Korngold’s Five Songs, Op. 38: From Film Music to Lied

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the twentieth century’s great composers of melody. We hear this in the dramatic music of Korngold’s 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City), as well as in the soaring Hollywood film scores which followed. Additionally, Korngold was a clever musical recycler. Rich melodies, which were scattered throughout the film scores, formed the basis of Korngold’s 5 Lieder, Op. 38, completed in 1947. The first song, Glückwunsch …

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Korngold’s “The Sea Hawk”: Excerpts from the Film Score

With the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), Viennese Romanticism faded into a rich, shimmering twilight. As a child prodigy, Korngold attracted the attention of Gustav Mahler (who declared him a “musical genius”) and of Richard Strauss. Der Schneemann (“The Snowman”), a ballet Korngold composed at the age of 11, became a sensation when it was performed by the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. Later, came the 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt …

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Borodin’s Second Symphony: Solemn, Celebratory, Heroic

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), the great Russian Romanticist, once said, “I’m a composer in search of oblivion; I’m always slightly ashamed to admit I compose.” By day, Borodin was a brilliant research chemist and a distinguished professor at the Medico-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg. When he was not passionately investigating aldehydes, he was creating some of the most innovative Russian music. The small catalogue of works he left behind includes two completed symphonies, two …

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Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major: Triumph Over Censorship

In the years following the Second World War, Stalin’s “propagandist-in-chief,” Andrei Zhdanov, drafted a series of resolutions that were designed to censor Soviet art, literature, film, and music. All art had to adhere to the ideals of Soviet “socialist realism.” The Zhdanov Doctrine proclaimed that “The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best.” First, Zhdanov banned the works of Anna Akhmatova, arguably Russia’s greatest living …

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Stravinsky’s “Mavra”: A Neoclassical Comic Opera in One Act

Igor Stravinsky’s one act comic opera, Mavra, is delightfully intimate, colorful, and whimsical. Unfolding in a mere 30 minutes, the opera features two arias, a duet, and a quartet, performed by a cast of four characters. Based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem, The Little House in Kolomna, it has been described as a “satire of petit-bourgeois manners.” The libretto was written by Boris Kochno, a young assistant to the dance impresario, Serge Diaghilev. Set in …

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Christopher O’Riley Meets Radiohead: “Fake Plastic Trees”

The American pianist Christopher O’Riley discovered the music of Radiohead in 1997 with the release of the British alternative rock band’s landmark third studio album, OK Computer. Immediately, O’Riley was drawn to the songs’ sophisticated counterpoint and “sensual harmonies that you’d find in Ravel, a harmony, a chord that makes your hair stand on end.” O’Riley’s acclaimed solo piano adaptions of Radiohead songs are far more than simple arrangements or covers. Following the tradition of Liszt’s concert paraphrases, or …

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Prokofiev’s “Summer Night” Suite: Music from “Betrothal in a Monastery”

Sergei Prokofiev’s 1946 comic opera, Betrothal in a Monastery, involves trickery, bribery, disguises, an averted arranged marriage, and (in the final act) monks engaged in alcoholic revelry. A twentieth century homage to Italian opera buffa, it is far removed from the cultural and political landscape of Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1950, Prokofiev used music from the opera as the basis for the five movement orchestral suite, Summer Night, Op. 123. The boisterous, larger-than-life music which …

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