Musical Insurrection to Institution: Bang on a Can


Bang on a Can has long since passed from musical insurrection to institution. Its trademark marathon concerts (grown out of the practices of a new music group at Yale, where the group’s founders studied) have become a staple of ensembles nationwide. NEC’s annual Summer Institute for Contemporary Piano Performance, for one, culminates with a marathon show.

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It is a notable seachange in performance practice. Whether it came out of youthful rebellion, an attempt to cultivate a party atmosphere, or as a mirror of the pace of music after minimalism is unclear (all of the above?). Regardless, presenting downtown music like this feels natural. A similar presentation of the Bach-to-Brahms rep would come off somewhere between odd and blasphemous, depending on whom you asked.

A few years ago, BoaC set roots at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass.) for an annual summer festival. It has a mix of student instruction and concerts like any other, but maintains an aesthetic center of its own: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Meredith Monk have appeared in the past as artists-in-residence.

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Postcard from Maine: Music Culture in the Easternmost U.S.


Eastport, Maine, where I have a summer home, is the easternmost city in the United States, population year-round about 1,600, and a little more than 2,000 in the summer. Lubec, considerably smaller, is two miles further east but is incorporated as a town. These two major urban centers of Washington County (total population about 33,000, area about 2,600 square miles, more than twice the size of Rhode Island) frame the American reaches of Cobscook Bay, a smaller offshoot from the much larger Passamaquoddy Bay which is mostly Canadian-bordered.

Except for the Fourth of July, when the holiday influx raises the temperature to as many as 10,000 people, Eastport is a quiet, friendly, low-key community with a thriving arts environment. There is a considerable nucleus of painters, sculptors, ceramists, instrument makers, and writers, and some of these also participate in Stage East, a small but very popular theater company. A special international treasure is a newspaper, The Quoddy Tides, published twice a month and serving not only the American communities around Cobscook Bay but also the islands of nearby New Brunswick: Deer Island, Campobello, and Grand Manan. [continued…]

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The Harpsichord in America 1884 – 1946


Editor’s Note: The article which follows, from a Harvard Musical Association Bulletin of April, 1946 should be of interest to votaries of the Boston Early Music Festival. If readers know the whereabouts of the cited instruments and collections please respond by blogging.

It appears, from research by the writer, that there was only one harpsichord in Boston in 1885 in playable condition. It was the property of Mr. Morris Steinert, founder of the house of M. Steinert and Sons. Mr. B. J. Lang, who did much for enlarging the horizon of music in Boston, organized a festival for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bach, born March 21, 1685. In Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” there is the need of a harpsichord, and Mr. Steinert’s instrument was played by Mr. Lang. This was probably the first time for a period of sixty years that a harpsichord had been used in a public concert in Boston.It is interesting to know how little the compilers of the Comprehensive Dictionary, published in 1871, knew relative to the harpsichord. They give the meaning of the word harpsichord: “A keyed instrument, or harp, strung with wire.” That of the virginal is worse: “A musical instrument.” These definitions show the lack of knowledge relative to the instruments because of their rarity. In 1884 there was probably only one harpsichord in the United States in playable condition, and only one player who knew how to use it properly relative to tone colors and the proper touch for the keys and that was Mr. Morris Steinert. At this time of writing (1946), there are fourteen professional harpsichordists in the United States. There is also a maker of harpsichords whose instruments are as splendid in qualities of tone as the best instruments made by the famous makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and their volume is considerably larger, a virtue needed in these years of large halls. [continued…]


Early Music World Looks To Boston


Every other summer, the city of Boston becomes the ultimate destination for connoisseurs of early music – that is, music written many centuries ago and performed in the style popular at the time of its composition. But as music lovers of all types have discovered over the years, this “rarefied” music is as beautiful, exciting, and relevant as anything written in recent times. Next month from June 6 through 14th, the Boston Early Music Festival will present its “weeklong extravaganza of early music” (The Boston Herald), jam-packed with fully-staged opera performances, concerts by the world’s leading soloists and ensembles, over 100 concurrent events including lectures and dance workshops and the world-famous Exhibition. [continued…]

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Rockport Chamber Music Festival, June 4 – July 2


Every summer since inception of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in 1981, distinguished musicians from around the country have come to Rockport to perform concerts of extraordinary quality. The festival has been under the direction of Artistic Director and renowned pianist David Deveau since 1995. Chamber Music – the foundation on which Rockport Music’s rich    [continued]

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Historic Concert at Methuen Music Hall


The Harvard Musical Association collaborated with The Methuen Memorial Music Hall Association on the re-enactment of the Inauguration of the Great Organ at the Boston Music Hall. (The organ was moved to the Methuen Memorial Music Hall in 1909.) Organists Peter Sykes, Sandra Soderlund, Mark Dwyer, and Brian Jones played the original program of works by Bach, Palestrina, Handel, Lefébure-Wély, Paine, Purcell, and Mendelssohn. An addition was the world premiere of a new work, Odyssey, written for the Methuen organ by Herbert Bielawa. click here for review

The Great Organ Now In Methuen

In April, 1851, Harvard Musical Association issued a circular soliciting from the public and its membership commitments of funds to build a grand music hall seating 3,000 people. Sixty days later, $100,000 had been raised— much from the HMA Directors and members. The Boston Music Hall opened on November 20, 1853 with a miscellaneous benefit concert dedicated to raising monies for a Great Organ.

