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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: Heroism and Virtuosity

Soaring, expansive, heroic, and thrillingly virtuosic…These are words which might describe Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, written in the autumn of 1885.  Echoes of Beethoven’s violin sonatas surface occasionally in this music (Compare this dialogue between piano and violin with the opening turn of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata). But all of the glistening colors […]

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Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” in Eight Versions

This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation. […]

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Franz Berwald: The First Great Scandinavian Symphonist?

In Wednesday’s post, I made the assertion that Scandinavian composers, from Grieg and Nielsen to Sibelius, inhabited their own distinct sound world. They seem to have heard things in a different way, and their music often unfolds with a unique sense of flow and a distinct approach towards time. Perhaps it was a result of their […]

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Traditional Norwegian fisherman's cabins, rorbuer, on the island of Hamnøy, Reine on the Lofoten in northern Norway. Photographed at dawn in winter.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto: Color and Atmosphere

It’s one of the most memorable opening statements in all of music history. Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor begins with the ominous rumble of a timpani roll and then a sudden, bold proclamation in the solo piano which seems to say, “Here I am.” The music which follows has echoes of the hushed restlessness of Robert Schumann’s Piano […]

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A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed […]

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Tom Petty on Songwriting

What is the source of a musical idea? How is a hit song born? In this 2016 interview, rock musician and songwriter Tom Petty describes how the idea for Free Fallin’, the opening hit track of the 1989 album Full Moon Fever, came in a sudden, unexpected flash. Petty passed away on Monday at the age of 66. Jeff […]

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Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”: Saying Goodbye to Romanticism

Richard Strauss lived long enough to witness the death of one world and the emergence of another. Consider that when Strauss wrote his first song, Weihnachtslied, in 1870 at the age of 6, Wagner was just hitting his stride with the premiere of Die Walküre, and Tchaikovsky had recently completed his gushingly romantic Overture-Fantasy, Romeo and Juliet. By 1949, the year […]

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Light Meets Sound: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina”

Our perceptions of light and sound overlap in some interesting ways. Both travel through the air in waves and bounce off walls. In music, tone is often described in terms of “color,” “dark,” and “bright.” Glistening splashes of light formed the inspiration for South Catalina (2014), a sextet by American composer Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). Inspired by an […]

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Solitary Liszt

Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art. The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ’s religion illuminates with His divine light. -Franz Liszt We often think of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) as a kind of nineteenth century rock star whose piano music is filled with dazzling displays […]

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New Release: Richard Narroway Plays Solo Bach

26-year-old Australian cellist Richard Narroway has just released an exciting new album featuring J.S. Bach’s Six Solo Cello Suites. He talks about the recording in this interview. A sense of motion is fundamental to this music, built on baroque dance forms such as the courante, the bourrée, and the allemande. As a result, Narroway performs solo Bach during his work […]

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