Three Pieces from Schubert’s “Miracle Year”

1815 stands out as one of Franz Schubert’s most productive years. In fact, it has been called Schubert’s “miracle year.” The eighteen-year-old composer wrote more than 20,000 bars of music, completing two symphonies (Nos. 2 and 3), two Masses, a string quartet, two piano sonatas, and 145 songs (including the ghostly Erlkönig) , among other works. On one October day, alone, Schubert completed eight songs. That’s way too much music for one blog post! But …

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The Transformation Scene from Strauss’ “Daphne”: Renée Fleming, Live

Richard Strauss’ 1937 one act opera, Daphne, (subtitled “a bucolic tragedy”) is based on the mythological figure from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to the legend, the chaste Daphne sings praises to warm sunlight and the trees and flowers of the natural world. She is so rooted in nature that she has no interest in human love, rejecting her childhood friend, the shepherd Leukippos, as well as a mysterious herdsman. At the festival of Dionysus, Daphne dances with Leukippos, who …

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Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”: Saying Goodbye to Romanticism

Richard Strauss lived long enough to witness the death of one world and the emergence of another. Consider that when Strauss wrote his first song, Weihnachtslied, in 1870 at the age of 6, Wagner was just hitting his stride with the premiere of Die Walküre, and Tchaikovsky had recently completed his gushingly romantic Overture-Fantasy, Romeo and Juliet. By 1949, the year of Strauss’ death, the atomic bomb had been dropped. The corinthian-column-studded Munich National Theater, where Strauss’ father Franz …

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“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of …

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“Der Rosenkavalier,” Renée Fleming, and the Passing of Time

Time is a strange thing. While one is living one’s life away, it is absolutely nothing. Then, suddenly, one is aware of nothing else. It is all around us – inside us, even! It shifts in our faces, swirls in the mirror, flows in my temples. It courses between you and me – silent, as in an hourglass. Oh, often I hear it flowing, irrevocably. Often I get up in the middle of …

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Mr. Noseda Goes to Washington

The National Symphony Orchestra has announced that Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda will succeed Christoph Eschenbach as its seventh music director. Noseda has developed a reputation as one of the world’s finest opera conductors. Early in his career, he was the first foreign-born principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre. Currently, he serves as principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic and music director of the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy. Between 2002 and 2011 …

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Classical Music Has Long Been at Home on Sesame Street

In August came the surprise announcement that the popular children’s television program Sesame Street will be moving to HBO. (Reruns will still appear on PBS). The show’s nonprofit producers reached a five-year agreement with HBO. For 45 years Sesame Street has been freely available to the community on Public Broadcasting. Sesame Street‘s controversial move has raised broader questions about the commodification and privatization of the arts and education at the expense of the public realm. The effect on …

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