Dark Peak Music Foundation

…. a bright musical future

Welcome to our Blog.


Here we will put up stories and  news that we think may be of interest to our members, partners and supporters.

Biggest Big Band Two!!!

The Biggest Big Band Project makes a return this term! 

A series of 10 instructional videos exploring a great Tito Puente tune called ‘El Cayuco’.

We break down this Cha Cha Cha into its elements. There will be a video making task to complete each week; the final piece will be created by individual videos but can also be performed in an ensemble if it becomes safer to do so. You can be part of creative groups and record together if it’s safe, and practise with the videos individually and send in your work. You will learn about Cuban rhythms, melodic improvisation, creating call and response and more playing by ear. You will be creating your own music to fit with the whole band, playing along with Tito Puente’s band from 1957!
Watch the introduction below to see what it’s all about and sign up to the band by emailing us at 
 It’s open to all, any instrument and any level.
I would love to hear from you if you would like to take part in another Biggest Big Band.
Carl Raven

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

The Pastoral Symphony

No. 6 in F Major, Opus 68 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Composed 1802-1808. Premiered in 1808 in Vienna, conducted by Beethoven.


When we go on holiday we usually choose our destination for a particular reason – perhaps it has beautiful scenery, an interesting coastline, a wonderful climate or we might be attracted by its history and architecture. Once we arrive, we get used to our new surroundings explore the immediate location, venturing further afield each day, gradually exploring the whole region. Sometimes we may come back to a particularly lovely place year after year, always discovering new things each time. This is how many people feel about Beethoven’s symphonies – I hope you will too!

With our continuing theme of nature, I had to include Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. If listening to such a long piece is a new experience and feels a little daunting (it has five movements and lasts about 40 minutes) perhaps start with the fourth movement “The Storm”, which is 4 minutes of sheer drama (28’29” on the recording).

Put the volume high enough to hear the huge dynamic range Beethoven uses from the first pattering raindrops and the gradual building crescendo as the storm gathers force. Listen and watch for the energy of the timpani player and the strings playing “tremolo” giving the effect of the thunder – sometimes rumbling in the distance and sometimes terrifyingly directly overhead. The piccolo player’s few notes depict flashes of lightning. Towards the end there is a wonderful feeling of relief as the storm ebbs away leading into a chorale passage rather like a prayer, and an ascending scale on the flute which in my mind must surely represent a rainbow.

The Whole Symphony

Beethoven often took long walks in the countryside especially as his hearing deteriorated and he found it increasingly difficult to socialise. He often found inspiration for his compositions on such walks and so always carried a sketchbook – some of these are now housed in the British Library.

His most famous 5th symphony and the 6th (The Pastoral) were composed simultaneously when he was in his 30s and show very different sides to his personality. In the 5th we see a lot of the notoriously stormy Beethoven while on the whole the Pastoral shows him at his most serene.

Each movement has a descriptive title (times on the recording in brackets):

  1. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside [ 0:00 ]
  2. Scene by the brook [ 10:51 ]
  3. Merry gathering of country folk [ 22:40 ]
  4. Thunder, Storm [ 28:29 ]
  5. Shepherd’s song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm [ 32:30]

The first movement has a wonderful, joyful feeling as the title suggests. It starts in a rather unusual way, the first theme coming to a pause after just a few bars. Then tiny fragments from the melody and a very distinctive rhythm are developed immediately until the full-blown version of the theme evolves. Although the movement follows sonata form – the norm for a classical symphony – this technique for developing the material as it is presented, rather than reserving this treatment until the middle (or development section) is very much a hall-mark of Beethoven. The idea of repeating but subtly changing patterns is used extensively in this work, perhaps reflecting the patterns in nature.

In the second movement the sound of gently flowing water is clearly heard in the accompaniment. We feel we are following the course of the river bringing a new scene into view every time the music changes key. Birds are very much in evidence and even named at one point during a short cadenza – the nightingale (flute), quail (oboe) and cuckoo (clarinet).

