Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra: Aftertones of Mahler

On May 22, 1911, a quiet funeral was held for Gustav Mahler at Vienna’s Grinzing Cemetery. A wreath, laid on the grave by Arnold Schoenberg and a group of his students, included a card which read, “This rich man through whom we have come to know the deepest sorrow—the loss of the saintly Gustav Mahler—has left us, for life, a model we cannot lose: his work and his works.” Nowhere are the aftertones …

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Vivaldi and Piazzolla: Two Visions of Summer

Antonio Vivaldi’s collection of violin concerti, The Four Seasons, composed between 1718 and 1720, remains some of the most famous, virtuosic, and evocative music ever written. Concerto No. 2 in G minor “Summer” begins under a burning summer sun. The opening bars suggest an oppressive, sultry haze. As the music unfolds, nature comes alive with the song of the cuckoo, turtledove, and finch. The sounds of a shepherd herald the approach of a storm. …

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“Blumine”: Mahler’s “Blunder of Youth”

Blumine (“Flower”) was the original Andante second movement of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony. It was eliminated following the the third performance, conducted by Mahler in Weimar in 1894. With this revision, a sprawling and programmatic five-movement tone poem was refined into a symphony. Years later, Mahler dismissed Blumine as “a blunder of youth.” The manuscript resurfaced in 1959 and it was included in a June 18th, 1967 performance conducted by Benjamin Britten. Although some conductors have reinserted this music, …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846: Pure and Well-Tempered

The Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846 opens the first book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, dated 1722. It can be heard as a tantalizing musical invitation, throwing open the door to the collection’s endless adventures. The Well-Tempered Clavier moves through all twenty four major and minor keys. Bach wrote this music “for the use and profit of musical youth desirous of learning, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled …

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Copland’s “Short Symphony”: Bounding into Rhythmic Adventure

From its opening bars, Aaron Copland’s Short Symphony erupts with an infectious exuberance. This music unleashes bright, playful conversations between instrumental voices. Its frolicking “characters” take us on a musical joyride filled with unending rhythmic adventure. Completed in 1933, the Short Symphony (technically Copland’s Second) is scored for a spare, classical orchestra. Its tantalizingly abstract harmonic language flirts with polytonality and serialism. Underlying all of this is a sizzling Mexican vitality. While working on the score, Copland …

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Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”: Ballet for Martha

In interviews, Aaron Copland recounted, with amusement, conversations he had with concertgoers following performances of Appalachian Spring: “Mr. Copland, when I hear your music I can just see the Appalachian Mountains and I can feel spring.” In fact, Copland composed this music under the working title, “Ballet for Martha.” The more evocative title, inspired by a line from Hart Crane’s poem The Dance, came after the music was written. Still, for most of us there is something distinctly American about Appalachian …

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Leontyne Price: Canzone di Doretta from Puccini’s “La Rondine”

Giacomo Puccini’s 1917 opera, La Rondine (“The Swallow”), tells the story of Magda, a Parisian courtesan who falls in love with the handsome young Ruggero. Ultimately, Magda is haunted by her past and leaves Ruggero, returning to her old life like a swallow returning to the nest. The opera’s most famous aria, Chi il bel sogno di Doretta, comes in the first act. At a party, the poet Prunier affirms the power of romantic love. …

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