Exploring the Prolation Canon

There is an interesting passage about four and a half minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 which may have caught your ear if you dropped by for Wednesday’s post: Did you hear that wandering, chromatic line which begins in the violins? Two additional lower string voices enter in succession with the same line at consecutively slower rates of speed. For a moment, before the episode is cut off by the …

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Henryk Szeryng: Eight Great Recordings

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. “When hearing Szeryng in live performances, one is always struck by the nobility and aristocracy of his concept,” wrote Boris Schwarz in his book, Great Masters of the Violin. In the recordings below, we hear effortlessly shaped phrases and a sense of singing through every note. Born in Poland, Szeryng studied with Carl Flesch in Berlin and was later …

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Leonard Rose: Five Great Recordings

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Rose (1918-1984), one of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C. into a family of Ukrainian immigrants, Rose joined Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra as associate principal cellist at the age of 20. At 21 he became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1943, at age 26, he accepted the same position with the New York Philharmonic. In 1951 …

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New Release: Rachel Barton Pine and Jory Vinikour Play Bach Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour have released a new album featuring J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019. This marks the duo’s first recording collaboration. Barton Pine uses a baroque bow and plays a 1770 Nicola Gagliano violin which is in its “original, unaltered condition.” Also included on the album is the Cantabile, BWV 1019a which Bach originally wrote for the Sonata, BWV 1019. Likely composed between 1717 and 1723 during Bach’s Köthen period, these …

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Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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Bach’s “Easter Oratorio”: A Celebratory Retrofit

J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio was first performed at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on Easter Sunday, 1725. But most of this music was not written with Easter in mind. Instead, it was recycled from the now lost secular “Shepherd Cantata,” written a month earlier to celebrate the thirty-first birthday of Bach’s patron, Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. A year later, Bach recycled the cantata again for the birthday of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The Easter Oratorio opens with an …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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