Category Archives: Classical & Opera
The latest installment in the Unlocking the Masters Series from Amadeus Press has arrived: Ravel: A Listener’s Guide by Victor Lederer. The Unlocking the Masters Series, which now features 23 titles, presents the work of classical composers in a user-friendly style that brings the reader quickly and easily in to the world of the greatest composers and their music. Read below for an excerpt of Chapter one!
There’s no question that the beautiful surfaces of Maurice Ravel’s music provide an easy approach, but subterranean strengths are what make it last. So, in one sense, his works hardly seems to need analysis, partially explaining their immense popularity, while the tug of the composer’s sophisticated compositional technique—his tart harmonies and rhythmic playfulness, for example—and his singular way of expressing passion keeps it from superficiality, bringing one back to listen, again and again.
Ravel’s style, gorgeous on the outside but steely underneath, derives its irresistible outward beauty chiefly from long-spun melodies as well as some of the most skillful and effective instrumental and vocal writing by any composer in any era. His structural strength comes from rhythmic freedom, harmonic richness, and daring, and formal patterns that are mostly straightforward but well suited to the job. Ravel’s gifts as a composer also include the related qualities of brevity, concision, and momentum: he says what he has to say and keeps moving, never dragging his material out. Much of the master’s oeuvre is in dance form, most famously perhaps his various essays in the waltz, but he also composed in Daphnis et Chloé one of the great ballets. But in several other cases that we’ll see, he also transcribed or otherwise reworked his music into ballets: he seemed to be thinking constantly in terms of its choreographic possibilities. More difficult to explain but present just the same is his ability to evoke passion at a distance, a peculiar skill at which he may be unmatched.
[…]Ravel’s style always remains clearly and unquestionably his own. Even though you may be able to point at an influence here or there, his integration of them is so complete that there’s never a sense that he’s mimicking or copying—unless, as in a couple of rather minor instances, he wants you to. Finally, within this small output is an unusually high percentage of the composer’s works transcribed from one form to another. There are several reasons for this, and we’ll examine these, as well as the music itself, in chapter 4.
I discovered while working on the book that generalizing about Ravel’s music is unwise. For instance, several late-period works are rich and heavily scored, going completely against the prevailing leaner manner. And, while I tend to prefer the piano versions of many works (usually the originals) to the orchestral transcriptions that the composer made later, I found that with Ma Mère l’Oye, I love both the four-hand piano original and the orchestrated version equally. Everything Ravel published was crafted with the utmost care, and you need to hear every note and to keep an open mind.
Get yourself a copy of Victor Lederer’s book over at Amadeus Press and let us know your thought on it in the comments below!
Harvey Lee Snyder author of the book, Afternoon of a Faun – How Debussy Created a New Music for the Modern World, now has a website for his book! When visiting the page you will learn more about Debussy’s music and about the book itself. Go take a look by clicking on the link below, and let us know what you think!
Here is the story of a poor, unschooled Parisian boy swept by odd coincidences to the Paris Conservatory at age ten. Here is a brilliant man struggling to invent a tonal language capable of expressing his unique musical vision, finding inspiration not in Bach and Beethoven but in Mallarmé’s poetry and the paintings of Whistler and Turner; a man determined to end two centuries of Germanic domination of European music. Here is a reclusive, gentle man whose misguided love affairs ended in scandal and scorn. His hard work failed to end decades of poverty and debt, but, as is made clear in Afternoon of a Faun, Debussy was at the time of his death in 1918, and remains today, the foremost French composer of the 20th century.
In honor of today being Claude Debussy’s birthday we would like to remember all of the wonderful music that he has made. Claude Debussy was a French composer who was well known for his impressionist music. He was one of the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was the father of the modern era in classical music. Author Harvey Lee Snyder has written a book on Debussy titled, Afternoon of a Faun: How Debussy Created a New Music For the Modern World, that tells about his life and also his music. Below is an excerpt from chapter 1 about Debussy’s early life and background.
Some historians tried to link Claude Debussy to the Burgundian aristocracy, but no—Claude’s father, Manuel de Bussy, was less nobly descended from peasant stock, men and women who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were laborers and farmers, locksmiths, tradesmen, and carpenters. Claude’s maternal family too was of humble origin.
