SEPTEMBER 29th 2018 — As a little exercise, I turned a “chip tune” ditty from the first LEISURE SUIT LARRY game into sheet music.
This is one of the most famous themes in the world, from the 3rd movement (Marche funèbre) of Chopin’s PIANO SONATA NO. 2 IN B FLAT MINOR, Op. 35 (FUNERAL MARCH).
Anyone who grew up playing computer games in the 1980s heard this theme in dozens of games, and it probably appeared in hundreds, typically as the game over music. A lot of classical music ended up in games in those days in particular, as various creative adaptations for often highly limited sound chips or synthesizers.
Chopin wrote this theme in B flat minor, but for this game it was transposed up a whole step (two keys on the piano keyboard, whether white or black), to C minor.
As the first step, I extracted the sound file from the game, then used a free program to convert it into MIDI data. But it turned out that — whether the problem arose from the original sound file format, the conversion process, or the eccentricities of the MIDI standard — the resulting MIDI file was unusable as such. It looked nothing like the above orderly notation, the score instead being full of 64th notes and rests and so on, and the measure breaks were all off.
I could always have gone to sheet music of the sonata as Chopin wrote it, but I wanted to follow this particular adaptation of it. So I wrote the above based on the messy data from the MIDI file, correcting the timing and other issues to create this still very faithful result. It follows the rhythms and of course exact notes of the piece as it appears in the game.
Finally I analyzed the piece for the chords and added those. I’ve done this kind of analysis of hundreds of pieces and I find it a great way to learn. It means going through every note and rest and every other detail in a piece of music and seeing how it all fits together.
And one of the nice things about it is that no piece of music is too short or simple for this type of analysis. Every piece is rewarding to do and can teach something.
Chopin is one of my favorite composers. But I want to write more about him in an entry of his own. So that’s another story.
SEPTEMBER 26th 2018 — Welcome to the first installment of “Let’s listen to Bob Dylan in Iceland”.
Join me on this journey through all of Dylan’s recorded and officially released tracks in chronological order — the order in which they were recorded, as listed in the massive, useful reference tome BOB DYLAN: ALL THE SONGS: THE STORY BEHIND EVERY TRACK (2015) by Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon.
I’ll be sharing Spotify playlists of all these songs, to go with each entry. I have no particular agenda with this series other than to enjoy, educate myself, and see what thoughts occur. I also welcome comments and thoughts from my readers.
For those looking to go deeper, I recommend the book mentioned, and likewise a free PDF that can be found online, THE BOB DYLAN SONGBOOK by Eyolf Østrem. It includes background information, lyrics, tabs, and fingerpicking patterns.
Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 in recognition of the enormous contribution to culture he has made with his songwriting. I was actually in Iceland the day this was announced, visiting the Icelandic family that were my gracious hosts, and chatted about it with them, between bouts of the middle sibling of the family strumming his guitar (a musically gifted family).
But now we rewind back to 1959 and a soft start for this series, since only one song from this year is part of our syllabus:
“WHEN I GOT TROUBLES” (E major) — May 1959
Bob Dylan — born Robert Allen Zimmerman — has just turned 18 and remains undiscovered and without a recording contract.
At the home of a friend in Hibbing, he sings into his friend’s microphone and tape recorder a blues song of his own, “WHEN I GOT TROUBLES”, accompanying himself on the guitar.
The recording is of poor quality and cuts short, but for anyone interested in tracking his progress, this is of course gold. As pointed out by the authors of ALL THE SONGS:
“His voice remains in a lower register, almost confidential in style, and the guitar playing is quite poor. Yet an impression of depth emerges from his interpretation.” (p. 13)
Young mister Dylan is on the path.
Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s listen to Bob Dylan in Iceland: 1959”:
SEPTEMBER 9th 2018 — This entry inaugurates a tradition I plan to follow in the future:
The following of a number of threads like this, with the intention to see where they lead and what light they throw upon my special interests in life. This is far from the only “Let’s” series I have in mind.
THE GRAMOPHONE magazine was founded in Great Britain in 1923 by Compton Mackenzie, novelist, critic, actor, and gardener, along with London editor Christopher Stone. For many decades it covered all music released on record, unlike today, when it is solely dedicated to classical music.
This earlier orientation means it is quite a comprehensive bible to music of all genres released in those several decades. Combined with Spotify, it makes for a wonderful resource and guide into the music of times past.