The third movement where in a traditional classical symphony we would find a Minuet and Trio – a formal courtly dance, Beethoven writes a Scherzo where the 3 in a bar has become so fast it is really in 1. Not for the nobility, this is a dance for the peasants with an extremely rustic sounding trio section in 2 time! Listen how the music gets faster and faster towards the end until it comes to an abrupt stop and the first raindrops start to fall.

The 3rd, 4th and 5th movements are continuous – we have already discussed The Storm which is really an extra movement, the traditional pattern of the symphony having four. After The Storm there is a link to the Finale which has a wonderful feeling of thanksgiving.


The Life of a Musician in Beethoven’s Day



Before the unification of Germany and Italy there were many small principalities (kingdoms) each with its own ruler, eg. a Prince, Count or Duke. If they were keen on music and rich enough, they would employ musicians to form an orchestra and a “Kapellmeister” or Musical Director in charge of composing and organising performances for all occasions at court. Classed as servants they were expected to follow orders and wear the livery uniform just like any footman or butler.

If a music-loving prince was succeeded by one who didn’t care much for music all his musicians might suddenly find themselves out of a job. Also some patrons might try to influence their resident composer and complain if they were too adventurous or “modern” in their style of writing.

Such were the frustrations that 21-year old Mozart left the services of the Archbishop (Prince) of Salzburg becoming the first “freelance” musician – a very precarious position even for such a talented composer … and he died penniless.


Beethoven’s Childhood, Early Career and Deafness

Ludwig van Beethoven was born into a musical family in Bonn (now Western Germany) in 1770. His childhood was turbulent and unhappy with his alcoholic father often literally dragging the young boy from his bed in the middle of the night for a piano lesson.

Herr van Beethoven realised there was money and fame to be had showing off his son’s talent as a virtuoso pianist, like the infant prodigy Mozart 14 years earlier. To launch his 7 year old son’s career he arranged a concert, lying about his son’s age. This fell flat – Beethoven’s route to stardom through becoming  becoming the “wunderkind” the six year-old Mozart had been.

At the age of 17 Beethoven headed for the cultural capital, Vienna. He hoped to study with Mozart, the greatest composer of the day and had the honour of being accepted. However, he never got to have a single lesson as he was unexpectedly when his mother fell seriously ill. Five years later when he returned, Mozart had died (aged only 35) but the young Beethoven did study with Joseph Haydn, Mozart’s mentor and close friend, often called the “Father of the Symphony”.

It didn’t take long for Beethoven to establish his reputation as the finest pianist in Vienna (and probably the world), a title he earned through the “Piano Duels”. Pianists would sparr against each other, improvising on popular tunes of the day, whilst being cheered on by their supporters, rather like a sports event.

Just like Mozart, Beethoven had decided not to be tied to working for a single patron. However his many admirers in the nobility helped him to earn a good living through commissioning compositions and promoting performances of new works in which he would often conduct or appear as soloist. He also taught piano in these circles.

Disaster struck in his late 20s when he realised that he was going deaf – worrying enough for anyone, but for a musician completely devastating.

In May 1802, he went to a country retreat Heiligenstadt outside Vienna to rest on the advice of his doctor. Depressed and unable to hide his increasing infirmity, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers which was never sent but which he guarded carefully until his death.  It became known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament” and in it he revealed his struggles with deafness. The following extracts give some sense of his mood:

“O ye men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do ye wrong me ….. but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case …. I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneliness ….. yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.  Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect”

Although he was almost totally deaf by the end of his life, Beethoven composed to the last, hearing all the music completely inside his own head. His legacy was probably the most important of any composer in history.


Signposts for Further Exploration


The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven

Whereas Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher, is sometimes called the “Father of the symphony” as he wrote 104 and established the pattern for its 4-movement form, Beethoven is considered its absolute master. Many subsequent composers have been so much in awe of Beethoven’s symphonies that they have felt it an almost impossible act to follow.

