Archive for November, 2008

Piazzolla, Tango Ballet

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Astor Piazzolla, 1921-1992

Tango Ballet, 1956

Astor PiazzollaThe Argentine Tango is music, dance, style, culture, and, arguably, a way of life that was born in the scrappy portside bars and brothels of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century. From there, it rapidly migrated around the world, climbing the social hierarchy into cabarets, ballrooms, the cinema and the concert hall to become an internationally known stylization of desire, conflict, heartbreak and lonely nostalgia. Permuting into various musical contexts including popular song, jazz, rock and a variety of classical forms, its origins are no less diverse. From the Rough Guide of World Music, “It was a definitively urban music: a product of the melting pot of European immigrants, criollos [Creoles], blacks and natives, drawn together when the city became the capital of Argentina in 1880. (more…)

Grieg, String Quartet in g

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Edvard Grieg, 1843-1907

String Quartet No.1 in g minor, Op. 27, 1878

Edvard GriegEdvard Grieg produced only one complete mature string quartet, the String Quartet in g minor, Op. 27 dating from 1878 when he was 35. The historical record indicates that it was a challenge for Grieg, a composer who was perhaps more accustomed to writing in smaller forms such as his celebrated art songs and Romantic piano miniatures. Yet his remains one of the most original and influential string quartets of the late 19th century, approximately contemporaneous with the first important quartets from Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Borodin and Dvořák. It was written in the same year as César Franck’s piano quartet with which it shares some prominent elements of innovative cyclic design. Grieg’s quartet even managed to impress the aloof Debussy who, fifteen years later wrote his only quartet in the same key, with more than a few striking similarities. (more…)

Haydn, String Quartet in d, Op. 76, No. 2, “Fifths”

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Franz Josef Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in d minor, Op. 76, No. 2, “Fifths”, 1796-1797

Joseph HaydnHaydn’s entire quartet legacy comprises a rough total of sixty-eight quartets written over the span of nearly fifty years and includes at least twenty-five unequivocal masterpieces. The quartets were generally published in groups of six or three of which there are several landmark sets, each with its own personality, ingenuity and style. Each set tends to reflect a particular phase of Haydn’s ever-creative quartet thinking and, rather miraculously, forms a complete universe in itself, so rich and varied are the musical treasures within. If one were forced to pick the so-called “desert island” opus, the likely candidate might be Op. 76, the last complete set of quartets Haydn wrote between 1796 and 1797 when he was 65 years old. At the time, Haydn was essentially retired from service to the Esterhazy family, “world” famous after his two fabulously successful tours to England, materially well-off and still in full command of his art. (more…)

Fauré, Piano Trio in d minor, Op. 120

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Gabriel Fauré, 1845-1924

Piano Trio in d minor, Op. 120, 1923

Gabriel FauréA central figure in 19th and 20th century French music, Gabriel Fauré’s life spanned an astonishing timeline of musical history particularly emphasizing the innovations of his countrymen. Berlioz was still alive in Fauré’s youth. He was friends with Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and d’Indy. As an influential academic reformer and professor of composition, Fauré would number Maurice Ravel, Florent Schmitt and Nadia Boulanger among his students. Outliving Debussy by several years, he completed his final works in the mid-1920’s thereby bridging the rise of Romanticism and the full flowering of Modernism and, arguably, through Boulanger, influencing a whole generation of young American composers studying abroad. His musical style lay somewhere in between this imponderable range. (more…)

Schumann, Piano Trio No. 3 in g, Op. 110

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Robert Schumann, 1810-1856

Piano Trio No. 3 in g minor, Op. 110, 1851

Robert SchumannThe trio opens with one of Schumann’s finest sonata movements. Sweeping, bold and dark, a long, articulated melody with arpeggiated flourishes establishes the key motifs that saturate the movement. There are two primary themes. The second is characteristically softer and more lyrical but complemented by a variation of the obstinate arpeggio as a counterpoint. The development features a delicious surprise: a deft, fugato episode with the tiniest shard of a subject, pointed pizzicato and a chromatic countersubject seamlessly derived from a background piano figure. The concluding bars whip the drama into a turbulent froth that evaporates in suspense, the air charged with tiny sparkles recalling the fugato with a Mendelssohnian magic. (more…)