Claude Debussy at 150: We take his musical revolution for granted

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, one of Western music’s revolutionaries.

As with the varying styles of Impressionist paintings, the long view represents something defined, but the closer you get, the more his compositions start to fall apart into the individual components that our minds work imperceptibly to piece together into meaningful shapes.

The long view is so sleek and seductive that listeners long ago began taking Debussy’s art for granted.

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Classical Music 101: What you see isn’t what you hear with printed score

It makes for a great soundbite, but when a musician modestly says “I’m only transmitting the notes from the composer to you,” he or she is lying. Continue reading

How music speaks to us changes and evolves with each generation

Classical music is way more about the here-and-now than we give it credit for.

Each generation interprets, listens and relates to music a little bit differently, which means that what we worry about today may very well be irrelevant to our great-grandchildren. Continue reading

Bach’s eternal challenge: There are two forests for every set of trees

Once in a while, stating the obvious can turn on a little lightbulb.

The Pacific Standard (formerly Miller-McCune) reported yesterday that a Dutch psychologist and a team of researchers have concluded that people who see the big picture (specifically in visual art and poetry) make better critics. Continue reading

A great athlete as well a great performer needs focus — but on what, exactly?

French harpist Xavier de Maistre

With the 2012 Olympics nearly here, prepare to see a lot of intensely focused faces beamed around the world from London. They’ll be athletic mirrors of every great singer, conductor, pianist, violinist and orchestral timpanist.

Everyone is aware of the basic needs: dedication to your chosen activity, a commitment to practise longer and harder than your mind and body would normally allow, a need to want to risk public humiliation.

But there’s another sort of focus essential to a fine music performance that’s not about endurance or technique or bravado. Continue reading

Royal Jubilee a fine time to contemplate what will remain of this Elizabethan music

An iPad-generated portrait of Queen Elizabeth II created last week by Montreal artist Bénédictine.

I was reading Queen Victoria’s journals last week, and had to chuckle at her dislike for the “tedious” music of George Frideric Handel.

He had been dead for nearly 80 years by the time Victoria ascended to the throne, yet his music was still being played and sung. Continue reading

Comparison: Not all pianistic fireworks are created equal

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall will see the Ashbridges Bay fireworks tonight (Brian Henry photo).

In honour of Victoria Day and the many different types of fireworks thousands will enjoy tonight, here are three different ways of playing Claude Debussy’s Feux d’artifice, the 12th from Vol. II of his Préludes. Continue reading