New Release: Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Strasbourg

Sixteen vocal soloists, three choirs, and perhaps the largest orchestra ever conceived for opera… These are the requirements for Les Troyens (“The Trojans”), Hector Berlioz’ massive 1858 French grand opera in five acts. Berlioz himself adapted the libretto from Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. He didn’t live to see the opera performed in its entirety. But he considered it to be his crowning achievement, writing in 1861, I am sure that I have written a great …

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Happy Birthday, Morton Feldman

Today marks the ninety-second anniversary of the birth of American maverick composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987). Amid an increasingly loud, fast-paced contemporary world, Feldman’s music moves in the opposite direction. Frequently, it emerges somewhere just above silence. We’re forced to confront the nature of sound, itself. Many of Feldman’s works unfold gradually over incredibly long durations of time. His longest works- the five-hour-long String Quartet No. 2 (1983), and the eighty-minute Piano and String Quartet (1985), for …

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Mahler’s Final, Haunting “Wunderhorn” Songs: “Revelge” and “Der Tamboursg’sell”

In Monday’s post, we listened to Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a work which grew out of the 1892 song, “Das himmlische Leben” (“The Heavenly Life”). The Symphony was written primarily during the summers of 1899 and 1900 shortly after Mahler was appointed director of the Vienna Court Opera. As a follow up, let’s listen to two songs which compositionally bookend the Fourth Symphony- Revelge (“The Dead Drummer), composed in July of 1899, and Der Tambourg’sell (“The …

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Mahler’s Fourth Symphony: Heaven Through a Child’s Eyes

The Fourth occupies a unique place among Gustav Mahler’s nine symphonies. From its opening sleigh bells, it pulls us into a bright, exuberant drama- a song-symphony of occasional sardonic humor, frivolity, introspection, and ultimate innocence. Its instrumentation suggests a light, pared-down classicism in which the low brass voices of the trombones and tuba are conspicuously absent. It looks backwards as well as ahead. Mahler’s first four symphonies all grew out of song- in …

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Ólafur Arnalds Meets Steve Reich

There’s something about Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds’ 2013 ambient track, No. Other, that reminds me of the music of Steve Reich- specifically, Reich’s 1979 Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards. It isn’t that the notes or rhythms are even remotely the same. It’s more about the general atmosphere which emerges from the two works. Both unfold with a gradual, hypnotic inevitability. In both, long, sustained, static tones in the middle register give us the sense of floating …

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Remembering Robert Mann

Violinist, composer, and teacher Robert Mann, a founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet, passed away on Monday at his home in New York. He was 97. Born in Portland, Oregon, Mann began taking lessons at the age of 9. Early on, he was attracted to chamber music, which he described as “the social phenomenon of making music among equals.” Cooperation and service to the music over virtuosity and technical display remained central …

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year! The songwriter Frank Loesser may be best known for creating the music and lyrics for the 1950 Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls. Three years before that show opened, Loesser wrote the stand-alone song, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? It has been recorded by countless performers- The Orioles, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Barbra Streisand, to name a few. This 1947 recording featuring Margaret Whiting was the first. The photo, above, taken …

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