Charles Ives’ “Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day”

Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day is the final movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, a work the composer conceived as much as a collection of four stand-alone, atmospheric tone poems as a unified symphony. Completed in 1904, Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day grew out of an organ prelude and postlude Ives composed and performed for a Thanksgiving service at Center Church in New Haven, Connecticut. We can only imagine how the congregation might have reacted to Ives’ adventurous …

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Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem: Two Celestial Excerpts from the Houston Chamber Choir’s New Recording

Among the 2020 Grammy Nominees, released earlier this week, is a spectacular new album featuring music of the twentieth century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). The Houston Chamber Choir, led by its artistic director and founder Robert Simpson, released Duruflé: Complete Choral Works in April on the Signum Records label. The professional chamber ensemble is joined on the recording by Canadian organist Ken Cowan. Maurice Duruflé completed the Requiem pour soli, choeurs et …

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Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Before Sleep and Dreams,” Anthony de Mare

American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1990 solo piano suite, Before Sleep and Dreams, offers a surreal depiction of the process of putting a small child to sleep. It’s music filled with echoes of Debussy, Chopin, and other composers. Debussy’s 1908 Children’s Corner and Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15, (“Scenes From Childhood”) are obvious precedents. The final movement of Before Sleep and Dreams drifts off into a shimmering, ethereal soundscape. This is an excerpt from pianist Anthony de Mare’s 2005 album, Out of …

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Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”: Three Devilish Sonic Fantasies

Sometimes the notation of a musical score becomes a work of art in its own right. Such is the case with a vast mural painted in the early 1970s on the exposed brick wall of the Schmitt Music Company building in downtown Minneapolis (pictured above). The mural was created after Minneapolis Star columnist Barbara Flanagan called out the blank wall’s unsightliness. “You need to make that wall sing,” she wrote. The three-story-tall …

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Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto: An Autumnal Requiem

At first, Alban Berg was reluctant to accept the commission for what would become one of the twentieth century’s greatest violin concertos. When the Ukrainian-born, American violinist Louis Krasner approached Berg in February, 1935 with an enticing offer of $1,500, the Austrian composer was hard at work on the opera, Lulu. He even declared that he was “not a violin composer.” Although Berg began to take tentative steps towards the Violin Concerto, the …

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Mahler’s Sixth Symphony: The Hammer Blow of Fate

Gustav Mahler said, My Sixth will be asking riddles that can be solved only by a generation that has received and digested my first five. In fact, Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor remains an unsettling enigma. Completed in 1905 at one of the happiest times in the composer’s life (he had married Alma Schindler in 1902 and they already had two young daughters), the Sixth Symphony is Mahler’s most dark and …

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Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto: Daniil Trifonov in Concert

One hundred and ten years ago today, on November 4, 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov made his American debut with a recital at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the weeks that followed, the 36-year-old composer appeared in cities including Philadelphia and New York, where he premiered the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor—newly written for the tour—with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. The American tour came at a time when Rachmaninov was cutting …

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