Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: The Land of Laughter and Tears

In 1914, with the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s “A Tapestry of Life”: Four Atmospheric Snapshots

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s 2007 orchestral tone poem, A Tapestry of Life, is set in four movements which feel like cinematic snapshots. Each movement inhabits a distinctly atmospheric world in which a vast, shimmering soundscape opens in front of us. The music unfolds in time, but it also gives us the same serene, floating sensation we might get looking out of the window of an airplane at the gradually-shifting view. Dreamlike associations with words and poetic …

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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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