Annie and Evita: two Broadway revivals

Two classic musicals, Annie (1977-1983) and Evita (1979-1983), return to Broadway this season. Since their original Broadway runs, both musicals have been frequently performed by local and regional repertory companies, community theaters, colleges, and high schools. Annie Popular poet James Whitcomb Riley issued “Little Orphant Annie” in 1885. It must have remained popular for some time, because Harold Gray based his popular newspaper cartoon strip Little Orphan Annie on it. The strip debuted in 1924 and, according to a poll in Fortune, was the most popular strip by 1937. Like Al Capp with his Li’l Abner,, Gray used the strip … Continue reading

Tchaikovsky’s early symphonies

Peter Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies have such a firm place in the repertoire that perhaps no one misses the first three. They appear on concerts much less frequently and certainly get less air time on the radio. Some music does not receive many performances because it is mediocre music, or perhaps because it is unreasonably difficult to perform. Neither is the case with Tchaikovsky’s early symphonies. Early in his career, Tchaikovsky struggled with the absolute disconnect between western European musical forms, especially sonata form, and traditional Russian culture. Russian culture created static forms, unlike the goal-oriented sonata form. Tchaikovsky himself … Continue reading

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, known as no. 8

In his youth, Schubert easily wrote six symphonies after the manner of Haydn and Mozart, the last of them in 1817. They are not considered among his major works. When he decided to write symphonies in the manner of Beethoven, though, he ran into trouble. During the remaining eleven years of his life, he began several symphonies, but only completed one of them. It was not performed in his lifetime. He sketched two movements of a symphony in D major (D. 615) in 1818, began another symphony in D major (D. 708a) some time after 1820, sketched a symphony in … Continue reading

The barbed wit behind the barber: Beaumarchais

Every opera buff knows and loves Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Perhaps even the most casual opera goers realize that they share many of the same characters. That’s because they were based on plays by the same person: Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. The one-time royal watchmaker had served time in prison over a failed business deal and developed intense hostility toward the French legal system by the time he wrote his satirical and somewhat autobiographical play The Barber of Seville (1775). In the character of Figaro, Beaumarchais portrayed himself–perhaps not quite how he had lived, but … Continue reading

Danzon no. 2, by Arturo Márquez

The orchestra I play in is working on Danzon no. 2, by Arturo Márquez. Since I have written quite a bit in this blog about building an audience for new “classical” music, I am very proud to present this fairly recent (1994) crowd pleaser by a Mexican conductor who is a little younger than I am. Who says composers have to be dead in order to write good music. (Well, my father has been known to say that, and I’m sure plenty of concert goers agree with him.) Márquez, son of a mariachi musician and grandson of a folk musician, … Continue reading

Beethoven’s Middle String Quartets. op. 59 no.1 in F major

The three quartets of Beethoven’s op. 59 are known as the Razumovsky string quartets, because they were commissioned by Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to the Austrian emperor. The first two of them quote Russian themes, and the third has a theme that seems to have a Russian flavor. These quartets are also the first three of the five string quartets from Beethoven’s middle period. Six of Beethoven’s nine symphonies (no. 3-8) dominate the works of the middle period. As radically different as they are from any earlier symphonies, his string quartets and piano sonatas are more radical still. They … Continue reading

The raucous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

By the time Stravinsky mounted  Rite of Spring in 1913, history had already seen many premieres of operas and other theatrical works where audiences loudly disliked what they saw. In some cases, such as the premiere of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, the noise came from a paid claque. In Rossini’s case, he dared to use the same story as an already successful opera by Giovanni Paisiello, who sent his friends to shout it down. But what happened to Rite of Spring (original title Sacre du Printemps) topped anything that had happened before. Stravinsky’s earlier ballets for the same company, Firebird … Continue reading

Beethoven’s Early String Quartets. Part 2

Op. 18 no. 4, in C minor As I wrote in the introduction to the first article in this series, sonata form is inherently dramatic, but where Haydn and Mozart conceived theirs in terms of comic opera, Beethoven, even in his early works, often sought a more melodramatic or even tragic effect. His music in C minor always displays great dramatic tension. The opening movement of this quartet is less stormy than many of Beethoven’s C minor movements. The dark but lyrical opening theme flows congenially enough, but Beethoven subjects his material to a number of new harmonies and textures. … Continue reading

Beethoven’s Early String Quartets. Part 1

The music Beethoven wrote during his first few years in Vienna shows a young man first learning the basics of the Viennese style and then trying to make his distinctive mark in it. He deliberately produced works in all of the genres current there, including six string quartets written between 1798 and 1800, published as op. 18. By that time, he had learned the basics of the style of Mozart and Haydn and had started the process of transforming it. In the sonata forms of the earlier masters, the recapitulation, as we call it now, presented all of the thematic … Continue reading

Miserere, by Henryk Górecki

In 1994, when I was living and teaching in the Chicago area, one of my graduate students, a member of the Lira Chamber Chorus, invited me to one of the group’s concerts at St. Mary of the Angels Church on the northwest side of Chicago. The entire concert would be devoted to new choral works by Henryk Górecki. I had never heard of him and found it intriguing that an entire concert would consist of the works of one living foreign composer. For most of the program, the Lira Chamber Chorus made up only part of a massed choir, collaborating … Continue reading