Metropolitan Opera Finale

Cenerentola

The Metropolitan Opera wraps up its Saturday Matinee broadcasts for the season, this Saturday at 1pm, with Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella). Opera will continue on Saturday’s with Lyric Opera of Chicago and other productions from around the country. (Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

New Mendelssohn

We can all agree that Felix Mendelssohn did us a huge favor by reviving an interest in Bach. Now it’s his turn, as scholars have uncovered a song after it being lost for 140 years.

Not Horsing Around

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Last week I featured music about horses. This week Classical 90.5 will give their long-eared relatives a listen. And while researching this subject, I noticed a crucial difference in musical representations of the creatures. While horses are represented by the “clip-clop” percussive sound of their hooves, donkeys and mules are portrayed by their bray.

The most famous music portrait of a donkey comes from Felix Mendelssohn’s music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The character Bottom is turned into a donkey and his braying is quite noticeble in the overture.

Camille Saint-Saens famously portrayed donkeys in his Carnival of the Animals – or did he? In the movement titled “Characters with Long Ears” the braying of donkeys is obvious, but some have said it was also Saint-Saens’s subtle jab at the braying of music critics of his day.

American Ferde Grofe included the braying and the mule’s “clip-clopping” in his Grand Canyon Suite movement called “On the Trail.” In fact the whole orchestra makes a huge braying sound at the very beginning of the selection.

The least known of these works is a musical fable with narration by John Rutter called “Brother Heinrich’s Christmas.” The story tells the tale of a monk who attempts to write a Christmas carol for the monastery’s annual Christmas service. In the night he and his best friend – a donkey – are visited by angels who sing the most glorious of carols to them. After the encounter, Brother Heinrich tries to write the carol down but forgets a crucial part of the tune. Luckily, he’s got his friend the donkey to fill in with the only two notes he can sing.

Suites for Strings

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The composers of Great Britain have a long tradition of writing suites for string orchestras. We’ll hear a few of them on this week’s English Pastorale.

Hubert Parry’s Lady Radnor Suite was written in 1894 for an all-woman orchestra lead by Lady Radnor of Salisbury. The six movements are marked by charm and invention and, perhaps, a hint of Elgar.

Frank Bridge (PHOTO) was a prolific composer of chamber music. His Suite for String Orchestra was written in 1910 but wasn’t published until the mid 1920′s. Despite high hopes by the composer, the work wasn’t a popular success.

Gustav Holst is best remembered today as the composer of “The Planets” suite for large orchestra. His Moorside Suite was originally written for brass band. He later produced a string orchestra version for the girls at St. Paul’s School, where he was employed.

The Florida Suite by Frederick Delius was his first orchestral composition, written while the composer was a music student at the Leipzig conservatory. The work draws on his experiences in America while living on a Florida orange plantation.

Parry – Suite in F Major (Lady Radnor Suite)
Bridge – Suite for String Orchestra
Holst – A Moorside Suite
Delius – Florida Suite: By the River

Listen to a movement of the original brass arrangement of Holst’s A Moorside Suite:

Horse Music

kentucky-derby

It’s Derby Week in Louisville. So let’s look at some equine-related music. American Louis Moreau Gottschalk grew up in New Orleans where he was familiar with horse racing. His Tournament Galop reflects the excitement of the race.

Josef Strauss – from the family of Viennese dance hall Strausses- wrote a fast polka about horse racing, even including the crack of the rider’s whip in the Jockey Polka.

Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries might be the most spectacular moment of horses in music. Brünnhilde and here sisters gather in preparation for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla.

Franz von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture” climaxes with a stately galop that will be familiar to most people. It’s a measured trot suggesting Cavalry troops with horses all in step.

William Bolcom’s Seattle Slew suite for orchestra appears on on of the First Edition series recordings by the Louisville Orchestra. It was written for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and is named after the 1977 Triple Crown Winner Seattle Slew. A three-movement romp, the movements are called “Derby Dressage,” “Preakness Promenade” and “Belmont Bourée.” The work is high-spirited largely because the movements incorporate ragtime and tango elements.