Hovhaness’ “Mysterious Mountain” (Symphony No. 2): Ode to the Eternal

Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, is the music of vast, majestic, metaphorical summits. Unfolding as an arc, its three movements do not take a linear, goal-oriented journey. Instead, they add up to a reverent and awe-inspiring celebration of the eternal. According to Hovhaness, the Symphony’s title does not refer to a specific mountain, but to “the whole idea of mountains.” He wrote, Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know …

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Gershwin on Piano Roll: “Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling”

George Gershwin’s delirious foxtrot, Sweet and Lowdown, was written for the 1925 musical, Tip-Toes. With lyrics by Ira Gershwin, the farcical comedy centers around a three-member vaudeville act which, through duplicity, attempts to snare a wealthy millionaire. The melody exemplifies the high-flying euphoria of the Roaring Twenties, with jazz and blues harmonies and exuberant, tumbling rhythms. George Gershwin’s 1926 performance is preserved on piano roll: The song, That Certain Feeling, was also written for Tip-Toes. It’s …

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New Release: Michael Torke’s “Time”

In architecture, our perception of space is influenced by repeating elements which provide a sense of structure, form, and scale. A particularly sensuous example can be found in the crisp geometric lines which form the bronze curtain wall of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1958 Seagram Building in New York. While architecture occupies the spacial realm, music unfolds through time. Time is the title of the newest composition by American composer, Michael Torke (b. 1961). …

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Copland’s “Music for the Theatre”: Jazzy American Vignettes

In the 1920s, jazz entered the concert hall and infused new symphonic music with a brash, vibrant, and distinctly American sound. On February 12, 1924, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in New York at a concert bearing the grandiose title, An Experiment in Modern Music. A year later, the young Aaron Copland returned home from studies in Paris with the eminent Nadia Boulanger and wrote the chamber orchestra suite, Music for the Theatre.  At moments, …

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Handel’s “What Passion Cannot Music Raise and Quell!”: Sandrine Piau

Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous martyrs of the early church, is the patron saint of music and musicians. Beginning in 1683, musicians in London celebrated Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day, which is November 22 on the Roman Catholic calendar. It was for this occasion that George Frederich Handel composed his cantata, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day  in 1739. The work, which was premiered at London’s Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, is a setting of a …

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Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet: The Choreography of CARION

The word, bagatelle, translates as “a trifle, or something of little importance.” In music, the bagatelle refers to a piece which is brief, light, and unpretentious. Some of the most famous examples spring from the keyboard works of Couperin and Beethoven. Between 1951 and 1953, the Hungarian-Austrian composer, György Ligeti, composed a set of 11 bagatelles for piano, titled Musica ricercata. Each intricately constructed miniature centers around a specific pitch class (or …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major: Dynamic and Miraculous

According to legend, during the premiere of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, a chandelier fell from the ceiling at London’s Hanover Square Rooms. Moments earlier, enthusiastic audience members rushed the stage to catch a better glimpse of Haydn, who conducted from the pianoforte. As a result, everyone escaped serious harm. Shouts of gratitude rang out. “Miracle! Miracle!” Symphony No. 96 earned the nickname, The Miracle.  In fact, this harrowing event occurred four …

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