Friday, June 23, 2017

Classical Showcase

No. 251 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


A few weeks ago, we shared a montage of Baroque music by composers other than the usual suspects, and this week we are doing the same, this time for the Classical period.

When we think of classical music periods, we have to look at them in the context of the aesthetics of their time, and not necessarily in terms of a hard time box. As a case in point, consider the Romantic period – in music, this period covers most of the Nineteenth century, yet we could argue that some of Mozart’s late symphonies and piano concerti (dating from the latter part of the Eighteenth century) certainly presage Romantic traditions Ditto for the music of Rachmaninov, who was active well into the Twentieth.

The same applies to the Classical era, which we could simplistically assign to the Eighteenth century, but certainly spills over to the 1800s. Also, “late baroque” music can be thought of as “early Classical”. The inclusion of Georg Christoph Wagenseil, William Boyce and Charles Avison who all were active in the first quarter of the 1700s in today’s montage is indicative of this fact.

The works of our montages’ composers provide good examples of music composed following the tradition well-established by the likes of Haydn, Mozart and Salieri. One can find some of their influence in the concerti by Meridante and Cramer.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Project 366 - What's in a Name?

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

Indeed, what’s in a name?

As in any field of endeavor, some words are “reserved” – they typically are used in a very specific context to mean something very specific.

On a past post ion this anthology series, we discussed the meaning of the term concerto, which has evolved from being merely a concert (to meaning the specific form of a work that involves a soloist playing with an orchestra, sometimes as protagonists, sometimes as antagonists. Yes both Robert Schumann and Charles Alkan felt so strongly about piano sonatas they wrote that they compared them in breadth to a piano concerto without an orchestra.

Ditto for works by Charles-Marie Widor, Igor Stravinsky and Edouard Lalo, that in their own way evoke aspects of what “old French” called a symphony – a piece of musical circumstance rather than a “sonata for orchestra”.

Oh, better yet, how about a piece of music that is meant to be sung – a lied – but without any words? Both Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn explored that idea of composing music (euther speculatively,m or just for atmosphere) as “songs without words”.

These are a few examples of words being misleading… Among the music montages I retained, there’s also some “Family Name” confusion (which Bach, which Schumann) and even the further exploration of what it means to leave a work unfinished – should it be left “as is” or should we try and “finish it off”?

Your Listener Guides 

Listener Guide #103 - "You call that a Symphony?"They are all symphonies, at least by name… Works by Mozart, Widor and Lalo. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 103 - 3 May 2013)

Listener Guide #104 - "Concerto solo"We have here a pair of concerti for piano without orchestra by Alkan and Schumann. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #189 - 13 Mar 2015)

Listener Guide #105 - "Schumann & Schumann" Piano works by the husband and wife duo of Robert and Clara Schumann.(ITYWLTMT Podcast # 123 -  20 Sep, 2013)

Listener Guide #106 - "In the name of BACH"Compositions from members of the Bach Family Tree - Johann Bernhard, Wilhelm Friedemann, CPE, JC and… PDQ. Read our commentary Januar y 31st @ , details @ (ITYWLTMT Podcast #239 - 31 Jan 2017)

Listener Guide #107 - "Lieder ohne Worte"A selection of pieces from Mendelssohn's eight books of Songs Without Words. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #182 - 23 Jan 2015)

Listener Guide #108 - "Unvollendet"An extended play montage features works left unfinished by their composers: Schubert, Mahler, Borodin and Tchaikovsky.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #250 - 9 June 2015)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SCHERCHEN / The 1950s Haydn Symphonies Recordings

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Everyone wants to know me. I had to dine out six times up to now, and if I wanted I could have an invitation every day; but first I must consider my health, and second my work. Except for the nobility, I admit no callers till 2 in the afternoon.
These words, from private correspondence to a friend, describe Haydn’s welcome in London in early 1791. Haydn’s presence in the English capital had been arranged by the violinist-cum-impresario Johann Peter Salomon; Haydn’s secluded life as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had hardly prepared him for the feverish musical and social activity in London.

Haydn’s fame in England, as in France, was based above all on his symphonies from the 1770s and 1780s, and the main part of his lucrative deal with Salomon was the composition of six new symphonies (Nos 93–98) over two seasons, for which he would receive £300—equal to approximately £25,000 today.

There are 12 so-called London Symphonies, and they can be categorized into two groups: Symphonies Nos. 93–98, which were composed during Haydn's first visit to London, and Symphonies Nos. 99–104, composed in Vienna and London for Haydn's second visit. Every London Symphony, apart from one (No. 95), has a slow introduction to the first movement.

This week’s share takes us back to my Once Upon the Internet series, and some downloads from the Japanese site Public Domain Classic and the Italian site LiberMusica – the latter still active.

Today’s featured conductor, Herrmann Schechen, was one of the 20th-century’s great new-music conductors yet he recorded an unusually wide range of repertoire, from the baroque to the contemporary.

Recorded in mono for the Westminster company between 1950 and 1953 Scherchen’s recordings of the 12 London symphonies with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Symphony are pioneer performances because, at a time when precious few took these works seriously, Scherchen granted them the time and care they deserved. The result is not just a worthy acknowledgement of Haydn’s historical importance, but a true realisation of his greatness. Scherchen turns out to be a classicist of humanity and warmth.

From these I retained three of the London symphonies – nos. 97, 102 and 103; 8 of the remaining 9 can be found on LiberMusica.

