The Artistry of Christa Ludwig: Two Songs from Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder”

During the summers of 1901 and 1902, Gustav Mahler wrote five Lieder based on poems written by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866). Mahler did not intend the Rückert-Lieder (Songs after Rückert) to be performed as a cycle. Originally, the songs were published independently and later grouped together. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (“I Am Lost to the World”) is the dreamy soliloquy of the solitary artist, which concludes with the lines, “I live alone …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor: Opening the Door to the Romantic World

The summer of 1788 was a low point for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, both personally and professionally. In Vienna, Mozart’s popularity was in decline as the city’s notoriously fickle audiences turned their attention elsewhere. Funding from aristocratic patrons evaporated with the outbreak of the  Austro-Turkish War. As income dried up and creditors pounded at the door, Mozart and his family relocated from central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. In June of 1788, Mozart’s …

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Remembering Christa Ludwig

Christa Ludwig, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, has passed away. She was 93. Ludwig was one of the most significant and distinguished singers of the twentieth century “with a voice of exquisite richness and, when needed—breathtaking amplitude.” (Ted Libbey, NPR) She made her debut in Frankfurt at the age of 18, shortly after the Second World War. Her celebrated roles included Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal, Leonora in Beethoven’s …

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Samuel Adams’ “Shade Studies”: The Marriage of Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Shade Studies is a brief and meditative work for solo piano and sine wave resonance, written in 2014 by the American composer, Samuel Adams (b. 1985). The piece sets up a haunting dialogue between the world of acoustic sound and ethereal electronic aftertones. In his program notes, the composer writes, Shade Studies examines the counterpoint between the acoustic resonance of the piano and sine waves. The music is quiet and built of cadences, silences, …

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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: The Hippogriff Takes Flight

Turbulent, expansive, heroic, and boldly virtuosic, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor seems to take flight, like a mythical creature. Completed in 1885, the Sonata is set in four movements which are grouped in two sections. The first two and the last two movements flow together, attacca, with the only break coming in the middle of the work. This sets up the same kind of continuous musical journey we …

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Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor: An Escape to a Better World

Maurice Ravel composed his Piano Trio in the spring and summer of 1914 as Europe descended into the First World War. Swept up in the fervor of the moment, Ravel rushed to complete the work in order to enlist, “working with the sureness and lucidity of a madman,” as he wrote to a friend. In a letter to Igor Stravinsky, Ravel wrote, “The idea that I should be leaving at once made …

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Vaughan Williams’ “The Wasps” Overture: Raising the Curtain on Stinging Satire

In 1909, the Cambridge Greek Play committee invited Ralph Vaughan Williams to compose incidental music for a production of Aristophanes’ comic satire, The Wasps. The play, first produced in 422 B.C., is a caustic commentary on the Athenian judiciary system. Vaughan Williams’ music, later arranged in a suite, includes the witty March Past of the Kitchen Utensils. A year earlier, Vaughan Williams spent three months in Paris studying with Maurice Ravel. Later, Ravel commented that Vaughan Williams …

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