Beethoven’s sets of pianos minuets from the 1790s, WoO 7 and WoO 10, could have been transcribed (by him or by a publisher’s hack) from a ballroom string orchestra versions. They are elegant enough and straightforwardly tuneful and danceable, but they have the flavor of dashed off for quick money — or, in those days, chump change and no royalties.

Schubert’s earliest minuets are precisely comparable; he inherited the classical minuet-and-trio form from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven and ran with it. 30 Minuets for piano, D 41, date from 1813 (he was 16 years old); ten of these are lost, and one assumes that he wrote them for household use, or in school, because none was published until the Schubert Gesamtausgabe in 1889. The texture typically shows a left-hand part moving in quarters, sometimes with two changes of harmony in the bar; the Trio section often has a left hand in seesawing eighths. These textures suggest a relatively moderate tempo suitable for regular dance steps, roughly 100-120 to the quarter. No. 1 begins like “O my darling, Clementine”; nine others begin with a dotted upbeat. [continued…]

If Andris Nelsons and the BSO play and there’s no audience in Symphony Hall to hear it, does it still make sound? The answer is a resounding yes, as the music director returns to Symphony Hall this week to begin recording three new Beethoven-inspired concert streams for release in February HERE. The streams will be available for purchase and viewing on February 11th, 18th, and 25th.

Nelsons leads the band for the first time since last January, just weeks before the covid plague forced the BSO (and most everyone else) to close its doors to the public and cancel the remainder of last and all of this season. See the official announcement with video statements HERE.

Video and photos of Nelsons’s first appearance with the BSO in a year will include rehearsals (from January 6th) of the Eroica. The conductor and the musicians wear masks situate themselves on a 36-foot extension—more than doubling the size of the stage—built to accommodate social distancing requirements between and among orchestra members. [continued…]

Boston Camerata’s An American Christmas 2020 served as a balm and a comfort this week because it captured a unique and infrequently heard repertoire in a historical space of visual and auditory beauty. It functioned both as a replacement for a concert, and as a formal record of a many-years-long performance tradition.    [continued]

In tonal music (at least until Debussy) there are basically two kinds of harmony: dominant harmony, and everything else. Dominant harmony is what we develop a feeling for when we consider harmonic motion: dominant progresses to tonic, V goes to I. The most obvious strong harmonic progression is dominant-to-tonic at the end of a phrase, and the strongest version of this is called “perfect authentic cadence.” Theorists cherish this as a PAC rather than as a Political Action Committee.

We hear the “most perfect” form of this in root position, with the leading tone (LT, or ^7) in the upper voice, rising to the tonic degree. Almost as “perfect,” the ^2-^1 in the upper voice places the leading-tone in an inner voice. Imperfect authentic cadences still resolve dominant-to-tonic, but can include inversions (not in root position), e.g. V6-I, with the leading-tone in the bass. [continued…]

The aristocratic minuet from the 18th century, a highly stylized dance for a couple, or for several couples in a square format, watched over by polite society, was considered proper and difficult, and therefore a social test. We have two feet, but the minuet has three beats to the bar, so the positioning of steps varied between left, right, and together. There are plenty of 32-bar standard minuets in music, 8 + 8 bars, each repeated, followed by a “Trio” consisting of another 8 + 8 bars repeated, and then a da capo. Beethoven’s 12 Minuets WoO 7, 6 Minuets WoO 9, etc., composed in the mid-1790s are typical, and you probably played the Minuet in G Major, WoO 10 No. 2, before you were ten years old because it was in everybody’s beginning piano book — maybe it was the first thing by Beethoven that you ever heard, even before Für Elise or the “Moonlight” Sonata. Schubert’s 30 Minuets, D 41, from 1816, weren’t published before 1889, and meanwhile ten of them were lost. (The Trio for No. 21 is only 15 bars — one supposes an engraver’s error.) Unlike Beethoven’s minuets, which he wrote for orchestra (i.e., ballroom use), Schubert composed his for piano, i.e., for home use.

[continued…]

The David Elliott Memorial Orgy (1942-2020) will commemorate the 58 years David served as voice of Harvard Radio, and will weave together iconic and beloved moments at WHRB that tell a story of the station’s longtime mentor, host, and friend. Listeners and WHRB alumni (“ghosts”) will also be commenting throughout. The Orgy is in nine sections: Early Years, Classical Music Relations, WHRB Historian and Community Keeper, Harvard Broadcasts, Special Programs, Love of Opera, and Holiday Broadcasts. The memorial is slated for Thursday, December 24 from 8 am to 6 pm on WHRB, 95.3 FM and streaming HERE.

