“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of …

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New Release: Handel’s Rarely-Heard “Ottone”

Ottone, Handel’s 1723 tragic opera, tells the story of a bloody Roman coup and the marriage of the German emperor Otto II with the Byzantine princess Theophanu around the year 1000 AD. It was one of the composer’s most successful hits, coming at a time when Italian opera was wildly popular in London. Handel assembled a superstar cast for the first performances at London’s Haymarket Theatre, where the value of scalped tickets soared. Ottone also …

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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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Who Needs Trumpets?

Last weekend, I played for a wedding which included a stirring two-trumpet fanfare. This was followed immediately by an outdoor Richmond Symphony concert which featured John Williams’ main title music for Star Wars. Both occasions reminded me of the trumpet’s deeply celebratory and heroic connotations. Listen to another classic John Williams film score, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and you’ll hear how clearly the trumpet evokes the personality of the film’s protagonist: adventurous, heroic, impetuous, and slightly …

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3 Musical Allusions to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

And He shall reign forever and ever… It’s one of the most recognizable passages in all of music…ten downward-stepping pitches which somehow evoke the ultimate sense of joy and triumph. The Hallelujah Chorus closes Part II of Messiah, Handel’s most famous oratorio, with a burst of D major combined with trumpets and drums. George II was so moved when he heard the opening introduction that he rose to his feet and remained standing for the …

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Beware the Ides of March: Musical Reflections on Julius Caesar

Beware the ides of March. -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Tomorrow marks the “Ides of March,” the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. Dramatized by Shakespeare in 1599, Caesar’s stabbing coincided with Rome’s irreversible evolution from Republic to Empire. Let’s listen to two pieces which were inspired by the life and legend of Julius Caesar: Handel’s Julius Caesar Julius Caesar, George Frideric Handel’s 1724 …

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Christmas at Wanamaker’s

In celebration of the official start of the holiday season, let’s swing by the grand old former Wanamaker’s department store (now Macy’s) in the heart of Philadelphia. The store is home to the largest fully functioning pipe organ in the world, with 28,604 pipes, 463 ranks, and six manuals. Originally built for the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair, the instrument found a home in Wanamaker’s seven-story Grand Court in 1909. It took thirteen railroad cars …

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