Music and the Heartbeat

Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. -Karlheinz Stockhausen In 2008, researchers at the University of Illinois medical school discovered that the 103 beat-per-minute pulse of the Bee Gees’ 1977 disco hit Stayin’ Alive provided the perfect tempo for resuscitating the heart through CPR. From the satisfying groove of a disco or techno beat to a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, musical rhythm has long been …

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Autumnal Mahler

Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) is as much a symphony as a song cycle. It’s a seamless integration of voice and orchestra lines, as if the vocal line is just another instrument. Mahler incorporated the voice in his Second, Third, Fourth and Eighth Symphonies. Many of his songs became the seeds of symphonic movements. But The Song of the Earth, completed in the final years of Mahler’s life …

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Autumn Lieder: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms

The arrival of autumn yesterday in the Northern Hemisphere provides a good excuse to listen to the incredible art songs of German Romantic composers like Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Autumn seems to have been a rich source of inspiration for these composers. In poetry, the season has been associated with death and cycles of life, as summer fades and winter approaches. In Friday’s post we’ll listen to “Der Einsame im Herbst” (“The Lonely …

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Songs My Mother Taught Me

In celebration of Mother’s Day, here are two settings of Songs My Mother Taught Me by the Czech poet Adolf Heyduk. You may be familiar with Antonin Dvořák’s famous song, written in 1880 as part of the cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Fritz Kreisler later transcribed it for violin. Here you can hear it played by Itzhak Perlman and then sung by American tenor Richard Crooks.  The poem deals with the flow of time, continuity and …

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Blurring Boundaries with Gabriel Kahane

Songwriter Gabriel Kahane (b. 1981) is set to release a new album called The Ambassador on June 3. For a sample, listen to the opening track, Black Garden. An eclectic blend of classical, folk, and rock elements, Kahane’s music defies category, bringing to mind Duke Ellington’s famous quote: There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind. In the twentieth century, a vast gulf grew between “serious” and “popular” music. Hopefully, these …

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Schubert Songs of Spring

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. With warmer temperatures, blooming foliage and a sense of renewal, spring has long been a rich source of poetic inspiration. Here are three songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) which feature spring: Frühlingsglaube (Faith in Spring) The poem is by Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862). Here is baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Gerald Moore:   When I listen to Schubert’s songs, I always have the sense that every note …

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Love Songs Through Time

Romantic love, with its often irrational sea of complex emotions, has long been a rich source of inspiration in music. With Valentines Day just around the corner, let’s listen to a selection of love songs from the Renaissance to the present day. Most of these songs would have been considered popular music when they were first written. Sampling this list, I was struck by how many great love songs are tinged with …

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