Apocalyptic Serenity: The Final Movement of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”

The eighth and final movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time fades into numb, detached serenity. It’s a quiet lament, simultaneously comforting and haunting. Messiaen wrote this music as a prisoner in the Nazi war camp, Stalag VIII at Görlitz, Germany. He was captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of France in 1940. The premiere took place on the cold, rainy night of January 15, 1941. The audience of around 400 was …

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Mahler and the Cuckoo

Even as a child I was struck by birdsong. -Gustav Mahler The call of the cuckoo, often associated with spring, has long inspired composers. For example, the cuckoo’s harmonious falling major third can be heard in Handel’s Organ Concerto No.13 in F Major, the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, and Frederick Delius’ shimmering 1912 tone poem, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The cuckoo’s call also finds its way into the music of Gustav …

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Augustin Hadelich Plays Brahms

This performance, recorded last June, is one of the gems you’ll find at violinist Augustin Hadelich’s Youtube channel. It’s the Brahms Violin Concerto as experienced from a front row seat in Oslo’s intimate NRK Radio Concert Hall. (The Norwegian Radio Orchestra is conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya). At the end of the first movement, we often hear the cadenza by Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), the German violinist for whom Brahms wrote the Concerto. This performance …

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Five Excerpts from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Recently, I’ve been playing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Virginia Opera. The dark plot of the tragic opera in three acts, first performed in Naples in 1835, lends itself to spectacular musical drama. The title character is coerced into an arranged marriage, although she loves another man. On her wedding night, she fatally stabs her husband and descends into insanity. All of this mayhem is set amid some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies …

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Alan Hovhaness’ Mystical Tone Poem, “Meditation on Orpheus”

East meets west in the music of the Armenian-American twentieth century maverick composer, Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000). Infused with a quiet mysticism and contemplative reverence, Hovhaness’ music is a melting pot in which “exotic” Middle Eastern and Asian scales, modes, and western counterpoint all bubble to the surface. Amid the mechanized turmoil of the modern world, Hovhaness found spiritual inspiration in trees and mountains. There is an ancient, eternal, soulfulness in his music which evokes …

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New Release: Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic and incoming Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, have released a new album featuring Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. It’s the first of six live-concert recordings the ensemble plans to release on the Decca Gold label. Previously, van Zweden recorded the same pairing with the Dallas Symphony. He steps down as Music Director in Dallas at the end of this season. Wagner called Beethoven’s Seventh “the apotheosis of dance.” He wrote, All tumult, all …

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Remembering Michael Tree

The violist Michael Tree, a founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away last Friday. He was 84. The son of violin teacher and author Samuel Applebaum, Tree was a student of Efrem Zimbalist at the Curtis Institute. Zimbalist urged him to change his name in order to advance his career. (Baum is a German surname meaning “tree.”) Michael Tree was a member of the Guarneri Quartet from the time of its founding in 1964 at …

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