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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Tchaikovsky’s Winter Daydreams

What’s in a name? In the case of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, completed in 1866, it’s hard to say for sure. Tchaikovsky gave the work the descriptive title, Winter Daydreams (the first and second movements are subtitled, Dreams of a Winter Journey and Land of Desolation, Land of Mists). Beyond these descriptive phrases, the First Symphony remains pure music, without a program. At moments, the music may suggest the play of sunlight and shadow on a …

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Remembering Joseph Silverstein

Legendary violinist, conductor, and teacher Joseph Silverstein passed away yesterday in Boston. He was 83. Born in Detroit, the son of a public school music educator, Silverstein studied with Efrem Zimbalist, William Primrose, Josef Gingold, and Mischa Mischakoff. He served as concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for 22 years, beginning in 1962. In 1971 he was appointed assistant conductor of the BSO. He was music director of the Utah Symphony between 1983 …

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Trinity Church, Boston: Architecture and Sound

  Yesterday marked the anniversary of the birth of noted nineteenth century American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). Richardson’s memorable and influential designs include the turreted Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Albany’s City Hall and New York State Capital, Buffalo’s New York State Asylum, and Chicago’s mighty Marshall Field Wholesale Store (now demolished), as well as a host of libraries and houses in smaller towns. Richardson’s buildings, load-bearing and often featuring extensive stone and …

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Four Musical Ways to Say Goodbye

Earlier in the month, we listened to the final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, a song cycle about death, renewal, and immortality. Written in the final years of Mahler’s life, Das Lied von der Erde, along with the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1909), were Mahler’s swan songs. (He completed one movement of a Tenth Symphony before his death in 1911). Both completed works leave us with a sense of finality, …

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Rachmaninov and the "Philadelphia Sound"

Above: Rachmaninov and conductor Eugene Ormandy during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music in 1938. (from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s website). Great orchestras develop an institutional collective memory. As conductors and players come and go, they often leave a subtle mark on the sound, style, and soul of the ensemble. New players are assimilated into a dynamic, ever-evolving team. The esteemed history of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a case in point. For years the …

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"Badly Written" Tchaikovsky: The First Piano Concerto

Clumsy…badly written…vulgar…with only two or three pages worth preserving. That was the harsh assessment of Tchaikovsky’s friend, the pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, following a private reading of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 on Christmas Eve, 1874. Rubinstein went on to call the piece “worthless” and “impossible to play.” But Tchaikovsky refused to “alter a single note” (he later made a few revisions in 1879 and 1888) and the concerto now joins …

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