Miles Davis during a studio recording session, October 1959.

Bartók’s Surprising Influence on Jazz

There are some fascinating connections between jazz and the music of Béla Bartók. Both have a pristine, highly-ordered sense of structure. Both are built on complex rhythmic grooves which grow out of a folk tradition. Jazz pianist Dániel Szabó delves into this subject in a recent article where he writes, Whenever I hear the second movement of […]

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New Release: “Troika,” Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley

Political dissent and the “Slavic soul” are at the heart of TROIKA, a new two-disc album by cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley on the Pentatone label. The recording features sonatas by three great twentieth century Russian composers: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov. Interspersed between this “troika” are shorter pieces, including the duo’s arrangement of the Troika movement from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé score and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. […]

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“Concerto for Orchestra”: Bartok’s Triumphant Swan Song

In the autumn of 1943, Béla Bartók was in deep physical, emotional, and financial distress. With the rise of the Nazis, Bartók had been forced to flee his native Hungary and settle in the United States, leaving behind friends, as well as royalties and other sources of income. He was hospitalized for an undetermined illness. (The illness, […]

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Thomas Newman and the New, Ambient Film Score

Today is the birthday of American film composer Thomas Newman (b. 1955). Newman’s scores include Bridge of Spies (2015), Finding Nemo (2003), Road to Perdition (2002), American Beauty (1999), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). His father, Alfred Newman, was one of Hollywood’s most important and influential composers in the early days of film scoring. Those early days were often characterized by […]

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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: Heroism and Virtuosity

Soaring, expansive, heroic, and thrillingly virtuosic…These are words which might describe Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, written in the autumn of 1885.  Echoes of Beethoven’s violin sonatas surface occasionally in this music (Compare this dialogue between piano and violin with the opening turn of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata). But all of the glistening colors […]

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Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” in Eight Versions

This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation. […]

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Franz Berwald: The First Great Scandinavian Symphonist?

In Wednesday’s post, I made the assertion that Scandinavian composers, from Grieg and Nielsen to Sibelius, inhabited their own distinct sound world. They seem to have heard things in a different way, and their music often unfolds with a unique sense of flow and a distinct approach towards time. Perhaps it was a result of their […]

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Traditional Norwegian fisherman's cabins, rorbuer, on the island of Hamnøy, Reine on the Lofoten in northern Norway. Photographed at dawn in winter.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto: Color and Atmosphere

It’s one of the most memorable opening statements in all of music history. Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor begins with the ominous rumble of a timpani roll and then a sudden, bold proclamation in the solo piano which seems to say, “Here I am.” The music which follows has echoes of the hushed restlessness of Robert Schumann’s Piano […]

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A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed […]

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Tom Petty on Songwriting

What is the source of a musical idea? How is a hit song born? In this 2016 interview, rock musician and songwriter Tom Petty describes how the idea for Free Fallin’, the opening hit track of the 1989 album Full Moon Fever, came in a sudden, unexpected flash. Petty passed away on Monday at the age of 66. Jeff […]

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