The Well-Tempered Ear

YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July?

May 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Check out the 2022 classical music Grammys for trends and suggested listening

April 9, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt you have already heard about the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which were awarded last Sunday night.

But chances are you haven’t heard much about the classical music Grammys.

That’s just not where the money and publicity are for major record companies and for the music industry in general, compared to other, much more profitable genres such as hip-hop, rock and pop.

But the classical Grammy nominations and winners can be a good source about what composers, performers and music you might want to check out via streaming or by buying a CD.

You can also get a good idea of trends in classical music.

Contemporary or new music is big again this year, dominating the old standard classics.

Just like local, regional, national and international performers, both individuals and groups, the Grammys show an emphasis on female composers and performers, and a similar emphasis on rediscovering composers and performers of color from both the past and the present.

You might also notice that the New Orleans-born, Juilliard-trained jazz pianist and singer Jon Batiste (below) — who plays on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and directs the house band Stay Human and who seems a one-man Mardi Gras — was nominated for a record 11 Grammys and won five in other categories, seems to be the new Wynton Marsalis. Like Marsalis, with whom Batiste worked, Batiste seems perfectly at home in classical music as well as jazz, soul, blues and pop. And his original classical work Movement 11 was nominated for a Grammy this year.

Social activism, in short, has finally brought diversity and inclusion into the Grammys in a way that seems permanent.

Below are the nominations and winners of the 2022 classical music Grammys. Winners are boldfaced. I have also offered a few examples of those musicians who have performed in Madison and for what venue, although there are many more connections than indicated.

If you want to see the nominations and winners in other categories, here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/03/1090342877/2022-grammys-full-list-winners-nominees

75. Best Engineered Album, Classical

  • Archetypes — Jonathan Lackey, Bill Maylone and Dan Nichols, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears — Richard King, engineer (Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax) 
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 — Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck, Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • Chanticleer Sings Christmas — Leslie Ann Jones, engineer (Chanticleer)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand’ — Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Luke McEndarfer, Robert Istad, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus, Pacific Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic)

76. Producer Of The Year, Classical

  • Blanton Alspaugh 
  • Steven Epstein 
  • David Frost 
  • Elaine Martone 
  • Judith Sherman (below, who also recorded the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial commissions)

CLASSICAL

77. Best Orchestral Performance

  • “Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives; Harmonielehre” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven: Symphony No. 9” — Manfred Honeck, conductor (Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Muhly: Throughline” — Nico Muhly, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
  • “Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3″ — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Philadelphia Orchestra (below)
  • “Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra; Scriabin: The Poem Of Ecstasy” — Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony Orchestra)

78. Best Opera Recording

  • “Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle” — Susanna Mälkki, conductor; Mika Kares and Szilvia Vörös; Robert Suff, producer (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • “Glass: Akhnaten” — Karen Kamensek, conductor; J’Nai Bridges, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Zachary James and Dísella Lárusdóttir; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • “Janáček: Cunning Little Vixen” — Simon Rattle, conductor; Sophia Burgos, Lucy Crowe, Gerald Finley, Peter Hoare, Anna Lapkovskaja, Paulina Malefane, Jan Martinik & Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Andrew Cornall, producer (London Symphony Orchestra; London Symphony Chorus and LSO Discovery Voices)  
  • “Little: Soldier Songs” — Corrado Rovaris, conductor; Johnathan McCullough; James Darrah and John Toia, producers (The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra) 
  • “Poulenc: Dialogues Des Carmélites” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Karen Cargill, Isabel Leonard, Karita Mattila, Erin Morley and Adrianne Pieczonka; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 

79. Best Choral Performance

  • “It’s A Long Way” — Matthew Guard, conductor (Jonas Budris, Carrie Cheron, Fiona Gillespie, Nathan Hodgson, Helen Karloski, Enrico Lagasca, Megan Roth, Alissa Ruth Suver and Dana Whiteside; Skylark Vocal Ensemble) 
  • “Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand'” — Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Grant Gershon, Robert Istad, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz and Luke McEndarfer, chorus masters (Leah Crocetto, Mihoko Fujimura, Ryan McKinny, Erin Morley, Tamara Mumford, Simon O’Neill, Morris Robinson and Tamara Wilson; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus and Pacific Chorale)
  • “Rising w/The Crossing” — Donald Nally, conductor (International Contemporary Ensemble and Quicksilver; The Crossing)  
  • “Schnittke: Choir Concerto; Three Sacred Hymns; Pärt: Seven Magnificat-Antiphons” — Kaspars Putniņš, conductor; Heli Jürgenson, chorus master (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir)  
  • “Sheehan: Liturgy Of Saint John Chrysostom” — Benedict Sheehan, conductor (Michael Hawes, Timothy Parsons and Jason Thoms; The Saint Tikhon Choir)
  • “The Singing Guitar” — Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Estelí Gomez; Austin Guitar Quartet, Douglas Harvey, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Texas Guitar Quartet; Conspirare)

80. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

  • “Adams, John Luther: Lines Made By Walking” — JACK Quartet
  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Sandbox Percussion 
  • “Archetypes” —Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion 
  • “Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears” — Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (who have frequently performed individually and together at the Wisconsin Union Theater)
  • “Bruits” — Imani Winds
  •  

81. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

  • “Alone Together” — Jennifer Koh (below, who has performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra)
  • “An American Mosaic” — Simone Dinnerstein
  • “Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas” — Augustin Hadelich (a favorite of the Madison Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven and Brahms: Violin Concertos” — Gil Shaham; Eric Jacobsen, conductor (The Knights)
  • “Mak Bach” — Mak Grgić
  • “Of Power” — Curtis Stewart 

82. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

  • Confessions — Laura Strickling; Joy Schreier, pianist
  • Dreams Of A New Day – Songs By Black Composers — Will Liverman (who has sung with the Madison Opera); Paul Sánchez, pianist (below at in the YouTube video at the bottom)
  • Mythologies — Sangeeta Kaur and Hila Plitmann (Virginie D’Avezac De Castera, Lili Haydn, Wouter Kellerman, Nadeem Majdalany, Eru Matsumoto and Emilio D. Miler)
  • Schubert: Winterreise — Joyce DiDonato; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, pianist
  • Unexpected Shadows — Jamie Barton; Jake Heggie, pianist (Matt Haimovitz) 

83. Best Classical Compendium

  • American Originals – A New World, A New Canon — AGAVE and Reginald L. Mobley; Geoffrey Silver, producer
  • Berg: Violin Concerto; Seven Early Songs and Three Pieces For Orchestra — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
  • Cerrone: The Arching Path — Timo Andres and Ian Rosenbaum; Mike Tierney, producer
  • Plays — Chick Corea; Chick Corea and Birnie Kirsh, producers
  • Women Warriors – The Voices Of Change — Amy Andersson, conductor; Amy Andersson, Mark Mattson and Lolita Ritmanis, producers  (below)

84. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Andy Akiho, composer (Sandbox Percussion)
  • “Andriessen: The Only One” — Louis Andriessen, composer (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Nora Fischer and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • “Assad, Clarice and Sérgio, Connors, Dillon, Martin & Skidmore: Archetypes” — Clarice Assad, Sérgio Assad, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, composers (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • “Batiste: Movement 11′” — Jon Batiste, composer (Jon Batiste)
  • “Shaw: Narrow Sea” — Caroline Shaw, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish and Sō Percussion) 
  •  


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Wisconsin Ensemble Project’s string quartet program to benefit the United Way of Dane County debuts online this Friday night

May 11, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, May 14, the Wisconsin Ensemble Project will present a recorded concert (below, in an image by Katrin Talbot) in partnership with United Way of Dane County (UWDC). 

This is their second in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations.  

This production offers viewers a meaningful program that leads to direct impact with a focus on housing stability and family well-being.  You will hear the story and see the face of UWDC woven throughout a chamber music performance. 

The program of works for string quartet includes “Park”  by Daniel Bernard Roumain (below top); the “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving, which you can hear played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom) from Beethoven’s Opus 132; and selections from Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Price (below bottom).

WE Project members and performers are local, professional musicians who work together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore; violist Jen Paulson; and cellist Karl Lavine.

“The WE Project is rooted in the quartet’s desire not only to delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time,” says member Mary Theodore.

When exploring organizations to partner with for their second project, the quartet was inspired by the work of United Way of Dane County. The WE Project approached United Way out of their concern over housing security, with the understanding that one of UWDC’s key goals is to help more individuals and families find pathways out of poverty through housing and employment initiatives.

The recorded production will be available by registering at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wisconsin-ensemble-project-spring-benefit-concert-registration-151923670789 from 6 p.m. this Friday, May 14, for 72 hours. Admission is free and contributions are strongly encouraged.

Contributions can be made through the website and will help to cover basic production costs and get funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization which, most importantly, brings aid to the people they serve.


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet performs the fifth installment of its complete Beethoven cycle this Friday night at 7:30 in a FREE live-streamed concert

November 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

As we draw close to Dec. 16 and the 250th birthday celebrations for Ludwig van Beethoven (below, in 1803), one of the joys and highlights of the Beethoven Year continues to impress.

