Eight Composers on Piano Roll

When you consider the piano roll, what kind of music comes to mind? Probably Scott Joplin’s elegant rags, or perhaps the exuberant swing of Tin Pan Alley. Interestingly, a number of less likely composers, from Mahler and Debussy to the 80-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns, were recorded on piano rolls in the early years of the twentieth century. In some cases, these are the only historical record of the composer’s playing. Additionally, they offer …

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Exploring the Sarabande Over 400 Years

No one seems to be sure, exactly, about the roots of the sarabande as a dance form. It may have originated in Mexico or some other part of Latin America. It was popular in the Spanish colonies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The zarabanda was first mentioned in a 1593 poem, Vida y tiempo de Maricastaña, written in Panama by Fernando de Guzmán Mejía. As a dance, it was so spicy that it was considered …

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Salut Printemps: Debussy’s Music of Spring

I would like to paint the way a bird sings. -Claude Monet Nature’s colorful reawakening in springtime was a significant influence for French impressionist painter Claude Monet. (Monet’s 1886 Springtime is pictured above). Claude Debussy (1862-1918) may be the composer who mirrors most clearly the atmosphere of Monet’s paintings. In fact, the descriptive titles of Debussy’s pieces often are suggestive of titles you might associate with works of visual art. Debussy’s piano student Madame Gérard …

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10 Musical Adaptations of “God Save the Queen”

On Monday, Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65 years on the throne. At 90, Her Majesty is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. The milestone reminded me of the nearly 140 composers who have created musical adaptations of God Save the Queen, an ancient melody that may have originated in plainchant long before it was attributed to the English composer and organ-builder John Bull in 1619. Here are ten of the most …

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Debussy’s Estampes: Three Exotic Soundscapes

The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy of dreams. -Claude Debussy I’ve always loved Claude Debussy’s descriptive titles. They often seem as if they could be interchangeable with the simple, poetic titles of the great French Impressionist paintings- hazy, intangible dreamscapes of color and light which seem to open the door to a parallel world lurking just beneath …

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Remembering Kurt Masur: Five Great Recordings

Conductor Kurt Masur passed away on December 19, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 88. Masur will be remembered for his 26-year association (beginning in 1970) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a storied ensemble once led by Felix Mendelssohn. Kurt Masur brought powerful political, as well as musical, leadership to Leipzig. In 1981, following the destruction of the previous Gewandhaus in the fire-bombings of the Second World War forty years earlier, he …

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The Oceanides: Sibelius’ Ambient Tone Poem

When you think of ambient concert music that conjures up vast sonic landscapes, the name John Luther Adams may come to mind. Adams, an American composer and longtime resident of Alaska, was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his orchestral work, Become Ocean, premiered by conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony in June, 2013. It’s music which unfolds slowly in rich, colorful waves of sound, evoking the eternal power, depth …

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