The Early Years section will feature a discussion of and a work from one of David’s earliest WHRB broadcasts, a series entitled Voices That Live that the Boston Globe highlighted in 1961.

The Classical Music Relations section will likely prove most interesting to the Boston classical music community. It begins with interviews David conducted with three of the most influential figures in classical music: soprano Renee Fleming, violinist Joshua Bell, and composer Aaron Copland. It continues with excerpts from David’s interviews with directors of classical music organizations in the area, including Deb Boldin from the Chameleon Arts Ensemble; Benjamin Zander from the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra; Gil Rose from Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; and Kathy Fay from the Boston Early Music Festival. Key musical recordings related to David will also be heard throughout this section. These include one for which he was the recording engineer: a luminous 1971 performance of Aaron Copland’s 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson from Sanders Theatre, sung by famed soprano and long-time Boston area opera teacher Phyllis Curtin, with Copland at the piano. Tributes will also be heard from other members of the Boston classical music community, including Ryan Turner, Martin Pearlman, Ron Della Chiesa, and Susan Byers Paxson. [continued…]

Something of a misbegetting resulted from shoehorning an abridgment of Handel’s Messiah into an aspiringly slick chimeric Covideo to fill a 55-minute public TV slot. Expert singing and playing jousted for screen time with a sometimes inane travelogue of Boston. The H+H – WGBH production runs free for the next couple of months on YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook.    [continued]

The third concert of this streaming BSO season, and the concluding radian of its somewhat disappointing narrative arc on America’s Promise, proffered music by Copland, Tower, Barber, and Adu-Gilmore to illustrate the thematic “optimism and openness as well as resilience and self-reflection.” Marcelo Lehninger carried the baton on December 3rd.    [continued]

The first segment of Emmanuel Music’s Britten Chamber Festival sensitively streamed some of composer’s lesser-known, small-scale vocal and instrumental music. The second and third installments of this festival follow this weekend. All three parts will stream HERE for the next 60 days.    [continued]

Beethoven Death Mask (HMA Collection)

Were the world not in the throes of a once-in-a century pandemic, countless tributes and performances honoring Beethoven would be marking the composer’s 250th birthday celebration this month. Here in New York, I was looking forward to attending a performance of his Ninth Symphony, a touchstone to which generations have turned in search of hope, solace, perspective, courage, or simply a sublime musical experience. The work has so deeply enmeshed itself in history and culture that, as Charles Rosen said of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, “…it is difficult at times to say whether we are hearing the work or its reputation, our collective image of it.”[i] While unquestionably a crown jewel of the Western canon, the Ninth also stands apart from that canon on account of its sheer scope. Utopias germinate in periods of suffering and strife that nevertheless harbor the potential to transcend the ever fraught and undesirable present. Is it fair to suggest then, that the capacity of the Ninth Symphony to speak to us today has been heightened by the mounting challenges of our times?

The magnitude of our losses this year, and the failure of the federal government to contain the pandemic have led to collective disbelief, helplessness, mourning, and trauma. Non-pandemic news has been consistently alarming also, but one event stood out: the on-camera asphyxiation of George Floyd by a white police officer, calmly and in cold blood, so flagrantly violated our innate sense of justice that it instantly became an agent of change. Demand surged for racial justice, opening one of America’s rare windows since the Civil War for radical and meaningful change. What would it have been like to attend a live performance of the Ninth Symphony in this simultaneously harrowing and hopeful year? This question led me to wade into the lore of the work itself.

The Ninth’s central idea of a universal reconciliation is anchored in Friedrich Schiller’s ode “An die Freude” (To Joy), written in 1785 and revised in 1803, the latter version being the basis of Beethoven’s setting. The period of the poem’s composition saw the emergence of a new discourse that defined the human subject, for the first time in history, without reference to a larger religious or social framework and only in relation to itself. This figure—the individual, independent human being— had just come of age and had found its epoch-making expression in the Declaration of Independence, which spoke of “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and in the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme (1789), which boldly opened with the statement that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” The historic moment marked the emergence of humankind from its “self-incurred immaturity,” in Immanuel Kant’s famous definition of the Enlightenment.[ii] [continued…]

At its founding in 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society committed to performing music both old (Handel) and new (Haydn). And before the composer’s death in 1827, several members proposed commissioning Beethoven for a new oratorio. The details and mysteries around this endeavor can be gleaned from this H + H feature.

The Society’s early interest in Beethoven was not limited to this possible commission. By 1837, they had performed his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives eight times.

