“Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings”: Howard Hanson’s Musical Marriage Proposal

“To Peggy.” This is the simple inscription which appears on the title page of Howard Hanson’s Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings, Op. 35. In the summer of 1945, the 50-year-old Hanson (who had been a lifelong bachelor) met Margaret Elizabeth Nelson while attending the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. The Serenade was written as a kind of musical marriage proposal. The couple was married a year later on July, 24. Hanson’s Serenade floats into a colorful, …

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Rachmaninov’s “Cherubic Hymn,” from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Last week, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s meditative a cappella choral work, Hymn of the Cherubim, an excerpt from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Completed in 1878, this work has the distinction of being the first “unified musical cycle” of settings from the Liturgy, most of which is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century. Today, let’s listen to another later …

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Three Youthful American Overtures: Music of Barber, Copland, and Schuman

Festive American music will be as much on the menu as hot dogs and hamburgers this week as we celebrate Independence Day across the United States. In anticipation of the holiday, here are three thrilling and festive American overtures from the mid twentieth century. The indomitable spirit of youth permeates all three of these pieces: Barber: Overture to “The School for Scandal,” Op. 5 This was the young 21-year-old Samuel Barber’s first …

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Michael Torke’s “Jasper”: A Glorious, Living Canopy

Do you ever hear music in your dreams? It has happened to me on rare occasions. Short, vague musical phrases emerge, repeat, dissipate, develop, and mix together in an unfolding sonic stew—the ghosts of Bruckner, Debussy, Beethoven, Mahler and a host of others stored in the deep recesses of memory. If I was a composer, I might be able to remember these fleeting ideas and organize them. Often, when I listen to …

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Debussy’s String Quartet: “Pleasure is the Only Rule”

Some people wish above all to conform to the rules. I wish only to render what I can hear. There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. Works of art make rules but rules do not make works of art. Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity. – Claude Debussy  A radical new kind of …

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Philip Glass’ “Mishima” Finds New Audiences

Apparently, the music of Philip Glass is entering the wedding repertoire. This weekend, I’ll be performing the closing movement of Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” for an indoor wedding ceremony. For years, I have played countless wedding jobs with a variety of ensembles and this is the first time I can recall Glass’ music being requested. In 1985, Philip Glass scored the music for the film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, co-written and …

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s First Piano Concerto: Twentieth Century Finnish Neo-Romanticism

At moments, you can hear the ghost of Jean Sibelius emerge in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 1, completed in 1969. Rautavaara (1928-2016) was among the most significant Finnish composers to follow Sibelius. His style evolved gradually, moving from 12-tone serial modernism into Neo-Romanticism. His later works, such as the 1994 Seventh Symphony (Angel of Light), embrace a tantalizing mysticism. In his 2016 remembrance, the composer Kalevi Aho (a student of Rautavaara) writes, Einojuhani …

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