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Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Sticky Notes is a classical music podcast for everyone, whether you are just getting interested in classical music for the first time, or if you've been listening to it and loving it all your life. Interviews with great artists, in depth looks at pieces in the repertoire, and both basic and deep dives into every era of music. Classical music is absolutely for everyone, so let's start listening! Note - Seasons 1-5 will be returning over the next year. They have been taken down in order to be re-recorded in improved sound quality!

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What is a Mode?

My first interaction with the musical term modes was Leonard Bernstein?s brilliant Young People?s Concert, also called What is a Mode? In that show, Bernstein showed how modes are an essential part of what makes modern music, meaning pop and rock music, tick. This was central to Bernstein?s point during this amazing show, which is available on Youtube, and he punctuated his discussion with multiple examples of pop music from the time that used modes. Today, on this Patreon sponsored episode, I was asked to go through all of the modes and show how they have been used in classical music. Much of my show today is modeled on and takes its inspiration from that Bernstein Young People?s Concert, and I?ll be peppering clips from that show throughout my own exploration. As Bernstein says, the common practice period of classical music, starting with Haydn and ending sometime early in the 20th century, didn?t feature a lot of modal music, though that doesn?t mean it was completely absent. So today I?ll explain what modes are, and we?ll go through each of the so called church modes, explaining their characteristics, and then showing you examples throughout musical history of exactly how these modes were used by the great composers. This show might seem a bit technical, but I think there?s a lot of really interesting and fascinating stuff here, so stick with me, and let?s explore modes together. Join us!

2024-05-09
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Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1

In 1857, Brahms wrote to his friend Joseph Joachim about his first Piano Concerto, saying, ? ?I have no judgment about this piece anymore, nor any control over it.?  Brahms first began sketching his first piano concerto in 1853, but it would be five full years before Brahms finished the piece, and another year until its first performance.  During that time, the piece became a Sonata, then a symphony, then a sonata for two pianos, and then finally a concerto for Piano and orchestra, or as the joke goes, a concerto for piano VERSUS orchestra.  The piece, and Brahms? struggles with it, are completely understandable considering Brahms? youth, and the extraordinarily tumultuous circumstances of his private life during the years of 1853-1858.  During this time period, he was anointed by no less than the kingmaker of classical music at the time, Robert Schumann, as the Chosen One that represented the future of music. He became friendly with both Robert and Clara Schumann, began achieving huge successes, then witnessed the slow mental breakdown of Robert, culminating in a suicide attempt and institutionalization, all while falling deeper and deeper in love with Clara Schumann, and she with him.  The turbulence and emotional weight of all of this is reflected in one of Brahms? most impassioned works, the first piano concerto.  We?ll talk about the historical background for the piece, Brahms? working out process, and of course, the structure and insides of this massive, daunting piece.

2024-04-25
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Fast, Furious, Fortissimo

Very often, when I tell people that I?m a classical musician, I am told, ?wow, I love classical music! It?s so relaxing!? I think almost all classical musicians have heard that before, and you know what? Sometimes, it?s true! Classical music can be relaxing! But sometimes, and actually pretty often, classical music is NOT relaxing. It is exciting, emotional, passionate, and can make your heart race!  Don?t believe me? Today's show is all about proving that to you. I'm going to share with you some of the most thrilling, powerful,  and well, some of hte loudest music in the history of classical music. I should say SOME OF, because what we are going to play for you today is absolutely not an exhautive list. If you like what you hear today, there is so much more where that came from. What we?re going to do today is to take you through a kind of musical time machine of fast and furious symphonic music, trying to cover as many different styles and eras of classical music as possible.

NOTE: What will appear on the podcast feed is a shortened version of a full live concert I did with the Aalborg Symphony a few weeks ago. I highly recommend listening to that version as well, which features full length performances of many of the pieces I'm talking about on the show. You can find that here:

https://www.dr.dk/lyd/p2/p2-koncerten/p2-koncerten-2024/p2-koncerten-fuld-pedal-det-er-vildt-det-er-hoejt-det-er-weilersteins-stoerste-hits-12422443145

Enjoy!

2024-04-12
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Copland Symphony No. 3

There has always been a debate about ?The Great American Symphony.? By the time most prominent American composers got around to writing large scale symphonic works, the symphony had very nearly gone out of fashion. To many musicians and thinkers, the symphony had passed on with the death of Mahler. With the advent of atonality, which essentially destroyed the developmental structure that symphonies rested on, there seemed to be nowhere for the symphonic genre to go. The traditional udnerstanding is that composers like Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Sibelius, among others, picked the symphony back up from its deathbed and resurrected it. But there was a generation of American composers also writing symphonies around this time, and many of them have never quite gotten the consideration they deserve. Ives wrote 4 brilliant symphonies, Bernstein wrote 3 ambitious symphonies, there are the symphonies by the first generation of Black American composers, namely William Dawson?s Negro Folk Symphony, and then there are much less known symphonies by composers like Roy Harris, which were huge successes at the time of their premiers, but which have faded into obscurity. Despite many strong efforts, very few American symphonies have made their way into the standard ?canon.? That is, except for one: Copland?s 3rd Symphony, which is almost certainly the most played American symphony. It was written as World War II was coming to an end, and it is one of Copland?s most ardent and life-affirming works. Naturally, connections were made to the Allied triumph in World War II, but Copland insisted that the symphony wasn?t a reflection of the era, writing: "if I forced myself, I could invent an ideological basis for the Third Symphony. But if I did, I'd be bluffing?or at any rate, adding something ex post facto, something that might or might not be true but that played no role at the moment of creation."

Whatever the inspiration, this symphony has become one of Copland?s most enduring works, even though it is also in many ways one of his most complex. It is a massive work, nearly 40 minutes in length, and it requires a huge and virtuosic orchestra. It also features some of Copland?s most recognizable tunes, including of course, the Fanfare for the Common Man, which permeates the symphony and is in many ways its central theme. So today, on this Patreon Sponsored episode, we?ll dig deep into this symphony, mapping out its unusual form, and savoring the energy, optimism, and creativity with which Copland attacked the well-worn genre of the symphony. Join us! 
2024-03-28
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An Exploration of Klezmer Music w/ Abigale Reisman

Klezmer music has always been very close to my heart, even as a classical violinist. During the pandemic I attempted to learn Klezmer clarinet, and soon I began collaborating with the great Klezmer(and classical!) violinist Abigale Reisman on her work for Klezmer band and orchestra called Gedanken. Abigale taught me so much about Klezmer music, including the fact that despite its reputation as a clarinet-centric genre, the violin is actually the original voice of the Klezmer sound. I've been wanting to do a show about Klezmer music for a while, and Abigale was the perfect person to talk to, as she has experience in both the classical and Klezmer worlds, and was able to talk about the differences between the two sounds, as well as all of the characteristics that make Klezmer music so instantly recognizable. We also talked about the similiarites between classical and Klezmer music, which classical violinists had the most Klezmer like sound, and how to tell the difference between a traditional Eastern European folk tune and a Jewish Klezmer folk tune. I so enjoyed this conversation and I hope you will too! You'll hear an excerpt of Abigale's band Ezekiel's Wheels at the end of the show, but check them out here: 

https://www.youtube.com/@ewklezmer/videos

Link to the concert I mentioned at the top of the show: 

https://www.br-klassik.de/audio/20240308-on-demand-so-joshua-weilerstein-vilde-frang-strawinsky-schostakowitsch-100.html

 

 

2024-03-14
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Schumann Symphony No. 3, "Rhenish"

In 1850, Robert Schumann accepted a position as the new Music Director in Dusseldorf. This job had a lot of responsibilities, including conducting the city orchestra. Schumann, along with his wife, the legendary pianist Clara Schumann, and their 7 children moved to Dusseldorf. The city made a huge to do about the Schumann?s arrival, welcoming him with balls, speeches, and parades. This was a new adventure for the Schumann family, and Robert, at least at first, was invigorated. He loved the less reserved personality of the residents of Dusseldorf, and he was deeply inspired by the Rhine river. Very quickly, Schumann had begun composing at his usual feverish pace. He wrote his cello concerto in just two weeks, and then he began a new symphony, what would turn out to be his last symphony. It would be a celebration of the Rhineland and all of its prosperity, beauty, and charm. Soon after the symphony was written however, the euphoria turned towards catasprophe. Schumann was not a good conductor, and the musicians of the orchestra soon turned bitterly against him. His compositions were still not well understood, and his mental health began sliding towards a crisis point again. So Schumann?s 3rd symphony, the Rhenish, really represents a snapshot in time - a time of euphoria, of joy, of possibility. It is this boundless energy that comes up again and again in this remarkable symphony which we are going to talk about today. We?ll discuss the wonderful varieties of joy Schumann includes in the piece, its unusual structure, it?s transcendent fourth movement, and the unique challenges of performing Schumann?s music, which often bedevil conductors to this day. Join us!

