The 2017 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of last weekend’s 2017 Grammy Awards in the classical categories. From opera to chamber music, the list features a heavy dose of American contemporary music: Best Orchestral Performance This is the second installment in a series of live-concert Shostakovich recordings by Music Director Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The first recording of the five-part series was honored in the same category at …

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Schumann’s Musical Descent into Insanity

On Monday, we listened to Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 “Spring,” a sunny piece written in the “springtime” of Schumann’s life, shortly after his marriage to Clara. Now let’s hear a different, darker side of Schumann: two strange, haunting works from the final years of the composer’s life, written as he descended into insanity. It’s now believed that Schumann suffered from tertiary syphilis, a disease which appeared gradually over time and produced a host of …

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Schumann’s First Symphony: Spring Blooms Forth

It begins with a majestic trumpet and horn fanfare…a triumphant invocation of spring, inspired by these lines from a poem by Adolf Böttger: O wende, wende deinen Lauf— Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf! O turn, O turn and change your course— In the valley spring blooms forth! It’s hard to imagine a piece more infused with the spirit of spring than Robert Schumann’s First Symphony. Schumann had just married Clara, a renowned …

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Beware the Ides of March: Musical Reflections on Julius Caesar

Beware the ides of March. -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Tomorrow marks the “Ides of March,” the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. Dramatized by Shakespeare in 1599, Caesar’s stabbing coincided with Rome’s irreversible evolution from Republic to Empire. Let’s listen to two pieces which were inspired by the life and legend of Julius Caesar: Handel’s Julius Caesar Julius Caesar, George Frideric Handel’s 1724 …

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Schumann and Tchaikovsky: The Music of Manfred

"Manfred On The Jungfrau," watercolor by John Martin (1837)

The stars are forth, the moon above the tops Of the snow-shining mountains.—Beautiful! I linger yet with Nature, for the night Hath been to me a more familiar face Than that of man; and in her starry shade Of dim and solitary loveliness, I learn’d the language of another world. -Lord Byron, Manfred Demons inhabit Lord Byron’s Manfred. In the 1,336-line dramatic poem, Manfred is tormented by guilt surrounding a mysterious past transgression …

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The Mercurial Romanticism of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

Listening to Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 forces us to live in and enjoy the moment. The three short “Fantasy Pieces,” written in just over two days in February, 1849, are filled with abrupt, slightly schizophrenic, changes in mood. Moments of deep introspection, followed by bursts of euphoria, remind us of Florestan and Eusebius, the split personalities which inhabit much of Schumann’s music. In the Fantasy Pieces, each delightful and unexpected harmonic shift whisks …

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Giora Schmidt’s New Violin

American-Israeli violinist Giora Schmidt challenges the assumption that old Italian violins are superior to modern instruments. In 2011, Schmidt purchased a violin, made in 2000, by Philadelphia-based luthier Hiroshi Iizuka. For about eight years before, he had played fine Italian instruments on loan: a 1753 Milan Guadagnini and a 1743 Guarneri del Gésu. Million dollar-plus price tags often make these violins inaccessible to performers, who rely on generous donors. Schmidt was one of ten violinists who participated in the …

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