Frank Loesser at 110

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser (1910-1969), the American songwriter who wrote music and lyrics for such legendary Broadway musicals as Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Loesser’s hit songs include Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1944), Luck Be a Lady (1950), Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat (1950), Standing on the Corner (1956), and The Brotherhood of Man (1961). In terms of the integrated musical, Guys …

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Ives’s Three Quarter-Tone Pieces: Adventures in Microtonality

Quarter tones occupy the narrow spaces halfway between the pitches of the chromatic scale. In other words, they are approximately half as wide as a semitone. Venture into their colorful domain, and you arrive in a wild new microtonal universe which expands the expressive possibilities of tuning and tonal color. Traditional Persian music is filled with quarter tones. These intervals also can be found in numerous works by twentieth century composers. Charles Ives’ father, George, …

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Copland’s Third Symphony: American Threads

Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony begins with a single melodic thread which seems to emerge out of thin air. Crystalizing as a shimmering pastel blend of high strings and winds, this restlessly searching eight-note motif develops with a self-organizing inevitability. It feels like we are experiencing a “composition in progress” as the motif shapes itself, painstakingly trying out each possibility. Built on the intervals of fourths and fifths, its outline gives us a sense …

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“The Black Gondola”: Liszt’s Haunting Memorial to Wagner

Earlier in the month, we listened to music from Wagner’s iconic 1865 opera, Tristan und Isolde, and explored its influence on later composers such as Claude Debussy. With its distinctively dissonant “Tristan chord,” this is music which, for many theorists, marked the beginning of the “dissolution of tonality” and opened the door to the tone rows of the twentieth century. Franz Liszt’s haunting solo piano work, La lugubre gondola (“The Black Gondola”), is filled …

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The Marriage of Figaro’s Act IV Finale: Love’s Triumph Over Folly

In Mozart’s hands, the operatic finale becomes a dramatic and compositional tour de force. In a previous post, we explored the complex counterpoint and unstoppable forward motion of the Act II Finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which as the writer Charles Rosen points out, “moves from duet, through trio, quartet, and quintet to septet in a magnificently symmetrical tonal scheme.” Mozart’s music encapsulates the distinct personality and inner thoughts and emotions of …

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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major: Mitsuko Uchida and the ECO

Mozart was hard at work on The Marriage of Figaro when he completed the Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 482 on December 16, 1785. As with many of his instrumental works, the Concerto is infused with a vibrant sense of operatic drama. From the bold fanfare which functions as a “call to order” at the beginning of the first movement, colorful musical “characters” take the stage and enter into a continuous stream of …

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Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments: Enter Neoclassicism

Igor Stravinsky’s 1923 Octet for wind instruments is a playful drama filled with zany, spirited voices. Its comic “characters” take the stage with endearing exuberance and sincerity. With witty allusions to Baroque and Classical form, it represents the beginning of Stravinsky’s dry, pared-down neoclassical period. When this piece was premiered at the Paris Opera in October, 1923, it was met with bewilderment and what Jean Cocteau called, “a scandal du silence.” Among the …

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