Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fourth of July Classical Music

This is a post I put up a long time ago, but which captures the sense of classical music for Independence Day pretty well.


Canons and Cannons

[Originally posted June 26, 2011]

Row, row, row your boat ...

Every American child knows this song by heart.  Technically, it's called a "round", where different groups start singing the same things at different times.  It's simple enough to get large groups of children to do it at school concerts - and well done!  Having been to my share of school concerts (as both performer and listener), this is A Very Good Thing Indeed for teaching our children the basics of music.  It's a very old music form, dating from the High Middle Ages.  Keep the Dream alive, everyone!

But what happens if you complicate things just a bit?  Say, by adding an extra (and new) melodic theme to the plain, old, boring Round?  You get this:

It's called a "Canon", and Johan Christoph Pachelbel created what is undoubtedly the most famous version, composed in the 17th Century. Surprisingly, it was lost, and only re-discovered after World War I. I say "surprisingly" because this piece is hugely popular today. You've probably heard it.

But "Canon" is not the same as "Cannon", which involve not a chamber quartet, but black powder, but may involve a repeated theme (shelling the enemy).  It took until the 19th Century and Tchaikovsky to write a piece for orchestra and Field Artillery, but this is a doozy.  It's another piece that you've almost certainly heard before, the 1812 Overture, written to celebrate the defeat by the Russian Empire of Napoleon's Grand Armeé in 1812.  Literally, it was scored for orchestra and field artillery.  In other words, cannons.

And so, a single character makes a difference, but you'll get great music whichever way you like to spell canon/cannon.  I kind of think that my High School music teachers would be appalled reading this, but it's true.

Oh, and for a very politically incorrect and a totally awesome version of Earth Shattering Kaboomdone to the 1812 Overture, here's nuclear detonations to replace the puny 105 mm cannons.


Brad_in_IL said...

The 1812 is indeed an exceptional piece of music. Last summer I checked off a bucket list item which involves the 1812. For your readers who are not in the know, here in greater Chicago is an outdoor music venue called Ravinia. Its the summer home for The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Ravinia has a pavilion which seats about 3,000 and the lawn can accommodate about 20k. Anyway, I scored two pavilion tickets for the CSO's all Tchaikovsky annual performance which culminates with the full 1812, all 16 minutes of it, with of course, live artillery. Note also that the pavilion has "jumbo" video screens so for those seated on the lawn, they too can see what's going on.

So . . the CSO is doing their thing, it gets close to the finale where, you know, BOOOOOOM. The camera feeding the jumbo video screens moves to the guns. The Very Best Lady in my Life is thinking the boomers are located somewhere else and what she's seeing is a live video feed. I of course knew the truth but conveniently didn't say a word. The finale approaches and KaBOOOOOM. With the first cannon shot, Very Best Lady jumps out of her chair, totally shocked that she's only about 50 yards from such outlandish displays of testosterone. City girl. I'm working (successfully) to fix that.

In all, it was a glorious evening.

- Brad

libertyman said...

Excellent post. The Boston Pops would perform the 1812 along the Charles at the Hatch shell. I went many moons ago, but friends would later anchor their boats in the Charles River and stay a few days to watch and hear (and feel !) the music and cannon.

Wonderful memories!

Unknown said...

Very good.

Borepatch said...

Brad, that's a cool story.

Libertyman, I never went to those - WAY too many people. A boat on the Charles would be the right way to do it, though.

Aesop said...

Darn right Tchaikovsky was written "for cannons".

I have played "special percussion" for the second piece, as part of a full symphony orchestra.
Camp Lejeune, main parade field evening festivities for II MEF 3 July 1985.

I played First Howitzer for the piece, in summer service dress, with the main music for the evening provided by the 2nd Marine Division Band. We were using 105mm M101A1s with salute round blanks, for invited guests and dignitaries.

And then got to go back the next morning, and help play the 21-gun salute to America (Actually 3 of us, firing 7 times per piece.)

Awesome stuff for a young corporal of Marines.

Brad_in_IL said...

Sometime I'll have to tell you about the All-Gershwin evening with Kevin Cole as lead pianist. It was a 2+ hour program, and the man didn't use a scrap of sheet music. The finale, Rhapsody in Blue with the entire CSO as backing, was magical. I don't think George could have played it better.

As for culinary bucket list items -- on the drive from MA to IL about three years ago, I stopped in Maxwell Klinger's home town of Toledo, Ohio and had me a Tony Packo's Hungarian Hot Dog. Yum.

- Brad