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August 31, 2012

Pro Musica Rara offers student composer competition with royal twist

Competitions for young composers are not uncommon.

But one that asks contestants to incorporate a famous theme by Frederick the Great and score the piece for period instruments is about as unusual as it gets.

Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's longtime champion of historically informed performances, has issued a fascinating challenge to students in the Baltimore-Washington area. They are invited to submit an original work that references the chromatic melody that Frederick the Great gave to Bach.

The king surprised Bach with that theme and asked the composer to generate a fugue from it, which was promptly improvised on the spot. Then Frederick got a little greedy -- you know how royals can be -- and asked for much, much more. Bach's ultimate response was "The Musical Offering," a brilliant demonstration in the art of counterpoint.

Currently enrolled students interested in taking the Pro Musica challenge may submit a previously unperformed work, up to 6 minutes in length, that incorporates Frederick's theme "in some way."

The piece must also be "suitably and idiomatically ...

scored for period instruments" -- transverse flute; baroque violin, viola and cello; harpsichord -- all tuned, baroque-style, at A=415 (rather than the contemporary standard of A=440). The rules state that any combination of those instruments is acceptable and that a second violin part may be included.

The winner will receive $250 and the new piece will get a public premiere (and live recording) at Pro Musica Rara’s annual SuperBach Sunday concert in February at Towson University.

Pro Musica artistic director Allen Whear will judge the entries "in consultation with PMR musicians and board members."

Deadline for submissions is Dec. 15. More information is available on the organization's Web site.

Here's Frederick the Great's tricky little theme:



Posted by Tim Smith at 9:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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