Four tangos by classical composers

The tango, in a sense, is to 20th-century music what the waltz was in the 19th century. It originated from the lower social classes of Argentina. Polite society found it scandalous (as respectable people had scorned the waltz in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria a century earlier). But like the waltz it became insanely popular in Paris and eventually embraced at home. Paris has long served as the launching pad for dances that, whatever their origin, become internationally popular. Just as classical composers of the 19th century embraced the waltz, so those of the 20th century (and at least one who … Continue reading

Waisenhauskirche Mass: Tradition vs innovation in Mozart’s trombone parts

Mozart’s Requiem, the last piece he ever worked on, has a trombone solo in the Tuba mirum movement. So far as I know, there is nothing like it anywhere in the standard sacred music repertoire. The important word in that sentence is “standard.” People who wrote about musical performances in the nineteenth century were all too aware of the uniqueness of that solo. Throughout the century in every country from which I have seen magazine or newspaper articles, critics rarely mentioned the trombones in classical music except to complain that they were too loud. Along with more than one author … Continue reading

Music education and gun violence

Three interesting and important stories about music education have come to my attention over the last couple of months. Then came the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As it turns out, there is a connection. Just before Christmas, I heard an interesting interview on the radio, found it on line, and emailed it to myself. Somehow, I couldn’t find it the first time I looked for it, but it turned up the other day when I was looking for something else. It’s an interview between NPR’s Scott Simon and Marin Alsop, conductor of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and … Continue reading

Unlikely greatness: Joseph Haydn as a child

In the middle of the eighteenth century, peasant boys born in villages tended to remain peasant villagers for the rest of their lives. Musicians of any social class usually came from musical families. Joseph Haydn, born to a wheelwright and a cook in the Austrian village of Rohrau, seems an unlikely candidate to become a musician at all, let alone become wealthy and internationally famous. His father, Mathias, could not read music, but learned to play the harp by ear. Singing songs while playing the harp, or playing harp while the family sang, was a favorite pastime. Visitors might also … Continue reading

Education at the Eastern Music Festival

Now in its 51st season, the Eastern Music Festival features world-renowned classical soloists and chamber musicians from around the world. Very often, musicians of their caliber are in a given city only long enough to rehearse and perform their scheduled concerts. Not so with the Eastern Music Festival. Everything revolves around educating students aged 14-22, and these guests come as much to teach as to perform. A diverse student body This year the student body comprises 177 students, 14 from the US other countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Canada, Germany, and Mexico. In previous years, students have come from Japan, … Continue reading

A little classical music quiz

Let’s try something a bit more interactive today, classical music lovers. I have a little multiple-choice quiz for you. Don’t worry, it won’t be graded. You won’t have to wait for the answers, either. They’re just under the poll. 1. Hector Berlioz composed a piece about his love life! It is: a. Lelio b. Harold in Italy c. Symphonie fantastique d. Pathetique symphony. 2. Some pieces are known by nicknames, usually not assigned by the composer. Which of the following nicknames is the composer’s? a. Alpine Symphony, by Strauss b. Appassionata Sonata, by Beethoven c. Symphony of a Thousand, by … Continue reading

Children and classical music revisited

Last March I wrote Children and classical music, which featured Charlie Loh, a professional conductor’s five-year-old son conducting Rite of Spring. The proud father also mounted a video of Charlie conducting something else when he was only four. Charlie got off to a good start then, but made remarkable progress by the time he was five! Lately, a video of a three-year-old, identified only as Jonathan, conducting the finale to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been making the rounds. There are 10 videos in all (as of today) of Jonathan either playing violin or conducting something. I see he showed interest … Continue reading

Classical music at a bar?

According to a story on NPR’s Weekend Edition, “Beethoven and Beer at the Happy Dog,” members of the Cleveland Orchestra have been playing classical chamber music since June 2010 at the Happy Dog, a neighborhood bar on the near-west side of town, under the name Orchestral Manoeuvres at the Dog. People love it, and the bar is packed every time they play. It gives customers who would never go to Severance Hall a chance to hear classical music and gives the bar customers who would not otherwise come. It also gives the musicians a chance to make music more spontaneously. … Continue reading

An excellent high-school orchestra from Indiana

A friend of mine sent me a link to the video below and said to prepare to be impressed. It is a prize-winning performance of the Carmel (Indiana) High School Symphony Orchestra playing “Jupiter” from The Planets by Gustav Holst. As a result of this performance last May, they were named the Indiana State Orchestra Champion. My friend tells me they also won in 2008 playing the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and “Mambo” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. These performances are also available on YouTube. This performance is better than many concerts I have heard by prestigious … Continue reading

Beethoven and musical invective

Perhaps not every classical music lover considers Beethoven the greatest composer in history, but I’m sure everyone puts  him among their top three or four. Yet in  his lifetime, he got some bad press. Here is a selection of German, French and English reviews written during his lifetime from Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective: Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, which refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect. Beethoven, who is often bizarre and baroque, takes at times the majestic flight of an eagle, … Continue reading