By James David Jacobs | Monday, December 3, 2012
In the midst of traditional holiday celebrations, join us for a celebration of the composer who changed everything.
Which holiday event do you look forward to most at this time of year? Musically, there’s no richer time of year, with perennials like Messiah and The Nutcracker, and the chance to hear sublime beauty from groups like Blue Heron and the Tallis Scholars.
But there’s another celebration in December: a secular, music-filled party on the 16th for the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. And for 2012 CNE will expand the celebration to the entire month of December as we explore Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas – a body of work that has been called “Beethoven’s autobiography.”
Beethoven began his musical life as a pianist, and it was through this instrument that he developed his voice and created his public persona. By all accounts he was not handsome and lacked certain social graces, yet through his piano he was confident, urbane, witty, passionate and seductive.
His piano writing, especially early in his career, has a fluency and nuance unmatched by his writing for other instruments; works like his Symphony No. 1 and his string trios, great as they are, seem somewhat crude compared to the piano sonatas he was writing at the same time. While he eventually achieved mastery in many forms of music, there’s an aspect of Beethoven’s voice that’s unique to his sonatas.
He wrote most of them for himself to play, but several of them were written for his students. It is in these sonatas that we get a glimpse of Beethoven the teacher, an aspect of his career he took very seriously. It didn’t hurt that many of his students were refined young women from prosperous families, and since teaching them was probably the most intimate he ever got with any woman of that type, it’s not a stretch to say that the sonatas also reflected the most direct realization of his romantic yearnings.
It is also the piano sonata to which he turned in his darkest moments. He wrote eight sonatas between 1800 and 1802, the years in which his encroaching deafness became palpable. They’re his most deeply felt and accomplished works of that period. Later, in the bleakest, most creatively barren decade of his life, beginning in 1813, his art, his ethics, and his mental health were seriously compromised, and his last six piano sonatas stand as beacons of light in the darkness. They’re like elaborate memos-to-self about his true nature, at a time when he was in grave danger of forgetting what that was.
While this body of sonatas pulls back the curtain on Beethoven as a composer, they are also wonderfully effective mirrors for the personality of the pianist who plays them. A survey of recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas is also a survey of the greatest pianists of the last century.
Arthur Schnabel, whose complete recording of the sonatas in 1935 set the standard for all who followed him, was undoubtedly thinking of these works when he stated that he only wanted to play music “which is better than it could be performed.” These sonatas are a bottomless well from which pianists continue to draw, a journey that, while never complete, is always worth taking.
We invite you to take the journey of Beethoven’s sonatas with us throughout December. Tune in Monday-Thursday at 9pm during December, and listen for more of Beethoven’s piano sonatas with my colleagues, Laura Carlo, Alan McLellan, Cathy Fuller, Ray Brown, and Cheryl Willoughby.
By Cheryl Willoughby | Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Thanksgiving cooking tools, from the traditional to the high-tech (images via Wikimedia Commons)
No matter what your holiday preparations and traditions are, let Classical New England take care of the music while you worry about the rest.
We live in a time when one must make an active choice to do things simply. Let’s take the traditional Thanksgiving dinner: discussion nowadays revolves as much (or more!) around the latest gadgets and preparation techniques as it does the actual food being cooked.
To brine, or not to brine? Shall we go with the good ol’ basted and roasted bird, or maybe something more trendy and adventurous like “turducken” or its vegan counterpart, the gigantesque “veggieducken”? And why stick with the old fashioned pumpkin pie when choices like pumpkin parfaits, tortes, trifles and mousses are so tempting?
This week I even learned about an app that will plan your entire meal for you, detailing all of the steps in the prep and assure your timing – AND the resulting meal – are impeccable. Impressive.
And yet somehow at this time of the year I still get nostalgic for the holidays of childhood, where the cranberry jelly was served with indentations from the can still freshly impressed upon it, and dinner was always accompanied by the special holiday “punch” my Mom stirred together with equal parts 7Up and Hi-C (whatever flavor the red one was). We didn’t have an app or a digital meat thermometer to check on the turkey’s roasting progress throughout the afternoon; we had my Dad.
These things were important at the time and I cherish them now as memories because they were part of our particular family’s meal tradition. And they were simple.
