Music Fit for an Emperor

Violinist Mark Sokol passed away last week. He was a founding member of the Concord String Quartet. Between 1971 and its disbanding in 1987, the Concord String Quartet championed music by American composers including Charles Ives, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman and Morton Feldman. Mark Sokol later joined the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here is the Concord’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3. This quartet …

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Decoration Day

Listen closely to Charles Ives’ Decoration Day and you may hear the lament of the dead.* The piece evokes ghosts of the battlefield and the distant echoes of small town New England observances of Decoration Day, the solemn American holiday of remembrance, started in the aftermath of the Civil War. It’s the holiday we now know as Memorial Day. Decoration Day is the second movement of Ives’ four movement Holidays Symphony, written between 1897 …

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Songs My Mother Taught Me

In celebration of Mother’s Day, here are two settings of Songs My Mother Taught Me by the Czech poet Adolf Heyduk. You may be familiar with Antonin Dvořák’s famous song, written in 1880 as part of the cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Fritz Kreisler later transcribed it for violin. Here you can hear it played by Itzhak Perlman and then sung by American tenor Richard Crooks.  The poem deals with the flow of time, continuity and …

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The Unanswered Question

In the virtual isolation of early twentieth century New England, an organist and insurance salesman named Charles Ives (1874-1954) was imagining shocking and innovative new music. Ives created atmospheric collages of sound. He poured fragments of American folk songs and other material into a musical melting pot to create an exciting cacophony. Much of his music became widely known only decades later when other composers embraced similar techniques. Previously, we listened to Thanksgiving …

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A Charles Ives Thanksgiving

In the early decades of the twentieth century, American composer Charles Ives was stretching musical boundaries. Ives created exciting collages of sound by layering fragments of folk songs, hymn tunes and other music, often simultaneously in different keys and tempos.  The result was a musical melting pot that was uniquely American and anticipated compositional techniques used later by The Beatles, John Cage and others. Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day from Ives’s Holidays Symphony musically evokes memories …

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