Saturday, September 14, 2013

Franz Joseph Haydn: The Forgotten Master

Historical Period: Classical
Nationality: Austrian
Born: March 31, 1732 A.D. in Rohrau, Austria.
Died:  May 31, 1809 A.D. in Vienna, Austria
Contemporaries: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, George Friedrich Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Specialist Genres: symphony, string quartet, concerto.
Major Works: chamber music and songs, cantatas, violin and keyboard concertos, harpsichord sonatas, 12 masses, oratorio, 15 surviving operas, keyboard sonatas, Stabat Mater, string quartets, and 104 symphonies.

What's the Big Deal with Haydn?

If someone would ask you what you know about Franz Joseph Haydn, what would you tell them? Here are a few things that you could tell them. Franz Joseph Haydn is the forgotten master of classical music. Franz Joseph Haydn taught Ludwig van Beethoven and was close friends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and pretty much invented the musical form of the concerto, string quartet, sonata and symphony in the Classical period.[1] But not many people know about Haydn’s achievements, that is why he is the forgotten master of classical music.

The Early Years 

In the time of the Enlightenment, America revolted against Great Britain becoming its own country (1776);  Adam Smith had written about his ideas of capitalism; Jean-Jacques Rousseau had written Emile on the innate goodness of man and how people just need a good education; it was not well-received); John Wesley and George Whitefield were preaching to multitudes in America about the need to be born again. This brought the First Great Awakening in America where many people turned to God. It was during this time that Franz Joseph Haydn came on the scene in Europe bringing with him many new musical ideas.

         Franz was one of 12 children in the Haydn family, at age 8 he was recruited to the sing in the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna because of his beautiful singing voice just like Palestrina and Monteverdi.  It was at St. Stephen's that Franz went on to learn to play violin and keyboard. Some scholars think that Haydn even learned the organ during these years, so we can see that Haydn has something in common  with Scarlatti; they both played the harpsichord and organ. After a few years, Haydn’s voice changed (just like any boy), so he could not sing in the choir anymore. He then left the choir and started working as a music teacher and playing violin, while studying counterpoint and harmony in his spare time. This was a difficult time in Haydn's life because he did not make much money, and during this time in history parents did not help out their children very much after they finished school.

Haydn's Boss: The Esterházs

        In 1761 Joseph Haydn was named Kapellmeister, or "court musician," at the palace of the influential Esterházy family after Prince Paul Anton heard one of his symphonies. It was his job to train the choir and orchestra, and take care of the instruments and music at Eisenstadt where the Esterházys lived. Haydn worked for the Esterházy family for 30 years writing symphonies, concertos, string quartets, trios, and even music for the viola d'amore; the instrument that his boss played. After Haydn finished working for the Esterházy family he was able to go throughout Europe to write and perform more music.

[1] Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson, Joseph Haydn in The Encyclopedia of Music: Instruments of the Orchestra and the Great Composers (New York: Hermes House, 2002), p. 323.

Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Suzuki Cello Book 1, No. 2: French Folk Song - Tips

Focus Points:

  • Get into a good playing position every time, making sure the fingers on the bow are curved and the left thumb is on the neck under the 2nd finger.
  • This piece starts with four fingers on the A sting.
  • There are a lot of 3 note groupings, watch for that as you play the piece.
  • Make sure to play with a smooth bow connecting the notes.
  • Practice at a speed where you do not feel rushed and after you get comfortable with the piece you can speed it up.
Copyright © 2013 Mircea & Daniyela Ionescu. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Practicing (with My Child): When?

When is the best time to practice my music (with my child)? 

The short answer: Make sure that it is a time when the musician ( or in some instances parent and child ) are awake and ready to concentrate.

Many people are very concerned with how long to practice but they do not give much thought to the time of their practice. Some musicians, and parents, think you can just shove the practice somewhere in the day and get it done. But this only breeds frustration, slow progress, less enjoyment and may even pick up some bad habits when there is tiredness and distractions for most people.

For young children, the best way to do it is to have the same practice time throughout the week. As William and Constance Starr commented, "They grow to expect practice every day at the same time. Practice then takes on the quality of inevitability. It becomes part of the routine."[1] For example, I have seen parents that practice with their children every day before or after dinner. Other musicians practice during homework time, as a kind of break from the academic work. Still others wake up early and do it before leaving for school. If that does not work, try to have two practice times available to alternate throughout the week. It takes time for children to get used to a more flexible schedule, until then structure is the key to success. Having a scheduled lesson makes things easier for everyone as the child has energy and concentration and is already expecting to do it.

For those of you in high school, college and beyond, find a time that gives you the possibility to make the most of your practice. You do not want to have distractions around or be exhausted from work. You have to be honest with yourself about what time is best.

Remember, practicing is not just a chore to rush through. You want to be able to have fun, enjoy yourself, get through challenging parts of a piece, and many other things. The more you make the most out of your practice time, the better life will be. So, ask yourself: "What am I practicing for?" The answer to this question, the motives that you have, is what will drive your practicing approach.

This is nothing new, but I hope this reminder has helped you realize that it's worth it, keep going!

[1]William and Constance Starr, To Learn with Love: A Companion for Suzuki Parents (Alfred Publishing, 1983), p. 34.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bach's Son on What Makes a Good Performance

What comprises good performance? The ability through singing or playing to make the ear conscious of the true content and affect of a composition.

Any passage can be so radically changed by modifying its performance that it will be scarcely recognizable. . . Most technicians do nothing more than play the notes. And how the continuity and flow of the melody suffer, even when the harmony remain unmolested! . . .

The subject matter of performance is the loudness and softness of tones, touch, the snap, legato and staccato execution, the vibrato, arpeggiation, the holding of tones, the retard and accelerando. Lack of these elements or inept use of them makes a poor performance.

Good performance, then, occurs when one hears all notes and their embellishments played in correct time with fitting volume produced by a touch which is related to the true content of a piece. Herein lies the rounded, pure, flowing manner of playing which makes for clarity and expressiveness.”

                                    ~C.P.E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instrument.

  C.P.E. Bach is reminding all performers to play with expression, good technique and faithfulness to the composer's intent to achieve a good performance. It is interesting how hundreds of years ago, the advice given is the same advice that many teachers give their students today. Always have a piece of music that you are mastering for a good performance and be patient as you are polishing it, it takes time.

Some people have the misconception that professional musicians do not have to work hard at preparing a good performance, but that is just not true to the evidence. If you talk to any professional musician, he will tell you how many hours per day are spent to learn and polish pieces. That does not mean that they do not enjoy it, hard work can produce much enjoyment.

How is your performing coming along? Do not just play like a robot, be expressive and strive to be faithful to what the composer intended.