Walking in the Footsteps of Mahler with Three Historic Recordings

Today, we meet Mahler. More accurately, we take a walk in the composer’s footsteps, indirectly, through the historic recordings of two of his closest protégés, soprano Anna von Mildenburg and conductor Bruno Walter. One brief fragment from 1904 is the only existing document of the eminent Austrian Wagnerian soprano, Anna von Mildenburg (1872-1947), pictured above. At the age of 23, Mildenburg made her debut under Mahler’s baton at the Hamburg State Opera, singing the role …

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert

In Monday’s post, we explored the warm, instantly-recognizable sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra during its golden age under the tenure of music directors Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. As a follow up, here is a 1978 concert performance of Scheherazade by the Russian Romanticist, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). The symphonic suite, based on The Arabian Nights, is filled with shimmering colors (Rimsky-Korsakov was one of music history’s most innovate orchestrators) and “exotic” Eastern sounds (the opening brass motive outlines …

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The “Philadelphia Sound” in Five Historic Recordings

These days, the professional orchestra world is characterized by unparalleled technical skill, dutiful attention to historically-informed performance practice, and a general homogenization of sound and style. Musicians are expected to transition, instantly and seamlessly, from the lush Romanticism of Tchaikovsky to the lean purity of Mozart, with the mixed meters of Stravinsky and John Adams thrown in for good measure. In many ways, it’s the best of times. Perhaps what has been …

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Happy Birthday, William Primrose

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish violist and teacher, William Primrose (1904-1982). Primrose performed in Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in the late 1930s and formed the Primrose Quartet. He made numerous recordings with Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Arthur Rubinstein. He commissioned and premiered Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, a piece which was finished posthumously after the composer’s death in 1945. As a teacher, he contributed several books on viola playing. Primrose’s singing tone …

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Happy Birthday, Serge Koussevitzky

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of the birth of the legendary conductor, composer, and double-bassist, Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951). Born in Russia into a Jewish family of professional musicians, Koussevitzky was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. During his unusually long twenty-five year tenure, the Boston Symphony established a reputation as one of the world’s greatest orchestras. In 1937, Koussevitzky was instrumental in developing the Tanglewood Music Center, the …

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Vitali’s Chaconne: Five Classic Recordings

The origin of the famous Chaconne in G minor, attributed to Italian baroque composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745), remains something of an enigma. The score was discovered and published by the German violinist Ferdinand David in 1867. David premiered Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and his version of the Chaconne includes a quote of the Concerto in the piano accompaniment. There was speculation that David wrote the Chaconne, mainly because its far-reaching harmonic modulations seem so foreign to the baroque language …

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The Hollywood String Quartet: Five Classic Recordings

The Hollywood String Quartet, formed in 1939 and active until 1961, is regarded as the first American-born chamber music group to rise to international prominence. Their fame was due, in large part, to their numerous and exceptional recordings. The members were all studio musicians who created the lush, glowing soundtracks of Hollywood’s “golden age.” First violinist Felix Slatkin, concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, and his wife Eleanor Aller, principal cellist …

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