The Boston Academy of Music, an outgrowth of composer-educator-businessman Lowell Mason’s publishing ventures, formed a small orchestra under the direction of George James Webb. During the 1840s, this ensemble gave the first performances of seven of the nine Beethoven Symphonies, many of them on multiple occasions, and the Fifth, a dozen times. To our advanced ears, the orchestra would surely have sounded execrable, but certain auditors of the time became enchanted. Chief among them was John Sullivan Dwight, a Transcendentalist-Unitarian minister, who may be considered America’s first music critic. During the four decades he published Dwight’s Journal for Music, he gushed that Beethoven’s Symphonies exhibited the boundless striving to pronounce the unutterable, to embrace the infinite . . . the hearer, spell-bound, must follow the heaven-storming Titan, as far as his strength holds out.’’ [continued…]

Emmanuel Music has reconfigured its three-part Britten Chamber Festival into a streaming format, with virtually all the pieces and personnel planned for the cancelled in-person concerts. Three concerts will stream as a festival over the weekend of December 18th -20th on Emmanuel Music’s YouTube channel.

Says Artistic Director Ryan Turner, “Benjamin Britten’s chamber music deserves to be heard more often. His vocal writing is on a par with any other composer. Inspired by Henry Purcell and Baroque form, Britten fused music and poetry with a simplicity and clarity that communicates directly with audiences.”

Britten’s Five Canticles, written for one, two, or three singers (always a tenor, written with Peter Pears in mind) and with varied spare accompaniment – a piano, a harp, and a piano and horn, highlights the series. Classic canticles usually a feature a hymn, but Britten gave the canticle form new meaning when he set a poem to music, ultimately including T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and “Still Falls the Rain” by Edith Sitwell. Canticle II, Abraham and Isaac, is almost a miniature opera, with dramatic gestures and strongly-formed characters. Each canticle becomes a miniature cantata with several constituent movements that also reflect elements of the song-cycle form. “The marriage of word and music that examines the human condition falls naturally into Emmanuel Music’s tradition, as does the cantata-song cycle form,” according to Turner. “Streamed concerts make us think differently about how we present the music,” because shorter segments seem to work best, we’ll alter the original three-concert format. Once we have everything recorded we’ll decide how best to package each concert segment. It’s actually nice to have that flexibility.” [continued…]

Scene from Paisiello’s Le gare generose

in which he shares some major discoveries and pleasant diversions encountered in recorded opera and other vocal music, as well as a ballet to a scenario by Arthur Schnitzler.

What a strange, scary, and remarkable year 2020 has been, in all our lives! The social isolation that I have carried out pretty consistently has led me to look to music even more than usual for solace, enlightenment, and pleasant distraction. I gather that many music lovers have traveled a somewhat similar path since mid-March.

My penchant for opera, and for vocal music and for the theatre generally, has led me to get to know a number of recent CD releases, many of which I have reviewed for American Record Guide or for various online magazines (notably Bill Marx’s Boston-based The Arts Fuse).

BMInt has kindly offered to let me share my discoveries from the past year or so this, in my fourth annual round-up of operatic and other vocal recordings. (The others can be found by clicking here: 2017, 2018, 2019.) I’ll move in rough chronological groupings because I tend to think historically (as I suspect that many BMInt readers do). I will also briefly mention a few notable performances that I attended (whether in person or virtually).

Baroque Bounty

Either you love Baroque opera, or you don’t even want to read about it, much less listen to it. But, if the latter, I suspect that you haven’t heard many truly splendid recordings of that kind of music. This year brought us four of the most vivid and engaging such recordings I have ever encountered. [continued…]

Reginald Mobley masked

In a year when “Comfort ye my people” means more than ever, WGBH and the Handel and Haydn Society have transformed the holiday tradition for television and video streaming.

The redoubtable associate conductor and keyboardist Ian Watson leads “Handel’s Messiah for Our Time” on GBH 2 on December 20th at 7 pm in an hourlong broadcast featuring the H+H Chorus and period instrument H+H Orchestra, in Part One of Messiah plus the “Hallelujah” Chorus. Soloists include soprano Joélle Harvey, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and baritone Sumner Thompson.

Streaming on YouTube, Facebook, wgbh.org, classicalWCRB.org, and handelandhaydn.org  will continue for some time thereafter.

Under Massachusetts Covid protocols, the show was recorded at GBH’s Brighton Studio using robotic cameras; chorus and soloists wore special singing masks and underwent individual testing twice prior to the taping.

