Summer Nights with Berlioz

French composer Hector Berlioz was an innovator and a revolutionary. He heard strange, shocking new music which had never before been imagined. Berlioz’s song cycle Les nuits d’été (Summer Nights), written in 1841 is deeply psychological and infused with the ideals of Romanticism. This is music of hallucination, at times venturing into the eerie and the supernatural. It plays with our sense of time, sometimes seeming static and unsure, as if wandering through a …

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Music on the Tarmac

Last week, musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra made news when they turned a three hour delay on the tarmac at the Beijing airport into an impromptu concert. You can watch the now viral video of their performance of the last movement of Antonin Dvorak’s “American” String Quartet. Let’s listen to the Cleveland Quartet perform all four movements of this amazing piece. Pay attention to the way the four voices interact and trade around …

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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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