“Lerchengesang”: Brahms’ Most Ethereal Song?

Lerchengesang (“The Lark’s Song”) from 4 Songs, Op. 70 must rate as one of Johannes Brahms’ most ethereal and atmospheric songs. The text, by Karl August Candidus, pulls us into a floating, twilight dreamscape of passing memories amid “ethereal distant voices” and the “heavenly greetings of the larks.” Unfolding in gently-lapping arpeggios, the piano line drifts into the delicate upper registers with a sense of eternal longing and lament. This recording, featuring Renée Fleming and pianist …

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Remembering Anner Bylsma

The Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma passed away last Thursday in Amsterdam. He was 85. Bylsma will be remembered as a profound and influential interpreter of J.S. Bach’s six solo Cello Suites. His book, Bach, the Fencing Master provides a treatise for historically informed performance practice. For six years (from 1962-1968) Bylsma served as principal cellist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In a social media statement, cellist Steven Isserlis called him “a wonder—soaringly imaginative, utterly original and …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 857, Pieter Dirksen

Every Friday the Netherlands Bach Society adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. Their goal is to perform all of J.S. Bach’s works in the run-up to the organization’s centenary in 2022. One of the recent additions to their Youtube channel is harpsichordist and musicologist Pieter Dirksen’s performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 857. This is the twelfth …

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Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony: “The Celestial City”

The “Symphony of the Celestial City…” This is how biographer and classical music scholar Michael Kennedy poetically described Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5. Indeed, this music, completed in 1943 as the Second World War raged, moves into an alternate world of radiant light, quiet serenity, and sublime mystery. Following Vaughan Williams’ ferocious and dissonant Fourth Symphony, it returns to the eternal, pastoral reassurance of England’s metaphorical “green and pleasant” countryside. The term “Celestial …

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New Release: Renée Fleming’s “Lieder”

Renée Fleming’s newest album features songs by Brahms, Schumann, and Mahler. Released on June 14, this is the four-time Grammy winning soprano’s first full-length Lieder album for almost two decades. The recording opens with a beautiful and hypnotic performance of Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4. Here are three additional excerpts: Brahms: 4 Lieder, Op. 43 – 2. Die Mainacht “The May Night” describes a shadowy scene of lonely wandering, endless …

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“Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings”: Howard Hanson’s Musical Marriage Proposal

“To Peggy.” This is the simple inscription which appears on the title page of Howard Hanson’s Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings, Op. 35. In the summer of 1945, the 50-year-old Hanson (who had been a lifelong bachelor) met Margaret Elizabeth Nelson while attending the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. The Serenade was written as a kind of musical marriage proposal. The couple was married a year later on July, 24. Hanson’s Serenade floats into a colorful, …

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Rachmaninov’s “Cherubic Hymn,” from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Last week, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s meditative a cappella choral work, Hymn of the Cherubim, an excerpt from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Completed in 1878, this work has the distinction of being the first “unified musical cycle” of settings from the Liturgy, most of which is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century. Today, let’s listen to another later …

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