Music Lists

Mr. President: A Choral Tribute

By Brian McCreath   |   Sunday, February 20, 2011
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Feb. 25

Earlier this week, on Presidents Day, we offered a new set of choral pieces that pay tribute to several US Presidents through the words they spoke or wrote.  They were from a project dreamed up by Judith Clurman, conductor of Essential Voices USA, who was inspired to commission the series as a result of her commitment to music, to politics, and to education.

As we talked through this project here at 99.5 All Classical, I couldn't help but be struck by the dichotomy of the character of these pieces and the character of our current political climate.  The words Clurman found and the music they inspired are reminders that, in the midst of bitter political battles playing out in Washington, D.C, Madison, Wisconsin, Indianapolis, Indiana, and many other places around the country, there are and have been extraordinary people who have approached politics as a way to improve lives and create a better society.

I was also reminded of a few amazing resources about specific presidents that I've found valuable in making their impact and legacy more tangible.  I've listed them below, along with five of the pieces that you can listen to on demand.  See what you think, and feel free to add your own comments and suggestions for learning more about presidents.

And to hear all 16 of the pieces included in the project, on demand, along with interviews with Clurman and several of the composers, visit NPR Music's Deceptive Cadence.

George Washington - “I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.”
1st President: 1789-1797
Washington Round, by Michael Gilberston

John Adams - “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but the wise men ever rule under this roof.”
2nd President: 1797–1801
John Adams’ Prayer, by Jake Heggie

John Adams, David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Massachusetts's own John Adams, an incredible work in its own right, inspired HBO to create an equally incredible television biography of this vastly underrated president.  The series not only includes vivid portrayals of Adams and his wife Abigail by, respectively, Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, it also gives you a sometimes difficult to watch picture of life in colonial America.  For more info, visit HBO's John Adams.

Abraham Lincoln - “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
16th President: 1861-1865
The ballet is stronger than the bullet, by Jason Robert Brown

Garry Wills's 1992 book, Lincoln at Gettysburg:  The Words That Remade America, is invaluable in many ways.  The 272-word Gettysburg Address is so ubiquitous as an item of history that it may occasionally lose its power, but this illuminating book reinforces the staggering work of genius the speech is by weaving in philosophy, history, and cultural practices of the time.  The number of words written about Lincoln over the decades is practically infinite, but for me, this one book is all that's needed to confirm him as our greatest president.

Dwight David Eisenhower - “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
33rd President: 1953-1961
Eisenhower Round, by Paul Moravec

A recent issue of The Atlantic featured an article entitled "The Tyranny of Defence Inc.," written by Andrew J. Bacevich, in which a sobering portrait is drawn of a Dwight D. Eisenhower as he left office.  More prophetic than even he himself knew, Eisenhower comes across as a man at once responsible for much of the dangerous state of our current geo-political situation, and wise enough to recognize that danger.  Ultimately, it's a complexity not often credited to Ike.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy - “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.”
35th President: 1961-1963
Freedom’s Road, by Robert Beaser

My Favorites: Introspective Brahms and Soaring Gnattali

By Alice Abraham   |   Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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For the week of Valentine's Day, we'll be playing the music you love most, and in that spirit, here is the next in a series of what a few of us here at 99.5 All Classical love most.  Alice Abraham is our Music Librarian, responsible for a collection of over 90,000 individual recordings and books in support of the classical music we bring you 24 hours a day.

We hope these ideas prompt you to think through your favorites, which you can submit here!

Feb. 9

My favorite music Valentines features intense emotional dialogues for strings.

I was the youngest of four and was second fiddle in our family string quartet. Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78, reminds me of my parents encouraging us to spread our wings and to be adventurous. But the melancholy woven throughout this work represents to me our loss and resignation when my sister disappeared/died on an expedition. Long ago I performed this sonata on my sister’s 1747 violin. The second movement is one of those rare occasions where Brahms borrowed a theme from one of his earlier works. The introspective Adagio quotes the rain motif from his song “Das Regenlied” Op. 59 No. 3.

In contrast, Radames Gnattali’s Sonata, written in 1969, is a vibrant and passionate dialogue for cello and guitar influenced by strong sonorities and rhythms found in Brazilian popular music. I’m so glad that cellist Maxine Neuman, one half of the Claremont Duo, introduced me to this work, which the duo included on a CD from Artek called “Histoires.” The first and third movements are especially inspirational, lifting you up, soaring and swirling with the wind through new adventures in life!

