Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Fairytale Poem”: The Dreams of a Piece of Chalk

In her youth, the Soviet-Russian composer, Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931), was censured by the cultural authorities and urged to abandon her “mistaken path.” It was a path which led far from the conventions of Soviet Realism to explore 12-tone serialism, alternative tunings, and the improvisational Eastern influences of her native Tatarstan. With gratitude, Gubaidulina remembers her 1959 meeting with Dmitri Shostakovich in which the older composer said, “My wish for you is that …

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Liszt’s “Vallée d’Obermann”: Vivid Encounters with Nature

Obermann, an 1804 novel by the French philosopher, Étienne de Senancour, centers around the mediations of a young, melancholy recluse who retreats into the Swiss Alps to probe profound and unsettling questions. The novel unfolds as a series of letters written by Obermann, the ultimate solitary, Romantic hero. Filled with longing, he is both enthralled and mystified by Nature. He asks, What do I wish? What am I? What shall I ask of nature? I …

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Celebratory Bach: From the E Major Partita to the Cantata, BWV 29

J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin begins with the famous and iconic Preludio.  Sweeping forward in a continuous stream of sixteenth notes, it forms a celebratory musical announcement. The opening bars employ a virtual pedal tone which remains rooted in E major for more than half a minute. Then, the music leaves “home” and moves through a series of adventures, only to return, triumphantly, in the coda. We get …

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Remembering Radu Lupu

The great Romanian pianist, Radu Lupu, passed away earlier this week. According to his manager, Lupu “died peacefully in his home in Switzerland from numerous long-term illnesses.” He was 76 years old. In 1966, Radu Lupu was awarded the first prize at the second Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He went on to win first prizes at the George Enescu International Piano Competition and the Leeds International Piano Competition. Lupu’s playing was filled …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 11 in A Major: Bremer Barockorchester

George Frideric Handel was one of music history’s most successful entrepreneurs. Handel’s 40-plus Italian operas brought the finest singers of the day to the London stage and earned the composer celebrity status. Yet, in 1738 when opera seria began to fall out of favor with English audiences, Handel transitioned seamlessly to a popular new genre, the dramatic oratorio. As an added attraction, he composed the twelve Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 to be performed between …

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Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto: Enter the Enfant Terrible

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10 is music of the audacious, young Sergei Prokofiev. Completed in 1911 when the 22-year-old composer was still a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the Concerto’s brash, spirited energy elicited strong public reactions. The August 7, 1912 premiere in Moscow marked Prokofiev’s first appearance with an orchestra and showcased his dazzling keyboard virtuosity. In a letter, Prokofiev recalled that “the outward success was …

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Tallis’ “Lamentations of Jeremiah”: Holy Week in Renaissance England

The English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis wrote the Lamentations of Jeremiah in the 1560s for the liturgy of Maundy Thursday. At the time, musical settings from the Book of Jeremiah were common in England during the Christian Holy Week. The texts, which lament the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians, held significance for Roman Catholics amid the turmoil surrounding the rise of Protestantism. The Lamentations were written during the early years of …

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