Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” Overture: Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Tomorrow marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). In celebration, let’s listen to a classic recording of the Overture to Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Die Meistersinger is one of Wagner’s later works, completed after Tristan and Isolde and between operas of the Ring Cycle. It’s something of an outlier in Wagner’s output- a comic love story in which no one dies and there are no …

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Aftertones of Gymnopédie: Channeling the Spirit of Satie

Yesterday marked the 152nd anniversary of the birth of the colorfully eccentric French avant-garde composer, Erik Satie (1866-1925). Satie had a profound influence on later composers, from Debussy, Ravel, and Milhaud, to the neoclassicism of Stravinsky. Even more amazing is the way Satie’s music anticipates the minimalist and ambient styles of the late twentieth century. The three serene Gymnopédies for solo piano, completed in 1888, remain Satie’s most famous and powerfully evocative works. With sublime, …

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“La Mer”: Debussy’s Sonic Portrait of the Sea

Claude Debussy’s La Mer (“The Sea”) is not a literal portrait of the ocean. There is no “program” or story, as we might hear in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or a Strauss tone poem. Instead, La Mer takes us deep into the world of atmosphere, metaphor and synesthesia (a blurring of senses). Shimmering colors, the play of light on water, and a vivid sense of motion blend together to form a magical, ever-changing soundscape. As with the …

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New Release: Byrd Motets, Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623) lived amid the Catholic-Protestant religious turmoil which spanned the reigns of monarchs Elizabeth I and James I. Byrd wrote music for Anglican church  services, yet for most of his life he remained a dissident Catholic. As organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral, his salary was suspended, perhaps because the Puritans found his organ and choral music to be too elaborately polyphonic. His over 110 Motets, published in …

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Strauss’ “Muttertändelei” and the Joys of Motherhood

Just look at my beautiful child, With long, golden locks, Blue eyes and rosy cheeks People, do you also have one like it? People, no you have not! Richard Strauss’ ebullient 1899 song, Muttertändelei (“Mother Chatter”), captures the joy of a new mother who would not give her child away “for all the coins in the world.” The comic text is by the German poet, Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794). The song is filled with sudden, delirious …

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On a Roll: Music Inspired by the Pianola

“The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings,” said Paul, “not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions, and systems.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue -or rather by vice -of the multiplication …

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Eight Composers on Piano Roll

When you consider the piano roll, what kind of music comes to mind? Probably Scott Joplin’s elegant rags, or perhaps the exuberant swing of Tin Pan Alley. Interestingly, a number of less likely composers, from Mahler and Debussy to the 80-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns, were recorded on piano rolls in the early years of the twentieth century. In some cases, these are the only historical record of the composer’s playing. Additionally, they offer …

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