The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Legendary Austrian pianist and scholar Paul Badura-Skoda dies at 91. In the 1960s, he was artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music

September 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Paul Badura-Skoda, the celebrated Austrian pianist who was equally known for his performances and his scholarship, and who was artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison in the mid-1960s until 1970, died this past Tuesday at 91.

A Vienna native, Badura-Skoda was especially known for his interpretations of major Classical-era composers who lived and worked in that city including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

He was the only pianist to have recorded the complete sonatas by those composers on both the modern piano and the fortepiano, the appropriate period instrument.

If memory serves, Badura-Skoda’s last appearances in Madison were almost a decade ago for concerts in which he played: the last piano sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert; a Mozart piano concerto with the UW Chamber Orchestra; and a solo recital of Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin at Farley’s House of Pianos.

But he also performed and recorded Bach, Chopin and Schumann among others. And Badura-Skoda was also renowned as a conductor, composer, editor and teacher.

You can find many of his recordings and interviews on YouTube. Normally, this blog uses shorter excerpts. But the legendary Paul Badura-Soda is special. So in the YouTube video at the bottom  you can hear Badura-Skoda’s complete last recital of Schubert (Four Impromptus, D. 899 or Op. 90), Schumann (“Scenes of Childhood”, Op. 15) and Mozart (Sonata in C Minor, K. 457). He performed it just last May at the age of 91 at the Vienna Musikverein, where the popular New Year concerts take place.

Here are links to several obituaries:

Here is one from the British Gramophone Magazine:

https://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/pianist-paul-badura-skoda-has-died-at-the-age-of-91

Here is one from WFMT radio station in Chicago, which interviewed him:

https://www.wfmt.com/2019/09/26/pianist-paul-badura-skoda-dies-at-age-91/

Here is one, with some surprisingly good details, from Limelight Magazine:

https://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/news/paul-badura-skoda-has-died/

And here is his updated Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Badura-Skoda

But you will notice a couple of things.

One is that The Ear could not find any obituaries from such major mainstream media as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. But each had many other feature stories about and reviews of Badura-Skoda’s concerts over the years in their areas.

The other noteworthy thing is that none of the obituaries mentions Badura-Skoda’s years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in the 1960s, where he helped to raise the profile and prestige of the School of Music. Getting Badura-Skoda to join the university was considered quite an unexpected coup.

So here are two links to UW-Madison press releases that discuss that chapter of his life and career.

Here is an archival story from 1966 when Badura-Skoda first arrived at the UW-Madison:

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/UW/UW-idx?type=turn&entity=UW.v67i8.p0011&id=UW.v67i8&isize=text

And here is a press release that came from the UW-Madison News Service eight years ago on the occasion of one of Badura-Skoda’s many visits to and performances in Madison:

https://news.wisc.edu/writers-choice-madison-welcomes-badura-skoda-again-and-again/

Rest in Peace, maestro, and Thank You.

It would be nice if Wisconsin Public Radio paid homage with some of Badura-Skoda’s recordings since a complete edition was issued last year on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

If you wish to pay your own respects or leave your memories of Paul Badura-Skoda and his playing, please leave something in the comment section.


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Classical music: The Madison New Music Ensemble makes its debut this Friday night. A FREE harpsichord recital is Friday at noon

April 10, 2019
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ALERT: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpsichordist Faythe Vollrath (below). She has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal for her “subtly varied tempo and rhythm that sounds like breathing.” Her programs do not focus solely on early music, but also incorporate new music written for historic instruments. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear and see her playing the 1993 “Toccata” by Emma Lou Diemer.)

By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Friday night, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the Madison New Music Ensemble will give its debut concert.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. Only cash and personal checks will be accepted at the door.

The program features music by the group’s artistic director and Madison-based composer Joseph Koykkar — the director of music in the Dance Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison —  Robert Muczynski, Ed Martin, Lennon/McCartney and others.