2024-02-29
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Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1

In 1806, the 36 year old Beethoven received a commission from the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky. Razumovsky wanted a set of string quartets for what would soon be his house string quartet which included some of the finest players Vienna had to offer. As part of his commission, Razumovsky asked Beethoven to include a Russian theme in each one of the quartets. Beethoven obliged him in 2 of the quartets, and the Razumovsky quartets, Op. 59 1, 2, and 3, were born. 1806 was near the height of Beethoven?s astonishing so called Middle Period, where the scale of his music drastically expanded from his earlier works and he began writing in a so called heroic style, with much more brash and adventurous music. This all started in 1803 with his Eroica Symphony, but Beethoven did not limit his adventures and his expanding palate to his symphonies. Everything with Beethoven?s music was expanding, including his string quartets. 

These middle quartets form part of the core of most string quartets repertoires. They are astonishing works in every regard, where Beethoven starts pushing limits we didn?t even, or maybe he didn?t even, know he had. From the expansive 59, 1, to the intensely felt and taut 59, 2, to the often fun loving 59, 3, Beethoven explores every facet of string quartet playing and brings that heroic and passionate new style to the genre of the string quartet. For today, we?re going to go through Op. 59, 1, a remarkably expansive and brilliant piece that explores every facet of string quartet playing, pushing quartets to their technical and emotional limits in ways that were absolutely shocking at the time and still unbelievably challenging today. If you come to this show for symphonies, that?s great, but for me and many other musicians, Beethoven?s string quartets are the greatest collection of pieces by any composer in any genre. I hope that today?s exploration will help convince you of that! Join us!

2024-02-15
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Ethel Smyth Serenade in D

I?ve mentioned Ethel Smyth a few times in the past on this show. This is partly because of her music, and partly because she remains one of the most interesting people who ever lived. She was a composer of course, but she was also a conductor and an author, as well as a political activist. Specifically, she was a suffragette, fiercely advocating for the rights of women to vote in her home country of the UK. As a composer Smyth wrote dozens of works, all of which are starting to become better known as performers and administrators look to bring more music by female composers onto concert stages around the world. Smyth did not have it easy, constantly fighting for her place, battling conductors, other composers, and even her own father, all for the right to be a composer.  Today, after I introduce you to a bit more of Smyth?s amazing biography, we?re going to focus on her first orchestral work, her Serenade in D Major. This is a piece that certainly doesn?t sound like a first orchestral piece, and it is full of all of the qualities that make Smyth?s music so enjoyable to listen to - lush warmth, humor, raucous intensity, and the quiet passion that runs through the music of so many great British composers. Smyth?s Serenade in D is starting to be performed more, and I?m really proud to be using my own recording of the piece for the show today, which I made with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in 2021. It is only the second professional recording of the piece, and the recording has just been released on Claves Records. So today, we?re going to go through this wonderful piece and also spend some more time in the wild and unpredictable world of Dame Ethel Smyth. Join us!

2024-02-01
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Dvorak Cello Concerto

When you think of the genre of the concerto, you might be thinking of something like this: virtuoso fireworks, perhaps over romantic gestures designed simply to show the soloist off, and a rather pedestrian orchestral part, giving the soloist all of the spotlight while the conductor and orchestra are mere accompanists.  Of course, this is a huge generalization and it isn?t true about many concertos.  But of all of the concertos that I conduct regularly, and hear regularly, there is one that always stands out as the exception to the rule: Dvorak?s Cello Concerto.  The Dvorak deserves every bit of popularity it has received over the years. In fact, you could argue that it is THE perfect concerto.  It's enjoyable to play, perfectly written for the cello, enjoyable to listen to, and enjoyable to accompany for the orchestra. It has everything, which makes it all the more shocking to think that before Dvorak wrote the piece, he didn?t even think of the cello as a suitable instrument for a solo piece!   But once convinced of the cello?s viability as a solo instrument, Dvorak gave everything to to the piece. We?ll talk all about the sometimes tragic history behind the writing of the concerto, the specific difficulties it places on the cellist, the conductor, and the orchestra, and of course, go through the piece in detail, pointing out all the different facets that result in the Dvorak being perhaps the greatest of all concertos. Join us!

Cellist: Miklos Perenyi 

2024-01-18
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Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from Westside Story

We're back! Welcome to Season 10!

Leonard Bernstein to his wife: "These days have flown so -- I don't sleep much; I work every -- literally every -- second (since I'm doing four jobs on this show -- composing, lyric-writing, orchestrating and rehearsing the cast). It's murder, but I'm excited. It may be something extraordinary. We're having our first run thru for PEOPLE on Friday -- Please may they dig it!."  Westside Story ran for 732 performances, spawned a movie that won 11 Academy Awards, and is still a go to on every list of the greatest Broadway Musicals ever written.  The collaboration between Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins was a revolution on par with the collaborations of Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky with the Rite of Spring.  Simply put, no Broadway show had ever been so gritty, so tragic, and so raw. This was a musical, a comedy, a tragedy, a political statement, and most importantly, a stunningly revolutionary work of art by these collaborators.  And today, I want to tell you about the music, and more specifically, the Symphonic Dances from Westside Story; an arrangement that Bernstein made with his colleague Sid Ramin 3 years after the show?s premiere.  The Symphonic Dances brought Bernstein?s electric music from the theatre to the concert stage, and it?s stayed there ever since.  So today, we?ll go through each number, talking about just what makes this music so great, and also about the show itself - its background, its production, and the issues that Bernstein, Laurents, Sondheim, and Robbins were trying to tackle, all through the eyes of a tale of woe about Juliet and her Romeo, or of course, Maria and Tony. Join us!

2024-01-04
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Dvorak Symphony No. 9, "From the New World" - LIVE with the Aalborg Symphony!

I had the great joy to do my first ever live edition of Sticky Notes last month with the Aalborg Symphony in Denmark. For this concert, I chose a piece that is extremely close to my heart, Dvorak's New World Symphony. The story of the New World Symphony is a fascinating one. The symphony was the result of an extraordinary series of events, with Dvorak coming to America in 1892, meeting the great singer Harry Burleigh, and falling in love with a totally new, to him, genre of music: Black American and Native American folk music. Listening to Burleigh and other voices around America, Dvorak had discovered a new ?American? sound for his music, and even though he would end up staying in the US for just three years, in that time he composed two of his most popular pieces, the American String Quartet, and the New World Symphony

But of course, the New World Symphony isn?t really an American piece. It is a piece written in America by a Czech composer, which means it embodies traits from both sides of the Atlantic.  Moments of Black American influence elide into Czech Slavonic Dances and back again with incredible ease.  All along the way, Dvorak infuses his highly traditional symphonic style with this "American" sound, a sound that enraptured the public from the very first time they heard it, and remains both incredibly popular and incredibly moving, today. Join myself and the Aalborg Symphony for this exploration of the symphony, followed by a complete performance. I'm extremely grateful to the Danish Radio for allowing me to use this performance for the show. 
2023-11-16
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Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra

