Autumnal Ives

Earth rests! Her work is done, her fields lie bare, and ‘ere the night of winter comes to hush her song and close her tired eyes, She turns her face for the sun to smile upon and radiantly, radiantly, thro’ Fall’s bright glow, he smiles and brings the Peace of God! These lines may have been written by Harmony Twichell, the wife of Charles Ives. They form the text of Ives’ hypnotic 1908 song, Autumn. Listen …

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Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”: Beyond Autobiography

On one level, Richard Strauss’ 1898 tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (A Hero’s Life), is a musical autobiography. Filled with unflinching bravado, it ventures where few pieces dare to go, casting the composer as hero. In terms of sheer volume and virtuosity, it pushes the orchestra to its limits. (At one point, the violins must tune the lowest string down to G-flat to artificially extend the instrument’s range a half step below the open …

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Mozart and the Spirit of Figaro

In the aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” (“You shall frolic no more”), from the first act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro teases Cherubino about the abrupt end of his carefree, flirtatious life at the palace. The Count is concerned that Cherubino has developed a fondness for the Countess and has banished him to distant military service. One of the most memorable passages in this jovial aria is this ascending arpeggio motive. It’s a …

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Remembering Steely Dan’s Walter Becker

Walter Becker, the songwriter, guitarist, bassist, and record producer, passed away on Sunday. He was 67. Becker is best known as the co-founder of the band Steely Dan, active between 1972 and 1981 and again from 1993 on. He played guitar and bass and co-wrote songs along with the group’s lead singer and keyboardist, Donald Fagen. Steely Dan’s music is a unique blend of jazz and rock. Filled with ear-catching harmonic sophistication, it …

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John Henry

According to legend, the African American folk hero John Henry was one of the strongest and fastest steel-driving men to work on the railroads in the post-Civil War era. The steel-driver’s work involved hammering a steel drill into rock. Explosives were placed in the crevice in order to blast away the rock to construct railroad tunnels. In the late nineteenth century, manual labor was replaced by the steam-powered hammer. John Henry entered …

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Excerpts from Houston Grand Opera’s Adventurous Discography

The water is receding and the cleanup begins in Houston’s hard-hit theater district. The Wortham Theater Center, home of Houston Grand Opera, experienced significant flooding from Hurricane Harvey with water reaching the top of one of the complex’s stages. Referencing a recent staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the company put out a statement this week including the following lines,  Houston Grand Opera will recover and deliver a fantastic season to our patrons, giving them the …

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