Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” Leon Fleisher

In January we explored Jerome Kern’s extraordinary 1939 ballad, All the Things You Are. It’s one of the most beautiful and harmonically sophisticated songs to come out of the Broadway theater. Allusive and dreamy, it’s a melody which floats from one key to another, taking a magical journey part way around the circle of fifths through a series of continuous modulations. The late Leon Fleisher included his version of All the Things You Are on a 2014 Grammy nominated …

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J.S. Bach: Three Adventures in B Minor

On Wednesday, we explored J.S Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, a festive and celebratory collection of Baroque dances that is nonetheless shrouded in veiled, mysterious B minor. (It’s the only one of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites to be  set in a minor key). The nineteenth century Austrian pianist, composer, and educator Ernst Pauer believed that each musical key embodies a distinct atmosphere. He called B minor “that very melancholy key” which “tells …

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Keith Jarrett: Encore from Tokyo

I cannot say what I think is right about music. I only know the rightness of it. -Keith Jarrett The American pianist and composer Keith Jarrett (b. 1945) began his career performing with Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd, and Miles Davis. He remains firmly rooted in jazz. Yet, when you venture into the magical world of Jarrett’s solo piano improvisations, the shackles of category fall away. Pure music remains, with echoes of Debussy, …

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“I Got Rhythm”: Gershwin in 1931

Even in the midst of the Great Depression, George Gershwin’s 1931 piano performance of I Got Rhythm swings with youthful vitality and optimism. The melody, tossed off with sparkling virtuosity, displays an elegance comparable to the composer’s sleek, finely tailored suit. Gershwin remains eternally young in our collective imagination. Tragically, six years after the recording of this clip, he would succumb to brain cancer at the age of 38. Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm for …

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Ives’s Three Quarter-Tone Pieces: Adventures in Microtonality

Quarter tones occupy the narrow spaces halfway between the pitches of the chromatic scale. In other words, they are approximately half as wide as a semitone. Venture into their colorful domain, and you arrive in a wild new microtonal universe which expands the expressive possibilities of tuning and tonal color. Traditional Persian music is filled with quarter tones. These intervals also can be found in numerous works by twentieth century composers. Charles Ives’ father, George, …

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“The Black Gondola”: Liszt’s Haunting Memorial to Wagner

Earlier in the month, we listened to music from Wagner’s iconic 1865 opera, Tristan und Isolde, and explored its influence on later composers such as Claude Debussy. With its distinctively dissonant “Tristan chord,” this is music which, for many theorists, marked the beginning of the “dissolution of tonality” and opened the door to the tone rows of the twentieth century. Franz Liszt’s haunting solo piano work, La lugubre gondola (“The Black Gondola”), is filled …

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Debussy and the “Tristan Chord”

On Monday, we heard the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work which opened the door to the dissolution of tonality and the atonal sound world of the twentieth century. One composer who was profoundly influenced by this music was the young Claude Debussy. In 1887, Debussy called Tristan und Isolde “the most beautiful thing I know, from the point of view of the profundity of the emotion.” Yet, in a …

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