Tea for Two

You may recognize the strangely catchy melody of Tea for Two by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Vincent Youmans and lyricist Irving Caesar. The song was written for the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette. One of its most interesting features is the sudden modulation from A-flat major to C major and the satisfying return back home to A-flat. The lyrics may have been intended to be temporary stand-in words. In the 1920’s and 30’s, shows were …

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Brahms’s Waltz in A-Flat Major

Here is a great 2011 concert performance of Brahms’s Waltz No. 15 in A-Flat Major, Op. 39. The pianist is Leopoldo Lipstein. Listen to Richter Haaser play the complete set of sixteen waltzes here. Did you notice the way the melody reaches higher with each phrase, climaxing at 1:01 only to fall back? There are also some fun harmonic surprises as Brahms shifts briefly into minor (around 0:30) and sequences in the “B” section (0:52-1:06). It’s …

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Tilting at Windmills

This week my orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, returns to work after a holiday hiatus with Richard Strauss’s tone poem, Don Quixote, Op. 35. Strauss wrote some of the most virtuosic and technically demanding orchestra repertoire and this program is a great way to get back into the swing of the season. Richard Strauss was a master of programatic tone poems, music inspired by a story. In Don Quixote, a series of variations depict …

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Musical Beginnings

Think about the way your favorite piece begins. From the ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which form the DNA for the entire symphony that follows, to the quiet, mysterious tremolos of Bruckner’s symphonies, to the attention grabbing (and audience quieting) opening fanfares of Rossini’s opera overtures, the way a piece starts tells us a lot about what will follow. As you jump, grudgingly tip toe or stride boldly into 2014, listen …

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Waltzing into a New Year

The Vienna Philharmonic began its tradition of performing an annual New Year’s Concert in 1939. Ever since, New Year’s Day and Strauss waltzes have become intertwined in popular imagination. In celebration of a new year, here is Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube from last year’s concert, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Austrian conductor Welser-Möst is currently the Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. You may notice that in the Viennese style of playing waltzes the second beat …

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Oistrakh Plays Tchaikovsky

What better way to end the year than with a few rare old recordings by the legendary Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974)? Listening to these clips, which range from solo to chamber repertoire, it’s easy to hear why Oistrakh is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time. There is a deep musical sincerity and a powerful sense of humanity in his playing which transcends the ordinary. In the fastest …

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Christmas at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

Here is Jan Sandström’s atmospheric setting of Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, performed live by the choir of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve, 2009. Sandström is a contemporary Swedish composer and for me there is something about this music which captures the bleak, desolate Scandinavian landscape in December. It also has a unique flow. When the sun sets at 3:00 in the afternoon for part of the year, do you develop a different …

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