la petite girafe: a blog
blog post #04 | 15 NOV 019

Drinking Coffee

The Irish word for whisky, uisce batha, means water of life. Since drink-driven composing would lead to strictly forbidden dissonances in the best case and in any other case to directly redirecting a musical draft to /dev/null, some endearing people have introduced us to drinking coffee in the occident just a few centuries ago.

The little giraffe is looking at a stack of business cards.

One of the first odes to the very hot drink that became well known, dates back to the 1730s. It originally flowed out of J. S. Bach‘s quill, who then wrote a work for choir and orchestra called Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), today widely known as Coffee Cantata. It is not delivered how many drinks it took him to accomplish finishing the piece, however we do know that he relied upon a text by Picander and that it was premiered in a coffeehouse, the former Zimmermann’sche Kaffeehaus in Leipzig. Picander, who obviously had little confidence in his civic name Christian Friedrich Henrici and who was just a few steps away from becoming Oberpostkommissar in 1734 wrote some of the texts Bach used in his cantatas. In an idle moment in 1732 this poet-clerk sat down on his desk to write verses like this one:

Du böses Kind, du loses Mädgen,
Ach! wenn erlang ich meinen Zweck,
Thu mir den Coffe weg.

Translated to English, it would not get any better:

You bad child, you wild girl!
Oh! If only I could have my way:
get rid of coffee!

However, if we have the jog trot–the person singing the lines is called Schlendrian–turned into music by Bach, these lines would not sound like being jotted down carelessly at all. On the contrary: it is as astonishing as funny, how a perfectionist such as Bach intoned the figure of the jog trot. Obviously, the following paragraph had to be transfigured into an aria sung by the choir:

Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffe süsse,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muscaten-Wein.
Coffe, Coffe muß ich haben;
Und wenn iemand mich will laben,
Ach so schenckt mir Coffe ein.

Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
smoother than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I must have coffee,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
ah!, just give me some coffee!

In 1745 a less known coffee cantata by Nicolas Bernier was edited in Paris. In his work Le caffé for solo soprano, flute or violin and continuo, Bernier lauded the drink:

Agreable Caffé, quels climats inconnus
Ignorent les beaux feux que ta va peur inspire?
Ah! tu contes dans ton empire
Des lieux rebelles a Bachus

Other than that, Bernier seemed to be more into extolling higher planes as his other cantatas are in large part dedicated to figures such as Calysto, Cybelle, Aminte et Lucrine, Iris, Vénus and to the portrait of the Greek muse Urania.

I was also looking for pieces that were written within the recent decades and which feature the black beverage prominently. Certainly there are some dozens of composers who have written exactly such a desired piece, but how could we find these treasures? Sometimes it is a good start to rummage through the mica database. This is what I did and the most promising result I got was a piece called Radiocafekaffeemaschine by Max Nagl. I’m gonna listen to that one, if I can dig it up somewhere. Maybe it refers to a percolator that was taped at the café next to the Viennese Funkhaus as the piece is described as an experimental audio feed in the database. Who knows? We will not start reading coffee drags, will we?

blog post #03 | 10 NOV 019

A New Recording

Shh, listen! The little giraffe unboxed the big green headphones and is enjoying a first sonic impression of a new piece. Let’s have a look at how an audio recording emerges from the silence of a formerly white paper.

The little giraffe is looking at a stack of business cards.

Recordings are definitely a crucial part in documenting a composer‘s work. Too often it occurs that a piece is written only for a particular event. Once the work is premiered, it would disappear into the abyss of oblivion. That is not exactly the intention of many of the composers who are affected by the very phenomenon. There are a couple of ways of how to face that issue. One good approach is to record the works. Not only can a good recording be shard via the internet or broadcasted by a radio station, it also documents the first interpretation the piece which is very often developed in a close collaboration with the composer. Sometimes composers conduct their music themselves or play it on the instrument that is most familiar to them. It is still interesting, for instance, to listen to Stravinky’s own interpretation of his famous ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, although there might be better and more enthralling versions conducted by Boulez. Undoubtedly Stravinsky’s interpretation remains a very important and historically relevant source all the same. By the bye, Le Sacre du Printemps has never had to fight for its omnipresence of course: It burst into being already at its premiere, accompanied by one of the most notorious scandals in the recent chapters of music history.

