Domenico Scarlatti was born this day in 1685, the same year as Bach and Handel.  He spent most of his life composing liturgical music.  With a few exceptions, most of it was uninspired.

Age 60, Scarlatti retired from his day job and began composing for the keyboard.  Harpsichords were well-developed and common at the time; the earliest pianos were beginning to appear.  I remember the day when I was 14 and my piano teacher first put a Scarlatti sonata in front of me—“Try this.  I think you might like Scarlatti.”  I never guessed he was a Baroque composer.  To me, the music sounded nothing like Bach.  Vaguely Spanish, with spare construction and dissonances that sounded contemporary.

Scarlatti’s 555 keyboard sonatas are fun to play, fun to listen to, sometimes beautiful, often witty.  He has been called the father of modern keyboard technique.


A Deaf Musician Teaches us to Listen

Listening with the whole body is a skill that Evelyn Glennie had to learn when she was a talented 12-year-old musician who lost her hearing.

Now, as a sensitive performer and talented composer, she teaches us how to listen—something she’s had to work hard at.

“Use your body as a resonating chamber”

Composing music is so much easier than performing—even Beethoven could do it!

Never do today what you can do tomorrow

….Time is something you can always beg, steal or borrow.

Listen to Akire Bubar

Illustration showing a scientist sitting in front of a desk that has a pile of papers on it.

For people in the corporate world, punctuality is an important virtue, but for those who live an artist’s life, it is more important to follow inspiration where it leads, and let creativity set its own schedule.

Personal social lives are something in between, requiring the coordination of schedules, but also subject to the internal imperative that says there is a right time to be alone and a right time to open to each individual friend.


Why have I never heard of Cyril Scott?

“Holding the belief that the more subjects one can, within limits, become interested in, the less time and inclination one has to be unhappy, I will make no excuses for what the friends of my music call my versatility and its detractors the dissipation of my energies, for… in a sad plight is the composer who has no side line or pastime to turn to during those desolate periods when musical ideation gives out, leaving but that painful sense of emptiness and frustration so familiar to all creative artists.”

A Twentieth-century renaissance man, Cyril Scott is best known as a composer, where his work is surprisingly accessible and varied.  He also wrote poetry, philosophy, and fiction.  He painted and sought (before its time) to reform medical practice back toward a naturopathic basis.  He wrote 41 books, many more articles, and 400 musical works, from operas to symphonies, chamber music and melodic settings of poetry with piano accompaniment.  His musical styles were late romantic or jazzy-bluesy, or impressionistic, or combinations.

Image result for paintings cyril scott

CScott_ptg_no2_sm.jpgImage result for cyril scott health diet common senseCyril Scott was born this day in 1879

Exquisite Etude

A “suspension” is a musical device in which a change in harmony happens but one note is left behind, usually one too high (occasionally one too low) and it falls into line on the next beat. While it hangs suspended, the note stands out as dissonant, and then when it falls in line there is a satisfying feeling that harmony has been restored.  Suspensions became a favorite during the 16th century, and they’ve never gone out of style since.  By the early 19th century, Chopin could write into this etude one suspension leading to another to another, so that we listen with a sense that just as one note is resolved, there’s another that’s hanging.

An etude is a study piece, presumably meant more for a student’s learning experience than for an audience’s listening pleasure.  Chopin wrote 27 etudes, (Op 10, Op 25, and three more after he was dead, which is a good trick by any stretch) and — just to make a point, I think — he included some of his most beautiful melodies in the etudes.  I think he was sending a message, “just in case you think this is a boring student piece…”

I fell in love with one of the posthumous etudes last week, and spent a few hours learning to play it.  The melody is simple, based on notes repeated 2, 3 or 4 times each.  The interesting thing is that as the melody notes repeat, the notes underneath are subtly shifting.  We say the “inner voices” are moving even as the melody and bass, which you hear most prominently, stay constant.

One more feature in the composition of this piece that adds tension and interest is that the left hand is written 4 eight notes to the measure and the right hand in 6 eighth notes, with the result that alternate notes of the base fall in between melody notes.

I had trouble finding a recording in which you can really hear the inner voices moving, so I tried to make one myself, by playing more slowly, slowing imperceptibly before some of the inner voice changes, and playing the inner voices a little louder than they might otherwise be played.  I count the experiment a failure–I like Edna Stern’s recording far better than my own, even after I allow myself a few gaffs and goofs.  Stern, by the way, is playing on a Pianoforte styled after one from the early 19th Century, such as Chopin might have played.  The tones don’t resonate as long and the overtones are less rich than a modern piano, so it sounds just a bit plinky.

Here is Stern’s version,
and here is mine.