Vivaldi and Piazzolla: Two Visions of Summer

Antonio Vivaldi’s collection of violin concerti, The Four Seasons, composed between 1718 and 1720, remains some of the most famous, virtuosic, and evocative music ever written. Concerto No. 2 in G minor “Summer” begins under a burning summer sun. The opening bars suggest an oppressive, sultry haze. As the music unfolds, nature comes alive with the song of the cuckoo, turtledove, and finch. The sounds of a shepherd herald the approach of a storm. …

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Copland’s “Short Symphony”: Bounding into Rhythmic Adventure

From its opening bars, Aaron Copland’s Short Symphony erupts with an infectious exuberance. This music unleashes bright, playful conversations between instrumental voices. Its frolicking “characters” take us on a musical joyride filled with unending rhythmic adventure. Completed in 1933, the Short Symphony (technically Copland’s Second) is scored for a spare, classical orchestra. Its tantalizingly abstract harmonic language flirts with polytonality and serialism. Underlying all of this is a sizzling Mexican vitality. While working on the score, Copland …

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Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”: Ballet for Martha

In interviews, Aaron Copland recounted, with amusement, conversations he had with concertgoers following performances of Appalachian Spring: “Mr. Copland, when I hear your music I can just see the Appalachian Mountains and I can feel spring.” In fact, Copland composed this music under the working title, “Ballet for Martha.” The more evocative title, inspired by a line from Hart Crane’s poem The Dance, came after the music was written. Still, for most of us there is something distinctly American about Appalachian …

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Fanfare for the Common Man

Over the course of five sweltering months spanning the summer of 1787, delegates assembled in Philadelphia to establish one of the most revolutionary documents in human history—the Constitution of the United States. Enshrined in the document is the dignity of the individual. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual, including freedom of speech, press, and religion. These rights, not granted by law but instead …

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Martinů’s Nonet No. 2: Sunny, Exuberant Neoclassicism

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was one of the most significant and prolific Czech composers of the twentieth century. As a young man, Martinů performed as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic and studied composition briefly with Josef Suk. He left Prague in 1923 and relocated to Paris. There he was drawn to new musical currents which included jazz, neoclassicism, and surrealism. During this time, the French composer Albert Roussel served as his chief mentor. With …

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Alex Shapiro’s “Intermezzo,” Adam Marks

The genre-defying music of American composer Alex Shapiro (b. 1962) often blends acoustic and electroacoustic sound worlds. A native of New York, Shapiro now “lives in the middle of nowhere on a small rock between the coasts of Washington State and British Columbia.” Her contemplative, jazz-infused 1998 Intermezzo for solo piano may have been influenced by that picturesque environment. She writes, Intermezzo was composed as a response to the waves of the …

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Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony: “Glorifying the Grandeur of the Human Spirit”

The January 13, 1945 premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major marked a momentous occasion. Fourteen years had elapsed since the completion of the composer’s Fourth Symphony. An expectant audience filled the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall. As Prokofiev raised his baton before the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in anticipation of the first movement’s opening bars, a barrage of celebratory artillery fire rang out through the city. The gunfire was a signal …

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