Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Béla Bartók: Rhapsody No.1 (1928). "Lassu" and "Friss"

Today, on 25 March 2015, is Bela Bartok's 134th birthday. Not a "round" number, but still reason to celebrate him with his music.

I have completed now the recording of Bartok's "Rhapsody No.1", with both movements "Lassu" and "Friss". This is the version for violin and orchestra. Originally this composition was written by Bartok for piano and violin, but he transcribed it for orchestra and violin in 1929.

Already in 2001 I had created a rendition of "Lassu", at that time with my Yamaha MU-80 synthesizer and a viola soundfont. In 2014 I did revise this recording of "Lassu", using the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (GPO4) sample library for a more realistically sounding rendition. And now, in March 2015 I have tackled the 2nd movement, "Friss".

Both movements rely heavily on solo violin, which is a bit problematic to "play" on a regular piano keyboard. For this recording I have played this solo violin voice in live play, so that I could convey the varying tempi and attacks. I did use the "solo violin 1" (Stradivari) sample for this voice. In "Friss" there are also parts where the string sections are to be played by a few solo instruments, so I did use all of the other solo instruments from the GPO4 library.

The cimbalom used here is a standard Cakewalk TTS softsynth from Sonar.

Here is now the completed recording of Rhapsody No.1. After the first movement, the 2nd one will play automatically.

The recording was created in Sonar Producer X1. It uses 3 instances of the ARIA player, with a total of 32 individual MIDI tracks and instruments.

There are two different possible endings in "Friss". I chose the one which is supposed to be used when both movements are played. Since "Friss" can also be played as a stand-alone movement without "Lassu", there is a different ending of "Friss" which does not refer in the end back to "Lassu".

Here is an encore: Béla Bartók on the piano, and violinist Josef Szigeti, for whom this composition was written, in a historic recording from 13 April 1940:

In this recording, apparently the second version of the "Friss" ending was used, even though both movements are played in sequence together.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

"Im Märzen der Bauer..."

The beginning of spring in the month or March is a good opportunity to play the old folk song (Volkslied) from Moravia "Im Märzen der Bauer" ("In March the Farmer...").

This song describes the activities of farmers at the beginning of spring and then (in the final verse) throughout the year. It is most often played/sung with 3 verses, but there is also a version with an additional inserted after the first verse, as shown on the Lieder-website

1. Im Märzen der Bauer die Rößlein einspannt;
Er bringt seine Felder und Wiesen instand, 
Er ackert, er egget, er pflüget und sät
Und regt seine Hände gar früh und noch spät.

a. Den Rechen, den Spaten, den nimmt er zur Hand
und setzet die Wiesen in ebenen Stand. 
Auch pfropft er die Bäume mit edlerem Reis
Und spart weder Arbeit noch Mühe und Fleiß.

2. Die Knechte und Mägde und all sein Gesind,
Das regt und bewegt sich wie er so geschwind.
Sie singen manch munteres, fröhliches Lied
Und freu'n sich von Herzen, wenn alles schön blüht.

3. Und ist dann der Frühling und Sommer vorbei,
So füllet die Scheuer der Herbst wieder neu.
Und ist voll die Scheuer, voll Keller und Haus,
Dann gibt's auch im Winter manch fröhlichen Schmaus.

Here is a translation into English (which can be sung to this melody and which also rhymes) by my friend David Solomons, who has sung the German version of this song to am earlier version of my recording (from 2003), which is available on YouTube at

1. In March comes the farmer to harness his team. 
He makes his fields ready as well he may deem.
He ploughs and he harrows and sows all his seeds.
From dawn up to dusk then to labour he needs.

a. He takes up the rake and the spade in his hand
And levels the meadows he has on his land.
He also grafts new twigs onto his fine trees. 
It takes all his effort, his work doesn't cease.

2. The farmhands and maids and his workers all there.
Keep busy as he does his work for to share.
They sing lots of songs that are merry and bright
And when all is blooming it gives them delight.

3. Now when the spring season and summer are past.
The autumn will fill his great barn then at last.
And once barn and cellar and house are well filled.
There is jolly feasting when winter has chilled.

© David Solomons 2012.

This web site also provides the following interesting information about this song:

"Bauernlied" im "Liederbuch für die Deutschen in Österreich", 1. u. unveränderte 2. Aufl., Wien 1884. Der Herausgeber Josef Pommer fügte hinzu: "Ein von der deutschen Landbevölkerung der mährischen Sudeten häufig gesungenes und beliebtes Volkslied. Eingesandt (zwischen 1882 u. 1884)."

Looking at this time frame and the location, this is a song which very likely composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) heard in his youth, when he grew up in Iglau (Jihlava) at the border between Bohemia and Moravia. In my arrangement and the composition of the interludes between the verses I hinted at this connection by adding some "Mahlerian"-type harmonies and progressions.

I have created the first version of this arrangement in 2002/2001. Now I have reworked it and re-recorded it in Februaryh 2015. This new recording uses Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 (strings and a solo flute).

Sunday, 15 February 2015

"A fairly ordinary working day" - composition for string quartet

In summer 2012 the Crossover Composition Award was organised, asking for a composition for two violins. So I sat down and wrote a 5 minute composition for two violins. There were great other contributions to this competition, and my composition was not awarded anything.

After the composition was sitting for a while on the metaphorical shelves, I decided to extend it into a string quartet. So in February 2015 I added a viola and a cello voice, changed a few notes in the violin parts, and recorded the quartet again with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 sample library.

The result is here on SoundCloud:

About the composition:

The music follows a program: a typical ordinary working day at the office. It starts out with night, sunrise, awakening, then some morning hectic. Rush hour traffic, fast cars, people running upstairs and downstairs. Then at work. Boring routine job. Daydreaming. Trouble with the boss. The day does not seem to end. Finally the work is over. Rush hour on the way home. Partying. Night.

The exact correspondences of these notions to the music are shown in my synchronous comments that appear when the music is played. I did try to put these notions directly into music, quite literally translating the mood and motion into musical elements.

I hope that you enjoy this music!