Special guests are The Vine Street Trio, a faculty trio from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, playing works by contemporary composers and saxophonist Peterson Ross.

Members of the Madison New Music Ensemble (below, from left) are: Danielle Breisach; Joseph Koykkar; Monica Jiang; Joseph Ross; Amy Harr; Elena Ross; and Bethany Schultz

For more information about the performers and the group, go to the Madison New Music Ensemble page on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/madisonnewmusicensemble/


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Classical music: Why aren’t America’s modernist composers as well as known as its modernist artists?

August 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, the culture critic Terry Teachout posed an interesting question in a column he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Why, he asked, aren’t America’s 20th-century modernist composers as well known as its modern artists such as Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko?

Sure, you know of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and you hear their music performed and played often.

But what about Roy Harris, Peter Mennin, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston and William Schuman (below)? Or even the concert music of Leonard Bernstein? (You can hear Bernstein conducting one of his favorite works by William Schuman, the energetic “An American Festival Overture,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

William Schuman

You rarely hear their music.

And you rarely hear about them.

Why is that?

And how can it be fixed – if it should be fixed?

Here is Teachout’s take, which involves the focus of the programs at this summer’s Aspen Music Festival.

Read it and see what you think:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-forgotten-moderns-1468445756

Then let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: Here are some highlights of Semester 2 during the upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

August 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and director of public relations Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to an in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass in October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights.

Semester 1 was posted yesterday, and here is a link to that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/uw-highlights-semester-1/

Here are highlights of Semester 2:

SEMESTER 2

January 19-24: Student Recital Festival. The public is invited to our first free weeklong feast of music performed on all instruments by many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Morphy and Music Halls. Times and programs to be announced in late fall.  All events free. (Below is the scholarship-winning Perlman Piano Trio from several years ago.)

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/student-recital-festival/

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

January 30: Our third “Schubertiade” (below) with pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, students, faculty and guests. Songs, chamber music and four-hand piano works, all composed by Franz Schubert.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-2016-the-music-of-franz-schubert/

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

February 12: Jazz singer Sharon Clark (below) with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Washington, D.C. standout Sharon Clark has brought festival and concert audiences to their feet across the U.S. and Europe. Her New York run drew raves from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she won New York’s Bistro Award for Best Vocalist.

Music Hall, 8 PM. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-jazz-singer-sharon-clark-with-the-uw-jazz-orchestra/

Sharon Clark

February 14: Symphony Showcase Concerto Winners Solo Recitals. The best performers of 2015-2016, graduate and undergraduate, from the UW-Madison School of Music. Bring your Valentine! Click the link below to watch videos. (Below top is the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra; below bottom are the concerto winners in 2015.)

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital/

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

2014 Concerto Winners

February 26: Pianist Christopher Taylor in solo recital.  “We in Wisconsin are privileged to call Christopher Taylor (below) one of our own,” wrote reviewer Jessica Courtier in the Capital Times following his performances last spring with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Taylor is also known for his work inventing a digital double keyboard piano, now being built.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

March 11-13-15: University Opera presents “Transformations” (Conrad Susa (below top)/Anne Sexton below bottom). Directed by David Ronis, music conducted by Kyle Knox. Susa’s chamber opera for eight singers and eight players, is an adult re-telling of 10 classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through the eyes of poet Anne Sexton. Sexton’s struggle with mental illness frames the darkly humorous, and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-20-century references, both literary and musical. (You can hear excerpts and a summary in a YouTube video at the bottom;)

Music Hall.

$25/$20/$10

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-transformations/

Conrad Susa

anne sexton

March 14: duoJalal (below) with Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, the wife-and-husband viola and percussion global chamber music duo. From their chamber music foundation, duoJalal moves from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz, with a skillful confluence that is natural, exploratory and passionate.

