Three Purcell Snapshots: Tafelmusik

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) only lived to age 36, but he has long been regarded as one of England’s greatest composers. From age 20 until the end of his life, he served as the organist of Westminster Abbey, a position which afforded celebrity status at the time. He was also appointed chief harpsichordist for the court of King James II. His music, which includes the famous 1689 opera, Dido and Aeneas, continues to influence a wide …

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Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony: A Sunny Bohemian Adventure

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major inhabits a sunny, pastoral world filled with Bohemian folk melodies, rustic peasant dances, distant horn calls, and echoes of the birdsongs of the forest. It’s an enchanting world of exuberant celebration and quiet, lamenting nostalgia. Following the restless and stormy Seventh Symphony, Dvořák remarked that the Eighth, completed in the autumn of 1889, was “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out …

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“Dirge for Two Veterans” from Kurt Weill’s “Four Walt Whitman Songs”

At the end of June in 1913, 53,407 veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg from both sides of the American Civil War returned to the hallowed ground in south central Pennsylvania where they fought. They were there to observe the 50th anniversary of the war’s bloodiest battle. The peaceful reunion was marked by an extraordinary sense of Union–Confederate camaraderie, as the photograph above illustrates. Similarly, the journalist John Nichols observes that Walt Whitman’s 1867 …

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Vaughan Williams’ “In the Fen Country”: A Symphonic Impression

The Fens are a bleak, desolate, and relentlessly flat marshland found in East Anglia on the east coast of England. They resemble a slice of the Netherlands, transported from the other side of the North Sea. Their austere mystery inspired Graham Swift in his 1983 novel, Waterland, to ask, “what are the Fens, which so imitate in their levelness the natural disposition of water, but a landscape which, of all landscapes, most approximates …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto: Fazıl Say in Concert

After hearing the premiere of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2, the pianist and composer Sigmond Stojowski remarked that it “began with Bach and ended with Offenbach.” Indeed, this is music which takes us on a wildly exhilarating and mercurial ride. Its structure shakes up the traditional concerto form with a slow and solemn first movement, a bright scherzo for the second movement, and a concluding presto. In May of 1868, the …

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Bach’s Chaconne: Midori at Köthen Castle

“Monumental” is a word that has been used to describe J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. This is the fifth and final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004) for solo violin, written sometime between 1717 and 1720. Emotionally, there is a sense of transcendence when we arrive at this mighty set of 64 variations on a repeating bass line. It’s approximately as long as the four dance movements which precede …

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Two Festive Overtures: Shostakovich Meets Glinka

On Wednesday, we explored Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, one of the most haunting and tragic works of the twentieth century. This is the kind of music we often associate with Shostakovich, a composer surrounded, for much of his life, by death, destruction, and grinding political oppression. Yet, there is a more lighthearted side to Shostakovich, perhaps most evident in the sparkling and zany 1927 orchestration of the Vincent Youmans song, Tea for Two, produced …

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