Ghoulish Prokofiev: “Suggestion Diabolique”

There’s nothing more exhilarating than raw terror. If you aren’t convinced, take a moment and listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, the ghoulishly demonic final movement of the 1908 Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 4. It’s a thrilling ride, along the lines of Schubert’s Erlkönig. Opening in the growling lowest register of the piano, this music resides just on the edge of tonality. You can sense the young Prokofiev flexing his compositional muscles and rebelling against rigid rules and …

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Beethoven and the Power of Four Notes

“Long…short, short, short…” This is the spirited little cell that quietly opens  Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. The entire piece grows from this almost sneaky opening in a way not unlike the famous, ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As you listen to the first movement, notice all the ways these four notes return. Sometimes they’re hidden or played in quiet pizzicato. At other times you’ll hear the motive in the …

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Music and Humor

Leonard Bernstein masterfully explored the subject of humor in music in one of his Young People’s Concerts. The episode takes listeners on a musical tour from Haydn and Rameau to Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and offers insight into why we find certain music funny. To this day, no one has done more for music education than Bernstein. Watching these programs, which originally aired on CBS in the late 1950s, you can sense Bernstein’s passion and …

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