Listen to this: Minuet

We sometimes make listening to classical music seem like a more complicated thing than it really needs to be. True, you can always know more about such a rich subject as classical music; but some simple listening tips can go a long way in aiding the novice. For instance, just knowing the names and sounds of the various instruments in a symphony orchestra can help a listener make better sense of what he’s hearing.

So, too, with the form, or structure, of a piece. This is just the way a piece of music is laid out, it’s overall architecture. This, too, can get very complicated fast, but often it isn’t. As with the basic structure of a Minuet, or its descendent, the Scherzo.

The basic structure of a Minuet is A, B, C, A, B, with the letters corresponding to the various sections of the piece. Sections A and B, both repeated the first time around, contain related musical material. Section C, also known as the Trio, has contrasting material and instrumentation, and usually two sections that are repeated as well. Then, it’s back to the top for another run-through of A and B.

It’s all easy to hear, especially once you have some signposts. So here are the timings for the various sections in the minuet above, from Haydn’s Symphony No. 104, “London.”

Section A starts at the top and the repeat starts at 11”.

Section B starts at 20”. The repeat of same starts at 59”.

Section C starts at 1’38”. This section has two parts, both of which are repeated, as you can hear. Section C ends at 3’12”, at which time there is a short transitional section to take us back to the beginning …

The return of Section A begins at 3’27”. It is repeated.

Section B returns at 3’45”. It is not repeated.

(Different conductors make different decisions about repeats when Sections A and B return.)

There you have it. This structure holds true for almost all minuets and scherzos even into the 20th century, though A and B sections are often longer and sometimes there are two Trios.

Chopin meets Liszt

A scene from “A Song to Remember” (1944), with Cornel Wilde as Chopin, Stephen Bekassy as Liszt, and Paul Muni as Chopin’s teacher, Prof. Joseph Elsner. I laughed out loud the first time I saw this, many years ago. When Hollywood gets classical music wrong, it’s usually very wrong.

Halliwell’s capsule review of the film:

“Hilarious classical music biopic which was unexpectedly popular and provoked a flood of similar pieces. As a production, not at all bad, but the script …”

Jose Iturbi dubbed the piano playing.

Leonard Bernstein: 99

Today is Leonard Bernstein’s 99th birthday. We remember him as a composer and conductor, of course, but we sometimes forget he was an exceptional pianist too. Here he is with the New York Philharmonic, playing and conducting Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Classical cover: Schubert’s ‘Erlkonig’

I love a good cover song. The term usually applies to a pop or rock song — some of my favorites in that category include DEVO’s “Satisfaction,” Cake’s “I Will Survive” and The Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac.”

But broadly speaking, classical music is filled with cover songs, if we think of transcriptions, arrangements and paraphrases as such. At any rate, here’s one of my favorite classical covers: First, the original Schubert song, “Erlkönig,” sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (English subtitles included); and then Heinrich Ernst’s violin transcription of same, played by Hilary Hahn.

Video: Yekwon Sunwoo plays Mozart

I had the pleasure of talking the other day to Van Cliburn gold medalist Yekwon Sunwoo (article to come). Here he is playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 during the semifinal round of the competition. It’s beautifully done. He’ll perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Pacific Symphony on Sept. 9.

Monster of a movie: Kaufman and Pacific take on ‘Jurassic Park’


Richard Kaufman, Principal Pops Conductor of Pacific Symphony, answered the door of his classic Encino ranch house the other day in his bare feet and khaki shorts. When he’s not conducting symphony orchestras around the world in live performances of film scores with the movie screened synchronously, Kaufman, 69, works in a home office equipped with a large desk, on which sits a giant computer monitor to watch the film he’s working on and the score to same.

The room is filled with papers and scores and mementos, including a framed photograph of Kaufman, a veteran of the Hollywood studios, coaching Jack Nicholson on the violin for his starring role in “The Witches of Eastwick.” (Those are Kaufman’s hands you see playing the piano in the scene in which Susan Sarandon’s cello bursts into flames.)

His current project is “Jurassic Park,” which he’ll conduct for the first time Saturday (Aug. 19) with Pacific Symphony at Pacific Amphitheatre. To demonstrate his duties, he flips on the movie to the scene where a T-Rex is chasing a jeep — pure mayhem — and conducts the score, which he has marked up with brightly colored highlighters. Meters and tempos change suddenly. A click track sets the pace. Both he and the orchestra will listen to it on headphones during the performance.

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