Remembering Grachan Moncur III

Grachan Moncur III, the American jazz trombonist, passed away of cardiac arrest on June 3, his 85th birthday. Moncur was a pioneer of the free jazz movement which emerged in the late 1950s. Free jazz allowed for simultaneous collective improvisation within the group. This was in contrast to earlier more structured forms, such as bebop, in which a single solo line was heard over a chordal accompaniment. Additionally, free jazz absorbed influences …

Read more

Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations: Jubilant Explorations of an “Impossible” Theme

According to a popular story, Antonín Dvořák was once challenged by a friend to write a set of variations on a seemingly impossible theme. The year was 1877, and Dvořák had just completed the cycle, Choral Songs for Male Voices. It was the third and final song, Huslař (“The Fiddler”), which provided the theme for Dvořák’s orchestral showpiece, Symphonic Variations, Op. 78. The distinctive melody unfolds in an unusual and irregular metric structure of 7+6+7 bars. Harmonically, …

Read more

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19: Mitsuko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra

Mozart’s mature piano concertos are sublime dramas without words. They are filled with a magical sense of instrumental conversation. Each phrase seems to have drifted out of some imaginary opera scene in which literal meaning has been replaced with a deeper and more fundamental expressive reality. The instrumental voices form a rich and colorful cast of characters. Blurring the boundaries between solo and accompaniment, the solo piano and orchestral voices engage as equals. We …

Read more

Ingram Marshall’s “Fog Tropes”: A Haunting Soundscape

The American composer, Ingram Marshall, passed away on May 31 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 80. Blending elements of minimalism and electronic music, Marshall revealed magical new soundscapes. Disparate influences emerge throughout his music which include the Javanese gamelan, Balinese bamboo flute, and references to the works of J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Sibelius, and Stravinsky, among others. As a composer, Marshall was in search of what he called “the dark and the beautiful …

Read more

Copland’s “The Red Pony” Suite: Film Music of the American Frontier

Aaron Copland was the quintessential city dweller. Born in 1900 to Lithuanian-Jewish parents, Copland grew up amid the brownstones of Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 21, he set sail for Paris to study with the legendary composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Returning to the United States four years later, Copland settled in a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Although his maternal grandfather had lived on the Illinois prairie in …

Read more

Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard”: A Meditation on Redemption

Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard is a single movement cantata based on texts by the Danish theologian, philosopher, and poet, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Completed in 1954, in response to a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, it is scored for chorus, large orchestra, soprano solo, and incidental tenor and alto solos. The piece unfolds in four sections, beginning with a mystical allusion to medieval Gregorian chant. The words evoke the suffering and redemption of Christ …

Read more

Augustin Hadelich Plays Ysaÿe: Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, “Ballade”

When performing, the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), strove for “emotion, poetry, heart.” Called “the king of the violin,” Ysaÿe’s brilliant technique set a new standard. The conductor, Sir Henry Wood, described his tone as “ravishingly beautiful,” and noted that Ysaÿe “seemed to get more colour out of a violin than any of his contemporaries.” Among the over 200 works written for Ysaÿe are Ernest Chausson’s Poème and César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, …

Read more

Send this to a friend