Happy Listening!

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.97 in C Major, Hob.I:97
Symphony No.102 in B-Flat Major, Hob.I:102 (*)
Symphony No.103 in E-Flat Major ('Drum Roll'), Hob.I:103

Wiener Symphoniker
Hermann Scherchen, conducting
Source: Public Domain Classic and LiberMusica (*)

Friday, June 9, 2017


No. 250 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


Today, I’m proud to share the 250th montage in our ongoing series. As I typically do when we hit a major milestone, I have programmed an “Extended Play” podcast that exceeds my self-imposed 90 minute limit.

The title of our montage, unvollendet, is the German word for “unfinished” and clearly applies to work that were left incomplete for whatever reason. The most famous such work is Schubert’s B minor symphony, which was not left incomplete due to the composer’s early death, but rather left incomplete out of disinterest…

Started in 1822 but left with only two movements (though he lived for another six years), Schubert may have sketched a finale that instead became the big B minor entr'acte from his incidental music to Rosamunde. To this day, musicologists still disagree as to why Schubert failed to complete the symphony; some have speculated that he stopped work in the middle of the scherzo in the fall of 1822 because he associated it with his initial outbreak of syphilis—or that he was distracted by the inspiration for his Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, which occupied his time and energy immediately afterward. It could have been a combination of both factors.

Schubert's eighth symphony is sometimes called the first Romantic symphony due to its emphasis on the lyrical impulse within the dramatic structure of Classical sonata form. Furthermore, its orchestration is not solely tailored for functionality, but specific combinations of instrumental timbre that are prophetic of the later Romantic movement. The recording I programmed today is by the NBC Symphony under Toscanini.

Another work left unfinished is Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. Mahler had a habit of working on a symphony over two consecutive summers: one summer of sketches, and a following summer for orchestration. This was his way of balancing composition and conducting. Mahler’s untimely death in 1911 meant that he’d only completed the orchestration of one of the movements – the Adagio.
This opens up an important topic: how sacrilegious is it for another composer (or musicologist, or colleague) to complete another’s unfinished work?

Borodin completed two symphonies in his lifetime: his Symphony No. 1 was first performed in 1869 and in that same year Borodin started on his Symphony No. 2, which was not particularly successful at its premiere in 1877, but with some minor re-orchestration received a successful performance in 1879. Three years later he began composing a third symphony, but left it unfinished at his death; two movements of it were later completed and orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov collaborated in re-assembling sketches of Borodin’s only opera, Prince Igor. There are many recordings of this third symphony – one is included in today’s podcast – and there is no sense of reticence when it comes to performing that posthumous version of the work, none whatsoever.

The same can’t be said of Mahler’s Tenth, for which there exist a number of “performance scores”, largely based on the sketches and early drafts of the composer’s orchestration. According to many of Mahler’s contemporaries who tried their hands at this, only two movements could be reconstructed with any level of fidelity. In the 1940s the American Mahler enthusiast Jack Diether tried to encourage several notable composers to realize the entire work. Figures such as Shostakovich, Schoenberg, and Britten (all of whom had been considerably influenced by the works of Mahler) refused, and instead the task was taken up by musicologists: early attempts at realizing the entire work were made in America by Clinton Carpenter (completed 1949, subsequently revised 1966), in Germany by Hans Wollschläger (1954–1962, withdrawn), and in England by Joe Wheeler (1953–1965) and Deryck Cooke. The various realizations produced by Cooke have, since the mid-1960s, become the basis for most performances and recordings.

Many conductors refuse to perform any of these realizations (the performance in the podcast, from the early stereo cycle by Kubellik and the BRSO doesn’t include any reconstruction, just the Adagio movement).  Bernstein notoriously refused to perform any of the musicological reconstructions. On the other hand, Chailly in his Decca set includes the Cooke version.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony in E-flat major (also known inaccurately as his Symphony No. 7), was abandoned in November 1892 with only part of the first movement having been fully completed, and the remainder left in sketch form.

Interestingly, the work has survived through recycling in the Tchaikovsky catalog:

  • The opening Allegro brillante becoms the one-movement Piano Concerto No. 3

  • Two movements were rescored as well for piano and orchestra and became the the Andante and Finale,

  • The symphony’s Scherzo was arranged for solo piano as Scherzo-Fantasie (No. 10 of the Eighteen Pieces, op. 72).

In the 1950s the symphony was reconstructed from the manuscript sources and completed by the Soviet musicologist Semyon Bogatyrev. It was first recorded as the “Symphony no. 7” by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and presented here in a later recording conducted by Neeme Jarvi.

I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Haydn at the Keyboard

No. 249 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Tuesday Blog. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


I’ve surprised myself going through the thought experiment of “blind listening” to the five works I selected for this week’s montage and wonder out loud who composed these works. Might I suggest you do a blind listen yourselves before reading on…

When we think of Joseph Haydn, we think primarily of his symphonies and his string quartets – at least, I do. However, and it should not be surprising, Haydn left a substantial amount of work for the keyboard – 21 piano trios, 13 divertimentos, 52 piano sonatas and 11 piano concertos – and that’s only the pieces that are in the “official” Hoboken catalog!

Listen to the Rondo all'Ungares that concludes the Piano Concerto no. 11 and ask yourself whether that ditty isn’t Mozart at his most playful? The Vivace movement follows the recipe of so many of Mozart’s opening movements. Yet both concertos programmed today are by Haydn and not Amadeus.