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/duojalal-viola-percussion-guest-artists/

Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick

April 26-28-29: Jazz Immersion Week. A weeklong residency with LA-based Bob Sheppard (below), worldwide multi-woodwind performer, recording artist, and jazz musician. Also featuring UW Jazz Ensembles, the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and the Johannes Wallmann Quintet.

April 26: Bob Sheppard with the UW-Madison Composers Septet & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Free concert.

April 28: Bob Sheppard with the Johannes Wallmann Quintet. Tickets $15.

April 29: Bob Sheppard with the UW Jazz Orchestra & High School Honors Jazz Band. Tickets $15.

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/jazz-bob-sheppard-guest-artist/

Tickets sold through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office online or in person. You may also buy day of show.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

bob sheppard

 


Classical music: Ethan Hawke’s documentary film “Seymour: An Introduction” about pianist Seymour Bernstein, is now playing at the Sundance Cinemas. Go see it. Don’t miss it.

April 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday brought an event The Ear has long been waiting for: The opening at Sundance Cinemas of Ethan Hawke’s 80-minute documentary film about the 81-year-old New York City-based pianist, writer and teacher Seymour Bernstein (below).

Seymour Bernstein close at keyboard

Bernstein, you might have heard, was a child prodigy and critically acclaimed adult concert artist who, beset by stage fright plus other mid-life crisis-like thoughts, at 50 decided to drop out of the concert life to devote himself to teaching, composing and writing.

Famed actor Ethan Hawke (below left, with Bernstein), who has also struggled with stage fright, met Bernstein at a dinner party and decided to make a movie about this extraordinary man. (At the bottom in a YouTube video you can hear Bernstein play a lovely and well-known Intermezzo in A major — Op. 118, No. 2 — by Johannes Brahms for his new friend Hawke at a tribute during the New York Film Festival.) 

Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein

And by all standards, the film is an outstanding success.

For example, it gets a rating of 100 percent from the public website Rotten Tomatoes.

I don’t think I have ever seen a 100 percent rating at that particular website.

Yet it is not surprising.

The professional critics for major media are indeed no less unanimous in their praise than is the general public.

I offer proof. Here are samples, each of which touches on certain specific aspects of the film, but all of which praise the film unequivocally:

First, here is a previous post from this blog. It whetted my appetite and maybe yours:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=seymour+bernstein

Seymour bernstein 1

Here is the backstory about Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/arts/ethan-hawke-films-seymour-an-introduction.html?_r=1

And here is a five-star review from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/movies/review-seymour-an-introduction-is-a-lesson-in-perseverance.html

Here is another five-star review from Roger Ebert’s website:

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-2015

“Seymour” also gets high praise from The Wall Street Journal:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/seymour-an-introduction-review-striking-resonant-chords-1426186052

And from Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-20150311

And here is one from The Denver Post that I like and expect you will too:

http://www.denverpost.com/movies/ci_27831096/ethan-hawke-film-chronicles-career-top-classical-pianist

That should be plenty to convince you to go see “Seymour: An Introduction.” I don’t know how long it is scheduled to play at Sundance. But if enough people go and see it, it may be kept there for another week or two.

Then The Ear could see it twice.


Classical music: Opera diva Deborah Voigt comes clean in her new memoir about her weight-loss surgery as well as her addictions to food, online dating and alcohol.

January 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about living a life that sounds like an opera.

Take opera diva Deborah Voigt (below).

Deborah  Voigt

Voigt is supremely talented.

And now it turns out that the opera star is also supremely honest. And boy, does she have some great stories to tell — stories that don’t always reflect well on the opera world, let alone herself.

In her new memoir, “Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva,” the opera star talks about her childhood, her career, her gastric by-pass weight-loss surgery in 2004 and other problems including her abuse of alcohol, her dangerous relationships with men she met online and of course her relationships with food and music.

deborah voigt memoir book cover

Here is pre-surgery Fat Debbie:

Deborah Voigt fat in 2013

Here is post-surgery Thin Debbie, playing Brunnhilde in Richard Wagner‘s “Ring” cycle for the Metropolitan Opera:

Thin Deborah-Voigt as Brunnhilde

Voigt also comes off as a thoughtful woman who does not shun her own individual responsibility for her problems, but who sees them in a social and even sexist context, such as the double standard in opera for heavy men like the legendary and obese tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) and heavy women like herself.

