Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music”: “Such Harmony is in Immortal Souls”

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music was conceived in 1938 as a tribute to the conductor, Sir Henry Wood. The piece endures as a shimmering and sensuous celebration of music itself, set to the majestic words of Shakespeare. The work’s Royal Albert Hall premiere, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Woods’ first concert, was a uniquely collective musical celebration. The ensemble included members from three major London orchestras (the LSO, LPO, and BBC Symphony), …

Read moreVaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music”: “Such Harmony is in Immortal Souls”

Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio: A Haunting Elegy

Dmitri Shostakovich completed the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor in 1944, shortly after composing the “wartime” Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Shostakovich had scarcely finished the first movement when he received word of the sudden death (at age 41) of his close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a brilliant musicologist, critic, and artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. For nearly twenty years, Sollertinsky had been one of Shostakovich’s most loyal defenders. His influence included introducing …

Read moreShostakovich’s Second Piano Trio: A Haunting Elegy

Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes”: Meditative Minimalism

“Time has a deep meaning, but it is temporary, like our lives. Only eternity is timeless.” -Arvo Pärt Sound, silence, and time are mystical properties in the music of the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt (b. 1935). Pärt’s early music inhabited the complex, twelve-tone world of twentieth century modernism. Then, in the late 1960s, he entered eight years of compositional silence, creating little more than musical fragments jotted in a notebook. When Pärt began …

Read moreArvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes”: Meditative Minimalism

Three Excerpts from “Das Wunder der Heliane,” Korngold’s Glorious Flop

When it came to the fickle whims of public taste, Erich Wolfgang Korngold may have been a composer who was born twenty years too late. At a time when Stravinsky had already created a riot with his primordial The Rite of Spring and Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School was exploring brave new twelve-tone frontiers, Korngold’s early music hovers in the warm afterglow of Romanticism. It is music of vibrant autumn colors, hinting at the poignant nostalgia …

Read moreThree Excerpts from “Das Wunder der Heliane,” Korngold’s Glorious Flop

Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto: Chilly Anxiety on the Edge of Terror

Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor begins with a lonely, lamenting statement in the solo violin. It’s a strangely solitary voice which opens the door to an unsettling drama filled with chilly anxiety and occasional raw terror. In his program notes, the American violinist Stefan Jackiw, who can be heard in this excellent concert performance of the piece, provides the following descriptive analysis of this opening: Prokofiev puts the …

Read moreProkofiev’s Second Violin Concerto: Chilly Anxiety on the Edge of Terror

Remembering Krzysztof Penderecki

The Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki passed away Sunday following what his wife, Elzbieta, described as “a long and serious illness.” He was 86. Penderecki’s early compositions grew out of the modernist tradition associated with composers such as Anton Webern, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pierre Boulez. Later, his style broadened. Commenting on this evolution, Penderecki said, “I was saved from the avant-garde snare of formalism by a return to tradition.” One of his most …

Read moreRemembering Krzysztof Penderecki

John Adams’ “Shaker Loops”: Riding Ferocious Sonic Waves

John Adams’ 1978 string septet, Shaker Loops, takes us on a ferocious and exhilarating sonic ride. It’s powerful music that is made up of elemental forces—pulse, gradually shifting patterns, and harmonic tension and release. At times, it unfolds with the frightening inevitability of an enormous, infernal, rumbling conveyor belt. At other times, we experience something similar to those mysterious, icy Sibelius tremolo passages which stand on the edge of silence. The title, Shaker Loops is …

Read moreJohn Adams’ “Shaker Loops”: Riding Ferocious Sonic Waves

Send this to a friend