Beginnings: Exploring the Music of “Chicago”

In celebration of the New Year, here is Beginnings from the 1969 debut album of the rock band, Chicago. You might associate Chicago with 1980s ballads like You’re The Inspiration, produced during Peter Cetera’s tenure as lead singer. (That song, written by Cetera and David Foster, offers a fascinating study in continuous modulations built on third relationships). But for most of its history, Chicago has been rooted in a much different, uniquely jazz-inspired sound. From its inception, Chicago was a rock band built …

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Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major: The Alban Berg Quartet and Heinrich Schiff

On Monday we listened to a brief sample of recordings by the late cellist Heinrich Schiff. In today’s post, I want to include one more: a soulful 1983 recording of Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major in which Schiff joins the Alban Berg Quartet. The album is listed, deservedly, among EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century.” This piece was written in 1828, in the final two months of Schubert’s life, and only received …

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Remembering Heinrich Schiff

The world-renowned Austrian cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff passed away on Friday. He was 65. Schiff leaves behind an extensive recorded legacy, including cello concertos of Vivaldi and Haydn, the Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, and the Shostakovich Cello Concertos, conducted by Maxim Shostakovich (the composer’s son). In 1971, he gave one of the earliest performances of the haunting Cello Concerto by twentieth century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Heinrich Schiff will be remembered, also, for his spectacular 1985 recording of J.S. …

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The Bells of Notre Dame

“Hello everyone…” That’s how the German-American musicologist Karl Haas used to begin his Peabody Award-winning radio show, Adventures in Good Music just after the fade-out of the show’s theme music (the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, played by Haas, himself). Adventures in Good Music aired on radio stations across the United States from 1970 to 2007. Growing up, one of my favorite episodes was The Story of the Bells, broadcast on Christmas Eve. It featured the distinct sounds …

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“Winter”: VOCES8’s Newest Album

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of winter. It’s a great time to grab a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the newest album of the UK-based a cappella group VOCES8, simply titled, Winter. The album, which came out in October, is a collection of glistening, snow-covered choral soundscapes. Plainscapes I, II, and III by Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) takes us to the frigid desolation of the forests of Latvia. The opening …

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Remembering Composer Karel Husa

Karel Husa, the influential Czech-born composer and conductor, passed away last Wednesday. He was 95. Husa emigrated to the United States in 1954, became an American citizen a few years later, and served on the faculty of Cornell University for 38 years. His composition students included such illustrious names as Steven Stucky and Christopher Rouse. Music for Prague, 1968 remains Karel Husa’s best known work. It was a programmatic musical response to the 1968 Soviet military …

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Celebrating Beethoven’s 246th Birthday

Beethoven was born on this day in 1770. His birthplace in Bonn, the Beethovenhaus, is pictured above. In celebration, here is a fiery performance of the Egmont Overture, Op 84, written to open a set of incidental music for the Vienna premiere of a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1754-1832). Beethoven received the commission in 1809, around the height of the Napoleonic Wars. In May of that year, Beethoven hid in his brother’s basement during the …

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