Rachel Barton Pine Plays “Danse macabre”

The violin’s reputation as “the Devil’s instrument” goes back at least as far as the Renaissance, where paintings such as Pieter Bruegel’s 1562 The Triumph of Death, linked the violin to death and the depravity of dance. The “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) comes with a story in which the composer heard the Devil playing the Sonata in a dream. Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia tells a similar story. The 2013 film, The Devil’s …

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Bartók’s Surprising Influence on Jazz

There are some fascinating connections between jazz and the music of Béla Bartók. Both have a pristine, highly-ordered sense of structure. Both are built on complex rhythmic grooves which grow out of a folk tradition. Jazz pianist Dániel Szabó delves into this subject in a recent article where he writes, Whenever I hear the second movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the extraordinarily tight rhythm, the shifts in emphasis, inserting 3/8 phrases …

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New Release: “Troika,” Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley

Political dissent and the “Slavic soul” are at the heart of TROIKA, a new two-disc album by cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley on the Pentatone label. The recording features sonatas by three great twentieth century Russian composers: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov. Interspersed between this “troika” are shorter pieces, including the duo’s arrangement of the Troika movement from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé score and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. The later was a new piece for Haimovitz. In studying the work, O’Riley advised him to listen …

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“Concerto for Orchestra”: Bartok’s Triumphant Swan Song

In the autumn of 1943, Béla Bartók was in deep physical, emotional, and financial distress. With the rise of the Nazis, Bartók had been forced to flee his native Hungary and settle in the United States, leaving behind friends, as well as royalties and other sources of income. He was hospitalized for an undetermined illness. (The illness, eventually diagnosed as leukemia, would take his life two years later). His compositional career seemingly on the …

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Thomas Newman and the New, Ambient Film Score

Today is the birthday of American film composer Thomas Newman (b. 1955). Newman’s scores include Bridge of Spies (2015), Finding Nemo (2003), Road to Perdition (2002), American Beauty (1999), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). His father, Alfred Newman, was one of Hollywood’s most important and influential composers in the early days of film scoring. Those early days were often characterized by sweeping, lushly Romantic melodies and large orchestral colors. In recent years, as the style of filmmaking has …

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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: Heroism and Virtuosity

Soaring, expansive, heroic, and thrillingly virtuosic…These are words which might describe Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, written in the autumn of 1885.  Echoes of Beethoven’s violin sonatas surface occasionally in this music (Compare this dialogue between piano and violin with the opening turn of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata). But all of the glistening colors and distinctly French sounds of Saint-Saëns are here in abundance. For example, notice the splashes of color in …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” in Eight Versions

This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation. Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my …

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