The Sonata no. 50 (or is it no. 60?) sounds to me like something Schubert would have written (or even the aforementioned Mozart in the case of the sonata no. 49).

We often accuse Haydn of composing “formulaic” music – think of a lot of his middling symphonies - and in fairness maybe our uninformed association of Haydn’s piano works with other composers of his time talks not necessarily of a “Haydn formula” but rather of a “classical formula”, and in that sense, no other composer of the period has done more to establishing the “code” and aesthetics of classical form than Haydn.

This may explain why his piano music in particular doesn’t have his unique fingerprints – or maybe Haydn’s fingerprints are distinctly indistinguishable!

You decide... I think you will love this music too.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Igor Markevitch (1912-1983)

No. 248 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.

In recent months, we have shared lots of music that featured Ukranian-Italian--French conductor Igor Markevitch (Haydn’s Creation, a pair of Franz Berwald symphonies, only to name those). Today’s Blog and Podcast not only provide a few more selections of modern music with Maestro Markevitch, but also a few pieces showcase him as a composer.

Igor Markevitch was born in Kiev. His great-grandfather Andrey Markevitch, a nobleman and Secretary of State for the Tsar, was also one of founders of the Russian Musical Society. The family moved to Paris in 1914 and again to neutral Switzerland in 1916 during the World War I. Pianist Alfred Cortot, perhaps the greatest French pianist of his time, recognized the boy's talent and advised him at age 14 in 1926 to go to Paris for training in both composition and piano at the École Normale. There Markevitch studied under both Cortot and Nadia Boulanger.

Markevitch gained important recognition in 1929 when Serge Diaghilev discovered him and commissioned a piano concerto from him. In a letter to the London Times, Diaghilev hailed Markevitch as the composer who would put an end to 'a scandalous period of music ... of cynical-sentimental simplicity'. He produced at least one major work per year during the 1930s. He was rated among the leading contemporary composers of the time, even to the extent of being hailed as "the second Igor", after Igor Stravinsky.

In the period immediately following the death of Diaghilev in 1929, Paris was awash in choreographic projects, each clamouring to fill the sudden void. One of these was an idea conceived by Leonid Massine for a film starring Brigitte Helm, for which Markevitch would write a ballet score. The project was never realized, however some of the music survived in the form of the Cinéma-Ouverture, which lay unperformed until given its delayed world première in Harderwijk, in The Netherlands, on 30 November 1995, by the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra under Christopher Lyndon-Gee.

The music Markevitch composed for a ballet that was never staged, L'envol d'Icare (based on the legend of the fall of Icarus) was especially radical; Béla Bartók once described Markevitch as "...the most striking personality in contemporary music..." and claimed him as an influence on his own creative work. A chamber version of L'envol d'Icare for two pianos and percussion, which Bartók heard, is believed to have influenced the latter's own Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion.
Markevitch later revised the work in 1943 under the title Icare, simplifying the rhythms and orchestration. Icare is one of the main works in today’s podcast, in a live concert performance by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

In October 1941, Matkevitch fell seriously ill. After recovering, he decided to give up composition and focus exclusively on conducting. His last compositional projects were the revision of L'envol d'Icare and arrangements of other composers' music (including an orchestration of Bach’s Musical Offering). He had débuted as a conductor at age 18 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, perfecting his craft with Pierre Monteux and Hermann Scherchen. He became permanent conductor of the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris in the 1950s, and had a short tenure with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra around that time.

As a conductor, he was much admired for his interpretations of classical and romantic repertoire (French, Russian and Austro-German) and twentieth-century music in general. The two works I retained to complete the montage are vintage recordings of Markevitch and the Lamoureux orchestra in works of contemporary French composer Albert Roussel and Swiss composer Arthur Honnegger.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

As I teased in my earlier post of Tudor-era lute music by the 17th century composer of the same name, today’s Vinyl’s revenge looks at another troubadour guitarist (if you allow me to equate lute and guitar…) also named Robert Johnson.

Robert Leroy Johnson (1911 –1938) was an American blues singer-songwriter and musician who has the unique distinction of being ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime. Johnson's shadowy and poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend. He is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; the blues and rock musician Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived."

Johnson is considered a master of the blues, particularly of the Delta blues style. Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, said in 1990, "You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it." But according to Elijah Wald, in his book Escaping the Delta, Johnson in his own time was most respected for his ability to play in a wide range of styles, from raw country slide guitar to jazz and pop licks, and for his ability to pick up guitar parts almost instantly upon hearing a song. Johnson’s playing was complex and musically advanced. When Keith Richards was first introduced to Johnson's music by his bandmate Brian Jones, he asked, "Who is the other guy playing with him?", not realizing it was Johnson playing one guitar. "I was hearing two guitars, and it took a long time to actually realise he was doing it all by himself," said Richards, who later stated that "Robert Johnson was like an orchestra all by himself. […] As for his guitar technique, it's politely reedy but ambitiously eclectic—moving effortlessly from hen-picking and bottleneck slides to a full deck of chucka-chucka rhythm figures."

The Robert Johnson legend rests predominantly on a pair of recording sessions. The first session was held on November 23, 1936, in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, which Brunswick Records had set up to be a temporary recording studio. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall, which has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer. The slide guitarist Ry Cooder speculates that Johnson played facing a corner to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique he calls "corner loading".

