“Try to Remember”: The Autumnal Opening of “The Fantasticks”

The world’s longest-running musical ran for 42 years and 17,162 performances, blocks away from the bright lights and glitter of Broadway’s Great White Way. The Fantasticks opened at the intimate Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village on May 3, 1960. For the original production, $900 were spent on the set and $541 were spent on costumes at a time when budgets for Broadway musicals typically exceeded $250,000. The story is an …

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Bruckner’s Third Symphony: Vindicated by Time

The premiere of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor stands as one of music history’s most infamous disasters. The performance took place in Vienna on December 16, 1877. It was to have been conducted by Johann Herbeck, an Austrian maestro who had led the posthumous premiere of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony in 1865. But Herbeck died suddenly, and Bruckner—an accomplished organist and choral director but an inexperienced orchestral conductor—decided to take …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth String Quartet: The Passion and Lament of E Minor

The key of E minor seems to have had special significance for Felix Mendelssohn. It opened the door to music filled with quiet anxiety, mystery, and haunting pathos. For example, consider the turbulent, windswept Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s song without words, the Albumblatt In E Minor, Op.117. Here, the pervasive melancholy of E minor is all the more striking when contrasted with the brief, sudden turn to sunny E major in the piece’s transcendent …

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“Le Secret”: Fauré’s Mystical Art Song

Throughout Gabriel Fauré’s 1879 song, Le Secret, serene, hypnotically repeating chords in the piano toll like an immortal bell. We drift into a detached dreamscape which seems to anticipate the final, time-altering movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.  The song’s text is a setting of Paul-Armand Silvestre’s poem, Mystère, from the collection, Le pays des roses (1882). Its three stanzas blur the lines between dawn, day, and night. A sense of transcendental mystery is …

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Beethoven’s “Namensfeier” Overture: The First “Ode to Joy”

The story of Beethoven’s slow, painstaking compositional process is told in long, tortured, sketch-filled notebooks. In his lecture, How a Great Symphony Was Written, Leonard Bernstein notes that the melody which opens the Andante con moto of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony went through fourteen versions over the course of eight years. Bernstein allows us to hear a few of the musical ideas Beethoven rejected along the way. Phrase by phrase, we hear stunningly pedestrian and workmanlike …

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Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Art Tatum in 1949

Holding hands at midnight ‘Neath a starry sky Nice work if you can get it And you can get it if you try Ira Gershwin’s famous lyric is not about work in the occupational sense. The song’s verse rejects “the man who only lives for making money” and who “works for fame.” Instead, it is the more spiritually informed work of building a loving relationship. The song’s narrator seems to have all of …

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“Appalachian Fantasy”: Tessa Lark Returns to Bluegrass Roots

In her debut solo album, Fantasy, violinist Tessa Lark returns to her Kentucky roots. The album, released last September, is an exploration of the musical fantasy, a type of piece which develops with a sense of spontaneous, improvisatory freedom. Alongside music of Telemann, Schubert, Ravel, and Kreisler stands Lark’s own Bluegrass-infused Appalachian Fantasy. It’s music which blends melodic strands of Schubert with echoes of American folk songs such as Cumberland Gap and Bonaparte’s Retreat. The result is spirited music …

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