Archive | Twentieth Century

Michael Gordon: Trance No. 4

On Wednesday, we considered the way three minimalist works bend, stretch, and augment our perception of speed and time. Now, let’s listen to one more gradually unfolding piece of musical minimalism- an excerpt from American composer Michael Gordon’s 1995 Trance.  A single melodic line, played by a number of antiphonal voices, begins to break into twos […]

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Festina Lente: Three Pieces Which Alter Our Perception of Speed and Time

“Festina lente” is a classical adage which translates as, “Make haste slowly.” Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) chose this contradictory proverb as the title of a hauntingly mystical 1988 composition for strings and harp. Pärt’s Festina Lente has been described as a musical hologram in which the whole is contained in each part. The piece is made up of a […]

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Wozzeck

Berg’s “Wozzeck”: Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony

It’s considered, by some, to be the greatest opera of the twentieth century. Alban Berg’s expressionist tragedy, Wozzeck, inhabits a darkly surreal world of alienation, dispossession, and mental and emotional breakdown. Written between 1914 and 1922, it’s based on a play by the German dramatist, Georg Büchner (1813-1837) -a work left incomplete at the time of Büchner’s death at […]

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Discarded (and Salvaged) Ives

Charles Ives’ Largo for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano is the result of an interesting compositional evolution. It began life as the second movement of a violin sonata Ives wrote as a student, but it was later discarded and replaced with a different slow movement based on The Old Oaken Bucket. In 1902, this music was salvaged and transformed, […]

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Serge Koussevitsky

Happy Birthday, Serge Koussevitzky

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of the birth of the legendary conductor, composer, and double-bassist, Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951). Born in Russia into a Jewish family of professional musicians, Koussevitzky was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949. During his unusually long twenty-five year tenure, the Boston Symphony established a reputation as one […]

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Paris

Michael Torke’s “An American Abroad” (“An American in Paris” 2.0?)

Did George Gershwin write this piece from the grave? The spirit of Gershwin seems to inhabit Michael Torke’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, An American Abroad. It’s music filled with broad, warmly embracing melodies, the almost naive optimism of Broadway, and, at moments, quiet nostalgia. The title is an obvious reference to Gershwin’s An American in Paris and brings to […]

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Gershwin and Ravel Share the Blues

Maurice Ravel and George Gershwin came face to face in New York on the evening of March 7, 1928. The occasion was a soirée hosted by the mezzo-soprano Éva Gauthier in celebration of Ravel’s fifty-third birthday. This was Ravel’s first and only trip to the United States. During a four month, twenty city tour which included an appearance […]

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1915

The Dreamy Nostalgia of Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds hung havens, hangars… The opening line of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for voice and orchestra paints this dreamy, nostalgic […]

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Mahler

Mahler Turns 157

Today marks the 157th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Mahler. Mahler was born on July 7, 1860 in the sleepy village of Kaliště (population 330) in what is now the Czech Republic. He was only a few months old when his parents moved the family to the larger regional center of Jihlava. (The city’s German […]

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Danny Elfman

“Rabbit and Rogue”: Danny Elfman’s Larger-Than-Life Ballet Score

Danny Elfman’s film and television scores frequently exhibit a kind of quirky, slightly deranged humor. For example, listen to the zany music which accompanies “The Breakfast Machine” scene from the 1985 comedy, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in which the persistent pulse of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance meets 1920s Kurt Weill. I love the way the mechanized madness of that scene is launched […]

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The Listeners' Club

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