The Marriage of Figaro’s Act II Finale: Mozart’s Dramatic “Tour de Force”

In his book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Charles Rosen points out the amazing compositional feat that occurs at the end of the second act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Citing its length (four acts) and “moral gravity,” Rosen considers The Marriage of Figaro to be Mozart’s first great “fusion” of opera buffe (or comic opera) with the dramatic weight and sophistication of opera seria: Mozart’s ability to define character by purely musical means, to write for each of the three sopranos (the Countess, …

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Léonin, Pérotin, and the Birth of Polyphony at Notre Dame

Why did the devastating fire at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral capture such intense worldwide attention this week? One reason is because of the way Notre Dame connects us to the past by way of nearly a thousand years of history. The stones of this iconic structure, which Victor Hugo described in 1831 as “a vast symphony in stone,” have presided over great plagues, the turmoil of the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte’s self-coronation, and the …

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The Organ of Notre-Dame: Music of Messiaen, Vierne, and Duruflé

Yesterday, it was reported that the historic organ of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral was not damaged in Monday’s devastating fire. The news inspired me to return to The Listeners’ Club archive in search of recordings featuring the mighty instrument. One of the most notable is Olivier Latry’s performance of the famous Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony No. 5 in F minor.  Olivier Latry has been one of Notre-Dame’s head organists since 1985. The proceeds from a …

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Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8: Midori at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s three Op. 30 Violin Sonatas were completed in the summer of 1802. The fall of that year brought the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, the despairing letter in which Beethoven acknowledged his increasing deafness, his contemplation of suicide, and his ultimate determination to overcome adversity: “I will seize fate by the throat— it will certainly not crush me completely.” We don’t hear any of this psychological turmoil in the sunny Sonata No. 8 in G Major, …

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Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Turns 50

As a child, I spent a year and many succeeding summers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where my father was a student of trombone professor Dr. Robert Gray. Some of my most vivid memories include attending concerts at the University’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where as a 9-year-old, I heard the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the University’s fine student ensembles. This weekend, the …

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Remembering Sam Pilafian

Tuba virtuoso Sam Pilafian passed away last week following a battle with cancer. He was 69. Pilafian was a founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet. He appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, with a host of major orchestras, with Summit Brass, and with such diverse performers as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, and Pink Floyd. (That is Pilafian on The Trial track from the rock band’s 1979 album, The Wall). As a teacher, Pilafian held positions …

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Tartini’s “Didone Abbandonata”

Giuseppe Tartini, the Italian Baroque composer and violinist, was born on this date in 1692. The most famous of Tartini’s over 400 works is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata” in G minor for violin, named after the composer’s alleged dream in which the devil appeared, playing the music with breathtaking virtuosity. But today, let’s explore another G minor Sonata by Tartini— the “Didone abbandonata” (“Dido the Forsaken”), written around 1731 and named after a …

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