Every one of the nine symphonies is totally different and they span Beethoven’s entire career, the First being written in 1800 and obviously very indebted to Haydn, and the Ninth “The Choral Symphony”, written for the largest orchestra to date, soloists and a massive choir. His setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy is often a young musician’s first experience of Beethoven, but they have no idea of the scale of the piece from which it comes!

Here is a link to live recordings of all nine played by different famous orchestras, in some of the most amazing concert halls around the world:



Beethoven the Romantic

The essence of the Romantic Movement was the expression of beauty of nature and the emotions through art. Beethoven was born in the same year as the English poet William Wordsworth who is one of our best-known Romantic poets. It could be argued that the Pastoral Symphony was one of the earliest musical works to express these Romantic ideas.

You might be interested to read some Wordsworth and see the similar thinking between the great composer and the great poet. There were similar parallels in painting as well with many artists painting often quite idealised scenes of the countryside.


A Very Special Orchestra: the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

The performance I have chosen is by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under its Director and Founder Daniel Barenboim.

Founded in 1999, the orchestra is based in Seville, Spain and consists of young musicians from right across the Middle-East and also Spanish backgrounds. Bringing together players of these often conflicting backgrounds for an annual course and a concert tour, the orchestra plays at the highest level and in the spirit of reconciliation – something which I am sure the great humanitarian Beethoven would have thoroughly approved of.

It is best described in Barenboim’s own words:

“The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I’m not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I’m] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to – and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward [Said – co-founder] died a few years ago … create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.”

One of the young musicians of the orchestra reinforced this point:

“Barenboim is always saying his project is not political. But one of the really great things is that this is a political statement by both sides. It is more important not for people like myself, but for people to see that it is possible to sit down with Arab people and play. The orchestra is a human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with the other.”

Follow the Score



What is a Symphony?

If you would like to find out more about the development of the Symphony here is the Wikipedia link


Mozart’s Wind Chamber Music


The Early ‘Wind Band’ Music of Mozart

The modern wind band has undergone a renaissance over the past 40 years, largely through the advocacy of Tim Reynish, who we met last week. Although it lends itself so well to the ‘light’ side of music and has a particularly important role in music education … how many school have enough strings for a full symphony orchestra, while most can muster a workable flexible wind band? However the symphonic wind orchestra has an established place on the mainstream concert platform and many leading composers have contributed works which I am sure will endure.However the story of wind band music goes back a long way, with what we might consider the original wind band music being the Harmoniemusik of Mozart and Haydn. The “Harmonie” was the name for an ensemble of wind instruments which would perform for the guests at hunting parties and social events of the patron, often outdoors where it was not practicable to have a full orchestra (or the patron wasn’t rich enough to employ a full orchestra).

Mozart composed many divertimenti for wind and strings for these kind of events, including his two wind serenades in Eb major and C minor. But his masterwork was the Serenade for 13 Instruments in B-flat major, K. 361 which became known as the “Gran Partita”.

Scored 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset-horns,2 bassoons, two pairs of natural horns (pitched in different keys) and double bass, this was the largest work of the classical period for solo instruments. Although it is a divertimento (which by definition might be a more light-hearted form of musical entertainment) the ‘Gran Partita’ stands alongside the great genres of instrumental music – sonata, string quartet and symphony – with a richness of tone-colour and a density of texture unheard of in the wind ensemble repertoire of its time. The configuration became the basis for several  works that followed, including (much later) the Strauss Wind Serenades and Dvorak’s Serenade, which had similar scoring but also included cello and double bass. Much more up to date, Adam Gorb wrote his Symphony No.1 for this combination of instruments – a cleverly composed (and often quite humorous) pastiche of many other composers first symphonies.

