Bach’s French Suite No. 3 in B Minor, Pierre Hantaï

In a previous post, we considered the mysterious and melancholy qualities of the key of B minor, especially in the music of J.S. Bach. Perhaps the most monumental example is the B Minor Mass, which Bach completed a year before his death. Something similar can be heard in Bach’s French Suite No. 3 for solo keyboard. The harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï suggests that Bach’s choice of B minor points to solemn music. Music of importance. …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Marriage of Camacho” Overture: Music for a Fleeting Opera

Felix Mendelssohn was 15 when he began work on the two-act comic opera, Die Hochzeit des Camacho (“The Marriage of Camacho”) in 1824. The young composer had already written four previous singspiele operas which received private family performances. The Marriage of Camacho, based on an episode from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, was premiered at the Berlin Schauspielhaus on April 29, 1827. Although the work was well-received by the audience, it was met with a hostile reviews. Mendelssohn was …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, “Italian”: “Blue Sky in A Major”

In October of 1830, the 21-year-old Felix Mendelssohn traveled to Italy. Over the course of ten months, he visited Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. With this trip Mendelssohn, who as a child emerged as an astounding musical prodigy and polymath, entered adulthood with the customary Grand Tour, an educational rite of passage for upper-class Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Travels to Britain a year earlier provided the seeds for the …

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Louis Andriessen’s “De Tijd”: At the Intersection of Time and Eternity

Louis Andriessen, the most influential Dutch composer of his generation, passed away on July 1 at a care home in Weesp, Netherlands. He was 82. An early proponent of serialism, Andriessen evolved into a rebellious and irreverent iconoclast of the avant-garde. His distinctive style emerged in the 1970s with music which blended the American minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley with elements of jazz, rock, Indonesian Gamelan, and neoclassicism. …

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Michael Torke’s “Unconquered”: A Tone Poem for Saratoga

Unconquered, an orchestral tone poem by the American composer Michael Torke, is music of celebration. The four-movement work was written in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. For decades, SPAC has served as a summer home for the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet. In 1777, with the defeat of the large invading force of British General John Burgoyne, the Battles of Saratoga marked …

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“Berceuse Romantique”: Kreisler’s Journey into Impressionism

The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) composed numerous short pieces “in the style” of earlier composers. Kreisler performed these works as encores at his concerts and successfully passed them off as originals (discovered in some dusty corner of a French monastery) until the hoax was uncovered in 1935. In addition to these clever exercises in pastiche, Kreisler wrote cadenzas for many of the standard violin concertos, four operettas, and popular songs such as Madly …

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Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”: The Groundbreaking “Bench Scene”

Stephen Sondheim once called the “bench scene” from the first act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical, Carousel, “the singular most important moment in the evolution of contemporary musicals.” Indeed, this extraordinary 12-minute-long love scene, anticipated in earlier Hammerstein works such as Show Boat (1927) and Oklahoma! (1943), set the stage for the late twentieth century Broadway of Sondheim. According to the scholar Thomas Hischak, the scene “is considered the most completely integrated piece of music-drama in the American …

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