The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A good pandemic project for the Beethoven Year is to follow Boris Giltburg as he learns and posts all 32 piano sonatas in one year

May 27, 2020

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By Jacob Stockinger

There are a lot of ways that musicians are celebrating the Beethoven Year of 2020 – the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

One of the most interesting ways also makes for an engaging and ongoing coronavirus pandemic project.

The prize-winning Russian-Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg (below in a photo by Sasha Gusov) is learning all 32 piano sonatas in one year.

It is a formidable challenge, not only because most of the sonatas are technically and musically difficult, but also because the pianist says he has played only nine of the 32 sonatas before.

Giltburg’s videos feature not only fine playing and interpretations, but also a very readable and informative diary he writes that includes notes – also available in German on the website — about the sonatas and about what the process of learning and playing them has been like.

His approach works and makes you a vicarious participant in the major undertaking.

He posts performances of the sonatas every few weeks. He is learning and posting them in chronological order so you get a sense of the evolution. Giltburg is now up to Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1.

Here is some background about Giltburg from Wikipedia:

And here is a link to more background at his personal website where you can also find information about his other recordings for Naxos (he is known for his Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Prokofiev) and concerts:

But the heart of the project is at where you can find the sonatas starting from the first.

The Ear likes hearing them this way.

Listening to them one at a time and reading about them seems a less overwhelming way to become familiar with what is called “The New Testament” – as compared to the Old Testament of the 48 preludes and fugues in Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”

The Ear finds the playing first-rate and the sound quality excellent with great close-up videos of the keyboard and Giltberg’s playing.

Here is a link to the main website, which is easier than hunting for individual sonatas on YouTube:

The Ear suggests starting at the bottom with Giltberg’s introduction and then working your way up one at a time, allowing time to appreciate both the music and his diary notes.

To get you started, here his introduction to the project:

And below is his performance the Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1.

Let us know what you think of Giltberg as a Beethoven interpreter and what you think of his sonata project.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Voces Aestatis will perform its second annual concert of 16th-century choral music this coming Friday night.

August 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the choral group Voces Aestatis (below) – which performs early and pre-Baroque music – send word:

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VO-ches Eh-STA-tees) – or Summer Voices — is a professional choir of 16 voices that specializes in choral literature from the Renaissance and earlier.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The choir will present its second annual concert in Madison on this coming Friday night, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Tickets are $15 at the door.

Director Ben Luedcke (above, far left in front row, and below) has prepared a concert that will feature both sacred and secular works from the 16th century.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) is an intimate and acoustically ideal performance space for this ensemble — which is a highly select group of Madison singers, hand-picked for their vibrant voices, blended tone and experience with early music, particularly the a cappella repertoire of the 16th century.

One of the few professional choirs in Madison, this group of paid singers only rehearses a handful of times, performing once per year.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The first half of the concert will begin and end with double-choir pieces by Jean Mouton, and the master of the polychoral sub-genre, Giovanni Gabrieli. Music by William Byrd (below) and Jean l’Heritier celebrate the glory of God.

William Byrd

Also included are works by Giuseppe Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso (below), with texts taken from the Song of Songs. Though sanctioned in the Old Testament as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, these biblical passages are infamous for their explicit erotic qualities and have been favorites of choral composers for centuries.

Music of Carlo Gesualdo and Antonio Lotti, with dramatic texts taken from the Tenebrae service of Good Friday round out the first half of the concert.

Orlando di Lasso

The second half features both English and Italian madrigals by Orlando Gibbons, John Bennet, Jacques Arcadelt, and Claudio Monteverdi (below). These highly sensual texts deal with lust as well as death, even questioning the meaning of our short lives.

Monteverdi 2

Video and audio recordings from last year’s concert are available on YouTube at:

Voces Aestatis 2015 poster


Classical music: A “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms will be performed for FREE on Sunday and Monday in the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.

August 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is there any better choral music to mourn the dead than the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms? The Ear doesn’t think so.

