André Previn passed away last Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
Previn will be remembered as one of the great Renaissance men of twentieth century music. As a jazz pianist, he accompanied singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day and put his stamp on the “great American songbook.” As a composer, he contributed film scores, Broadway musicals, operas, orchestral music, chamber music, and songs. As a conductor, he held music director positions with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Pittsburgh and Houston Symphonies, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Previn seems to have approached music without regard for categories, moving freely from jazz to classical to pop. He didn’t consider himself to be a “jazz musician,” but instead, “a musician who played jazz.”
Here are four recordings featuring the music of André Previn:
Vocalise for Soprano, Cello and Piano
This haunting Vocalise (a wordless song) was written for Sylvia McNair and Yo-Yo Ma while the composer was at Tanglewood during the summer of 1995. The three “voices” enter into a lamenting dialogue as equals. Listen to the way they enter, one by one. An expansive melody pulls us in some surprising and sensuously beautiful harmonic directions. Around 3:13, the music sinks a key lower, recalling a similar passage in Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. But here, the sense of sinking continues. In the final bars, the soprano and cello answer each other in separate keys before evaporating into the piano’s last, cloudy chord.
Tango Song and Dance
This is the dreamy second movement from Tango Song and Dance, written in 1997 and dedicated to violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, whom Previn married in 2002.
A Streetcar Named Desire: “I can smell the sea air”
As an opera composer, Previn seems to pick up where the lush beauty of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City”) leaves off. A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, was first performed by San Francisco Opera in 1998. Here is an excerpt from a live performance with Renee Fleming:
“Just In Time”
Here is André Previn in 1961 performing a jazz cover of “Just in Time” from the musical “Bells Are Ringing”:
2 thoughts on “Remembering André Previn”
I have attended a number of André Previn’s classical performances, including one with Anne-Sophie Mutter as violin soloist. I did not realize that he was also a jazz and opera composer. I was surprised to learn that he wrote “Bells Are Ringing” with “Just in Time,” a favorite back in the 60’s!
The following is a heartfelt tribute:
3 days ago
“This was the song that got me playing violin almost a decade ago. I had never listened much to classical music, I played trombone, but that was for band, not pleasure. Somehow I cam across this and after listening to it over and over, along with the other two movements. It was this piece that changed me so profoundly and I started hearing music in a different way. Classical music became exhilarating and vivid. That night I walked out and asked my parents if I could get a violin, and we started looking for a store and a teacher.
Today, February 28th 2019, Andre Previn died in his home in Manhattan. I’ve never been deeply affected by the death of a celebrity, but for me Previn was incredibly important, I spoke out loud to an empty room when I saw the nytimes article. He is the reason I picked up the violin in the middle of high school, the reason I struggled and embarrassed myself through countless hours of practice and chamber orchestra rehearsal and recitals, the reason I am building violins now. I am very sad to know there is no possibility for him to create anymore, but I greatly appreciate all that he has done and he contributed, especially all that he has done for me without ever knowing it.”
Thank you for contributing this, Mary. Just to be clear, Jule Styne wrote the songs for “Bells Are Ringing.” The recording below is Previn’s jazz version.