Throughout the history of Western Classical Music, folk music has imprinted itself as an invaluable resource for composers from all over the world. In fact, it?s easier to make a list of composers who never used folk music in their compositions than it is to make a list of the composers who did! This tradition began long before the 20th century, but the work of composers like Bartok and a resurgence in the influence of nationalist music sparked a massive increase in composers using folk music throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Bartok is thought of as the king of using folk music, as he was essentially the worlds first ethnomusicologist. But Stravinsky, who used dozens of uncredited folk tunes in his Rite of Spring, as well as Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Szymanowski, Dvorak, and so many others embraced folk music as an integral source for their music. This was in stark contrast to the second Viennese school composers like Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and post World War II composers like Stockhausen, Boulez, and others who deliberately turned their backs on folk music. One composer who straddled both worlds during their lifetime was the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, a brilliant composer whose career started out in the folk music realm, though not entirely by choice, and ended up in music of aleatory, a kind of controlled chaos! One of his first major works, the Concerto for Orchestra is the topic for today?s show, and it is heavily influenced by folk music from start to finish. It is a piece also inspired and might even be a bit of an homage to the great Bela Bartok and his own Concerto for Orchestra, which was written just ten years earlier. Lutoslawski, if you?re not familiar with him, is one of those composers that once you learn about him, you can?t get enough of him. I?ll take you through this brilliant and utterly unique piece today from start to finish. Join us!

2023-11-09
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R. Schumann Piano Concerto

In January of 1839, Clara Wieck, Robert's future wife, wrote to Robert, ?Don?t take it amiss if I tell you that I?ve been seized by the desire to encourage you to write for orchestra. Your imagination and your spirit are too great for the weak piano.? Clara knew that she would have struck a nerve with Robert, whose history with the piano was full of trials and tribulations. Robert had trained as a pianist, but a 3 year period of reckless amounts of practicing as well as the exacerbating effects of experimental devices meant to strengthen his fingers had destroyed his ability to play professionally. But already from the age of 17, in 1827, Robert had considered writing a piano concerto, probably for himself to perform. He made 4 further attempts to write a concerto, but it seems, like so many things in Schumann?s life, that his marriage to Clara was the final inspiration that he needed to get over the hump. It made sense, as Clara Schumann was possibly the greatest pianist of her age, and someone who was ceaselessly devoted to promoting her husband?s works wherever she played. In 1841, one year after their marriage, Robert finished a one movement piano concerto in A minor, which he called a Phantasie. Clara reported adoring the piece, but no publisher was interested in the work of a still relatively unknown composer. They were especially uninterested in a on movement concerto, and so Robert knew he needed to ?finish? the piece with two extra movements. It would take him 4 more years to finally tack on those extra movements, and the first performance would be given 4 years after that Phantasie had been written, of course with Clara as soloist. This concerto has remained popular practically ever since it was written, and there are so many reasons for it, from its arresting opening, to its abundant lyricism, to its constant interplay with the orchestra, something that Robert grappled with when writing this concerto. This piece is one that doesn?t have a story behind it, or any sort of narrative - it lives in the world as a sort of fantasy, constantly evolving in its beauty throughout. We?re going to talk about this piece in detail, from start to finish on this Patreon Sponsored Episode. Join us!

2023-11-02
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Brahms Violin Concerto

Brahms? violin concerto is one of the most difficult works for any violinist to tackle. It is as virtuosic as the hardest piece of Paganini as well as being as musically complex as a Brahms symphony. It takes most violinists years or even decades to feel comfortable with this piece, and many violinists consider it a kind of Mount Everest. Why? What makes this piece so complex, and yet so beautiful? What kind of choices do violinists make in their interpretations? For today, I'm not only going to tell you about this piece and how Brahms composed it, but I'm also going to compare 3 different recordings of the piece(Heifetz, Oistrakh, and Ferras) in order to show you the differences in interpretations between these 3 titanic violinists. We'll also talk about many of the topics we?ve covered before with Brahms; continuous development, gorgeous melodies, and that amazing Brahmsian quality of both respecting established forms while constantly subtly subverting them. Let's start the climb together and get to know this remarkable piece. Join us!

2023-10-26
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What Does Music Mean?

Today is a bit of an unusual episode. Last month I was invited by the British Society of Aesthetics to address their annual conference. My task was to give a lecture on whatever topic I wanted, having to do with music. So, considering it was an Academic Philosophy conference, I chose the easiest and most straightforward topic possible - What Does Music Mean? 

Obviously, this is a topic that has been interrogated from just about every different angle, and I certainly would never claim to have all the answers. But for my lecture, I decided to focus on how to find meaning in these amazing works from a performer's perspective. How do I study and learn these pieces so that I can find the meaning that I think is inside of them? What does history teach us about these pieces and can we use history to find meaning in these works? To try to answer these questions I chose three pieces to explore - Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Barber's Adagio for Strings, and Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. After the lecture I realized it could easily be a podcast episode, so I've slightly changed a few things to make the lecture a bit more podcast-friendly. I hope you enjoy this one, and thanks to the British Society of Aesthetics for their invitation and their warm welcome!

2023-10-19
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William Grant Still Symphony No. 1., "Afro-American"

On October 29th, 1931, The Rochester Philharmonic presented the world premiere of a new symphony by the composer William Grant Still. A symphonic premiere is always something to look out for in musical history, but this one had an even greater significance. The premiere of Wiliam Grant Still?s First Symphony, subtitled  ?Afro American,? was the first time a symphony written by a Black American composer was performed by a leading orchestra. William Grant Still was a man of many firsts, whether he was the first Black American conductor to conduct a major orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, the first Black American to conduct an orchestra in the South of the United States, and much more.  Today we?re going to focus in on Grant Still?s first symphony, a piece that Grant Still had long thought about, conceptualized, and dreamed of. It was also a symphony wrapped up in the roiling currents of Black America at the time, with the Harlem Renaissance in full swing and Alain Locke?s tract The New Negro sparking discussion and debate all over the country. It was a symphony that attempted to do something no one had ever done before, that is, to marry together the genre of the Blues with that of symphonic music. At the time of its premiere and afterwards, it was quite a success, and until 1950, it was THE most performed symphony written by an American composer. After 1950, the symphony practically disappeared from concert stages, but due to the explosion of interest in Black American composers of the past and present, this brilliant symphony is making its way back into the repertoire of orchestras all over the world. The way that Grant Still constructed this meeting of two genres of music was ingenious and innovative from start to finish, and so today on the show we?ll explore all of the historical context of the symphony, what Grant Still was trying to do with his monumental new endeavor, and of course, all of the music itself. I'm also joined today by the great writer and linguist John McWhorter, who discusses the 4 Paul Laurence Dunbar poems Grant Still added to each movement as epigraphs, as well as their cultural context. Join us!

2023-10-12
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(Part 2) - The Music of World War II and the Holocaust with "Time's Echo" writer Jeremy Eichler

This is another episode where I highly recommend listening to Part 1 from last week before listening to this episode! It was a great honor to speak with the critic and cultural historian Jeremy Eichler about his remarkable new book "Time's Echo." In today's episode, we speak about Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, as well as the complicated and hotly debated questions about Strauss' activities during World War II. We also talk about Shostakovich and his 13th Symphony, entitled "Babi Yar," a piece of memorial for a place where no memorial had stood for decades. Finally, we speak about Benjamin Britten and his War Requiem. We talk about Britten's devout pacificism, about his visit to the Belsen Displaced Persons camp after World War II, and why his War Requiem seems to have more connection with World War I than with World War II. It was truly a joy to talk to Jeremy about all of these different great composers, as well as the memories they created with their works. Join us! 

