L’histoire du soldat, or, The soldier’s tale by Igor Stravinsky




Igor Stravinsky didn’t set out to write a masterpiece when he composed L’histoire du soldat (or The Soldier’s Tale). The popular cliché of the starving artist came too close to home for him when World War One broke out. He needed cash. For that purpose, the piece utterly failed. … Continue reading

Perspective on yet another obituary for classical music




Another obituary for classical music appeared recently at marketplace.org.  It points out that classical music sales only amount to 1.4% of music consumption. It says that audiences of classical music are not diverse. It quotes a pianist as being “kind of tired of making music for the same people all the time.” The obituary in Slate by Mark Vanhoenacker that made the rounds last year said, “Classical music has been circling the drain for years.” Such pronouncements usually provoke a flurry of posts about how healthy classical music is. By “for years,” Vanhoenacker means since some time in the mid-20th … Continue reading

Children and the Eastern Music Festival




What picture do you suppose many people associate with “string quartet”? A bunch of old white men dressed like penguins playing stodgy old music for a few people who have learned to hold it in awe? Children don’t know that. When they hear a string quartet, or any kind of classical music, they love it. I got a chance to witness it in person at one of the Eastern Music Festival’s “EMF Encircling the City” concerts. Greensboro violist and EMF faculty member Diane Phoenix-Neal conceived and started the series three years ago as part of the celebration of the festival’s … Continue reading

Student chamber music at the Eastern Music Festival




Somehow I stumbled on to the Eastern Music Festival’s free student chamber music recitals for the first time this year. I wish I had known about them earlier. Five recitals took place over the last two weeks of the festival. They featured standard ensembles (string quartets, brass quintets, piano trios, etc.) and non-standard ones (four violins; horn, violin, and piano; flute, viola, and double bass, and others.) Very few of the groups played every movement of a multi-movement work, and there were seldom two pieces in a row with the same instrumentation. I confess to listening with no little jealousy. … 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

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

Schnabel the mathematician




Have you ever heard people at a restaurant trying to figure out how much each owes when they couldn’t get separate checks? Opinions can become quite heated. The same thing might very well happen to a group of musicians trying to decide how to split a single fee for a concert among themselves. It helps to have someone  very good at math and very persuasive that his or her solution is fair to everyone. Pianist Artur Schnabel, violinist Bronislaw Hubermann, violist Paul Hindemith, and cellist Gregor Piatagorsky faced just that situation in 1933. Johannes Brahms would have been 100 years … Continue reading

Eastern Music Festival




The Eastern Music Festival has been an institution in Greensboro, North Carolina for almost 50 years now. This year’s Festival takes place June 26 through July 31 under the direction of Music Director Gerard Schwartz. It looks to be a great five weeks. It is one of the premiere music education programs in the country. The Young Artists Orchestra, made up of students from 14 to 22 years of age, will be presenting nine concerts. The Festival’s faculty, leading musicians from all over the world, make up the Festival Orchestra, which is presenting five concerts, with soloists Lynn Harrell (cello), … Continue reading