John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” and the Ghosts of Late Romanticism

A terrifying raw energy, released in thirty-nine unrelenting E minor hammer blows… So begins John Adams’ monumental 1985 symphony in three movements, Harmonielehre. This titanic opening statement, which Adams has equated to “a grinding of gears,” sprang from a strange and vivid dream. For Adams, it brought a sudden end to a “perplexing and deeply disturbing creative block” which had paralyzed him for eighteen months. In his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, the composer writes, At what seemed like the absolute nadir …

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Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” Overture Springs to Life

You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting. – Mozart in a letter to his father, Leopold dated July 31, 1778 In the nineteenth century, a myth developed surrounding Mozart’s compositional process. The popular romantic notion suggested that Mozart’s compositions were conceived instantly and effortlessly, arriving in the composer’s mind in completed form. In 1815, twenty-four years after the …

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Bach’s “Easter Oratorio”: A Celebratory Retrofit

J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio was first performed at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on Easter Sunday, 1725. But most of this music was not written with Easter in mind. Instead, it was recycled from the now lost secular “Shepherd Cantata,” written a month earlier to celebrate the thirty-first birthday of Bach’s patron, Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. A year later, Bach recycled the cantata again for the birthday of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The Easter Oratorio opens with an …

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New Release: Augustin Hadelich Plays Paganini’s 24 Caprices

Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices, written between 1802 and 1817, are spectacular feats of daredevil virtuosity. With an unabashed bravura, they push the violin toward its technical limits. But Augustin Hadelich’s newest album reveals the drama, humor, and sunny Bel Canto tunefulness which is the true essence of this music. In a recent interview, Hadelich said, When Paganini performed, men and women often wept and fainted, not necessarily because they were dazzled by his virtuosic …

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Two Views of Couperin

The music of François Couperin (1668-1733) takes centerstage in this month’s release from the Four Nations Ensemble. This is the fourth installment of the early music group’s new educational initiative, the Concise Dictionary of Music. Harpsichordist Andrew Appel performs Couperin’s Septieme Ordre from Book II of Pieces de Clavecin (1717). In the program notes Appel writes, The Septieme Ordre presents itself as an exhibit of rococo drawings, a suite of Watteau-like images set before us. The grand Baroque gestures of Book …

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David Diamond’s Fourth Symphony: A Neglected Mid-Century Masterwork

There’s a whole group of great American symphonists who came of age in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, flourished in the middle of the century, and then fell into relative neglect as atonality became the ruling doctrine of concert music. Their names include Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, William Schuman, and Roy Harris. David Diamond (1915-2005) is another significant composer from this group. Diamond’s music was programmed in the 1940s and ’50s by …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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