Manuel de Bussy enlisted at eighteen in the Second Infantry Regiment of Marines and served his seven-year term. He married Victorine Manoury in 1861, when both were twenty-five years old. The newlyweds moved into an old three-story house in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye, just west of Paris. Manuel ran the china shop on the ground floor, and upstairs, on August 22, 1862, their first child, Achille-Claude de Bussy, was born. Before his first birthday he had a baby sister, Adèle. Emmanuel was born in 1867, and Alfred followed three years later. Another son died in childhood.
The china shop failed after two years of Manuel’s management, and the de Bussys moved to Clichy to live with Victorine’s mother. In 1868, Manuel found work at a printing shop and moved his family to Paris. For most of his life Manuel struggled and repeatedly failed to earn enough to support his family in comfort and stability. He never held a job for very long, and Victorine sometimes worked as a seamstress to help make ends meet.
The eldest boy was called Achille (pronounced “ah-sheel”), but he was Chilo to his family. At his baptism his godparents were Manuel’s sister Clémentine and her lover, a rich financier named Achille Arosa. As a young adult, Chilo preferred to be called Claude, signed his name Claude-Achille, and modernized the family name to Debussy.
He was a quiet boy—“dreamy” was a word often used—who found refuge in solitude. Unlike his three siblings, he never went to school. His mother, who had little education herself, kept him at home and taught him to read and write. But Victorine had no enthusiasm for motherhood. More than once she sent Adèle to Cannes to be raised by Clémentine. Alfred was in Clémentine’s care until her death in 1882.
Clearly, the de Bussy clan was not an auspicious incubator of genius. Nothing in the historical record suggests that music was a significant part of the family life, or that the children were exposed to the ripe artistic and cultural climate of Paris. Manuel confidently believed Achille would follow in his footsteps: He’d be a sailor when he grew up. (Later in life, the composer of La Mer [The Sea] found this amusing.)
This summer, just like every summer since the mid-1930s, musicians and music lovers have come together at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts. In her book, Tanglewood: A Group Memoir, Peggy Daniel recounts the Tanglewood story as told in first-person accounts by such Tanglewood luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky, Aaron Copland, Erich Leinsdorf, Phyllis Curtin, Seiji Ozawa, Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, John Harbison, James Levine, and many of the leading musicians, critics, and music professionals who consider Tanglewood a second home.
To mark the start of this year’s festival, the Boston Globe compiled its list of “Seven Books About the Tanglewood Music Festival,” and it begins is list with Tanglewood: A Group Memoir.
I love a good headline as much as anyone, and here’s a peach from the Associated Press: “Dowagers Thumb Ride to Symphonic Concert.” It seems these dowagers were among 3,000 hardy music lovers who, one night in 1942, hitchhiked, walked, or biked to Tanglewood, where Serge Koussevitzky conducted Haydn’s Symphony no. 88 and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony under the August stars. This was during the war. So many events got canceled that year, due to fuel rationing, but not this one. When Koussevitzky took the stage, the Berkshire Eagle reports, he got a “greeting in which vociferousness surpassed record and remembrance.”
Peggy Daniel has loaded all sorts of goodies like this into “Tanglewood: A Group Memoir” (Amadeus, 2008). It’s full of dowagers with pluck, led by Gertrude Robinson Smith, a socially prominent New Yorker who strong-armed all her connections to launch the music festival during the Depression, fanning out ticket subscription teams to recruit at Rotary and Kiwanis meetings, granges and garden clubs. The recruiters touted the joy of music, plus the joy of jobs: The festival would hire local unemployed electricians, carpenters, and others to build the stages and work the events.
This dowager-meets-laborer quality has set the tone of Tanglewood from the onset. It’s a place of low-price-ticket rehearsals plus high-society picnics, James Taylor plus Anton Dvorak, classical music chestnuts plus avant-garde offerings. The book trumpets Tanglewood’s bolder moments, in fact, like how the festival championed new American composers early on, and how in the 1940s and ’50s, it was the “foremost laboratory for operatic experimentation” according to the conductor/impresario Boris Goldovsky.
