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Impromptu ('mixed bag')
Which musical instrument has a Celtic variety? Find out in Question 3.

Impromptu ('mixed bag')

Our Musical Moments Quiz contains a variety of unexpected and unconnected questions; here are some more in similar vein to further test your general knowledge!

Which of these musical forms is the odd one out?
In each of the others, the 'voices' or parts enter one after another, in sequence, so as to maintain or build up the overall texture of the music (think of such classic examples as the rounds London's Burning or Frere Jacques; or Tallis' famous Canon, as often used for a soothing evening hymn). A Rondo has its music broken into whole sections, each lasting maybe a minute or more, one particular one of which will come back again and again with different 'episodes' between each iteration ~ in a pattern often categorised as A - B - A - C - A ... (etc)
What is the correct term for music created spontaneously when a player, most typically of a keyboard or other harmonic instrument (maybe the harp or guitar), 'fills in' by making it up as they go along?
'Impromptu' (Answer 1) is supposed to suggest 'unbidden' or 'spur-of-the-moment', but various piano pieces (particularly) by such a title are usually neatly confected beforehand to sound like a spontaneous 'trifle' or party-piece. A Rhapsody (Answer 4) may be free-flowing in form but is unlikely to be spontaneous, though it could be so in capable hands. An Arabesque (Answer 2) tends to be a piece with ornamental writing in the upper registers, notionally equivalent to the flourishes of middle-eastern Muslim calligraphy.
Extemporisation is an art practised by organists 'filling time' before services etc. although it can be raised to almost phenomenal heights. Organists such as Pierre Cochereau (late of Notre-Dame, Paris) could improvise an entire work of symphonic proportions on-the-spot from a snatch of music or scripture in a preceding service (he used to fly in by helicopter 'just' to create a concluding voluntary after Sunday morning Mass, for which some other organist had played all the 'bread-&-butter' music); your present writer heard him do just such a thing on the basis of 'a theme submitted on the back of an envelope by a member of the audience' at a gala in the Royal Albert Hall, at the console of the mighty Willis organ with its 9,999 pipes controlled from 4 manuals
Which instrument comes in variants including the concert, Celtic, cross-strung and chromatic?
These are all harps; the cultural and technical variations are quite intriguing!
Paul von Janko, in the 1880s, proposed a technical standardisation that could make life far simpler for vast numbers of musicians, but it did not gain popularity. What was it?
A piano keyboard with multiple rows of keys (almost more typewriter-style) each arranged in whole-tone scales, so all tonal keys would feel the same shape under the player's hands (and no more all-different scale fingerings, for instance)
Music staves running down the page instead of across, so that the 'rhythm axis' ran vertically and the 'pitch axis' left-to-right in keeping with the keys on a piano. The system was named Klavarskribo ('keyboard script'), and publicised, using the then-also-new planned international language, Esperanto
Janko realised it was somewhat perverse that in standard Western musical notation, the shorter a note lasts, the more ink is required to indicate this (a demi-semi-quaver has three tails; a semibreve, lasting over 30 times as long, doesn't even have a stem). He accordingly proposed an inverse scheme which would make music less cluttered on the eye while also saving space and expense for publishers, buyers and players alike
He invented the letter-notation system known as Tonic Sol-Fa
Answer 1 was right, and any interested keyboard musicians can find material and layout diagrams online. Your present author once saw such an instrument in a collection many years ago, but with a perspex baffle firmly fixed over the said keyboard to deter curious fingers. The typewriter had been invented only about a decade beforehand, so the analogy probably seemed obvious ~ at least to Janko.
Answer 2 is genuine but not the work of Janko; Answer 3 is bogus, but surely there is food for thought for someone; Answer 4 is genuine, but not Janko's work either
Those sad souls who only recognise one organ piece, probably know this one as Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for organ (and if they remember all of that right, they probably congratulate themselves on their erudition): it is of course that iconic pre-Gothic work which was arrestingly (if somewhat incongruously) used as the theme tune to the film Rollerball, the one 'that goes: 'Da-da-dah ... ... ... da-da-da - dum - dum - DUM' (etc.)'.
Which of the following points is still regarded as true about the origins of this piece?
There is an autograph score (i.e. a fair-copy in the composer's original manuscript) confirming this is one of Bach's own works
The title Toccata and Fugue is known to be genuine
The piece was indeed originated in the key of D minor, and for performance on the organ
(Pick this Answer only if you believe NONE of the above to be true)
