This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” Overture: Toscanini and the NBC Symphony

The legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was born on this date in 1867. Over the course of a career spanning nearly six decades, Toscanini served as music director of La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He presided over the premieres of works including Puccini’s La bohème, La fanciulla del West, and Turandot, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and First Essay for Orchestra.  Between 1937 and 1954, …

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Frank Bridge’s “Enter Spring”: The Symphonic Poem as a Force of Nature

Enter Spring, a shimmering orchestral tone poem by the English composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941), blossoms like a force of nature. It evokes the bright colors, turbulent majesty, and joyful sense of renewal we associate with the seasonal change from winter to spring. It grows out of the English countryside— specifically the green rolling hills and chalk cliffs of Bridge’s native Sussex Downs on England’s south coast. But its harmonic language is also surprisingly daring, …

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Remembering André Previn

André Previn passed away last Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89. Previn will be remembered as one of the great Renaissance men of twentieth century music. As a jazz pianist, he accompanied singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day and put his stamp on the “great American songbook.” As a composer, he contributed film scores, Broadway musicals, operas, orchestral music, chamber music, and songs. As a conductor, he …

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Bach’s Sinfonia in D Major: A Startling Remnant from a Lost Cantata

This wildly adventurous music likely served as the instrumental introduction to a festive cantata written by J.S. Bach in Leipzig sometime between 1742 and 1746. The cantata is long lost and we’re left with this single, enticing fragment which is known as the Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045.  This music is startling on many levels. First, it is a virtual violin concerto superimposed on a full orchestra which includes three trumpets, timpani, and …

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Dvořák’s Cello Concerto: Three Great Performance Clips

Following a youthful attempt at a Cello Concerto in 1865, Antonín Dvořák believed that the instrument was ill-suited to the concerto form. “High up it sounds nasal, and low down it growls,” the composer commented. Dvořák’s attitude changed in a flash on the evening of March 9, 1894 when the New York Philharmonic premiered Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto. Herbert, remembered for frothy Viennese operettas like Babes in Toyland (1903), was on the faculty of New York’s National Conservatory of …

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The 2019 Classical Grammys

The 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles yesterday. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance This recording is the latest installment in a Shostakovich cycle featuring Nelsons and the Boston Symphony. Earlier recordings in the set won in the same category in the 2016 and 2017 Grammys. Additionally, this recording was awarded Best Engineered Album, Classical (Shawn Murphy and Nick Squire, engineers; …

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