JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

The Golden Spinning Wheel Annotated

An example of LiveNote's Story Track

Back in October, 2014, Alan Gilbert came to town and led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a thrilling account of Antonin Dvořák’s symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel. To complement the performance, the Orchestra featured the work in its new smart phone app, LiveNote, which provided a blow by blow, or perhaps bow by bow, description of the story as the the music was being played.

The listener could choose one of two tracks, either the story synopsis or a musical analysis, or flip back and forth between them. I thought it was a good idea and that it worked especially well for program music like Dvořák’s symphonic poem, so I decided to make a video that incorporated some of the same ideas.

An example of LiveNote's Analysis Track

I bought a copy of Karel Jaromir Erben's Czech Folktales, which includes the poem that inspired Dvořák to compose his work, and tried to figure out exactly what was going on in the music. It turns out that Dvořák's composition very closely follows Erben's poem.

After much effort, which several times meant going back and practically re-starting from scratch, here is the result. I tried to make the kind of video that I'd like to see when encountering a new work, so the complete score is displayed on the right side of the screen while the left side is used to tell the story as it unfolds in the music, adding  a few musical examples of key themes and occasionally pointing out aspects of Dvořák’s orchestration. By no means would I call it an “analysis”.

(One extra benefit for me: to make the musical examples, I finally spent some time with MuseScore and learned how to use it.)

In my re-telling of the story, I kept any commentary to a minimum; why impose my thoughts on what is after all a very simple folk tale? In other words don’t expect a Fractured Fairy Tale. I offer a straight-forward narration of a story where beauty is good, ugly is evil, and kings fall in love at first sight with lovely peasant girls.

I'm particularly interested in getting feedback. Does anyone else find this a useful way to listen to an orchestral piece? Are the page transitions in the score helpful or distracting? Did I synchronize the score and the story well enough? Do you agree with my naming of the themes? How about the format? Is it clear enough? Too much text or too little? That sort of thing.

Who is the intended audience? While I realize it won’t be to everyone’s liking, I hope it will appeal to a broad array of people, from musicians to casual music lovers.

Most important, I hope whoever watches it will enjoy Dvořák’s symphonic poem.

One final note: I strongly encourage watching on a device with a good sound system, or if you do watch on your phone, at least listen through earphones.