The Marriage of Figaro’s Act II Finale: Mozart’s Dramatic “Tour de Force”

In his book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Charles Rosen points out the amazing compositional feat that occurs at the end of the second act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Citing its length (four acts) and “moral gravity,” Rosen considers The Marriage of Figaro to be Mozart’s first great “fusion” of opera buffe (or comic opera) with the dramatic weight and sophistication of opera seria: Mozart’s ability to define character by purely musical means, to write for each of the three sopranos (the Countess, …

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Remembering Sanford Sylvan

The renowned American baritone Sanford Sylvan passed away suddenly last week. He was 65. Sylvan’s career on the opera stage included premieres of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies and Christopher Rouse. He was the first to perform the role of Chou En-lai in Nixon in China (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). In addition, he premiered Adams’ haunting setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, The Wound Dresser. He was an …

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Radek Baborák Plays Mozart

“You’ve got to hear this horn player named Radek Baborák,” urged one of my Richmond Symphony colleagues during a recent conversation. To hear the extent of Baborák’s technical finesse and musicianship, one only needs to listen to his performance of the famous horn call from Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel. Born in Czechoslovakia, Radek Baborák began playing the horn at age eight, was winning competitions by twelve, and became principal horn of the Czech Philharmonic at eighteen. He …

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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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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24: Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate, and the English Chamber Orchestra

Two weeks ago, we explored the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music, from The Magic Flute‘s lamenting aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” to the persistent “minor-ness” of Symphony No. 40. Today, I want to take a similar excursion into minor-key Mozart with the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. This is one of only two concertos Mozart wrote in a minor key. It provides a dark, stormy counterweight to the bright comedy of The Marriage of …

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Mozart and the Tragic Key of G Minor

Mozart wrote 41 numbered symphonies. Of these, only two are rooted in a minor key- in both cases G minor. The first is the exuberant, fiery Symphony No. 25, which we heard last week. The second and more famous is the “Great” G minor Symphony No. 40.  Last Friday’s post inspired me to consider the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music. This is the key to which Mozart turns in the second …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 25: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). As a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, Bernstein seems to have thrown his arms around the world of music. He brought a unique energy and dynamism to the podium, as well as to his compositions, which run the gamut from the Broadway theater to the concert hall. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the music of Leonard Bernstein. For …

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