The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here is a stirring version of “La Marseillaise” to mark Bastille Day and the French Revolution

July 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Bastille Day in France – July 14th or “Le quatorze juillet” — celebrating the beginning of the French Revolution when the public stormed and liberated the infamous Bastille prison in Paris.

To mark it, here is a YouTube video of a stirring version of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” It features the superstar opera tenor Roberto Alagna singing the arrangement done by the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

And it is also a good time to recall how the French helped finance and wage the American Revolution, also known as the American War for Independence.

Classical music: Today is Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Here is a very popular YouTube video of acclaimed tenor Roberto Alagna singing a version of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” as arranged by French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

July 14, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is July 14 or Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789 that overthrew the monarchy and began with the storming and freeing of the infamous Bastille Prison in Paris.

French Revolution

It has become fashionable in conservative circles to dismiss that revolution as a failure because it descended into a mass terror, as so many revolutions do.

Indeed, even the American Revolution has shameful incidents and bloody violence that we prefer to overlook or not to think about these days when we want to glorify only the best aspects of our own momentous history. But revolutions are not pure or fun. And the Americans founders themselves (below, in a famous painting of the signing of The U.S. Declaration of Independence)  knew very well what ideas and ideals they owed to the philosophers and politicians who inspired the French Revolution.

American Declaration with founders 5

Anyway, today is a national holiday in France, and the French Revolution set in motion many things that we Americans can give thanks for. And some historians even say that without France’s help, the American Revolution would have surely failed.

Whatever you think of it, the French Revolution was a great historical drama that deserves to be remembered and celebrated for fostering democracy and putting an end to monarchy and divine right rule.

Here is a YouTube video, with over one million hits, of Roberto Alagna singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, in a grand version by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, that originated in the French Revolution:

Classical music: Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day in the U.S. So how did Russian music such as the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky – which will be featured at tonight’s patriotic Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and at the competing Rhythm and Booms celebration — become such a popular and all-American event?

July 3, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight, Wednesday, July 3, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the downtown Capitol Square  in Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square (below), under conductor Andrew Sewell — a native New Zealander who is now a naturalized American citizen — will celebrate the Fourth of July.

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

Also tonight, with fireworks beginning at 9:30 p.m., the radio-broadcast soundtrack for the gigantic regional celebration Rhythm and Booms show (below) in Madison’s Warner Park will no doubt include the same piece, or at least its finale.

For more information about that event, including the official traffic plans,  here is a link:

Rhythm and Booms

And tomorrow night, Thursday, July 4, at 7 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will also broadcast PBS’ live coverage of “A Capitol Fourth,” the Fourth of July concert from Capitol Hill and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here is a link with information about the event and the performers, who include singers Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Jackie Evancho as well as composer John Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

And like Fourth of July concerts all over the country, all of those concerts or musical celebrations  will likely once again end with a rousing version of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky (below) with cannon shots booming and church bells ringing – perhaps with a Sousa march for an encore. (At bottom is the most popular YouTube video of The 1812 Overture that has more than 1.5 million hits.)

Tchaikovsky 1

The rest of tonight’s Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Red, White and Blue” program features piano soloist Michael Mizrahi (below) playing what The Ear calls The Gershwin Card. (Next spring, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also play The Gershwin Card to close its upcoming season that will mark the 20th anniversary of maestro John DeMain‘s tenure.)

Michael Mizrahi

I use the term The Gershwin Card to mean a kind of appealing crossover programming of the tuneful  and jazzy music by George Gershwin (below) that draws big audiences like pops and is easy to digest like pops, but also has a more serious side and is closer to having a classical pedigree than being pops.

gershwin with pipe

In particular, the WCO concert features Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm” Variations as well as Robert Lowden’s “Armed Forces Salute.”

So far, so American!

But how did music celebrating a Russian victory over Napoleon (below, seen in painting retreating in defeat from Moscow) and the French army in 1812 become so emblematic of the Fourth of July and American independence?

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

Well, like the American Revolution itself, the musical tradition started in Boston.

Only much, much later.

Care to take a guess?

