Music and Humor

Leonard Bernstein masterfully explored the subject of humor in music in one of his Young People’s Concerts. The episode takes listeners on a musical tour from Haydn and Rameau to Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and offers insight into why we find certain music funny. To this day, no one has done more for music education than Bernstein. Watching these programs, which originally aired on CBS in the late 1950s, you can sense Bernstein’s passion and …

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Mutter Plays Mozart

Anne-Sophie Mutter first recorded Mozart’s Violin Concertos (No. 3 and 5) at the age of 14 with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (listen here). I grew up listening to this excellent recording, which features the slightly slower tempos you might expect from von Karajan, but nonetheless great sense of style and beautiful singing tone. In 2005 Mutter re-recorded the Mozart Concertos as part of her ambitious Mozart Project, this time with the London …

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Mozart is for the Birds

The Magic Flute, Mozart’s bizarre two act comic opera, can be seen as a fairy tale battle between the forces of darkness and light. Like all good fairy tales, at the end of The Magic Flute’s second act, love and happiness triumph. The Singspiel opera (featuring singing as well as spoken dialogue) was written in the prolific final year of Mozart’s life. It premiered in 1791 at the popular Theater aug der Wieden on the …

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Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony: An Explosion of Counterpoint

The final movement of Mozart’s final symphony ends with a bang…a joyfully exhilarating explosion of counterpoint. Like a roller coaster ride, this last movement often feels enticingly dangerous, as if it’s on the verge of spinning out of control. Somehow, it always ends up staying on the track. By the end of the coda, Mozart has simultaneously combined five independent musical themes from the movement, creating a stunning musical fireworks display. Mozart’s …

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Virtual Wagner: Worth the Price of Admission?

A firestorm of controversy has erupted surrounding plans by the Hartford Wagner Festival to perform Wagner’s Ring Cycle with a digital “virtual orchestra.” The festival’s founder, Charles M. Goldstein, has entered sampled sounds of orchestral instruments into a musical software program, which will be played using 24 speakers in the pit. The sounds were provided by a company called the Vienna Symphonic Library. The first opera of the cycle, Das Rheingold, is scheduled for August. In 2004 …

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Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major

In a previous post, I suggested that many of the greatest composers experienced a mysterious, heightened sense of musical insight in their final years, leading to some of the most profound and visionary music. Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who died at the tragically young age of 31, tapped into this sense of revelation at the end of his life. Following a series of charmingly tuneful classical symphonies, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major (“The …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

Can you imagine how shocking the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 must have been for audiences at the first performance in 1808? While the classical style of Mozart and Haydn was rooted in elegance and balance, Beethoven made the orchestra growl. There’s a sense of struggle, as if he’s impatiently pushing the classical orchestra to its limits. The entire symphony springs from the first ferocious four notes. It’s a study …

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