Remembering Janos Starker

            Cellist Janos Starker died yesterday in Bloomington, Indiana at the age of 88. You can read about his extraordinary career as a performer and teacher here and here. You may also be interested in this documentary. Here is his recording of the opening movement of Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello, No. 1 in G Major: This 1956 recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra …

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Scenes from Childhood

Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Opus 15 (“Scenes from Childhood”) supports the adage that good things can come in small packages. Schumann wrote this set of thirteen short pieces for solo piano in 1838 as adult memories of childhood. Rooted in an ethos of Romanticism, each piece evokes a distinct mood. In this highly economic music a single chord can create great drama and every note seems perfect. Let’s listen to the first piece in the …

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Perlman Plays Tchaikovsky

Listen to this amazing performance of the final movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto played by Itzhak Perlman.  You probably know Tchaikovsky as a Romantic composer of lush, fiery, emotionally charged music, but don’t forget that he was also a ballet composer.  You may notice a grace and elegance in the rhythm that suggests dance. After you listen, consider what makes Perlman’s performance so exciting.  The piece is a tight rope walk …

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A Ceremony of Carols

In celebration of the holiday season, here is music by the twentieth century English composer Benjamin Britten.  A Ceremony of Carols is scored for three part treble chorus, solo voices and harp.  The text, from Gerald Bullett’s The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems is Middle English. Listen to the uniquely pure timbre produced by the boys’ choirs in these recordings.  This is a sound that has been heard for centuries in cathedrals across England. …

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Death and the Maiden

Following up on last month’s post, let’s return to the music of Franz Schubert. Now we’ll hear how Schubert cleverly turned the melody of one of his songs into the second movement of a string quartet. Let’s start by listening to the song Death and the Maiden, written in 1817.  It’s performed here by the legendary contralto, Marian Anderson.  The text is from a poem by Matthias Claudius.  Follow the English translation below. Death …

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Songs of Franz Schubert

Schubert and Beethoven were contemporaries at the dawn of the Romantic Era, yet each approached composition differently.  Beethoven painstakingly developed small musical motives that roared to life as shockingly innovative music. The music of Franz Schubert on the other hand, is firmly rooted in long, flowing, effortless melodies. Although Schubert lived only to the age of 32, he wrote over 600 songs. Before we get to a few Schubert songs, let’s consider …

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The Artistry of Maxim Vengerov

Here are some inspiring clips featuring the great Russian violinist, Maxim Vengerov. In the first video, Vengerov performs the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).  The Chicago Symphony accompanies, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The concerto is followed by two encores: The Sarabanda from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin (0:35:31) and Eugene Ysaye’s Ballad (0:40:06). Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) contributed greatly to the development …

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