The Romanian composer, Hilda Jerea (1919-1980) was a triple threat, with her working as a concert pianist, teacher and composer. She studied in a variety of different European cities including Bucharest, Paris and Budapest. As a composer, she studied under the likes of Mohail Jora and Leó Weiner. Moreover, as an up and coming concert pianist, Jerea studied under the likes of Florica Musicescu and Pál Kadosa.
After establishing her career as a concert pianist and occasional composer, Jerea begun teaching younger generations. She worked at the School of Arts in Bucharest, as well as at the Academy and then at the Union of Romanian Composers. At this time in her career, Jerea put composition near the bottom of her priority list, and instead focused her attention on performance and pedagogy. In the last twenty years of her life, Jerea founded and conducted Musica Nova, which was an ensemble dedicated to promoting young composers and avant garde works.
As a composer, Jerea went through various stylistic changes until she found her style. For instance her compositions from the 1940s resembles that of post-Romantic works, with them engaging with long melody lines and largely functional tonality. However, from the 1960s onwards, Jerea’s compositions became more liberated as she begun experimenting with serial techniques.
Jerea’s best-known composition is Sub soarele deşteptării (Under the Wake Up Sun), which is a large-scale oratorio composed in 1951. Other works she composed include Suita în stil românesc (1939), Casa Bernardei Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) (1966) and Dansuri româneşti (1946). Over the span of her musical career, Jerea was awarded the State Prize of Romania and the Order of Labour - two highly commendable achievements.
As part of the Illuminate concert series, Hilda Jerea’s Dansuri româneşti (for violin and piano) will be performed. Many of her works are seldom played, so this is certainly an opportunity not to be missed. In the Illuminate concerts you will hear the movements: 1. Cântec de joc 5. Cântec de joc 7. Din Drâmboaie. In the clip below you can hear a short clip from movement 1 played by Sabina Virtosu to tantalize your ears!
ⒸAlex Burns 2018
Alex Burns (BMus MA) is currently working as a freelance trumpeter, writer, teacher and arts marketing professional. Her specialisms are the life and works of Gustav Mahler, as well as the works and lost stories of women composers. She runs the No. 1 classical music blog in the world, and aims to make classical music more accessible to the masses.
The shakuhachi is a traditional Japanese flute made from a single piece of bamboo 54.5cm long.The name ‘shakuhachi’ refers to its length: one shaku (a measurement corresponding to a foot long), and one hachi (corresponding to 1.2 inches). The shakuhachi is end-blown, has no mouth-piece and has a sharp cutting edge called tsuno where the breath strikes, making the air inside the tube resonate. The instrument looks very natural but is in fact highly crafted - the inside of the tube or bore is carved to a conical shape that is narrower near the bell and painted with many layers of lacquer. There are four finger holes on the front and a thumb-hole on the back. When all of the holes are covered the shakuhachi makes the fundamental pitch D4 (the D next to middle C). There is a larger shakuhachi that is 70cm long and deeper in pitch but it is unusual and the majority of musicians play instruments that are tuned to a concert D.
The standard shakuhachi has a range of two octaves. The five holes produce the pitches of the minor pentatonic scale: D F G A C (Ro Tsu Re Chi and Ri) but much of the music is based on the Japanese In scale which consists of two sets of fourths (D to G and A to D) with a semitone added above the resting note - D Eb G and A Bb D. If the angle of the breath is changed by head movement, a player can produce pitches of up to a third apart on one fingering. Half-holing can also be used to flatten a pitch. This gives a wide variety of expressive tone colours and makes it possible to have several ways of playing one pitch that produce varying timbres and qualities. Consequently, in shakuhachi repertoire one cannot simply state that the character Ri is the pitch C because there are four different types of Ri.
This ancient instrument has been played in Japan for at least twelve hundred years. A similar instrument is thought to have migrated to Japan from China at around the time of the 6th century. There are records that state that the shakuhachi has been played by Buddhist monks as a solo instrument and to accompany religious services in Japan since the 13th century. It was considered to be a meditation aid because the discipline of learning the instrument involves controlling breathing. This kind of breathing was described as suizen or ‘blowing Zen’. Daily practise and meditation on the themes of the solo pieces were thought to be a way of finding enlightenment. Pieces were created as part of an aural tradition and each school of playing sought to preserve its repertoire and pass it on to the next generation.
