Remembering André Previn

André Previn passed away last Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89. Previn will be remembered as one of the great Renaissance men of twentieth century music. As a jazz pianist, he accompanied singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day and put his stamp on the “great American songbook.” As a composer, he contributed film scores, Broadway musicals, operas, orchestral music, chamber music, and songs. As a conductor, he …

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Schumann’s Second Symphony: A Journey Towards Triumph

For several days drums and trumpets in the key of C have been sounding in my mind. I have no idea what will come of it. Robert Schumann wrote these words to his friend, Felix Mendelssohn, in September, 1845. We know now that the musical voices playing in Schumann’s mind were the first echoes of the Symphony No. 2 in C Major. (Actually, it would be Schumann’s third completed symphony. The D minor Symphony, completed …

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“To the Distant Beloved”: Schumann’s Obsession with a Beethoven Song

In the final movement of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, an unassuming but persistent motivic cell emerges which propels the Symphony towards its majestic and triumphant culmination. Around three minutes in, all of the music’s forward momentum comes to a halt on a somber C minor cadence. Then, this motive is introduced by the woodwinds. It repeats in other voices throughout the orchestra and develops into an exalted and joyful proclamation. …

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Bach’s Sinfonia in D Major: A Startling Remnant from a Lost Cantata

This wildly adventurous music likely served as the instrumental introduction to a festive cantata written by J.S. Bach in Leipzig sometime between 1742 and 1746. The cantata is long lost and we’re left with this single, enticing fragment which is known as the Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045.  This music is startling on many levels. First, it is a virtual violin concerto superimposed on a full orchestra which includes three trumpets, timpani, and …

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From Flute to Violin: The Evolution of Prokofiev’s D Major Sonata

During the summer of 1943, Sergei Prokofiev escaped the war-torn Eastern Front for the isolation of the Central Asian city of Alma-Ata, where he was hard at work on the sprawling film score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In the middle of this massive project, Prokofiev found himself drawn to music on the other end of the spectrum- something he described as a “sonata in a gentle, flowing classical style.” This piece was born as the Flute Sonata in …

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Eight of Prokofiev’s Quirkiest Ballet Melodies

Last week, the Richmond Symphony returned to the orchestra pit for five performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s shimmering and comic 1944 ballet, Cinderella. Bringing off Prokofiev’s music, both technically and musically, often feels like solving a puzzle. Hovering somewhere between austere twentieth century Neoclassicism and moments of sudden lush Romanticism, this music is always keeping us off guard. We never know exactly how to take it. It is simultaneously humorous and sarcastic, cool and calculating (like …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 29: Humor, Surprise, Ingenuity

Richard Atkinson, a Boston-based composer and forensic pathologist, offers a fascinating analysis of the wild rhythmic ingenuity found in some of Franz Joseph Haydn’s lesser-known symphonies. Atkinson’s YouTube channel is filled with insightful videos which take a look “under the hood” at music from Bach and Bruckner to Shostakovich. In this installment, Atkinson begins with the Finale of Haydn’s Symphony No. 29 in E Major, detailing the way the music continuously throws off our perception of phrase and meter. …

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