Louis Moreau Gottschalk & Fitz Henry Lane

By Cathy Fuller   |   Wednesday, January 12, 2011
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Pairing a piece of music with one of the pieces of art in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new Art of the Americas Wing, I’ve tried to find pairs that were created in the same year. Even when artists have vastly different sensibilities, there is inevitably a meaningful connection to be made.

The year is 1855, and the two artists come from very different circumstances. One of them was forced to stay in one place all his life; the other was famous for globetrotting.

The painter Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) lost the use of his legs before his second birthday. The paralysis was thought to have come from ingesting poisonous jimsonweed. He would never recover.

The musician Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) became America’s first traveling virtuoso – a pianist/composer who did an unbelievable amount of touring. He gave uncountable concerts in Europe, Central America, South America and Cuba. Sometimes called the “Chopin of the Creoles,” he worked into his music the syncopations of Louisiana and the Caribbean, creating pieces that anticipated jazz and ragtime. His music really had little to do with Chopin’s, but his spectacular control of the instrument was caricaturized by images of a wild pianist with hundreds of flying fingers.

Fitz Henry Lane was born in Gloucester. While he could have followed in his father’s footsteps as a sail maker, his artistic talents bloomed early. He went to Boston and apprenticed as a lithographer, and then came back to Gloucester, where he designed a house and lived at Duncan’s Point until his death. It’s easy to feel his deep connection to the water. The 1855 painting “New York Harbor” radiates a rich and emotional glow with noble ships and a warm sunrise. There is a kind of reverence in his vision that makes the busy place seem serene.

While Lane was sitting still, mastering his evocative, signature marine style, composer/pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk was taking the world by storm, giving concerts of his own music to adoring crowds. America’s first touring virtuoso became a sort of matinee idol, giving monster concerts, sometimes with up to 650 musicians! If you’re interested, the diaries of his travels are published and available. Notes of a Pianist: The Chronicles of a New Orleans Music Legend (Princeton University Press) tells his story masterfully. In one account he describes an unfortunate piano that he had to play in Panama: "The audience appears to be charmed, while I am playing on a cottage piano that I suspect was the product of an illicit union between a jew's-harp and a large kettle."

In 1855 Gottschalk wrote his famous piece “The Banjo”. Here are clips of Boston-based pianist Michael Lewin playing it, as well as the Mazurka “Souvenir de Lima”.

Gottschalk: The Banjo (excerpt)

Gottschalk: Souvenir de Lima (excerpt)

(image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts)


Top 10 Classical of 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010
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A New Pergolesi Stabat Mater

By Cathy Fuller   |   Saturday, November 27, 2010
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Monday, Nov. 29

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi died when he was only 26. 18th-century opera lovers were wild about his comic opera “La Serva Padrona” and a Pergolesi craze erupted after he succumbed to tuberculosis.

For a very long time, it was believed that he had managed to write some 320 works, until it was discovered that publishers had been printing pieces by obscure composers with Pergolesi’s name attached. In the end, there are only thirty-six that are certainly his.

One work that has profoundly affected people throughout these last 300 years (born in 1710, this is Pergolesi’s tricentennial year) is the Stabat Mater, written just before he died. There has been great temptation to imagine Pergolesi writing it on his deathbed, bringing up the similar and painful picture of Mozart and his Requiem. But it was apparently conceived in many stages, intended to be sung each Friday in Lent at the church of San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples.

The great philosopher/writer/composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote: “The first movement of the Stabat Mater is the most perfect and most moving that has ever issued from the pen of any composer.”

The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin has a new recording of the Stabat Mater and one of Pergolesi’s Salve Regina settings. The voices belong to soprano Anna Prohaska (left) and mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink. We’ll hear some of it at 10am on Monday on New and Notable, as well as conductor Valery Gergiev’s recent release on the LSO Live label of music by Ravel with the London Symphony Orchestra.

(Visit ArkivMusic to purchase Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin's Stabat Mater and Gergiev's Ravel.)

Reflections In Song; Music For September 11

Friday, August 5, 2011
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