The Pastoral Sounds of Brahms’ Second

When it came to the symphony, Johannes Brahms was haunted by a ghost. Approaching the age of 40, Brahms declared, “I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” That giant was Beethoven, who elevated the symphony to new, and previously unimaginable, dramatic heights. As a result, it took Brahms fifteen years to complete his First Symphony. Set in the …

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A Preview of Rachel Barton Pine’s New Solo Bach Recording

Friday marks the official release of violinist Rachel Barton Pine’s newest recording: Testament: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by J.S. Bach. Pine talks about the recording and her relationship with Bach’s music in this interview with Richmond Public Radio’s Mike Goldberg. She performs with a baroque bow, finding that it leads to greater ease in playing chords and captures both “sweetness and vitality“ in the music. We also hear her 1742 Guarneri. (Pine made …

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3 Musical Allusions to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

And He shall reign forever and ever… It’s one of the most recognizable passages in all of music…ten downward-stepping pitches which somehow evoke the ultimate sense of joy and triumph. The Hallelujah Chorus closes Part II of Messiah, Handel’s most famous oratorio, with a burst of D major combined with trumpets and drums. George II was so moved when he heard the opening introduction that he rose to his feet and remained standing for the …

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Re-Imagining Sondheim on the Composer’s 86th Birthday

Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim turned 86 yesterday. His contributions include the lyrics for West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959), and music and lyrics for A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Into the Woods (1987), and numerous other groundbreaking shows. His sophisticated, envelope-pushing musicals will almost certainly rank among the Broadway theater’s most enduring works. Sondheim’s genius has always gone beyond “songwriting” in the Tin Pan Alley (or even Andrew Lloyd Webber) sense. Writing stand-alone commercial hits has …

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Helene Grimaud’s New Album: “Water”

Here is a taste of Water, a new album by French pianist Hélène Grimaud which came out at the end of January on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The recording showcases water-inspired solo piano music, mostly from the twentieth century, including Luciano Berio’s haunting Wasserklavier from 6 Encores for Piano, Toru Takemitsu’s atmospheric Rain Tree Sketch II, and Debussy’s  La cathédrale engloutie. Beyond assembling a great collection of music, Grimaud wanted to draw attention to the fragility of this fundamental and …

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Remembering Peter Maxwell Davies

Earlier in the week, the music world lost another original voice. British composer and conductor Sir Peter Maxwell Davies passed away on Monday following a battle with leukemia. He was 81. A longtime resident of the remote Orkney Islands, Davies was a prolific composer whose works include ten symphonies, chamber music, operas, and concertos. He was an outspoken cultural critic and an advocate for music education, serving as music director at Cirencester …

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Mendelssohn’s Wee Bit of Irish

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, an occasion when everyone seems to claim a “wee bit of Irish” heritage, if only in spirit. So let’s hear what happens when a beautiful Irish folk song ends up in the hands of a composer otherwise unconnected to the Emerald Isle. Felix Mendelssohn drew upon a popular Irish folk song for his Fantasia on “The Last Rose of Summer”, Op. 15, a piano work written around 1830. It’s …

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