Mozart and the Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, diplomat, politician, writer, printer, political philosopher, scientist, inventor, and all-around Enlightenment Renaissance man, was born on this date in 1706. Among Franklin’s inventions is the glass armonica (now better known as the glass harmonica). While visiting Cambridge, England in 1761, he was fascinated with the “celestial” tones Edmund Delaval produced by rubbing a wet finger around the rim of wine glasses filled with varying quantities of water. …

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“Nine Variations on a March by Dressler”: Music by the 12-year-old Beethoven

Here is Beethoven’s first published work, written in 1782 when the composer was twelve years old. It’s a set of nine variations on a simple, stately march melody by Christian Ludwig Dressler (1734-1779), a now obscure German composer, operatic tenor, violinist, and music theorist. First, we hear Dressler’s original theme, which is infused with military fanfare rhythms. Filled with a playful, improvisatory spirit, Beethoven’s variations begin with sly embellishments. Each becomes more adventurous …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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Beethoven’s First Symphony: The Past Meets the Future

Beethoven’s First Symphony springs to life as a frolicking newcomer, teeming with audacious youthful vitality. Premiering at Vienna’s Burgtheater on April 2, 1800, it seems to say goodbye to one century, while eagerly anticipating another. “This was the most interesting concert in a very long time,” reported the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Germany’s foremost musical periodical at the time. The review noted the work’s “considerable art, novelty and wealth of ideas.” Make no mistake, Beethoven’s …

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Remembering Peter Schreier: Three Transcendent Recordings

The German opera singer and conductor Peter Schreier passed away in Dresden on Christmas Day. He was 84. Schreier will be remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest lyric tenors. In addition to appearances at the world’s leading opera houses, he specialized in German Lieder (songs) and other concert repertoire. He drew acclaim for his numerous performances of the Evangelist roles in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Passion. A common thread runs through …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on or around this date in 1770. Although the exact date remains unclear, Beethoven’s baptism was registered for December 17, 1770. At the time, Catholic officials required newborn babies to be baptized within twenty-four hours of birth. Strangely, throughout his life Beethoven insisted that his actual year of birth was 1772, despite evidence to the contrary. In celebration, here is the late Mariss Jansons’ vibrant recording of Beethoven’s Symphony …

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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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