Nino Rota’s First Symphony: Sweeping Cinematic Grandeur

Nino Rota is remembered as one of the great film composers of the twentieth century. Born in Milan, Rota lived in Rome for most of his life. From 1933 until his death in 1979, he wrote scores for more than 150 films, including Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). Fellini, who worked with Rota for decades said, The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway …

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Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse,” Pascal Rogé

The 1717 painting L’embarquement pour Cythère by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicts a merry party of lovers arriving on (or departing from) the Mediterranean island of Cythère. In ancient mythology, Cythère was known as the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of erotic love. The version of the painting which hangs in the Louvre shows the revelers flanked by bright dancing cupids and a serenely gazing statue of Venus. Watteau’s painting served as an inspiration for Claude Debussy’s …

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Berlioz’ “King Lear” Overture: At the Intersection of Truth and Delusion

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools. -William Shakespeare, “King Lear” King Lear, Shakespeare’s 1606 tragedy in five acts, takes us to the intersection of truth and delusion. The aging King Lear decides to divide his realm amongst his three daughters. He determines that the shares will be allocated in proportion to the eloquence of each daughter’s declaration of love. The insincere and …

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Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea”: Entering the Spiritual Domain

Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries – stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water…Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever. -Herman Melville, “Moby-Dick” The ocean took on metaphysical significance not only for Herman Melville but also for the twentieth century Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). Takemitsu, whose music is filled with evocations …

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Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances”: Sublime Bohemian Miniatures

Today marks the 180th anniversary of the birth of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). The legacy of the famous Czech Romanticist includes monumental symphonies, nationalistic tone poems, chamber music, opera, and the soulful and nostalgic Cello Concerto. Yet, it was the sixteen Slavonic Dances, almost singlehandedly, that lifted Dvořák out of relative obscurity and poverty. These sublime Bohemian miniatures were published in two sets (Op. 46 and 72) in 1878 and 1886. In a letter to Brahms, the …

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Handel’s Suite No. 5 in E Major: “The Harmonious Blacksmith”

George Frideric Handel composed the Eight Great Suites for harpsichord around 1718 when he was employed as house composer at Cannons in Middlesex, England. By 1720, he became aware of error-ridden pirated copies of the music circulating throughout continental Europe. When the set was published, Handel included the following  explanation in the preface of the London edition: I have been obliged to publish some of the following Lessons, because surrepticious and incorrect Copies of …

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Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” Overture: A Zany Tour de Force

Bedřich Smetana’s 1866 comic opera, The Bartered Bride, follows a classic and timeless plot line: Mařenka, a farmer’s daughter falls in love with Jeník, the son of a landowner. Despite the efforts of ambitious parents and a scheming marriage broker to derail the relationship, true love prevails. Set in a rustic Bohemian village, the opera is a celebration of Czech folk music. It erupts with spirited dance forms such as the polka and furiant. The three …

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