Bruckner’s Organ

(above: The organ Anton Bruckner played at Abbey of Saint Florian in Upper Austria.) Imagine that you could travel back in time to observe key moments in music history. Maybe you would drop in on Handel as he was preparing the Music for the Royal Fireworks, hear a handful of lost works by J.S. Bach, or attend the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro.  Anton Bruckner’s legendary organ improvisations would rate high on my …

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Remembering Gunther Schuller

American composer, conductor, horn player, writer, educator, and jazz musician Gunther Schuller passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Schuller’s compositions fused elements of jazz and classical music into a style he called “Third Stream.” His remarkably diverse career included principal horn positions with the Cincinnati Symphony and Metropolitan Opera orchestras in the 1940s and 50s, as well as collaborations with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and others. In the 1960s and …

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Schubert’s Mysterious Final String Quartet

Slow down, maybe even close your eyes, and listen attentively to Franz Schubert’s hauntingly transcendent final string quartet, No. 15 in G major, D. 887. It’s one of a handful of pieces written in the final years of Schubert’s life that moves into strange, mysterious new territory. Schubert wrote this music in ten days in June of 1826, but it wasn’t until 1851 that it was published, posthumously. During the same time, Beethoven was completing …

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Schubert’s "Great" Ninth Symphony

Symphony No. 9…Throughout music history, this title has occupied a mythic place in the collective imagination. The symphonic output of Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvořák, and Mahler culminated with a ninth symphony. In one way or another, all of these works, written in the final years of their composers’ lives, move beyond the ordinary into strange, mysterious and transcendent territory. They stand as awe-inspiring musical revelations. To be fair, some of these composers …

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Remembering Conductor Jerzy Semkow

Polish-born conductor Jerzy Semkow passed away last week at the age of 86. A longtime French citizen who resided in Paris, Semkow served as principal conductor of the National Opera in Warsaw (1959-1962), the Royal Danish Opera and Orchestra in Copenhagen (1966 to 1976), and as Music Director of the Orchestra of Radio-Televisione Italiana (RAI) in Rome. Between 1975 and 1979 he was Music Director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Semkow enjoyed …

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Christopher Rouse’s First Symphony

From the first, haunting strands of its spine-chilling opening, Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 1 inhabits a world of darkness and terror. Its titanic forces rise out of, and then sink back into, an atmosphere of seemingly perpetual gloom. It shows us the strange beauty embodied in brooding darkness, hopelessness and despair, and concludes without delivering the kind of reassurance we would like. Completed in the summer of 1986, the work was written for the …

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Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Reverent and Terrifying

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major enters strangely mystical territory. The hushed intensity of its opening string tremolo seems to emerge out of silence. The first movement gradually begins to unfold from an expansive theme which, according to some accounts, came to Bruckner in a dream. It’s simultaneously serene and ghostly, reverent and terrifying. It hints at majestic, awe-inspiring, mysterious, and even frightening aspects of the sacred. In Bruckner’s music we sense …

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