Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”: Three Devilish Sonic Fantasies

Sometimes the notation of a musical score becomes a work of art in its own right. Such is the case with a vast mural painted in the early 1970s on the exposed brick wall of the Schmitt Music Company building in downtown Minneapolis (pictured above). The mural was created after Minneapolis Star columnist Barbara Flanagan called out the blank wall’s unsightliness. “You need to make that wall sing,” she wrote. The three-story-tall …

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Ginette Neveu: Three Historic Recordings

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary French violinist, Ginette Neveu. Neveu died tragically in an airplane crash at the age of 30. Ginette and her brother Jean-Paul Neveu, an acclaimed pianist, were on their way to the United States for a concert tour when their Air France flight crashed into a mountain in the Azores on October 28, 1949. At the age of 15, Neveu was awarded …

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“Daphnis and Chloe”: Ravel’s Shimmering “Symphonie Chorégraphique”

Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was conceived as a ballet score for Sergei Diaghilev’s Paris-based Ballets Russes. It premiered on June 8, 1912, two years after Stravinsky’s The Firebird and a year before the same composer’s riot-inducing Le Sacre du printemps. Yet this radical and monumental work—the closest Ravel ever came to writing a symphony—boldly transcends its original purpose. Scored for a massive orchestra and chorus and unfolding in three parts with four recurring leitmotifs, Ravel referred …

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Musical Cryptograms: Five Scores that Contain Hidden Messages

Imagine transmitting a secret message by using the pitches (from A to G) that are embedded in a musical score. It’s been the subject of mystery novels and television shows as well as Philip Thicknesse’s 1772 book, A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: with an Harmonic Alphabet. During the Second World War, codebreakers considered the possibility that German and Japanese spies might use musical notes as a …

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Remembering Soprano Heather Harper

The British operatic soprano Heather Harper passed away on Monday at the age of 88. Born in Belfast, Harper came to international attention when she stepped in at ten days notice for the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962. (Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom the part was written, was denied permission by Soviet authorities on the grounds that Britten’s work was too “political.”) Harper went on to perform …

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Debussy, Ravel, and the Battle of the Harps

In 1904, Pleyel, the Parisian instrument manufacturing company, commissioned Claude Debussy to write a piece showcasing what they hoped to be a revolutionary new kind of harp. The harpe chromatique, invented in 1894 by Pleyel’s director, Gustave Lyon, was a cross-string harp designed without need for foot pedals. The standard harp, with its 46 strings and range of six and a half octaves, cannot play all possible half step intervals without relying on seven pedals which can be …

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New Release: Ian Bostridge Joins the Seattle Symphony for Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy

Song cycles by three French composers- Berlioz, Ravel, and Debussy- come to life spectacularly on a newly-released album featuring the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. The recording appears on Seattle Symphony Media, the orchestra’s innovative, Grammy-winning, in-house record label. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été was recorded at a live concert at Benaroya Hall in November 2017. Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire, orchestrated by John Adams in 1994, are studio recordings. Here are a few excerpts: …

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