Franco Donatoni’s “Hot”: Imaginary Jazz

The young virtuoso saxophonist, Ryan Muncy, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week. Critics noted his talent and capacity to “show off the instrument’s malleability and freakish extended range as well as its delicacy and refinement.” (The Chicago Reader) Before joining the International Contemporary Ensemble, he served as saxophonist and artistic director of the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente. Muncy’s solo debut album, Hot, was released in 2013. The title track features a thrilling 1989 chamber …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major: Steven Isserlis in Frankfurt

The British cellist, Steven Isserlis, has called Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, “the greatest Classical cello concerto. It’s full of joy, of joyous virtuosity. It’s perfect.” Haydn wrote this music in the early 1760s, around the time that he began employment as music director at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. During the same time period, Haydn produced his first symphonies, while he expanded and refined the Esterházy Orchestra. The …

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“The Colors of My Life”: Cy Coleman Trio

Cy Coleman (1929-2004) was a jazz pianist and one of the great composers of the American musical theater. His Broadway musicals included Sweet Charity (1966), Barnum (1980), City of Angels (1989), and The Will Rogers Follies (1991). One of Coleman’s most enduring songs is The Colors of My Life from the circus-themed Barnum, based on the life of the brash nineteenth century showman, P.T. Barnum. The song, with lyrics by Michael Stewart, comes from a tender moment in the show’s …

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Walter Piston’s “Three New England Sketches”: American Vistas

The American composer, Walter Piston, wrote Three New England Sketches during the summer of 1959 at his retreat in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The symphonic suite was commissioned by the Worcester (Massachusetts) County Musical Association for its 100th Annual Music Festival. Founded in 1858, the Festival is billed as the oldest of its kind in the United States. (Antonín Dvořák performed there in 1898). Walter Piston dedicated the score of Three New England Sketches to …

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Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039: Traverso Triumph

J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039 overflows with sensuous melodies, magical contrapuntal conversations, and joyous rhythmic motion. The Sonata is scored for two flutes and basso continuo. It was probably written between 1736 and 1741 when Bach was director of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum. The chamber music society presented weekly concerts at the Café Zimmermann coffeehouse. This music was so popular that Bach created a version for viola da gamba and …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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