His first recorded song, "Kind Hearted Woman Blues," in contrast to the prevailing Delta style of the time, more resembled the style of Chicago or St. Louis, with "a full-fledged, abundantly varied musical arrangement." Unusual for a Delta player of the time, a recording exhibits what Johnson could do entirely outside of a blues style. "They're Red Hot", from his first recording session, shows that he was also comfortable with an "uptown" swing or ragtime sound similar to that of the Harlem Hamfats, but as Wald remarked, "no record company was heading to Mississippi in search of a down-home Ink Spots ... [H]e could undoubtedly have come up with a lot more songs in this style if the producers had wanted them."

In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session in a makeshift studio at 508 Park Avenue. Eleven records from this session would be released within the following year. Johnson did two takes of most of these songs, and recordings of those takes survived. Because of this, there is more opportunity to compare different performances of a single song by Johnson than for any other blues performer of his time and place. Johnson recorded almost half of the 29 songs that make up his entire discography in Dallas.

Today’s share, the 1961 album King of the Delta Blues Singers, compiles sixteen mono recordings, thirteen of which were previously available as 78s on the Vocalion label, originally recorded during the two Brunswick sessions of 1936 and 1937. By the time this album appeared, Johnson was mostly rumor, if known at all, except to a small group of collectors and those who had purchased the original 78s. Bob Dylan, who had never heard of Johnson, became mesmerized by the intensity of the recordings. The album appears in the album cover photo to Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home amid various emblems of bohemian life. Songs from the album were repeatedly covered throughout the decade by many artists, notably Eric Clapton (Clapton would later record an entire disc of Johnson's songs, Me and Mr. Johnson).

In 2003, King of the Delta Blues Singers was ranked number 27 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Robert JOHNSON (1911 –1938)

  • Crossroads Blues
  • Terraplane Blues
  • Come On In My Kitchen
  • Walking Blues
  • Last Fair Deal Gone Down
  • 32-20 Blues
  • Kindhearted Woman Blues
  • If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day
  • Preaching Blues
  • When You Got A Good Friend
  • Rambling On My Mind
  • Stones In My Passway
  • Traveling Riverside Blues
  • Milkcow's Calf Blues
  • Me And The Devil Blues
  • Hellhound On My Trail

Robert Johnson, guitar and vocals
Recorded November 23, 26 and 27, 1936; and June 19-20, 1937 by the American Record Corporation

Columbia ‎– CL 1654
Format: Vinyl, LP, Mono, Compilation, Repress
Recording details -

(Thanks to Enzo Baddo

Internet Archive URL -

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Project 366 - Single Works

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

Today’s installment of Project 366 builds on a series of Friday Podcasts that consisted of what I called back then “one-work montages”. My policy on Friday podcasts has always been to target montage duration somewhere between 75 and 90 minutes in length, in line with the duration of a run-of-the-mill Compact Disc which, depending on its capacity, is anywhere between 74 and 80 minutes.

Back in the day of vinyl “Long Playing (LP)” records, where one side typically contained 20 minutes of music, a “large work” would be issued as a two-disc album. Works that would require that treatment were typically operas (which would be issued sometimes as three or even four record sets!), but also ambitious symphonies, oratorios, that sort of thing.

(There are always exceptions to that rule. In my vinyl collection, I own a single Everest disc of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (from the Vienna Festival, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos)  which was made to fit on a single LP. I commend the record label for attempting the experiment, but the acoustic quality of the recording suffered greatly, as the grooves were so narrow that scarcely any dynamics could be rendered for the listener.)

As there is no specific overarching theme at play here, other than each Listener Guide contains a single work, let me just dive right into our list of proposed listening, with maybe a word or two about the feature work.

Listener Guide #97 - Verdi's Requiem

First performed at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, this Messa da Requiem is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir and orchestra, composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired (the work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem). It is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it 'probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since Mozart's Requiem.' (ITYWLTMT Montage #151 - 11 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #98 – Busoni’s Piano Concerto, op. 39

One of the largest works ever written in this genre, this concerto lasts around 70 minutes and is in five movements; in the final movement a male chorus sings words from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger. The first performance of the concerto took place in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin, on November 10, 1904 with Busoni himself as soloist, and Karl Muck conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. (ITYWLTMT MOntage #247 - 12 May 2017)

Listener Guide #99 – Mahler’s Third Symphony

Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is his longest piece and is the longest symphony in the standard repertoire; the first movement alone, with a normal duration of a little more than thirty minutes, sometimes forty, forms Part One of the symphony. Part Two consists of five more movements and has a duration of about sixty to seventy minutes. The symphony’s program suggests a title for each of the six movements: "Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In", "What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me", "What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me", "What Man Tells Me", "What the Angels Tell Me" and "What Love Tells Me" (ITYWLTMT Montage # 150 - 4 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #100 – Liszt’s A Faust Symphony

As the title suggests, Eine Faust-Symphonie in drei Charakterbildern, or simply the "Faust Symphony", was inspired by Goethe's Faust. The symphony was premiered in Weimar on September 5, 1857, for the inauguration of the Goethe–Schiller Monument there. The first clue as to the work's structure is in Liszt's title: "A Faust Symphony in Three Character Sketches after Goethe: (1) Faust, (2) Gretchen, (3) Mephistopheles." Liszt does not attempt to tell the story of Goethe's drama. Rather, he creates musical portraits of the three main protagonists. By doing so, though this symphony is a multi-movement work and employs a chorus in its final moments, Liszt adopts the same aesthetic position as in his symphonic poems. The work is approximately seventy-five minutes in duration. (ITYWLTMT Montage #153 - 25 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #101 – Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie

The Turangalîla-Symphonie was written between 1946 and 1948 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The premiere in Boston on 2 December 1949 was conducted by Leonard Bernstein, substituting for an ailing Koussevitzky. Yvonne Loriod, who later became Messiaen's second wife, was the piano soloist, and Ginette Martenot played the ondes Martenot (invented by her brother Maurice). The commission did not specify the duration, orchestral requirements or style of the piece, leaving the decisions to the composer. When asked about the meaning of the work's duration (80 minutes) in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song." (ITYWLTMT Montage #246 - 28 Apr, 2017 )

Listener Guide #102 – Haydn’s Creation

Haydn was inspired to write a large oratorio during his visits to England in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795, when he heard oratorios of George Frideric Handel performed by large forces. Die Schöpfung is considered by many to be Haydn’s masterpiece. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis and is structured in three parts. The first deals with the creation of light, of heaven and earth, of the sun and moon, of the land and water, and of plants. The second treats the creation of the animals, and of man and woman. The final part describes Adam and Eve during their happy time in the Garden of Eden, portraying an idealized love in harmony with the "new world". A typical performance lasts about one hour and 45 minutes. (Once or Twice a Fortnight - December 12, 2016 )

Friday, May 12, 2017

L'heure Espagnole (Ravel)

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

Many times on OTF, I’ve tried to program one-act operas. I don’t mind monumental works (like Wagner’s Tristan we discussed last time) but since I do most of my music listening on the bus, I really like something that I can listen to from beginning to end during my commute – rather than doing it over two or three.

Ravel’s vocal output is surprisingly diverse – from settings of old Greek songs to a pair of short, one-act operas. L'heure espagnole is a one of those, best described as a musical comedy to a French libretto by Franc-Nohain, based on his 'comédie-bouffe' of the same name first staged in 1904.

Ravel was closely involved in every aspect of the production as it was prepared for its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. First performed at the Opéra-Comique on 19 May 1911 in a double-bill with Massenet’s Thérèse, it stood for nine performances and was not heard again for 10 years (5 December 1921 at the Paris Opera) when it enjoyed more success. The opera returned to the Opéra-Comique in 1945 where it entered the company’s repertoire.

Translated literally, the title in English is "The Spanish Hour", but the word "heure" more importantly means "time" – "Spanish Time", with the connotation "How They Keep Time in Spain". Time keeping, and in particular clocks, are used extensively as plot devices throughout the 21 scenes of this delightful work. Concepción, the clock-maker’s wife plans to use his weekly service rounds to entertain gentlemen at home, and her rendezvous’ are either aided or hampered by clocks that are used by her suitors to hide and get moved between her bedroom and her husband’s workshop.

Today’s musical share is from a 1965 recording supervised by Lorin Maazel, featuring local singers with varying name recognition.

Happy Listening!

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
L'Heure Espagnole, MR 52
Musical Comedy in one act for 5 voices and orchestra, French libretto by Franc-Nohain

Concepcion – Jane Berbié
Don Inigo Gomez – José van Dam
Gonzalve – Michel Sénéchal
Torquemada – Jean Giraudeau
Ramiro – Gabriel Bacquier
Orchestre National de la R.T.F
Lorin Maazel, conducting
Recording: Paris, O.R.T.F., 2/1965

Synopsis -

Libretto -

Busoni: Piano Concerto, op. 39

No. 247 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

The second of our “one work montages” features a work that is quite unique, both in its format and its very sparse discography: the only piano concerto by the late 19th– early 20th century virtuoso pianist Ferruccio Busoni.

Busoni was the prototypical Renaissance man - composer, pianist, conductor, editor, writer, and teacher. A child prodigy, largely taught by his clarinetist father (his mother, a pianist, was also a professional musician), he began performing and composing at the age of seven. Busoni composed in his early years in a late romantic style, but after 1907 he developed a more individual style, often with elements of atonality. His piano compositions include original works and transcriptions of the works of others, notably Johann Sebastian Bach. In that sense, one can think of Busoni in the same vein as Liszt, Godowsky, and other piano virtuosi who composed “showpieces” for their own use.
His other compositions include chamber music, vocal and orchestral works, and also operas, one of which, Doktor Faust, was left unfinished at the time of his death. Busoni died in Berlin at the relatively young age of 58.

Busoni’s Piano Concerto in C major is one of the largest works ever written in this genre. The concerto lasts around 70 minutes and is in five movements; in the final movement a male chorus sings words from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger, a Danish playwright who’s a contemporary of Goethe.

The first performance of the concerto took place in Berlin on November 10, 1904, at one of Busoni's own concerts of modern music. Busoni was the soloist, with Karl Muck conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. The reviews were decidedly mixed, some being filled with outright hostility or derision. Apart from the immense demands required of the soloist and the large forces needed, there is a further difficulty that can affect performances of this work: the role of the soloist.

