Happy 150th Birthday, Erik Satie

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Erik Satie (1866-1925), the colorfully eccentric French avant-garde composer whose work anticipated later movements such as Surrealism, Dadaism, and late twentieth-century minimalism. Satie described many of his pieces as “Furniture music.” This music purposely stayed in the background, stripping away any hint of overwrought emotion. In the century between Haydn’s twenty minute-long classical symphonies and Wagner’s eighteen-hour-long Ring Cycle, concert music generally grew bigger, louder, …

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Schumann’s Musical Descent into Insanity

On Monday, we listened to Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 “Spring,” a sunny piece written in the “springtime” of Schumann’s life, shortly after his marriage to Clara. Now let’s hear a different, darker side of Schumann: two strange, haunting works from the final years of the composer’s life, written as he descended into insanity. It’s now believed that Schumann suffered from tertiary syphilis, a disease which appeared gradually over time and produced a host of …

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Helene Grimaud’s New Album: “Water”

Here is a taste of Water, a new album by French pianist Hélène Grimaud which came out at the end of January on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The recording showcases water-inspired solo piano music, mostly from the twentieth century, including Luciano Berio’s haunting Wasserklavier from 6 Encores for Piano, Toru Takemitsu’s atmospheric Rain Tree Sketch II, and Debussy’s  La cathédrale engloutie. Beyond assembling a great collection of music, Grimaud wanted to draw attention to the fragility of this fundamental and …

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Mendelssohn’s Wee Bit of Irish

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, an occasion when everyone seems to claim a “wee bit of Irish” heritage, if only in spirit. So let’s hear what happens when a beautiful Irish folk song ends up in the hands of a composer otherwise unconnected to the Emerald Isle. Felix Mendelssohn drew upon a popular Irish folk song for his Fantasia on “The Last Rose of Summer”, Op. 15, a piano work written around 1830. It’s …

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Steve Reich’s Piano Phase: What Are You Afraid Of?

It’s not everyday that a harpsichord recital leads to a riot, but apparently that’s what happened this past Sunday in Cologne. Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani attempted to perform a composer-sanctioned version of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (1967) at the Cologne Philharmonie when members of the audience became disruptive. He was in the middle of a program of music taken from his recent recording, Time Present and Time Past, which sets the standard baroque harpsichord repertoire …

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The Lonely Introspection of Brahms’ Op. 116, No. 4

  Let’s finish the week with Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in E major, No. 4 from the Seven Fantasies, Op. 116 for piano. Written in 1892 in the final years of Brahms’ life, this is music infused with a deep sense of lonely introspection. It draws us into a dreamlike world where every chord and hesitating pause seem to have something important to say. There are moments when the rhythmic feel changes in interesting ways, obliterating our …

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Remembering Seymour Lipkin

American pianist and teacher Seymour Lipkin passed away on Monday. He was 88. Born in Detroit, Lipkin studied with Rudolf Serkin, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and David Saperton. During the Second World War, while still a student at Curtis, he accompanied Jascha Heifetz in concerts for American troops stationed around the world. In 1948 Lipkin won the Rachmaninov Competition, launching a significant solo career. He was a longtime faculty member of both the Juilliard …

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