Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony: An Unfinished Farewell

Feierlich, misterioso…This is the marking Anton Bruckner inscribed above the first movement of Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Indeed, from this opening movement’s first, quietly haunting sounds, we’re drawn immediately into a place of “solemn mystery.” Hushed, shivering tremolo emerges out of silence, followed by a multi octave-deep D in the winds. Quiet, persistent fanfares in the trumpet and timpani intone ghostly echoes of a distant battlefield. Perhaps Bruckner was the …

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Four Nations Plays Bach

The Hudson Valley, New York-based Four Nations Ensemble has released an exciting Bach recording as part of a new education initiative I detailed last month (Harpsichordist Andrew Appel on J.C.F Fischer’s Passacaglia). Here is the last of J.S. Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, (the Sonata in G major BWV 1019), performed by Quebec violinist Olivier Brault and harpsichordist Andrew Appel. The duo intends to record the other five sonatas in coming months. Bach frequently …

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Mozart and the “C-D-F-E” Motive

Towards the end of the finale of Mozart’s last symphony (the “Jupiter,” No. 41), there’s an extraordinary moment when five independent musical themes combine to form an explosion of counterpoint unlike anything else in the symphonic repertoire. This dazzling display of musical fireworks culminates Mozart’s symphonic output with a celebratory bang. But one of this finale’s most prominent motives- the four notes, “C-D-F-E” which open the movement– has roots much earlier in Mozart’s writing. Go back and …

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The Ghost of Debussy’s “Des pas sur la neige” in Morton Feldman’s Final Work

Four ascending notes, repeated with hypnotic persistence amid a soundscape of restlessly shifting harmony and color…This is what we hear in the atmospheric Des pas sur la neige (“Footprints in the Snow”), the sixth piece from Book 1 of Claude Debussy’s solo piano Préludes. Written in 1909, this music seems to mirror the dreamy winter scenes of Impressionist painters like Claude Monet- paintings in which recognizable landscapes begin to blur into abstractions of color and light. …

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Prokofiev’s Haunting First Violin Sonata

“Wind passing through a graveyard…” This is how Sergei Prokofiev described the hauntingly ethereal passage at the end of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Hushed, wispy scales rise and fall in the violin over a series of numb, ambivalent piano chords. This chilly passage, which is anything but definitive or conclusive, returns later in the final movement. It encapsulates the atmosphere of the Sonata, perhaps the darkest, most …

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Mozart’s Gift to Prague: Symphony No. 38

The first performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 took place in Prague on this date, January 19, in 1787. Intensely dramatic, celebratory, and bursting with counterpoint, this is music on a grand scale. Its premiere at the Bohemian capital’s Estates Theatre was the result of happy circumstances for the composer. While Mozart’s popularity was in decline in Vienna, The Marriage of Figaro created a sensation in Prague. Mozart arrived in the city as a rockstar, noting in a letter, …

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Remembering Anshel Brusilow

American violinist, conductor, and music educator Anshel Brusilow passed away earlier this week. He was 89. Born in Philadelphia in 1928, Brusilow entered the Curtis Institute of Music at the age of eleven, where he studied with Efrem Zimbalist. Between 1954 to 1955 he was concertmaster and assistant conductor of the New Orleans Symphony. In 1955 he moved on to become assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Four years later, Eugene …

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