Debussy’s “Danseuses de Delphes”: Homage to Ancient Caryatids

In 1894, a team of French archeologists discovered the toppled ruins of elaborate caryatids which adorned the Acanthus Column near the Temple of Apollo in the Ancient Greek city of Delphi. As sculptures representing female figures, caryatids form pillars throughout Greek architecture. The graceful, flowing Dancers of Delphi, constructed around 330 BC and now forever free of their structural burden, remain frozen in motion. The first of Claude Debussy’s 24 Préludes for solo …

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Berlioz’ Méditation “Grands Pharaons, Nobles Lagides” from “La Mort de Cléopâtre”: Jessye Norman

It was only after four unsuccessful attempts that Hector Berlioz won the Prix de Rome. The prestigious prize, awarded by Paris’ Academie des Beaux-Arts and funded by the state, guaranteed five years of financial support for studies in Rome. By the time Berlioz finally took home the prize in 1830, he had already completed the Symphonie fantastique, a piece far more groundbreaking and consequential than his winning entry, the cantata Sardanapale.  Berlioz …

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Bartók’s Dance Suite: Celebrating the Sounds of the Countryside

For several years, beginning in the summer of 1906, the young Béla Bartók traveled to remote corners of the Hungarian countryside to document age-old folk music with the aid of the phonograph. Eventually, his travels extended to villages in Slovakia, Transylvania, and Bulgaria, and resulted in the transcription of over a thousand folk songs. Throughout the project, Bartók was assisted by his compatriot, Zoltán Kodály. The pentatonic harmony which ran through ancient …

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Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”: From Jazzy Scherzo to Ballad

Among the timeless and unforgettable melodies of George Gershwin is Someone to Watch Over Me. The song was composed in 1926 for the musical, Oh, Kay!, where it was performed by Gertrude Lawrence, who sang it as a lonely, impassioned soliloquy to a rag doll. Although the lyrics were written primarily by Ira Gershwin, Howard Dietz assisted while the former was hospitalized for six weeks as a result of a ruptured appendix. …

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Remembering Seiji Ozawa

Seiji Ozawa, the internationally renowned Japanese conductor, passed away in Tokyo last week (February 6, 2024) as a result of heart failure. He was 88. Ozawa’s 29-year tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra began in 1973. Prior to the appointment, he served as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1965-1969) and the San Francisco Symphony (1970-1977). In 1984, he founded the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Matsumoto, Japan. In …

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Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at 100

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered one hundred years ago today, on the snowy afternoon of February 12, 1924, at Aeolian Hall on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street. The 25-year-old composer was at the piano, joined by the dance band of Paul Whiteman, the noted bandleader who commissioned the work. It was presented near the end of a marathon concert, organized and promoted by Whiteman, entitled, An Experiment in Modern Music. Purportedly in …

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Jean Françaix’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano: Music to “Give Pleasure”

Jean Françaix (1912-1997) began composing at the age of six. When he was ten, his first published work caught the attention of the legendary composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. In a comment to the boy’s parents, Maurice Ravel said, “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility …

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