A Conversation on “The Next Track”

Recently, I was honored to talk about classical music with Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn on their podcast, The Next Track.  The Next Track, “a podcast about how people listen to music today,” offers fascinating discussions on topics ranging from the effect of background music, to the works of John Cage, to progressive rock. Updated each Friday, this is a go-to resource for information on trends in the recording industry. Past guests include music critic and …

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Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben”: Beyond Autobiography

On one level, Richard Strauss’ 1898 tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 (A Hero’s Life), is a musical autobiography. Filled with unflinching bravado, it ventures where few pieces dare to go, casting the composer as hero. In terms of sheer volume and virtuosity, it pushes the orchestra to its limits. (At one point, the violins must tune the lowest string down to G-flat to artificially extend the instrument’s range a half step below the open …

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Mozart and the Spirit of Figaro

In the aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” (“You shall frolic no more”), from the first act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro teases Cherubino about the abrupt end of his carefree, flirtatious life at the palace. The Count is concerned that Cherubino has developed a fondness for the Countess and has banished him to distant military service. One of the most memorable passages in this jovial aria is this ascending arpeggio motive. It’s a …

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Schubert’s “Tragic” Fourth Symphony

Some incredibly sublime music was written in the shadow of Beethoven. For a case in point, look no further than Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor. The 19-year-old Schubert completed this work in April, 1816. It didn’t receive a public premiere until 1849, more than two decades after the composer’s death. For those who rediscovered Schubert’s symphonies (including the epic Ninth), the feeling must have been something akin to finding a wad …

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Happy Birthday, William Primrose

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of the Scottish violist and teacher, William Primrose (1904-1982). Primrose performed in Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in the late 1930s and formed the Primrose Quartet. He made numerous recordings with Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Arthur Rubinstein. He commissioned and premiered Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, a piece which was finished posthumously after the composer’s death in 1945. As a teacher, he contributed several books on viola playing. Primrose’s singing tone …

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Discarded (and Salvaged) Ives

Charles Ives’ Largo for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano is the result of an interesting compositional evolution. It began life as the second movement of a violin sonata Ives wrote as a student, but it was later discarded and replaced with a different slow movement based on The Old Oaken Bucket. In 1902, this music was salvaged and transformed, perhaps as part of a now lost trio. The irregular opening piano ostinato lulls us into a …

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The Orion Quartet in Concert: Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9

“We now join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.” That’s the message that could accompany the opening of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C Major. An F-sharp diminished chord emerges out of thin air at the beginning of this piece. This is the  last chord we would expect to hear at this point. It sounds like the stern conclusion of an earlier, unheard musical statement. The strange, harmonically ambiguous introduction which follows is …

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