The UW-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will give the fifth installment of their complete cycle of the 16 string quartets by Beethoven this Friday night, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Here is a direct link: https://youtu.be/nZN7tRu8N_k

Members of the quartet (below, from left) are: violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.

The FREE online virtual concert is a livestream from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, where the quartet will once again play with masks and social distancing (below).

No in-person attendance is allowed.

“It’s different playing without a live audience,” says cellist Parry Karp. “But we’re getting used to it. Not having to play other live concerts or to go on tour around the state also allows us to focus more. And the upside of playing online is that we saw quite a number of viewers from Brazil and Argentina listening to our last concert.”

Before each of the two quartets, Professor Charles Dill (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches musicology at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will give a short introductory lecture.

The program features one early quartet and one middle “Razumovsky” quartet: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3 (1798-1800); and String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, “Razumovsky,” Op. 59, No. 2 (1806). 

You can hear the Ebène Quartet play the hymn-like slow movement of the Razumovsky quartet, with its use of a Russian theme, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is more background from Wikipedia about both quartets:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._3_(Beethoven)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._8_(Beethoven)

For more information about the program, the names of the orchestra’s players and impressive historical background about the Pro Arte Quartet, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-v/


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Today is Veterans Day. Here is some appropriate music by Beethoven to mark it. Can you guess which piece? What composer or music would you choose?

November 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 – is Veterans Day.

It started out as Armistice Day in 1918 when the end of World War I was declared to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day to mark the service of all veterans – not just those who died in the line of duty, as is celebrated on Memorial Day.

You can find a lot of choice of classical music to play for Veterans Day. Here is one link to a compilation that features patriotic songs and marches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJepYzH1VUY

But The Ear settled on Beethoven (below, in an 1815 portrait by Joseph Willebrord Maehler).

Can you guess which piece?

It is not the memorable funeral marches on the Piano Sonata in A-Flat, Op. 26, or the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

It is also not the “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” in the String Quartet, Op. 132.

And it is not “Wellington’s Victory” or the “Egmont” Overture or the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” with its triumphant fast movements.

Instead it is the second movement of the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. (You can hear it see it represented graphically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That is the very well known Allegretto movement with its repetitious and almost hypnotizing, soaring theme. It seems like a funeral march, full of introspection, poignancy and sadness, that is a bit brisker and more lyrical than usual.

It is so popular, in fact, that it has been used as a soundtrack in many movies, including “The King’s Speech” and has inspired works based on it including the “Fantasia on an Ostinato” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano.

If it seems an unexpected choice, you just need to know more about its history.

It was composed 1811-1812, and Beethoven correctly considered it one of his finest works. So did Richard Wagner who famously described as the “apotheosis of the dance” for the infectious rhythms throughout the symphony.

At its premiere in Vienna, in his introductory remarks Beethoven said: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Beethoven (below, in 1815 as depicted in a paining the Joseph Willibrord Maehler) premiered the symphony at a charity concert in 1813 to help raise money for the Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau while fighting against France during the Napoleonic Wars.

It was so popular with the first performance that the audience demanded and received an immediate encore performance of the second movement.

Here is a Wikipedia link to the history of the symphony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)

To this day, the Seventh Symphony, so charged with energy, remains for many people, conductors and orchestral players their favorite Beethoven symphony.

It is ironic that Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Paul de Hueck) performed the Seventh Symphony at the last concert he ever conducted – at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1990. He took the second movement at a slower-than-usual tempo and many have criticized Bernstein, who was in terrible health, and have suggested that he was using it as a funeral march or homage for himself. 

They may be right. But in retrospect the choice of Bernstein – who died two months later — finds a certain justification in the original motive for the entire symphony and especially the second movement.

Listen for yourself.

Then tell us what you think.

Does this movement justify it being played on Veterans Day?

What music would you choose to mark the day?

What do you think of the Symphony No. 7 in general and the second movement in particular?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The New York Times music critics pick 10 online concerts and operas to watch through the month of November

October 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics for The New York Times have again listed their picks of virtual and online concerts that will be streamed during the month of November, starting this Sunday, Nov. 1, and running right through Nov. 30. In September, they did the same for the month of October.

The list of 10 highlights includes chamber music, orchestral music and operas as well as lots of new music, world premieres of commissions and even the Cliburn International Piano Competition, now known simply as The Cliburn.

Most of the events are posted and available for quite a while.

Note that all times are Eastern and that on this Sunday, Nov. 1, daylight saving ends.