Let’s see where the first issue takes us. You can find all these back issues as part of the digital archive available at least on iOS and other platforms as well. As a dedicated Apple user these days, I do most things in iOS.
A word of caution, however: I will be commenting only upon pieces of music that interest me at the particular time that I write my entries. There is a lot of more than worthy music that I will pass by. I just want to comment on some.
* * *
The time is April 1923.
One thing that these classic issues have to offer is a use of English now largely lost. While there are attitudes that will justly strike a modern reader as awful and harsh, there are also graces and subtleties that no modern publication can offer. The use of language is often rich and luxurious.
Of all the recordings mentioned in this issue, it would be hard not to place at the top the one by violinists Kreisler and Zimbalist of Bach’s CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS. This can be found on Spotify in three parts: I. VIVACE. II. LARGO. III. ALLEGRO. This is music with a guilelessness perhaps almost wholly unfamiliar to most modern musicmakers.
Chopin’s NOCTURNE NO. 19 IN E MINOR, Op. 72 No. 1, played by pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, is referenced. This wonderful piece is also available on Spotify.
Let’s learn some music theory:
E minor means that the piece is in the key of E minor. That means it follows the modern minor scale, which works like this (every half step is a step towards the next key on the piano keyboard, whether a black or white key, and every whole step is two steps on the piano keyboard, whether black or white keys):
Starting from the root note, in this case E, it follows this pattern ascending up the scale:
E, whole step (F#), half step (G), whole step (A), whole step (B), half step (C), whole step (D), whole step (E), arriving at another E.
Every minor scale in modern music follows this same pattern of whole and half steps.
So the only difference between modern minor scales is which root note they start from. The relationship between the notes of the scale is exactly the same in all minor scales. The same is true of all major scales, but I will come to that later.
In this way you can construct any modern minor scale in any key. You simply pick the root note (any white or black key on the piano or other similar keyboard) and follow this pattern of steps:
root W H W W H W W
You can also start on any of the black keys, and sharps and flats are added to the basic note names as needed.
A sharp is simply the next note above, whether a black or white key, from the default form of the note, and a flat is simply the next note below, again whether a black or white key.
Thus C# or C sharp is the black key between C and D, and Cb or C flat is the white note below C — in other words, B. Pairs like Cb and B, which actually refer to the selfsame note, are called enharmonic notes.
But enough theory for now. To conclude, the Chopin NOCTURNE IN E MINOR is called that because it takes E as its root and fundamental note and is in the minor key, so it uses primarily the seven notes of the E minor scale (or eight if you count the E above also).
Few of the early Wagner records mentioned in these early issues are on Spotify. Perhaps needless to say, Wagner dipped for his RING cycle into the well of myths first or only written down in Iceland — the Eddic sagas.
But though these are not on Spotify, I want to cite here the titles — evocative on their own — given for some Wagner recordings in this issue. In the following, Wotan = Óðinn / Odin.
DAS RHEINGOLD (THE RHINEGOLD)
“Alberich steals the gold: The dawn over Valhalla”
“The descent to Nibelheim: Capture of Alberich”
“The entry of the gods into Valhalla”
DIE WALKÜRE (THE VALKYRIE)
“Prelude: Siegmund seeks shelter from the storm (Act I)”
“Siegmund sees the sword hilt in the tree”
“Siegmund greets the spring night”
“Siegmund draws out his sword”
“Introduction: Brünnhilde’s battle cry”
“Wotan warns Brünnhilde not to disobey”
“Brünnhilde foretells Siegmund’s death”
“Introduction: Ride of the Valkyries”
“Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the broken sword”
“Brünnhilde implores the protection of fire”
“Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde”
“Wotan kisses Brünnhilde into a deep slumber”
“The rock is surrounded by fire: Finale of opera”
Still on the subject of Iceland:
“A Review of the First Quarter of 1923” by the Editor mentions “THE SONG OF THE VIKING GUEST” sung by Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (p. 16). This early cylinder recording is available on Spotify. The song is from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera SADKO (premiered in Moscow in 1898).
The Zonophone ad in this issue (p. VI) lists singer Foster Richardson, with orchestra, performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “THE VIKING SONG”. This, however, is not on Spotify.
Also mentioned in this Zonophone ad, as well as in the Editor’s review of the first quarter (p. 16), is the lovely Elizabethan song, “DRINK TO ME ONLY WITH THINE EYES”, recorded for example by Johnny Cash in much later days.
Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 1 — April 1923”:
This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.