The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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Louis Lortie Plays Ravel

Last week we listened to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, a piece which originated as a solo piano suite and culminated as a breathtakingly colorful orchestral work. Many of Ravel’s works followed this evolution. His glistening, Impressionistic orchestration even extended to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a work also originally for solo piano. Let’s return to Ravel the pianist with a few excerpts from French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s 2003 recording (on the Chandos label), Ravel’s …

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Nature in the Key of F

The key of F major has long associations with nature and calm pastoral scenes. As flowers bloom and the pollen count soars, let’s finish out the week with four pieces in F major which evoke images of a springtime pasture: Bach’s Pastorale in F Major Historians believe that bagpipes may have predated ancient Rome. On hillsides in southern Italy and beyond, shepherds played Zampogna (Italian bagpipes). You can hear echoes of the Zampogna …

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The Rise of Simone Dinnerstein

Rising to the top of the classical music world requires a combination of talent, hard work, determination, and luck. In 2007, American pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s career was “launched into the stratosphere” with the release of her self-financed recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and an appearance at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. The recording quickly soared to the top of the Amazon classical chart and more disks followed. This CBS Sunday Morning story profiles Dinnerstein’s miraculously …

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The Power of Simplicity: Satie’s Gymnopédies

Italian-born pianist Aldo Ciccolini passed away last week at the age of 89. He will be remembered as a champion of French piano music, especially the works of early twentieth century avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). Here is Ciccolini performing Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. This music was especially shocking in 1888 when it was published. It doesn’t drive towards any goal. Instead, it floats along with a powerful, hypnotic simplicity. I should be a very foolish pianist …

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The Bells of Strasburg: Liszt’s Forgotten Cantata

In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1851 poem, The Golden Legend, a storm rages as Lucifer and a host of demonic spirits (Powers of the Air) try to tear down the cross from the spire of Strasburg Cathedral. Ultimately, Lucifer is defeated by the ringing of the Gothic cathedral’s bells, which summon saints and guardian angels. This dramatic poem was the inspiration for Franz Liszt’s 1874 cantata, The Bells of Strasburg Cathedral. The work for baritone …

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Four Musical Firsts

In celebration of the beginning of a new year, here are four pieces which qualify as musical “firsts.” Listen to the music on the list and then share your own favorite musical “firsts” in the comment thread below. Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” Let’s start with the birth of opera. Italian Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is often credited with singlehandedly inventing the art form. In reality, opera gradually evolved out of Intermedio, music and …

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