Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

I spent last weekend in the orchestra pit playing Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty for Richmond Ballet. Even as I’ve moved on to new programs this week, fragments of Tchaikovsky’s haunting score have continued to play in my mind, inspiring me to investigate a few recordings, old and new. Premiered in January, 1890 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty is often overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s two other ballet scores, Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1892). This is a shame, because it …

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Walking in the Footsteps of Mahler with Three Historic Recordings

Today, we meet Mahler. More accurately, we take a walk in the composer’s footsteps, indirectly, through the historic recordings of two of his closest protégés, soprano Anna von Mildenburg and conductor Bruno Walter. One brief fragment from 1904 is the only existing document of the eminent Austrian Wagnerian soprano, Anna von Mildenburg (1872-1947), pictured above. At the age of 23, Mildenburg made her debut under Mahler’s baton at the Hamburg State Opera, singing the role …

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Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony: An Unfinished Farewell

Feierlich, misterioso…This is the marking Anton Bruckner inscribed above the first movement of Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Indeed, from this opening movement’s first, quietly haunting sounds, we’re drawn immediately into a place of “solemn mystery.” Hushed, shivering tremolo emerges out of silence, followed by a multi octave-deep D in the winds. Quiet, persistent fanfares in the trumpet and timpani intone ghostly echoes of a distant battlefield. Perhaps Bruckner was the …

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Remembering Anshel Brusilow

American violinist, conductor, and music educator Anshel Brusilow passed away earlier this week. He was 89. Born in Philadelphia in 1928, Brusilow entered the Curtis Institute of Music at the age of eleven, where he studied with Efrem Zimbalist. Between 1954 to 1955 he was concertmaster and assistant conductor of the New Orleans Symphony. In 1955 he moved on to become assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Four years later, Eugene …

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New Release: Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Strasbourg

Sixteen vocal soloists, three choirs, and perhaps the largest orchestra ever conceived for opera… These are the requirements for Les Troyens (“The Trojans”), Hector Berlioz’ massive 1858 French grand opera in five acts. Berlioz himself adapted the libretto from Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. He didn’t live to see the opera performed in its entirety. But he considered it to be his crowning achievement, writing in 1861, I am sure that I have written a great …

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Mahler’s Final, Haunting “Wunderhorn” Songs: “Revelge” and “Der Tamboursg’sell”

In Monday’s post, we listened to Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a work which grew out of the 1892 song, “Das himmlische Leben” (“The Heavenly Life”). The Symphony was written primarily during the summers of 1899 and 1900 shortly after Mahler was appointed director of the Vienna Court Opera. As a follow up, let’s listen to two songs which compositionally bookend the Fourth Symphony- Revelge (“The Dead Drummer), composed in July of 1899, and Der Tambourg’sell (“The …

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Mahler’s Fourth Symphony: Heaven Through a Child’s Eyes

The Fourth occupies a unique place among Gustav Mahler’s nine symphonies. From its opening sleigh bells, it pulls us into a bright, exuberant drama- a song-symphony of occasional sardonic humor, frivolity, introspection, and ultimate innocence. Its instrumentation suggests a light, pared-down classicism in which the low brass voices of the trombones and tuba are conspicuously absent. It looks backwards as well as ahead. Mahler’s first four symphonies all grew out of song- in …

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