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 central to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote an influential treatise on orchestration. He said, “To orchestrate is …

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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 heartache in the garden after he denies knowing Jesus three times. It’s set in a lilting 12/8 …

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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 Spring”), we can hear the flowing brook in the piano’s triplets. The brook seems to be a …

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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 new voice enters- a strange, almost indistinguishable sonority which blends oboe and clarinet. Immediately, we’re drawn into …

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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 Desiring rounds out the disk. Bach’s Italian Concerto in F Major, published in 1735 as the first half or …

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