Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto: Straddling the Tonal Precipice

Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, Op. 38 is lushly cinematic. It is an exhilarating drama between two dueling titans—the brazen, summit-scaling solo piano and the twentieth century orchestra, with its vast sonic power. The Concerto’s expansive Neo-Romantic lines straddle the precipice between tonality and serialism. The music never loses its tonal bearings, yet it often ventures far into a tumultuous chromatic sea. The legendary American music publisher G. Schirmer commissioned Barber to write the …

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“I Stood on De Ribber Ob Jerdon”: Marian Anderson

During a career which spanned forty years, the American contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993) performed at major concert venues which included the Metropolitan Opera. Her repertoire included opera, lieder, and African American spirituals. In 1939, when segregation prevented her from singing at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C., Anderson performed at an open air Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which was organized with the assistance of Eleanor Roosevelt. The integrated …

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Puccini’s Preludio Sinfonico: A New Voice Emerges

At the end of the academic year of 1882, the young Giacomo Puccini submitted the Preludio Sinfonico for his final examination at the Milan Conservatory. The brief orchestral fantasy unfolds in a single movement (Andante mosso). The influence of Wagner’s Lohengrin can be heard in the shimmering colors of its orchestration and its adventurous chromatic harmony. This blends with the sunny Italian strains of composers such as Pietro Mascagni and Amilcare Ponchielli. Beyond …

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Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor: Tempestuous and Triumphant

In the music of Felix Mendelssohn, two aesthetic worlds meet. The mystery and pathos of Romanticism blend with the pristine formal constructs of Classicism. Robert Schumann summarized this unique synthesis when he called Mendelssohn “the Mozart of the nineteenth century, the most illuminating of musicians, who sees more clearly than others through the contradictions of our era and is the first to reconcile them.” This remarkable synthesis can be heard in Mendelssohn’s …

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Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites”: “Salve Regina,” An Ode to Martyrs

Francis Poulenc’s 1957 opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, tells the story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, sixteen Carmelite nuns who were executed at the guillotine during the final days of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Driven from their convent and arrested, the nuns elected to take a vow of martyrdom rather than renounce their vocation. One of opera’s principal tragic heroines is Blanche de la Force, a woman from an aristocratic family who enters …

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Anna Clyne’s “DANCE”: A Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Inspired by Rumi

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance, when you’re perfectly free. – Rumi  These lines by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, inspired DANCE, a cello concerto written in 2019 by the English composer, Anna Clyne (b. 1980). The Concerto is set in five movements, each of which corresponds to a line in the …

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”: Entering the Realm of the Imaginal

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 symphonic suite, Scheherazade, inhabits the realm of the imaginal. As its vivid “characters” spring to life, we encounter the magic and fantasy of a story within a story. Painted with a shimmering color palette, the four-movement suite was conceived by one of music history’s most innovative masters of orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov touched on the dreamy, exotic nature of this music when he described Scheherazade as “a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and designs of Oriental character.” …

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