The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Chamber versions of symphonies and piano concertos by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven helped secure the composers’ reputations back when they were new music

August 30, 2019
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you heard one at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts (below), where they have become a kind of signature.

Or perhaps you heard one at a concert by the Ancora String Quartet or the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.

What we’re talking about are scaled-down chamber versions of symphonies and piano concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Today they seem like curiosities, perhaps programmed to keep budgets smaller and use fewer performers.

But historically those same arrangements were more than conveniences or compromises. They proved vital in securing the works and reputations of those composers for posterity up until today.

Recently, The New York Times published a record review by Zachary Woolfe that provides valuable background about these rearranged works.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/19/arts/music/mozart-jupiter-hyperion.html

If you would like to experience one for yourself, you have the chance this Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

That’s when and where pianist and Harvard University professor of musicology Robert Levin (below) will perform a chamber version of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, by Beethoven. It is part of a program by Levin and pianist Ya-Fei Chuang that explores the piano and concludes this year’s 30th anniversary festival. (You can hear the opening movement of the Beethoven piano concerto in the version with string quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link with more information about tickets ($32) and the festival:

http://tokencreekfestival.org/2019-season/programs/


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Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music Alert: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols airs this year on Saturday, Dec. 24, at 9 a.m. and again on Sunday, Dec. 25, at 2 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio

December 23, 2011
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Although this is not technically a classical music event, it often features classical composers and it is itself a classic — a very popular, enjoyable and moving event that appeals to many of the same people as classical music does.

Plus, I am responding to a request by a loyal reader of this blog.

She asked me: When is Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasting the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, started after World War I, from King’s College in Cambridge, England (below)?

I couldn’t answer for sure.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t heard any promo or teasers on the radio, so I checked it out.

Good thing I did.

It used to be broadcast twice on Christmas Eve, once live in the morning and then again in the late afternoon or early evening.

But this year the two broadcast times are Christmas Eve morning (Saturday, Dec. 24) at 9 a.m. CST and Christmas Day (Sunday, Dec. 25) at 2 p.m. CST. In the Madison area, that is WERN 88.7 FM.

I’ll confess: I am a devotee of the broadcast for many years and I never fail to get weepy when it opens with the solo a cappella boy soprano singing “Once in Royal David’s City” and then as the sounds swells with other boys, and then the organ, and then the full chorus.

And if there is a better opening prayer than the one this service uses — with its plea on behalf of “the lonely and the unloved” — I have yet to hear it.

And then there is usually a newly commissioned carol as well as traditional carols and favorite hymns.

If you don’t know the service or ceremony already, give it a listen. I don’t think you will be sorry you did.

For more information about Wisconsin Public Radio’s other holiday programs and schedules, visit:

http://wpr.org/holiday/

What do you think of the program?

And of the new scheduling?

The Ear wants to hear.


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