2023-10-05
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The Music of World War II and the Holocaust with "Time's Echo" writer Jeremy Eichler (Part 1)

I had the great pleasure and honor this week(and next week) to speak with the author of the new book Time's Echo Jeremy Eichler. The book chronicles four composers and their varied reactions to World War II and the Holocaust, including Schoenberg, Strauss, Shostakovich, and Britten. This week we talked about the historical symbiosis between Germans and German Jews, the concept of Bildung, a central idea in German culture throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Mendelssohn's role in creating a sense of "German" music, Schoenberg's remarkable prescience about what lay in the future after the Nazis took power in Germany, his remarkable Survivor from Warsaw, the first major musical memorial to the Holocaust, and the almost hard to believe it's so wild story of the premiere of the piece. This is truly one of my favorite books about classical music that I've ever read, so I highly recommend picking it up. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

2023-09-28
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Mahler Symphony No. 4, Part 2

If you haven?t listened to Part 1 of this episode about Mahler's 4th symphony, I highly recommend doing that, as every movement of this symphony builds to the "Heavenly Life" of the last movement. On Part 2, we'll be going through the 3rd and 4th movements. Mahler told his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner that the 3rd movement of the symphony was created by ?a vision of a tombstone on which was carved an image of the departed, with folded arms, in eternal sleep.? As you can imagine based on that description, there is an unearthly beauty to the slow movement of Mahler?s 4th. Much like the Heiliger Dankgesang movement from Beethoven?s Op. 132 string quartet I talked about a couple of weeks ago, we often get the feeling in the slow movement of Mahler?s 4th that we are listening to music that is coming to us from the other side. As the slow movement comes to its end, we are introduced to the last movement, a sublime and peaceful song Mahler entitled "The Heavenly Life." This is a symphony that leaves you in a state like no other in the musical world, and so today we?ll go through that slow movement, investigating just how Mahler makes it so extraordinary, and then we?ll talk about the last movement, a movement that has divided listeners from the beginning due to its unusual text. I can?t promise we?ll find all the answers, but along the way, we?ll get to listen to some truly divine music. We?ll also get to hear Mahler himself playing - that?s right, Mahler himself! Join us!

2023-09-21
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Mahler Symphony No. 4, Part 1

After the truly heavenly slow movement of Mahler?s 4th symphony, a soprano emerges and sings a song literally called ?The Heavenly Life.? It is a symphonic ending like no other, one that leaves the listener peaceful and contented after taking a long(but not as long as usual) and winding journey with Gustav Mahler and his 4th symphony. The 4th symphony is a symphony of moments, like the famous sleigh bells that begin the piece, and a symphony of long, massive, and momentous arcs, like in the timeless 3rd movement, which might be my single favorite movement of any Mahler symphony. But this symphony, so renowned for its contentedness and beauty also features complicated emotions, drama that clouds the blue skies, and a dark side that we never truly escape, perhaps not until the very end of the symphony. Mahler said that his symphony was ?divinely serene, yet profoundly sad, it can only have you laughing and crying at the same time.? What a perfect way to define Mahler?s music, always full of dualisms, contradictions, ironies, and complexities, but that?s what makes Mahler?s music so irresistible; its ability to plumb the depths of not only the human spirit but also its psyche. Mahler?s music is truly musical therapy, and if there?s one of his symphonies that really exemplifies that, it?s this fourth symphony. With all that said, this is also his simplest and most easily grasped symphony in terms of its purely musical content. I?ve gotten a lot of emails in the past from folks who are skeptical or confused about Mahler and his appeal, so if you?re one of those people, than this symphony MIGHT just be the one that changes your mind. As always with Mahler, his symphonies get multi-part episodes, so this week I?ll go through the first two movements of the symphony, from the sleigh bells and brilliant sunshine of the first movement, to the devilish and ironic second movement. We?ll talk all about Mahler?s brilliant orchestration, his use(and deliberate misuse) of form, the pure beauty of this music, and the oddly negative reception that this symphony got when it was first performed. Join us!

2023-09-14
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Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 132, Part 2

If you joined me last week, you heard about the severe intestinal illness that Beethoven suffered from during the year of 1825.  Beethoven thought that he was near death; he was spitting up blood, in terrible pain, and regularly begged his doctor for help.  Ensconced in Baden, a Viennese suburb known for its nature and calm, Beethoven slowly and miraculously recovered from the illness, giving him 2 more years to compose.  These two years brought us the quartets Op. 130 Op. 131, Op. 135, a series of canons, sketches for a 10th symphony. and of course, Op. 132.   Obviously, even as he suffered from this illness, Beethoven knew that he had much more in him left to compose.  The 4 quartets he wrote upon recovery from this illness ALL rank in the top 10 of the greatest musical compositions ever written by anyone.  During the slow movement of Op. 132, Beethoven takes the opportunity to thank the Deity, who or whatever that was to Beethoven, for his recovery.  This 15-20 minute movement is, as I said last week, beyond superlatives, but I?ll do my best to quell my enthusiasm and look at this movements structure, its fascinating harmonic language, and of course, its spiritual dimension.  We?ll then take apart the final two movements of the piece, two movements that teach us so much about Beethoven as a composer, as a person, and as a performer.  No piece of Beethoven?s struggles for so long before finally reaching a glorious conclusion, but don?t worry, we?ll get there in the end. Join us to explore part 2 of one of the greatest masterpieces of music ever written!

2023-09-08
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Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 132, Part 1

I had long hesitated to write a show about any of Beethoven?s late string quartets.  These are pieces that professional quartets spend the better part of their careers grappling with, struggling with, failing with, and much more rarely, succeeding with.  They are some of the most extraordinary pieces of art ever conceived of.  5 quartets, Opus 127, Opus 130, Opus 131, Opus 132, and Opus 135, all written near or at the end of Beethoven?s life, arguably representing the pinnacle of everything Beethoven achieved. They explore not only every conceivable emotion, but they dig down into the core of those emotions, defiantly refusing to skim the surface and daring to ask and then answer the fundamental questions of life and death.  Everyone has a favorite Late Beethoven Quartet, but mine has always been Opus 132, and so this week I?m taking the opportunity to take the leap into Late Beethoven.  We?ll discuss Beethoven?s situation as he recovered from a life-threatening illness which he was sure was going to be his end, the unusual 5 movement structure of the piece, and this week, the first two movements of the quartet, the first of which, to me, defines everything that Sonata Form can do to express emotion and a narrative in a piece of absolute music. Join us!

2023-08-31
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Nielsen Symphony No. 4, "Inextinguishable"

At the top of the score for the Danish composer Carl Nielsen?s 4th symphony, he wrote: ?Music is life, and like it, inextinguishable.?

This could easily be the shortest podcast I?ve ever done. I could leave you with that quote and then play you the beginning of the symphony, and you would understand everything Nielsen wanted to portray in this remarkable music. But don?t worry, I won?t do that. Carl Nielsen?s music has never quite made it into the standard standard repertoire, but if there is one piece of his that is played more often than any other, it is his 4th symphony, subtitled The Inextinguishable. But as a whole, Nielsen?s 4th symphony is not easy to digest. It is a piece that is contradictory, in the sense that Nielsen uses an extremely small set of motives to write practically every note of music in the score, and yet sometimes the music can feel like a stream of consciousness. Nielsen himself wrote: ?I have an idea for a new composition, which has no programme but will express what we understand by the spirit of life or manifestations of life, that is: everything that moves, that wants to live ... just life and motion, though varied ? very varied ? yet connected, and as if constantly on the move, in one big movement or stream. I must have a word or a short title to express this; that will be enough. I cannot quite explain what I want, but what I want is good.? 

There is a James Joyce-esque sense of jump-cutting between different ideas, as if that inextinguishable life force is unaffected by earthly things like form and recognizable structure. But if you peek under the hood of this piece, you find that it is really in 4 movements, and the first movement is even in a kind of a Sonata Form. It has an intermezzo, a slow movement, and a rambunctious finale. In many ways, this is a conventional symphony, but in terms of the musical material and the way Nielsen decided to manipulate that material, it is anything but conventional. We?ll talk about all of this today, including the influence of World War 1 on the symphony and on Nielsen himself, and the remarkable music that throws us along like a relentless and boundless current of energy. Join us!

