Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

We call it a “Cello Sonata,” but the official name Johannes Brahms gave this piece, completed in 1865, is “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello.” To stress further the equality between the two instruments, Brahms specified that the piano “should be a partner—often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner—but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role.” The E minor Sonata is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, an Austrian music …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131

In his 1998 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, the late literary critic Harold Bloom made the bold argument that Shakespeare “went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it.” According to Bloom, Shakespeare’s complex and multifaceted characters “take human nature to some of its limits, without violating those limits” and open up “new modes of consciousness.” The drama that unfolds in the lines of …

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Tchaikovsky’s “The Tempest”: The 19th Century’s Greatest Film Score

No one was going to the movies when Tchaikovsky wrote his Shakespeare-inspired tone poem, The Tempest, in 1873. Motion picture technology was only in its infancy. Yet from a contemporary perspective, this music is deeply cinematic. Like every great film score, it gives us a visceral feeling of atmosphere. It seems larger than life, suggesting expansive and colorful vistas. Its recurring “love theme” doesn’t develop as pure music. Instead, it gives us a sense …

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Fauré’s “Ballade in F-Sharp Major”: Bending Harmony

Gabriel Fauré’s Ballade in F-sharp Major, Op. 19 is filled with harmony-bending moments. For example, listen to the opening of the piece. The first phrase follows a graceful and beautifully consonant arc. Then at the 0:26 mark, we get a sudden, wrenching dissonance. Floating over a serene, hypnotically repeating rhythmic line, this music doesn’t seem far off from Erik Satie’s dreamy Gymnopédies, published ten years later in 1888, or the second movement of …

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Joyful Sounds of Praise: Five Musical Settings of Psalm 150

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals. Let every thing that …

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New Release: Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

We explored Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor in a previous post featuring Bruno Walter’s 1959 studio recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. As a supplement to that classic recording, let’s listen to Manfred Honeck’s newly-released, Hybrid SACD album with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, recorded live in Heinz Hall. The ninth in an acclaimed series of Pittsburgh Live! recordings, this new album offers an amazing level of clarity that allows us …

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Remembering Jessye Norman: Eight Extraordinary Recordings

Jessye Norman, the legendary American opera singer and recitalist, passed away on Monday. She was 74. Norman was born in the segregated south in Augusta, Georgia. She was surrounded by music at an early age, listening to radio broadcasts of operas and singing in church as a child. At the age of 16, she was offered a full scholarship to Howard University where she studied voice with Carolyn Grant. She went on …

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