Grande Pièce Symphonique: Franck’s Symphony for Solo Organ

On Monday we listened to César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, a piece in which the orchestra turns into a living, breathing pipe organ. Now, let’s finish the week with Franck’s Grande Pièce Symphonique, which can be described as a symphony for solo organ. When this piece was completed in 1863, Franck had just been appointed organist at Paris’ Sainte-Clothilde basilica, where he played a brand new instrument by the master French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Grande Pièce Symphonique is …

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New Release: Renee Fleming’s “Distant Light” Blends Barber and Björk

Soprano Renee Fleming’s latest album, Distant Light, was released last Friday on the Decca Classics label. Recorded with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the acoustically opulent Konserthuset, Distant Light features a hauntingly atmospheric assortment of twentieth century Scandinavian music. The exception is the opening track: Samuel Barber’s dreamy, nostalgic Knoxville: Summer of 1915, written in 1947. (If you find yourself longing for the warmth of summer, the sultry Tennessee night air experienced in Barber’s front porch rocking …

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Franck’s Symphony in D Minor: Music of a Solitary Dreamer

Franck went through this life as a dreamer, seeing little or nothing of that which passed about him, thinking only of his art and living only for it. True artists are subject to this kind of hypnotism – the inveterate workers, who find the recompense of their labors in the accomplished fact, and incomparable joy in the pure and simple toil of each day. This is how music critic Philip Hale described …

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Frigid Purcell and Lully: Two Chilly Scenes from Baroque Opera

Henry Purcell’s 1691 semi-opera, King Arthur, contains a shivering musical depiction of winter chill. The aria, What Power Art Thou comes from the fantastical “Frost Scene” in Act 3 in which Cupid awakens the “Cold Genius” (the Spirit of Winter) who, frozen stiff, would prefer to just go back to bed: What power art thou, who from below Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow From beds of everlasting snow See’st thou not ( how stiff …

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The Restless Final Coda of Bruckner’s Eighth

Here is the final movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor, performed in 2000 by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Günter Wand. The clip below proves that conducting goes far deeper than flashy gestures. The 88-year-old Wand employs the most simple, economical means and Bruckner’s music leaps to life with an awe-inspiring, titanic power. The best Bruckner performances can rise to the level of mystical events, and this …

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The Struggle of Fidelio: Beethoven’s Four Overtures

Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on the backside. -Ludwig van Beethoven The Italian opera composer Gioachino Rossini was, as the story goes, the ultimate procrastinator. He would often dash off the overture for a new opera the night before the opening. In the case of The Thieving Magpie, he waited until the day of the opening. Sometimes he reused a previously written overture, substituting one frothy musical joyride for …

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