Rachel Barton Pine Plays “Danse macabre”

The violin’s reputation as “the Devil’s instrument” goes back at least as far as the Renaissance, where paintings such as Pieter Bruegel’s 1562 The Triumph of Death, linked the violin to death and the depravity of dance. The “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) comes with a story in which the composer heard the Devil playing the Sonata in a dream. Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia tells a similar story. The 2013 film, The Devil’s …

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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 and distinctly French sounds of Saint-Saëns are here in abundance. For example, notice the splashes of color in …

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Jascha Heifetz in Concert: Five Amazing Clips

There is no top. There are always farther heights to reach. If one thought himself at the pinnacle, he would slide back toward mediocrity by that very belief in his success. -Jascha Heifetz Watch performance clips of Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), and you may get a vague sense of the supernatural. Is Heifetz playing the violin or is some much larger force at work, playing through him? A searing, highly-controlled energy and a fearless …

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Disney’s Debt to Camille Saint-Saëns

Over the weekend, I played Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals, the zany chamber orchestra work which has found its way into the children’s canon alongside Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The suite’s thirteenth movement, The Swan, is surely Saint-Saëns’ most recognizable music, a reality which probably wouldn’t have pleased the French Romanticist. For Saint-Saëns, writing The Carnival of the Animals was lighthearted fun, and perhaps self-therapy, after an unsuccessful …

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The Baltimore Symphony Turns 100

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Following a few seasons of informal performances in the 1890s, the orchestra played its first official concert on February 11, 1916. It began as the country’s first municipal orchestra, funded for 26 years by the City of Baltimore. In 1942, the BSO separated from the City to become an independent entity. The Baltimore Symphony’s season-long celebration includes a concert tomorrow featuring Joshua …

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Happy Birthday, Yo-Yo Ma

The Listeners’ Club wishes Yo-Yo Ma, who turns 60 today, a happy birthday. Ma is one of a handful of front-rank musicians who can be described as a cultural ambassador. Over the years, he has been at home, not only at Carnegie Hall but also on Sesame Street (watch “The Jam Session,” “The Honker Quartet,” and “Elmo’s Fiddle Lesson”), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and at a presidential inauguration. At the age of seven he performed for President John F. Kennedy. …

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Widor’s Toccata

Let’s finish the week with the awesome power of one of the world’s largest pipe organs…the five keyboards, 109 stops, and nearly 8,000 pipes of the grand organ at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Olivier Latry is performing the virtuosic Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony No. 5 in F minor, written in 1879. Born into a family of organ builders in Lyon, Widor became assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at L’église de la Madeleine in Paris at the …

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