As Busoni himself wrote, piano concertos tended to be modelled after either Mozart or Beethoven. In Mozart's case, the concerto centres around the spotlit virtuoso composer-performer, who appears to spontaneously create the work before us, on-stage. The orchestra mostly provides a background accompaniment. But with Beethoven, it’s the reverse - the work is often conceived in symphonic terms; the piano takes the secondary role, reflecting on or responding to ideas that have already been introduced by the orchestra (the fourth piano concerto being the exception).

Busoni combined both these perspectives in the Piano Concerto: a huge work of symphonic proportions which presents exceptional challenges for the soloist, who is often required to incorporate a glittering cascade of notes into the overall orchestral sound. This self-abasement of the familiar 19th-century heroic soloist's role thus requires careful consideration of balance in performance.
It seems to have been Beethoven who first included a chorus in a concertante work with piano and orchestra (his Choral Fantasy, Op. 80). since then only a handful of works have been scored for similar forces, including Daniel Steibelt's Piano Concerto No. 8 and the Piano Concerto No. 6 by Henri Herz which also have a choral finale. Adam Oehlenschläger's verse drama Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp was first published in Danish in 1805. The play has a number of parallels with the works and ideas of Goethe, such as the Faust-figure of the wicked magician Noureddin who takes advantage of Aladdin's youth and inexperience to get hold of the wonderful lamp; Goethe was also much preoccupied with Plato's philosophy, including his theory of Forms and the Parable of the cave.
During his travels in Germany in 1805-6, Oehlenschläger spent several months in Weimar in the company of Goethe and his closest circle of friends. He used the opportunity of his daily visits to read out Aladdin to Goethe, freely translating from the Danish. At the time, Goethe was in the process of completing the final version of Faust, Part 1.

As I stated earlier, Busoni worked late in life on an opera based on Faust, but was equally taken with this early German version of Aladdin and planned to adapt it as a one-evening work. However, Busoni never completed his adaptation of Aladdin, although he did compose music for the final chorus in the magic cave; this made its way into the Piano Concerto.

Since its premiere in 1904, the concerto has seen relatively few performances, owing to the large orchestration, complex musical texture, the use of a male chorus, and the staggering demands put on the soloist. Consequently, its discography is sparse (refer to this Wikipedia entry), and as was the case last time with the Messiaen Turangalila symphoiny, we turn to a vintage stereo recording from the mid-1950’s featuring the late John Ogdon who, like Marc-André Hamelin today, had a reputation in exploring arcane (and technically challenging) piano repertoire by the likes of Alkan and Busoni.
The conductor in this performance, Daniell Revenaugh, studied piano with Ferruccio Busoni's pupil Egon Petri from 1951 until Petri's death in 1962. He later founded the Busoni Society, and has amassed a large and important collection of Busoni and Petri materials. This recording of the Busoni concerto won the Deutscher Schallplatten Preis, the Montreux Award, a Grammy nomination, and has remained in the EMI catalogue for decades.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Robert Johnson: Lute Music

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This month, we will be discussing the music of not one, but two people named Robert Johnson. This week’s Robert Johnson (c. 1583 – 1633) was an English composer and lutenist of the late Tudor and early Jacobean eras. (To complicate things, he is sometimes called "Robert Johnson II" to distinguish him from an earlier Scottish composer…)

Playing a golden-toned 10-course lute and using original manuscript sources or his own reconstructions, British lutenist Nigel North is featured in today’s Cover 2 Cover in a delightful recital of dances by Robert Johnson. Although they use the old forms of pavangalliardalmain and fantasie, Johnson’s exquisite works tend towards the more expansive, lyrical style that would later flourish in the Baroque period.

Robert Johnson was the son of a musician; John Johnson was lutenist to Elizabeth I. Following the death of his father in 1594, Robert Johnson was taken under the care of Sir George Carey (also known as Lord Hunsdon) who oversaw his education, including music. In 1597 Carey became the Lord Chamberlain to Elizabeth and was the patron of the acting company (known as The Lord Chamberlaine’s Men, later called The King’s Men) of which Shakespeare was a member. This created a strong artistic influence on Johnson, who went on to write songs and music for this company including plays by Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Webster. Johnson´s surviving compositions for the King's Men theatrical company have been dated to 1610–1617. Johnson's main claim to fame is that he composed the original settings for some of Shakespeare's lyrics, the best-known being probably those from The Tempest.

Johnson´s patron George Carey died in 1603. The following year Johnson found work at the court of James I where a number of lutenists were employed. Johnson’s most popular piece, surviving in over sixteen versions, was The Prince’s Almain, written for his pupil, Henry, Prince of Wales and son of King James I. Johnson also served at the court of Charles I, remaining on the royal payroll until 1633, the year of his death.

Johnson’s surviving lute music is a small collection of around 24 pieces. Early works for seven-course lute include the two Galliards and some of the Almains, most likely written before he joined the court of James I in 1604. The style of these early pieces is a little reminiscent of another Carey protégé, John Dowland, in their use of melody, divisions and texture. Soon, however, Johnson developed his own mature style represented in four Pavans and the Fantasie. Most of his later works are found in three great English manuscript sources for nine- or ten-course lute.

Robert Johnson’s lute music must have been well known in court music circles. We find several arrangements for keyboard. The lute pieces existing in keyboard versions include The Prince’s Almain, several other Almains, The Prince’s Coranto and a Pavan (set by Farnaby). This Pavan (No. 4) has not survived in its original lute version, so North created a new lute version from Farnaby’s arrangement.