The Fuke-Shu sect were a school of shakuhachi players who followed the teachings of Zen master Fuke (who allegedly lived from 770-840AD). The Fuke-Shu were particularly known for playing shakuhachi from the 13th century until the late 19th century. Notation based on Japanese music characters is very basic and has only been used for the last two hundred years or so. The music was taught by a master to a student by playing, listening and imitating – there was no written music - until a shakuhachi player called Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1771) created a set of thirty-six pieces based on the Fuke-Shu repertoire called Honkyoku (which means Original Pieces). The notation contains very few references to rhythm or tempo. Ornaments are notated and are very distinctive: meri is a pitch with the same fingering but played a semitone lower, ori is a glissando pitch bend down, suri is a glissando pitch bend up, nayashi is a glissando down and up again, ru is a percussive finger hit on the next uncovered hole, muraiki is a rough breathy sound and koro-koro is a trill that imitates the sound of the crane.
There are three main schools of playing in Japan: Kinko, Tozan and Myoan. During medieval times the players of the Kinko school became known as komuso or ‘priests of nothingness’ because they relinquished worldly goods and devoted their lives to prayer and meditation. They travelled around Japan begging for alms dressed in a traditional priests costume with a wicker basket over their head. The basket was a symbol of detachment from the world and served to hide their identity. Many of the ronin (or disbanded samurai warriors) became shakuhachi players and members of the Fuke-Shu sect during the 17th and 18th centuries. Shakuhachi performers occasionally wear this costume for performances in the present day.
There are three types of music that are played by the shakuhachi: the traditional solo repertoire – honkyoku, chamber music for shakuhachi, koto and shamisen ensemble – sankyoku, and contemporary music for shakuhachi (influenced by Western music of various styles) - shinkyoku.
An example of one of the thirty-six honkyoku pieces is Honshirabe, (which means Fundamental Piece or Original Tuning). Honshirabe literally is often translated into English as ‘Beginner’s Piece’ - but that is not really what it means. The title Honshirabe indicatesthat the simplicity of this pared down music allows for revealing the player’s true state of mind at a particular time of playing. It is usually the first of the honkyoku to be taught and comes from the Kinki region, Japan’s main island of Honshu.
Remembered for her progressive style, fearless musicianship, and commendable performance techniques, Grażyna Bacewicz is still one of the most successful female composers that Poland has produced. Her body of work is so exciting, and this blog focuses on her life, legacy, and work for solo violin: Polish Caprice.
Born in Łódź, Poland in 1909, Grażyna Bacewicz was introduced to music by her father and brother, who were both musicians and composers. Wanting to continue her musical education, Bacewicz enrolled at the Helena Kijenska-Dobikiewiczowa’s Musical Conservatory in 1919. Whilst there, she received training on the piano, violin, and music theory. When the Bacewicz family moved to Warsaw in 1923, a year later Bacewicz secured a place at the prestigious Warsaw Conservatory, where she studied composition with Kazimierz Sikorski, piano with Józef Turczyński, and violin with Józef Jarzębski. Although starting with three disciplines, Bacewicz graduated with diplomas in violin and composition, and had dropped piano halfway through her course. After graduating in 1932, Bacewicz secured a grant in the same year to study composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris (1932-1933). Whilst there, Bacewicz studied under the great Nadia Boulanger, as well as receiving private violin lessons with Henri Touret. Bacewicz then returned to Paris a year later in 1934, to study under Hungarian violinist, Carl Flesch.
As well as being a well-acclaimed composer, Bacewicz was also a virtuoso on the violin. 1935 saw her first solo success on the violin, where she won the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Warsaw. Between 1936 and 1938, Bacewicz also played first violin with the Warsaw Polish Radio Orchestra. Throughout her life, Bacewicz remained very involved with violin performance, whether that be ensemble playing, solo recitals, or giving private violin lessons at European Conservatories. Throughout her performance career, Bacewicz travelled across Europe, and played recitals in Belgium, France, Hungary, and the USSR.
