Steve Reich’s Quartet: Music for Two Vibraphones and Two Pianos

In his 1968 essay, Music as a Gradual Process, Steve Reich (b. 1936) wrote, “I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music.” An American composer at the forefront of minimalism, Reich’s early process music involved repeated fragments of recorded conversation played on tape loops, one of which gradually moved out of sync in a phasing technique. Later came instrumental phase …

Read more

“Songs My Mother Taught Me”: From Dvořák to Ives

Songs My Mother Taught Me is the fourth and most famous of Antonín Dvořák’s seven-song cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Composed in 1880 at the request of the Viennese tenor, Gustav Walter, the texts are from a collection of poems by Adolf Heyduk. Songs My Mother Taught Me highlights the timelessness of music, and enduring truths, passed lovingly through generations: Songs my mother taught me in the days long vanished, Seldom from her eyelids were …

Read more

Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major: The “American”

During the summer of 1893, Antonín Dvořák took his habitual morning walks, not through the meadows of his native Bohemia, but into the vast, rolling prairie of northeastern Iowa. It was here, in the small Czech immigrant enclave of Spillville, that Dvořák completed the “New World” Symphony, and then, in just over two weeks, wrote his String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96. Having relocated from Prague the previous September …

Read more

Michael Daugherty’s “Desi”: Reawakening the Latin Big Band

Vivid cultural allusions abound in the music of Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), an American composer famous for his five-movement Metropolis Symphony, inspired by the Superman comics. Daugherty’s Desi is an exuberant romp for symphonic band, composed in 1991. Its conversing instrumental “characters,” at once spirited, comic, and menacing, sweep us into a dangerous and  exhilarating party. It’s easy to imagine ghosts from the audience of Desi Arnaz’ Hollywood big band reawakening and forming …

Read more

Barber’s Toccata Festiva: A Celebratory Flourish for Organ and Orchestra

On a day in 1960, Mary Curtis Zimbalist phoned Eugene Ormandy, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with exciting news. The wealthy patron and founder of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music had decided to provide the Academy of Music, the orchestra’s home at the time, with a pipe organ. Additionally, Zimbalist would commission Samuel Barber, the esteemed American composer who had enrolled in Curtis’ first class in 1924, to write a piece …

Read more

Gershwin’s “Catfish Row”: A Symphonic Suite on “Porgy and Bess”

Set in the Catfish Row tenement of sultry 1920s Charleston, George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, tells the story of a tumultuous love triangle poised between darkness and redemption. Abandoned by her violent, drug-dealing lover, Crown, Bess turns to the caring, disabled beggar, Porgy, for support. Their newfound happiness is cut short when Crown abruptly returns. The stormy human drama is underscored by an approaching hurricane. Vowing to protect Bess, Porgy kills Crown …

Read more