Robert JOHNSON (c. 1583 – 1633)

  • The Princes's Almain
  • Pavan No. 1 in C Minor (*)
  • Galliard, "My Lady Mildemays Delight"
  • Pavan No. 2 in F Minor (*)
  • Two Almains
  • “The Noble Man”, from the Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn (1613)
  • “The Witches' Dance”, from Masque of Queens (1609)
  • Pavan No. 3 in C Minor (*)
  • Three Almains
  • “The Fairies' Dance “, from the antimaeque of Oberon (1611)
  • Fantasia (Fantasie) (*)
  • Galliard (*)
  • Almain, "Lady Strang's"
  • Pavan No. 4 (reconstructed by N. North)
  • The First, Second, and Third Dances in the Prince's Masque (from Oberon, 1611)
  • Three Almains
  • “Satyr's Dance”, from the antimaeque of Oberon (1611) (reconstructed by N. North)

(*)Music connected with Shakespeare's plays (1610-17)
Nigel North, 10 course lute
(after Hans Frei, by Lars Jönsson, Dalarö, Sweden, 2005 - Pitch: A 392)
NAXOS 8.572178
Details -

Friday, April 28, 2017


No. 246 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s Blog and Podcast is the first of a pair of “single work:” podcasts, picking up an old podcasrt arc from a couple of years ago. It also serves as tribute to this week’s featured composer, who died 25 years ago.

Post World War II was a turbulent time for classical music. If it ever existed, the linear narrative of music from Bach through Brahms had broken down. In 1949, the year Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie premiered in Boston, Richard Strauss died, the school for new music in Darmstadt, Germany, celebrated Schoenberg’s 75th birthday with performances of his works, and Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music appeared, in which he wrote that new music had “taken upon itself all the darkness and guilt of the world.” This didn’t mean that audiences were eager to embrace new music…

Turangalîla is one of the most epic symphonic works of the 20th century. An example of “world music” long before that term had currency, it combines the Tristan myth, Eastern mysticism, Hindu and Greek rhythms, Indian scales, African dance, Indonesian drumming, and Poe-inspired Gothicism, while laying out Messiaen’s lifelong signatures, including birdsong, piercing woodwind choirs, and mystical blocks of sound. Few symphonic works are more challenging, yet more viscerally thrilling.

Messiaen faced much personal tragedy during and after WWII – his capture and internment in a German Stalag, and the increasingly debilitating mental illness of his wife, Claire Delbos. Among his first students at the Paris Conservatoire was Yvonne Loriod, a brilliant pianist who was his inspiration for the Turangalîla-Symphonie and became his second wife after Delbos’ death. It was in this context that, in 1945, Serge Koussevitsky commissioned the work.

The Turangalîla-Symphonie focuses essentially on love: its euphoria, terror, and link with death. The title of the symphony itself suggests the interwining of love and death, combining two Sanskrit words, “turanga” (“the passage of time, movement, and rhythm”) and “lîla” (“the play of creation, destruction, life and death, also love”). It was Messiaen’s first large orchestral piece and notable for inclusion of prominent solo parts for piano and ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument known for its otherworldly sound.

While a symphony in name, Turangalîla bears little relation to a traditional symphony, unfolding in 10 movements - some harshly dissonant, others unabashedly sensual. It retains elements of classical form, but inaugurates a counter-tradition of stasis, repetition, and mosaic-like color patterns.
The premiere of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra received mostly negative reviews. Koussevitsky had a different view, proclaiming the Turangalîla-Symphonie “the greatest composition composed in our century” after Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. If performances and recordings are any indicator, Koussevitsky’s judgment came closest to the mark.

The recording featured in this week’s podcast is a vintage recording by a young Seiji Ozawa during his tenure as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony. (We have to note the close relationship between Ozawa, Messiaen and Leonard Bernstein, which gives much credence to the performance). Although there have been recordings specifically identified as having benefited from Messiaen’s personal supervision, the presence of Messiaen’s wife and sister in law (Yvonne Loriod is the pianist and her sister, Jeanne Loriod, plays the ondes Martenot) very likely mean that Messiaen was in Toronto during the sessions. There have been numerous accounts of Turangalîla since Ozawa's pioneering effort in 1967 (the first really viable version of the stereo era), but none have surpassed Ozawa for the ideal balance of elemental power and discipline; the majestic energy and terrifying ethereality can be best described as explosive.

I think you will love this music too!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Project 366 - The World of Transcriptions

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

They are called arrangements, orchestrations, or even reductions but they are all different paths to achieving a common goal, that is to “re-purpose” a piece of music originally created in one setting, and offering it in a different setting.

There are many examples of transcriptions, and they generally follow distinct formulas. Here are some of these formulas:

The piano transcription (which can be extended to a different instrument like a guitar, or an organ) takes a piece of music – more often than not, a piece of orchestral music or a large-scale stage work – an transposes it for a solo pianist (or sometimes piano four hands) in a bid to allow it to be played at home. I like to think of these as being the direct ancestor of broadcasts and recordings, as a means to allow works to be played and heard outside of their original setting. Nor unlike going to your local record store, one can imagine purchasing the sheet music for the piano reduction of a symphony, or even opera arias. The piano transcription, when penned by a great performer like Liszt, or Thalberg or even Vladimir Horowitz can be thought of as a vehicle for showcasing virtuosity in recitals.