There has been a lot of scholarly debate about this un-budgeable 'classic'. Britannia online appears breezily to discount this (accessed June 2014) while Wikipedia summarises in considerable detail a range of forensic musicological writing. Put simply, Answer 1 is not valid, and there are all sorts of stylistic, content and circumstantial pointers that the piece (under another title, or none) may have originated from another composer as a violin piece in the related key of A minor (in which key there is, for instance, a splendid violin concerto ~ which Bach transcribed for the organ, in a version which has its own splendid integrity). Most of us still think of the piece in present question as BWV 565 (a Bach work) despite such intriguing and nagging doubts; it obviously continues to 'resonate in the public ear and imagination'!
Fairly closely related to the Impromptu is the Humoresque (a work title which seems something of a hostage to fortune: 'Buy this and play it, but you can't claim your money back if your audience fails to smile or laugh'!). Who wrote the widely-familiar example of this genre, which also became fairly widely wedded to a set of semi-scurrilous lyrics from the world of railway travel (a world with which the composer himself was reportedly obsessed), and which began as follows:
Pas-sen-gers will please refrain
From u-sing toi-lets on the train
E-spe-cial-ly when stan-ding at the STA ... tion ... '
Aaron Copland
Antonin Dvorak
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Aleksandr Borodin
If not already familiar with this 'even sillier' version, and you don't recognise the piece from its presentation in these circumstances or format, try this link (beyond any commercials).
The piece was published in 1894 as no.7 of a series of Humoresques, in the slightly perverse and abstruse key of G♭ major (where one might have expected a simpler tonality; but perhaps all those black keys somehow add to the charm of playing it).
The link to the words is explained, with a strange mixture of relish and scholarly detachment, on Wikipedia ~ should you wish to confirm its genesis by searching on the composer and piece title. They also remark that the piece is possibly second in popularity only to Beethoven's Fűr Elise as a standard salon solo.
Dvorak had meanwhile been a keen train-spotter since the age of 9 in and around his native Prague, and on one later occasion is alleged to have scolded (or even sacked) a manservant that he had sent 'by proxy' to spot some train or other at the local terminus, and who came back with a wrong rolling-stock number faithfully recorded in his notebook!
Many respected composers were nurtured on, or later absorbed and used, the folksongs of their native lands: Bela Bartok in Hungary, Ralph Vaughan Williams and several others in Britain; Canteloube with his enchanting and atmospheric Songs of the Auvergne, for instance.
One of the pioneer activists in the British folksong movement was a man with a most splendidly appropriate name for this role: who was he?
Cedric Fidler
Joseph Singer
Cecil Sharp
Samuel Tunesmith
The HQ of the British Folk Song Society is named in his honour. The name (though quite coincidentally) does powerfully evoke cross-country research in raw weather, a mental quickness and initiative, and a kinship with the keys favouring open strings on the fiddle
Composers have always felt entitled to 'help themselves' from music happening around them in nature, the weather and human activity ~ birdsong, Chopin with his raindrops, Kenneth Alford with his Colonel Bogey March (reputedly starting with the two-tone whistle of this military gentleman before he took any shot on the golf course).
Eric Coates in the 1930s wrote two London Suites, the first of which starts with a movement depicting Covent Garden market, and which in turn incorporates a catchy, whistleable tune from an old London street-cry. Which is the title or catchphrase of this 'open-air commercial'?
A Pear for a Penny
Lavenders Blue
Who will buy my fresh red roses?
Cherry Ripe
The whole suite is splendidly atmospheric, illustrative and accessible, but this early statement of its links with everyday culture is a clear and positive element in that successful appeal. Well worth a listen, whether or not you already know it!
Standard modern concert pitch is such that the A above middle C represents a frequency of 440Hz (cycles per second); Baroque pitch has been (at least retrospectively) standardised to equate with A♭ in this tuning.
What, therefore, is the frequency of Concert A at Baroque pitch?
'415' is the magic figure; very cosy if assembling for a rehearsal after a cup of afternoon tea
At the end of a musical event, British (and other English-speaking) audiences may request an encore from the artist/s: a piece performed again, or maybe something else appropriate to conclude the concert and bring everyone 'back down to earth' from whatever cultural and/or emotional heights they had been scaling together. Presumably it is felt duly sophisticated to use a foreign term to express this request.
The French themselves do not use this term; what do they do or say instead, in the salons de concert and elsewhere?
They call out 'Bis!' ( = 'twice' ; 'give us another'!)
They switch from irregular 'white-noise' applause into a long slow handclap
They stamp on the floor, slowly at first and then gradually accelerating until their request is acceded to
They stand up and clap above their heads
'Bis!' (if expressed forcefully enough, perhaps with a little lingering hiss) is usually cue enough


Author:  Ian Miles

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