There’s also some choice gossip here. The early years contained many catfights with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, it appears, and tales of the vagaries of performing outside. To wit, real thunder and lightning heightened Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and when “Peter Grimes” was staged on a broiling day in 1946, stagehands hosed down a tar paper rock just before the tenor “died” slowly upon it, not willing to burn himself for art.
Read the rest of Katharine Whittemore’s list here.
Carol Montparker, author of The Composer’s Landscape: The Pianist as Explorer — Interpreting the Scores of Eight Masters, chats with Rachel Katz of A Tempo WWFM about her book!
Derived from a popular series of lecture-recitals presented by Carol Montparker over the past several years, The Composer’s Landscape features eight insightful essays on the piano repertoire. Each chapter focuses on a single composer: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. Montparker uses landscape as a metaphor for the score, whether it be a well-tended garden of Mozart or the thorny thickets on a Schumann page: the topographical peaks and valleys, the circuitous melodic lines, the thoroughfares where all the voices convene, and so on. The discussions include thoughtful suggestions for navigating these “landscapes,” which differ so greatly from one composer to the next, taking note of the essential technical and interpretive elements, as well as the challenges for the “explorer pianist.”
As an actively performing pianist, lecturer, teacher, music journalist, and author of six other books on music, Montparker has the experience and understanding to guide readers through these issues while elucidating the finer points. Woven into her text are excerpts from her interviews with world-renowned pianists, from Alfred Brendel to André Watts, conducted during her many years as senior editor of Clavier magazine. The book also includes images from original autograph manuscripts and a CD of Montparker performing selections by composers featured in the book.
Picture books get no respect, derided, often rightfully, as decorative objects unworthy of literary consideration. In the opera world, such contempt can be justifiable: frequently assembled for notable company anniversaries, such memory books often offer dry prose, static production tableaux and glam portraits of divas in celebrated roles. John F. Martin’s In Character defies such stereotypes. With its prose confined to the opening pages — Amy Tan’s spare foreword is elegant, Martin’s explanation of process is essential, the rest is noise — and captions smartly placed as a thumbnail index at the end, the result is a rare alchemy of the performing arts, the fine arts and the graphic arts.
Martin began his association with San Francisco Opera as a supernumerary and managed to set up a closest studio in the War Memorial Opera House just off the canteen. He coaxed performers from the wings to sit for a moment in full regalia and character, their emotions engaged. you can smell the sweat of jealousy on Dmitri Hvorstovsky’s chest as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. You avert your eyes from Natalie Dessay’s Lucia, so upsetting is her frail glance of madness. Qian Yi, as Precious Auntie in The Bonesetter’s Daughter, floats as if to heaven.
But it’s not only stars that shine bright in In Character. Yes, we see boldface heroes, villains and ingenues, but we also see clergy and townspeople and servants and social outcasts and a “fantasia” of freaks. We see wordless gaiety and fortitude, reflections of sorrow and pride, a child bereft of soul, captured as if by Diane Arbus. We also see the masterful skills of today’s leading costume designers in impeccable detail: Constance Hoffman’s terrifying harlequins for Rigoletto, François Barbeau’s bawdy dancers for The Rake’s Progress, Laurent Pelly’s snooty aristocratic ladies forLa Fille du Régiment.
Read the rest of the review here!
The Metropolitan Opera Presents:
Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana
and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci
If you are planning to see the concert in HD this weekend, be sure to pick up this perfect companion to the premiere!
Opera’s most enduring tragic double bill of verismo masterpieces, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci share many common features, most noticeably their direct language, plot simplicity, common-folk characters, and themes of adultery, betrayal, revenge, and murder. Written within two years of each other, and both set in villages in southern Italy, they feature dramatic confrontations, turbulent emotions, and gritty realism.
The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (April 2015, $18.99) is the latest in the Metropolitan Opera Presents Libretto Library Series by Amadeus Press. In this groundbreaking series, classic and well-known operas are presented in a fresh new package. Each book features the complete libretto; color image inserts from Met Opera productions, a Met Opera libretto “In Focus” feature; and official Met Opera program notes. All titles include introductions and forewords by renowned opera experts.
