Friday, January 22, 2010

Double Harmonic Scale

Otherwise known as ARABIC or BYZANTINE scales. Rock'n awesome, I know. This is not, however, to be confused with the Arabic modes, which are built on quarter tones. The simplest Arabic mode just happens to resemble what Westerners call the Double Harmonic Scale. This scale also resembles the North Indian Thaat, Bhairav, and the South Indian Melakarta, Mayamalavagowla. So here is the lowdown on the Double Harmonic Scale.

The sequence of tones in the Double Harmonic Scale is:
half – augmented second – half – whole – half – augmented second – half.

Or, relative to the tonic, m2, M3, P4, P5, m6, M7

A really interesting feature about the double harmonic scale is it's symmetry around its root note. Breaking up the three note chromaticism and removing this symmetry by sharpening the 2nd or flattening the 7th note respectively by one semitone yields the Harmonic Major and Phrygian Dominant (more on this to come) mode of the Harmonic Minor scales respectively, each of which, unlike the double harmonic minor scale, has a full diminished chord backbone.Like most heptatonic (seven pitches in the octave) scales, the double harmonic scale has a mode for each of its individual scale degrees. The most commonly known of these modes is the 4th mode, the Hungarian gypsy scale, most similar to the harmonic minor scale with a raised 4th degree.

The second mode is somewhat of a hybrid between the blues scale (contains a #4) and bebop scale (both #6 and 7).

The double harmonic scale is uncommonly used in Western music, because it does not closely follow any of the basic musical modes, nor is it easily derived from them. It also does not easily fit into common Western chord progressions such as the authentic cadence. The Arabic scale (in the key of E) was used in Nikolas Roubanis's "Misirlou", and Claude Debussy used the scale in "Soirée dans Grenade", "La Puerta del Vino", and "Sérénade interrompue" to evoke Spanish flamenco music or Moorish heritage.

This has always been one of my favorite scales, evoking a very exotic feel. Perfect for when you want to meditate, or feel like spicing up your day, play some music in a Double harmonic mode. Get your daily dose of Middle East!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Musician's Datebook: January 16th

1728—Italian opera composer Niccoló Piccinni, in Bari;
1905—Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter, in Madrid;
1934—American composer Richard Wernick, in Boston, Massachusetts;
1943—English composer Gavin Bryars, in Goole, Yorkshire;
1943—English composer Brian Ferneyhough, in Coventry;

1886—Italian opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli, age 51, in Milan;
1891—French ballet composer Leo Delibes, age 54, in Paris;
1957—Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, age 89, in New York;
1969—Russian-born American composer and songwriter Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky), age 65, in Santa Monica, Calif,;

1724 — Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 155 ("Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange") performed on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);
1739 — Handel: oratorio, "Saul," in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Jan. 27);
1745 — Handel: musical drama "Hercules" (Julian date: Jan. 5);
1800 — Cherubini: opera "Les deux journées," in Paris at the Théatre Feydeau;
1869 — Borodin: Symphony No. 1, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan. 4);
1876 — Tchaikovsky: "Serenade mélancolique,"in Moscow (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);
1905 — d'Albert: opera "Tiefland" (The Lowlands) (2nd version), in Magdeburg at the Stadttheater;
1916 — Prokofiev: "Scythian" Suite (Gregorian date: Jan. 29);
1933 — Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 11, in Moscow;
1936 — Frank Bridge: "Ovation (Concerto elegiaco)" for Cello and Orchestra, in London, by the BBC Symphony conducted by the composer, with Florence Hooton the soloist;
1942 — Britten: "Diversions on a Theme" for Piano Left Hand, by pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;
1969 — Babbitt: "Relata II," by the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting;
1983 — Daniel Asia: "Why (?) Jacob" for piano, by Sanford Margolis;
1997 — Esa-Pekka Salonen: "L.A. Variations" for orchestra, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the composer conducting.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fathers of Music

Name: Osvaldo Golijov
Dates: December 5th 1950
Era: Modern
Contemporaries: All modern Composers
Known for: I suppose we will see, but the most memorable works to me are his St. Mark's Passion, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, Ayre and Ainadamar

Osvaldo Golijov was born on December 5th, 1950, in an Eastern European Jewish home in La Plata Argentina. His mother was a pianist, and as such, Golijov grew up surrounded by a mix of traditional Jewish, Classical Chamber, and jovial Spanish music. After studying piano at the local conservatory and composition with Gerardo Gandini he moved to Israel in 1983, where he studied with Mark Kopytman at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy and immersed himself in the colliding musical traditions of that city. Upon moving to the United States in 1986, Golijov earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with George Crumb, and was a fellow at Tanglewood, studying with Oliver Knussen.

