Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1

They’ve been called, “the most complex and artistically successful failed job application in recorded history.” 300 years after their composition, J.S. Bach’s six monumental “Brandenburg” Concertos are regarded as some of the greatest and most groundbreaking works of the Baroque period. But surprisingly, they came about as a result of seemingly practical, even mundane concerns. Around 1721, Bach was worrying about his job security. The new wife of his patron, Prince Leopold of Anthalt-Cöthen, was …

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Exploring the Prolation Canon

There is an interesting passage about four and a half minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 which may have caught your ear if you dropped by for Wednesday’s post: Did you hear that wandering, chromatic line which begins in the violins? Two additional lower string voices enter in succession with the same line at consecutively slower rates of speed. For a moment, before the episode is cut off by the …

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New Release: Rachel Barton Pine and Jory Vinikour Play Bach Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour have released a new album featuring J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019. This marks the duo’s first recording collaboration. Barton Pine uses a baroque bow and plays a 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin which is in its “original, unaltered condition.” Also included on the album is the Cantabile, BWV 1019a which Bach originally wrote for the Sonata, BWV 1019. Likely composed between 1717 and 1723 during Bach’s Köthen period, these …

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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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