Roman Totenberg’s Lost Strad Resurfaces

  An incredible violin-related news story broke yesterday. The 1734 Ames Stradivarius, stolen in 1980 from legendary Polish-American violinist Roman Totenberg, has been recovered by the FBI. The violin, valued at $250,000 when it was stolen and now estimated to be worth upwards of $5 million, was snatched from Totenberg’s office at the Longy School of Music as the violinist greeted well-wishers following a concert. Fine instruments commonly disappear into a private collection …

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Liszt’s "Forgotten Romance" with the Viola

It’s an example of one piece of music “giving birth” to another. In 1880 Franz Liszt’s publisher requested a reprint of a piece Liszt had written in 1848: the Romance in E for piano. The two minute Romance begins and ends in a slightly turbulent E minor. In between, it restlessly moves, first into the relative major key of G and then flirts with a distant and ultimately unattainable A-flat major. At this …

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Based on a Pop Groove: Michael Torke’s July

On Friday we explored Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus’ adaptive reuse of a bawdy French song by Jacobus Clemens non Papa. It was an example of a composer recognizing a good melody and transforming it for a completely different setting. But what happens when musical influence becomes much more subtle…so subtle that the composer forgets (or remains unaware of) the source? American composer Michael Torke’s July grew out of a momentary fragment of the rhythmic …

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Beethoven’s "Razumovsky" Quartet No. 7

Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 begins with an extraordinary musical conversation. From the first note of the cello’s warm opening statement, we’re immediately drawn into a miraculous, unfolding drama. The cello reaches higher, attempting to express something enormous and cosmic. The violin picks up where the cello left off, reaching even higher with increasing urgency and abandon. Both voices seem to be struggling to find just the …

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Kenji Bunch: New American Sounds

If you’re near Chicago this evening, head down to the Loop and swing by the Pritzker Pavilion at Grant Park. Conductor Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra will give the world premiere performance of Kenji Bunch’s Symphony No. 3: Dream Songs. The work is based on Native American folksongs and texts collected in 1879 by the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology. The Bureau’s preservation of the last vestiges of tribal music seems …

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The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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New Release: Frédéric Bednarz Plays Franck, Lekeu, Boulanger

Canadian violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka have released an exciting new recording of French violin music. The centerpiece of the recording is César Franck’s famous Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. This is a beautifully colorful and passionate performance with a seamless and cohesive sense of ensemble between violin and piano. The seldom heard music of Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) opens the CD. Lekeu’s G major Violin Sonata was commissioned by …

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