Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: Heroism and Virtuosity

Soaring, expansive, heroic, and thrillingly virtuosic…These are words which might describe Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, written in the autumn of 1885.  Echoes of Beethoven’s violin sonatas surface occasionally in this music (Compare this dialogue between piano and violin with the opening turn of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata). But all of the glistening colors and distinctly French sounds of Saint-Saëns are here in abundance. For example, notice the splashes of color in …

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Light Meets Sound: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina”

Our perceptions of light and sound overlap in some interesting ways. Both travel through the air in waves and bounce off walls. In music, tone is often described in terms of “color,” “dark,” and “bright.” Glistening splashes of light formed the inspiration for South Catalina (2014), a sextet by American composer Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). Inspired by an art instillation, the piece evokes piercing brilliance, as well as mystery. As with the constantly-changing play of …

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Autumnal Ives

Earth rests! Her work is done, her fields lie bare, and ‘ere the night of winter comes to hush her song and close her tired eyes, She turns her face for the sun to smile upon and radiantly, radiantly, thro’ Fall’s bright glow, he smiles and brings the Peace of God! These lines may have been written by Harmony Twichell, the wife of Charles Ives. They form the text of Ives’ hypnotic 1908 song, Autumn. Listen …

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Mozart and the Spirit of Figaro

In the aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” (“You shall frolic no more”), from the first act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro teases Cherubino about the abrupt end of his carefree, flirtatious life at the palace. The Count is concerned that Cherubino has developed a fondness for the Countess and has banished him to distant military service. One of the most memorable passages in this jovial aria is this ascending arpeggio motive. It’s a …

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Discarded (and Salvaged) Ives

Charles Ives’ Largo for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano is the result of an interesting compositional evolution. It began life as the second movement of a violin sonata Ives wrote as a student, but it was later discarded and replaced with a different slow movement based on The Old Oaken Bucket. In 1902, this music was salvaged and transformed, perhaps as part of a now lost trio. The irregular opening piano ostinato lulls us into a …

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The Orion Quartet in Concert: Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9

“We now join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.” That’s the message that could accompany the opening of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C Major. An F-sharp diminished chord emerges out of thin air at the beginning of this piece. This is the  last chord we would expect to hear at this point. It sounds like the stern conclusion of an earlier, unheard musical statement. The strange, harmonically ambiguous introduction which follows is …

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New Release: Haydn’s “Sun” Quartets, Performed by the Chiaroscuro

Is it possible to hear seeds of Romanticism in the string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn? Recently, as I was listening to the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s newest album, this thought crossed my mind. The recording features Haydn’s Op. 20 “Sun” Quartets Nos. 4-6. (Last year, the ensemble released the first three quartets of the Op. 20 set). They approach the music from a historical perspective with gut strings, baroque bows, and limited vibrato. But there …

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