New Release: Montreal Symphony’s “Danse Macabre” Celebrates the Supernatural

Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony have released a spooky new album on the Decca label just in time for Halloween. Danse Macabre features some well-known favorites as well as some surprises. Paul Dukas’ colorful tone poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is full of sparkling wizardry and adventure. This passage must have influenced John Williams’ film score for Star Wars. Also included is Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. (I offered a few thoughts on this ghoulish piece along with …

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Five Spine-Chilling Bernard Herrmann Scores

Consider your favorite classic Alfred Hitchcock films- psychological thrillers such as Vertigo and Psycho. Many elements add up to make these films enduring works of art, including the innovative framing of shots and voyeuristic camera angles which mimic the viewer’s gaze. Perhaps equally important is the music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975). As Matt Williams writes in this 1999 article, Herrmann’s music was groundbreaking, delving into the dark inner psychology of the character more deeply than had ever been done …

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Debussy’s Estampes: Three Exotic Soundscapes

The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy of dreams. -Claude Debussy I’ve always loved Claude Debussy’s descriptive titles. They often seem as if they could be interchangeable with the simple, poetic titles of the great French Impressionist paintings- hazy, intangible dreamscapes of color and light which seem to open the door to a parallel world lurking just beneath …

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Can You Hear Coldplay in Steve Reich?

Recently, as I was listening to the thrilling final four minutes of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, I began to hear subtle echoes of Viva la Vida by the British alternative rock band, Coldplay. Take a moment and compare the pulsating rhythm and harmonic progressions in both examples and see if you agree. Interestingly, both pieces appear to have been written around the same time. (Viva la Vida was released on June 13, 2008 while the Double Sextet, written in …

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Three Classic Recordings of Gossec’s Gavotte

Let’s finish the week with three classic recordings of the charming, bubbly gavotte which concludes Book 1 of the Suzuki Violin repertoire. It’s a piece you may recognize, even if you’re unfamiliar with its composer- the now largely forgotten François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829). Originally written for the 1786 opera, Rosine, Gossec’s Gavotte found its way into this 1938 Looney Tunes film. Gossec, a contemporary of Haydn, wrote numerous operas and orchestral works (Symphony in F Major), …

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New Release: Murray Perahia Plays Bach’s French Suites

Pianist Murray Perahia’s newest album features J.S. Bach’s six French Suites, written between 1722 and 1725. This is Perahia’s first release on the Deutsche Grammophon label, following a 43-year relationship with Sony Classics and its predecessor, Columbia Masterworks. In the recording’s trailer, he describes the French Suites as “Bach on the highest level”- “delicate” and infused with French mannerisms such as accents on second beats of the Sarabande. Each suite is a collection of varied Baroque dance …

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Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony: Defiantly Czech

Consider, for a moment, all of the possible ways a symphony can begin. Then, listen carefully to the opening of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. This opening statement, emerging out of the dark depths of D minor, is filled with mystery, tension, quiet anxiety, and restless, heroic energy. It’s a world away from the sunny majesty of Dvořák’s Eighth or the hushed, lamenting nostalgia of the introduction of the “New World” Ninth. Here, …

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