Beethoven’s Second Symphony: Unleashing a Force of Nature

1802 was not a good year for Ludwig van Beethoven. It was around this time that the 31-year-old Beethoven disclosed the persistent deterioration of his hearing to a childhood friend. In a letter to Franz Wegeler, a physician, he wrote of his fear and humiliation: For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. In October …

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Music of Oscar-Winning Composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir

At the recent Oscars, the Academy Award for Best Original Score went to the 2019 psychological thriller, Joker. The score’s composer is the Icelandic cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir (b. 1982). She has a growing list of film and television score credits, including Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), Trapped (an Icelandic television mystery series), and Chernobyl, a series produced by HBO and Sky TV. After listening to some of the film music, I was inspired to investigate a few excerpts …

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Henri Vieuxtemps at 200: Historic Recordings of Heifetz and Nadien

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Belgian violinist and composer, Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). A student of Charles Auguste de Bériot, Vieuxtemps toured Europe as a young prodigy, attracting the attention of Louis Spohr, Schumann, Berlioz, and Paganini. At the age of 14, he learned Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in two weeks and performed it in Vienna. As unimaginable as it may seem now, this cornerstone of the violin repertoire was a …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Ironic Twist on the Romantic Ballad

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider the “romantic ballad.” Surely, one of the most majestic and soaring examples of this genre is the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which opens the second act of the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics befit the heroic and chivalrous Lancelot. The melody, by the Austrian-American composer Frederick Loewe, is expansive and noble. Lerner and Loewe is the team that, four years earlier, …

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The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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Remembering Mirella Freni: “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” from Puccini’s “La Bohème”

Mirella Freni, the acclaimed Italian operatic soprano, passed away on Sunday. She was 84. In a career spanning 50 years, Freni appeared on the world’s major opera stages and in numerous film versions of operas. She was closely associated with Verdi and Puccini roles, but she will also be remembered for her performances of Mozart operas and Carmen. Later in her career, her repertoire included Russian opera with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, and …

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Rossini’s William Tell Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

Guillaume Tell, which premiered in 1829, was the last of Gioachino Rossini’s 39 operas. Its four acts tell the story of the revolutionary folk hero William Tell who, with the expert use of his bow and arrow, launched the struggle for Swiss independence from Austria. Donizetti once proclaimed that the opera’s second act was so sublime that it had been composed not by Rossini but by God. The complete opera is rarely performed now. …

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