How could I have overlooked this one? I’ve heard of bees in one’s bonnet, but this is something else!
COME FLY WITH ME...
There’s been quite a buzz in the air today, with insects in profusion in our summer garden. It occurred to me how many pieces of music have been inspired by such winged creatures - from Butterflies in the Rain (here on piano roll) to The Grasshopper’s Dance (played by the lovely Ensemble Tiffany).
For musicians aiming to impress with their virtuosity, Rimsky Korsakof’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ can be hard to beat. I’ve found three extraordinary examples of this particular work. The first is pianist Sunny Li performing it on two grand pianos simultaneously.
In July 2011, Canadian violinist Eric Speed (and I’m not making his name up) set a new world record when he played the same piece in 53 seconds. But his record fell again to speed violinist Ben Lee, in April 2014. Watch Lee here, and you may puzzle (as I did) that his violin has not 4 but 5 strings.
If you prefer your bumble bees in the bass, then you’ll enjoy the astonishing Carol Williams putting her best feet forward, playing the piece on organ pedals! And note where she’s playing it too (see my blog of 11th June 2019).
Phew! Time for a change of species, I think. Vaughan Williams produces an excellent zzzZZZzzz sound in his Wasps Overture, beautifully realised by Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra.
But my personal favourite, and a piece I’ve adored since I was knee-high to a Gad-fly (cue Nicola Benedetto playing Shostakovich) is Strauss’s Dragonfly, here captured beautifully by K&K Philharmoniker and Ballet.
Time for me to buzz off now. How time flies!
KEEP CALM AND COWARDY?
We’ve just taken a midsummer walk wrapped in scarves and raincoats, squelching through mud as the brief spell of sun disappears, before heading home to listen to the news. Those we met on our outing sighed and frowned and generally added to the feeling of damp despondency. And me? I started singing a song which always cheers me up. It’s by the incomparable Noel Coward and it could have been written yesterday. So pour yourself a warming cup, snuggle in your armchair and have a listen here. There you are - it was all just as bad in 1952 :-).
Can’t hear the lyrics? Find them here.
WHEN HUGE MEANS TRAGIC
At this time when many have been commemorating D-Day, featuring this instrument seems rather appropriate. It’s the world’s largest pipe organ in a place of worship, with 23,511 pipes and 874 speaking stops. And it’s to be found in the Cadet Chapel, West Point Military Academy, USA.
But why is its immense size so sad? Well, when it was first built by Möller in 1911, it’s proportions were far smaller. Whilst visiting it, my brother was told how it has been expanded and further expanded over the years, as bereaved families donated a rank of pipes in memory of their military loved ones who had been killed in action. That seems as telling as rows of grave-stones or clouds of ceramic poppies.
The console is sited, unusually, at ground level, as you will see in this video of an organist (un-named, but it looks like Meredith Baker’s back view) playing Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland.
By way of contrast, you can watch Scott Dettra in 1999 playing Fantasia in G (BWV 572) by Bach. The first section is remarkable for being a long string of single notes, played so fast that they almost blur into chords. If you fancy something more modern, Scott plays the Fugue by Honegger here. The figure assisting Scott is his father, who at that time was organist at the chapel.
As we listen to the glorious sound of this titanic instrument, it’s timely to reflect that at least half of those ranks of pipes sound a memorial to lives cut short by war.