Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”: Fritz Kreisler’s 1927 Recording

Irving Berlin’s timeless 1926 song, Blue Skies, was a last-minute addition to a Rodgers and Hart musical called Betsy, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. The vaudeville singer and actress, Belle Baker, called up Berlin complaining that the show’s score didn’t contain a “Belle Baker song.” According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, Berlin resented the interpolation of songs by other composers into the score of his shows, but he must have been delighted at the …

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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 …

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John Adams’ Piano Concerto, “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?”

John Adams’ Piano Concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of its 2018-19 Centennial season. Technically, it counts as Adams’ “Piano Concerto No. 3,” following the exhilaratingly mechanical Century Rolls (1996) and the dreamy impressionism of Eros Piano (1989). The Concerto unfolds seamlessly in a single, continuous movement broken into three sections (fast-slow-fast). According to Adams, the title, attributed to Martin Luther, came from an article …

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Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale”: A Shimmering, Impressionist Tone Poem

In 1908, the 26-year-old Igor Stravinsky, still a student of Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, completed the first act of an opera, Le Rossignol (“The Nightingale”), based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. When Sergei Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to write the ballet score for The Firebird, the work was set aside. Only in 1914, after the completion of The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, did Stravinsky return to the project. Listening to the complete …

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New Release: Paul Merkelo’s “The Enlightened Trumpet” (Haydn, Telemann, Mozart, Hummel)

Paul Merkelo’s new album, The Enlightened Trumpet, features the Trumpet Concertos of Haydn, Telemann, Leopold Mozart, and Hummel. The album showcases the technological development of the instrument during the Age of Enlightenment, with the introduction of the keyed trumpet. Unlike the earlier, valveless natural trumpet, the keyed trumpet could play all of the notes of the chromatic scale. This allowed the trumpet to come into its own as a solo instrument. Paul Merkelo …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Ironic Twist on the Romantic Ballad

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider the “romantic ballad.” Surely, one of the most majestic and soaring examples of this genre is the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which opens the second act of the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics befit the heroic and chivalrous Lancelot. The melody, by the Austrian-American composer Frederick Loewe, is expansive and noble. Lerner and Loewe is the team that, four years earlier, …

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The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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