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September 21 – Recycling in Classical Music

Tchaikovsky “Marche Solennelle” (Festival Coronation March)
Tchaikovsky, great composer though he was, had his not-so-inspiring moments. One such moment came in May 1891, when he was invited to compose and conduct a piece for the grand opening of Carnegie Hall. Rather than compose a new piece, he simply recycled one of his earlier compositions and tried to pass it off as an original. But he underestimated the musical intelligence of his American fans: at that grand opening, the audience members immediately recognized the music. HA–caught in the act!

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September 14 – What’s in a Name?

Ildebrando Pizzetti: Piano Trio in A: III. Rapsodia di settembre: Vivace (non presto)
We admit it—we’ve never heard of Pizzetti until now! He is considered the greatest Italian composer of choral works since Pope Gregory wandered around the globe leading the way with his chants. He was a dramatist, composer and lover of opera. Take a moment to savor this genius:  the opening of his Requiem, composed in 1922, and a clip of his Piano Trio in A.

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September 15 – What’s in a Name?

Erik Satie: Limp Preludes for a Dog
Standard titles for pieces in classical music are pretty boring, aren’t they? Suite No. 4. Symphony No. 1. Concerto in A. But there are some very notable exceptions. There’s nothing stale, for example, about “Unappetizing Chorale,” “She Who Talks Too Much,” and “Agreeable Despair.” It’s easy to imagine the avant garde, Belle Époque French composer Erik Satie was the man to come up with such odd names! Listen to one of his odder-titled pieces, “Limp Preludes for a Dog,” here.

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September 16 – Operatic Disasters

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre: Act III: Wo ist Brünnhild
In 1956 at Covent Garden in London, the man performing the bass role of Wotan in “Die Walküre” was in a hurry to get onstage. He quickly grabbed his cloak from its pink, fluffy hanger in the dressing room, strolled onstage and began to sing…only to realize a moment later than he’d taken the coat hanger with him! We can say with certainty that’s the only time an audience has laughed at the very serious character of Wotan in Wagner’s “Ring” operas.

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September 17 – Celebrations

Johann Strauss, Sr.: Radetzky March, Op.228
Internet Copy: When Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz marched back to Vienna after the Battle of Custoza in 1848, one of the first battles in the Italian war of independence against Austria’s occupation, his soldiers erupted into song. Johann Strauss Sr. wove that melody into his “Radetzky March,” an orchestral sparkler! To this day, the Viennese stomp their feet in time to it each year on New Year’s Eve.

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September 18 – Classical Toolbox

Richard Wagner:  Prelude from Tristan Und Isolde
and
Bach:  Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (for organ)
Classical music makes tons of resolutions all year long, but they have little to do with diet or exercise! But just like a massage, they resolve tension…harmonic tension, that is! In the Prelude from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” for example, the entire 111-bar opening is one gooey, voluptuous string of question marks. But just when you feel like Sherlock Holmes ready to pounce on a resolution, one note slips, and you lose your toehold, swimming once again in the deep end. Not all building tension results in resolution…sometimes it just seduces the listener into the next question mark!

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September 19 – Mozart as a Child

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Bastien und Bastienne: Diggi, daggi, scurry, murry
Mozart composed the chamber opera “Bastien und Bastienne” at the incredibly young age of 11. The alleged commissioner of the piece, a German physician who proposed several now-defunct theories involving animal magnetism, was later parodied in Mozart’s wildly popular opera “Così fan tutte.”

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September 7 – Little Secrets

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67: II. Andante con moto
So you want to be a conductor? Lest you think it’s  as easy as counting to four, think about the musical background of some of history’s greatest composers: Eugene Ormandy was a former violinist; Toscanini a cellist; and Seattle’s own Gerard Schwarz a trumpeter. Before they found their ultimate calling, these men all achieved excellence on the other side of the stage!

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September 8 – Classical Geography

Felix Mendelssohn: The Hebrides Overture, Op.26 “Fingal’s Cave”
In 1830, Mendelssohn sent his sister, also a composer, a letter containing the opening phrase of this piece during a trip to Fingal’s Cave on an island off the coast of Scotland. The cave is a mass of beautiful basalt columns, and one can hear mysterious echoing noises from inside. In the letter, Mendelssohn wrote: “In order to make you understand how extraordinarily The Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.”

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September 9 – Nature in Music

Erich Korngold: Violin Concerto in D, Op.35: II. Romance
Though most stringed musicians today use strings made of steel or synthetic polymer, some contemporary musicians swear by catgut strings. No, “catgut” strings aren’t actually made of cats’ guts—they’re actually from intestines of other animals, including sheep and cows. If you can stomach that, you’ll be rewarded with a rounder, sweeter instrumental tone.