Eight Pieces Based on the Dies Irae

Last week, we explored two pieces which bookend the musical output of Sergei Rachmaninov- the First Symphony, which Rachmaninov wrote at the age of 22, and the Symphonic Dances, his “last spark,” completed in 1940. The Dies irae, the ancient chant of the dead, emerges as a prominent presence in both works. It’s a motive that returns throughout Rachmaninov’s music with haunting regularity. We hear it in The Isle of the Dead, The Bells, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, where it …

Read moreEight Pieces Based on the Dies Irae

New Release: Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Strasbourg

Sixteen vocal soloists, three choirs, and perhaps the largest orchestra ever conceived for opera… These are the requirements for Les Troyens (“The Trojans”), Hector Berlioz’ massive 1858 French grand opera in five acts. Berlioz himself adapted the libretto from Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. He didn’t live to see the opera performed in its entirety. But he considered it to be his crowning achievement, writing in 1861, I am sure that I have written a great …

Read moreNew Release: Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Strasbourg

Five Musical Fireworks

It’s ironic that Independence Day in America isn’t complete without Tchaikovsky’s most famous ode to Russian nationalism: the bombastic 1812 Overture, which was written to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s invading army. As we head into the July Fourth holiday weekend, here are five more pieces that bring fireworks to mind: Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks In 1749, England’s King George II employed Handel to write music for a large, outdoor public celebration in …

Read moreFive Musical Fireworks

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has inspired composers from Berlioz to Prokofiev to David Diamond. One of this timeless tragedy’s most popular musical depictions was composed by the 28-year-old Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Tchaikovsky called the work an Overture-Fantasy, but it can also be considered a tone poem. Let’s listen to a live performance with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Consider how Tchaikovsky’s music captures the deep emotions at the heart of the …

Read moreTchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet

Summer Nights with Berlioz

French composer Hector Berlioz was an innovator and a revolutionary. He heard strange, shocking new music which had never before been imagined. Berlioz’s song cycle Les nuits d’été (Summer Nights), written in 1841 is deeply psychological and infused with the ideals of Romanticism. This is music of hallucination, at times venturing into the eerie and the supernatural. It plays with our sense of time, sometimes seeming static and unsure, as if wandering through a …

Read moreSummer Nights with Berlioz

Send this to a friend