CD review: A magical 500-year leap backwards into the wonders of the Eton Choirbook

A page from the Eton Choirbook representing a motet by composer John Browne, whose reationship with the fabled school started as a choirboy in the 1460s.

There was an in-joke among English choristers in the late 15th century: “The French sing, Italians shake, Germans wail and the Enlish rejoice” (Galli cantant, Italiae capriant, Germani ululant, Anglici jublilant, in the original Latin).

The national slurs are silly, of course, but it’s pretty much impossible not to reach a state of bliss after listening to a new album featuring seven pieces chosen by English a capella choir Tonus Peregrinus from the Eton Choirbook, one of the rare sources of English sacred music from the closing decades of the 1400s. Continue reading

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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

Flying acrylic discs are history as last of Roy Thomson Hall’s sister buildings unveils acoustic makeover

Melbourne’s 1982 symphony hall has lost its Casavant pipe organ along with Theodore Schultz’s acrylic discs as part of a massive renovation project.

Melbourne, Australia’s Hamer Hall, whose acoustics were engineered by the same guy as Roy Thomson Hall’s, has reopened its doors to a fresh, vibrant new sound. Continue reading

Two CD releases show off the art of composer Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns in his element — on a steamship.

Repeat something enough times with conviction, and people start to believe it, whether it has to do with politics, economics or art.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who bridged the Romantic and Modern eras thanks to an 86-year lifespan, was treated as a relic of a bygone age by his obituarists and university lecturers.

It’s a status that does not square with a legacy of rich craft he left behind, and which deserves a fresh look and listen now that we can have some perspective on the aesthetic steamroller of Modernism. Continue reading

Simcoe Day a fine excuse to celebrate Toronto composer Godfrey Ridout

Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984) was a descendant of Thomas Ridout, the first Surveyor General of Upper Canada during the administration of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate the work of someone who left a mark as a composer, conductor, and teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto.

He even reached the city’s wide classical music audience by writing witty programme notes for Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts during the early years of Sir Andrew Davis’s tenure as music director. Continue reading

Keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach show how messy rules of interpretation really are

C.P.E. Bach signed a guestbook with a clever little play on the famous family name.

Musicologists, historians and performers like to believe that interpretation is based on pretty clear rules. But when it comes to any music written before Thomas Edison invented his wax cylinder, interpretation is really the product of educated guesswork, sometimes handed down from composer to pupil to pupil to pupil.

But we’ve all played the telephone game, right?

So, back to guesswork. Continue reading