Death and the Maiden

Following up on last month’s post, let’s return to the music of Franz Schubert. Now we’ll hear how Schubert cleverly turned the melody of one of his songs into the second movement of a string quartet. Let’s start by listening to the song Death and the Maiden, written in 1817.  It’s performed here by the legendary contralto, Marian Anderson.  The text is from a poem by Matthias Claudius.  Follow the English translation below. Death …

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Songs of Franz Schubert

Schubert and Beethoven were contemporaries at the dawn of the Romantic Era, yet each approached composition differently.  Beethoven painstakingly developed small musical motives that roared to life as shockingly innovative music. The music of Franz Schubert on the other hand, is firmly rooted in long, flowing, effortless melodies. Although Schubert lived only to the age of 32, he wrote over 600 songs. Before we get to a few Schubert songs, let’s consider …

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The Artistry of Maxim Vengerov

Here are some inspiring clips featuring the great Russian violinist, Maxim Vengerov. In the first video, Vengerov performs the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).  The Chicago Symphony accompanies, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The concerto is followed by two encores: The Sarabanda from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin (0:35:31) and Eugene Ysaye’s Ballad (0:40:06). Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) contributed greatly to the development …

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The View From The Stage: Real Life in a Professional Orchestra

A few years ago an enthusiastic audience member approached me after a concert. “I used to play a little clarinet in high school,” she said.  “How do I get  into the Richmond Symphony?” I explained the long, hard road I had traveled to become a professional musician. Then, with a look of confusion she said, “But you can’t actually make a living doing this, can you?” Conversations like this reveal the disconnect between …

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Why Music is Essential to Education

What is the role of music and the arts in education? Unlike the arts-centered education of ancient Athens, modern American public education has increasingly moved towards jobs training. In this commodified world of standardized tests, the arts are often pushed to the periphery so that students will be “prepared for college” or “competitive in a global economy.” Does the current system teach students what to think instead of how to think? In …

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Violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012)

August 6 marked the passing of one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists, Ruggiero Ricci.  Ricci’s playing was notable for its fire, brilliance and daredevil virtuosity.  Like Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci was a child prodigy and a student of the legendary teacher Louis Persinger.  Ricci’s long career provided a link between the world of Ysaye, Kreisler and Heifetz and the present. Go to NPR and Slipped Disk for video of Ruggiero Ricci’s playing and more …

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Ravel’s Bolero

French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel might have been surprised to know that Bolero, which premiered as a ballet score in 1928, would endure as one of the most popular pieces of twentieth century music.  Ravel was a master of orchestration and he considered this piece to be “an experiment in a very special and limited direction” and “orchestral tissue without music.”  Orchestration refers to the combination of instruments that a composer chooses to …

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