Bobby McFerrin’s “Baby”: The Human Body as an Instrument

The American jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin turns the human body into the ultimate instrument. This live concert clip demonstrates the ten-time Grammy Award winning artist’s virtuosity. (At one point, you will hear a spectacular display of polyphonic overtone singing in which two musical lines can be heard simultaneously). McFerrin frequently draws on improvisation and the African musical tradition of call and response. This 1995 album with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra features …

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Debussy’s Cello Sonata: A Celebration of Classical Form

In 1914, at the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Handel’s Musical Depictions of Birdsong

Sweet bird, that shun’st the noise of folly, Most musical, most melancholy! Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among, I woo to hear thy even-song. Or, missing thee, I walk unseen, On the dry smooth-shaven green, To behold the wand’ring moon Riding near her highest noon. -John Milton, Il Penseroso  George Frideric Handel set these lines to music in his 1740 secular oratorio, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (“The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the …

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Richard Rodgers and the Waltz

At the beginning of the summer, we explored ten enduring songs that Richard Rodgers wrote with the lyricist Lorenz Hart. Today, I want to return to the effortless and seemingly inevitable melodies of Rodgers, this time with a focus on the waltz. Countless waltzes can be found among Richard Rodgers’ 900-plus songs, written for some 43 Broadway musicals. Many contain a trace of the Viennese operetta music Rodgers heard as a child, which included …

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Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: The Land of Laughter and Tears

In 1914, with the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s “A Tapestry of Life”: Four Atmospheric Snapshots

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s 2007 orchestral tone poem, A Tapestry of Life, is set in four movements which feel like cinematic snapshots. Each movement inhabits a distinctly atmospheric world in which a vast, shimmering soundscape opens in front of us. The music unfolds in time, but it also gives us the same serene, floating sensation we might get looking out of the window of an airplane at the gradually-shifting view. Dreamlike associations with words and poetic …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Minor, BWV 867, Kris Verhelst

It’s time to return to the Netherlands Bach Society for another recently released performance. Every Friday the organization adds a new high quality video recording to its website as part of its All of Bach initiative. The project will conclude with a complete catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works in time for the Netherlands Bach Society’s centenary in 2022. Here, the Belgian harpsichordist Kris Verhelst performs Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, …

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