Remembering Teresa Berganza

Teresa Berganza, the legendary Spanish mezzo-soprano, passed away in Madrid on May 13. She was 89. Berganza was especially celebrated for roles in the operas of Rossini and Mozart, as well as the title role in Bizet’s Carmen. (The conductor, Herbert von Karajan, declared her to be “the Carmen of the century.”) She joined Plácido Domingo in a highly acclaimed 1977 Edinburgh Festival production of the opera, conducted by Claudio Abbado. Berganza recalled later that “Carmen …

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Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”: Two Enchanting Excerpts from the Final Act

Gioachino Rossini’s touching 1817 comic opera, La Cenerentola, retells the popular Cinderella fairy tale with a few wrinkles: The glass slipper is replaced with a bracelet, the wicked stepmother is, instead, a stepfather named Don Magnifico, the Fairy Godmother is replaced by the philosopher, Alidoro, and there is no magic pumpkin. Questo e un nodo avviluppato One of the opera’s most dramatic moments occurs in the second (and final) act when the Prince (Don …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

In 1805, Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets. At the time, chamber music was often conceived for the entertainment of aristocratic amateurs. In contrast, Razumovsky’s commission would be premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet, a group of highly skilled musicians who formed what was likely the first professional string quartet. The result was groundbreaking music which moved the string quartet decisively into the concert hall. …

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Stravinsky’s Suites Nos. 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra: Jubilant Miniatures

As the First World War raged throughout Europe, Igor Stravinsky lived in exile in Switzerland. In the years leading up to the war, Stravinsky had created immense and colorful orchestral scores, which included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913) for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. Now, with changing circumstances, Stravinsky’s music became smaller, with more intimate instrumentation. These included eight charming piano duets with “easy right hand.” Stravinsky composed Three Easy Pieces (1915) …

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Brice Montagnoux Plays Couperin: Offertoire sur les Grands Jeux

The French organist and Baroque specialist, Brice Montagnoux, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on April 27. He was 44. The cause of death has not been disclosed. In addition to performing internationally, Montagnoux served as professor of organ at the Conservatoire TPM in Toulon. In 2012, he became director of Institut d’Enseignement Supérieur de la Musique in Aix-en-Provence. Montagnoux is survived by his wife, Eva Villegas, a clarinetist. The two performed together frequently as a …

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Holst’s “The Planets”: Seven Astrological Mood Pictures

Take a moment and consider the most evocative excerpts from John Williams’ Star Wars film scores, the hypnotic, meditative tones of electronic ambient music, and the late twentieth century pop song’s formulaic concluding “fade out.” It could be argued that all were vaguely anticipated by Gustav Holst’s seven-movement orchestral suite, The Planets, composed between 1914 and 1917. Described by the composer as “a series of mood pictures,” the movements depict the astrological character of all …

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Harrison Birtwistle’s “Silbury Air”: Building Imaginary Landscapes

Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of Britain’s most celebrated composers, passed away on April 18. He was 87. Birtwistle was an uncompromising modernist who created music that was infused with “sonic brashness.” His 1995 work, Panic, for alto saxophone, jazz drum kit, and orchestra caused a minor scandal when it was premiered at BBC’s Last Night of the Proms. As with many of Birtwistle’s works, the inspiration for Panic grew out of mythology. Additional prominent works …

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