Salieri, a contemporary (and some believe rival!) of Mozart, is reputed to have said of the opening of the 3rd movement …

“Extraordinary! On the page it looked nothing! The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse. Bassoons, basset horns – like a rusty squeezebox. And then, suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until a clarinet took it over, sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I had never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”

There are many excellent recordings of the work, but I have chosen this one by the Zefira Ensemble performing on original instruments. Although the video quality isn’t the best, I thought it would be interesting for you to see these instruments in action.

I hope you enjoy this performance of the ‘Gran Partita’ and thought that some of you may like to follow the score. I have included here a link to the facsimile of Mozart’s original handwritten score which I always find fascinating:
Mozart’s Original Handwritten Score
For anyone exploring these pieces in depth I would strongly recommend using the Bärenreiter edition which is the most reliable for editorial schloraship:
Bärenreiter Edition


Dark Peak Young Musician of the Year



We are very pleased to announce the re-launch of the Dark Peak Young Musician of the Year.

There will be categories for all instruments, ages and levels and the overall winner will receive the Dark Peak Young Musician of the Year Award, which was last presented in 2014 (to a very young pianist called Johann Kidger!)

We are absolutely delighted that our Patron Dr.Timothy Reynish MBE has agreed to adjudicate the winners of each section. Tim Reynish was the Head of Wind, Brass and Percussion at the RNCM and is one of the leading wind-band conductors in the world. He has been a long-standing supporter of all we are doing here in Dark Peak.

There will be prizes of a £5 Forsyth’s Voucher (to be presented when we return in the Autumn) in each of the categories below and £10 for the winner of each section.
You can submit more than one entry on different instruments. Entries should be recorded by video and can be solo, accompanied by a family member or with a backing track.

For details about how to submit your videos click here.


  • Junior – Beginner to Grade 2
    Percussion and Piano
  • Intermediate – Grade 2 to 4
    Percussion and Piano
  • Senior: Grade 5 to 6
    Percussion and Piano
  • Advanced Level: Grade 7 to 8
    All instruments
    Chamber Ensemble

Rules of entry

  • Entries must be received by Sunday 28th  June. 
  • The competition is open to all currently subscribed members of the Dark Peak Music Foundation.
  • All entries will be played on a YouTube Streamed event on Monday 6th July at 7pm.
  • A winner will be chosen from each category and the winning performances will be played in the end of term live-stream YouTube concert on 12th July, 4pm.
  • The decision of the adjudicator will be final and finalists will receive a short written feedback on their performance.

Carnival of the Animals



by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

Written in 1886

Following our theme of nature, in this week’s choice we have a humorous look at the animal kingdom with “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens.

The piece, which has 14 short movements, is great fun for all ages. Saint-Saens admitted enjoying composing it so much that he put the “serious” work of writing his 3rd Symphony to one side until it was finished. However he was so worried that such a light-hearted piece would ruin his reputation as a composer that he instructed that apart from “The Swan” it should only be published after his death. Consequently it only had a few private house-performances for his close friends. It was an instant success when it was finally published in1922, and now it is one of his best loved works.

I have included two very different recordings this time. The first has comic verses by Frances Button recited between each movement in a live concert given by members of the New York Philharmonic. The piece is written for an unusual combination of instruments – 2 pianos, string quartet, double bass, flute/piccolo, clarinet and xylophone (and glass harmonica usually played on glockenspiel these days).

The other recording played with a larger orchestra has the added interest of paintings, drawings and visual animations made by Manchester based pianist Tom Scott (who also produced the animations for the Nutcracker Suite Rachel Whibley shows in her Snowman Tour each Christmas).

I enjoyed both versions so much I thought I’d like to share them with you too.

Each creature is depicted in a separate movement, many of them in a humorous way with jokes on many levels. In the closing Carnival Parade we have our final glimpse of a few as they pass by at great speed. see how many you can spot (Clue: The Donkey has the last laugh!)

