The Music of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”

Music was at the heart of the long-running PBS children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I was reminded of this last week as I watched the timely new documentary film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The film opens with a youthful Fred Rogers, seated at the piano, relating far-flung harmonic modulations to difficult adjustments in children’s lives. Rogers, a talented pianist, wrote all of the show’s songs. Dialogue between characters in the “Neighborhood of Make-believe” …

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A Vivaldi Snapshot

Let’s finish the week with a brief but alluring musical snapshot. This is the beautiful second movement (Andante) from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in F Major, RV 136, completed around 1730. It’s an excerpt from Vivaldi: Arie ritrovate, a 2008 album I featured in last Friday’s post. Violinist Stefano Montanari joins the Ravenna-based baroque orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, led by Ottavio Dantone. I love the way this music draws us in with a sense of majestic, flowing, inevitability. Its roving bass line …

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Picking up the Pieces of Vivaldi’s “Scanderbeg”

Rewind to the evening of June 22, 1718… Today marks the 300th anniversary of the re-opening of Florence’s Teatro della Pergola (pictured above). Still in use today, Italy’s oldest opera house saw the Italian premieres of most of Mozart’s operas,  Donizetti’s Parisina and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Mascagni’s I Rantzau. Before opening to the public in 1718, the building was used as a court theater of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The Teatro …

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New Release: Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque

English violinist, conductor, and Baroque specialist Rachel Podger has released an invigorating new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in collaboration with Brecon Baroque, an ensemble she founded in 2007. This collection of concertos, published in 1725, is so familiar to us today that it’s easy to forget how bold, innovative, and virtuosic this music must have seemed to its first audiences. Accompanied by sonnets, also written by Vivaldi, these works stand as some …

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Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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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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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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