The real key to holiday success and happiness, it seems, lies in being able to find some balance in the many competing elements of the season: modern convention, vs. tradition. Indulgence, vs. temperance. Elaboration, vs. a more modest aesthetic.
New England Autumn (from Our Life in Words)
So here’s what we’d like to do, in the effort of streamlining things and helping you to keep your focus where it needs to be on the big day: let Classical New England take care of the music while you worry about the rest.
In the morning as the yams are being sliced and the dinner rolls are rising, Laura Carlo will be whipping up a feast of favorites including the inspiring Hymn to New England, by John Williams, and Antonin Dvorák’s gorgeous Silent Woods.
Later in the morning Alan McLellan gives us the inspiring sounds of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the Dale Warland Singers’ stunning recording Harvest Home, and Beethoven’s joyous Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral.” At noon, Café Europa celebrates the grandeur of America with Antonin Dvorák’s expansive Symphony No. 9, the “New World.”
And Cathy Fuller takes us right on through the afternoon with the Boston Camerata’s classic Americana recording, Trav’ling Home; Beethoven’s triumphant Choral Fantasy, and selections from Boston pianist Michael Lewin’s collection, If I Were A Bird.
The rich musical repast continues at 5pm as the Minnesotan vocal ensemble Cantus sings hymns, spirituals and songs of gratitude in their Thanksgiving with Cantus.
At 6pm it’s Giving Thanks, as John Birge hosts a special hour reflecting on the meaning of the holiday with poetry, music, and stories.
At 7pm, Performance Today features a cross-country tour highlighting some of the best music and performances America has to offer.
And then at 9pm, just about the time we’re enjoying a glass of brandy and, perhaps, a small second serving of dessert, James David Jacobs arrives to cap off the evening with a delicious final round of savory delights for the occasion.
Cheers, from our family to yours! As we honor the old traditions, and make new ones, and with very best wishes from all of us at Classical New England for a bountiful and – simply – beautiful Thanksgiving, bon appétit!
By Cheryl Willoughby | Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Forget about childhood fears like the thing in the closet and the seemingly endless expanse of darkness beneath the bed, “scary” can take on a whole different dimension with the perspective of an adult.
At a certain age, “scary” becomes things we earnestly worry about every day: the realities of the economy, or, say, freakishly strong late-season hurricanes. Or perhaps the "normally" scary, such as rush hour on 93 South (or 128, or 95, or the Mass. Pike, or….) on a Friday summer afternoon. It’s just part of growing up.
But, for just a few hours this Wednesday, Classical New England invites you to set aside the real-world concerns that keep us up at night in the grownup world and allow music to do what it does best: transport the mind and spirit to another place altogether. It’s Hallowe’en. And we’re offering a mid-week musical diversion featuring characters from the supernatural world of goblins, fairies, and magical spirits of all origins.
Do you know the story of the virtuoso violinist whose skills were so superb it was widely thought he could only have come by his talents if he’d struck some kind of dangerous Mephistpholean bargain? We’re not talking about Paganini here, though he certainly did everything he could in his lifetime to perpetuate a similar mythology for himself. No, this is someone who lived much earlier – the 17th c. teacher and violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Wednesday morning Laura Carlo will feature his treacherously difficult Devil’s Trill virtuoso violin sonata.
Other highlights in her program include two works that were famously featured in animated Disney films: the magical Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas (who could ever forget Mickey Mouse in the hapless title role, with his pesky problem of exponentially multiplying brooms and buckets?), and, from Fantasia, Modest Mussorgsky’s darkly evocative Night on the Bare Mountain.
As the day continues you can look forward to Alan McLellan conjuring up Charles Gounod’s ballet music from his “underworldly” opera, Faust, as well as the clarevoyant trio of witches from Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, and an afternoon materialization of Beethoven’s spectral Ghost piano trio.
And into the evening while the real-life little ghosts and witches take to the streets for their trick-or-treating, Cathy Fuller and James David Jacobs offer a haunting accompaniment to all of the night’s festivities.
You can get back to the fearsome tasks of yard cleanup, mortgage payments and end-of-the-week deadlines on Thursday and Friday. For the 31st, turn your imagination over to Classical New England and we’ll promise a howlingly entertaining time.
In the meantime, enjoy a few spooky classics from the Disney archives!