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Remembering Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth, the legendary British-born jazz fusion guitarist, passed away earlier this month. He was 70. Holdsworths’ stunning virtuosity and harmonic innovations influenced rock guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen. He was called “the John Coltrane of the guitar.” In 1983, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles wrote: He pours out notes in a liquid rush without slurring […]

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Shakespeare Turns 453

Sunday marks the 453rd anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. In a previous post, we listened to a small sampling of the many pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s works. This year, let’s hear two excerpts from English tenor Ian Bostridge’s 2016 album, Shakespeare Songs. The recording won a Grammy this year in the category, “Best Solo Vocal Album.” Here is English […]

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Trio Rafale Plays Ravel

Some pieces grab you by the throat and demand that you listen, thrusting you into an exhilarating, pulse-quickening ride from the first note. Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor isn’t one of those pieces, at least in its opening bars. Instead, it’s music which seduces, wafting over you with a dreamy palette of impressionist color. It’s both […]

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The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late […]

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Wagner’s Parsifal: The “Good Friday Spell”

Heroic sacrifice, compassion, healing, and rebirth…these are central themes of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Unfolding over nearly five hours, Parsifal was conceived as a solemn mystical experience- a Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) blending Christian and Buddhist symbolism and Schopenhauerian philosophy. The story, based on a 13th-century epic verse by German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, depicts the Arthurian knight Parsifal’s quest for the Holy […]

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”: Music for the “Bright Holiday”

In Russia, Easter is known as the “Bright Holiday.” Appropriately, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, completed in 1888, springs to life with bright, glistening sounds. You can almost sense nature’s springtime renewal in the fresh, joyful vitality of this music. For example, listen to this shimmering passage near the beginning of the piece. Vibrant colors and instrumental personas are […]

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Bach’s “Erbarme dich, mein Gott”

This week we’ll explore music inspired by Good Friday and Easter, both sacred and secular. We’ll start in one of the most sublime and powerful corners of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: the alto aria, Erbarme dich, mein Gott (“Have mercy Lord, My God, for the sake of my tears”). In the drama, this aria reflects Peter’s solitary […]

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Benjamin Appl: Schubert at Wigmore Hall

As a followup to Wednesday’s post, here are three excerpts from an album of Schubert songs released last year by German baritone Benjamin Appl. The album was recorded live at London’s Wigmore Hall with pianist Graham Johnson accompanying. Am Bach im Fruhling In the 1816 song, Am Bach I’m frühling, D. 361 (“By the Brook in the […]

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Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony: Haunting, Mysterious, Groundbreaking

Take a moment, hook in your best pair of headphones, maybe even close your eyes, and listen to the first haunting bars of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Eighth Symphony. It begins with a single, hushed melodic line in the low strings which quickly gives way to shivering violins and darkly pulsating bass pizzicati. Then, a lamenting […]

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New Release: Rafal Blechacz Plays Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is the simple but fitting title of a new album by 31-year-old Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz. The recording, released in February, features Bach’s Italian Concerto, Partita Nos. 1 and 3, Fantasia and Fugue In A Minor BWV 944, and the seldom-heard Four Duets BWV 802-805. (Blechacz offers this description of the Duets). British pianist Myra Hess’ arrangement of Jesus, Joy Of Man’s […]

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