Remembering Norman Carol

Norman Carol, the legendary American violinist and concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1966 to 1994, passed away on April 28 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. He was 95. Born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, Carol began playing the violin at age six, and performed his first concert at nine. Following initial studies with Sascha Jacobinoff, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music at 13, where he was a student of Efrem Zimbalist. …

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Remembering Sir Andrew Davis

Sir Andrew Davis, the renowned English conductor, passed away on April 20 following a brief battle with leukemia. He was 80. Davis served as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975 to 1988, and later as chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (2013–2019). From 1989 until 2000, he led the BBC Symphony Orchestra, becoming the longest-serving chief conductor of that ensemble since Adrian Boult. As an opera conductor, Davis …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Whither Must I Wander?”: Bryn Terfel

The twentieth century brought a revival of the English art song, which had fallen fallow after the death of Henry Purcell in 1695. (William M. Adams) Central to this revival was Ralph Vaughan Williams, a composer who drew inspiration frequently from England’s distant musical past. First published in the magazine, The Vocalist, in 1902, Whither Must I Wander? became part of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. The cycle of nine songs, originally written …

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The Bells of Vienna/Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols”

Today’s post celebrates the memory of Karl Haas, the German-American musicologist and host of the long-running radio program, Adventures in Good Music. One of the program’s most popular episodes, The Story of the Bells, aired for many years on Christmas Eve. It documented the varied sounds of church bells across Europe and the Middle East. In Haas’ words, “It’s an awesome sound…a sound which leaves no room for human voices.” To continue this tradition, …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Sancta Civitas”: An Oratorio of Revelation

In a 1988 biography, Ursula Vaughan Williams wrote that her husband “was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism: he was never a professing Christian.” Ironically, it was Ralph Vaughan Williams who helped the Anglican Church to compile, through the The English Hymnal of 1906, “a collection of the best hymns in the English language.” For Vaughan Williams, music inhabited the …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Three Shakespeare Songs”: The Stuff of Dreams

Following the 1948 premiere of his Sixth Symphony, Ralph Vaughan Williams was asked to provide the “meaning” of the work’s bleak, apocalyptic closing Epilogue. For many listeners, the music suggested a chilling portrait of a world decimated by nuclear war. The composer who had so vividly captured the pastoral glory of “England’s green and pleasant land” in earlier pieces, now seemed to deliver only alienation from nature in the face of twentieth …

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Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony: Scream of the Apocalypse

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony begins with an apocalyptic scream. It comes in the form of three pitches (F, G, and A-flat) which rise with desperation in octaves before plunging into a hellish, rumbling inferno. The original Greek translation of the word, “symphony,” suggests the harmonization of disparate elements. Yet, this is music of destabilization, disintegration, and alienation. Punctuated by tumultuous shrieks in the strings and ferocious brass jabs, these terrifying opening …

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