Wednesday Music: Franck’s Symphonic Variations

Longtime readers with excellent memories may remember that I’ve actually featured César Franck’s Symphonic Variations before. It was a while ago, back in 2014 when I was jobless and in graduate school. (Hence the need for an excellent memory, as I’ve written a ton of stuff since then!) However, that was for a series of posts called Saturday night music and I never really went anywhere with that, so I think it’s fair game to use this piece of Wednesday Music. I’m quite keen to talk about it because it’s one of my favorites.

Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is probably the sole reason why the French-Belgian composer César Franck is remembered. Not that his other music is bad, but this one is probably his most well-known.
  • Even though the title of the piece implies it’s a symphony, in structure it’s a lot more similar to a concerto, if you ask me. A solo piano plays a theme and trades it off with the orchestra.
  • After his death, Franck’s students championed this work and it eventually became a part of standard repertoire.

Here’s an excellent performance by Yuri Novikov, a professor of piano at Dnepropetrovsk Conservatory named after Glinka in southeastern Ukraine. I think this recording is great, which is one reason why I decided to share this piece on my blog a second time.

Or click here to watch on YouTube.

Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.
Alexander Litvinenko, date unknown.

I read this fascinating article earlier this year (in the end of January), sent it to my mom in an email with extensive commentary, then very foolishly forgot to post it here on my blog. The article, which appeared in Newsweek—that’s a mainstream publication, mind you—is called Who Killed Litvinenko? Perhaps Not Russia After All.

(If you’re not familiar with the Litvinenko case, consider reading this Wikipedia article. It’s quite comprehensive, if a bit biased in certain places.)

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Newsweek article. If you haven’t read it, you probably should or this post won’t make sense. :)

This is the only article I’ve ever read in the mainstream Western media that at least considers the possibility that the Russian state wasn’t involved in this. And the inconsistencies of the case are certainly interesting.
Continue reading Who Killed Alexander Litvinenko?

Wednesday Music: Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9 in B Flat Major

After missing a week of Wednesday Music, we’re back with a fabulous new composition. I’ve featured Luigi Boccherini’s music before and I wanted to feature it again because he isn’t that well known, even among some people who know and like classical music. This week’s piece is his Cello Concerto No. 9 in B flat major, G. 482. Here’s a bit about it.

  • This concerto is a staple in cello instruction, from what I hear, due to how it slowly works its way up the fingerboard of the instrument. (The fingerboard is that black thing you put your fingers on when you play. When learning an instrument like violin or cello, you start with your hand as far away as possible and as you learn, you slowly work your way closer to your face [on the violin] or toward the floor [on the cello].)
  • The German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher had this concerto arranged to fit the style of a Romantic concerto, even though it’s not a Romantic concerto. The arranged form doesn’t really resemble the original version. Luckily, people have started performing the original form now. I’m not actually sure which version I have embedded in this post.

Enjoy! If you make it through the entire video, you can listen to some random solo cello music, too.

Or click here to watch on YouTube.

Excellent Post: “Writing A Lot, Writing A Little, And The Power Of Failure”

I read this post over the weekend, when I was in one of those moods during which I think that all my attempts at fiction writing are terrible, I’ll never publish anything that people want to read, and that I should just give up on writing altogether. Yeah, not very pleasant thoughts. My theory is that all writers have them at least every once in a while.

Anyway, novelist Chuck Wendig wrote a blog post featuring tweets from actual published, successful writers. Basically, these writers said:

  • You have to write a lot to get decent at writing.
  • Different books can take different lengths of time to write (even if they’re roughly the same amount of words).
  • Everyone has written those bad books that are never published. This isn’t a bad thing because you’re still learning and most people never write ANY books. Even a bad book is still a book.
  • There’s no such thing as overnight success. See the first point.
  • Finish your work! An idea for a novel doesn’t do anyone any good. A manuscript does.

That’s what I got from the post, anyway. I’m sure I missed some stuff, so you ought to go read it. Tweets are short by nature, so it doesn’t take long to read through.

The Poll And The Plane

I conducted a poll last week but then I didn’t feel like blogging very much, as you probably noticed. (I even missed Wednesday Music!) Last week was the anniversary of the MH17 crash in Ukraine, which made (and still makes) me too sad to blog about Russia and/or Ukraine. So even though the poll was overwhelmingly in favor of me returning to writing about Russia, I didn’t feel like it last week.

Did you know that animals were among the victims of the plane crash? There were animals in the cargo hold, including adorable dogs and adorable birds. I never heard about that last year when the crash happened. My advice to you is not to seek out photos of these animals. I stumbled across a couple and they were very sad. 😭

I’m feeling very sad tonight about the plane. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow. Now I’m off to read some Russian poetry, including this poem, which I completely forgot existed until earlier this evening.

News Flash: Classical Music Is HARD

That's my violin. I was trying to do a depth of field shot, but I don't know if I succeeded.
That’s my violin. I was trying to do a depth of field shot, but I don’t know if I succeeded.

When I was studying at university, I took weekly violin lessons. Every Friday, I would pack up my violin and my music and make my way to the music building (which was inexplicably located off-campus) for an hour-long lesson with Mrs. S. For each lesson, I had to prepare a scale or two and work on the solo part of a concerto or other work for violin. We also worked on the dreaded and difficult topic of music theory. Obviously, that meant I had to practice during the week. For my lessons, I received three credits a semester, which is the same amount I received for regular classes that met for three hours a week (either in three one-hour increments or two one-and-a-half hour increments).

For some reason, this really bothered my friend B. She was not (and is not) a musician. (This fact may seem unrelated, but I suspect it explains a lot.)

“I can’t believe you get three credits for doing that!” she’d fume when I went off to my violin lessons. No matter how much I tried to explain that I did the same amount of work (if not more) for those one-hour lessons as I did for my three-hour lecture and seminar classes, she just couldn’t believe it.

Now, it’s pretty hard to explain actual violin playing to someone who doesn’t play an instrument. Basically, you’ll play something for thirty seconds, if you’re lucky, before your teacher stops you and tells you everything you just did wrong. Then you have to play it again and fix what they just told you was wrong. And believe me, there’s always a lot wrong and it takes a lot of tries to fix it properly. That sounds really negative when I put it that way, but it’s actually fun if you like the instrument and want to get better (which I did, and I do).

However, I can partially demonstrate the difficulty of music theory. I’ve been learning some music theory on my own—I’ve never taken a formal class in it and want to learn more beyond the basics than what I know—and one of the resources I’ve used is this “Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People.” This stuff is hard, everyone. That’s not news to me—and probably isn’t news to most of you!—but in case there are any people out there with friends like my friend B. who think music is a “soft option” or whatever—well, now you can set them straight!

June Writing Report

Welcome, welcome, to my monthly writing report for June. (I’m imagining that sentence said in the voice of that lady who draws the names for Hunger Games participants in The Hunger Games movie. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m pretty sure that scene is in the movie trailer.) I meant to post this earlier, but I forgot. Oh, well.

In June, I wrote a total of 23,814 words. That’s an average of 794 words per day. I was aiming for 1,000 a day, but that didn’t happen thanks to my own silliness. I finished writing a novel (hooray!) and wasn’t sure what to do afterwards. I wanted to edit it right away, but I have found that I can’t edit right after finishing something. I need to put it away for a bit. Since I couldn’t start editing, I worked on outlining the next book in the series, which I am currently writing.

I wrote every single day in June up until June 22, which was the day after I finished the novel. Not too bad, right? As of the end of June, I wrote 123,054 words in 2015.

Anyway, I’m keeping up with the writing and hope to start editing that novel later this month!