Luciano Pavarotti

The Ear offers you a roundup of reviews and interviews about the new book.

Here is an interview with Scott Simon on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/17/377503009/a-down-to-earth-diva-confronts-her-flaws-and-good-fortune

Here is a piece from The Wall Street Journal with a Q&A interview:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/opera-singer-deborah-voigt-an-anti-diva-bares-it-all-1421358335

Here is the take in the popular People magazine:

http://www.people.com/article/deborah-voigt-memoir-call-me-debbie-food-addiction

And here is a nitty-gritty account in The New York Post:

http://nypost.com/2015/01/11/too-fat-opera-singer-lost-the-weight-but-found-a-world-of-troubles/

But let’s not forget the talent and great voice that make all these other things noteworthy. So here is Deborah Voigt’s most popular video on YouTube:

 


Classical music: Meet the Met. Here is a historical pop quiz about the Metropolitan Opera from NPR. But don’t grow complacent because the labor disputes are settled. Troubles are far from over, says one expert.

August 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that the labor strife is over and the new season at the Metropolitan Opera (below) will open on time after all, it is time to lighten up and shout out a bit.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

But no one should be naïve. And no one should get too complacent. Even with the labor negotiations now settled, the future may not be so rosy for the Met, or for other big opera companies:

Here is a commentary in The Wall Street Journal by the acclaimed cultural historian Joseph Horowitz (below, speaking in Madison in 2011) who, you may recall, came to Madison to open the Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial celebration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison three years ago:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/joseph-horowitz-union-trouble-isnt-the-mets-only-problem-1407537082

Joseph Horowitz 2

Still, this season will go on, starting on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi‘s epic “Aida.” So to see how much you know about the Met –- The Ear finds that opera fans, like sports fans, are vast repositories of historical trivia and statistics.

Try this quiz, based on historical facts, about the Met that was posted by NPR (National Public Radio:

But a word of advice or warning: Make sure your speakers are turned on or use headphones, since sound is an integral part of the quiz:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/20/318464055/the-music-geek-s-met-opera-puzzler

Metropolitan Opera quiz Valkyries Ken Howard The Met

 


Classical music: Good news! The Metropolitan Opera season will open on time, now that it has settled disputes with its labor unions.

August 23, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear offered readers an update on the labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera (below), which had been partially resolved.

The final results, and successful settlement, came in earlier this week.

And the news is good.

metropolitan opera 1

Here is a wrap-up of what happened from several major media outlets, plus a link to the Met so you can check into its various seasons and productions. 

Met from stage over pit

First, here is link to the back story about the first settlements between general director Peter Gelb (below top), who sought even bigger salary rollbacks, and the unions (below bottom):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/classical-music-the-shows-will-go-on-or-so-it-seems-as-the-metropolitan-opera-and-two-major-unions-reach-agreement/

Peter Gelb

Metropolitan Opera union members

Now here are links to three stories that wrap up the labor disputes and the final outcome:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-labor-talks.html?_r=0

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-1408526766

From the Associated Press via Billboard magazine:

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/6221948/metropolitan-opera-reaches-deal-with-stagehands-union

Last but not least, here is a link to the Met’s own website, where you can see the schedule of productions for the regular Met season -– which opens on Oct. 27 with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” (below, the opera’s show-stoppping Act 2 Triumphal March from a 1989 Met Opera production in a YouTube video) –- and for the productions for “The Met Live in HD,” which are shown locally at the Eastgate and Point cinemas:

https://www.metopera.org/metopera/season/index.aspx?nav=top&gclid=Cj0KEQjw1NufBRCx8ayaqY2t6KkBEiQA2nLWm0XjHlAakMLoTzDM-NoyRoahceCgKqUcDjUgrwGFTjIaAvWB8P8HAQ


Classical music: Is Beethoven still relevant and our political contemporary with his opera “Fidelio”?

