The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music is good to listen to every day for a year? And why? Clemency Burton-Hill discusses her book “Year of Wonder” on PBS’ “Newshour”

March 23, 2019
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

What different pieces of classical music would be good to listen to every day of the year?

And what should you know about it?

Those are the simple but ambitious questions that the British writer Clemency Burton-Hill — who now works for the famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City — tackles in her book “Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day” (below).

You can get a sample by going to the book section of and looking inside the book. Just click on the Introduction for an overview and then click on some specifics dates to see how it works.

But recently Burton-Hill (below) also appeared on “The NewsHour” on PBS to talk about the book, where she explained her purpose and method, especially her intent to help expand the audience for classical music.

Her remarks impressed The Ear who has ordered a copy of her book and hopes to learn from it and maybe even pass along some lessons from it.

All the genres, all the great composers (dead and living) and most of the great works are covered, as are many other neglected composers and unknown works. So the book can be considered a terrific resource for music education for both beginners and those who are experienced.

Her commentaries are also a model of brevity and engaging interest.

All in all, “Year of Wonder” seems a supremely practical, unpretentious and informative guide to daily listening, especially given how many of these works – often they are shorter sections of larger works — can be found for free on YouTube. (In fact, a playlist of music featured in the book is available on YouTube. Go to YouTube and type in “Year of Wonder Playlist” into the search engine, then look to the upper right for a list. A sample is at the bottom. Or use this direct link:

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a link to the television interview:

The Ear hopes you find the interview both informative and useful.

Happy listening!

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Classical music: This afternoon’s Schubertiade concert at the UW-Madison will be STREAMED LIVE because of the cold weather

January 27, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post from co-founders, co-directors and performers Bill Lutes and Martha Fischer, and from other performers on today’s Schubertiade concert at the UW-Madison:

We are very much looking forward to welcoming you to our sixth annual Schubertiade in Mills Hall this afternoon – Sunday, Jan 27 — at 3 p.m.

It has been such a joy for all of us to prepare this music — all from the last year of Schubert’s life — to share with you, and to once again celebrate the genius of Schubert in your company.

For more information about today’s Schubertiade, including the pre-concert lecture, all performers and the complete program, go to:

Because of tomorrow’s forecast for very low temperatures, we are happy to share the news that the concert will be LIVE-STREAMED on the Internet. If you are unable to get to the concert in person, we hope you will join us online.

While it is always wonderful to have you with us in the hall to share the special feeling of community and love of this great music  — not to mention hearing your voice joining us in our traditional audience sing-along of “An die Musik”! (see the YouTube video at the bottom) — we understand if the frigid weather makes going out an unadvisable option. So we would still like to know that you have the opportunity to tune in and be with us via the wonder of technology.

Use this link and you will be able to watch the live stream of the concert:

Best wishes — and stay warm!

Classical music: You must hear this – how Debussy provided a soft way to end a season

May 24, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems perfectly normal and natural that big groups like to close their season with a big ending.

So the Madison Symphony Orchestra closed this past season with the “Glagolitic Mass” by Leos Janacek, which used a lot of brass and a large choir.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra went for an all-Beethoven program that featured the Piano Concerto No. 3, with soloist John O’Conor, and the forceful, driven Fifth Symphony.

Yet there was something particularly soothing and reassuring about the way the Ancora String Quartet (below) closed its 17th season last Friday night. (Member, below from left, are Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Benjamin Whitcomb, cello; and Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola.

The group opened with a welcome rarity: the fourth and final string quartet by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. It proved a fine offering, especially noteworthy for the hymn-like slow movement that brought to mind the open harmonies of Aaron Copland.

But the concert ended ever so quietly and warmly with the only String Quartet, Op. 10, written by French composer Claude Debussy (below).

The poet T.S. Eliot said the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.

But this ending was neither bang nor whimper.

The Ear would call it a sigh, a long and sensual sound bath that left you leaving the performance less with admiration or wonder than with gratitude for the group and for the music.

Plus, it was all the more affecting for the way that violinist Wes Luke (below) clearly explained how the main themes of all movements grow out of one motif and cohere.

The Debussy string quartet, he explained, is one of the most performed and recorded of the entire string quartet repertory. Yet its sensuality always makes it seems so fresh and so French.

The highlight was, as always, the third movement, the slow movement. And as the spring season completes winding down and the summer seasons starts to pick up, here it is for your enjoyment in a YouTube video of the Juilliard String Quartet.

What did you think about the season-closing concerts this spring? Did you have a favorite?

What do you think of the Debussy string quartet?

If you know of a better slow movement from a string quartet, please leave a COMMENT and a link, if possible, to a YouTube performance.

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