Takemitsu’s “Quotation of Dream”: Aftertones of Debussy

Fragments of Debussy’s La Mer emerge and evaporate throughout Quotation of Dream (1991) by the Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). The piece, which the composer described as “schizo-eclectic,” is a virtual concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The subtitle, Say sea, take me!, is a reference to a poem by Emily Dickinson. La Mer‘s motifs run through the DNA of this shimmering, post-impressionist work. The haunting and mysterious piano chords in the beginning return in the last bars, …

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Verdi’s “Otello”: Three Excerpts from Toscanini’s Legendary 1947 Recording

Today marks the anniversary of the first performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, which premiered at Milan’s La Scala on February 5, 1887. The four-act opera, based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, drew Verdi out of a lengthy retirement. For years, the composer had been reluctant to write anything new following the success of Aida in 1871. In so doing, he followed the model of Rossini, who at the age of 37 never wrote another opera after William Tell. The …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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Philip Glass’ “Mad Rush”: Time is Relative

A happy birthday to the American composer, Philip Glass, who turns 83 today. In the meditative minimalism of Glass’ 1979 keyboard work, Mad Rush, time becomes relative. The piece was originally conceived as being of “indefinite length.” It was performed on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s first public address in North America at New York’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Later, it was used to accompany a ballet by Lucinda Childs. The …

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Henry Purcell’s “Fantasia Upon One Note” and its Twentieth Century Aftertones

How many ways can you harmonize three notes? You might find this question especially pertinent after listening to an extraordinary passage from the second movement of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Three descending notes (E, D, C) are repeated throughout this melody, filled with nostalgia and quiet lament, each time wrapped in new harmonic garb. Fantasia Upon One Note for 5 viols in F major, Z. 745, written around 1680 by the English baroque …

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The 2020 Classical Grammys

The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles Sunday evening. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance Sustain, a haunting orchestral soundscape by American composer Andrew Norman (b. 1979), was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the opening of its centennial season. This concert recording documents the piece’s October, 2018 world premiere. Sustain was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Music. We …

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Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”: A Celebration of Modulation

Jerome Kern, one of the greatest composers of the American musical theater, was born on this date 135 years ago on January 27, 1885. Kern wrote over 700 songs, including Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) from the landmark 1927 musical, Show Boat, Long Ago (And Far Away) (lyrics by Ira Gershwin), A Fine Romance (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (lyrics by Otto …

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