Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major: Triumph Over Censorship

In the years following the Second World War, Stalin’s “propagandist-in-chief,” Andrei Zhdanov, drafted a series of resolutions that were designed to censor Soviet art, literature, film, and music. All art had to adhere to the ideals of Soviet “socialist realism.” The Zhdanov Doctrine proclaimed that “The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best.” First, Zhdanov banned the works of Anna Akhmatova, arguably Russia’s greatest living …

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Stravinsky’s “Mavra”: A Neoclassical Comic Opera in One Act

Igor Stravinsky’s one act comic opera, Mavra, is delightfully intimate, colorful, and whimsical. Unfolding in a mere 30 minutes, the opera features two arias, a duet, and a quartet, performed by a cast of four characters. Based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem, The Little House in Kolomna, it has been described as a “satire of petit-bourgeois manners.” The libretto was written by Boris Kochno, a young assistant to the dance impresario, Serge Diaghilev. Set in …

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Prokofiev’s “Summer Night” Suite: Music from “Betrothal in a Monastery”

Sergei Prokofiev’s 1946 comic opera, Betrothal in a Monastery, involves trickery, bribery, disguises, an averted arranged marriage, and (in the final act) monks engaged in alcoholic revelry. A twentieth century homage to Italian opera buffa, it is far removed from the cultural and political landscape of Stalin’s Soviet Union. In 1950, Prokofiev used music from the opera as the basis for the five movement orchestral suite, Summer Night, Op. 123. The boisterous, larger-than-life music which …

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Ingram Marshall’s “Fog Tropes”: A Haunting Soundscape

The American composer, Ingram Marshall, passed away on May 31 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 80. Blending elements of minimalism and electronic music, Marshall revealed magical new soundscapes. Disparate influences emerge throughout his music which include the Javanese gamelan, Balinese bamboo flute, and references to the works of J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Sibelius, and Stravinsky, among others. As a composer, Marshall was in search of what he called “the dark and the beautiful …

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Copland’s “The Red Pony” Suite: Film Music of the American Frontier

Aaron Copland was the quintessential city dweller. Born in 1900 to Lithuanian-Jewish parents, Copland grew up amid the brownstones of Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 21, he set sail for Paris to study with the legendary composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Returning to the United States four years later, Copland settled in a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Although his maternal grandfather had lived on the Illinois prairie in …

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Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard”: A Meditation on Redemption

Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard is a single movement cantata based on texts by the Danish theologian, philosopher, and poet, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Completed in 1954, in response to a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, it is scored for chorus, large orchestra, soprano solo, and incidental tenor and alto solos. The piece unfolds in four sections, beginning with a mystical allusion to medieval Gregorian chant. The words evoke the suffering and redemption of Christ …

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Augustin Hadelich Plays Ysaÿe: Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, “Ballade”

When performing, the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), strove for “emotion, poetry, heart.” Called “the king of the violin,” Ysaÿe’s brilliant technique set a new standard. The conductor, Sir Henry Wood, described his tone as “ravishingly beautiful,” and noted that Ysaÿe “seemed to get more colour out of a violin than any of his contemporaries.” Among the over 200 works written for Ysaÿe are Ernest Chausson’s Poème and César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, …

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