As the critics point out, the list may be especially helpful and enjoyable now that the weather is turning colder, people are isolating at home during the nationwide spikes in coronavirus cases, and concert halls remain closed to the public.

Well-known institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Los Angeles Opera are featured. (You can sample an earlier Met production of Philip Glass’ “Satyagraha” – about the early life of Gandhi — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So are symphony orchestras from Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

And pianist Igor Levit (below top), who this past year released the highly praised, award-winning complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven and who was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone magazine, is also featured, as is the outstanding Chicago-based violinist Jennifer Koh (below bottom, in a photo by the Los Angeles Times). 

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

What do you think of the choices?

Do you have other concerts or classical music events to add to the list?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet resumes its FREE Beethoven cycle virtual and online this Friday night with two other programs this semester

September 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, performing the first all-Beethoven program in Collins Recital Hall) will resume its complete cycle of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets online and virtually this coming Friday night.

This third concert is free, and as you might have read in previous reviews, The Ear found the first two to be outstanding performances that also mixed works from early, middle and late periods.

The cycle is being undertaken to mark the Beethoven Year, which culminates this December with the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

Cellist Parry Karp (below) – the longest-standing member of the quartet and the person who often speaks for the quartet – sent the following note for posting:

“I thought I should bring the public up to date with the Pro Arte Quartet’s Beethoven cycle. Obviously things have had to change because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, we were doing three quartets per concert. Since we now need to give the performances virtually and online, we have decided to perform two quartets per concert. Sitting at a computer for two hours at a time seemed a bit too much!

“We will be continuing the Beethoven cycle starting this Friday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m. CDT. The program will consist of the early String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18 No. 5; and the late String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, with the famous “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” (heard played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom).

The link to watch that concert is at: https://youtu.be/Mf-Mpt3EyNk

“Charles Dill (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor of musicology at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will give a short lecture about each quartet before the Pro Arte Quartet performs.

“Although the concerts will be taking place in the bigger Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the new Hamel Music Center, the hall will be closed to the public for reasons of safety and public health.

“We will be playing with masks and with more separation or social distance from each other, which is a challenge and takes some adjusting to. It will also be odd to perform without a live audience.

“Unfortunately, because of copyright questions and royalties from the music editions we are using, the online concerts will not be archived for later viewing

“The other two concerts in the Pro Arte Quartet’s Beethoven cycle this semester will be on Friday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. CDT and Friday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m. CST.

“We plan to complete the Beethoven cycle during the spring semester of 2021.

The programs for this semester are listed below.”

SEMESTER I SCHEDULE

Beethoven String Quartet Cycle will be performed by the Pro Arte Quartet with pre-performance lectures of the quartets by Professor Charles Dill

Pro Arte Quartet members (below in photo by Rick Langer) are: violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.

For history and background about the Pro Arte Quartet, which is the oldest active string quartet in the history of music, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte-quartet/.

PROGRAM 3

This Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. CDT in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall.

String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18 No. 5 (1798-1800); and String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132 (1825)

PROGRAM 4: Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. CDT in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1798-1800); and the String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825)

PROGRAM 5: Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. CST in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3 (1798-1800); String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2 (1806)

 


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Classical music: NPR explores musical responses to epidemics and pandemics from The Black Plague through HIV-AIDS and COVID-19. Do you know of any more?

April 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For many centuries, artists of all kinds have responded to major social catastrophes or crises. (Below is “The Dance of Death” from the Wellcome Library in London).

Musicians and composers are among them.

Many musicians are now performing and then live streaming music in their homes because of the need for self-isolation and quarantining or social distancing.

But here we are talking about composers who tried to translate the tragedy of sickness into sound.

So it is with the coronavirus and COVID-19.

But the writer puts in it in a context that transforms it into a kind of tradition.

Tom Huizenga, who writes for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog of NPR (National Public Radio), also provides audio samples of the work he is discussing.

He starts with The Black Plague of the 14th century and British composer John Cooke (below), who wrote a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

He offers an example of how Johann Sebastian Bach (below), who suffered his own tragedies, responded to a later plague in France in one of his early cantatas.

The story covers the HIV-AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and how both the disease and the government’s slow response to it inspired a symphony by the American composer John Corigliano (below).

The survey concludes with a contemporary American composer, Lisa Bielawa (below), who is in the process of composing a choral work that responds to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a link to the NPR story, which you can read and or else spend seven minutes listening to, along with the audio excerpts of the works that have been discussed.

Here is a link: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/04/13/827990753/when-pandemics-arise-composers-carry-on

What do you think of the story?

Do you know of other composers or musical works that responded to epidemics, pandemics and other public health crises?

The Ear wants to hear.


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