A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed its own distinct language and culture. All of this got me thinking about the music of Catalonia …

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New Release: Richard Narroway Plays Solo Bach

26-year-old Australian cellist Richard Narroway has just released an exciting new album featuring J.S. Bach’s Six Solo Cello Suites. He talks about the recording in this interview. A sense of motion is fundamental to this music, built on baroque dance forms such as the courante, the bourrée, and the allemande. As a result, Narroway performs solo Bach during his work with Dance for Parkinson’s, an organization which allows sufferers of Parkinson’s disease to become liberated through movement. You …

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Joyce DiDonato’s “In War and Peace”

In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace? This is the question American lyric-coloratura mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato asks with her newest album, prompted by the November 2015 Paris attacks. In War and Peace is a collection of baroque opera and oratorio arias by composers such as Handel, Purcell, and Monteverdi. The album just won a 2017 Gramophone Award. In a Gramophone Magazine interview, DiDonato said, I don’t need to represent reality in this project. …

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“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of …

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Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico Play Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) wrote extensively for the recorder. One of his most popular works is the Suite for Recorder, Strings & Continuo in A Minor, TWV 55:A2, a seven-movement piece which takes a virtual tour of Europe. The first movement is a French overture (a form first developed in ballet overtures of Jean-Baptiste Lully in the 1650s). The third movement is an Air à l’Italienne, while the final movement, a spirited Polonaise, seems to have …

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Handel’s “Water Music” Turns 300

Today marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Handel’s Water Music. The collection of festive orchestral dance movements, published in three suites, was written for King George I’s pleasure excursion up the Thames River on the evening of July 17, 1717. The elaborate summer boating party was intended to lift the King’s flagging poll numbers. As an incoming tide swept the aristocratic party upriver towards Chelsea, around 50 musicians performed on a separate …

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Exploring the Sarabande Over 400 Years

No one seems to be sure, exactly, about the roots of the sarabande as a dance form. It may have originated in Mexico or some other part of Latin America. It was popular in the Spanish colonies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The zarabanda was first mentioned in a 1593 poem, Vida y tiempo de Maricastaña, written in Panama by Fernando de Guzmán Mejía. As a dance, it was so spicy that it was considered …

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