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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Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony: Sunny Bohemian Pastures

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 is the music of sunny Bohemian pastures. Warm, effortlessly flowing melodies meet the fiery, exuberant rhythms of a Czech folk dance. A sense of blissful, bucolic grandeur permeates the entire Symphony. As the biographer Otakar Sourek noted, “it breathes the sweet fragrance and unspoiled beauty of Czech woods and meadows.” Dvořák’s first five symphonies can be heard as exercises in the mastery of the form. In the …

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Asmik Grigorian Sings Tchaikovsky

On April 14, the Lithuanian soprano, Asmik Grigorian, performed a live-streamed recital at Congress Hall in Vilnius. Although no audience could be admitted, Grigorian’s mother, Irena Milkevičiūtė was in attendance. Milkevičiūtė, a famous opera singer in her own right, celebrated her birthday on the same day. Asmik’s father was the Armenian tenor, Gegham Grigorian. Three Romances The program included three of Tchaikovsky’s Romances for voice and piano. All three songs are tinged with …

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Scriabin’s “Prometheus, The Poem of Fire”: Revelations of the “Mystic Chord”

In Greek mythology, the Titan and “supreme trickster” Prometheus steals fire from the gods and brings it to humanity in defiance of Zeus. For the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), Prometheus’ fire symbolized searing creative energy and an ecstatic expansion of human consciousness. Influenced by mysticism, Theosophy, and the theories of Nietzsche, Scriabin believed that the highest calling of humanity was to escape the physical world and enter a vast “oneness” with the …

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Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major: A Parisian Sojourn

In April of 1778, the 22-year-old Mozart traveled to Paris in an attempt to broaden his horizons and further his career. The trip was less than successful and in letters home Mozart complained about the city’s dirty streets and residents, whom he found “rude and obnoxious, filled with arrogance and obsessed with self-importance.” One of the pieces that resulted from Mozart’s Parisian sojourn was the Concerto for Flute and Harp in C …

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Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 10: “The Sun’s Kisses”

The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin once said, My Tenth Sonata is a sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun…they are the sun’s kisses…How unified world-understanding is when you look at things this way. In science all is dis-unified, not made into one. It is analysis, not synthesis. For the deeply mystical Scriabin, the circle of fifths became a vibrant color wheel in which musical keys were experienced through synesthesia. Influenced …

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