Bacewicz gave a large proportion of her life to teaching new generations music, more specifically violin, music theory, and composition. 1945 saw her appointed as a lecturer of music theory, and as a violin teacher at the National Conservatory (now known as the Academy of Music), in Poland. From 1966 to her death in 1969, she worked at the National Higher School of Music in Warsaw, where she led the composition course, and was soon made a professor in 1967. Bacewicz was also a definitive figure on jury panels for violin and composition competitions, as well as serving as vice-chair of the Polish Composers’ Union from 1955-1957, and then again between 1960-1969.
Bacewicz is chiefly remembered, however, for her body of compositions, which are still popular today. Her composition archives was recognized and honoured many times, which included her winning many composition competitions. Her Quintet for Wind Instruments (1932) won 1st Prize at the 1933 Aide aux femmes de professions libres competition in Paris. Her Piano Concerto (1949) won 2nd prize (with no first prize being awarded) at the the Polish Composers’ Union Fryderyk Chopin Composition Competition in 1951. These are mere examples, as Bacewicz won a large amount of awards for works, which also includes the Belgian Government Award and Gold Medal for her Violin Concerto No. 7 (1965).
Hailing from a country where women musicians are heavily underrepresented, it seems that Bacewicz made her mark successfully, as her legacy lives on today. Her compositions range through many genres, although as a violinist herself, Bacewicz composed more music for strings and solo violin, including her Polish Caprice, which was composed in 1949.
Caprice, or Capriccio (Polish: Kaprysy), is usually defined as a single movement piece, that has a free structure, which may contain one, or many different sections within. This made this kind of composition liberal in its style, and Bacewicz utilised this form on many different occasions. Bacewicz composed three solo violin Caprices in 1949, 1952, and 1968. Folk melodies were incredibly popular with European composers during Bacewicz’s lifetime, so it is to no surprise that Polish Caprice is laden with Polish folk melodies.
Polish Caprice is only a short work, lasting around two minutes, but it is full of dynamic twists and turns, which is perhaps why is is still a popular recital piece in the modern day. Bacewicz experiments with tonality, using major-minor tonality throughout, which resonates with Polish folk music, which often uses major-minor modes throughout.
Beginning with a slow E minor recitative-like introduction, this melodic line leads into a brighter E major dance section, marked ‘Allegro’. You could say this work is in ternary form, as you have clearly defined sections that line up with ABA’ format. Five different keys are heard throughout this work, which adds to the dramaturgy of the piece. The acceleration at the end of Polish Caprice is dramatic, exciting and sounds very virtuosic. The structure of this work has been likened to that of the Kujawiakfolk dance, which originates from Poland. The Kujawiak folk dance starts slow, has a faster middle section, and then accelerates at the end, thus one could certainly suggest that Bacewicz’s Polish Caprice has taken some sort of inspiration from this type of folk dance.
After her death in 1969, Grażyna Bacewicz is still celebrated as a composer, performer and educator in the modern day, with many of her works being performed in concert halls, examinations, and in recital programmes. Her progressive style of writing is one of the most exciting traits of her music, and Polish Caprice is no exception to this. A ground-breaking Polish composer, who has made herself an unbreakable legacy.
To hear the Polish Caprice come along to the Illuminate concerts this October 2018!
©Alex Burns 2018
Alex Burns has recently graduated from The University of Sheffield, after studying for a Bmus in Music, and for an MA in Musicology. Her specialisms are the life and works of Gustav Mahler, as well as the works and lost stories of women composers. She runs the No. 1 Classical Music blog in the world, and has written on a range of different composers, aiming to make classical music more accessible to everybody.
Drawing from influences ranging from Squarepusher and Dirty Loops to Stravinsky and Copland, Fumiko Miyachi is a composer and pianist currently based in Birmingham whose music I first encountered at a performance of her Variation on Purcell/Warlock Fantasia No.2 for strings by Aldworth Philharmonic in May 2016. Miyachi’s music offers a vibrant mixture of colour, driving beats, and morphing harmony. Her work as a performer alongside Kate Halsall as the Cobalt Duo is equally impressive. This blog, based on a recent conversation I had with Miyachi, explores some of her work to date as well as how she came to writing music, and some advice she has to offer for fellow composers.
At the time we talked Fumiko was looking forwards to an upcoming premiere of her recent work C8H10N4O2 (otherwise known as Caffeine). The performance was given by the Orchestra of the 21st Century which is a unique project based at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in which their Thallein Ensemble join forces with Orkest de Ereprijs from Holland, to create a radical re-imagining of the orchestra. To date Miyachi’s music has been performed and commissioned by a wide range of musicians and performance groups including the BBC Singers, Opera North, at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, at the La Linea Latin Music Festival, and (more recently) broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of International Women’s Day 2018. But how did she get to where she is today and what has influenced her approach as a composer along the way?
