Youthful Webern: “Im Sommerwind,” Idyll for Large Orchestra

The Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883-1945) is remembered as one of the principal exponents of the Second Viennese School. This group, which included Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, pioneered the atonal and serial techniques which dominated much of twentieth century music. Webern explored this striking new kind of music with sparse, compact pieces such as Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5 and the quirky, twelve-tone Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24. Im Sommerwind (“In the Summer …

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Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” Prelude to Act I: A Shifting Kaleidoscope of Color

Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera, Lohengrin, is based on medieval German legend. The fairy tale story involves the distressed Elsa (unfairly accused of murdering her brother, the rightful heir to the kingdom) and Lohengrin, a disguised Knight of the Holy Grail who comes to her aid on a boat drawn by a swan. Wagner’s Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin is a dreamlike kaleidoscope of orchestral color. It begins in the highest register of the …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Summa”: Renaud Capuçon and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne

In 1994, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) said, I have developed a highly formalised compositional system, which I have been using to write my music for twenty years. Summa is the most strict and enigmatic work in this series. Beginning in the 1970s, Pärt’s music represented a radical departure from the atonal modernism that was prolific during much of the twentieth century. Instead, what emerged was music which was simultaneously …

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Norman Bailey Sings Wagner

Norman Bailey, the internationally renowned British operatic bass-baritone, passed away on September 15 at the age of 88. Bailey made his debut in 1959 at the Vienna Chamber Opera, performing the role of Tobias Mill in Rossini’s one-act opera, La cambiale di matrimonio. His association with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre (later the English National Opera) beginning in 1967, launched a major career. He was particularly associated with the operas of Wagner, including the title role …

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Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36, Harriet Krijgh and Friends

The British musicologist Sir Donald Tovey called the String Sextet No. 2 in G Major “the most ethereal of Brahms’ larger works.” Indeed, there is a sense of mystery and haunting celestial beauty underlying this music. Who could have imagined that G major can feel this melancholy and unsettled? Brahms was 31 years old when he wrote this music in 1864. In contrast to the warm, songlike Sextet No. 1, completed four years earlier, …

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Nino Rota’s First Symphony: Sweeping Cinematic Grandeur

Nino Rota is remembered as one of the great film composers of the twentieth century. Born in Milan, Rota lived in Rome for most of his life. From 1933 until his death in 1979, he wrote scores for more than 150 films, including Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). Fellini, who worked with Rota for decades said, The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway …

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Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse,” Pascal Rogé

The 1717 painting L’embarquement pour Cythère by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicts a merry party of lovers arriving on (or departing from) the Mediterranean island of Cythère. In ancient mythology, Cythère was known as the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of erotic love. The version of the painting which hangs in the Louvre shows the revelers flanked by bright dancing cupids and a serenely gazing statue of Venus. Watteau’s painting served as an inspiration for Claude Debussy’s …

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