Strauss’ “Muttertändelei” and the Joys of Motherhood

Just look at my beautiful child, With long, golden locks, Blue eyes and rosy cheeks People, do you also have one like it? People, no you have not! Richard Strauss’ ebullient 1899 song, Muttertändelei (“Mother Chatter”), captures the joy of a new mother who would not give her child away “for all the coins in the world.” The comic text is by the German poet, Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794). The song is filled with sudden, delirious …

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An Obscure Corner of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends And northward reaches in that violet wedge Of Adirondacks! – Hart Crane, The Bridge: The Dance Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is usually heard in its concert suite form for full orchestra. (Leonard Bernstein’s 1982 recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic remains one of my favorite performances of the suite). But the 1944 ballet, written for Martha Graham, was originally a more intimate chamber …

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Clara Haskil Plays Mozart

As Clara sat down “the music materialized as if from nowhere. Her arm seemed to glide over the keyboard without preparation, just as a flat stone skims across the water. This was so typical of her playing; nothing seemed to start or end, and everything became timeless.” This is how the late German pianist, composer, and teacher Peter Feuchtwanger described the musicianship of Clara Haskil (1895-1960). The legendary Romanian-born pianist is remembered as …

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“The Lark Ascending”: Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Romance

The Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ethereal Romance for violin and orchestra, was written in 1914 on the eve of the First World War. But unlike the composer’s Pastoral Symphony, completed seven years later, this music seems light years away from the alienation and shell shock of the battlefield. Inspired by a poem by the English Victorian poet and novelist George Meredith, The Lark Ascending inhabits a hazy, serene dreamscape. The final, ephemeral tones of its concluding violin cadenza …

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Apocalyptic Serenity: The Final Movement of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”

The eighth and final movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time fades into numb, detached serenity. It’s a quiet lament, simultaneously comforting and haunting. Messiaen wrote this music as a prisoner in the Nazi war camp, Stalag VIII at Görlitz, Germany. He was captured as a French soldier during the German invasion of France in 1940. The premiere took place on the cold, rainy night of January 15, 1941. The audience of around 400 was …

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Five Excerpts from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

Recently, I’ve been playing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Virginia Opera. The dark plot of the tragic opera in three acts, first performed in Naples in 1835, lends itself to spectacular musical drama. The title character is coerced into an arranged marriage, although she loves another man. On her wedding night, she fatally stabs her husband and descends into insanity. All of this mayhem is set amid some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies …

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Remembering Michael Tree

The violist Michael Tree, a founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away last Friday. He was 84. The son of violin teacher and author Samuel Applebaum, Tree was a student of Efrem Zimbalist at the Curtis Institute. Zimbalist urged him to change his name in order to advance his career. (Baum is a German surname meaning “tree.”) Michael Tree was a member of the Guarneri Quartet from the time of its founding in 1964 at …

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