Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mystérieuses”: A Sonic Kaleidoscope

The title of François Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses (“The Mysterious Barricades”) remains an enigma. One commentator has speculated that it may be a reference to continuous suspensions, or notes which hold over to create “a barricade to the basic harmony.” Others have suggested veiled references to freemasonry, masks worn by performers of Le Mystère ou les Fêtes de l’Inconnu (an event staged in 1714 by one of Couperin’s patrons), women’s eyelashes, or the wine barrels …

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Ligeti’s Etude No. 5, “Arc-en-ciel,” Khatia Buniatishvili

György Ligeti composed a cycle of 18 solo piano études between 1985 and 2001. Étude No. 5 from Book 1 is titled Arc-en-ciel, or “rainbow.” Its lines rise and fall in glistening, ephemeral arches of color and light, and ultimately evaporate. Ligeti provides the additional marking, Andante con eleganza, with swing. Ligeti, who has acknowledged the influence of Thelonius Monk and Bill Evans once called Arc-en-ciel “almost a jazz piece.” The hazy, magical vocabulary of jazz …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Pari intervallo”: Geometry Unfolding in Time

Musical lines evoke strict geometry in Arvo Pärt’s brief but cosmic meditation, Pari intervallo (Latin for “in the equal distance”). Throughout the piece, two parallel voices seem to drift quietly into infinity. A continuous and inevitable process unfolds which gives rise to occasional unexpected but delicious harmonic dissonances. In the score, Pärt inscribed a quote from Romans 14:8: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto …

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Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto: Khatia Buniatishvili in Concert

Franz Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto begins with a hauntingly romantic melody. We hear it first in the solo clarinet, accompanied by a woodwind chorale. For a composer whose music is often filled with larger-than-life virtuoso bravura, these quiet opening bars seem surprisingly unassuming, perhaps even lamenting. They open the door to the magic and mystery of the piano’s entrance a moment later, in which the melody is outlined in arpeggios which seem …

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