Music Inspired by Scotland

Tomorrow all eyes will be on Scotland. A referendum will determine whether the ancient and mysterious land of rugged mountains, long, picturesque Lochs and remote castles will remain a part of the United Kingdom or become an independent country. Throughout its tumultuous history (which included the arrival of the Romans around 71 AD, and later, Catholic-Protestant religious wars in which the Scots sometimes fought alongside the French), Scotland has maintained a separate …

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Waves at Play

I spent part of the afternoon yesterday experiencing the power and endless, hypnotic rhythm of waves crashing on the beach. I was killing time between a morning rehearsal and an outdoor evening performance with the Virginia Symphony on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. Watching the waves, I was reminded of Edwin Grasse’s slightly obscure violin showpiece, Wellenspiel (Waves at Play), written in 1914. Grasse (1884-1954) was an American violinist, organist and composer. Joshua Bell included …

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Carmen Fantasies

Georges Bizet’s Carmen remains one of opera’s most popular hits, partly because of its rich and exotic melodies. These melodies were the inspiration for Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, written in 1883. In the nineteenth century, composers commonly used opera melodies as a springboard for new virtuoso showpieces. At the time, arias from Carmen and other operas would have fallen into the category of “popular music.” Franz Liszt wrote a  Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s …

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Jack Benny Shows Off His Strad

Following up on my post, Jack Benny and the Violin, here are two more funny violin-centered comedy clips. First, Jack Benny demonstrates the subtle differences between a Stradivarius and an average violin: Comedy aside, Strads really don’t play themselves. It takes time to learn exactly how to make these violins sing. Many violinists comment on the endless colors and expression they discover as they play these great instruments. I’m reminded of a story about …

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Jack Benny and the Violin

Here are a few of Jack Benny’s classic comedy routines featuring the violin. In his performances, Benny was know for his “bad” violin playing. In reality, he was a competent violinist and the owner of a Stradivarius. Through the years, Jack Benny’s guests included Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifetz. His show broke racial barriers in the United States with its human portrayal of the African-American butler, Rochester, as well as with guests such …

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