Korngold’s String Sextet: Basking in Romanticism’s Vibrant Twilight

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of music history’s greatest prodigies, along the lines of the young Mozart and Mendelssohn. When he was 10, Mahler declared him to be a genius, and by age 13 his music was performed at the Vienna Court Opera. His 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City”), was performed extensively throughout the world, reaching more than 80 stages. Then, with the rise of the Nazis, Korngold was …

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Remembering Charles Wuorinen

The American composer, Charles Wuorinen, passed away last week. He was 81. In 1970, Wuorinen was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his electronic composition, Time’s Encomium. (Until 2017, he held the distinction of being the youngest person ever to win the music prize). Other works include eight symphonies, four piano concertos, and two operas. Throughout his life, Wuorinen was an unapologetic proponent of the twelve-tone system of composition, in which the twelve pitches …

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Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major: Embracing and Transcending Fashion

The Overture which opens J.S. Bach’s First Orchestral Suite was built on a well-established, preexisting model. You could even call it a formula. It was the stylish “French Overture,” dating back to the 1650s, which opened the ballets of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), a composer who spent most of his life employed by the court of Louis XIV. The French Overture begins with a majestic slow section consisting of stately dotted rhythms fit for …

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“Salvation is Created”: The Mediative Sacred Music of Pavel Tschesnokoff, VOCES8

Spaséñiye, sodélal (“Salvation is Created”), by the Russian composer Pavel Tschesnokoff (1877-1944), is a Communion Hymn intended for the Russian Orthodox liturgy for Friday. Its text (“Salvation is created, in midst of the earth, O God, O our God. Alleluia”) is based on Psalm 74. It is a setting of a Kievan chant melody. Written in 1912, it is one of the last sacred works composed by Pavel Tschesnokoff. Following the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union’s …

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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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Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18: Janine Jansen and Friends

There is something comforting and nostalgic about the opening of Johannes Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major. It begins with an expansive theme in the cello, which seems to draw us in and wrap its arms around us in a warm embrace. In this melody, you can hear the motivic seeds of the similarly warm and majestic theme from the final movement of Brahms’ First Symphony. Completed in 1860, this is music by …

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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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