I “Introduction et marche royale du lion” (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)
II “Poules et coqs” (Hens and Roosters)
III “Hémiones (animaux véloces)” (Wild Donkeys Swift Animals)
IV “Tortues” (Tortoises)
V “L’Éléphant” (The Elephant)
VI “Kangourous” (Kangaroos)
VII “Aquarium”
VIII “Personnages à longues oreilles” (Characters with Long Ears)
IX “Le Coucou au fond des bois” (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods)
X “Volière” (Aviary)
XI “Pianistes” (Pianists)
XII “Fossiles” (Fossils)
XIII “Le cygne” (The Swan)
XIV Final (Finale)

Signposts for Exploration

Listen out for the funny ways that Saint-Saens portrays his animals. I’m sure you will instantly recognise the roaring of the lions, the braying donkeys, the clucking of chickens and the cock-a-doodle-doo of the rooster.

Some of the jokes are more subtle, for instance in Fossils Saint-Saens quotes his own composition “Danse Macabre” using the xylophone to imitate the sound of the dancing skeletons. He also includes some “musical fossils”. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (attributed to Mozart) and some very old French folksongs, “Au Clair de la Lune” and “J’ai un bon Tabac”. He even quotes from Rossinni’s Barber of Seville, written 70 years earlier.

In “Personages with long ears” as well as giving a very life-like impersonation of a donkey, he has a dig at the critics – Saint-Saens writing this pieces following a disastrous concert tour.

The double bass is the obvious choice of instrument for portraying the Elephant, but by borrowing themes from other composers’ pieces (Mendelssohn and Berlioz) depicting fairies he conjures up a ridiculous image of an elephant in a tutu!

The clever sequencing of movements to achieve maximum contrast, such as the incredible speed of the Hémiones (thought to be a type of wild Tibetan donkey) followed by the ridiculous image of tortoises doing the Can-Can.

Similarly the almost hypnotic effect of the cuckoo in the depths of the wood, where the clarinet plays its simple two note song off-stage, contrasts with the fluttering sound of the aviary featuring the flute playing continuous demi-semi-quavers. Perhaps Saint-Saens was having a joke with these two players who sat next to each other.

But probably the funniest movement of all is “Les Pianists”. The sheer cheek of including them as part of the animal kingdom and instructing them to play their scales and exercises in public as if they were beginners (out of time and with fistfuls of wrong notes) is ridiculous enough, but on another level we have an image of the strange species caged for years of its life, practising to reach the perfection we normally hear in the concert hall.

There are also moments of incredible beauty, especially in the Aquarium which achieves a shimmering sonority using the glass harmonica. And last of all the incredibly beautiful Swan featuring the cello in the most elegant gliding melody, accompanied by the pianos producing a wonderful rippling effect.


The Dying Swan

The Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova sprang to international fame in 1905 with her ground-breaking portrayal of the Dying Swan, using Saint-Saens music to produce such delicate and realistic movements that they influenced every generation of dancers who have followed since. Interestingly she actually kept swans in her garden to study the way they behaved and imitate them in her ballet.

Here is some rare historic footage of this incredible ballerina doing her signature dance. It is followed by an amazing interpretation by the American dancer Lil Buck, obviously influenced by Pavlova, but bringing in modern dance moves (including Michael Jackson’s moonwalking).

There is also an interesting link with Daphnis and Chloe (my choice from a few weeks back) as Anna Pavlova was the prima ballerina for the company “Ballet Russe” which produced the ballet in 1911.

My Animal’s Weirder than Your Animal

Why don’t you try drawing or painting a picture of your favourite animal – it can be real or imagined. You could also write a poem or even make a short composition about a creature. We would love to see your work so you could send it to admin@darkpeakmsuic.co.uk (and the weirdest ones will go into the bulletin!)


Follow the score

As in other weeks we have included a link to the score for more advanced students. This recording has the score and music running simultaneously.



