Rienzi in Dresden

Last year, conductor Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden gave this electrifying performance of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture. Take a moment and listen:   I love the way this overture grows out of a single trumpet call. The music slowly awakens, searching for a direction forward. Then, suddenly it opens up into one of Wagner’s most noble and majestic melodies (1:19). Premiering in Dresden in 1842, Rienzi was Wagner’s first big hit as an opera composer. Seeds of …

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With Watch Magazine, Music Meets Marketing

There was a time when major networks, such as CBS and NBC, employed their own orchestras (watch this clip of Arturo Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony) and television shows included a full minute of credits, accompanied by theme music. Revisit the opening of Cheers, compare it to the fast pace of today’s media and consider what we’ve lost. TV theme music allowed for reflection (even if it wasn’t deep reflection) and established the atmosphere of the …

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Carmen Fantasies

Georges Bizet’s Carmen remains one of opera’s most popular hits, partly because of its rich and exotic melodies. These melodies were the inspiration for Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, written in 1883. In the nineteenth century, composers commonly used opera melodies as a springboard for new virtuoso showpieces. At the time, arias from Carmen and other operas would have fallen into the category of “popular music.” Franz Liszt wrote a  Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s …

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Medea’s Dance of Vengeance

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between Greek mythology and a modern-day soap opera plot. A perfect example is the story of Medea and Jason, recounted in a play by Euripides from 431 BC. Jason marries Media, but leaves her for Glauce, daughter of Creon, the King of Corinth. Medea gruesomely avenges Jason’s betrayal by killing their children. This story was the subject of American composer Samuel Barber’s 1946 ballet score …

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Teaching Bernstein

In addition to composing and conducting, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the greatest music educators of all time. Starting in the late 1950’s, Bernstein educated and inspired a national television audience with his New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Later, in 1976 came The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. His message was consistent: classical music isn’t stuffy or hard to understand. It’s fun and it’s something everyone can enjoy. In Teachers and Teaching, Bernstein …

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Schubert Songs of Spring

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. With warmer temperatures, blooming foliage and a sense of renewal, spring has long been a rich source of poetic inspiration. Here are three songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) which feature spring: Frühlingsglaube (Faith in Spring) The poem is by Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862). Here is baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Gerald Moore:   When I listen to Schubert’s songs, I always have the sense that every note …

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