Remembering Kalevi Kiviniemi: Organ Music of Jean Sibelius

Kalevi Kiviniemi, the renowned Finnish concert organist, passed away on April 3 at his home in Lahti after suffering a heart attack. He was 65. Kiviniemi’s international career blossomed in the late 1980s, with recitals throughout Europe, the United States, Asia, and Australia. He was at home among the world’s greatest organs, and performed frequently at Notre-Dame in Paris. Kiviniemi was the first to record the complete organ works of Jean Sibelius. …

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Fauré’s String Quartet in E Minor: A Mystical Farewell

The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 121 was the final work of Gabriel Fauré. Completed in September of 1924, a month before the composer’s death at age 79, it is a quiet musical farewell, solemn, intimate, and lamenting. It unfolds in three movements, all of which return to the same mystical space. In contrast with Fauré’s earlier works, this music is hazy, austere, and less firmly rooted in its tonal center. …

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Remembering Maurizio Pollini

Maurizio Pollini, the acclaimed Italian pianist whose career spanned more than six decades, passed away on March 23 in a clinic in his native Milan. He was 82. La Scala, the opera house where Pollini frequently performed,  hailed the Grammy-winning pianist as “one of the great musicians of our time and a fundamental reference in the artistic life of the theater for over 50 years.” Pollini began performing publicly at age 11, …

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Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”: A “Rhapsodic Ballet” Born in the Jazz Age

In the spring of 1928, George and Ira Gershwin traveled to Europe for a three-month sojourn. The brothers, among the most celebrated composer-lyricist teams on Broadway, had just finished work on the musical, Rosalie, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, and they relished the time off. It was during this trip that George Gershwin set to work on a commission he had received from the New York Philharmonic. The result was the vividly evocative …

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Scriabin’s Fantasie in B Minor: A Dramatic Tour de Force

The story, recounted by the Russian musicologist, Leonid Sabaneyev, is so incredible that it may have been apocryphal. One day, while in Alexander Scriabin’s Moscow flat, Sabaneyev sat down at the piano and began to play a theme from Scriabin’s Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28. The composer called out from the next room, “Who wrote that? It sounds familiar.” “Your Fantasie,” was the response. “What Fantasie?” Composed in 1900 during Scriabin’s …

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Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Major: Klezmer Strains

Dmitri Shostakovich composed his String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68 over the course of 19 days in September of 1944. He had just completed the haunting Second Piano Trio, and (a year earlier) the Eighth Symphony. While the Second World War still raged, the tide had turned, and a Soviet victory over the Nazis was all but assured. Shostakovich found refuge at a “house of rest and creativity,” a …

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Shostakovich’s “The Execution of Stepan Razin”: A Dramatic Cantata À La Russe

In 1670, the Cossack leader, Stepan Razin, led an army of 7,000 oppressed peasants in an open rebellion in southern Russia against the Tsar’s government. The following year, after numerous bloody battles, he was captured, hoisted onto a scaffold in Moscow’s Red Square, and publicly executed by beheading. Razin’s gruesome demise is the subject of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1964 cantata, The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119. The dramatic work is scored for …

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