“The Fairy’s Kiss”: Stravinsky’s Musical Homage to Tchaikovsky

In 1893, while attending a performance at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, the 11-year-old Igor Stravinsky caught a fleeting glimpse of Tchaikovsky. The occasion was the 50th anniversary production of Glinka’s opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, in which Stravinsky’s father, Fyodor, an acclaimed bass, was singing. Tchaikovsky would die two weeks later. Stravinsky recalled, I looked and saw a man with white hair, large shoulders, a corpulent back, and this image has remained in the retina of …

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Stravinsky’s “Ode”: An Elegiacal Chant in Memory of Natalie Koussevitzky

In 1943, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Igor Stravinsky to write a piece in memory of his wife, Natalie, who had died the previous year. During his tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra between 1924 and 1949, Koussevitzky commissioned and championed numerous works by contemporary composers. Many of these commissions were funded with the help of money from Natalie Koussevitzky’s family. In addition to Stravinsky’s Ode, the the Koussevitzky Music Foundation’s early commissions …

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Remembering Jessye Norman: Eight Extraordinary Recordings

Jessye Norman, the legendary American opera singer and recitalist, passed away on Monday. She was 74. Norman was born in the segregated south in Augusta, Georgia. She was surrounded by music at an early age, listening to radio broadcasts of operas and singing in church as a child. At the age of 16, she was offered a full scholarship to Howard University where she studied voice with Carolyn Grant. She went on …

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Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”: A Shimmering Musical Fairy Tale

Igor Stravinsky almost didn’t compose The Firebird.  In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev, founder and director of the Ballets Russes in Paris, commissioned the 27-year-old Stravinsky to write the ballet score after offering the job unsuccessfully to four established Russian composers (Nikolai Tcherepnin, Anatoly Liadov, Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Sokolov). The result was one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works- a piece which glances backwards at the colorful Romanticism of Stravinsky’s teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, while moving forward in …

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New Release: The Tesla Quartet Plays Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky

The Tesla Quartet’s exciting debut album was released in September. The recording features two twentieth century works that look back at the classical era- Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major and Stravinsky’s Concertino for String Quartet- as well as the bold, innovative String Quartet in C Major, Op.54 No.2 by Franz Joseph Haydn, who is often called the “father of the string quartet.” Additionally, we hear three Ravel piano miniatures- Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn, Menuet antique, and Menuet …

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Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”: Wandering, Rebirth, Exultation

“I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all,” wrote Igor Stravinsky, provocatively, in his 1935 autobiography. Listen to Stravinsky’s monumental Symphony of Psalms, completed five years earlier in 1930, and you may disagree. There is nothing remotely sentimental in the cool, neoclassical architecture of this music. It would be hard to put into words what is being “expressed.” Yet what emerges is powerful, moving, and transcendent. Set in …

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“Happy Birthday” Arranged by…Stravinsky and Copland?!

Occasionally during an orchestra rehearsal, the oboe’s tuning note transforms into a surprise, impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday in celebration of a musician’s birthday. You can find clips of more organized examples for conductors David Robertson and Gustavo Dudamel. (In that last example, notice the distinctly Latin American flavor of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s rendition). Interestingly, a few great twentieth century composers put their stamp on Happy Birthday. Undoubtedly, these composers dashed off these lighthearted miniatures quickly and with …

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