Exploring the Prolation Canon

There is an interesting passage about four and a half minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 which may have caught your ear if you dropped by for Wednesday’s post: Did you hear that wandering, chromatic line which begins in the violins? Two additional lower string voices enter in succession with the same line at consecutively slower rates of speed. For a moment, before the episode is cut off by the …

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New Release: Byrd Motets, Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623) lived amid the Catholic-Protestant religious turmoil which spanned the reigns of monarchs Elizabeth I and James I. Byrd wrote music for Anglican church  services, yet for most of his life he remained a dissident Catholic. As organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral, his salary was suspended, perhaps because the Puritans found his organ and choral music to be too elaborately polyphonic. His over 110 Motets, published in …

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A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed its own distinct language and culture. All of this got me thinking about the music of Catalonia …

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Exploring the Sarabande Over 400 Years

No one seems to be sure, exactly, about the roots of the sarabande as a dance form. It may have originated in Mexico or some other part of Latin America. It was popular in the Spanish colonies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The zarabanda was first mentioned in a 1593 poem, Vida y tiempo de Maricastaña, written in Panama by Fernando de Guzmán Mejía. As a dance, it was so spicy that it was considered …

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New Release: The Emerson’s “Chaconnes and Fantasias: Music of Britten and Purcell”

The Emerson String Quartet’s newest album spans three hundred years of English music. Chaconnes and Fantasias: Music of Britten and Purcell balances twentieth century composer Benjamin Britten’s Second and Third String Quartets with Chaconnes and Fantasias by baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). This year marks the Emerson Quartet’s 40th anniversary. This latest recording is the first to included British cellist Paul Watkins, who joined the group in 2013. The Emerson Quartet approaches Purcell’s Fantasias (probably all …

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Shakespeare Turns 453

Sunday marks the 453rd anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. In a previous post, we listened to a small sampling of the many pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s works. This year, let’s hear two excerpts from English tenor Ian Bostridge’s 2016 album, Shakespeare Songs. The recording won a Grammy this year in the category, “Best Solo Vocal Album.” Here is English Renaissance composer Thomas Morley’s setting of It Was a Lover and His Lass from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Morley (1557-1602) …

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William Byrd: O Magnum Mysterium

On Monday we listened to Italian baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto,” a piece probably performed on Christmas Eve, 1690. Now, let’s go back even earlier to the English Renaissance music of William Byrd (1543-1623). Byrd’s motet O Magnum Mysterium, written in 1607, evokes the mystery and wonderment of the nativity story. It’s music which seems poised somewhere between terror and exultation. Listen to the way the voices imitate one another, gradually unfolding in soaring …

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