Play Some of the Carnival Yourself!

We know that some of you have already been learning some movements from this piece, including The Swan and The Elephant. If you would like to make a recording of your performance we can include it in the Virtual Concert Hall, or you could submit if for the Dark Peak Young Musicians of the Year competition at the end of the year.


Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons


Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: “Summer”


This week we continue with our exploration of Vivaldi’s Seasons, taking a closer look at “Summer”, the most dramatic of the four.

I have chosen this incredible live performance with Janine Jansen and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, directed from the violin. I love the way the musicians communicate such a huge spectrum of emotions, from stillness to the almost brutal wildness of the storm.

You can find each movement at the following timings. (NB Spring comes at the beginning at 0’00” of this recording)

Movement 1 10’00”
Movement 2 15’40”
Movement 3 17’53”

As with Spring, the music vividly depicts the words of the sonnet, translated here into English.
You might like to follow the score which has the words in Italian:

Allegro non molto
Under a hard season, fired up by the sun
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo’s voice;
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air but threatening
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,

fearing violent storms and his fate.

A series of extremely short phrases (often just two or three notes) create a restless uneasy mood, conveying the idea of the unbearable heat. As the energetic fast section begins the unmistakable cuckoo call is woven into the solo violin melody, and later many individually characterised bird calls, the rather mournful turtle dove (la Tortorella) with a call quite similar to our native woodpigeon and the high pitched trilling of the Goldfinch.

Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
The fear of lightning and fierce thunder
Robs his tired limbs of rest
As gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Here the sustained solo violin melody depicts the exhausted peasant farmers as they gaze anxiously at the sky as a storm threatens. This is interspersed with faster sections representing the rumbles of thunder and leads straight into the final movement.

Alas, his fears were justified
The Heavens thunder and roar and with hail
Cut the head off the wheat and damages the grain.

The full fury of the storm is represented by cascades of extremely fast descending scales from all quarters of the orchestra. As the peasants feared, the harvest is ruined and the piece comes to a breathless finish. I remember witnessing such a storm on holiday in Italy when there hadn’t been a drop of rain for several months.

What is a Concerto?

A concerto is a piece for solo instrument (or group of instruments) with orchestral accompaniment. It is normally in three movements (fast, slow, fast). In this concerto you can hear the solo sections, often where the accompaniment is very light, allowing the soloist freedom to play with utmost delicacy, contrasted with the powerful sound of the full ensemble – in this case a string orchestra with harpsichord.

You might like to listen to, and for more advanced players maybe learn a movement of a concerto for your own instrument.

Who was Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

You might like to find out more about Vivaldi, one of the most influential composers of the Baroque period and also an ordained priest. Although he spent much of his life in his native town of Venice, he travelled throughout Europe, hob-knobbing with nobility and royalty, and was extremely famous both as a composer and a virtuoso violinist of almost rock-star status.

He was an extraordinary teacher and many of his compositions were actually written for his pupils at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphans and abandoned children in Venice. There is actually a window in the Ospedale which is just big enough to put a child through, and this is how many of the children were delivered in secret to the orphanage. There the boys learnt a trade and the girls studied music, and the most talented were allowed to stay on as adults as members of the prestigious “Ospedale” Orchestra and Choir which became famous throughout Europe. Many of the children were deformed and played behind screens so that they could not be seen by the audience – an attitude which would be completely unacceptable in our day.

Vivaldi’s Venice

The Concert Band in Venice in 2018

You may want to find out more about this extraordinary place, especially if you visited it on the 2018 Dark Peak concert tour. There are many interactive guides but I can thoroughly recommend the BBC documentary “Francesco’s Venice” told through the eyes of Francesco da Mosto, a descendant of one of the oldest Venetian families. The series is available on Youtube (NB. it is a 15 certificate).