August 10, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that Ludwig van Beethoven (below) composed only one opera.

It is “Fidelio,” and it reflected his Enlightenment-era political ideas about equality and democracy –- despite the composer’s own financial reliance on patronage by aristocrats and royals.

Beethoven big

And you may recall that the Madison Opera has slated “Fidelio” for a production this coming season in Overture Hall on Friday night, Nov. 21, and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23.

The production comes during a time of great political unrest and perhaps upheaval at home, with crucial national and state elections, and especially overseas and in foreign affairs with Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa’s Ebola strife and many other hot spots showing no sign of letting up.

So will the local production of “Fidelio” be more or less a traditional one? Or will the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith and its artistic director, John DeMain, who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, have other ideas about how to tweak the opera and recast it for modern or contemporary relevance?

It will be interesting to see, although The Ear understands that the production will be traditional.

Here is a link to the Madison Opera’s website:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/

Currently, the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera is staging a controversial new version of “Fidelio”(below), created by director Stephen Wadsworth, that takes place in the Nazi death camp Bergen-Belsen. Sounds very Peter Sellars-like. (You can hear the moving music from the Prisoners’ Chorus at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

FIDELIO in Bergen-Belsen at Santa Fe

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, of The New York Times, did not like it and, in fact, said it offended her because it belittled the Holocaust. She also complained that the roles in the actual text did not match the roles that the new staging created. She saw the production as too inconsistent.

Her larger complaint seems to reflect the notion that after the Holocaust, writing poetry and creating art is impossible, that beauty has been ruined.

It is an ambitious, lofty and tempting thought, but one that is clearly not true. In fact, it is downright wrong. Great suffering and art are old pals. Sometimes art takes you away from suffering; sometimes it takes you deeper into it. It depends on the work and on the performers. But we need both.

Anyway, here is the review from the Times as well as another one with a different take. Read them for yourself. Then decide and make up your own mind. It sure sounds like a concept worth pursuing, even if flawed, to The Ear.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/arts/music/santa-fe-opera-sets-fidelio-in-a-concentration-camp.html?_r=0

Critic Heidi Waleson, of The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, praised the production:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/opera-review-santa-fe-opera-1407191039

Be sure to tell The Ear, and other readers, including members of the Madison Opera, if you have ever seen an updated version of “Fidelio” and what you thought of it.

Where do you think “Fidelio could be recast to best advantage The Holocaust? The Spanish Inquisition? The Soviet Gulag and Great Terror? The Killing Fields of Cambodia? The Rwandan genocide? Abu Graib prison in Iraq? A CIA black site torture prison in Egypt? The Chinese Cultural Revolution?

Or, given the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, how about a Supermax prison in Wisconsin?

You get the idea.

Go wild with your imagination, and then write in.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Is there more to say about Beethoven and his music? Acclaimed musicologist Jan Swafford thinks so, and says so in his new biography of The Ludwig.

August 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.

All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:

The “Eroica” Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony.

The “Pastoral” Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”

The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.

The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.

The “Ghost” and  “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.

The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.

The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.

The “Missa Solemnis.”

“Fidelio.”

And on and on.

Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!

Beethoven big

What more is there to be said about Beethoven?

Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jan Swafford color

Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”

It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.

Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/05/337857557/ask-us-anything-about-beethoven

And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/03/336656578/beethovens-eroica-a-bizarre-revelation-of-personality

Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.

But nobody is ignoring it.

Jan Swafford Beethoven cover

Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-beethoven-anguish-and-triumph-by-jan-swafford-1406927297

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/beethoven-by-jan-swafford.html?_r=0

Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?

What do you think of his music histories and biographies?

Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?

And what is your favorite  work by Beethoven?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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