2023-08-24
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Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The stories, legends, and myths about the trials and travails of composers lives are legion, like Beethoven?s battles against fate, Mozart and Schubert?s struggles with finances, Brahms? failures with women, Mahler?s troubles with just about everyone, and Shostakovich?s near fatal interactions with the government.  These stories tend to add to the general understanding of these composers, and in fact they tend to enhance their reputations.  We see their struggles in their music, and it makes us admire them more for overcoming them.   With Mendelssohn, and to some extent Haydn as well, we have the opposite case.  Mendelssohn grew up in a happy, wealthy German family, and it was only late in his life when he underwent any major struggles at all.  Whether this happy upbringing contributed to the character of his music is anyone?s guess, but Mendelssohn seems to always get the short end of the stick when it comes to reputation, and I think that his generally cheerful music has a lot to do with this fact.  But Mendelssohn is no second-rate composer.  As I mentioned in April with my show about Mendelssohn?s Octet, he was certainly THE greatest composer under 18 that we know of(and yes I?m including Mozart in that), and his best music ranks up there with the best composers in history.  And today, our focus on both the overture to Midsummer Night?s Dream, and the incidental music that Mendelssohn wrote 17 years later, allows us to enjoy the full breadth of Mendelssohn?s staggering talent.  This is not only clever and cheerful music. It is also fantastically orchestrated, perfectly structured, and in the case of the overture, it is full of invention and character that is simply mind-blowing from a composer who was just 17 years old at the time.  So today we?ll talk all about this, from the beauty and perfection of the overture to the incidental music that followed, meant to be performed alongside Shakespeare?s play. We?ll also talk about the role Shakespeare played in Germany at the time, and how Mendelssohn?s upbringing did indeed have a lot to do with the music he chose to write. Join us!

2023-08-17
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Elgar Cello Concerto

Elgar's Cello Concerto was composed in the shadow of World War 1. It was a piece that marked a profound shift in Elgar's outlook on life and music, and was his last major work before a long silence caused by the death of his wife Alice. It is a piece of remarkable passion for a composer like Elgar, and never fails to move the audience with its combination of grief, melancholy, nostalgia, rage, but also tenderness. Elgar as a composer had been passed by with the invention of atonality and with composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg pushing the boundaries of where music could go. Elgar stubbornly stayed true to his Romantic impulses, but the concerto also displays some of the inescapable influence of those composers. It is one of the most powerful pieces of the 20th century, but one of the reasons we know the piece so well is an unforgettable recording made in 1965 by Jacqueline Du Pre. It is very unusual for a piece to be so associated with a single performer, but Du Pre truly made the Elgar a standard concerto for the cello and it is now a piece that every cellist makes a part of their repertoire. We'll talk about all this and more during the show today - join us!

2023-08-10
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Romeo and Juliet in Classical Music

The "love theme" from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture is one of the most famous themes in the history of Western Classical Music.  The story it accompanies might be the most famous Western play ever written.   Just like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik seems to define the powdered wig era of classical music to the general public, the passionate theme from Tchaikovsky?s Romeo and Juliet seems to define romanticism in music because Tchaikovsky?s Overture-Fantasy captures Shakespeare?s masterpiece with a roiling and unstoppable intensity.  But Tchaikovsky?s setting of Romeo and Juliet, while probably the most famous, is by no means the only reimagining of the play by classical composers.  There have been nearly a dozen adaptations of Romeo and Juliet by classical composers, including overtures, ballets, suites, and operas.  Romeo and Juliet, just like it has been for actors, directors, and the audience, is an inexhaustible source for composers in a way that few pieces of literature or dramatic theatre have been in history.  So today we?ll compare just some of them for you - I?ll be looking at Tchaikovsky?s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Prokofiev?s Ballet Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz?s choral symphony Romeo et Juliette, a brief look at Gounod?s opera Romeo and Juliet, and Leonard Bernstein?s Westside Story.  We?ll take a look at how these 5 composers inserted their distinctive personalities onto the music, leaving no doubt that this was Shakespeare, and Romeo and Juliet, through their eyes.  I?ll do this by giving a general overview of each piece, and then I'll zero in on two ideas - the portrayal of Juliet, and the portrayal of Tybalt?s Death(or fighting in general).  This way we can see how these composers handled these pivotal characters and moments, all in markedly different ways. Join us!

2023-08-03
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Mozart Symphony No. 38, "Prague"

Very few cities have had a relationship with a single person, especially a foreigner, like the city of Prague and its love affair with Mozart. Here?s what Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart?s librettist for some of his greatest operas, said about it: "It is not easy to convey an adequate conception of the enthusiasm of the Bohemians for [Mozart's] music. The pieces which were admired least of all in other countries were regarded by those people as things divine; and, more wonderful still, the great beauties which other nations discovered in the music of that rare genius only after many, many performances, were perfectly appreciated by the Bohemians on the very first evening.? Mozart had been losing his popularity rapidly in Vienna, and so his trips to Prague were a boon to his self-esteem. He wrote in a letter, speaking of Prague?s euphoric reaction to his opera the Marriage of Figaro: "here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung, or whistled but Figaro. No opera is drawing like Figaro. Nothing, nothing but Figaro. Certainly a great honor for me!" Now whether or not Mozart actually wrote this 38th symphony FOR the city of Prague or not is disputed. It seems as if he finished the symphony before he was invited to come to Prague for the first time. All we know for sure is that the first performance of the piece was definitely in Prague, and it included a couple of details that point to Mozart writing it specifically with both the audience and the musicians of Prague in mind. But the most important thing about this symphony is that it marks the beginning of a late period in Mozart?s symphonies that sees him pushing at the bounds of symphonic form in a nearly Beethoven-like way. There is no symphony where that is more true than the one we?re going to talk about today, the 38th symphony. The sheer amount of invention alone in the first movement is enough to hold our attention for weeks, but we?ll talk about the whole symphony today, from its formal innovations, to its warmth and joy, and to the little clues that make us think that this symphony was a stunning and perhaps unprecedented gift from Mozart to the city that adored him so much. Join us!
2023-07-27
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Jean-Louis Duport Cello Concerto No. 4

Thank you to Nicole for sponsoring today's show on Patreon!

Have you ever heard of Jean-Louis Duport? I imagine that unless you are a professional cellist, or someone who studied cello as a child, you probably haven?t. Even though my sister is a professional cellist, I had never heard of him before I was asked to make this show. Duport is a historical figure who has been almost completely forgotten, though he was part of a fascinating group of musicians who encountered Beethoven, Frederick the Great, and even Napoleon! He and his brother Jean-Pierre were two of the greatest cellists of their era, and Jean-Louis lives on for cellists as the writer of a set of etudes or studies that are still used by cellists all over the world to refine their techniques. But Jean-Louis Duport also wrote 6 cello concertos, pieces which show his profound connection with the instrument, as well as his mastery of the style of his time. Today on the show I?ll take you through one of those concertos, his 4th, but I?m also going to do something a bit different. Since this will be my first time encountering the music of Duport, I want to show you how I might approach this piece as a conductor learning it for the first time. I?ve been conducting professionally now for almost 15 years, so there aren?t a lot of pieces that are brand new to me anymore, but if I were to conduct this concerto, it would be totally new to me, which means that I approach this music in a totally different way than a piece I?d conducted a few times before. So today on the show we?ll go through the piece, as well as my process for how I would learn a work like this, from start to finish. Join us!

2023-07-20
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Brahms B Major Piano Trio

When we listen to the music of Johannes Brahms, we often are reminded of the image of the portly bearded Brahms at the piano, eyes closed in a soulful pose. Brahms? works always, even in his youth, seemed to have a burnished maturity about them. As I?ve said many times on this show, Brahms? music is often described as autumnal, and there?s a good reason for this, as its gentle melancholy is one of those things that never left Brahms even in his earlier works. But the piece we?re talking about today isn?t an early work, or a late work of Brahms. Actually, it?s both! Brahms? B major trio is one of the rarest of rare pieces, in that it is published in two distinct versions, a version that Brahms wrote when he was just 20 years old, and a work that he heavily revised near the end of his career 35 years later, making changes that in some senses fundamentally recast the piece. At the same time, much of the original material is left in place, creating an unusual amalgam of the youthful and the mature. Brahms himself jokingly said that in the revisions of the piece, ?I didn't provide it with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little" Today on this Patreon sponsored episode I?ll take you through this piece in both of its versions, exploring the original trio and then its far more performed revision, trying to see why Brahms made the changes that he made, and what we can learn about his compositional process. We?ll also learn why Brahms? B major piano trio is the answer to a famous(in the classical music world) trivia question! Join us!

