Phrygian Gates: John Adams, Opus One

John Adams has described Phrygian Gates and its shorter “companion” piece China Gates (written between 1977 and 1978) as his “Opus 1.” Built on an unrelenting sense of pulse and unfolding gradually, both pieces were influenced by the Minimalism of Terry Riley (In C), Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Process (like phasing and gradually building musical patterns with the addition of one note at a time) lies at the heart of early Minimalism. Phrygian Gates and China Gates may be Adams’ …

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Oliver Sacks’ Earliest Musical Memory

  The English neurologist Oliver Sacks passed away yesterday at the age of 82, following a battle with cancer. Sacks examined the relationship between music and the brain. His research highlighted the surprising ways some Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients respond to music. Demonstrating that music occupies more areas of the brain than language, Sacks considered music to be fundamental to humanity. His findings are outlined in his 2007 book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and …

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Widor’s Toccata

Let’s finish the week with the awesome power of one of the world’s largest pipe organs…the five keyboards, 109 stops, and nearly 8,000 pipes of the grand organ at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Olivier Latry is performing the virtuosic Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony No. 5 in F minor, written in 1879. Born into a family of organ builders in Lyon, Widor became assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at L’église de la Madeleine in Paris at the …

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Bruckner’s Organ

(above: The organ Anton Bruckner played at Abbey of Saint Florian in Upper Austria.) Imagine that you could travel back in time to observe key moments in music history. Maybe you would drop in on Handel as he was preparing the Music for the Royal Fireworks, hear a handful of lost works by J.S. Bach, or attend the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro.  Anton Bruckner’s legendary organ improvisations would rate high on my …

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Ivan Moravec Plays Chopin

  The legendary Czech pianist Ivan Moravec passed away on Monday at the age of 84. He was widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of the music of Chopin. Mozart and Debussy were also high points of his repertoire. Born in Prague, and initially limited by the constraints of the Iron Curtain, Moravec first became known in the West through his recordings. Listening to Moravec’s extensive discography, it’s easy to …

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Debussy’s Études Turn 100

Apart from the question of technique, these Études will be a useful warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands…. This was Claude Debussy’s warning to students who dared attempt to play his twelve fiendishly difficult Études for solo piano. The short pieces were even technically daunting for Debussy, who described them as “music that soars to the summit of execution,” and requires you to occasionally catch …

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Alan Curtis Plays Wildly Dissonant Couperin

Alan Curtis, American harpsichordist, musicologist, and conductor of baroque opera, passed away suddenly on Wednesday in Florence, Italy. He was 80. Curtis leaves behind many groundbreaking recordings, including harpsichord music by J.S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, and French keyboard masters like Rameau and Louis Couperin. Curtis founded the European period orchestra Il Complesso Barocco. With that ensemble he recorded numerous works, including an extensive catalogue of Handel operas. Let’s listen to Alan Curtis perform Prelude, …

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