Vaughan Williams’ “Sinfonia Antartica”: From Film Score to Symphony

In a 1944 essay titled Film Music, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote, “I still believe that the film contains potentialities for the combination of all the arts such as Wagner never dreamt of.” Beginning in 1940, Vaughan Williams composed scores for eleven films. Among these was the 1948 Technicolor adventure film, Scott of the Antarctic, which told the story of the ill-fated 1912 British expedition to Antarctica, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The venture went south …

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Remembering Dale Clevenger

Dale Clevenger, the legendary principal horn player for the Chicago Symphony from 1966 to 2013, passed away on January 5. He was 81. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Clevenger began playing the horn at the age of 13. Before joining the Chicago Symphony, he was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Air. His discography included the Grammy-winning 1968 album, The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli, featuring the brass sections …

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Vaughan Williams’ “A London Symphony”: Ode to an Ephemeral City

Ralph Vaughan Williams recalled that the impetus for A London Symphony came during a fleeting conversation with fellow English composer, George Butterworth: At the end of the evening, just as he was getting up to go, he said, in his characteristically abrupt way, ‘You know, you ought to write a symphony.’ From that moment the idea of a symphony – a thing which I had always declared I would never attempt – dominated my …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: An Exhilarating Motivic Journey

“Short, short, short, long…” The four notes which open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony outline what is perhaps music history’s most iconic motif. It’s a motif which has been subjected to pop culture cliches and dubious superimposed poetic associations, such as “fate knocking at the door.” This motivic kernel, perhaps derived from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Panthéon, is the seed out of which the entire Fifth Symphony develops. Preceded by a …

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Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony: Sunny Bohemian Pastures

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 is the music of sunny Bohemian pastures. Warm, effortlessly flowing melodies meet the fiery, exuberant rhythms of a Czech folk dance. A sense of blissful, bucolic grandeur permeates the entire Symphony. As the biographer Otakar Sourek noted, “it breathes the sweet fragrance and unspoiled beauty of Czech woods and meadows.” Dvořák’s first five symphonies can be heard as exercises in the mastery of the form. In the …

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Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905”: Revolution and Requiem

On January 22 [O.S. January 9], 1905, a date which is remembered as “Bloody Sunday,” thousands of peaceful, unarmed demonstrators marched to St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. They intended to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II. Many supported the Tsar and believed that he would help to address their economic, political, and social grievances. Assembled in the square, they sang God Save the Tsar; but a frightened Nicholas II had fled the palace. Inexplicably, …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major: Rousing and Rapturous

Franz Joseph Haydn’s triumphant second trip to London started off with a bang. On February 10, 1794, six days after the celebrated composer’s return to the English capital, Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major was premiered at the Hanover Square Rooms. A review of the concert in the Morning Chronicle read, The incomparable Haydn produced a new Overture [Symphony] of which it is impossible to speak in common terms. It is one of …

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