2023-07-06
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Sibelius Violin Concerto

There?s a joke among classical musicians that the only parts of a piece that matter are the beginning, the end, and one place in the middle.  I don?t think its something that anyone really believes in, but the value of the beginning of a piece in setting the scene cannot be ignored, and the absolutely stunning opening of the Sibelius violin concerto is no exception.  A soft carpet of violins slowly oscillating between two notes sets up the entrance of the violinist, who over the course of the concerto will do just about everything a violin is capable of doing, all in a concerto of both eye-popping difficulty, but also heartwarming AND heartbreaking warmth, passion and character. There is often what is described as the ?Big 5? of violin concerti, which includes the concerti of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn. The Sibelius violin concerto is the only 20th century violin concerto that has found its way into the Big 5 and there?s a reason for it.  All of those concerti synthesized the need for virtuosity with the imperative of writing truly great music.  But to me, and this might be a controversial opinion, no one did it quite like Sibelius.  We?ll hear all about the concerto, the circumstances that created its disastrous opening, and ask the question of what makes Sibelius such a distinctive composer, someone who sounds like no one else on earth.

2023-06-29
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Ravel, Bolero + La Valse

Maurice Ravel the Magician, the Swiss Watchmaker, the aloof, the elegant, the precise, the soulful, the childlike, the naive, the warm, the radical, the progressive. These are all words that were used to describe a man of elegant contradictions throughout his life and into today. I talked a lot about Ravel?s skill with orchestration last week when we discussed Mussorgsky?s Pictures at an Exhibition, but Ravel's brilliance and creativity in terms of orchestral sound is absolutely unparalleled in musical history. But Ravel is somebody I?ve very rarely covered on the show, partly because he didn?t write very many large scale works that would cover a whole hour long episode. Well, it took 6 years for me to figure it out, but I realized a little while ago that I could cover two of Ravel?s shorter pieces and put them together on a double bill, so to speak. So today I?m going to tell you about Ravel?s most beloved and most despised piece, Bolero, and about my favorite piece of Ravel?s, La Valse. These are two pieces that could not be more different in their aims, in their constructions, and in their impacts on the audience. They are both thrillingly exciting, but in completely different ways. A good performance of Bolero should make you want to jump out of your seat with excitement, while a good performance of La Valse should terrify you to your core. Join us to learn all about it!

2023-06-22
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Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition

Have you ever been to an art museum and wished that you had music to accompany your experience?  Music that made the art you were looking at more vivid, more immediate, and more emotionally intense?  Well, Modest Mussorgsky?s Pictures at an Exhibition is the piece for you.  Inspired by his late friend Victor Hartmann?s paintings and designs, Mussorgsky composed a series of 10 miniature pieces for piano based on Hartmann's works.  Unlike many other collections of miniature pieces that have thematic or structural connections, Pictures at An Exhibition doesn?t feature that at all, keeping with Mussorgsky?s often rebellious ways as a composer.  Instead, the music is connected by movements called Promenades, as if Mussorgsky literally walks you to the next painting at the exhibition. Mussorgsky?s remarkably imaginative piece is justly famous and often played by pianists, but what is perhaps the most fascinating thing about this piece is the creativity that it has inspired in other composers. Pictures at an Exhibition, or parts of it, has been arranged more than 50 times for any number of configurations of musicians. So today, we?re going to explore each picture in detail, talking about what Mussorgsky actually does to make these works of art come to life in such a compelling way.  At the same time, we?re going to compare the original piano piece to some of the arrangements, focusing of course on the most famous of them all, the explosion of color that is Maurice Ravel?s arrangement.  We?ll also talk about Mussorgsky himself, his compositional reputation at the time, and the brilliant creativity of this one of a kind piece.

2023-06-15
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Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4

Welcome to episode number 200 of Sticky Notes!!

On December 22nd, 1808, a day that would live in classical music lore forever, Ludwig Van Beethoven sat down for his very last appearance as a solo pianist to play this new piano concerto, his 4th. This performance was not only the premiere of the new piano concerto, but the premiere of two new symphonies as well, the 5th and the 6th. It featured many other new works, and the concert itself lasted nearly 4 hours, all inside of the cold and dark Theater an Der Wien with an underprepared and underrehearsed orchestra. The concert, despite featuring 3 works that would go on to be some of the most performed works in the history of classical music, was not a success. It was too long and too cold, featuring too many premieres and too much difficult music. It was criticized severely in all quarters, and Beethoven considered the concert a failure. And even that new concerto, the one that surprised so many people with its supremely gentle character, didn?t catch on quickly at all. It wasn?t until 1836 when Felix Mendelssohn, who we have to thank for so many of these situations, revived the piece. Today it is known as one of the most beloved concertos in the entire piano repertoire, partly due to the fact that it is so surprising, but not for the reasons one normally would expect. In the 4th piano concerto, Beethoven turns his entire musical brand so to speak upside down. Instead of a blazing fire, we get a gentle warmth, instead of drama, we get tenderness. And instead of virtuosity, we get a practically transcendental level of simplicity. Other than the short second movement, which does give us some of the old Beethoven fire, it is one of the most tender creations of Beethoven?s entire career. Join us to learn all about it today!

2023-06-08
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Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8

What did Dmitri Shostakovich intend to portray in his music? There is probably no more debated a question in all of 20th century Western Classica lMusic than this one. On the surface, it seems to have an easy answer. Shostakovich portrayed his own thoughts and feelings in his music, just as any other composer would. And that is certainly true. Shostakovich, above anything else, was truly one of the great composers in history. HIs mastery of form, meldoy, strcuture, pacing, and his ability to find a near universal expression of grief and passion is practically unparalelled among composers. That much is clear to those of us who love Shostakovich?s music. But everything else, including that thorny question of what his music MEANS, is much, much, much less clear. Practically Shostakovich?s entire life was lived under the shadow of Soviet Russia, and naturally his musical career was lived under that shadow as well. This means that a sometimes impenetrable layer of secrecy, mystery, and doubt always lies under the surface of Shostakovich?s music.

In 1960, Kruschev, who had been loudly trumpetting Shostakovich?s name to Western Press as an example of a free Soviet artist post the excesses of the Stalin regime, decided that Shostakovich should be the new head of the Russian Union of Composers. The catch was that Shostakovich would need to join the Communist Party in order to take the job. Shostakovich, who had long resisted becoming a full Party member, agreed. Shostakovich was clearly disappointed in himself, as his friend Lev Lebedinsky wrote this: ?I will never forget some of the things he said that night [before his induction into the Party], sobbing hysterically: ?I?m scared to death of them.? 

Why does all this matter? Because just a few days after joining the Commhnist party and after meeting with his friends Isaac Glikman and Lev Lebedinsky, Shostakovich traveled to East Germany --  specifically to Dresden ? to work on a film which would commemorate the destruction of the city during World War II. He was supposed to write music for this film, but instead, Shostakovich sat down, and in THREE DAYS, he wrote his 8th string quartet. He would later write to Glikman: ?However much I?ve tried to draft my obligations for the film, I just couldn?t do it. Instead I wrote an ideologically deficient quartet that nobody needs. I reflected that if I die it?s not likely anyone will write a quartet dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write it myself. You could even write on the cover: ?Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet.? Today on the show we're going to explore this remarkable piece together - join us!

2023-06-01
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What Does a Conductor Really Do?

