Duke Ellington

During his three-year sojourn in the United States in the early 1890s—as director of a conservatory here in New York—the world-famous Czech composer Antonin Dvo˘rák observed that if composers in the United States were ever to break away from being trapped in the shadow of Europe’s musical culture and make an original lasting American contribution…

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American Harmonies: The Music of Walter Piston

American Harmonies: The Music of Walter Piston By Leon Botstein Written for the concert American Harmonies: The Music of Walter Piston, performed on March 29, 2011 at Carnegie Hall. The contrast between Walter Piston’s career and his posthumous reputation and place in the repertory exposes the ironies and shortcomings in the way the history of…

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Beyond Beethoven

Louis Spohr Born April 5, 1784, Brunswick, Germany Died October 22, 1859, Kassel, Germany   Symphony No. 6, “Historical Symphony” Composed in 1839 Performance Time: Approximately 26 minutes   After Beethoven’s death in 1827, European critics and audiences generally agreed that Louis (née Ludwig) Spohr was the greatest German composer. Until the rise of Mendelssohn,…

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Celebrating Beethoven

Our habit of marking anniversaries in our culture of concert programming has to inspire some ambivalence. Mathematical symmetries in chronology are superstitions. If we want to exploit them to attract the attention of the audience, we ought to celebrate composers who need remembering, those whom we have forgotten but should not have, or those in…

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A Miraculous Family

There are probably enough members of tonight’s audience who will readily recognize—with a smile–the name P.D.Q. Bach—whose music does not appear on the program. P.D.Q.’s creator, the American composer Peter Schickele (whose aptitude for musical jokes was unparalleled) described him as “the last and unquestionably the least of the great Johann Sebastian Bach’s many children.”…

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The Sons of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1785–1750) wrote more than a thousand musical works, and had twenty children. Four of his six sons became respected composers in their own right. Though they had the same father, the two eldest—Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714–1788) had a different mother, Maria Barbara (1684–1720), than the two younger sons—Johann…

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The Kingdom

Edward Elgar Born June 2, 1857, Broadheath, United Kingdom Died February 23, 1934, Worcester, United Kingdom The Kingdom, Op. 51 Composed in 1906 Premiered on October 3, 1906 in Birmingham, England at Birmingham Music Festival conducted by Elgar with soloists Agnes Nicholls, Muriel Foster, John Coates and William Higley Performance Time: Approximately 95 minutes Due…

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Elgar’s The Kingdom

During the Bard Music Festival in 2007, which had Edward Elgar as its focus, the American Symphony Orchestra planned to present in the New York area the composer’s three great oratorios. The festival, at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, closed with a performance of The Dream of Gerontius.…

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Martinů and Julietta

The career of Bohuslav Martinů mirrors the decisive and tragic character of the century in which he lived. Martinů was born in 1890 and came of age as a citizen of a multinational dynastic empire, only to find himself, in his twenties, a patriot of a newly minted national unit: Czechoslovakia. The triumphant nationalism of…

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Julietta, or Symphonic Music is a Sometime Thing

Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland Composed in 1936–37 Premiered on March 16, 1938, in Prague, at the National Theatre, conducted by Václav Talich Performance Time: Approximately 3 hours including intermission Introductions and Possible Bright Futures On March 16, 1938, inside the hallowed walls of Prague’s National…

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