Chopin’s Berceuse and the Music of Bill Evans

Listen to Frédéric Chopin’s D-flat major Berceuse, Op. 57, completed in 1844, and you might get the uncanny feeling that you’re hearing a jazz improvisation. As its title suggests, on one level, Chopin’s masterwork is a dreamy, gently rocking lullaby. Until the final cadence, it’s built on a sublime harmonic oscillation made up of just two chords. It begins with a serene melody which seems to anticipate the Gymnopédies of Erik Satie, published …

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Tchaikovsky’s “Un poco di Chopin”: A Mysterious Homage

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky seems to have had a strangely conflicted opinion of the music of Frédéric Chopin. There are accounts of the young Tchaikovsky, nine at the time of the great Polish composer’s death in 1849, giving a spectacular performance of two Chopin mazurkas as a child. In the 1860s, Nikolay Kashkin observed that Tchaikovsky “did not particularly like Chopin, as he found in him a certain sickliness of expression, as well as …

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J.S. Bach and the Joy of G Major

Throughout the music of J.S. Bach, G major seems to be associated with a distinct sense of joy and deep-rooted contentment. For example, consider the Fantasia in G Major for Organ, BWV 572, which opens in the instrument’s highest and most sparkling register with figures that skip along with an infectious, playful exuberance. This amazing piece, which we explored in a previous post, proceeds on into a massive five-voice chorale which concludes with a mighty …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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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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The Bells of Zurich

Today’s post is in honor of the German-American musicologist Karl Haas, whose nationally syndicated radio show, Adventures in Good Music, aired from 1970 to 2007. Haas’ Christmas episode, The Story of the Bells, documented the distinct sounds of church bells throughout Europe, from the mighty cacophony of Zurich, to the pastoral serenity of the Alpine village of Arosa, to the highly ordered change ringing of Westminster Abbey. Here are the bells of St. Peter …

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