Henri Vieuxtemps at 200: Historic Recordings of Heifetz and Nadien

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Belgian violinist and composer, Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). A student of Charles Auguste de Bériot, Vieuxtemps toured Europe as a young prodigy, attracting the attention of Louis Spohr, Schumann, Berlioz, and Paganini. At the age of 14, he learned Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in two weeks and performed it in Vienna. As unimaginable as it may seem now, this cornerstone of the violin repertoire was a …

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Rossini’s William Tell Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

Guillaume Tell, which premiered in 1829, was the last of Gioachino Rossini’s 39 operas. Its four acts tell the story of the revolutionary folk hero William Tell who, with the expert use of his bow and arrow, launched the struggle for Swiss independence from Austria. Donizetti once proclaimed that the opera’s second act was so sublime that it had been composed not by Rossini but by God. The complete opera is rarely performed now. …

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Verdi’s “Otello”: Three Excerpts from Toscanini’s Legendary 1947 Recording

Today marks the anniversary of the first performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, which premiered at Milan’s La Scala on February 5, 1887. The four-act opera, based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, drew Verdi out of a lengthy retirement. For years, the composer had been reluctant to write anything new following the success of Aida in 1871. In so doing, he followed the model of Rossini, who at the age of 37 never wrote another opera after William Tell. The …

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Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture: A Turbulent and Tragic Drama

The Viennese dramatist Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 tragedy, Coriolan, depicts the ultimate conflict between war and an alternate path of compassion, peace, and transcendence. In the story, the proud and vengeful general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, filled with feelings of betrayal, returns to Rome with an army made up of his former enemies, determined to invade and destroy the city. Reaching Rome’s gates, he abandons his plan at the pleadings of his mother, …

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Ginette Neveu: Three Historic Recordings

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary French violinist, Ginette Neveu. Neveu died tragically in an airplane crash at the age of 30. Ginette and her brother Jean-Paul Neveu, an acclaimed pianist, were on their way to the United States for a concert tour when their Air France flight crashed into a mountain in the Azores on October 28, 1949. At the age of 15, Neveu was awarded …

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Richard Rodgers on Piano Roll

Today marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979). In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, the composer and commentator Alec Wilder wrote, Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication … After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished. Melodies seem …

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Fritz Kreisler Plays “La Gitana”: 1938 Recording

Over the past few days, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this brief 1938 recording of the great Austrian-born violinist, Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962). There is something deeply alluring about Kreisler’s playing. Listen carefully to the distinct quality of his sound, with its warm soulfulness and far-off nostalgia. Also, notice the elegant phrasing and the way one note moves to another. Kreisler was fond of writing short pieces which imitated the …

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