Tartini’s “Didone Abbandonata”

Giuseppe Tartini, the Italian Baroque composer and violinist, was born on this date in 1692. The most famous of Tartini’s over 400 works is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata” in G minor for violin, named after the composer’s alleged dream in which the devil appeared, playing the music with breathtaking virtuosity. But today, let’s explore another G minor Sonata by Tartini— the “Didone abbandonata” (“Dido the Forsaken”), written around 1731 and named after a …

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Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major: Delightfully Deceptive

An awe-inspiring musical drama unfolds in J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540. Developing with a sense of sublime inevitability and self-organizing structure, it is hard to believe that any mortal could have written such powerful and perfect music. The monumental Toccata is an exuberant celebration of canonic counterpoint. An unrelenting two-part canon expands across 108 measures over an unflinching pedal tone. Harmonically, the music pulls away from its firm foundation in F …

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Bach’s Sinfonia in D Major: A Startling Remnant from a Lost Cantata

This wildly adventurous music likely served as the instrumental introduction to a festive cantata written by J.S. Bach in Leipzig sometime between 1742 and 1746. The cantata is long lost and we’re left with this single, enticing fragment which is known as the Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045.  This music is startling on many levels. First, it is a virtual violin concerto superimposed on a full orchestra which includes three trumpets, timpani, and …

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Remembering Sanford Sylvan

The renowned American baritone Sanford Sylvan passed away suddenly last week. He was 65. Sylvan’s career on the opera stage included premieres of works by John Adams, Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies and Christopher Rouse. He was the first to perform the role of Chou En-lai in Nixon in China (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). In addition, he premiered Adams’ haunting setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, The Wound Dresser. He was an …

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New Release: Bach Violin Concertos, Shunske Sato and Il Pomo d’Oro

An outstanding new recording of J.S. Bach’s three Violin Concertos came out in October. It features Japanese-American Baroque violinist Shunske Sato and the adventurous period instrument ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, founded in 2012. Sato is currently concertmaster of the Netherlands Bach Society Orchestra and Concerto Köln. On the album, he is joined by Bulgarian violinist Zefira Valova for a performance of the Concerto for Two Violins. Also included is a reconstruction of the lost Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R. The …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos are thrillingly disobedient rule breakers. They are examples of the Baroque concerto grosso form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, in which small groups of solo instruments engage in a vibrant dialogue with the full, large (grosso) ensemble. But they frequently turn this existing model on its head, featuring new, unusual combinations of instruments, and breaking down notions of “prominent” and “supporting” voices. Nowhere is this more apparent …

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Bach’s Unopened Résumé: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

In each of J.S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, a new and distinctive cast of musical “characters” take the stage. They spring to life and converse in the thrilling drama of the concerto grosso, a popular Baroque form in which groups of solo instruments interact with the full (“grosso”) ensemble. In the Brandenburg Concertos, Bach took this form, developed by Italian composers like Vivaldi, to bold new heights. Concerto No. 5 in D …

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