Louis Andriessen’s “De Snelheid”: Bending Perceptions of Speed and Time

On Monday, we listened to Handel’s beautiful and haunting aria, Tu del Ciel ministro eletto (“You, elected minister of Heaven”), music in which an unrelenting, hypnotic rhythmic heartbeat evokes the continuous flow of time, melting into the vast ocean of eternity. It occurred to me later that the twentieth century counterpart to this piece might be Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age from Gustav Holst’s astrological orchestral suite, The Planets, Op.32. In Holst’s Saturn, the eternal flow …

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Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead”: A Tone Poem in Black and White

In 1907, Sergei Rachmaninov saw a black and white reproduction of Isle of the Dead, a painting by the Swiss symbolist artist, Arnold Böcklin. The haunting dream image depicts a solitary rowboat carrying a coffin, bound for a desolate, rocky island. The scene suggests the mythological River Styx and the transition of a recently deceased soul to the afterlife. The image affected Rachmaninov deeply and inexplicably. It was a powerful, immediate, and spontaneous creative …

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Handel’s “Trionfo del Tempo”: Amanda Forsythe and Voices of Music

In the aria, Tu del Ciel ministro eletto (“You, elected minister of Heaven”), George Frideric Handel evokes the continuous flow of time, melting into eternity. This is the cosmic concluding aria from Trionfo del Tempo (“The Triumph of Time and Truth”), Handel’s first oratorio, written in the spring of 1707. It is one of only two oratorios Handel set in Italian. (The twenty-two year old composer was living in Rome at the time). …

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Clara Schumann at 200

Composing gives me great pleasure. There is nothing which surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound. – Clara Schumann (a diary entry from June, 1853) Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). This week, we have explored Clara’s influence on the music of her husband, Robert Schumann, and close friend, Johannes …

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Schumann’s Fourth Symphony: A Continuous Drama in Cyclic Form

Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor begins with a bold announcement in the form of a single, multi-octave-deep “A”. It’s a musical “call to order” which seems to establish the blank, open-ended canvas on which the Symphony will develop. The first brushstroke to fall on this canvas is a descending motif which is the seed out of which the entire Symphony grows. This is the famous “Clara Theme” we explored in …

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Schumann and Brahms: Musical Depictions of Clara

This Friday marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Clara Wieck Schumann looms large in music history. With a concert career spanning 61 years, she was one of the greatest pianists of the Romantic period. She is credited with elevating the repertoire of the piano recital, replacing bravura showpieces with substantial, mature works. She was an influential teacher at Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory. As a composer, she contributed piano …

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Remembering Mario Davidovsky

The Argentine-American composer Mario Davidovsky passed away on August 23. He was 85. Davidovsky will be remembered as a pioneer of electroacoustic music (the blending of traditional instruments with new, electronic sounds). In addition to his work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, he served on the composition faculty of, among other schools, the Mannes School of Music. Born in Buenos Aires, he emigrated to the United States in 1960 and studied with …

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