Jabez Baxter Upham, president of the Boston Music Hall Association and Treasurer of the Harvard Musical Association, spent the next several years campaigning on behalf of acquiring “the greatest organ in America” for the Boston Music Hall. His exploratory trips to Europe convinced him that the firm of E. F. Walcker of the Kingdom of Wurtemberg should build the great instrument. The firm, Herter Brothers of New York, was chosen to construct the heroic and magnificent casework of American Walnut.

On November 2, 1863, the largest organ in America was introduced to the press and public in one of the the greatest musical media events of 19thcentury Boston. This is the account from Dwight’s Journal of Music: [continued…]


Dissertations on Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Ives’s Fourth Symphony


These two works, performed in early March 2009 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Alan Gilbert, elicited these observations by musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto.

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

A rhapsody, says the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a composition of irregular form and often improvisatory character,” a convenient definition especially when the composer isn’t certain what else to call a composition. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are mostly sectional, with the sections unrelated to each other; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has one or two themes that return repeatedly but are sparingly developed; and even the second scene of Berg’s Wozzeck, which depends on dramatic progression, was called by him a “rhapsody on three chords.”

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is more highly structured and formally economical than the title would indicate. It consists of 24 variations, some of them freely expanded into cadenzas, but with an overall layout roughly corresponding to a three-movements-in-one form, fast-slow-fast. The theme from Paganini’s 24th Caprice was the springboard for one of Liszt’s Grand Etudes (No. 5), as well as for virtuoso variation sets by Schumann and Brahms and, in our own time, by Lutoslawski; but Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody has always been the best known of all of these, and, of all of his works for piano and orchestra, the most grateful to play. It may not be as popular with the public as the immortal Second Concerto, but neither is it as grandiose and bombastic.

I’m looking at the performance history, too. Rachmaninoff played the premiere of the Rhapsody in Baltimore in 1934, and the Boston premieres in 1937 with Koussevitzky. (I remember that Rachmaninoff twice was offered, and twice refused, the directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.) I grew up with a recording of the Rhapsody played by Julius Katchen and the London Philharmonic under Sir Adrian Boult, and I never heard a better one; but Tuesday’s performance at the Boston Symphony under Guest Conductor Alan Gilbert was certainly of that caliber. [continued…]

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Musing on Mozart and Studying with Boulanger


Lee Eiseman, program chair of Harvard Musical Association, conceived of this publication, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as the reincarnation of Dwight’s Musical Journal, published by John Sullivan Dwight with the support of HMA for 35 years -from 1852 until 1881.

Robert D. Levin, a world-wide acclaimed classical performer, composer, and musicologist, is Dwight P. Robinson Professor of Humanities in the Music Department of Harvard University. At a recent meeting with Eiseman, executive editor Bettina A. Norton, and musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto, Levin commented on the role of the Intelligencer.

When I once visited a high school in Laguna Beach to talk about music education, I met a Chinese gentleman, a Mr. Chang I think was his name, and he ran a band program at the school. But they had abolished the string program!

Eiseman: Well, the bands are for marching with the football team.

Levin: Of course. So, they had abolished the string program, and I got up there in front of everybody and I said, “The string program is the soul of the place. The brass players who play in the band love to play in the band, but, BOY! do they love to play Wagner – and they love to play these big romantic symphonies, the Dvorak symphonies, and Tchaikovsky, and stuff like that. If you really want to see fire in their eyes, that’s what you gotta have, but you can’t do that without wind players and especially string players… this is the essence of the whole thing.”  I left the next morning and went up to Northern California to address another school.  Then I flew home, and about three days later, I got a call from the superintendent. He said, “You know something? The next morning, a couple came in to my office and gave me a check for $10,000 for a string program.”  There is a saying that all politics are local. It made me think that maybe it would be more important to go around to these high schools than to play with the great orchestras of the world.

When I was in high school I played in the band…. Anyway, these things can be done. I believe the educators want to do this. The problem is they do not have funding for anything.

Eiseman: In that sense, it’s a luxury, because it happens only if a private donor comes in and offers to pay for it.

