Ghostly Mozart: The “Commendatore Scene” from “Don Giovanni”

The dramatic climax of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, delivers the ultimate ghost story. Don Giovanni’s horrific fate is sealed earlier in the opera’s second act. In Scene 3, the brash, promiscuous nobleman (also known as Don Juan), wanders into a graveyard where he is reunited with his servant, Leporello. Don Giovanni brags that he took advantage of his disguise to try to seduce one of Leporello’s girlfriends. A voice comes from one of …

Read moreGhostly Mozart: The “Commendatore Scene” from “Don Giovanni”

Liszt’s “Nuages Gris”: A Haunting, Atmospheric Soundscape

Franz Liszt’s Nuages gris (“Grey Clouds”) sounds as if it could have been composed for the film score of a psychological thriller. In fact, the brief, haunting work for solo piano was featured in a chilling morgue scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 mystery drama, Eyes Wide Shut.  It’s hard to believe that Nuages gris was written in 1881. The piece’s shockingly progressive harmony anticipates the music of Debussy and composers of the twentieth century. In his …

Read moreLiszt’s “Nuages Gris”: A Haunting, Atmospheric Soundscape

Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration”: “From the Infinite Reaches of Heaven”

Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (“Death and Transfiguration”) grapples with the most fundamental questions of the human experience. What is the nature of life? What lies on the other side of death? What happens in that serene moment of ultimate repose as the soul melts into “the infinite reaches of heaven?” Ironically, this cosmic musical drama, concerned with the twilight of life, was completed in 1889 by the 25-year-old Strauss. …

Read moreStrauss’ “Death and Transfiguration”: “From the Infinite Reaches of Heaven”

Palestrina’s Magnificat primi toni, Voces8

Before the rich counterpoint of J.S. Bach, there was the seamless, contrapuntal polyphony of the Italian Renaissance composer, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594). The sacred music of Palestrina greatly influenced Bach and the composers who followed. Bach studied and hand-copied Palestrina’s first book of Masses and adapted parts of the Missa sine nomine. Felix Mendelssohn noted Palestrina’s influence when he wrote, “I always get upset when some praise only Beethoven, others only Palestrina and still others …

Read morePalestrina’s Magnificat primi toni, Voces8

Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata: Oistrakh and Richter in 1969

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata, Op. 134 was completed in the autumn of 1968. The title page bears the inscription, “For the 60th birthday of David Oistrakh.” Shostakovich had attempted to commemorate the great Ukrainian violinist’s 60th birthday a year too early with the Second Violin Concerto. Oistrakh explained, Dmitri had been wanting to write a new, second concerto for me as a present for my 60th birthday. However, there was an error …

Read moreShostakovich’s Violin Sonata: Oistrakh and Richter in 1969

Berlioz’ “Benvenuto Cellini” Overture: The Romantic Artist as Hero

The opening bars of Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini Overture spring to life with all of the high-flying passion, exuberance, and boundless heroism of the idealized Romantic artist. Filled with wild euphoria and mercurial twists and turns, this initial theme encapsulates the spirit of the protagonist of the opera which follows. Berlioz’ ill-fated 1838 opera, Benvenuto Cellini, was based on a highly fictionalized depiction of the Florentine sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571). Although it appealed to notions of the …

Read moreBerlioz’ “Benvenuto Cellini” Overture: The Romantic Artist as Hero

Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in Two Shades

We explored Maurice Ravel’s magical 1917 suite, Le Tombeau de Couperin, in a previous post. Composed in the aftermath of the First World War, it is music that retreats into the graceful motion and elegance of Baroque dances such as the Forlane, Menuet, and Rigaudon. It pays homage to the keyboard suites of the French Baroque composer, François Couperin (1668-1733), while serving, simultaneously, as a memorial for friends Ravel lost in the war. When listeners commented …

Read moreRavel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in Two Shades

Send this to a friend