Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”: Three Devilish Sonic Fantasies

Sometimes the notation of a musical score becomes a work of art in its own right. Such is the case with a vast mural painted in the early 1970s on the exposed brick wall of the Schmitt Music Company building in downtown Minneapolis (pictured above). The mural was created after Minneapolis Star columnist Barbara Flanagan called out the blank wall’s unsightliness. “You need to make that wall sing,” she wrote. The three-story-tall …

Read moreRavel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”: Three Devilish Sonic Fantasies

Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto: An Autumnal Requiem

At first, Alban Berg was reluctant to accept the commission for what would become one of the twentieth century’s greatest violin concertos. When the Ukrainian-born, American violinist Louis Krasner approached Berg in February, 1935 with an enticing offer of $1,500, the Austrian composer was hard at work on the opera, Lulu. He even declared that he was “not a violin composer.” Although Berg began to take tentative steps towards the Violin Concerto, the …

Read moreAlban Berg’s Violin Concerto: An Autumnal Requiem

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony: The Hammer Blow of Fate

Gustav Mahler said, My Sixth will be asking riddles that can be solved only by a generation that has received and digested my first five. In fact, Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor remains an unsettling enigma. Completed in 1905 at one of the happiest times in the composer’s life (he had married Alma Schindler in 1902 and they already had two young daughters), the Sixth Symphony is Mahler’s most dark and …

Read moreMahler’s Sixth Symphony: The Hammer Blow of Fate

Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

We call it a “Cello Sonata,” but the official name Johannes Brahms gave this piece, completed in 1865, is “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello.” To stress further the equality between the two instruments, Brahms specified that the piano “should be a partner—often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner—but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role.” The E minor Sonata is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, an Austrian music …

Read moreBrahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto: Daniil Trifonov in Concert

One hundred and ten years ago today, on November 4, 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov made his American debut with a recital at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the weeks that followed, the 36-year-old composer appeared in cities including Philadelphia and New York, where he premiered the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor—newly written for the tour—with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. The American tour came at a time when Rachmaninov was cutting …

Read moreRachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto: Daniil Trifonov in Concert

Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131

In his 1998 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, the late literary critic Harold Bloom made the bold argument that Shakespeare “went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it.” According to Bloom, Shakespeare’s complex and multifaceted characters “take human nature to some of its limits, without violating those limits” and open up “new modes of consciousness.” The drama that unfolds in the lines of …

Read moreLate Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131

Christopher Rouse’s “Phantasmata”: Three Haunting Hallucinations

The sixteenth century Swiss alchemist, Paracelsus, used the word “phantasmata” to describe “hallucinations created by thought.” Appropriately, Phantasmata is the title of an orchestral tryptic completed in 1985 by the late American composer, Christopher Rouse. It’s a piece which grew out of a series of haunting dream images. The opening movement bears the descriptive title, “The Evestrum of Juan de la Cruz in the Sagrada Familia, 3 A.M.” It was inspired by an …

Read moreChristopher Rouse’s “Phantasmata”: Three Haunting Hallucinations

Send this to a friend