Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”: An Exuberant, Childlike Romp

A spirt of childlike exuberance permeates Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, completed in 1932, the same year that saw the premiere of Ravel’s G Major Concerto. It’s bright, ebullient music filled with teasing, innocence, and caricature. Strands of jazz mix with the sounds of the Parisian street cafe. As with Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony (1917) and the neoclassical works of Stravinsky, this double concerto arrives in a fresh, new place by looking …

Read morePoulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”: An Exuberant, Childlike Romp

Brahms’ “Rain Song” and the First Violin Sonata

Regenlied (“Rain Song”) is the third of Brahms’ 8 Lieder, Op. 59, published in 1873. The text by Klaus Groth is a wistful remembrance of the dreams and sense of awe experienced in childhood. The fourth song in the set, Nachklang (“Lingering Sound”) returns to the same thematic material. In this text, raindrops are equated with tears. In both songs, the piano evokes the patter of gently falling rain. Notice the way the three-note dotted rhythm …

Read moreBrahms’ “Rain Song” and the First Violin Sonata

Aftertones of Ives

Mahler, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Debussy, Ives, and other voices from the past emerge throughout the music of John Adams like fleeting ghosts. These voices are present in Adams’ towering neo-minimalist, neo-romantic symphony, Harmonielehre. They can also be heard in Slonimsky’s Earbox, the composer’s brief 1995 tone poem, premiered by Kent Nagano and the Manchester, UK-based Hallé Orchestra on the occasion of the September, 1996 opening of Bridgewater Hall. The title refers to Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995), the Russian-born American conductor, composer, musical theorist, and author. …

Read moreAftertones of Ives

Three Pieces from Schubert’s “Miracle Year”

1815 stands out as one of Franz Schubert’s most productive years. In fact, it has been called Schubert’s “miracle year.” The eighteen-year-old composer wrote more than 20,000 bars of music, completing two symphonies (Nos. 2 and 3), two Masses, a string quartet, two piano sonatas, and 145 songs (including the ghostly Erlkönig) , among other works. On one October day, alone, Schubert completed eight songs. That’s way too much music for one blog post! But …

Read moreThree Pieces from Schubert’s “Miracle Year”

Wagnerian Brawn: “Siegfried’s Forging Song”

In celebration of Labor Day, here is one of opera’s greatest displays of heroic physical labor and brawn. It’s “Siegfried’s Forging Song,” which concludes the first act of Wagner’s Siegfried, the third music drama in the Ring Cycle. Disgusted with the dwarf Mime’s lack of progress in reforging the broken pieces of Nothung, the sword that will slay the dragon Fafner, Siegfried takes up the task himself. The music takes on a frightening, almost violent, …

Read moreWagnerian Brawn: “Siegfried’s Forging Song”

Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”: Anne Akiko Meyers

Smile, composed by Charlie Chaplin as the love theme for his 1936 film, Modern Times, was inspired by the soaring, romantic melodies of Puccini’s Tosca. Here is an excerpt from the film with the music in its original form. Lyrics were later written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons and the song became a standard. It was first recorded in 1954 by Nat King Cole. Later, it was performed by artists including Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, and Michael Jackson. Violinist Anne Akiko …

Read moreCharlie Chaplin’s “Smile”: Anne Akiko Meyers

Stravinsky’s Jazz-Inspired “Ebony Concerto”

Earlier in the month, we listened to Leonard Bernstein’s 1949 Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, a uniquely-American hybrid of classical music and jazz, written for Woody Herman’s big band. (Due to the band’s 1946 dissolution, Benny Goodman gave the piece’s premiere). This reminded me of the Ebony Concerto, a similarly jazz-inspired work written for Herman by Igor Stravinsky a few years earlier in 1945. Stravinsky developed a fascination with jazz as early as 1916 when he said, I …

Read moreStravinsky’s Jazz-Inspired “Ebony Concerto”

Send this to a friend