Mahler’s Seventh Symphony: A Journey Through the Night

The Seventh may be the most strange and enigmatic of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies. Its five symmetrically arranged movements take us on a mysterious and haunting journey into the night. This is music that attracted the young Arnold Schoenberg, who heard the crumbling of romanticism in the Seventh Symphony’s daring and sometimes disquieting modernism. Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, completed in 1906—a year after Mahler completed the Seventh Symphony—contains many themes built …

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Korngold’s String Sextet: Basking in Romanticism’s Vibrant Twilight

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of music history’s greatest prodigies, along the lines of the young Mozart and Mendelssohn. When he was 10, Mahler declared him to be a genius, and by age 13 his music was performed at the Vienna Court Opera. His 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City”), was performed extensively throughout the world, reaching more than 80 stages. Then, with the rise of the Nazis, Korngold was …

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Remembering Charles Wuorinen

The American composer, Charles Wuorinen, passed away last week. He was 81. In 1970, Wuorinen was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his electronic composition, Time’s Encomium. (Until 2017, he held the distinction of being the youngest person ever to win the music prize). Other works include eight symphonies, four piano concertos, and two operas. Throughout his life, Wuorinen was an unapologetic proponent of the twelve-tone system of composition, in which the twelve pitches …

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“Salvation is Created”: The Mediative Sacred Music of Pavel Tschesnokoff, VOCES8

Spaséñiye, sodélal (“Salvation is Created”), by the Russian composer Pavel Tschesnokoff (1877-1944), is a Communion Hymn intended for the Russian Orthodox liturgy for Friday. Its text (“Salvation is created, in midst of the earth, O God, O our God. Alleluia”) is based on Psalm 74. It is a setting of a Kievan chant melody. Written in 1912, it is one of the last sacred works composed by Pavel Tschesnokoff. Following the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union’s …

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Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale”: A Shimmering, Impressionist Tone Poem

In 1908, the 26-year-old Igor Stravinsky, still a student of Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, completed the first act of an opera, Le Rossignol (“The Nightingale”), based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. When Sergei Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to write the ballet score for The Firebird, the work was set aside. Only in 1914, after the completion of The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, did Stravinsky return to the project. Listening to the complete …

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Takemitsu’s “Quotation of Dream”: Aftertones of Debussy

Fragments of Debussy’s La Mer emerge and evaporate throughout Quotation of Dream (1991) by the Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). The piece, which the composer described as “schizo-eclectic,” is a virtual concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The subtitle, Say sea, take me!, is a reference to a poem by Emily Dickinson. La Mer‘s motifs run through the DNA of this shimmering, post-impressionist work. The haunting and mysterious piano chords in the beginning return in the last bars, …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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