Charles Ives’ “Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day”

Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day is the final movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, a work the composer conceived as much as a collection of four stand-alone, atmospheric tone poems as a unified symphony. Completed in 1904, Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day grew out of an organ prelude and postlude Ives composed and performed for a Thanksgiving service at Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut. We can only imagine how the congregation might have reacted to Ives’ adventurous …

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Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor: “Free But Lonely”

Embedded in the four note motif which opens the first movement of Brahms’ String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2 are the pitches F-A-E. These pitches form a musical cryptogram which corresponds to the phrase, “frei aber einsam,” (“free but lonely”), the personal motto of Brahms’ friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms offered his own twist on this motto with the phrase, “Frei aber froh” (“Free but happy”). This is another motif (F-A-F) which …

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Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem: Two Celestial Excerpts from the Houston Chamber Choir’s New Recording

Among the 2020 Grammy Nominees, released earlier this week, is a spectacular new album featuring music of the twentieth century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). The Houston Chamber Choir, led by its artistic director and founder Robert Simpson, released Duruflé: Complete Choral Works in April on the Signum Records label. The professional chamber ensemble is joined on the recording by Canadian organist Ken Cowan. Maurice Duruflé completed the Requiem pour soli, choeurs et …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 59, “The Fire”

Surprises lurk around every corner in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 in A Major. Firmly fastened seatbelts are required for this exhilarating music filled with volatility, theatrical drama, and freewheeling innovation. Movements from Symphony No. 59 were used to accompany a performance of Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann’s play, Die Feuersbrunst (“The Conflagration”), at the Esterházy palace in 1774. That is probably how the piece earned the nickname, the “Fire Symphony.” Yet …

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Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Before Sleep and Dreams,” Anthony de Mare

American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1990 solo piano suite, Before Sleep and Dreams, offers a surreal depiction of the process of putting a small child to sleep. It’s music filled with echoes of Debussy, Chopin, and other composers. Debussy’s 1908 Children’s Corner and Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15, (“Scenes From Childhood”) are obvious precedents. The final movement of Before Sleep and Dreams drifts off into a shimmering, ethereal soundscape. This is an excerpt from pianist Anthony de Mare’s 2005 album, Out of …

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Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor: “Leave this to the Professionals…”

In 1785, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, who had just opened one of Vienna’s first music publishing businesses, commissioned Mozart to write three piano quartets—at the time, a novel new form in which a viola augments the traditional piano trio. Hoffmeister wanted popular music—easy, instantly gratifying, and marketable. In an era long before recordings, that meant music that amateurs could play in their homes. Mozart was not above dashing off this kind of light …

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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 …

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