An instrumental substitution allows for a piece of music originally intended for a specific voice, pitch or instrument to be substituted by another; this often occurs at the suggestion of the composer! Think of replacing a viola by a clarinet (Brahms trio, op. 114), or Mahler’s Song of the Earth where he suggests as a note "if necessary, the alto part may be sung by a baritone". Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez was originally scored for guitar and orchestra, yet he produced a version for harp and orchestra.

Johann Sebastian Bach is notorious for “reassigning” soloist parts to different instruments: his concerto for keyboard BWV 1058 is a transcription of his violin concerto BWV 1041, his concerto for two violins BWV 1042 reappears as his concerto for two keyboards BWV 1062, and so on.

Sometimes, necessity forces instrument reassignment – ancient instruments like the viola da gamba or the dulcian being replaced by cello and bassoon, respectively; the forte piano can be substituting a harpsichord, and either can be replaced by a “modern” acoustic piano.

Another formula is the setting substitution – adaption a string quartet or sextet for string orchestra, or adapting a symphonic piece for wind band.

Finally, there are orchestrations – often times, taking a piece for solo piano or organ and rendering it for full orchestra – the most famous example of this being the many different orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or even the many different settings of Les Sylphides , a ballet setting several of Chopin’s piano works for orchestra.

The following set of listener guides explores many of these formulas – piano transcriptions, instruument substitutions and, finally, some unforgettable orchestrations.

Listener Guide #90 - "Magyar rapszódiák". Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra perform Liszt's orchestration of 6 of his 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #176 - 5 Dec 2014)

Listener Guide #91 - "Three transcribed concertos". Concertos by Marcello, Mozart and Rodrigo are re-purposed for different solo instruments. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #33 - December 2, 2011)

Listener Guide #92 - "Opera Transcriptions". Earl Wild and Jorge Bolet  perform piano transcriptions of arias and syntheses of operas by Liszt, Thalberg and other virtuoso pianists of the Late Romantic period.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #167 - 3 Oct 2014)

Listener Guide #93 - "Play Bach". Bach has been known to have "tinkered" with his music, but never in a jazz vein, as perfirmed by Jacques Loussier’s original Play Bach trio.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #214 - 29 Jan 2016)

Listener Guide #94 - "Kartínki s výstavki". Leonard Slatkin proposes a unique orchestral look at Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in this compendium of individual sections from known (and less-known) orchestrations of the work. [This is preceded by an 18-minute documentary] (Tuesday Blog - 16 Oct 2012)


Listener Guide #95 - "An Unlikely Pairing". The Mighty Moog is front and centre in this look at classical works adapted for the Synthesizer. This Guide includes two versions of Ravel's Bolero - in its original orchestra version, and on the Moog Synthesizer (Vinyl's Revenge #27 - Apr 18 2017)

Listener Guide #96 - "The Bach Partitas Played on the Viola". Scott Slapin performs the three s lo violin partitas and the partita for solo flute on the viola. (Once Upon the Internet #39 - Jun-16 2015)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Unlikely Pairing

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s Tuesday Blog melds two of our ongoing series: Vinyl’s Revenge and Cover 2 Cover in an exploration of music adapted to the Synthesizer and what I consider to be shamelessly exploiting a phenomenon of the day.

Released in 1979, the movie 10 starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews and (introducing) Bo Derek told the tale of a Hollywood lyricist going through a mid-life crisis who becomes infatuated with a sexy, newly married woman. The film brought renewed fame to the Boléro by Maurice Ravel. Use of the piece during the love scene between Derek and Moore's characters, with Jenny describing it as "the most descriptive sex music ever written", resulted in massive sales of the work.

(Because Ravel's music was still under copyright at the time, sales generated his estate an estimated $1 million in royalties and briefly made him the best-selling classical composer—over 40 years after his death.)

Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to sell some records, Columbia re-issued its fantastic version of Boléro by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France. As a companion filler piece, it also re-issued a less traveled version of the piece, performed on the Moog Synthesizer. This disc, acquired during my years in the Columbia Record and Tape Club covers the “Vinyl’s Revenge” portion of today’s post.

The Boléro performance was originally released as part of a 1972 “experimental” album produced and realized by a pair of staff Columbia Classical Music producers (associated in the 1970's and 80’s with the successful New York Philharmonic recordings with Zubin Mehta among others) titled “Everything You Always Wanted To Hear On The Moog (But Were Afraid To Ask For)”, a not-too-subtle reference to a contemporary sex-help best-seller (and Woody Allen feature film) with a similarly concocted title. This album tried (with limited success) to ride the coat tails of other “electronic” albums, such as Switched on Bach and Oxygène.

The tracks of the album all had “Spanish roots” – works by Chabrier, Ravel, Bizet and Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Happy Listening!

Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España, rhapsody for orchestra (1883)

Ernesto LECUONA (1896-1963)
“Malaguena”, from Andalucía, suite for piano (ca. 1927)

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Selections from Act I of Carmen (1873-74)

(Prelude To Act I; Habanera; Les Toréadors)

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Boléro, MR 81 (*)

Andrew Kazdin, Thomas Z. Shepard at the Moog Synthesizer
Columbia Masterworks ‎– M 30383
See –
(*) This track is also Side B of MX 35860, see below

Maurice RAVEL
Boléro, MR 81

Orchestre National de France
Leonard Bernstein, conducting

CBS Masterworks ‎– MX 35860
See -