Levin: That’s what has happens in our free enterprise non-regulated system gone mad. People are starting to talk about the fact that the American infrastructure is going to hell. You go to China and everything is new. You go to East Germany, whose infrastructure was neglected under Communism and but totally rebuilt after reunification, with gleaming highways and high-speed rail and a brand new telecommunications system, whereas the overpass at Sullivan Square was torn down because it had rusted to pieces, and a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. And we’ve got the still-unaddressed consequences of Katrina. [continued…]


Who cares if classical music dies? Is it the canary in the coal mine?


Lee Eiseman, program chair of Harvard Musical Association, conceived of this publication, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as the reincarnation of Dwight’s Musical Journal, published by John Sullivan Dwight with the support of HMA for 35 years -from 1852 until 1881.

Robert D. Levin, a world-wide acclaimed classical performer, composer, and musicologist, is Dwight P. Robinson Professor of Humanities in the Music Department of Harvard University. At a recent meeting with Eiseman, executive editor Bettina A. Norton, and musicologist and composer Mark DeVoto, Levin commented on the role of the Intelligencer.

Eiseman: Presuming that there is such a thing as musical intelligence in Boston, I wonder whether musical intelligence and musical instruction have been in a steady state of decline for the past 200 years. I wonder if the dead-cat bounce has occurred yet. The Puritans required every pupil in the public schools  to learn the equivalent of solfège so that they could chant the Psalms. And by 1880, according to John Sullivan Dwight, there was still enough interest in the subject to provoke a debate about fixed or moveable Do in musical instruction in the Boston Public Schools.

Levin: A guest teacher tried to teach me moveable Do in the third grade, and I got into a knock-down drag-out fight with her. …Well, I was eight years old. I had no idea what movable Do was, but I thought it was absolutely the biggest crock that you could ever imagine. She chalked an A major scale up on the blackboard and wrote Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. I exclaimed, “No no no; that’s La Ti Do Re Mi Fa Sol La!” She said, “What are you talking about?” And my homeroom teacher rejoined, “Bobby, just let her teach what she wants to teach and keep quiet!” [continued…]


The Rite of Spring: Confronting the Score


Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is 95 years old this year and is still fresh. And, sometimes, still controversial. I remember that when Pierre Monteux, who had conducted the riotous premiere in Paris in 1913, conducted it again with the Boston Symphony in 1957, 200 people walked out. Ten years later I heard it played by    [continued]


Notes on Korngold’s Quartet No. 3


Hollywood was a magnet for musicians in the decade of the 1930s. Developments in the new art of sound-film moved quickly; in the world-wide Depression the film industry was rolling in money, constantly developing new technologies and attracting new creative talent. Then, in 1933, came the expulsion of Europe’s Jewish, modernistic, or otherwise subversive musicians by a dictator whose ideas about music were a particularly strong part of his monomania. Composers fleeing Hitler from not only Germany (where their music was banned immediately in 1933) but from other countries falling under Nazi dominance, came together in the fascinating and often frustrating atmosphere of Hollywood, where music was too often treated with disdain. The question for each European composer who worked in the film industry was how to retrieve his own soul after selling it. How would he be able to return to composing the music he felt was inhim to write “for himself”?

The Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was recognized for his remarkable musical gifts when he was a child by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Forced as a prodigy by his formidable father, music critic Julius Korngold, young Korngold was an internationally acclaimed composer of operas from the age of 18. In Hollywood in 1934, for an assignment at the request of Max Reinhardt, the famous Austrian theater producer and director, Korngold took to film scoring as if he were composing opera and later said so: “Just as I do for the operatic stage, I try to invent for the motion picture dramatically melodious music with symphonic development and variation of the themes.” Although he had no previous experience in this field, so keen were Korngold’s dramatic ideas that Reinhardt declared, “If he were not the great musician that he is, he would become a great dramaturg.” The Warner Brothers studio paid Korngold more than any other film composer, allowed him fewer assignments, and gave him the extraordinary privilege of asking producers for changes in their film footage. His name appeared as prominently in the screen credits as the film director’s name. His film fans became so numerous they formed clubs. [continued…]

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Last Issue of Dwight’s Journal of Music


dwightcw[Vol. XLI, no. 1051]
Dwight’s Musical Journal


This is the last appearance of the Journal of Music which has so long borne our name. For needed rest, as well as to gain time for the solution of certain practical problems (out of which however, nothing has yet come), this post mortem number (so to speak, considering how many obituary eulogies and lessons it has called forth) has been delayed beyond our original intention. In the last number (July 16) we frankly gave the reasons for the discontinuance: namely, ‘that the paper does not pay, ‘but actually entails a loss upon it editor, and that said editor, conscious of his own shortcomings, is heartily weary of the struggle to keep the thing alive within such economical limits as render it impossible to make such a journal as he has desired.


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