Mozart’s Unique Quintet

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Have you ever created something unique? That’s what Mozart did when he wrote his quintet for piano and woodwinds. It was the first ever quintet that featured those instruments in a group. It became so popular that Ludwig van Beethoven wrote one of his own, with the same instruments, same number of movements and even similar tempos in each movement. (Watch a full performance below)

Mozart himself knew it was something special. In a letter to his father Mozart wrote, ” I have written…a quintet which has been exceptionally well received; – I myself consider it the best thing I have ever written in my life.” Strong words from a master composer!

Inspiration from Shakespeare

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Tchaikovsky was a Shakespeare fan. If you don’t believe it, just consider the number of his works inspired by the Bard: Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia, Hamlet Overture-Fantasia, Incidental music to Hamlet, and The TempestFantasia.

Shakespeare has always inspired composers, including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Britten and Thomas Adès.

Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest was suggested by Vladimir Stassov. He gave Tchaikovsky an outline of the play, that served as the musical narrative. Tchaikovsky’s music evokes a stormy sea, the love between Miranda and Ferdinand, and the magic of Ariel.

Watch Gustavo Dudamel talk about his recording project featuring the Shakespearean works of Tchaikovsky, and don’t miss Kentucky Shakespeare’s performances this summer!

A Remembrance of Lorin Maazel

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Maestro Lorin Maazel

Obituary from the New York Times

Obituary from The New Yorker

The lighter side of English music

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Light music is a generic term for a British musical style of “light” orchestral music, which originated in the 19th century. It reached its peak in the mid 20th century but continues until the present day.

The style is a less serious form of Western classical music, usually comprised of shorter orchestral pieces and suites designed to appeal to a wider audience than more serious compositions. The form emphasises melody and tonal harmonies.

Occasionally known as mood music or concert music, light music is often grouped with the easy listening genre, although this designation is misleading. Although mainly a British phenomenon, light music was also popular in the United States. Composers such as Leroy Anderson and George Gershwin could be considered American progenitors of light music.

We’ll hear light music from Great Britain on the next English Pastorale, Sunday at 9 am.

Americans on Summer Listening

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While we take a quick break from Summer Listening today, and celebrate our Independence Day, it’s a good time to remember some of the great classical music created on our own continent. Some say “Jazz is America’s classical music,” and while jazz is certainly one of America’s native art forms, we have our own classical music tradition that goes as far back as the revolution.

William Billings (1746-1800) was trained as a tanner, but is known as one of the earliest American composers. He wrote hymns and “fuging tunes,” like this one. Centuries later, William Schuman (1910-1992) adapted three of Billings’ hymns for his New England Triptych for orchestra.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is well-known for his Adagio for Strings, but during Summer Listening we’re listening to his Violin Concerto, composed in 1939. Barber is one of the few composers who has won the Pulitzer twice. His violin concerto begins with a lush, lyrical movement, but ends with a blistering, Olympic race for the violin and orchestra. Here is a performance with Anne Akiko Meyers.

Arnold Eagle. Appalachian Spring (1945)

If you hear any classical music that sounds “American,” there’s a good chance it was written or inspired by Aaron Copland (1900-1990). It’s hard to describe the exact qualities that make it so, but when you hear it you know it.Appalachian Spring was written for Martha Graham (and was actually called “Ballet for Martha” before she gave it its actual title). Copland was always amused that people would tell him they “heard spring and the Appalachian mountains” in his music, since he wasn’t thinking of that when writing it. Like Schuman’s New England Triptych, Copland uses an old folk song, Simple Gifts, within this music. It provides the basis for a set of variations about halfway through. Earlier this year, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra performed Appalachian Spring with choreography, in one of the most unique performances to date.

And here’s a fun video of Aaron Copland’s Hoe-down from Rodeo!