So I was pleased when longtime friend of and contributor to this blog Kent Mayfield (below), who directs the Rural Musicians Forum, wrote to The Ear about an upcoming MUST-HEAR concert in Spring Green:

Kent Mayfield at Taliesin

“The beloved German Requiem by Johannes Brahms receives long-anticipated local attention in Spring Green on this coming Sunday, August 10, and next Monday, August 11.

The Sunday performance is at 5 p.m.; the Monday performance is at 7:30 p.m. Both performances will be in the architecturally unique Hillside Theater (below) on the Taliesin estate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


Conducted by Taliesin’s music director, Effi Casey, the work is a powerful, profoundly moving work with a spiritual message that is as enduring as it is distinctly modern.

Its immediate inspiration may well have been the death of Brahms’ mother and, probably, the death of Robert Schumann, as well.

But the focus in Brahms’ German Requiem — his first large-scale work — is not so much on the departed as on those left behind and the work of memory. (You can hear that emphasis in the gloriously beautiful and  moving concluding movement, “Blessed Are the Dead for Their Works Live After Them” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Instead of the traditional Latin liturgical text, Brahms (below)  uses passages from the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament plus the Apocrypha) that emphasize a sense of the mystery and fragility of life and inevitability of death, the hope for the future, and the value of patience and endurance.


In this way, A German Requiem creates a sense of spirituality in a secular age. This is a “human” or “humanistic” rather than merely a “German” requiem.

The music can be lush, and vivid orchestral detail and radiant voices ensure plenty of momentum and buoyancy.

For the Spring Green performances, a notable orchestra of professional caliber has been assembled uniquely for these concerts.

The Taliesin Chorus, drawn from across southwestern Wisconsin, will be joined by soloists Monica Dunn, Madeline Ehlinger and Carl Leaf, to make sense of the text, sung in German, with insight and sensitivity. (Below is a rehearsal photo taken by Dick Ainsworth, who also shoots great photos for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

Brahms Requiem at Taliesin CR Dick Ainsworth

Taliesin’s Hillside Theater is located at 6604 State Hwy 23, Spring Green. The concert begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday; 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Seating is limited.

The concert is sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum and is underwritten in part by a grant from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition and generous gifts from the choir itself and others in the community.

There is no admission charge for the concert. However, a free-will offering assists in providing further support for the event.

For more information: OR contact Kent Mayfield

The “German” Requiem happens to be The Ear’s favorite large-scale choral work, rivaled only perhaps by the calm and reassuring Requiem by French composer Gabriel Faure. So he asked Taliesin’s music director and conductor Effi Casey (below), who is leading the German Requiem, what she wanted to say about the work. Here is her reply:

Effi Casey

People said: ‘“You want to do the Brahms Requiem? Isn’t that reaching a bit high for a non-professional director and chorus?”’

“Of course it is!” I answer. “But the dream of introducing a beautiful work like the Requiem to a community who might not easily have the opportunity, let alone the possibility to experience such a work “from within,” has been a long harbored desire of mine.

“Brahms himself might have called his Requiem “A Human Requiem” but chose to differentiate it from other Requiem settings, commonly known with liturgical Latin texts as part of the Catholic Mass.

“I cannot imagine anyone, whether amateur or professional, NOT being affected by a work that expresses the complexities of the human existence, blessings, hope, fear, death, sorrow, transformation, comfort and peace in such a deeply moving form as Brahms’ Requiem.

“As Clara Schumann (below left, with Robert on the right) –- whom Brahms loved and hoped to marry after the death of her husband Robert — wrote in her diary:

‘“Johannes has been playing me some magnificent movements out of a Requiem of his own and a string quartet in C minor. The Requiem delighted me even more, however. It is full of tender and again daring thoughts. I cannot feel clear as to how it will sound, but in myself it sounds glorious.”’


“Drawing on the amazing talent in our community and being supported by many professional musicians in the orchestra, the study of the Brahms German Requiem has been immensely rewarding for all of us.

“As part of a quote by Walt Whitman reads in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater: “… Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul…”

“We hope to stir the souls of the listeners with our two performances of the glorious “German” Requiem by Brahms.”

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