In the early 90's Golijov began to work closely with two string quartets, the St. Lawrence and the Kronos. Both ensembles were the earliest to project Golijov's volatile and category-defying style in its true, full form. In 2002, EMI released Yiddishbbuk, a Grammy-nominated CD of Golijov's chamber music, celebrating ten years of collaboration with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, featuring clarinetist Todd Palmer. The Kronos Quartet released three recordings featuring their collaborations with Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, featuring David Krakauer, as well as Caravan, and Nuevo. Kronos also expanded Golijov's musical family through collaborations with artists such as the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks, the Mexican Rock group Cafe Tacuba, tablas virtuoso Zakir Hussain, and legendary Argentine composer, guitarist and producer Gustavo Santaolalla, with whom Golijov continues to collaborate. For the past decade Golijov has been inspired by the voice of Dawn Upshaw, for whom he composed several works, including the Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, the opera Ainadamar, the cycles Ayre and She Was Here, and a number of arrangements.

In 2000, the premiere of Golijov's St. Mark Passion took the music world by storm. Commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the European Music Festival, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach's death, the piece featured the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, with the Orquesta La Pasion (especially assembled for this work by Golijov together with percussionist Mikael Ringquist), all conducted by Maria Guinand. The CD of the premiere of this work, on the Hanssler Classic label, received Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations in 2002. The St. Mark Passion continues to be performed across the globe. The next performances, presented at the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Disney Hall in April 2010, will coincide with the release on Deutsche Grammophon of a new recording and DVD. For the premiere of Ayre, Golijov founded another virtuoso ensemble: The Andalucian Dogs. Together with Dawn Upshaw, they premiered the piece at Zankel Hall and recorded it on a Grammy-nominated CD for Deutsche Grammophon in 2005. In 2006 Deutsche Grammophon released the recording of the opera Ainadamar, with Dawn Upshaw, Kelley O'Connor and Jessica Rivera singing the principal roles, and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, an artist and friend who has worked closely with Golijov for almost a decade and conducted the world premiere of the opera, as well as the American premiere of the Passion. The record earned two Grammy awards: for best opera recording, and best contemporary composition.

Golijov has received numerous commissions from major ensembles and institutions in the U.S. and Europe. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Vilcek Prize among other awards. In addition to the artists mentioned above, he collaborates closely with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya; vocalists Luciana Souza and Biella da Costa; cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Alisa Weilerstein, Maya Beiser and Matt Haimovitz; the Kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and percussionist Jamey Haddad; also with young, multitalented musicians such as Michael Ward-Bergeman, Gonzalo Grau, Ljova, Jeremy Flower and Cristina Pato; ensembles including the Atlanta Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, Silk Road Ensemble and eighth blackbird; the artist Gronk, playwright David Henry Hwang, and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Sellars. The latter staged sold-out and critically acclaimed runs of Ainadamar at the Santa Fe Opera and Lincoln Center.

In January and February 2006 Lincoln Center presented a sold-out festival called "The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov", featuring multiple performances of his major works, his chamber music, and late night programs of music dear to him. In 2007 he was named first composer-in-residence at the Mostly Mozart Festival. He is currently co-composer-in-residence, together with Marc-Anthony Turnage, at the Chicago Symphony. He has also been composer-in-residence at the Spoleto USA Festival, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Music Alive series, Marlboro Music, Ravinia, Ojai, Trondheim and Holland festivals. Golijov is Loyola Professor of Music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 1991. He also taught for several years at Tanglewood, has led workshops at Carnegie Hall with Dawn Upshaw and teaches in the summers at the Sundance Composers Lab.

Recently completed compositions include the soundtracks for Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth and Tetro (both released by Deutsche Grammophon); Azul, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony; Rose of the Winds, premiered by the Silk Road Ensemble and the Chicago Symphony under Miguel Harth-Bedoya; and She Was Here, a work based on Schubert lieder premiered by Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

(reproduced from the Composer's website,


One thing that continues to amaze me, is to realize that I was there for the premier of She Was Here. It is true! I was a little high-schooler with my high-school on our annual visit to the Ordway in Downtown St. Paul, and who do you think we were going to see? Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. I am sure I can find the program somewhere...