Have you ever wondered what it is that us conductors are really doing up there? Are we just waving our arms in time to the music? What role does the conductor actually play in a concert? How about a rehearsal? Do we also learn to be train conductors as well? Well, today's episode is about answering those questions! We'll talk about conducting on 3 different levels, including the basic level where we'll talk all about beat patterns, studying, rehearsals, concert programming, and more. We'll also talk about what I like to call the 30,000 feet level, where all of those basic decisions can help translate into musical ideas that inspire the orchestra and move the audience. And finally, we'll head to what the late great conductor Mariss Jansons called the Cosmic level, where true inspiration takes place. This can happen as little as once or twice in a lifetime in a concert, but when it does, there is nothing like it! We'll talk about all this, and more today - join us!

2023-05-25
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All things Piano with Marc-André Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin is one of the world's greatest living pianists. He is known as a virtuoso of the highest order and has made nearly 100 recordings spanning the gamut of the piano repertoire. In this conversation we talk about how Marc fell in love with Gershwin, piano rolls, Busoni, Godowsky, the nature of virutosity, Haydn, CPE Bach, programming, nerves on stage, and much much more! This was such a fun and wide-ranging conversation and I certainly learned a lot speaking with Marc about the piano. Join us!!

2023-05-18
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Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

?This is Fate, the force of destiny, which ever prevents our pursuit of happiness from reaching its goal, which jealously stands watch lest our peace and well-being be full and cloudless, which hangs like the sword of Damocles over our heads and constantly, ceaselessly poisons our souls.? With this description, Tchaikovsky gave his patron Nadezhda von Meck a rare insight into the inspiration behind what he called the ?nucleus? of his 4th symphony. Despite the fact that Tchaikovsky?s music is famously emotional, he usually did not like describing his programs using words. This is one of the contradiction of Tchaikovsky?s music for the modern listener: we have these letters where Tchaikovsky described the programs or stories behind many of his most famous pieces, and yet Tchaikovsky himself would not have necessarily wanted us to know them.

Tchaikovsky?s 4th symphony is at the center of all of these contradictions. It is a symphony in the grand Romantic tradition of the symphony, with all of the technical trappings that a symphony requires. It is also a piece that reflects the growing trend at that time towards symphonic poems, especially in the massive first movement. It is also a piece that seems to be inspired directly by two events in Tchaikovsky?s life, his disastrous marriage, and his unique correspondence with Nadezhda Von Meck, his patron who he corresponded with for 13 years without ever meeting her. This relationship was at its beginning when Tchaikovsky wrote this symphony, and so strong were his feelings of companionship with her that he often wrote that this 4th symphony was not ?my symphony? but ?our symphony.? So today we?re going to go through this symphony on two levels, the technical, explaining all of what makes this symphony so tragic, powerful, exciting, and beloved, and also the historical, going into Tchaikovsky?s marriage to Antonina Miliukova, and his relationship with Nadezhda von Meck. We?ll also talk about the reception to this symphony, which, well, let?s just say it was anything but positive. Join us!

2023-05-11
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My 25 Favorite Moments in Classical Music (Part 2)

Last week we covered moments 1-15 in my top 25 favorite moments in classical music, going all the way up towards the end of the 19th century. This week we're going to explore 9 of my favorite moments from the wide world of 20th century music, and then, in a little twist, I'm going to look at 5 of my favorite moments from living composers. We're going to hear from Stravinsky, Mahler, Dawson, Barber, Shaw, Gruber, Widmann, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Debussy, Ravel, Chin, Skye, and more this week so join us to hear some amazing classical music moments! 

2023-05-04
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My Top 25 Favorite Moments in Classical Music (Part 1)

What MAKES a moment in a piece of classical music? Sometimes it?s the result of careful pacing from a composer, the slow build to a powerful release. Sometimes it?s about surprise, a sudden explosion, or even a sudden extinguishing of sound. Sometimes it?s about a harmonic transition, where the music lifts off the ground or is brought down to earth. Sometimes it?s the culmination of over an hour of effort, finally reaching the top of the mountain. Music lovers of all stripes often talk about their favorite moments in classical music, and a few weeks ago I got a message from Sam asking me what some of my favorite moments were in music. I realized that over 193 episodes of this show, I?ve often talked about my favorite moments in the pieces that I?m specifically covering that week, but I?ve never made a list so to speak of my top moments in classical music, and so this week, I?m going to attempt to do that. One of the reasons I?ve avoided this topic is because it?s so difficult to set limits or boundaries around what moments I?ll talk about. Should I do a top 10? Should I do a top 100? Top 500? Which composers should I be including, dead or living? How can I do this without forgetting a bunch of great moments and inadvertently angering people who think I?ve left one out? Well, I hope I've found a way. 25 of my favorite moments from 25 different pieces, representing 300 years of music. This week we'll cover moments 1-15, with music from Bach to Rebel to Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and much much more. Join us!

2023-04-27
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Mendelssohn Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20

From 1825-1827, Mendelssohn wrote 3 of his most beloved and most played works: his Midsummer Night?s Dream Overture, his String Quartet, Op. 13, and the piece were going to talk about today, his Octet. What is truly astonishing about these three pieces is that they were all written before Mendelssohn turned 18 years old. Mendelssohn was the greatest prodigy in the history of Western Classical Music, writing music so spectacular at such a young age that it almost overshadows his later, more mature, works. In my opinion, the greatest of these three towering early pieces from Mendelssohn is his octet. It is a piece of structural perfection, ingenuity, innovation, and most of all, it is a piece of such youthful enthusiasm that it is impossible to not put a smile on your face. We'll talk all about this piece today, from its soaring first movement, to its contemplative second movement, the brilliant third movement, and the bubbling last movement. Let's discuss this miracle of a piece together - join us!

2023-04-20
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Mahler Symphony No. 5, Part 2

I left you last week after Part 1 of Mahler?s 5th symphony, dazed and defeated.  There seems to be no hope, and no way out.  But as many of you know by now, Mahler reaches for the entire emotional spectrum in his music, and what Mahler builds out of the ashes of the first two movements is a complicated, difficult, and fascinating Part II, and a warm, sunny, and loving Part III.  Part II is a single movement, a massive 17 minute scherzo that serves as a bridge to Part III and also is practically a full piece on its own.  Part III of course contains the famous Adagietto, a love letter that leaves the listener full of questions that Mahler attempts to answer in the 5th movement, a sunny romp and the most unquestionably cheery movement that Mahler ever wrote.   Why does Mahler build the symphony this way?  How does a performer or an audience member deal with these hugely varied emotions?  And how does Mahler build his complicated scherzo, his apparent love letter to Alma, and his both highly unusual and highly traditional Rondo 5th movement? Join us to find out!

2023-04-13
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Mahler Symphony No. 5, Part 1

There is a thread of musical theory called Schenkerian analysis, based on the work of Heinrich Schenker.  Schenker believed that musical works could be boiled down to their fundamental structures and harmonies.  Entire works could be described with single chords.  If Schenker had applied his analysis to Mahler?s 5th symphony, he might have played just two chords for you: a C# minor chord, and then a D Major chord.  The reason why?  Over the course of 70 minutes, Mahler takes the listener on a wild journey, starting in C# minor with a lonely military trumpet, and then ending in a glorious D Major coda that might be the most unambiguously sunny thing Mahler ever wrote: But of course, how we get there is the most fascinating part of this monumental symphony.  Today, on Part I, I?m going to take you through Part I of the symphony, which encompasses the first two movements.  Next week, we?ll take a look at Parts 2 and 3 together, which take up the final three movements of the piece.  Part I of the piece represents both a shift in Mahler?s music, and a nostalgic remembrance.  As always with Mahler, there are multiple meanings to every phrase.  The opening of the symphony, which sounds so unusual, is itself based on a seemingly random moment of the 4th symphony.  The funeral march that dominates the first movement is based at least partly on a piece he was writing at the same time, the Kindertotenlieder, or Songs on the Death of Children.  And the second movement, one of the most unusual and complicated movements Mahler had ever written up to this point, quotes a motive from Schubert?s Death and the Maiden string quartet.  Clearly, death, a specter that always haunted Mahler, is alive and well in Part 1 of the symphony.  The first two movements of the symphony might be a perfect distillation of Mahler; they are passionate, wild, intense, but also tightly scored, precisely structured, and full of that constant push and pull between the past, the present, and the modern, that makes Mahler?s music both a product of its time, but also music that is always relevant to us. Join us!
2023-04-06
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Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

I?m not sure there?s ever been a composer who changed as much throughout his or her life as Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg would become famous, or infamous, depending on who you talk to, for his invention of atonality; the equalization of all keys so that the system of harmony that had been followed, in one way or another, in Western music for nearly a thousand years, was banished. 

