“Blues Walk”: From Lou Donaldson to Lincoln Center

Blues Walk is the title track from a celebrated 1958 album by jazz alto saxophonist, Lou Donaldson. Known for a “soulful, bluesy approach,” Donaldson’s style of playing was heavily influenced by the bebop of Charlie Parker. The addition of conga drums, performed on the Blues Walk album by Ray Barretto, gave Lou Donaldson’s band a distinct sound. Later albums used an electric organ as a substitute for the piano. Here is a performance of Blues Walk featuring Wynton …

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John Corigliano’s “Voyage”: Sailing into a World of Obsessive Imagination

Regarding the dreamy and sensuous Voyage for Flute and String Orchestra, the American composer John Corigliano (b. 1938) writes, Voyage for flute and string orchestra (1983) is an instrumental version of a 1971 a cappella choral work that was a setting of Richard Wilbur’s translation of Baudelaire’s famous L’Invitation au voyage. Wilbur’s poignant setting pictures a world of obsessive imagination — a drugged version of heaven full of sensual imagery. The music echoes the …

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Chopin’s Four Ballades: Poetry in Music

The solo piano Ballade originated with Frédéric Chopin. In the early nineteenth century, the title carried literary connotations. In his Henle forward, the musicologist Norbert Müllemann defined the folk ballade as “a strophically-constructed poem that described a dramatic, often also a demonic or mystical scenario within a comparatively restricted frame.” Robert Schumann suggested that Chopin was influenced by the work of the Polish Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz. As with Chopin, Mickiewicz fled political upheaval in …

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Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs”: Simplicity as Beauty

The late jazz pianist Chick Corea began writing the solo piano collection, Children’s Songs, in 1971. The set of twenty short songs follows the model of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. In the preface, Corea wrote that the music was intended “to convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the Spirit of a child.”  Each of the twenty songs opens up a magical new vignette, each with its distinct atmosphere. At the same time, a sense of motivic …

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Stravinsky’s “Orpheus”: Melancholy, Love, and Mystery

“Myths never were, but always are,” wrote the 4th century Roman commentator, Sallustius. So it is with the story of Orpheus, which inspired Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine in mid-twentieth century Hollywood as deeply as it did Claudio Monteverdi in 1607 and the lyric poet Ibycus in the 6th century BC. In 1946, Stravinsky received a commission from Balanchine and the impresario, Lincoln Kirstein, for a contemporary treatment of the Orpheus story. The resulting …

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“Possente Spirto” from Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” Scherzi Musicali

Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was created in 1607 at the dawn of opera. It remains the earliest work in that rich genre to be performed regularly. Set in five acts, it is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, who descends into Hades in an unsuccessful attempt to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to the living world. The aria, Possente spirto, e formidabil nume (“Mighty spirit and formidable god”), comes from the opera’s third act. Orfeo …

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Liszt’s “Les Adieux”: A Fantasy on Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette”

On April 27, 1867, Charles Gounod’s five act opera, Roméo et Juliette, was premiered at Paris’ Théâtre-Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet. The same year, Franz Liszt composed Les Adieux (“The Farewell”), a solo piano work described as “a Rêverie on a motif from Gounod’s opéra Roméo et Juliette.” As the pianist and musicologist Leslie Howard writes, He really uses several motifs from the opera, all concerned with the partings of the lovers: the end of the …

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