Schubert’s “Tragic” Fourth Symphony

Some incredibly sublime music was written in the shadow of Beethoven. For a case in point, look no further than Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor. The 19-year-old Schubert completed this work in April, 1816. It didn’t receive a public premiere until 1849, more than two decades after the composer’s death. For those who rediscovered Schubert’s symphonies (including the epic Ninth), the feeling must have been something akin to finding a wad …

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Old and Lost Rivers: A Soundscape of Texas Bayou Country

The marshy topography of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast is dotted with bayous- meandering, slow-moving streams which can suddenly spring to life and transform into raging torrents. This dynamic process was on display over the weekend amid the catastrophic flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. As we keep our friends in Houston in our thoughts, let’s listen to a piece which was inspired by this unique Texas topography. American composer Tobias …

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Aida Garifullina: Maria’s Lullaby from Tchaikovsky’s “Mazeppa”

Over the past few weeks, we have explored a few of the albums honored with a 2017 ECHO Klassik- Germany’s prestigious annual classical music awards. Today, we’ll turn our attention to the debut album of Russian operatic soprano Aida Garifullina. The recording, simply titled Aida Garifullina, won in the category of “Solo Recording/Voice (Arias/Recitals).” It’s a compilation of arias and songs by composers including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Garifullina is accompanied by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and conductor Cornelius …

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Happy Birthday, William Primrose

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish violist and teacher, William Primrose (1904-1982). Primrose performed in Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in the late 1930s and formed the Primrose Quartet. He made numerous recordings with Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Arthur Rubinstein. He commissioned and premiered Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, a piece which was finished posthumously after the composer’s death in 1945. As a teacher, he contributed several books on viola playing. Primrose’s singing tone …

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“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of …

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Michael Gordon: Trance No. 4

On Wednesday, we considered the way three minimalist works bend, stretch, and augment our perception of speed and time. Now, let’s listen to one more gradually unfolding piece of musical minimalism- an excerpt from American composer Michael Gordon’s 1995 Trance.  A single melodic line, played by a number of antiphonal voices, begins to break into twos and threes giving us a sense of sonic “blur.” I love the brash, defiant rock-inspired soundscape of …

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Festina Lente: Three Pieces Which Alter Our Perception of Speed and Time

“Festina lente” is a classical adage which translates as, “Make haste slowly.” Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) chose this contradictory proverb as the title of a hauntingly mystical 1988 composition for strings and harp. Pärt’s Festina Lente has been described as a musical hologram in which the whole is contained in each part. The piece is made up of a single melodic line which is heard at varying rates of speed. Long, sustained tones in the basses …

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