Archive | Twentieth Century

John Henry

According to legend, the African American folk hero John Henry was one of the strongest and fastest steel-driving men to work on the railroads in the post-Civil War era. The steel-driver’s work involved hammering a steel drill into rock. Explosives were placed in the crevice in order to blast away the rock to construct railroad […]

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Excerpts from Houston Grand Opera’s Adventurous Discography

The water is receding and the cleanup begins in Houston’s hard-hit theater district. The Wortham Theater Center, home of Houston Grand Opera, experienced significant flooding from Hurricane Harvey with water reaching the top of one of the complex’s stages. Referencing a recent staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the company put out a statement this week including the following […]

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Old and Lost Rivers: A Soundscape of Texas Bayou Country

The marshy topography of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast is dotted with bayous- meandering, slow-moving streams which can suddenly spring to life and transform into raging torrents. This dynamic process was on display over the weekend amid the catastrophic flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. As we keep our friends in Houston in our […]

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Happy Birthday, William Primrose

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish violist and teacher, William Primrose (1904-1982). Primrose performed in Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in the late 1930s and formed the Primrose Quartet. He made numerous recordings with Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Arthur Rubinstein. He commissioned and premiered Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, a piece which was finished posthumously after the […]

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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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The Listeners' Club

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