Michael Daugherty’s “Flamingo”: A Great American Road Trip

Flamingo by the American composer Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) is as quirky, colorful, and unapologetic as the plastic pink ornaments which have long adorned lawns. Written in 1991 for chamber orchestra, the piece showcases a cast of zany instrumental characters. It blends the blues with the tambourine-infused sounds of a Spanish flamenco dance. At moments, it suggests a TV or film chase scene soundtrack. It delivers action-packed suspense, outrageousness, and furious rhythmic intensity. …

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Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1, The Maxwell Quartet

Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Apponyi” String Quartets (Op. 71 and 74) achieved a groundbreaking distinction in the history of chamber music. They are remembered as the first quartets written, not for an aristocrat’s private palace, but for the public concert hall. The set of six string quartets were composed in 1793 following Haydn’s first extended visit to London. During his thirty year tenure at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, the composer’s published …

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Chopin’s Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49: Elation and Sorrow

Frédéric Chopin wrote the following words in a letter from October, 1841: Today I finished the Fantaisie—and the sky is beautiful, my heart sad—but that doesn’t matter at all. If it were otherwise, my existence would perhaps be of no use to anyone. Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor for solo piano is music of persistent melancholy and soaring elation. As its title suggests, it is dreamlike, rhapsodic, and improvisatory. It was written …

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Classic Rock: Yes’ “Shoot High, Aim Low”

Shoot High, Aim Low comes from the 1987 album, Big Generator, by the English progressive rock band, Yes.  The song is hazy, hypnotic, and sonically alluring. It drifts over an eternally reassuring rhythmic groove, laid down by Alan White (drums) and Chris Squire (bass), which emerges from the chaotic “white noise” of an orchestra warming up—an obvious homage to The Beatles. Exuberant Spanish guitar riffs punctuate warm, glowing synth tones. Occasionally, seemingly “wayward” harmonies challenge …

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The Artistry of Louis Persinger, Violinist and Teacher

In his newly published book, Have Violin, Will Travel: The Louis Persinger Story, Raymond Bruzan documents the life of an important twentieth century violinist and pedagogue. Born in the small town of Rochester, Illinois in 1887 and raised in Colorado, Louis Persinger rose to prominence as a gifted violinist and pianist. In 1900, he enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory where the conductor Arthur Nikisch declared that he was “one of the most talented …

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Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto: A Radiant Farewell Gift

Béla Bartók composed the Third Piano Concerto during the summer of 1945. He was in the final months of his life, battling terminal leukemia and financial hardship. The music which emerged can be heard as a radiant musical “farewell” at a time of personal darkness and defeat. Five years earlier, Bartók and his wife, Ditta Pásztory, fled their native war-torn Hungary and emigrated to the United States. For a while, Bartók found …

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Bach’s French Suite No. 3 in B Minor, Pierre Hantaï

In a previous post, we considered the mysterious and melancholy qualities of the key of B minor, especially in the music of J.S. Bach. Perhaps the most monumental example is the B Minor Mass, which Bach completed a year before his death. Something similar can be heard in Bach’s French Suite No. 3 for solo keyboard. The harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï suggests that Bach’s choice of B minor points to solemn music. Music of importance. …

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