C.P.E. Bach’s D Major Symphony, Wq. 183/1: A Wildly Adventurous Romp

Daring and wildly adventurous…These are words which could describe Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Wq. 183/1 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). C.P.E Bach, the second surviving son of J.S. Bach, wrote this music (scored for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, and continuo) around 1775. It’s a thrilling Sturm und Drang rollercoaster which seems to have influenced similar symphonies by Haydn and Mozart. Perhaps the “craziness” of this music even set the stage …

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Charles Ives’ “A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra”: Radical Sounds from 1906

In 1906, Gustav Mahler had just completed his cosmic Eighth Symphony, Sibelius’ final four symphonies were yet to be written, the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Firebird was still four years away, and Arnold Schoenberg had just begun to take the first tentative steps into atonality. The ethereal soundscapes of Olivier Messiaen and the jazzy, soulful orchestral scores of George Gershwin remained decades away. Yet listen to Charles Ives’ A Set of Pieces for Theatre Orchestra, written between 1899 and 1906, and …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus”: English Folk Song Reflections

Last week, we listened to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, a piece in which the orchestra’s string section often seems to be transformed into a vast, celestial choir. A similar sound emerges in Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, scored for string orchestra and harp. It’s music in which rich sonic layers unfold with the lush majesty of the rolling, hedgerow-stitched English countryside. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Vaughan Williams …

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“Lerchengesang”: Brahms’ Most Ethereal Song?

Lerchengesang (“The Lark’s Song”) from 4 Songs, Op. 70 must rate as one of Johannes Brahms’ most ethereal and atmospheric songs. The text, by Karl August Candidus, pulls us into a floating, twilight dreamscape of passing memories amid “ethereal distant voices” and the “heavenly greetings of the larks.” Unfolding in gently-lapping arpeggios, the piano line drifts into the delicate upper registers with a sense of eternal longing and lament. This recording, featuring Renée Fleming and pianist …

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Remembering Anner Bylsma

The Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma passed away last Thursday in Amsterdam. He was 85. Bylsma will be remembered as a profound and influential interpreter of J.S. Bach’s six solo Cello Suites. His book, Bach, the Fencing Master provides a treatise for historically informed performance practice. For six years (from 1962-1968) Bylsma served as principal cellist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In a social media statement, cellist Steven Isserlis called him “a wonder—soaringly imaginative, utterly original and …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 857, Pieter Dirksen

Every Friday the Netherlands Bach Society adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. Their goal is to perform all of J.S. Bach’s works in the run-up to the organization’s centenary in 2022. One of the recent additions to their Youtube channel is harpsichordist and musicologist Pieter Dirksen’s performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 857. This is the twelfth …

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Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony: “The Celestial City”

The “Symphony of the Celestial City…” This is how biographer and classical music scholar Michael Kennedy poetically described Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5. Indeed, this music, completed in 1943 as the Second World War raged, moves into an alternate world of radiant light, quiet serenity, and sublime mystery. Following Vaughan Williams’ ferocious and dissonant Fourth Symphony, it returns to the eternal, pastoral reassurance of England’s metaphorical “green and pleasant” countryside. The term “Celestial …

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