Classical Music with Ray Brown

At the Circus

Saturday, January 1, 2011
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A Kids' Classical Christmas

Friday, December 24, 2010
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A Request for Beethoven, and music for the holiday

By Ray Brown   |   Thursday, December 23, 2010
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Dec. 24

Today's 4:00 request is from Marc for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, which we'll hear performed by Robert Levin on the fortepiano, with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique led by John Eliot Gardiner. Continuing the practice he began in his recordings of the Mozart concertos, Levin improvised all of his own cadenzas in the studio, rather than play the ones that Beethoven wrote. My colleague Cathy Fuller asked Levin about the process of creating new cadenzas for Mozart's music, and, especially for Beethoven's First Concerto, I think the same things apply.  Check out Cathy's conversations with Robert Levin here.

After the Beethoven we'll play a work that is increasingly associated with the holidays: the music Prokofiev wrote for the film "Lieutenant Kije."  While this music has been used in several films (perhaps most memorably in Woody Allen's "Love and Death"), it's quite illuminating to hear the music in its original context.  If you have a spare 82 minutes this holiday weekend, you can check out the 1934 film below.  It feels like a Soviet version of the Marx Brothers, based on a bitterly satiric novella by Yuri Tynyanov about a nonexistent officer in the Tsar's army who becomes a very convenient fiction.

Beginning at 5:00 we'll play three hours of music (and a bit of radio drama!) for the holidays, including excerpts from The Nutcracker, works by Bach and Corelli, carols sung by Chanticleer, the Boston Camerata, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus (who will also be singing our holiday broadcast of Handel's Messiah at 8:00 tonight). We'll also hear a few snippets of Patrick Stewart's magnificent audio version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," as well as a few surprises. All of us here at 99.5 thank you for making us a part of your celebration, and we wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday.


The Snowman

Friday, December 17, 2010
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The Fiery Kreutzer

By Ray Brown   |   Friday, December 17, 2010
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Dec. 17

Today's 4:00 Request is from Joel for Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata.  Recently, my colleague Laura Carlo posted a beautiful Host Note about the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven's heart-wrenching letter to his brothers in which he articulates the reasons for his “fiery, active termperament.”  Much of this sonata was written at the same time that he wrote that powerful letter, and that temperament can be heard in full force in this sonata's first movement. 

It's a movement that the character Posdnicheff describes as "a terrible thing" in Leo Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata, and that ignites the fires of a jealous rage, leading the character to murder his wife.  (That novella, in turn, inspired René François Xavier Prinet's painting of 1901, at left, as well as Janacek's first string quartet.)  While there's no documented evidence that this piece inspired a murder in real life, its famous title was the result of a jealousy-fueled dispute between Beethoven and its original dedicatee, the violinist George Bridgetower. Originally good friends, they fell in love with the same woman, leading Beethoven to change the dedication to the French violinist Rudolphe Kreutzer, who never performed the sonata that bears his name (otherwise best known for the 42 etudes that torture every young violinist).

This sonata can be considered the dividing line between Beethoven's "early" and "middle" periods.  One of the ways in which the differences between the two periods manifest themselves in Beethoven's chamber works is in their scale of expression, and by extension, their implied audience. The third movement of this sonata, which was actually written first and intended for a different piece altogether, sounds like an activity, something that was written primarily for the pleasure of the performers, as well as entertaining for the handful of people who could also fit into the living room.

The first movement, which was the last to be written, is very much a piece for a theater or a concert hall, in which two performers make a compelling public statement as powerful as that of an orchestra, in the way only professional could handle.  It could be said that the difference between the so-called early and middle periods is the difference between Beethoven the 18th-century composer and Beethoven the 19th-century composer. It's not unlike the trajectory taken by the Eroica symphony in that regard, from the revolutionary, seams-bursting first movement to the classical variations of the finale based on a theme he had already used in three early-period works.

The years 1801-1806 were transitional for Beethoven; the struggles he mentioned in the Heiligenstadt Testament manifested themselves not only in his forward-looking, fiery, temperamental music, but also in his difficulty in reconciling that temperament with the classical style he been working in his entire life up to that point. As it says in the Testament, he still wanted to be able to engage in relaxation and refined conversations with others, and not to appear misanthropic.  But he also wants his condition to be understood, to have us all know what his "hot terrors" feel like.  It will take him another few years to figure out how to do that completely successfully, which he finally did in the Fifth Symphony, but his journey toward that point is fascinating, illuminating and moving, and it could be said that journey begins with the Kreutzer Sonata.
(image:  Wikimedia Commons)

Faure on Glorious Vinyl

By Ray Brown   |   Friday, December 10, 2010
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Dec. 10

Today's 4:00 Request comes from Chris, who writes: "Please play 'Pie Jesu' sung by Kathleen Battle (left) from Faure's Requiem. None other will do." We are dedicated here at 99.5; no CD of this performance was found in the WGBH library, but it was found on LP, so the request will be fulfilled via glorious vinyl.

Fulfilling this request seemed like a good way to kick off our holiday programming; in the first hour we will hear carols sung by the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus and the Taverner Choir, instrumental versions of carols as set by the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the Evening Prayer and Pantomime from Englebert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in an English-language version featuring Jennifer Larmore and Rebecca Evans.

In the 6:00 hour we will broadcast programming in solidarity with the efforts of Kim Kashkashian and her project Music for Food for Music.  At that time, they will be performing a benefit concert for the Greater Boston Food Bank at Emmanuel Church. Like the other programs in this series, tonight's program will feature a Mozart Viola Quintet and a "surprise piece by Bach", in Ms. Kashkashian's words. We will show our support for this endeavor by playing Mozart's C major quintet with Kim Kashkashian and the Boromeo Quartet in a concert recording from the Gardner Museum in 2002, preceded by a surprise Bach piece of our own, and while doing so we encourage you to think of those in need this holiday season.

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