You might like to trace the origins of some words which have come down to us from Venetian history. For example, did you know where the word “quarantine” comes from? The word originates from quarantena, the Venetian language form, meaning “forty days”. Venice was on the spice route from East to West and this was the isolation period ships and traders practised as a measure of disease prevention related to the plague.

The word Arsenal (not the football team) comes from the Arsenale which was the Venetian warship building yards. This was the first production line …. They could produce a ship every day, fully kitted with its weaponry where most nations could only build a few each year. This was one of the main factors in Venice becoming the heart of a mighty empire.

The Violin-Makers of Cremona, Northern Italy

You may have heard of the incredibly valuable stringed instruments made by Amati, Guarneri and the most famous of them all, Stradivarius, who was working around the time of Vivaldi. When one of these most perfectly crafted instruments comes up for auction it can fetch several million pounds, however many are now kept in museums and private collections where the design is studied and copied and sometime loaned to eminent soloists. Janine Jansen, the soloist in our recording, currently players on a Stradivarius violin made in 1727 which is about 10 years after the Four Seasons was composed.

To find out more about Strdadivarius violins , here is is an interesting article:

History of Stradivarius Violins


Playing by Ear

Playing by Ear

….a natural talent, only achieved by the musically gifted?

What is playing by ear?

Playing by ear is the ability to identify and play notes and chords without having to see the printed music. It is a highly desired skill among musicians. Although many assume you need to be born with a natural talent to do it, in fact it’s a skill that you can learn with the right kind of practice.

For instance, the virtuoso musician like Mozart gained fame for his ability to write out in full the Monteverdi Vespers after a single listening. For the average musician that’s only a pipe dream.

Like perfect pitch, playing by ear is often talked about as if it’s some kind of innate gift which only some people possess (and it’s true that some people seem to develop this skill without really trying) but as with all aspects of music, hard work usually beats talent in the end.

How do you play music by ear?

There are two ways people can play music by ear. There’s perfect pitch and relative pitch. Some people are born with Perfect Pitch but everyone else can learn Relative Pitch.

People who can identify exact notes or a chord without any conscious effort have perfect pitch. They can identify notes like F sharp, B flat and C etc. Only a very small percentage of people have perfect pitch. It is something you are born with and cannot learn in later life.

Relative pitch can be learnt by spending lots of time training your ear to recognise the unique sound of scale degrees, the root, the second, the major third, the minor sixth and their unique sound within the context of the key. Although you might not necessarily know what that key might be.

Why should I play by Ear?

Learning music and tunes by ear is vital to developing your inner musical skills that help you do things like improvise, compose, improve your timing and play by ear. The list goes on and on.

Music is sound and the focus should be what you hear and not what you see. So, if you’re only reading the notes, you are distracting yourself from what should be a listening focus. The only reason we have notation is a way of preserving or recording the complex written music of great composers for posterity.

How can I learn to play by ear?

First of all, you need to know the theory and rules of music. Secondly, how they sound in action. You need a 50% balance of the two.

Studying the major and minor scales, their relationship between the 7 steps, the intervals of major and minor intervals within the scale and learning the chords and chord progressions that go along with these.

So, if you haven’t already embarked on some theory and aural classes with us, now is the time to start. You could join our theory classes by Hephizbah via theory@darkpeakmusic.co.uk

Where to begin?

Learning the tonic solfa/ solfege (doh, re mi etc) is key to playing by ear and can hugely improve your aural, harmony and theory skills. You can start at any age and level, and not just confined to youngsters. Why not try our Supertonics classes with Emma, email her on emma@darkpeakmusic.co.uk

If you want to develop playing by ear skills, nothing beats time spent with your iPhone, iPod or YouTube, wearing out the replay key while working out your favourite tunes. By listening, singing out loud many times you help internalise the tune and therefore one step nearer reproducing it on you instrument. Start simple, with a tune you know really well, maybe one you learnt to sing as a youngster, it might be a nursery rhyme, Lullaby by Brahms, Happy Birthday or God save the Queen. Begin with one note and build up one note at a time until you have it. Keep going back to the recording or sing the song to help your recall. You could join Carl Raven with his Big Band Project. Email him on bigband@darkpeakmusic.co.uk

Don’t be that musician who can’t play a tune by ear or when asked by friends. ‘How long have you been playing……and you can’t play Happy Birthday!’

