George Crumb’s “A Haunted Landscape”: A Guide to Mysterious Places

Much of the music of the American composer, George Crumb (1929-2022), drifts into the atmospheric, spectral world of “night music.” Evoking the hum of insects and the distant murmurs of a summer night, these are the eerie, nocturnal sounds that we hear throughout the music of Béla Bartók. It is also the “night music” of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, which Crumb called “very spooky music.” Crumb’s 1984 orchestral work, A Haunted Landscape, emerges over a nearly imperceptible …

Read more

Anatoly Lyadov’s “The Enchanted Lake”: Painting a Fairy Tale Scene

The Enchanted Lake is a dreamy and fleeting 1908 tone poem by the Russian composer, Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914). Subtitled “fairy tale scene,” the piece unfolds as a shimmering, gradually shifting mirage of impressionistic color. Divided strings undulate with the majesty of a vast, tranquil sea, while the flute, celesta, and harp suggest the sparkle of twinkling stars. At moments, we hear the influence of the magical, coloristic orchestration of Rimsky-Korsakov. The piece may have …

Read more

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto: From Rejection to Triumph

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor opens with one of the most powerful and iconic introductions in music history. A mighty four-note descending line, stated three times in the horns, is punctuated by orchestral thunderbolts. A soaring and expansive theme emerges in the strings, accompanied by colossal ascending chords in the solo piano. Defying convention, this majestic and memorable theme opens the Concerto, yet never returns. Additionally, it sets up the wrong key—not …

Read more

Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564: A Rhetorical Flourish

In the autumn of 1705, the 20-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach took a four month leave from his position as organist in the German town of Arnstadt and set out on foot for Lübeck, nearly 300 miles to the north. The purpose of the arduous journey was to visit the famous organist and composer, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637–1707). Buxtehude’s musical influence can be heard in Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564. …

Read more

Vaughan Williams’ “Sancta Civitas”: An Oratorio of Revelation

In a 1988 biography, Ursula Vaughan Williams wrote that her husband “was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian.” Ironically, it was Ralph Vaughan Williams who helped the Anglican Church to compile, through the The English Hymnal of 1906, “a collection of the best hymns in the English language.” For Vaughan Williams, music inhabited the …

Read more

Vaughan Williams’ “Three Shakespeare Songs”: The Stuff of Dreams

Following the 1948 premiere of his Sixth Symphony, Ralph Vaughan Williams was asked to provide the “meaning” of the work’s bleak, apocalyptic closing Epilogue. For many listeners, the music suggested a chilling portrait of a world decimated by nuclear war. The composer who had so vividly captured the pastoral glory of “England’s green and pleasant land” in earlier pieces, now seemed to deliver only alienation from nature in the face of twentieth …

Read more

Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony: Scream of the Apocalypse

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony begins with an apocalyptic scream. It comes in the form of three pitches (F, G, and A-flat) which rise with desperation in octaves before plunging into a hellish, rumbling inferno. The original Greek translation of the word, “symphony,” suggests the harmonization of disparate elements. Yet, this is music of destabilization, disintegration, and alienation. Punctuated by tumultuous shrieks in the strings and ferocious brass jabs, these terrifying opening …

Read more

Send this to a friend