Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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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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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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The 2019 Classical Grammys

The 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles yesterday. Here are excerpts from the winning albums in the classical categories: Best Orchestral Performance This recording is the latest installment in a Shostakovich cycle featuring Nelsons and the Boston Symphony. Earlier recordings in the set won in the same category in the 2016 and 2017 Grammys. Additionally, this recording was awarded Best Engineered Album, Classical (Shawn Murphy and Nick Squire, engineers; …

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Exploring the Prolation Canon

There is an interesting passage about four and a half minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 which may have caught your ear if you dropped by for Wednesday’s post: Did you hear that wandering, chromatic line which begins in the violins? Two additional lower string voices enter in succession with the same line at consecutively slower rates of speed. For a moment, before the episode is cut off by the …

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Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony: An Unsolvable Enigma?

“What does it mean?” You may find yourself asking this question as you listen to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 in A Major. This final Shostakovich Symphony, written in a little over a month during the summer of 1971 as the composer faced declining health, is filled with persistent and unsettling ambiguity. First, there are the strange, inexplicable quotes and fleeting allusions to music of earlier composers, as well as cryptic references to Shostakovich’s previous …

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Remembering Gennady Rozhdestvensky

The esteemed Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky passed away last Saturday. He was 87. Following studies at the Moscow Conservatory, Rozhdestvensky made his conducting debut at the age of 20 at the Bolshoi Theatre with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. He went on to lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1978-1981), the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra (1983-1991) and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (1992-1995), among other ensembles. Rozhdestvensky will be remembered for his associations with some of the …

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