The Buggles and Laurie Spiegel: Art Meets Technology, Circa 1979

Nostalgia for the past and anticipation for the future, with its promise of both excitement and peril…These are themes which seem to sum up New Years. They are also the themes which underlie the classic rock song, Video Killed the Radio Star, by the British New wave band, The Buggles. Released as a single in September, 1979 as the disco era was fading rapidly into the Synth-pop sounds of the 80s, the song’s lyric suggests a sense …

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Harpsichordist Andrew Appel on J.C.F. Fischer’s Passacaglia

With the start of the new year, harpsichordist Andrew Appel and the Hudson Valley, New York-based Four Nations Ensemble are launching an exciting new baroque music initiative. “A Four Nations Concise Dictionary of Music” will offer a new recording and program notes, monthly. With this new model, Appel hopes to reach new audiences. When I contacted him a few days ago, Appel explained, We were disappointed with the effectiveness of getting our performances …

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Merry Christmas

I want to wish all readers of The Listeners’ Club a Merry Christmas and, for those who celebrate other traditions, a happy, restful holiday. As 2017 draws to a close, thank you for your loyalty to this blog over the past year. As part of your soundtrack for the day, enjoy contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s serene setting of Gustav Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter: Recordings

Salzburg Bells

It’s an awesome sound…a sound which leaves no room for human voices… I can still remember the musicologist Karl Haas saying these words in his thick German accent as the mighty church bells of Zurich, Switzerland faded into the distance. Haas’ nationally-syndicated radio program, Adventures in Good Music included a special annual Christmas Eve episode, The Story of the Bells, which featured the distinct sounds of bell ringing in cities across Europe. I have great childhood memories …

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Francis Poulenc: Four Motets for Christmas

Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, completed in 1952, are inspired by four scenes from the Nativity story. The first, O magnum mysterium, captures the awe and mystery of the birth of Jesus, and praises the Virgin Mary with a hushed reverence. The second, Quem vidistis, asks the shepherds, “Whom did you see?” The third, Videntes stellam, transports us to the serene, starlit night through which the Magi travel, bearing their gifts. The final motet, Hodie Chistus natus est, is a …

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Nutcracker Rag: A Sweet Travesty On Tchaikovsky

One of my biggest pet peeves is “cutesy” holiday music which weaves in references to classical music. This time of year, there seems to be no shortage of these kinds of cheap, gimmicky arrangements.  I’m sure you’ve already fallen victim. The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s premiere recording of Rick Benjamin’s Nutcracker Rag: A Sweet Travesty On Tchaikovsky doesn’t fall into this category. It transforms Tchaikovsky’s familiar themes into something new with an infectious sense of …

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Christmas Liszt

When considering sacred Christmas music, Franz Liszt probably isn’t the first composer to come to mind. But Liszt, in fact, wrote a strange outlier of a Christmas Oratorio. It forms the first part of the sprawling Christus, composed between 1862 and 1866, which follows the example of Handel’s Messiah, dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ from birth, to passion, to resurrection. Liszt’s Christmas Oratorio unfolds over a long, Wagnerian arc. Its five movements feel as much like a …

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