Here is a link to the story as told to NPR’s Scott Simon on last Saturday morning’s “Weekend Edition”:

For more information about this second Concert on the Square go to this page, which also has information about the entire series and the remaining four concerts:

Classical music education: On Days 8 and 9 of its European tour, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra tours churches in the Czech Republic; performs a great concert in a great hall; and hears Mozart’s Requiem played in Prague’s Smetana Hall.

July 16, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Youth Orchestra, the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, is on a concert tour with conductor James Smith of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

The Youth Orchestra is made up of 69 musicians, age 14-18, from 19 communities in south-central Wisconsin.

 Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO plus a link to his blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s sixth report, with photos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser and George Cao. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


We began the day with a walking tour (the group shot below is by George Cao) of Oloumoc — a welcome change from the unfortunate detachment of bus tours. The city, about half the size of Madison, is full of Baroque fountains and churches, each of which seems to come with its own equally elaborate history. (One holds the torture rack on which a priest was martyred; another building was used to hold captive the French General Lafayette, who fought for the colonists in the American Revolution.)

In one church (below, in a photo by Bridget Fraser), we enjoyed a brief impromptu concert by the church organist on a magnificent old instrument, albeit one of moderate size (2,500 pipes, 28 stops, 2 manuals). It was beautiful to hear the sounds filling the church and resounding from the intricately decorated rafters. Most of us even had the pleasure of observing it from the organ loft, a rare treat.

One famous local landmark we managed to see was the astronomical clock (below, in a photo by George Cao) in the city square. Built in 1420 and repeatedly altered over the years, it was eventually destroyed by Nazi soldiers at the end of the Second World War and rebuilt in the Socialist Realist style under Soviet rule a few years later.

We next visited the Archbishop’s palace in Oloumoc, where we saw the golden chariot seen in the film “Amadeus.” Lunch was in the apartment building where Leopold Mozart took his children when fleeing the Plague in Vienna. (The plaque marking their visit, below, is by George Cao.) Our tour guide, Martin, was beyond helpful with translations, as the staff spoke very little English. After lunch, we boarded the bus to Kroměříž.

Our concert that evening was a true triumph. We performed in yet another Archbishop’s palace, which boasts a sizeable hall (below, in a photo by George Cao) with impressive, if very resonant, acoustics. When filled almost to capacity, as for our concert, it is beautiful to play in: notes float in the air after the release for a few seconds, a delightful effect in Vaughan Williams’ “A London Symphony” in particular. As we began the first movement of it, the clouds outside parted and the room was lit up in burnished gold reflecting off the gilded walls and fixtures.

It was a heavenly atmosphere, and I can say without reservation that it was the best performance the Youth Orchestra has given in the last three years. Maestro Smith (below bottom, right, in photo by George Cao) was beaming by the end, and the mood among the orchestra was positively jubilant as we left the stage. Everyone was grinning.

I remember thinking to myself as we packed up, “This is how it’s supposed to be.” The most beautiful part was realizing as we talked afterward that I was among people who understood that. So did the audience (below applauding, in a photo by George Cao).

After such a miraculous performance, it was a bit sad to leave Oloumoc the next morning, but upon our arriving in Prague the disappointment faded. The city is extraordinarily beautiful, and full of wonderful buildings.

A trip to the old synagogue (in pouring rain) was fruitless – we couldn’t get in, though we’ll try back tomorrow – but we did see the theater in which Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was premiered.

A lucky glance at a sign yielded this evening’s entertainment for about a dozen of us, which consisted of yet more Mozart. I happened to see an advertisement for a performance of his Requiem by a local pick-up orchestra and chorus, which turned out to be very good.

Despite a slight lack of dynamic subtlety and a few distinctly Czech variants on the Latin pronunciation, the singing was surprisingly able, as was the orchestral playing. A very small ensemble rendered the details of Mozart’s intricate score with deftness and clarity in Prague’s magnificent Smetana Hall (below). I was glad to have gone.

Tomorrow holds yet more exploration of the rich history of Prague (below) — and another walking tour, I hope, plus our final concert. Now that we know what it could be, I hope that we rise to the occasion once more.



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