Pierre Monteux: Five Historic Recordings

You may give an excellently played, genuinely felt performance of a movement, but because the engineer is not satisfied, because there is some rustling at one point, so you do it again and this time something else goes wrong. By the time you get a “perfect” take of the recording the players are bored, the conductor is bored, and the performance is lifeless and boring. … I detest all my own records. …

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Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: Magic Fire Music

At the end of the third and final act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde, sending her into an enchanted sleep. Loge, the Norse god of fire, creates a protective circle of fire around the rock where she lies. Only the bravest of heroes will be able to penetrate the fire. At the opera’s 1870 premiere in Munich, the special effect of the flames terrified the audience. From the beginning of this …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 88: Seeds of Romanticism?

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G Major, completed in 1787, is undeniably firmly rooted in the classical tradition. Set in the standard four movements, it offers all of the courtly elegance, charm, and witty good humor we would expect from this innovative and prolific “father of the symphony.” At the same time, this Symphony, written two years before the outbreak of the French Revolution, contains some fascinating foreshadowings of music to come. …

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New Release: Ólafur Arnalds’ “re:member”

Pulse, pattern, and expansive, ambient soundscapes blend into an intoxicating brew on re:member, an album released last August by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds (b. 1986). In an earlier post, we explored the similarities between the gradual, hypnotic inevitability of Arnalds’ looping patterns and the music of minimalist composers like Steve Reich. Here, Arnalds takes the leap into a brave new world of computer-influenced composition. The music of re:member was written using Stratus, a new software program the composer helped …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

In each of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos we meet a different cast of musical characters. The First Concerto opens the door in magnificent style with a large, “symphonic” group, including horns with their connotations of the hunt. The Second brings high voices to the forefront with recorder, oboe, violin, and trumpet lines which soar exuberantly into the stratosphere. In the Third, the strings weave a thrilling counterpoint. It’s important to remember that these …

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Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony: Iván Fischer and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Wagner called Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony “the apotheosis of dance.” This quality is evident in Iván Fischer’s spectacular January, 2014 performance with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. It isn’t that we hear “dance music” in this sunny, spirited, A major romp of a Symphony. Instead, it’s the instrumental voices of the orchestra which seem to enter into a sublime “dance.” One by one, they come to life and weave together in between the celebratory chords of the opening …

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“Happy Birthday” Arranged by…Stravinsky and Copland?!

Occasionally during an orchestra rehearsal, the oboe’s tuning note transforms into a surprise, impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday in celebration of a musician’s birthday. You can find clips of more organized examples for conductors David Robertson and Gustavo Dudamel. (In that last example, notice the distinctly Latin American flavor of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s rendition). Interestingly, a few great twentieth century composers put their stamp on Happy Birthday. Undoubtedly, these composers dashed off these lighthearted miniatures quickly and with …

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