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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Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony: Defiantly Czech

Consider, for a moment, all of the possible ways a symphony can begin. Then, listen carefully to the opening of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. This opening statement, emerging out of the dark depths of D minor, is filled with mystery, tension, quiet anxiety, and restless, heroic energy. It’s a world away from the sunny majesty of Dvořák’s Eighth or the hushed, lamenting nostalgia of the introduction of the “New World” Ninth. Here, …

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Befriending Mahler: Walter’s 1938 Vienna Recording of the Ninth Symphony

“He had the soul of a mystic.” This is how the legendary German conductor Bruno Walter (1876-1962) described Gustav Mahler in a 1950 pre-concert radio interview. The 18-year-old Walter was a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach at the Hamburg Opera when he first met Mahler, who served as the Opera’s chief conductor in the 1890s. Walter spent hours in wide-ranging conversations with Mahler (everything from Schopenhauer, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche, to music). Later, Walter …

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Pugnani’s Largo Espressivo: Three Classic Recordings

Chances are good that you’ve never heard of Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798). The eighteenth century Italian violinist and composer of numerous chamber works and operas has long been overshadowed by his more esteemed contemporaries, Mozart and Haydn. He may be most famous for a piece he didn’t even write: Fritz Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro, a showpiece originally attributed to Pugnani as part of Kreisler’s elaborate musical hoax. (Kreisler’s Tempo di Minuetto also erroneously bore Pugnani’s name). …

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