A journey to composition
Miyachi started her musical life as a pianist and for some years was convinced she wanted to be a concert pianist. However, whilst attending Junior Royal College of Music Miyachi took up composition as a second study because it was compulsory to have one and quickly realised that she enjoyed the act of writing dots on paper. Miyachi took up the cello at a similar time and in so doing gained an insight into the world of orchestral music. Soon, writing dots on paper had become much more interesting than practicing other people’s music and her path ahead was set.
The jazz pianist Dominic Alldis was Miyachi’s first composition teacher and introduced her to work as diverse as Bill Evans and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; a diversity of sound still evident in Miyachi’s music today. Miyachi takes a refreshingly matter of fact approach to talking about her journey into composition, recognising that for her the beginning of the journey was a circumstantial necessity but that once she was hooked the hours of study and exploration of what was out there were hers to give:
‘He told me to go and buy the score and study it, so I did.’
Miyachi’s composition teachers have also included Martin Butler (who supervised her PhD in composition at Sussex University, completed in 2005/6), Jeremy Dale Roberts, and Malcolm Singer. One she singles out as perhaps the most important is Peter Norris, a contemporary of Glen Gould with whom she spent numerous hours discussing anything and everything related to music.
Over the course of her journey to composition the styles and particular works which have influenced Miyachi are numerous and she continues to listen as widely as possible today. One work she did pick out during our conversation was Nielsen’s 4th Symphony The Inextinguishable.
‘I just thought it was the best piece ever!’
Nielsen’s work held Miyachi’s interest at around the same time as she was planning her Erasmus year abroad. With Denmark not an option, Finland was the place that attracted her the most and there she spent a productive year immersed in composition from all angles.
When exploring Miyachi’s work for the first time you can’t help but notice the lack of overly poetic titles, and yet there is a running theme: elements. In her recent debut album Transitional Metalthis theme becomes explicit but how exactly do the titles relate to the music? And Why metal?
For Miyachi using elements, molecular formulae, and coded titles allows her to avoid being too descriptive or suggestive about how her music should be listened to or what exactly it is saying. Molecular formulae also offer an interesting starting point when generating material. Miyachi’s music is about the sound itself and the titles are starting points rather than implications of narrative or subject. Nevertheless, given a title, it is impossible to listen to the music without looking for connections to it and perhaps this is part of what makes Transitional Metalso intriguing; it is a collection of characterful works each offering a very personal reflection on a specific metal we thought we knew. Throughout the album the Miyachi sound is one of sparkling rhythm, patience, and detailed motivic layering.
On writing music
Miyachi’s work as a composer is intimately related to her own experience as a performing pianist and her time spent as an orchestral cellist listening to the inner workings of an orchestra. The connection between people is an important part of Miyachi’s approach to writing music and whilst each piece she writes is a new journey, the starting pointusually comes from knowing the players, the brief and the occasion. Miyachi enjoys being a musician amongst musicians, bouncing ideas off others, but in the end as the composer, to be the decision maker driving her own work forwards.
‘As a musician it’s nice to have interaction and playing in a cello section gives you that much more than playing piano. Playing cello in an orchestra fine-tuned my ear and trained me in listening. Pianists are terrible at listening.’
This variety of experience as a musician in combination with her openness to discovering new music and willingness to draw on everything from Stravinsky to the Swedish band Dirty Loops puts Miyachi in a unique position from which to create her own musical voice.
But the actual writing of the music is, for Miyachi, only part of what it takes to be a composer. When asked about what it’s like to be a composer today Miyachi highlighted the challenges of being at once an artist, fundraiser, and manager. As a teacher she focusses on the technical:
‘You can’t teach people to be creative, but if someone has something to say I can help work on the technical things which will allow them to say it.’
To fellow, and future, composers her key pieces of advice are firstly not to be afraid to say you don’t like something, and secondly (perhaps more importantly) to perfect your ability to make pristine parts for your players. They’ll thank you for it.
Written by Laura Shipsey
Dr Helen Thomas