Category Archives: Culture

Open Goldberg Variations Project

Since December 2010, IMSLP has been working together with the Open Goldberg Variations project to help produce a new score and recording of Bach’s iconic masterpiece. We are happy to announce that both parts of the project have completed, and are now available on IMSLP.

The Open Goldberg Variations recording was made by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka in the Teldex Studio, Berlin, in January 2012, on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial. Anne-Marie Sylvestre is the producer. The score was made and edited by Werner Schweer using the MuseScore notation program. Two rounds of public peer review contributed to the high quality of the score.

The works are listed on IMSLP as being governed by the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, but in fact, have been released into the public domain by the team who created them. It was the intention of the Open Goldberg team to use the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) tool for the licensing, but this option is not yet available on IMSLP.

Classical Music & Laughter

Classical musicians fall off stages, run puffing after thieves who’ve stolen their music case, develop hiccups just before a solo, and lose their toupée to a gust of wind at an outdoor concert.

Classical music can be deadly serious — Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs — but also pompous and ‘up itself.’ Classical musicians, especially those who’ve been told from age four that they’re geniuses, can be insufferable. That’s not an argument for dumbing down, classical crossover, or endless Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Classic FM.

But it is possible, reasonable, even desirable, to laugh at, say, a puffed up operatic tenor, full of noise, wind, and a keen sense of his own importance, who falls, mid-aria, into the orchestra pit…. on condition only his pride is hurt. If laughter pops his ego, like a deflated balloon, where’s the harm in that? Indeed, a bit of laughter-induced humility might improve him as a musician.

Readers are cordially invited to submit articles, comments, tweets, facebook mentions etc describing humorous, even subversive, events in the classical music world.

African Music ~ Focus on Yoruba Composition (Nigeria)

A Yoruba song “T’ Olorun l’ awa o se” = “We shall do God’s will” attributed to late Rev. J. J. Ransome Kuti the grandfather of late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (The Afro beats musician)

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Yoruba is a language spoken by the people inhabiting the Lagos state of Nigeria, the Western states and the greater part of the Kwara state of Nigeria; part of Dahomey, and sometimes spoken by some of the descendants of the Yorubas taken across the Atlantic Ocean during the period of the slave trade to Bahia in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and some other parts of the West Indies.

Many traditional Yoruba songs are formed spontaneously on special festive occasions during dances to praise, to abuse somebody, or to mark the importance of a special event. When such a song is taken up by a modern musician, he generally substitutes milder words for abusive tones, or merely uses the tune in composing his own song.

Yoruba is a tonal language, so a word can have several meanings depending on whether its tone is low, mid or high. One word may even have more than one meaning in the same tone according to the context. The monosyllabic word “ba” for example can be used in the following ways in the low tone.

NOTE: low tone is represented by ‘doh’ mid tone is represented by ‘ray’ high tone is represented by ‘me’.

1. Oju okuta ba mi = He threw a stone at me
2. Eiye naa ba sori igi = The bird perched on the tree
3. Ogbo l’o mu ki eyin re ba = Old age caused his back to bent

As the language is musical, so are the people! They sing working or walking, in joy or sorrow. The musical tone of the language enables message to be conveyed through it by means of a whistle or with the talking drum. By means of the talking drum, messages used to be communicated over long distances during periods of war in the olden days.

Those who brought Christianity to Yoruba land in the nineteenth century unfortunately taught their early followers to regard many Yoruba traditions, including their music, as paganish so that it was largely the non-Christians who continued to use traditional music. The Christians began to sing Yoruba songs translated from English hymns to English tunes. But as the language is tonal, the tone of the English music cannot in most cases agree with the tones of the Yoruba words translated from English into Yoruba; thus what is being read out in Yoruba is often different from what is being sung to English tunes as I shall explain later on.

Those who first started to break away from the English dominated system of singing at Yoruba religious services were the Cherubim and Seraphim and the Aladura (Prayer Warrior) churches. Other Christian organizations have, however, started to follow in their footsteps in their own way.

Vital Characteristics of a Yoruba Song

An authentic Yoruba song should exhibit two essential characteristics. First, the time of every word in the song should agree with the tone of the music and, second, it should be possible that the song can be accompanied with one kind of drum beat or another, or with the clapping of hands. Yoruba music like most other African music has characteristic rhythms almost second to none in the world.

The vitality of the accord between the tone of the word and that of the music can be further illustrated by changing the tone of the words and of the music in the following one sentence:

Oluwa l’awa o sin (We shall worship the Lord) Oluwa pronounced with mid (ray), high (me), and mid (ray) tones means the Lord, but if it is pronounced with mid (ray), low (doh) and high (me) tones, it is the title of a chief in Lagos.

“sin” in the Yoruba word above has three meanings
“sin” (low tone) worship
“sin” (mid tone) bury
“sin” (high tone) pierce

For example, taking the word Oluwa as the Lord and changing the tone of the word “sin” alone we have the following interpretations:

1. Oluwa l’awa o sin (low tone) = we shall worship the Lord
2. Oluwa l’awa o sin (mid tone) = we shall bury the Lord
3. Oluwa l’ awa o sin (high tone) = we shall pierce the Lord

Similarly, we have the same results if we change the tones of Oluwa to Oluwa, that is mid, low and high tones so that it means a chief in Lagos, and then vary tones of the word “sin” as was done above. Oluwa (a chief in Lagos) is often adored in singing many canticles every Sunday instead of adoring our Lord Jesus Christ, but the singers do not observe this error because it is more or less parrot-like singing.

When an English hymn is translated into Yoruba and sung to the English tune, it is often difficult for the singer to understand the real meaning of what he is singing and thereby get real spiritual value from the song. The meaning of the song is more clearly understood when it is read than sung. A typical example occurs in a verse in “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” where the “fo” meaning to float in the high tone is sung to the English tune of “Diadem” in a low tone where it means to fly. Thus, instead of singing “One who makes the earth to float”, the singer sings “One who makes the earth to fly”. This example is not an isolated case.

There are many English songs, however, which, when translated into Yoruba, give an almost correct meaning, one of these songs is: “Let us with a gladsome mind, Praise the Lord for He is kind…”

But even then such songs would be better understood if the tones of the music were made strictly to agree with the tones of the words. In the case of sacred songs translated from English into Yoruba, it is not possible to substitute purely Yoruba songs for all of them for two main reasons.

First, it is not easy to compose Yoruba songs to the standard of spiritual depth to which many English hymns translated into Yoruba reached. Second, many Yoruba hymns translated from English hymns and sung to English tunes cannot easily be understood when sung.

Therefore the substitution of purely Yoruba songs for these hymns translated from English into Yoruba has to be gradual. A judicious use of the combination of the two at Yoruba religious services should serve as a welcome compromise. Some recent composers of Yoruba songs who have become victims of not allowing the tone of the music to agree with the tone of the word commit very serious errors in their compositions, although the rhythm is Yoruba, the songs do not convey the intention of the composers.

Many errors are committed in several places nowadays by those who have long been accustomed to singing songs translated from English into Yoruba and sung to English tunes. Even short lullabies composed by teachers for school children often become meaningless when sung to the music composed for them.

What to Observe when Composing a Yoruba Song

The first duty of a modern composer of any Yoruba song is to follow the footsteps of our forefathers who always saw that the tones of the music strictly agreed with the tones of the words of the song. This rule is not difficult to follow if the composer composes only one verse. But if he intends to compose more verses than one, or if he wants to get more parts than the soprano only, he is faced with three difficulties.

First, the composer should see that the tones of every word of every line of the second, third and subsequent verses agree with the tones of the words of the corresponding line of the first verse. If this is not done, the music for each verse has to be written separately. This is the main reason why it is easier to compose a Yoruba anthem for a special event than to compose a Yoruba song with two or more verses for the same music.

Second, since the tone of the soprano is higher than that of the Alto in the same song, and that of the tenor higher than that of the bass, the composer who wants more parts than the soprano must ensure that the other part singers sing the words with the same meaning as the soprano. This is the reason why only a few songs in Yoruba can be composed with three or four parts. Some cannot easily be formed with two parts.

Finally, the composer should ensure that when two or more parts are sung together, they produce a satisfactory musical harmony.

Many educated Nigerians who have studied English music have realised the importance of agreement between the tone of the word and that of music, but unfortunately they have not yet realised that an authentic Yoruba song must have its characteristic rhythm: that is, it should be capable of being accompanied with one kind of drum beat or another or with regular clapping of hands. Many of their compositions lack this essential quality.

To demonstrate that this essential characteristic is vital in a Yoruba song. Research should be carried out away from the coastal towns and far into the interior of Yoruba land, where foreign influence has less domination on Yoruba music. Even a funeral dirge or a recitative song in praise of obas (Traditional rulers) or chiefs has its peculiar rhythm which is generally regulated with a drum beat.

Segun Akinfenwa
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Odo-ona, Ibadan, Nigeria

Magic and Mendelssohn at St James’s


Walk a few yards from London’s Piccadilly Circus and you reach St James’s, a fine Wren church where William Blake was baptised in 1757. It was hit during the first phase of the London Blitz on 14 October 1940:-


High explosive bombs fell on the eastern corner of the churchyard gardens and on Piccadilly itself, in the process demolishing the Vestry. The Rectory was also smashed to pieces, trapping the Verger and his wife in the kitchen beneath. The blast severely weakened the Church’s brick and Portland Stone fabric: the north wall was fractured and pieces of shrapnel lacerated the building’s east end. The stained glass east window was blown out: fragmentation marks are still visible on the exterior Corinthian stone columns.

Several incendiaries then hit the Church roof and set it ablaze. The burning roof, spacious vault and wooden gallery all collapsed. The interior of St James’s – pews, plasterwork, decorations, six rows of gallery piers and supporting Corinthian and Doric columns – was rapidly consumed by fire. Although the Tower survived, St James’s Gothic steeple toppled, crashing down with its two bells. Heavy debris fell onto the Church floor, causing major structural damage.

The Verger of St James’s and his wife were trapped in the Rectory rubble for over twelve hours. Rescue teams were forced to drill through large blocks of stone and three thick masonry walls to reach them. Tragically, both died of their injuries. On the opposite side of Piccadilly – the road had been disfigured by a large bomb crater – a branch of the Fifty Shilling Tailor’s chain was also struck by an incendiary at 8.15pm and caught fire. Molten wax tailors dummies fell into the street. Nearby, the roofs of buildings around Piccadilly Circus glowed red with incendiary fires.

When the smoke cleared, early on 15 October, St James’s was a burnt-out ruin, open to the elements. It remained a roofless shell for nearly seven years. Source

I ran a market stall at St James’s yesterday, and in a quiet moment was thinking about the October raid when, suddenly, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream drifted across the courtyard. I walked into the church and there, magically, was the Orchestra of the City rehearsing for a concert that evening. Unfortunately, I only had a camera phone:


Mendelssohn was vilified by the Nazis for being a Jew and his music banned. So, a few days short of the 71st anniversary of the raid, St James’s poked Hitler in the eye with a good dose of Mendelssohn (they also performed his third symphony). It was quite gratifying.


I couldn’t stay for the concert but, in some ways, rehearsals are preferable. The orchestra stops and starts, the conductor explains what he wants, the players make notes on their scores, people in the audience come and go. I stayed for a while, the orchestra was very good, then returned to the market.

St James’s 2
Hitler 1



Surveying Current Perceptions of Porgy and Bess

The controversy surrounding the upcoming production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is merely the latest stir generated across the storied history of George Gershwin’s “folk opera.” Since Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935, debate has ensued over its portrayal of African Americans and over the restrictions requiring all sung roles, at least for staged productions in the United States, be assigned to Blacks. Even the very nature of the work itself has raised questions – is it opera, musical, or some hybrid of the two?

The controversial nature of the “folk opera” has undeniably affected its popularity over the decades. However, has the equally undeniable beauty and power of Gershwin’s music, DuBose Heyward’s story, and Ira Gershwin’s lyrics finally earned for Porgy and Bess the status as America’s greatest contribution to 20th-century opera?

Have attitudes about Porgy and Bess and interest in performing the work finally reached a level where it can become a staple in the standard repertoire of vocal studios and opera houses?

Author Randye Jones explored current perceptions of Porgy and Bess through a survey of singers, vocal instructors, opera directors and others with an interest in the opera. She analyzed the participants’ responses to questions related to their knowledge of the opera, their depth of experience with the opera as either performers or listeners, their views about the characterization of African Americans in the opera, and their thoughts about the opera’s future, especially regarding the assignment of singing roles to non-Blacks.

The article includes numerous, insightful comments made by the survey respondents, as well as excerpts from interviews Jones conducted with five singers who have performed in the opera.

Surveying Current Perceptions of Porgy and Bess


The LPO Four, Music & Politics

A row is fizzing in the London classical music world over the suspension of four musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). Their crime? To have used the letters “LPO” after their names in a letter published in The Independent newspaper:-

Proms exploited for arts propaganda campaign

As musicians we are dismayed that the BBC has invited the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to play at the Proms on 1 September. The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed “partnership” with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform.

Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel. Through this campaign, officially called “Brand Israel”, denials of human rights and violations of international law are hidden behind a cultural smokescreen. The IPO is perhaps Israel ‘s prime asset in this campaign.

The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, was asked to cancel the concert in accordance with the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI). He rejected this call, saying that the invitation is “purely musical”.

Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians fits the UN definition of apartheid. We call on the BBC to cancel this concert.

Derek Ball (composer)
Frances Bernstein (community choir leader)
Steve Bingham (violinist)
John Claydon (saxophonist)
Malcolm Crowthers (music photographer)
Raymond Deane (composer)
Tom Eisner (violinist LPO)
Nancy Elan (violinist LPO)
Deborah Fink (soprano)
Catherine Ford (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Reem Kelani (Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster)
Les Levidow (violinist)
Susie Meszaros (violinist, Chilingirian Quartet)
Roy Mowatt (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Ian Pace (pianist)
Leon Rosselson (singer-songwriter)
Dominic Saunders (pianist)
Chris Somes-Charlton (artist manager)
Leni Solinger (violinist)
Sarah Streatfeild (violinist LPO)
Sue Sutherley (cellist, LPO)
Tom Suarez (violinist, New York)
Kareem Taylor (Oud Player/Guitarist and Composer)
Miriam Walton (pianist, organist and French horn player)

When LPO management suspended them they (the management) made the claim: “music and politics do not mix”.

Presumably, if Henryk Górecki was alive, he would immediately tear up his Third Symphony, and we’ll hear shortly that Daniel Barenboim is to cease all work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and devote his energies to “non-political” musical activities, e.g. conducting jingles for children’s TV programmes.

Golan v. Holder: Should Shostakovich be Public Domain?

I am happy to announce that IMSLP will be submitting an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Golan v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of copyright restoration under Section 514 of the URAA.  A group of Harvard Law School students led by Phillip Hill (HLS ’13) and supervised by Professor Charles Nesson will be representing IMSLP.

IMSLP will be supporting the petitioners, which includes a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, film archivists, and motion picture distributors.  If we prevail and URAA § 514 is struck down as unconstitutional, all of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky (among others) will be public domain in the U.S., and potentially available on IMSLP.

