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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Excerpts from Houston Grand Opera’s Adventurous Discography

The water is receding and the cleanup begins in Houston’s hard-hit theater district. The Wortham Theater Center, home of Houston Grand Opera, experienced significant flooding from Hurricane Harvey with water reaching the top of one of the complex’s stages. Referencing a recent staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the company put out a statement this week including the following lines,  Houston Grand Opera will recover and deliver a fantastic season to our patrons, giving them the …

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Gershwin and Ravel Share the Blues

Maurice Ravel and George Gershwin came face to face in New York on the evening of March 7, 1928. The occasion was a soirée hosted by the mezzo-soprano Éva Gauthier in celebration of Ravel’s fifty-third birthday. This was Ravel’s first and only trip to the United States. During a four month, twenty city tour which included an appearance at Carnegie Hall, the French composer introduced American audiences to Rapsodie espagnole, the Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, and La valse. He …

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“Of Thee I Sing”: Gershwin’s Wacky, Tuneful, Political Satire

Today is President’s Day in the U.S. Over the past few years, here at The Listeners’ Club, we’ve marked the occasion with musical portraits of Washington, Lincoln and even Richard Nixon. Today, let’s consider the fictitious presidential candidate John P. Wintergreen who runs on a “love” platform. He’s the goofy protagonist of the 1931 Pulizer-Prize-winning Broadway musical satire Of Thee I Sing, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by George S. …

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On the Town with Misty Copeland

  Tomorrow, Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, will begin a two week stint on Broadway. Copeland will join the cast of the latest production of On the Town, playing the role of Ivy Smith. Here is a preview and here is Terry Teachout’s review of the production. In the world of ballet, Misty Copeland is a ground breaker, redefining long-held views regarding the …

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Three Musical Portraits of Cuba

Cuba is home to one of the world’s richest musical melting pots…the vibrant convergence of west African and European (especially Spanish) musical traditions over 500 years of history. From rumba and son cubano to Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa, this Latin musical stew often features dizzying rhythmic complexity while retaining a suave sense of “cool.” Clave rhythm, the source of this “cool” complexity, gives Latin music its unique sense of swing. It’s a rhythmic …

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Three Pieces for the Beginning of Summer

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,  And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d; But thy eternal summer shall not fade  Nor lose possession …

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