Archive for The Blue of the Night

Bealtaine and a Vicennial

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , on May 1, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I found that today is called Beltane (Lá Bealtaine in Irish) an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. According to my calculations that should be May 6th, but that’s close enough I suppose. Anyway, let me offer a hearty `Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh‘!

Today is also the twentieth anniversary of the first broadcast by RTE Lyric FM which first went on air on May 1st 1999. Since I moved to Ireland in 2017 I’ve been a regular listener to Lyric FM in the mornings and evenings. I particularly enjoy the eclectic mix of music played by John Kelly on Mystery Train followed by Bernard Clarke on The Blue of the Night during the week. Both are very knowledgeable presenters who are happy to play rare and unusual music and to respond to inquiries about the music played. Bernard Clarke has even played a couple of requests of mine, both of them jazz records. During the late evenings at the weekend I listen to Ellen Cranitch whose show Vespertine is `a night-time voyage, crossing time and space to share a selection of classical, jazz, roots and contemporary music’. You never quite know what’s coming up next on any of these programmes.

Anyway, there’s a big gala concert happening tonight at the National Concert Hall in Dublin by way of a vicennial celebration. I didn’t get my act together to buy a ticket, but I’ll be listening on my wireless at home. Possibly with a glass or several of wine.

When Lyric FM was launched on 1st May 1999 I had recently moved out of London to Nottingham where I had my first Professorship. Since then I moved to Cardiff, then to Sussex, back to Cardiff, and then to Maynooth. I bet quite a lot has happened to the radio station too!

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The Blue of the Night: Giant Steps from Ondine

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2018 by telescoper

Time for a quick lunchtime post before I settle down to an afternoon of marking coursework.

On Monday evening after finishing preparing my lectures and things for Tuesday, I decided to tune in for a while to The Blue of the Night on RTÉ Lyric FM which is presented by Bernard Clarke. This is a programme that I listen to quite often in the evenings as I enjoy its eclectic mix of music.

Anyway, the Blue of Monday Night included a recording of the movement Ondine from the piano suite Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel. As I listened to it, I started to think of an entirely different piece, the jazz classic Giant Steps, by John Coltrane (which I’ve actually posted on this blog here). Not really expecting anything to come of it, I sent a message on Twitter to Bernard Clarke mentioning the fact that the Ravel piece reminded me of Giant Steps. A few minutes later I was astonished to hear Giant Steps playing. Bernard had not only replied to me on Twitter, but had slipped the Coltrane track into the programme. Which was nice.

That confirmed the similarity in my mind and I did some frantic Googling to see if anyone else had noticed the similarity. Of course they have. In a rather dense article about music theory (most of which I don’t understand, having never really studied this properly) I found this:

I didn’t know at first what the up and down arrows annotating the two pieces were, but they represent the harmonic progression in a very interesting way that I had never thought about it before. The assertion is that in some sense the (sub-dominant) IV and (dominant) V chords which very common in popular music are closely related. To see why, imagine you play C on a piano keyboard. If you go 7 semitones to the right you will arrive at G, which is the root note of the relevant V chord. That’s up a perfect fifth. But if instead you go 7 semitones to the left you get to F which is a fifth down but is also a perfect fourth if looked at from the point of view of C an octave below where you started. In this way `up’ arrow represents a perfect fifth up (or a perfect fourth down) while the `down’ arrow is a perfect fifth down or a perfect fourth up. This is deemed to be the basic (or `simple proper’) chord progression.

Single or double arrows to left or right represent substitutions of various kinds (e.g. a minor third), but I won’t go further into the details. The key point is that while the actual chords differ after the first few changes because of the different substitutions, the chord progression in these two piece is remarkably similar judged by the sequence of arrows. The main exception is a different substitution in bar 3 of the Coltrane excerpt. Both pieces end up achieving the same thing: they complete an entire chromatic cycle through a sequence of basic progressions and substitutions.

I don’t know whether Coltrane was directly inspired by listening to Ravel or whether they both hit on the same idea independently, but I find this totally fascinating. So much so that I’ll probably end up trying to annotate some of the chord changes I’ve worked out from other recordings and see what they look like in the notation outlined above.