Category Archives: Music

On Musical Performance

For a long time I thought that the role of the performer was simply to play (or sing) the notes exactly as they were written in the score. It gradually dawned on me that this literal approach to musical performance was rather simple minded. During my come scritto period I thought Toscanini the prince of…


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The Greatest Musical Composition Ever – II

Joseph Haydn wrote 14 masses. The last six were written for the Esterházy family to celebrate the name day of Princess Maria Hermenegild, the wife of Prince Nikolaus II and a friend of the composer. They mark the the last period of Haydn’s enormous musical output and are among the greatest liturgical compositions in Western music. In my opinion, the…


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The Greatest Musical Composition Ever – 1

Obviously there’s a contradiction in my title. There can’t be more than one greatest musical composition ever written. My purpose is to list music so good that while you’re listening to it, it seems to be without peer – at least until you happen on the next greatest work. My plan for this series is…


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Spike Jones

Spike Jones (1911-65) was a percussionist of considerable skill who got bored playing the same music over and over again. He gradually drifted into an anarchic style of comedy and music that has never been equaled. He assembled a group of players and singers who were equally adept at performing and inspired silliness. This madness…


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Nonets and More

Writing for nine distinct voices in opera is rare. I can only think of two examples without a deep dive into opera arcana [If there are other examples, let me know]. First, Act 1 scene 2 of Verdi’s Falstaff. And if that’s not enough Verdi goes on to write for 10. This complex writing occurs…


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Franz Schubert: Two Fantasies

Daniel Dennett is a professor at Tufts University who frequently writes about humans consciousness. He thinks the study of the brain can explain the phenomenon much like the study of the kidney will eventually lead to a complete understanding of how it works – well almost complete. His work is engaging , insightful, and informative….


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Glenn Gould and Mozart

Glenn Gould was one of the greatest performers of JS Bach’s keyboard works since the advent of recordings. The Canadian pianist was also a gifted pedagogue and world class eccentric. He invented nutty alter egos, one of whom appears in the video at the end of this article. Among Gould’s quirks was hypochondriasis. Shortly after…


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Finale 25: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 in G Minor, Op. 103 “The Year 1905”- 4. The Tocsin

Written and first performed in 1957, Shostakovich’s Symphony #11 was ostensibly about the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905. Everything the composer wrote or said after Stalin squashed him in 1935 because the dictator was offended by Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk has to be decoded. He composed the piece in the wake of the Soviet repression…


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Why Contemporary Music Fails

Look to the boxoffice; the theater was meant to be full. Giuseppe Verdi to a young composer upset about the critics’ reaction to his compositions. The music discussed here is that of Western Europe which is typically called classical music. I’ll include opera and related vocal music under the same rubric. While largely the child…


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Richard Tauber

A reader recently asked why I had not written anything about Richard Tauber. I didn’t have a good answer and said I would; this is it. Tauber (1891-1948) was born in Linz, Austria to an unmarried actress. His father was an actor Richard Anton Tauber who eventually acknowledged him and took over his upbringing. Young…


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