Prokofiev’s Haunting First Violin Sonata

“Wind passing through a graveyard…” This is how Sergei Prokofiev described the hauntingly ethereal passage at the end of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Hushed, wispy scales rise and fall in the violin over a series of numb, ambivalent piano chords. This chilly passage, which is anything but definitive or conclusive, returns later in the final movement. It encapsulates the atmosphere of the Sonata, perhaps the darkest, most …

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Gidon Kremer’s Changing Approach to Solo Bach

  It’s some of the most deeply profound and perfect music ever written, and it employs the most economical means imaginable. J.S. Bach’s six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, completed in 1720 and neglected until almost a century later, are a cornerstone of the violin repertoire. They’re studied by every serious violin student. Yet, as you play solo Bach, you quickly get the sense that it takes a lifetime to fully grasp the …

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The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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Recomposing Vivaldi’s "Winter"

As we await today’s meteorological prediction from the groundhog, let’s enjoy the icy sonic chill of “Winter” from The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s collection of violin concertos composed around 1720. This piece can sound radically different from one performance to another, depending on choices of tempi and style. The concerto’s programatic elements remain: the orchestra’s frigid opening ponticello (a raspy sound created by playing as close to the bridge as possible), flying spiccato bowing suggesting …

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Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 1984, a bold, new skyscraper emerged on the Manhattan skyline, which captured everyone’s attention and became the subject of intense controversy. The Chippendale-inspired broken pediment crown of architect Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building shocked the architectural establishment because it so profoundly violated the ruling aesthetic of the day. This bizarre new icon seemed to be cheerfully thumbing its nose at the solemn, modernist glass boxes which surrounded it. Postmodernism was born. Modernism, …

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Oblivion

Take a moment and listen to this hauntingly atmospheric music by twentieth century Argentine tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. Oblivion was written in 1982 and used in the soundtrack of Mario Bellocchio’s film, Enricho IV. There are many versions of this piece for different combinations of instruments. This performance features Latvian violinist, Gidon Kremer and comes from his CD, Hommage a Piazzolla. Like all great music, Oblivion conjures up a complex mix of emotions which …

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The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

My last post featured two contrasting performances of the Winter and Spring concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  Now, here is music written around 1965 by the great Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla. The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires was originally written for Piazzolla’s quintet (bandoneon, piano, violin, electric guitar and electric base).  Violinist Gidon Kremer commissioned the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov to create this version for solo violin and string orchestra. You might hear …

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