A Sublime Moment from Mozart’s "Così fan tutte"

Mozart’s Così fan tutte (“Thus Do They All”) falls under the category of opera buffa, or comic opera. It’s an absurd story of “fiancée swapping,” which ultimately turns out all right in the end. In a coffeehouse in Naples, two military officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, boast that their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will never be unfaithful. Don Alfonso makes a wager that, within a day, he can prove the officers wrong. He believes that all women are ultimately fickle. …

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Music and the Heartbeat

Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. -Karlheinz Stockhausen In 2008, researchers at the University of Illinois medical school discovered that the 103 beat-per-minute pulse of the Bee Gees’ 1977 disco hit Stayin’ Alive provided the perfect tempo for resuscitating the heart through CPR. From the satisfying groove of a disco or techno beat to a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, musical rhythm has long been …

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An Inside Look at Violin Making in Cremona

Early last month, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker’s excellent 60 Minutes piece, The City of Music, profiled the long history of violin making in Cremona. The small Italian city has produced some of the world’s finest violins, including instruments by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) and luthier families such as Amati (active between 1537 and 1740), Guarneri, and Bergonzi. Itzhak Perlman talks about the characteristics of his Strad and plays briefly. He describes his mental image of …

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The Bells of Strasburg: Liszt’s Forgotten Cantata

In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1851 poem, The Golden Legend, a storm rages as Lucifer and a host of demonic spirits (Powers of the Air) try to tear down the cross from the spire of Strasburg Cathedral. Ultimately, Lucifer is defeated by the ringing of the Gothic cathedral’s bells, which summon saints and guardian angels. This dramatic poem was the inspiration for Franz Liszt’s 1874 cantata, The Bells of Strasburg Cathedral. The work for baritone …

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Passion and Fire: Brahms’ Second Cello Sonata

  In the Cello Sonata, passion rules, fiery to the point of vehemence, now defiantly challenging, now painfully lamenting…How boldly the first Allegro theme begins, how stormily the Allegro flows! It is true that the passion subsides into quiet mourning in the Adagio and fades away, reconciled, in the finale. But the beating pulse of the earlier sections still reverberates, and pathos remains the determining psychological characteristic of the whole. That’s how …

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Four Musical Firsts

In celebration of the beginning of a new year, here are four pieces which qualify as musical “firsts.” Listen to the music on the list and then share your own favorite musical “firsts” in the comment thread below. Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” Let’s start with the birth of opera. Italian Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is often credited with singlehandedly inventing the art form. In reality, opera gradually evolved out of Intermedio, music and …

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