Playing music by ear will increase your enjoyment of playing and is where all the fun begins. Remember everyone can do it, and with practice, patience and perseverance you will manage it. As my Dad used to quote “To become truly successful in anything you need 1% talent and 99% perspiration”.

How to submit your videos

We are keen to get your videos, whether it is for the Big Band, The “Pink Panther”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or the Broadband Busking Challenge.

Some people have found it a little difficult, so here are a few suggestions:

Whatever you choose, we should be able to receive  it.

If you are still having difficulties, email a.zuntz@darkpeakmusic.co.uk and we will see what we can come up with.

The Seasons


Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was one of the most frequently played records in my home when I was growing up. It is so deeply imprinted in my memory that although I had not actually heard it for many years I found I knew every note, and also that in choosing a recording for you this music triggered so many childhood memories.Last week the parents of one of my younger student’s told me “… we listened to Daphnis and Chloe (last week’s choice) while the girls were having lunch”. I hope some of you might have played it whilst doing your homework, or danced or painted to it, as well as actively “listening” and watching the orchestra, as one would in a concert. I believe that that letting truly great music infuse into us unconsciously through many hearings enriches us in a way that cannot be quantified.

The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s best known work, written in 1717 is actually a set of four concerti for violin and orchestra. On this live recording with Janine Jansen and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta you can find each concerto at the following timings:
Spring 0.00
Summer 10.20
Autumn 21.00
Winter 32.00
The Four Seasons represented  a revolutionary idea in composition and one which later became known as “programme” music. Narrative, in this case sonnets (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) is vividly represented in the music, often imitating the sounds of nature. Each sonnet is divided into three stanzas, just as each concerto falls into three movements; fast – slow – fast..

Here is an English translation for the sonnet for “Spring”.

I. Allegro (fast)
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are
softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar,
casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence,
and the birds take up their charming songs once more.II. Largo (slow)
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches
rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps,
his faithful dog beside him.III. Allegro (fast)
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,
nymphs and shepherds lightly dance
beneath the brilliant canopy of spring

The musical representation is so graphic that Vivaldi actually writes the words of the sonnet on the score. For example in the largo movement the vocal solo violin represents the sleeping goatherd, the orchestral violins’ dotted figure are the leafy branches rustling and the viola plays the part of the faithful dog barking! Notice how the solo violin, following the baroque tradition of the time decorates the melody with extensive ornamentation when it appears for the second time.
SIGNPOSTS for ExplorationSome of you might like to follow the score. This edition actually has the words on it. You may need the translation above if your Italian is not up to scratch. See if you can follow the score and and see how Vivaldi represenst the words graphically in the instrumental parts.

Birdsong is very much a feature of this piece (and last weeks piece Daphnis and Chloe). Some of you might like to learn the calls of some of our native birds. Why not see how many you can recognie on walks and perhaps try to copy them with your voice or on your instruments (having some bird-seed for breakfast will help!) Here is a link to a website where you can hear some of the songs of common British birds.

Many of the best-known melodies tunes from these pieces have been transcribed for all instruments so you could find some of them and learn to play the main theme. By playing it you become part of the music and it becomes part of you. For example The slow movement of Winter and first movement of Spring are very suitable for all instruments.
For example, here is the Largo from Winter written in a key that would be suitable for most instruments:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/7weusqrlrcw7yd1/Largo%20from%20Winter.jpg?dl=0Next week I will be looking at “Summer” and we will be exploring Vivaldi’s home-town of Venice, which many of you visited on the Dark Peak 2018 Concert Tour.