Chopin’s Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49: Elation and Sorrow

Frédéric Chopin wrote the following words in a letter from October, 1841: Today I finished the Fantaisie—and the sky is beautiful, my heart sad—but that doesn’t matter at all. If it were otherwise, my existence would perhaps be of no use to anyone. Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor for solo piano is music of persistent melancholy and soaring elation. As its title suggests, it is dreamlike, rhapsodic, and improvisatory. It was written …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846: Pure and Well-Tempered

The Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846 opens the first book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, dated 1722. It can be heard as a tantalizing musical invitation, throwing open the door to the collection’s endless adventures. The Well-Tempered Clavier moves through all twenty four major and minor keys. Bach wrote this music “for the use and profit of musical youth desirous of learning, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled …

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Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Mitsuko Uchida

Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major is filled with sublime, crystalline melodies which unfold with an inherent sense of logic. It’s music filled with sunshine and the joy of youth. At the same time, there is an underlying and lingering wistfulness. The 22-year-old Schubert wrote this music during the summer of 1819 while vacationing in the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. Surrounded by an “unimaginably lovely” landscape, Schubert composed the …

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Alex Shapiro’s “Intermezzo,” Adam Marks

The genre-defying music of American composer Alex Shapiro (b. 1962) often blends acoustic and electroacoustic sound worlds. A native of New York, Shapiro now “lives in the middle of nowhere on a small rock between the coasts of Washington State and British Columbia.” Her contemplative, jazz-infused 1998 Intermezzo for solo piano may have been influenced by that picturesque environment. She writes, Intermezzo was composed as a response to the waves of the …

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Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 6 in G Major: An Etude for All Time

Today, we regard the output of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) as a fundamental pillar of Western music. As with the works of Shakespeare, Bach’s music is eternally relevant in a way which transcends cultural trends or politics. Yet, there was a time when Bach’s place in the canon seemed less assured. In the years following J.S Bach’s death, his music fell out of stylistic favor, with its triumphant revival (courtesy of figures such …

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Samuel Adams’ “Shade Studies”: The Marriage of Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Shade Studies is a brief and meditative work for solo piano and sine wave resonance, written in 2014 by the American composer, Samuel Adams (b. 1985). The piece sets up a haunting dialogue between the world of acoustic sound and ethereal electronic aftertones. In his program notes, the composer writes, Shade Studies examines the counterpoint between the acoustic resonance of the piano and sine waves. The music is quiet and built of cadences, silences, …

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Debussy’s “Brouillards”: A Journey into Pantonality

On Wednesday, we explored Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, a piece which ends, unresolved, in two radically unrelated keys (C and B). When the brash, outspoken Claude Debussy heard another Strauss tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel, he compared it to “an hour of original music in a lunatic asylum.” Yet, in the early years of the twentieth century, Debussy pushed the dense chromaticism of Strauss and Wagner into even more adventurous harmonic territory. We …

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