Recording engineer Antonio Oliart Ros began with the reduced ensemble and soloists in a socially distanced environment of eight or fewer musicians at any one time. Watson set the tempo and created an audio bed. Video of his conducting obviated the need for a clicktrack when, in the next session, Ros staggered a second group of eight vocalists in a new arrangement in the studio, allowing for a layered full-chorus sound to emerge in the final recording. On the third and final day Ros recorded two period trumpets separately to reduce the chance of spreading Covid in studio space. [continued…]

Thanksgiving Thursday saw the BSO unlock its second “American Promise” stream, in which Thomas Wilkins conducted Harlem Renaissance-centered works by Jessie Montgomery, William Grant Still, Duke Ellington, and chamber music by Osvaldo Golijov.    [continued]

Last December, Renaissance Men’s Christmas gala went off without a hitch: stellar performance, cooperative audience, large consumption of homemade eggnog. More important, great raw tracks had been captured. The New England-based professional choral ensemble had hired producer Jeffrey Means (assistant professor of composition at Berklee) to record the concert for a second album, A Very RenMen Christmas LIVE!, after the success of their first, RenMen Laments (Navona Records / Naxos Direct).

Unfortunately, in February Means and RenMen discovered a technical problem with a key piece, Saunder Choi’s “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The group planned to rerecord it but Covid happened. St. Mary’s Episcopal in Newton, the venue, closed their doors. Other concert locations canceled their seasons, studios likewise suspended work, and the world embraced videoconferencing. Meanwhile, the deadline to deliver fully mastered tracks to the album producer loomed, weeks away, with postproduction work half that.

RenMen scrambled. Anthony Burkes Garza, bass and general manager: “With so many normal solutions off the table, we discussed several emerging options, such as ‘virtual choir’ recordings or multitracking with 3-4 singers performing all the parts. We even considered going forward without that track.” But “Angels” both seemed critical for the album and too complex for virtual recording solutions. “I truly began to lose hope. If we couldn’t rerecord Choi’s piece, our second album would miss its scheduled release date of November 2020, timed for Christmas sales,” pointed out Peter Schilling, baritone and business manager. “We would ultimately have to push the release to November 2021, with nothing to show for 2020.” [continued…]

With solo pieces for oboe, violin, and piano in compressed time-space, Radius recently livestreamed the out-of-the-ordinary by giving ear to a lesser known contemporary composer cluster.    [continued]

Guerrilla Opera has embraced online programming this season with a series of “Covid experiments.” As the final event of the Boston New Music Festival, “Dreamwalker, a month-long audio-visual production, combines a group of these experiments in a veritable feast of drama, film, and music.    [continued]

Jamaica Plain Chambermusic welcomed a small but mighty audience to the Church of the Advent on the flat of Beacon Hill on an autumnal Friday night for a currently rare occurrence: in-person chamber music    [continued]

Boston Camerata brings us a virtual confection via Vimeo: Purcell’s Dido and Æneas: An Opera for Distanced Lovers as part of its #SheToo season focused on women in opera. The show, which opened Friday, runs online through November 29th HERE.    [continued]

Quick, can you name two composers born in Somerville, Mass? Pat yourself on the back if, in addition to Alan Hovhaness, you identified Henry Hadley (1871-1937), one of that extraordinary generation of American composers born in the 1870s (e.g. Converse, D. G. Mason, Ives, Ruggles, Carpenter, Coleridge-Taylor, Mabel Daniels, Arthur Farwell, Rubin Goldmark, E. B. Hill, Arthur Nevin, Ernest Schelling, Louis Coerne, W. C. Handy, Arne Oldberg, and the proverbial Manny Moore). And, as with virtually all of these, you probably have never heard of Hadley. To set these matters aright, at least in Hadley’s case, historian, lawyer and musicologist Daniel Breen presented a lecture (via Zoom, naturally) under the ægis of the Boston Athenæum on Tuesday.

Plainly an enthusiast for his subject, Breen recounted that Hadley came from a musical family of some local renown, being the son and grandson of music directors of the Somerville school system. By way of a tiny acknowledgment, a plaque commemorates composer Hadley in Somerville’s Symphony Park. Would that there had been even that in some of the other locations in which he made his mark, which was a large one in his lifetime, though obviously not an indelible one. Hadley began music studies at home, but eventually turned to George Chadwick (the two formed a friendship that lasted until Chadwick’s death in 1931, and the two were even neighbors in West Chop on Martha’s Vineyard in the summers). After his Chadwick period, Hadley hied himself to Eusebius Mandyczewski’s studio in Vienna, where he could also soak up the musical culture. On a second trip to Europe a few years later, he sought out Ludwig Thuille, as a teacher, probably on the recommendation of Richard Strauss, whom he also met on that journey. [continued…]