Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto: Parody and Sardonic Humor

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor is the musical equivalent of a smirking jokester. It is a rule-breaking, Neo-baroque romp filled with sardonic humor, parody, and fleeting musical quotes. Completed by the young Shostakovich in 1933, it is actually a double concerto in which the solo trumpet and piano converse against the backdrop of a string orchestra. (The alternate title is “Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra”). By …

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Remembering James Buswell

The violinist, conductor, and educator James Buswell passed away on Tuesday. He was 74. At the age of seven, Buswell became the youngest soloist ever to appear with the New York Philharmonic. He went on to perform with the world’s top orchestras and as a regular member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. From 1986 to 2014 he served on the faculty of New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. …

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Youthful Webern: “Im Sommerwind,” Idyll for Large Orchestra

The Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883-1945) is remembered as one of the principal exponents of the Second Viennese School. This group, which included Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, pioneered the atonal and serial techniques which dominated much of twentieth century music. Webern explored this striking new kind of music with sparse, compact pieces such as Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5 and the quirky, twelve-tone Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24. Im Sommerwind (“In the Summer …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Summa”: Renaud Capuçon and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne

In 1994, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) said, I have developed a highly formalised compositional system, which I have been using to write my music for twenty years. Summa is the most strict and enigmatic work in this series. Beginning in the 1970s, Pärt’s music represented a radical departure from the atonal modernism that was prolific during much of the twentieth century. Instead, what emerged was music which was simultaneously …

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Nino Rota’s First Symphony: Sweeping Cinematic Grandeur

Nino Rota is remembered as one of the great film composers of the twentieth century. Born in Milan, Rota lived in Rome for most of his life. From 1933 until his death in 1979, he wrote scores for more than 150 films, including Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). Fellini, who worked with Rota for decades said, The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway …

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Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse,” Pascal Rogé

The 1717 painting L’embarquement pour Cythère by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicts a merry party of lovers arriving on (or departing from) the Mediterranean island of Cythère. In ancient mythology, Cythère was known as the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of erotic love. The version of the painting which hangs in the Louvre shows the revelers flanked by bright dancing cupids and a serenely gazing statue of Venus. Watteau’s painting served as an inspiration for Claude Debussy’s …

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Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea”: Entering the Spiritual Domain

Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries – stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water…Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever. -Herman Melville, “Moby-Dick” The ocean took on metaphysical significance not only for Herman Melville but also for the twentieth century Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). Takemitsu, whose music is filled with evocations …

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