Friday, December 19, 2014

Sleigh Ride in 7/8 Time (The 12 Musings of Christmas #7)

We conclude our "Sleigh Ride" portion of "The 12 Musings of Christmas" with an arrangement I can only say I wish I'd created. John Eidsvoog's suave setting of the tune in 7/8 time glides along with such elegance that it hardly sounds off-kilter, at least as he plays it:



When a friend posted it on Facebook a few weeks back, I found it so irresistible that I ordered the sheet music right away (a bargain at $3.99). It is as delightful to play as it is to listen to, in part because EIdsvoog writes in a wonderfully pianistic way; it's not easy, but everything feels right and natural under the hands. (My biggest objection to much new music I encounter is that it seems to be written against the hands and the instrument. Writing for the piano is a very sophisticated art in itself.)

Since I'm advertising it as a pleasure to play, I thought it would be fun to try to record it myself. The arrangement is listed by the publisher as an "Early Advanced" solo, and it does fit the hands beautifully, but it's still full of traps, especially because the hands leap around a lot. I could really use more practice, and I haven't quite gotten into that relaxed groove in which Eidsvoog glides along, but perhaps my rendition is thus more neurotic. (It's hard in 7/8 not to get caught up in the feeling of falling forward!) I tried recording it first reading from my laptop and using a page-turning pedal, but I don't really know the notes well enough to read them when they're so small - so, I found a handy page-turner in the house, and got this done in the first take. There were a few takes that followed, but things didn't improve, so the video below is Take One, unedited. (I'm sure there's a Law Of Faking somewhere that says, "the first time is always best.") Not perfect, but proof that I've played it.



[Oh yeah, since I took a portrait-mode video and had some blank space on the edges, I decided to add a little running meter counter. If you'd prefer to view without the numbers, go here.]

For regular readers of the blog, the following will seem inevitable, but when I first followed that Facebook link a few weeks back, I ended up clicking over to the sheet music link in another tab. Turns out the purchase page starts the same video playing so, yes, I was suddenly hearing the arrangement mashed up against itself. And, yes, I liked it! I couldn't resist recreating that experience, though I cheated by starting the second recording right as the first section is ending in the other. (I always miss that effect now when I play it.) Sounds like this:


It becomes frenetically chaotic at some points (I think in part because the arrangement goes briefly into 5/8 right after the "second entry," so the downbeats don't align for awhile.) But there are some really fantastic harmonic clashes along the way, and those high hits starting around 1:20 are especially exciting. I can't help but think of the greatest 7/8 piece ever written.



Prokofiev. Piano. Precipitato. Pollini. Perfection.

Finally, in a fortuitous coincidence, Eidsvoog's arrangement in 7 lands on Day 7 of "The 12 Musings of Christmas." I didn't even plan it that way.



The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
  7. Sleigh Ride in 7/8

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries (The 12 Musings of Christmas #6)

Yesterday, I mentioned that not all YouTube commenters are thrilled with my Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine. Then there was this more positive (?) comment:


I can't disagree with ol' Curt - I didn't even post the "Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries" on my blog when I first created it. But, it's grown on me over the years - more smash-up than mash-up, perhaps. The opening actually works pretty well, and the final cadence has a nice whiplash effect. The less said about the middle, the better. I think what I like best about the whole thing is the unlikely combination of Sleigh Ride's completely good-natured merriment and Wagner's slashing menace.



Anyway, to quote Taylor Swift, "haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate." Nicholas Slonimsky has famously documented a wide-ranging number of great works that were initally panned by critics. In fact, when the #fakeAMS meme was going around a few years ago (mimicking the absurdist style of so many musicology paper titles), I proposed the following:
It's true that this "work" was also initially panned by me, but what do I know?

If this holiday offering disappoints you, I can also recommend Matthew Guerrieri's 2006 Dreidel Attraction, in which the Valkyries take a ride Wagner would never have imagined:




The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine (The 12 Musings of Christmas #5)

This will be a quick post - a fast ride, if you will. We're entering the "Sleigh Ride" portion of these twelve days, so today's special is a 2010 Anderson/Adams combo. If you don't know John Adams' scintillating Short Ride in a Fast Machine, here's a short, fast video to get you up to speed:



Adams' piece has also taken on a life as a "music history survey" piece that shows up in a variety of textbook anthologies. Strangely, it's often presented as a rep for Minimalism, even though there's more variety and clear forward momentum here than is typical of such music - of course, the "short" quality is handy for those survey courses where the last fifty years are generally handled in something like half a class. Anyway, it's a delightful fanfare, full of vibrant orchestral color and sophisticated syncopations, and it actually works pretty well with Leroy Anderson's biggest hit. In fact, I only just learned tonight that Mr. Adams himself has viewed and posted about this mashup in a good-natured manner.



Of course, with attention comes notoriety, and I've noticed one YouTuber complaining "If the tempos were lined up this might actually make a good mashup. As it is, it just sounds a bit like a mess." Well, yeah. It's more a mildly elaborate realization of a pun than a fully realized musical concept. However, I think the way the the pulses phase in and out of each other is actually related to the kinds of metrical phasing characteristic of much Minimalist music. Yes, there are audio-manipulation tools that might make it possible to synchronize the beats more squarely, but audio layering provides some wonderful opportunities for phasing effects that would be extremely difficult to realize in real time. I enjoy trying to follow both tracks as they weave in and out from each other. As it is, with the Short Ride slowly coming to the fore as the mashup progresses, Adams' sharp accents do interact pretty effectively with horse and sleigh. Or so I choose to believe, even if scottallen1990 disagrees.




The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine