Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Of mermaids and cream strudel

Ponytails and Crayons have had an interesting term so far with our composer and artist studies: Felix Mendelssohn for composer, and John Constable for artist. I had done both of them several years ago with The Apprentice (Constable was our very first-ever picture study artist), but you never do anything just the same way twice--do you? It's been somewhat patched together, but I think it's given the girls a few things that they'll remember about each of them.

Here are some of the notes and links to the pieces we've listened to and the paintings we've looked at.


We started out reading the Mendelssohn chapter in Boyhoods of Great Composers Book One, by Catherine Gough (and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone). The chapter ends at the point where he wrote the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, so I played them some of that, and also the Scherzo which I know they love (sounds like elves dancing through the woods). We have this CD of the music.

The next time around, we looked up pictures of Fingal's Cave online and I put together a short information sheet about the cave and about Mendelssohn's visit there (and about how it became a tourist attraction because of his music--even Queen Victoria made a trip there). As we listened to the music (officially called Overture: 'The Hebrides,' Op. 26 on our CD), Ponytails drew her version of the mouth of Fingal's Cave, with people in a boat rowing past it. I loved that!

I noticed that the same set of CDs also had Mendelssohn's The Fair Melusina on it, so we read the story from The Book of Legends by Horace E. Scudder, online at The Baldwin Project. The girls coloured pictures of mermaids while they listened to Scudder's version of the story, which is slightly different from the one given in the CD's liner notes. I have to admit that the music came pretty second fiddle to the story that time. Sometimes if you really want to listen to something, you should just listen--no background, no stories. For Fingal's Cave, it worked great--we had just enough notes to help everyone understand that the first part of the piece is about echoes in the cave, and the second is about going out on a choppy sea; it was easy to hear that in the music. Listening to Melusina was a lot harder--not that it was very long, but trying to connect the story with the music was more difficult.

The last pieces we did (so far) were fun: two pieces written for clarinet, piano and basset-horn (which isn't a horn at all, it's a kind of clarinet). I found them on The Art of the Clarinet, featuring Peter Schmidl, Madoka Inui, and Pierre Pichler. The liner notes for this really brought the music to life! I wish I could copy them out here; briefly, Mendelssohn had a clarinet-playing friend, Heinrich Baermann, who had a basset-horn-playing son Carl; and the Baermanns were also famous cooks. According to the story, Mendelssohn wrote the pieces as a kind of thanks for their excellent meals. Of the first "Concert Piece" he wrote: "A grand duet for steamed dumpling or cream strudel, clarinet and basset-horn, composed and humbly dedicated to Baermann senior and Baermann junior." On the second part of the second piece, he said that "I wanted to give you a memory of the last dinner, when I had to write it, the clarinet depicts my feelings of longing, while the basset-horn adds the rumbling of my stomach."

And on that note, I think the picture-study details will have to wait for another post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello! I came from the homeschooling carnival, but then stayed for the crockpot recipes! A crockpot carnival?! Too good to be true!