Let’s jump back into the 21st century. Last year, in 2018, I started to compose a cycle of 21 oracles for the piano. In the same summer I finished the first book which I dedicated to Richard Dünser, my teacher in composition, to his 60th birthday. On this occasion a CD with works by Richard Dünser and his students is scheduled to be released in the coming months and my first book of oracles will be part of the disc. I rehearsed the work for nearly a whole year until I dared to stage it for the first time in June 2019. It is always a somewhat good idea to play a new work several times in public or at least for some invited friends before recording it. The premiere which took place in the Alte Schmiede in Vienna was quite successful—I even sold some of my ORF portrait CDs at the event—so I felt optimistic enough to record it at the end of July in Graz.

Everything went fine and the recording session ended up in a stack of some hours of uncut material. It was a somewhat brilliant idea to keep records accurately of all the takes that were poor and those few that might be considered usable. At the end of the day the cut version looked like a rag rug, but thanks to the ingenious tonmeister Simon Dünser it does sound brilliant now and makes me very much looking forward not only to holding the CD in my hands, but primarily also to feeding it my CD drive.

By the way, in the meantime I fixed two concerts in 2020 on March 15 in Graz and on April 25 near Zagreb, where I will play the work live and where I will hopefully sell some more CDs—the new ones as well.

blog post #02 | 06 NOV 019

Business Cards

What is higher than a giraffe, yet small enough to fit even into a composer's wallet?

The little giraffe is looking at a stack of business cards.

Let's get down to ... business cards. Everyone needs such items. Or perhaps it's rather: everyone imagines them to be requisite. Some months ago—it might have been a year or more as well—I designed some new business cards and had them printed by an online print shop. Before that, I kept regularly running out of cards, for I used to cut them out of a thick cardboard by myself and print them at home respectively. That was fun to do on the one hand, but, as you might imagine, was not the most professional way of how to do it. Thus, I looked for a "large-scale" solution and ordered some 250 pieces or even more.

I would never again run out of business cards. Unless I moved from my current place.

We might consider that young people relocate every now and then. Given that events where business cards are being distributed occur just a few dozen times a year, we might furthermore assume that in one year I could get rid of approximately 30 cards. In practice, I happened to be more penurious this year, by far. Hence, there is a probability of moving away contra a probability of getting rid of all cards before the resettlement. As you might agree, we cannot say for sure what's more likely to come true.

Moreover, I already feel a strong wish to redesign my business cards. That is, on the one hand, not astonishing as composers are likely to feel a desire to reshape and reframe and dig things over and over again. But this time it's different. I have a clear image of how the new business card should look like: Quite similar to the old one, with a little giraffe on the back side.

blog post #01 | 04 NOV 019

Proofreading the Parts

Writing a decent piece of music is the one thing. Let's call it the exciting part of a composer's work. Admittingly, reflecting—for hours and hours—on what kind of sound should come next isn't always so exciting, though. However, once a piece of music is written it cannot be considered finished—at all.

The little giraffe is proofreading a part.

Usually, the primary outcome of a composer's work is a score. Of course it would be quite impracticable for the musicians to play from a full score, at least when we're speaking about orchestra pieces or such music written for large ensembles. For that reason, the seperate parts are extracted from the score and need to be put into a pleasant layout in order that the musicians can read their parts most easily.

Finishing one part might take up to two hours, depending strongly on the length of a piece and the complexity of the graphics of the notation. When each part is done and looks nice, I always print the entire parts and continue working with the paper sheets. I observed that proofreading the parts only on a screen would lead me to overlooking too many mistakes, so I do this step of procedure in a rather old-fashioned way with a red pencil.

Now, let's have a look at what the little giraffe can see on the picture. There's a decrescendo-al-niente-line that's colliding with the barline. This isn't really looking so terribly beautiful and would perhaps bedevil the legibility of the part, so it needs to be patched. Furthermore, I marked a tempo text. As you can see, the A tempo is too close to the molto rall. and a musician could read A tempo rall. instead of playing the first bar A tempo and starting the molto rall. in the second one.

So, proofreading is somewhat important and one should carry out this work very carefully as it needs plenty of time and concentration.

In the end, there is one golden rule: The most annoying mistakes won't reveal themselves, unless the final score is printed in high quality. (-;