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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New Release: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra

A spectacular new hybrid SACD recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, featuring Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, came out earlier this month on the Swedish label, BIS Records. This is the second installment in a project which will include the complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies. (The Fifth Symphony was released last July). Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have already recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Sibelius. The hybrid recording technology attempts to capture …

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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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Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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The Architecture of Sound: Xenakis’ “Metastaseis”

Music, like architecture, is time and space. -Le Corbusier On Saturday, I attended the opening of Virginia Commonwealth University’s new Institute for Contemporary Art (pictured above). Situated at one of Richmond’s most prominent intersections, the collection of galleries will host “an ever-changing slate of exhibitions, performances, films, and special programs that translate our world into every medium.” The sculptural design by American architect Steven Holl has become an instant landmark. At night, …

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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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