Remembering Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” passed away yesterday. She was 76. As a child, Franklin began singing gospel music at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father, C.L Franklin, was minister. All of the lament and longing of the African-American experience, from slavery, to civil rights, to the musical call and response of the Black church, can be heard in her voice. David Remnick’s 2016 New Yorker profile, quoted President Obama saying, …

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The Anxiety of Influence: Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto

Ah, we shall never be able to do anything like that! Apparently, Beethoven made this remark to the pianist-composer Johann Baptist Cramer after hearing Mozart’s stormy Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, a piece we explored last week. Beethoven’s enthusiasm for Mozart’s Concerto is a testament to its sublime, haunting drama and even Romantic foreshadowings. You can hear its influence in the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, also in C minor. Mozart’s …

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Bernstein at 100: From Broadway to the Symphony

As a composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein passionately sought a style of concert music which could be called uniquely “American.” “What is American Music?” was the subject of one of his nationally-televised Young People’s Concerts. Composing the “great American opera” remained an elusive goal. It must have been on his mind with the creation of A Quiet Place in 1983, as well as an ill-advised 1984 adaptation of West Side Story performed by an operatic lineup including José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa. Like …

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John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic”: Three Excerpts

In a 1987 interview with Edward Strickland, John Adams discussed myth and archetype in relation to his new (at the time) opera, Nixon in China: …My Nixon is not the historical Richard Nixon, he is every President. I take him to be an archetype of an American head of state- maybe not even necessarily a head of state, just any emotionally undeveloped man who finds himself in a position of tremendous power. It’s …

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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24: Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate, and the English Chamber Orchestra

Two weeks ago, we explored the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music, from The Magic Flute‘s lamenting aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” to the persistent “minor-ness” of Symphony No. 40. Today, I want to take a similar excursion into minor-key Mozart with the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. This is one of only two concertos Mozart wrote in a minor key. It provides a dark, stormy counterweight to the bright comedy of The Marriage of …

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Penderecki: “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”

On this day, seventy-three years ago, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second bomb destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, written in 1960 by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), was not originally inspired by the devastation of the atomic bomb. The piece was first called 8’37”- a reference to its estimated duration, with a nod to John Cage. It …

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“Yes”: Three Great Songs from the “90125” Album

Rick Beato offers a fascinating analysis of the Yes song, “Roundabout,” at his Youtube channel, Everything Music. His deconstruction showcases the incredible virtuosity and musicianship of the English progressive rock band’s members, including the late bassist Chris Squire and vocalist Jon Anderson. We also get a sense that Yes didn’t just write catchy songs, but rather, extended, symphonic, works of art, filled with innovative electronic processing techniques such as “backwards piano” and double tracked vocals. Amazingly, the musical adventure which …

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