Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8: Midori at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s three Op. 30 Violin Sonatas were completed in the summer of 1802. The fall of that year brought the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, the despairing letter in which Beethoven acknowledged his increasing deafness, his contemplation of suicide, and his ultimate determination to overcome adversity: “I will seize fate by the throat— it will certainly not crush me completely.” We don’t hear any of this psychological turmoil in the sunny Sonata No. 8 in G Major, …

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Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Turns 50

As a child, I spent a year and many succeeding summers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where my father was a student of trombone professor Dr. Robert Gray. Some of my most vivid memories include attending concerts at the University’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where as a 9-year-old, I heard the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the University’s fine student ensembles. This weekend, the …

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Remembering Sam Pilafian

Tuba virtuoso Sam Pilafian passed away last week following a battle with cancer. He was 69. Pilafian was a founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet. He appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, with a host of major orchestras, with Summit Brass, and with such diverse performers as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, and Pink Floyd. (That is Pilafian on The Trial track from the rock band’s 1979 album, The Wall). As a teacher, Pilafian held positions …

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Tartini’s “Didone Abbandonata”

Giuseppe Tartini, the Italian Baroque composer and violinist, was born on this date in 1692. The most famous of Tartini’s over 400 works is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata” in G minor for violin, named after the composer’s alleged dream in which the devil appeared, playing the music with breathtaking virtuosity. But today, let’s explore another G minor Sonata by Tartini— the “Didone abbandonata” (“Dido the Forsaken”), written around 1731 and named after a …

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New Release: Duo Bednarz-Hiratsuka’s “Giya Kancheli: Sunny Night”

Giya Kancheli (b. 1935) is one of the most distinctive twentieth century composers to emerge from the former Soviet Union. Kancheli, who was born in Georgia and emigrated to Belgium following Soviet dissolution in 1991, has written seven symphonies as well as other large-scale orchestral works such as Mourned by the Wind, described as a “liturgy” for viola and orchestra. His catalogue also includes operas, chamber works, and numerous film scores. Many of …

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Chopin’s Four Scherzos: Darkly-Veiled Jest?

On Monday, we explored five monumental scherzos from nineteenth and twentieth century symphonies. These ferocious works leave behind the original lighthearted concept of the “scherzo,” which means “joke” in Italian. The dynamic, sometimes terrifying, drama unleashed in this music is anything but a joke. Fryderyk Chopin’s four Scherzos for solo piano are similarly definition-shattering. They are filled with moments of haunting mystery, turbulence, soaring Romantic fervor, and intense drama. In his review of Scherzo No. …

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This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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