before. One of my favorite ways to do that is to explore the CD section of my local library (of course, music libraries at Universities often have wonderful collections of recordings). I also take note of pieces I play in orchestra that I've never heard or played before. So here's some music that I've listened to for the first time the last couple of weeks.

1. Ralph Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto

I'm a violin and viola player, so I often end up listening to repertoire that features string soloists. But one of the orchestras I play in was doing a performance of Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto, so I decided to find a recording to hear what it sounded like before I started practicing. I was amazed at how expressive and powerful a tuba could sound. The more I heard the piece during rehearsal and at our final concert, the more I ended up really liking it. It's so easy to limit yourself in music to listening to works for your instrument, or at least your instrument's family. Listening to this concerto has inspired me to look at more music for other instruments, especially winds and bass. It's like there's this whole world of repertoire I'm only now finding out about!

2. Amy Marcy Beach's Piano Music

This is music that I found at my local library. I'd heard of Amy Marcy Beach, but had never actually listened to much of her music. I checked out the CD, which contained "Les Reves de Columbine," op. 65 as well as her "Variations on Balkan Themes," op. 60. I loved both pieces--they reminded me a bit of Schumann's piano miniatures in their Romantic expressiveness, yet they often had the tonal color of Impressionist composers like Debussy. The music was so beautiful I plan to seek out more of her works, including her symphony. 

After listening to her works, I read more about Beach, and she's a fascinating figure in music history. She was one of the first American composers who wanted to create an original "American" sound inspired by our native folk songs. Well-respected and prominent in her own time, Beach is now being recognized for her musical achievements and innovations.

3. Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's Keyboard Sonatas and Rondos 

When exploring new music, every once in a while you come across something that doesn't quite work for you. I wanted to like C.P.E. Bach's piano sonatas--after all, he's the son of J.S. Bach, and often considered the most talented of the Great Bach's offspring. Alas, I didn't find his music particularly engaging. Indeed, C.P.E.'s music sounded flashy and superficial to me, as though he had written this music to show off his (no doubt impressive) keyboard skills, not to express any particularly thought or emotion. Perhaps the pieces I listened to were not representative of his best work, or perhaps he simply suffers from the comparison to his famous father (and to Amy Marcy Beach, who'd I listened to right before hand). Nonetheless, I found his music disappointing. 

Still, my overall experience in discovering music has been wonderful. So don't get bogged down in the same musical standards you've listened to a million times--take a risk and find something new.


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