Three English Phantasies: Music of Vaughan Williams, Purcell, and Britten

The fantasia is a genre which spans more than four hundred years of English music. It flowered in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, with the viol consort music of composers such as William Byrd, John Jenkins, and Henry Purcell. Emerging from the word fancy, these compositions are free in form and feature an intricate, polyphonic dialogue between instruments. A predecessor to sonata form, the fantasia grew out of madrigals and vocal motets. Twentieth …

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Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major, Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil

In 1778, Mozart and his mother, Maria Anna, left Salzburg and set out on a long journey which culminated in Paris. The 22-year-old composer was searching for new employment. He had become restless in his post as Konzertmeister to the Salzburg Court, a title that he had held since age 13. Mozart found his native Salzburg to be provincial and artistically stifling. He was paid a low yearly salary of 150 florins, and …

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Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs”: Simplicity as Beauty

The late jazz pianist Chick Corea began writing the solo piano collection, Children’s Songs, in 1971. The set of twenty short songs follows the model of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. In the preface, Corea wrote that the music was intended “to convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the Spirit of a child.”  Each of the twenty songs opens up a magical new vignette, each with its distinct atmosphere. At the same time, a sense of motivic …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Trio: Pristine French Brushstrokes

“Wagnermania” swept through Paris in the 1880s. In the years following Wagner’s death in 1883, his influence loomed large among French artists, writers, and composers, fueling a powerful intellectual and artistic movement. French composers made pilgrimages to Bayreuth to hear Wagner’s operas and wrote vivid accounts of their transcendental experiences. Camille Saint-Saëns, who founded the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871 with the purpose of promoting French instrumental music, observed with more …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127

Completed in February of 1825, String Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 is the first of Beethoven’s late quartets. These are the strange, mysterious, and revelatory works which emerged in the final three years of the composer’s life, following the completion of the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. They seem to leave behind all that came before, opening the door to music which transcends style and time period. These six …

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Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major: An Enduring Wedding Gift, “Con Amore”

One of the most famous and enduring works of the violin repertoire began as a wedding gift. In 1886, César Franck presented the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano to the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, on the occasion of his wedding to Louise Bourdeau. At the time, the 64-year-old Franck was best known as a prominent organist and professor at the Paris Conservatory. Ysaÿe, a committed champion of new French music, …

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Remembering Ivry Gitlis

Ivry Gitlis, the legendary Israeli violinist, has passed away. He was 98. Born in Haifa, Palestine to Russian-Jewish parents, Gitlis began playing the violin at the age of five. His teacher, Elisheva Velikovsky, had been a student of the German violinist, Adolph Busch. (About the same time, a  young Zvi Zeitlin studied with Velikovsky). Later, Gitlis studied with Mira Ben-Ami (a student of Joseph Szigeti). The influential violinist Bronisław Huberman opened doors …

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