Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Finale: The Spell is Broken

Tchaikovsky’s 1876 ballet, Swan Lake, tells the fairy tale story of a young prince (Siegfried) who falls in love with a princess (Odette) who has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer, Rothbart. Through a spell cast by Rothbart, Odette is transformed into a white swan during the day, returning to human form only at night. Later, Rothbart lays a trap for Siegfried, deceiving him with a woman who looks like Odette, but who …

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Remembering Alexander Buzlov

The internationally renowned Russian cellist, Alexander Buzlov, passed away yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 37. A 2006 graduate of the Moscow Conservatoire, Buzlov was a student of Natalia Gutman. He was awarded third prize at the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015. Here is Alexander Buzlov’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33. Eight adventurous variations grow out of an original theme that pays homage to the classical elegance of …

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Liszt’s “Nuages Gris”: A Haunting, Atmospheric Soundscape

Franz Liszt’s Nuages gris (“Grey Clouds”) sounds as if it could have been composed for the film score of a psychological thriller. In fact, the brief, haunting work for solo piano was featured in a chilling morgue scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 mystery drama, Eyes Wide Shut.  It’s hard to believe that Nuages gris was written in 1881. The piece’s shockingly progressive harmony anticipates the music of Debussy and composers of the twentieth century. In his …

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Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration”: “From the Infinite Reaches of Heaven”

Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 (“Death and Transfiguration”) grapples with the most fundamental questions of the human experience. What is the nature of life? What lies on the other side of death? What happens in that serene moment of ultimate repose as the soul melts into “the infinite reaches of heaven?” Ironically, this cosmic musical drama, concerned with the twilight of life, was completed in 1889 by the 25-year-old Strauss. …

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Berlioz’ “Benvenuto Cellini” Overture: The Romantic Artist as Hero

The opening bars of Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini Overture spring to life with all of the high-flying passion, exuberance, and boundless heroism of the idealized Romantic artist. Filled with wild euphoria and mercurial twists and turns, this initial theme encapsulates the spirit of the protagonist of the opera which follows. Berlioz’ ill-fated 1838 opera, Benvenuto Cellini, was based on a highly fictionalized depiction of the Florentine sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571). Although it appealed to notions of the …

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Saint-Saëns’ Most Seductive Aria: An Excerpt from “Samson and Delilah”

My heart opens to your voice like the flowers open to the kisses of the dawn. With these alluring lines, Delilah attempts to seduce Samson with the goal of tricking him into revealing the secret of his strength. Danger and betrayal mix with sensuality in this famous mezzo-soprano aria, Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix, from the second act of Camille Saint-Saëns’ 1877 opera, Samson and Delilah. Delilah’s trap is a deceitful attempt to lure Samson …

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Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, Op. 117: Autumnal Lullabies

Composed in 1892, the three Intermezzi for solo piano, Op. 117 are among the final works of Johannes Brahms. Filled with wistful nostalgia, they were written two years after Brahms’ formal retirement at the age of 57. The critic Eduard Hanslick described these brief autumnal works as “monologues” of a “thoroughly personal and subjective character…pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac.” Brahms once described them as “three lullabies to my sorrow.” Along with …

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