In fact, the music of these three composers was public domain before URAA § 514 restored copyright in 1995.  This restoration is very dangerous precedent: Congress believes it has the power to usurp the public domain for the benefit of a few copyright holders, despite the Constitution limiting copyright to “limited Times”.  This limitation would seem meaningless if Congress could restore copyright whenever it wants.  If we allow URAA § 514 to stand, we would be one big step closer to perpetual copyright.

Furthermore, URAA § 514 also tramples on the right to freedom of speech of all artists who relied on these works before the copyright was restored, by forcing them to retract and make unavailable derivative works that were created legally.

IMSLP greatly welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to take up such an important case, and hope to see an affirmation of the strength and vitality of the public domain.

Open Goldberg Variations available for public review

Open Goldberg Variations

As part of the Open Goldberg Variations Project, MuseScore has created a new edition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The score was created with the open source MuseScore notation software, and is intended to be distributed electronically, for free, with no usage restrictions.

The public review period, which will last for at least three months, is intended to help the MuseScore team identify any problems with the score, and to give music enthusiasts and scholars around the world the chance to validate the score before it reaches its final form.

MuseScore has provided special web based tools for reviewing sheet music. Reviewers have the tools to:

  • View the score and listen to it, right in the browser
  • Annotate the score, providing for accurate commentary and corrections
  • Hold online discussions, enabling collaboration between reviewers, scholars, and the MuseScore team
  • Download the Goldberg Variations as MuseScore, MusicXML, MIDI, mp3, or PDF
  • Edit the Goldberg Variations directly in the MuseScore program

The MuseScore website also facilitates the making of video scores. A video score is a score that is linked with a YouTube video. The playback of the video and the score are synchronized. Here is a video score of Kimiko Ishizaka playing one of the Goldberg Variations.

MuseScore is a partner in the Open Goldberg Variations Project, a crowd-funded effort to place a definitive score and recording of the work into the public domain in such a way as to make it easily available, without usage restrictions, for everybody, forever. Award winning pianist Kimiko Ishizka will produce the studio recording of the work later this year. Funding continues on Kickstarter until June 3, 2011.

IMSLP & the MPA – Thank You

During the recent take-down of IMSLP by the UK Music Publishers Association something heartening happened.

People went to download a score from IMSLP and found the site unavailable. News of the take-down spread on Twitter and elsewhere.

A substantial cross-section of the international classical music community pianists, conductors, viol consorts, composers, music students, music librarians, makers of ornate wooden music stands, music journalists, opera singers, music academics – went on the internet and expressed their unhappiness at the MPA’s behaviour.

The MPA, rather unwisely, then tried to persuade IMSLP Journal to censor the take-down notice. We declined and publicised the demand – the attempted take-down of the take-down notice (I know, I’ve read Kafka too). Cue: a further trumpet voluntary of incredulity rang out across cyberspace.

A few hours later the MPA used Twitter – interestingly – to raise the white flag.

Why heartening?

  • the speed with which the MPA was persuaded to see reason. When Universal Edition attacked IMSLP, the take-down went on for months. Okay, circumstances differ in this case, but the fact remains that IMSLP was back online within 24 hours;
  • the solidarity shown by musicians from across the globe in support of IMSLP. It was a genuine international coalition. Classical musicians can be fractious and egotistical but, in the end, they’re trained to play together. It’s their job. Give them a good score and they make a terrific noise;
  • the skill and confidence with which the new media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums etc – was used to place pressure on the MPA. Classical musicians should be proud.

IMSLP – non-profit, staffed by volunteers – is an organisation which musicians have shown themselves willing to defend. It’s an essential part of the world music scene; an iconic cultural treasure trove for everyone concerned with music heritage.

IMSLP is also a jewel in Canada’s artistic crown, as a recent CBC News report illustrates. To attack IMSLP is to attack Canadian high culture. Music publishers beware. Do you really want the Mounties after you?!

This article is to thank musicians and music-lovers everywhere for defending IMSLP. It’s fair to say that without your support last month IMSLP would still be offline.

Download Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March from IMSLP