Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867, Kris Verhelst

It’s time to return to the Netherlands Bach Society for another recently released performance. Every Friday the organization adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. The project will conclude with a complete catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works in time for the Netherlands Bach Society’s centenary in 2022. Here, the Belgian harpsichordist Kris Verhelst performs Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, …

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Debussy’s Violin Sonata: An Autumnal Farewell

The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor was Claude Debussy’s last completed composition. It was written in 1917 at a time when the composer suffered from terminal cancer. Europe was plunged into the bleakness and devastation of the First World War, bringing food and coal shortages and economic hardship to Paris. Exhausted and watching the prewar world he had known slip away, Debussy wrote to a friend, I only wrote this …

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Saint-Saëns’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto: A Voyage to Exotic Lands

We often associate musical exoticism with Claude Debussy and other French impressionists. In this music, the Eastern sounds and scales of the Javanese gamelan, famously introduced at the 1889 Paris Exposition, waft into a colorful, new dreamscape. Yet tantalizing glimpses of this bold, new musical landscape emerge, surprisingly, in the Fifth Piano Concerto of another French composer, Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was born a generation before Debussy. The young, rebellious Debussy considered Saint-Saëns’ music to …

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Ginette Neveu: Three Historic Recordings

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary French violinist, Ginette Neveu. Neveu died tragically in an airplane crash at the age of 30. Ginette and her brother Jean-Paul Neveu, an acclaimed pianist, were on their way to the United States for a concert tour when their Air France flight crashed into a mountain in the Azores on October 28, 1949. At the age of 15, Neveu was awarded …

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C.P.E. Bach’s D Major Symphony, Wq. 183/1: A Wildly Adventurous Romp

Daring and wildly adventurous…These are words which could describe Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Wq. 183/1 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). C.P.E Bach, the second surviving son of J.S. Bach, wrote this music (scored for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, and continuo) around 1775. It’s a thrilling Sturm und Drang rollercoaster which seems to have influenced similar symphonies by Haydn and Mozart. Perhaps the “craziness” of this music even set the stage …

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Charles Ives’ “A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra”: Radical Sounds from 1906

In 1906, Gustav Mahler had just completed his cosmic Eighth Symphony, Sibelius’ final four symphonies were yet to be written, the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Firebird was still four years away, and Arnold Schoenberg had just begun to take the first tentative steps into atonality. The ethereal soundscapes of Olivier Messiaen and the jazzy, soulful orchestral scores of George Gershwin remained decades away. Yet listen to Charles Ives’ A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra, written between 1899 and 1906, and …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus”: English Folk Song Reflections

Last week, we listened to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, a piece in which the orchestra’s string section often seems to be transformed into a vast, celestial choir. A similar sound emerges in Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, scored for string orchestra and harp. It’s music in which rich sonic layers unfold with the lush majesty of the rolling, hedgerow-stitched English countryside. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Vaughan Williams …

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