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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Puccini’s Turandot: Five Key Moments

In Wednesday’s post, we heard a few examples of Puccini’s flirtations with impressionism. Puccini’s final opera, Turandot is filled with colorful orchestration and adventurous harmony which evokes the exotic atmosphere of the mythic story: Princess Turandot, determined to never marry, takes revenge on her suitors through a series of riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in the suitor’s execution. Here are five key moments from the opera: Signore, ascolta!  Calaf, the young Prince of Tartary, catches sight of …

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Liebesfreud: Five Classic Recordings

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, here are five classic recordings of Liebesfreud (“Love’s Joy”) by the Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962). This short piece comes from a world long past. It evokes the waltzing elegance and frothy charm of pre-war Vienna. Kreisler wrote it sometime before 1905 and deliberately mis-attributed it to Joseph Lanner (1801-1843), the composer of popular Austrian dance music. In a previous post, we listened to Liebesfreud re-imagined, spectacularly, by Sergei Rachmaninov, who accompanied …

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Three Classic Recordings of Gossec’s Gavotte

Let’s finish the week with three classic recordings of the charming, bubbly gavotte which concludes Book 1 of the Suzuki Violin repertoire. It’s a piece you may recognize, even if you’re unfamiliar with its composer- the now largely forgotten François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829). Originally written for the 1786 opera, Rosine, Gossec’s Gavotte found its way into this 1938 Looney Tunes film. Gossec, a contemporary of Haydn, wrote numerous operas and orchestral works (Symphony in F Major), …

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