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The Concert
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
319 Episodes

Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and by Debussy performed by Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: Night fall
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 2

On this podcast, we return to a pairing from several weeks ago: Debussy’s Preludes (Book 2, this time) and the Roman Sketches of Charles Griffes.

The second set of Debussy Preludes is similar in conception to the first: a series of fairly brief works, each intended to capture some poetic scene or mood. The second book begins with “Mists” and “Dead Leaves” and goes on to evoke the grand “Gateway of the Alhambra,” a troupe of dancing fairies, and the misty English “Heaths,” concluding with a brilliant display of “Fireworks.” As before, we’ll hear the Preludes performed by Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Preludes, we’ll begin the podcast with an American Impressionist, the composer Charles Griffes, and the piece “Nightfall” from his book of Roman Sketches. “Nightfall” still shows the influence of impressionism, but it also pushes the envelope harmonically. Griffes makes liberal use of the minor second – one of the most dissonant intervals in music–in this piece, mellowing its harshness by placing it deep in the bass register. The dissonance becomes dark, shadowy–evoking the encroaching blackness of night. Playing the Griffes, we’ll again hear pianist Richard Masters.

6 months ago | |
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Works by Schubert for voice and piano performed by Mark Padmore, with Jonathan Biss on October 12, 2014 and for solo piano performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013.

  • Schubert: Ständchen from Schwanengesang
  • Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 959

In 1828, as Schubert’s health was rapidly deteriorating, the composer entered a period of phenomenal compositional productivity. In the final months of his life, he would write many works that were published posthumously and recognized to be among his finest achievements. Two sets stand out as particularly notable: his final three piano sonatas, and Schwanengesang, a cycle of songs whose title translates as “Swan Song.”

We’ll hear one of the piano sonatas on this podcast–number 959, the sonata in A Major, performed by Charlie Albright. Schubert set out to write this sonata, and the other two in the set, shortly after the death of Beethoven, who had long cast a formidable shadow over the genre. The finale pays tribute to Beethoven, with a nod to the final movement of his 16th piano sonata.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear a song from the Schwanengesang cycle: “Staendchen,” or serenade. The singer implores his beloved to join him in the grove at nighttime, amidst the rustling leaves. There is an undertone of foreboding, though, as he alludes to the pain of love and the prying eyes of others.

6 months ago | |
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Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on February 22, 2015 by Grieg and Marin arr. Higgins.

  • Grieg: Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34
  • Marin: A Swedish Set arr. Erik Higgins

On this podcast, we look north, to works from a recent program by the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence, A Far Cry. Called “Aurora Borealis,” the concert featured numerous works by Nordic composers.

We begin with Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, a tuneful work for string orchestra based on the composer’s own songs. In Two Elegiac Melodies, Grieg recast his opus 33 songs “The Wounded Heart” and “Last Spring” in instrumental arrangements. Though no words are sung, the pieces are still suffused with the energy of the verses that inspired them. As the poet recalls the annual transformation from winter to spring, we realize that the title – “Last Spring” – has another, more bittersweet meaning.

After the Grieg, we have a more contemporary take on Nordic folk music: a set of Swedish dances by the fiddlers Mia and Mikael Marin. The tunes were arranged for orchestra by one of A Far Cry’s own members, the bassist Erik Higgins, whose friend introduced him to the music. The set of four tunes includes two original works by Marins, as well as two arrangements of traditional Swedish songs.

We start with the Grieg.

7 months ago | |
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Works for solo piano by Liszt performed by Gleb Ivanov on April 11, 2010 and work by Faure performed by Michael Brown, Chad Hoopes, Matthew Lipman, and Colin Carr on November 22, 2015

  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Gute Nacht
  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Ave Maria
  • Fauré: Quartet No. 2 in G Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 45

As a listener to this podcast, you’ve probably realized by now the importance of lineage in classical music. The links between past and future, teacher and student have a tremendous impact. On this podcast, we’ll explore two composers who occupy interesting places in classical music lineage: Franz Liszt and Gabriel Fauré.

Fauré’s music was quite adventurous, even scandalous, during his lifetime. Fauré ascended to head of the Paris conservatory where he modernized the curriculum, exerting an enormous influence on the emerging composers and musicians who studied there. We’ll hear Fauré’s Second Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello, his opus 45 – a piece written earlier in his career, before he began working at the conservatory. It is a passionate work, with ardent melodies and creative harmonies.

Before the Fauré quartet—which makes up the bulk of the podcast—we have two brief but interesting transcriptions by Franz Liszt of songs by Schubert. Liszt was a prolific transcriber, often creating piano-only settings of operas and orchestral works. In the case of the Schubert songs, however, Liszt scaled up—adding pianistic embellishments to Schubert’s rather simple lieder. The resulting compositions are, at times, more like fantasties than transcriptions—expanding on Schubert’s songs, rather than just recreating them for solo piano.

7 months ago | |
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Works by Mozart for violin and viola performed by Chad Hoopes and Matthew Lipman on November 22, 2015 and for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on September 7, 2014.

  • Mozart: Duo in G Major for Violin and Viola, K. 423
  • Mozart: Divertimento in F, K. 138

The word “diversion” has two, related meanings. Sometimes – as in Mozart’s Duo in G Major for violin and viola – it is about a surprise change in course. Mozart was in Salzburg for an extended visit with his new wife when he discovered that his friend Michael Haydn (Josef’s brother) had fallen ill in the midst of an important commission. The Archbishop had commissioned Haydn to write a set of six duos, but he’d gotten sick after completing the fourth and hadn’t been able to finish. Mozart gamely stepped into the void and offered to write the remaining pair.

