Jeffrey Kahane’s Improvisation on “American the Beautiful”

Jeffrey Kahane’s improvisation on Samuel A. Ward’s “American the Beautiful” moves beyond fervent, flag-waving patriotism into something more sombre, introspective, and quietly majestic. As a solo pianist, Kahane turns to this soulful impromptu as a frequent encore. You may also know Jeffrey Kahane as a conductor. He served as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for twenty years and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra from 2005 to 2010. His son, Gabriel Kahane is a …

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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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Richard Rodgers on Piano Roll

Today marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979). In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, the composer and commentator Alec Wilder wrote, Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication … After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished. Melodies seem …

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Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto: “The Heart’s Jewel”

In 1906, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim offered an assessment of what remain four major pillars of the solo violin repertoire: The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s. Indeed, Felix Mendelssohn’s …

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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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Bach’s Fantasia in G Major, BWV 572: The Power of the Pedal Tone

In his discussion of the extraordinary and haunting pedal tone at the end of the first movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, the composer and commentator Richard Atkinson goes back to J.S. Bach’s mighty Fantasia in G Major for Organ, BWV 572. (Atkinson’s YouTube channel is filled with insightful videos which take a fascinating look “under the hood” at a variety of music). Bach’s Fantasia, or Pièce d’Orgue as it is sometimes called, offers a …

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