Cavalleria Rusticana takes place on Easter in a Sicilian village, where Turiddu, after returning from the army to find his beloved Lola married to the carter Alfio, found solace with the peasant girl Santuzza but ultimately betrayed her and ruined her reputation. When Turiddu goes back to Lola, Santuzza seeks revenge, with tragic results.
In Pagliacci, a troupe of traveling commedia dell’arte players is torn apart when its leader, Canio, discovers that his wife, Nedda, has taken a lover. In the ensuing “play within a play,” the actors struggle to go on with their performance as the line between theater and reality collapses, leading to an explosive climax.
The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is the sixth title in Amadeus Press’s Metropolitan Opera Presents Libretto Series, following Puccini’s Tosca, Puccini’s La Boheme, and Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Bizet’s Carmen.
There will be a FREE EVENT at the United Nations Headquarters to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual event sponsored by B’nai B’rith International.
Toscanini: A Conductor Stands Up For Justice
Date & Time: Tuesday, January 27th at 1:15pm
Place: United Nations Headquarters, Conference Room 3
Pre-registration required – RSVP by Jan. 20 at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1-212-557-0019
(In case of inclement weather only, call 1-212-490-1352 for possible schedule change.)
Using rare film footage and archival orchestral recordings, Cesare Civetta (director of the Beethoven Festival Orchestra and author of The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro), will explore the life, music, and extraordinary impact of the man whose fiery passion and astonishing talent made him one of the most acclaimed musicians of the 20th century.
Special note will be given to Toscanini’s defiance of Hitler and Mussolini “Jewish policies,” eventually leading him to establishing the orchestra now known as Israel Philharmonic in 1936, in solidarity with Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. The presentation will feature audio interviews with artists who performed under Toscanini as well as rare video footage of Toscanini rehearsing and conducting. The presentation will be followed by a Question & Answer period.
ABOUT MAESTRO CESARE CIVETTA:
CESARE CIVETTA is an internationally acclaimed conductor who has led more than 60 orchestras in 28 countries, including performances at Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden. He is the author of The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro, and his concerts have been broadcast live over National Public Radio, Swedish Radio and the South African Broadcasting Company, and featured on CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC.
IN CHINA, he was the first foreign-born conductor to conduct at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. He has also given master classes, lectures and conducted the orchestras of the Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang conservatories, where he found an outpouring of enthusiasm for Western music that was shared by orchestras, students and audiences alike.
IN RUSSIA, Mr. Civetta had the unique distinction of being the first American to conduct a transcontinental tour of the former Soviet Union. He gave the first performance of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever at the Communist Party Headquarters in Yaroslavl, where Civetta turned the statue of Lenin to face the wall. Coverage of Civetta’s historic tour of Poland, Romania and Russia during the dismantling of the Soviet Union was broadcast over Voice of America, and a video documentary about it was produced in nine languages.
To view a video of Maestro Civetta’s orchestral tour of Russia, click here.
For information about Maestro Civetta’s recently published book, The Real Toscanini, click here.
Curtain Call host Charles Sepos chats with John Martin about his new book In Character: Opera Portraiture.
In Character: Opera Portraiture memorably captures operatic performers away from the audience but fully inhabiting their roles. It showcases the work of John F. Martin, who for years set up a portable studio in the basement of the San Francisco Opera and photographed the players – in costume and full makeup – right before or after they took the stage. The subjects range from nonsinging supernumeraries through chorus members and comprimarii to opera’s greatest stars, such as Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay, Deborah Voigt, Juan Diego Flórez, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Their roles run the gamut of opera personalities: heroes and heroines, villains and outcasts, royalty and common folk, Biblical figures and creatures of myth. Facing Martin’s camera, each artist projects the essence of his or her character, however great or small the part.
The book also features a foreword by author Amy Tan; a preface by David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera; essays on opera behind the scenes, the vital role of costumes, and the transformation of singers into characters; and an interview with world-renowned soprano Danielle de Niese. A collection unlike any other, In Character will have broad appeal-to opera and theater buffs, costume and fashion aficionados, and anyone who appreciates fine art photography.