Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mozart's Starling

On May 27, 1784, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart purchased a Starling. This tiny bird so endeared itself to the mercurial composer that when it died three years later, an elaborate funeral ceremony was enacted for the bird, including a procession of veiled mourners, hymns, and Mozart read at graveside a poem he composed for the occasion:

A little clown lies here
Whom I held dear—
A starling in the prime
Of his brief time
Whose doom it was to drain
Death's bitter pain.
Thinking of this, my heart
Is riven apart.
Oh reader! Shed a tear,
You also, here.
He was not naughty, quite,
But gay and bright,
And under all his brag
A foolish wag.
This no one can gainsay
And I will lay
That he is now on high,
And from the sky,
Praises me without pay
In his friendly way.
Yet unaware that death
Has choked his breath,
And thoughtless of the one
Whose rime is thus well done.

Mozart's grief may have been more than an elaborate show. In fact, it's almost certain that his heartache was sincere. Starlings are among the more amiable and interactive of the imitative avians, and Mozart's journals reveal his delight in his feathered little friend. Starlings are noted for their rich repertoire of vocal sounds and Mozart, the musician, would have been particularly captivated by his pet's vocal talents. In fact, he exclaimed "Das war schon!" (that was beautiful), upon hearing its song.

Starlings seem to train their owners as much as the owners train the bird; rewarding attention with faster learning. Starlings can learn from recordings (while young) but learn far faster from direct human interaction. They're also apparently more likely to repeat phrases which elicit affection and treats from their human owners. Like cats, one begins to wonder who is the owner and who is the pet?

his particular starling's song inspired the beginning of the last movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in G major, K.453, although--oddly enough--some scholars seem to believe the bird somehow learned the theme of the Concerto while still in the pet store. It's a long story and only of interest to academics who love to wrangle over such things; what we know is Mozart had a starling, and the starling whistled his Concerto, if a little off-key (G-sharp apparently, not G Natural). And that when this clownish little musician died, Mozart grieved, I found this touching. Mozart had a number of unattractive personality traits, but anyone who mourns over the death of a little bird can't be all bad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Clair de Lune

I sat down and worked out the scale of Clair de Lune, and revised my earlier opinion. I am now sure it's in the key of D flat major. I'll have my opinion verified by Teacher in a day or so but I'm pretty sure. This is the key signature of D flat Major:
Which by golly is the bulk of Clair de Lune. But I figured it out by myself using the Tetrachord rule. Every scale consists of two Tetrachords connected by a whole step. If you know this, you can figure out the fingering or pattern of every key. I looked at the lowest flat, in this case "d" and started playing the scale there. It just so happened this played a perfect Major Scale. If it hadn't, I would have tried another flat note. I knew the scale was neither 'C" nor "F" Major; neither would have that particular pattern of flats. In fact C Major has no flats.

It's cool knowing enough Music Theory to understand this much at least. I dig it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Busy, But Still Practicing

May is usually a crazy month for me, with performing demand at its peak--Post-Proms, mostly--and I've mostly recovered, it seems, from the bronchial woes of six months ago. Although I'm not at 100 percent yet. I am working out three to four days a week and feeling quite ambitious again, and making plans to launch a grand scheme I'm think of as THE PROJECT: a multi-armed assault of my presentational skills onto several venues at once.

Throughout this craziness I have been practicing my chops with Joplin (the B Section is coming together nicely) and Ol' Cristofori is sounding pretty good. Teacher and I decided to cut my lessons back to two this month due to my hectic schedule. I'm also trying to select the third piece to tackle, which we will do in June. I'm trying to decide between Clair de Lune or Bumble Boogie. I think it's going to be Clair de Lune. Clare de Lune will give me practice playing in a new key (from my cursory examination of the sheet music, it appears to be F Major, but then seems to change keys later on, but I'll have to consult with Teacher).