Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev

On the 18th of November, 1915, a recital was held in Moscow to commemorate the life of Alexander Scriabin, whose premature death in April of that year had rocked the world of Russian music.  The program consisted entirely of his own works, and performing them at the piano was fellow Moscow Conservatory graduate, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Continue reading “Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev”

San Francisco Symphony (March 5, 2010)

I bought my tickets for last night’s concert with the San Francisco Symphony last fall when I was under the spell of an almost child-like excitement over this season’s programming of popular masterworks.  In particular, the 2009-2010 season has seen the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Rachmaninoff, as well as a few other big names from the middle Romantic era. Continue reading “San Francisco Symphony (March 5, 2010)”

Celibidache’s Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies are probably the most performed and recorded symphonies in existence.  Other contenders include those of Beethoven, Mozart, and maybe Haydn by virtue of there being over a hundred of them, but the trinity that is Tchaikovsky’s four, five, and six delivers a sampling of Romanticism that has proven irresistible to popular taste. Continue reading “Celibidache’s Tchaikovsky”

James Horner and the Lydian Mode

It’s a curious thing how an artist who has reached a certain level of creative maturity becomes somewhat of a prisoner to idiosyncrasy. Many composers, to take music as an example, have some kind of musical trademark. Some exhibit their signature flourishes subtly or almost imperceptibly, while others do us the convenience of posting a big, blinking, neon sign in the sky. Continue reading “James Horner and the Lydian Mode”

Politics, A Bad Thing for Art

I can’t speak from experience, but I bet the first half of the 20th century was a God awful time to be living. It was a time when war and economic crisis scathed the face of humanity. (Actually, we haven’t come very far in this respect.) It also was a time when so much about art and its dissemination was necessarily political, and that is a terrible thing. Continue reading “Politics, A Bad Thing for Art”

The Horn as Orchestral Descant

The term descant hearkens back to my youth as a choir boy, when my musical experiences were dominated by music of the church.  We sang a number of hymns and psalms, and our director would often select a small group of us to sing a descant — known to me then only as an aria-like soprano part above the rest of the choir. Continue reading “The Horn as Orchestral Descant”

The Third Concerto, 100 Years Strong

This last Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto.  I don’t know if there were any performances anywhere to commemorate the piece, but then again, we don’t often commemorate pieces.  Usually, it’s the life of the composer we celebrate. Continue reading “The Third Concerto, 100 Years Strong”