Then, we have a diversion of the second sort: a distraction, a trifle, a delight designed to entertain, in between other things. This is the Divertimento in F, also by Mozart. Divertimento, of course, means “diversion” or “amusement” in Italian, and the genre consists mostly of lighthearted pieces that might be heard at a party or social function. There’s some question about whether, in this case, the title was assigned by the composer—in the score, the word “divertimento” appears in someone else’s hand—but the music certainly fits. We’ll hear it performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s resident chamber orchestra.

First, the Duo in G Major.

8 months ago | |
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Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: The White peacock
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 1

The gently unfurling plumage of a white peacock. A barren winter landscape dinted with footprints. This podcast is all about using music to evoke and communicate impressions.

The bulk of the program is made up of Debussy’s 12 Preludes, from Book 1. A series of brief works meant to evoke a particular atmosphere or landscape, the Preludes are among Debussy’s most important achievements, each a small masterpiece unto itself. The 12 movements in book 1 evoke everything from dancers to sails to the languorous sounds and scents of the evening. We’ll hear the preludes performed by pianist Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Debussy, we’ll hear an impressionistic work from the other side of the pond: Charles Griffes’ “The White Peacock,” the first movement of his Roman Sketches, opus 7. “The White Peacock” is perhaps his best-known work; originally written for piano, it was also published in an arrangement for orchestra. Tragically, the composer died just a year later. It’s hard not to wonder how Griffes and his work might have developed and impacted American composition, had he survived. We’ll hear “The White Peacock” performed by pianist Richard Masters.

8 months ago | |
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Work by Handel performed by A Far Cry with Amanda Forsythe, soprano on November 16, 2014 and work by Beethoven performed by Borromeo String Quartet on October 24, 2010.

  • Handel: Armida abbandonata, HWV 105
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
Armida abbandonata, a setting of the famous Italian story, detailing the grief of the sorceress Armida at being abandoned by her lover Rinaldo, a waylaid soldier. In the final aria, she prays to the god of love to pity her, and help her forget her former lover. We’ll hear the piece sung by soprano Amanda Forsythe, with the chamber orchestra A Far Cry.

Then we move to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, often referred to as the “Serioso” quartet—the composer’s own subtitle. The piece sounds troubled from the start, ferocious and full of intensity, with jagged themes and plenty of dissonance. It continues that way for most of its length, until the storm clouds unexpectedly part at the very end, and a ray of hope shines through in the last few minutes of the finale.

We begin with Amanda Forsythe, singing Handel’s cantata Armida abbandonata.

9 months ago | |
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Works by Bach for chamber orchestra performed by Rebel on November 10, 2013 and solo piano performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015.

  • Bach: Concerto in A Major
  • Bach: Toccata, Adagio, and Fuge BWV 564 arr. Ferrucio Busoni

It’s incredible to think just how much influence and resonance the music of Johann Sebastian Bach still has today, three hundred years after it was written. This podcast shows just two of the many examples of ways in which musicians continue to discover new possibilities in this centuries-old music, recreating Bach for different times and instruments.

The concerto on this podcast was originally composed for oboe d’amore, and only later adapted and published for harpsichord as the Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055. Centuries later, however, only the harpsichord version remained. So in the 1970s, scholar and editor Wilfried Fischer decided to tackle the task of recreating the original oboe concerto, based on an early manuscript that provided hints about which lines were originally meant for oboe.

Perhaps the most radical advance in musical technology since the Baroque era has been in the keyboard family, and Bach’s music is now regularly played on piano—an instrument that did not exist during his lifetime. Following the oboe concerto, we’ll hear Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major for organ, adapted for the modern piano by Ferruccio Busoni. We’ll hear the piece performed by the young Chinese-born pianist Ji.

9 months ago | |
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Works for piano by Schumann performed by Paavali Jumppanen on May 4, 2014 and November 30, 2014.

This podcast comes courtesy of several musical personas. Not just Schumann, the composer of both the works, but also his alter egos – Florestan and Eusebius – the characters he used to personify different aspects of his artistic disposition. It was under these names, not his own, that Schumann published his first piano sonata—the “Grosse Sonate” in F-sharp minor, opus 11.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear a shorter showstopper, also by Schumann: Variations on “Abegg,” Schumann’s opus 1, the first piece he ever published. The dedication is to another of Schumann’s fictional friends—the countess Pauline of Abegg, a character likely inspired by Schumann’s childhood friend Meta von Abegg. The piece takes its namesake quite literally, building on a theme using the notes A-B-flat-E-G-G—spelling out the name “Abegg” in the notes. Those five notes are a starting point for a series of variations that are alternately dazzling and lyrical.

Both pieces were performed at the Gardner by pianist Paavali Jumppanen. We begin with the Abegg Variations.

10 months ago | |
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Works for strings by Brahms performed by A Far Cry on December 9, 2012 and Musicians from Marlboro on May 10, 2015.

Imagine if, before you published your first string quartet, you wrote and discarded twenty others? As the All Music Guide notes, in his entire compositional life, Brahms produced just three string quartets to Haydn’s 68, Mozart’s 23, and Beethoven’s 16. This is all the more striking if one considers Brahms’ relatively long lifespan of 63 years compared to, say, Mozart, who died at age 35.

We’ll hear Brahms’s first published quartet on our podcast today, the String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, in a performance by Musicians from Marlboro. It’s not hard to hear what made this piece so challenging to write. Brahms creates a quartet that is very tightly structured, with themes that recur throughout the length of the work, not just within the individual movements, and a carefully constructed harmonic architecture.

Before we dive into the quartet, though, we begin with a piece that shows Brahms’s lighter side: an orchestral version of his Hungarian Rhapsody, arranged for the chamber orchestra A Far Cry by their cellist Alastair Eng.

10 months ago | |
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