This invention radically changed the course of contemporary classical music, and it remains controversial to this day. Some people think Schoenberg ruined classical music forever with this invention, while others say he liberated it from convention. 

But all of these inventions were in the future for Arnold Schoenberg when he wrote his Verklarte Nacht, or Transfigured Night, for string sextet. This piece, written in just 3 weeks in 1899, is hyper-Romantic in every sense and burning with passion and yearning, as well as being almost hyper tonal throughout. It is based on a poem by the German poet Richard Dehmel called Transfigured Night and is an example of a composition that is inextricably linked to the text it was based on, despite the music being wordless. Almost every moment in the score can be linked to a line of Dehmel?s poem, which is just as full of passion and yearning as the music. So today I?ll take you through the piece and the poem in parallel, showing you the links between the two, and also trying to pick apart the remarkable complexity within Schoenberg?s writing, all of which serves to whip up one of the most emotionally dramatic and compelling pieces of chamber music ever written. If you?ve ever been a skeptic of Schoenberg, this just might be the piece for you. Join us!

2023-03-30
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What Does an Opera Director Really Do? W/ Tabatha McFadyen

Have you ever wondered what exactly goes on behind the scenes putting together an opera? Have you ever asked yourself how a director make decisions on how to interpret the libretto of an opera? Why do some productions look so completely different to others? What is "regie theater" and why it is so controversial? Well, all of these questions and more are answered by my guest today, the fantastic director, performer, and writer Tabatha McFadyen, who takes us through the process of directing an opera from first commission to first performance, a process that can take a few years of work! This was a fascinating conversationa and I myself learned a lot from it. Join us!

2023-03-23
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The Life and Music of Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann, without a doubt, was one of the greatest pianists of all time. 

Schumann?s playing didn?t just leave critics and audiences in raptures, it also left other composers amazed that their music could sound so beautiful. Liszt called her the Priestess of the Piano, Chopin adored her playing, and Mendelssohn brought her over and over again to Leipzig to play concerts with the Gewandhaus orchestra. She toured practically her entire life while raising a family of 8 children, and taking care of her husband Robert, who dealt with a series of mental illnesses that ended in his tragic and untimely death. 

Simply put, Clara Schumann was a legend in her time. She was the first pianist to perform entire concertos and recital programs by memory, the first pianist to devote her work to both contemporary composers AND composers of the past, bringing Bach onto the recital stage. And on and on and on.

But today I?m not going to focusing too much on Clara Schumann the pianist. I won?t be mentioning Brahms or Robert Schumann all that much either, except in biographical details. That?s because the focus of the show today is on Clara Schumann?s compositions. She only published 23 pieces during her life, a result of many factors, but what we do have of her work shows a brilliant and underrated compositional talent. 

So today I?ll tell you about Clara Schumann?s turbulent and fascinating life story, and then take you through a few of her most wonderful pieces, including the piano trio and the 3 romances for violin and piano. We?ll also talk about why her body of work is so small, and why what we have of her music is so precious. Join us!

2023-03-16
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So What's It Like To Be The Principal Horn Of The Berlin Philharmonic? W/ Stefan Dohr

Stefan Dohr is one of the greatest french horn players in the world today. He has been the Principal Horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world's greatest orchestras, since 1993. In this really fun interview, Stefan and I talked about how he switched to the horn after starting out on the viola, his most memorable performances, what's it like to actually play in the Berlin Philharmonic, how to blend sound between the different sections of the orchestra, and much much more. Stefan is one of the most engaging and fascinating musicians out there so I think you'll get a lot out of this conversation. Join us!

2023-03-09
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Brahms Symphony No. 1

Brahms was only 20 years old when Robert Schumann wrote his famous Neue Bahnen(New Paths) article that proclaimed Brahms as the future of music and the heir of Beethoven. Beethoven had only been dead for 26 years at this point, and his shadow still loomed large over every single composer living in Germany, and beyond. Brahms knew that the most concrete way he would be compared with Beethoven would be through a symphony, and so?he studiously avoided writing one. It?s not like he didn?t try. Brahms began sketching symphonies only one year after the Neue Bahnen article, but he kept revising the sketches, or more often, burning them as inferior products. This would go on for 23 more years, until 1876. Brahms was 43 when he finally completed his first symphony, and it was worth the wait. What Brahms came up with would inspire symphonists to this day, and would carry on the tradition that Beethoven laid out with both a respectful and loving look back into the past, with a clear eye forwards into the future. Today we'll dissect this piece in detail, taking it down to its foundational elements in order to see how Brahms created this masterpiece of a first symphony. Join us!
2023-03-02
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Debussy String Quartet

Just one year before Debussy wrote his legendary Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, he completed another groundbreaking work.  It was a string quartet, which he expected to be the first of many. But in the end, it would be the only one he would ever write. If you aren?t familiar with Debussy?s music, this quartet might be the perfect place to start. In the string quartet, Debussy mastered for the first time many of the things that would mark his later orchestral masterpieces, like La Mer, Images, and of course the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. It is full of the virtuosity and brilliance of a young composer, the experimentation of one of the true radicals of his time, and the sensual beauty from a composer who said that music should exist above all to give pleasure to the listener.  Today I?ll take you through the piece, discussing Debussy?s Symbolist, NOT impressionist influences, his Brahmsian simultaneous embrace and destruction of musical form, and the vitality that carries you straight through one of the great string quartets of all time. Join us!

2023-02-23
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A Conversation with Martin Fröst: "The Highest Feeling You Can Get is that Someone Got Better"

Martin Fröst very well may be the greatest living clarinetist. His brilliant sound, feats of virtuosity, eclectic taste, and amazing performing ability has made him a superstar in the classical music world. I recently worked with Martin in Spain and a month later we had time to sit down and record a conversation at his home in Stockholm. This was a fascinating and wide ranging conversation talking about Martin's early experiences with the clarinet, his view on concert programming and how classical music could change, and his inspiring look at his new venture in conducting. I had such a great time in this chat and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Join us!

 

 

2023-02-16
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Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, Part 2

By as early as 1909, composers like Mahler knew that tonality was reaching its breaking point, and composers like Debussy were experimenting with colors and ideas a composer like Brahms wouldn?t have dreamed were possible.  Strauss was shocking the world in his own right with his erotic and disturbing opera Salome. Mirroring the roiling tensions all over the world, music was pushing and stretching at its boundaries in ways that it simply hadn?t before.  The years from 1900-1914 were a powder keg for the world and also for music, and you could argue that Stravinsky?s Rite of Spring was the musical version of the explosion of that powder keg.  And it still has a profound impact on music today.  So as we go through Part II of the Rite of Spring, The Sacrifice - the narrative section of the piece - we?ll talk a little bit more about the riot that took place at its premiere, but also the reactions to the piece throughout the 20th century.  We?ll also look at the influence the piece had on composers from all across the musical spectrum.  In just 30 minutes Stravinsky changed the world of music forever and it still causes controversy today.  I once was at a performance of the Rite where two elderly patrons of the symphony sat behind me.  As one particularly violent section of the piece blasted away, I heard one of them lean over to the other and say, ?If they keep playing this modern music all the time, I?m cancelling my subscription.?  This took place more than a 100 years after the premiere.  How does a piece remain modern for so long?  Are there any other parallels in musical history?  And how does Stravinsky build a narrative that slowly builds in intensity all the way to the sacrifice of the young girl and the beginning of spring? Join us!
2023-02-09
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