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Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast
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Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Author: Joshua Weilerstein

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Sticky Notes is a classical music podcast for everyone, whether you are just getting interested in classical music for the first time, or if you've been listening to it and loving it all your life. Interviews with great artists, in depth looks at pieces in the repertoire, and both basic and deep dives into every era of music. Classical music is absolutely for everyone, so let's start listening! Note - Seasons 1-5 will be returning over the next year. They have been taken down in order to be re-recorded in improved sound quality!
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The history of classical music is littered with the stories of great composers who tragically died young. The composer I’ve been talking about for the last two episodes, Franz Schubert, died at 31. Mozart died at 36, Mendelssohn at 38, Bizet at 37, Gershwin at 38, Gideon Klein at 25, Purcell at 36. The composer I will tell you about today is part of this sad list. Lili Boulanger, one of the most talented and promising composers of her era, died at the age of just 24, and her entire life since the age of 2 was marked by illness and poor health. In her short life she wrote around 24 works, many of which show extraordinary prowess for such a young composer. Boulanger was the first woman to win the famous Prix de Rome, a French composition prize won by past luminairies such as Berlioz, Gounod, Debussy, Faure, Massenet, and many other greats of French composition. It was also won by Boulanger’s father, a story we’ll get to as we go through Boulanger’s life. Her music was marked by the influences of impressionism, but also by the influence of her perhaps more well known sister, Nadia, who became a legendary composition teacher throughout the 20th century. Today I’ll take you through some of the key moments in Boulanger’s life, and we’ll also take a look at 3 of her pieces: Les Sirenes, Faust Et Helene, the piece that won Boulanger the Prix de Rome, written when she was just 18, and we’ll finish with an orchestral piece that might be the most frequent way you might encounter Boulanger’s music in the concert hall these days entiled D’un Matin de Printemps. Boulanger, despite her short life, is one of hte most fascinating and underrated musical figures in classical music history, so if you aren’t already familiar with her music, I can’t wait to introduce you to her this week. Join us! A big thank you to Thomas Goss for his research on Lili Boulanger - his fantastic article on her is available here: https://orchestrationonline.com/lili-boulanger-in-her-own-right/ Performances: Les Sirenes: Chorus: Philharmonia Chor Stuttgart with Helene Schneiderman, mezzo-soprano and Émile Naoumoff, piano Faust Et Helene: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Bonaventura Bottone (tenor), Jason Howard (baritone), BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Conductor D'un Matin de Printemps: BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Conductor
There are a few tropes when it comes to Schubert’s late music. The pieces are very long. They have four movements.  The first two movemnts are expansive, magisterial explorations of the human psyche, and the last two movements are much lighter, almost like two different pieces are at play. All of these tropes fit the Schubert B Flat Sonata we started talking about a couple of weeks ago. After the huge first movement, Schubert takes us into a world of the most remarkably simple and yet profoundly moving music in the second movement, followed by a scherzo and last movement that seem(and I emphasize the word seem) to wash all of that away. The last two movements of this sonata in particular have come in for criticism in some quarters, but this is nothing new for Schubert. You hear this criticism about his G Major Quartet, his cello quintet, and other large scale works. It’s also been theorized that the final two movement “curse” Schubert seemed to struggle with is why he left his 8th symphony unfinished. But as you’ll hear today, I don’t think there’s much, if anything, to criticize in these final two movements, and I’ll try to argue that there’s no drop off in quality in this music, just a different approach and outlook. But the bulk of today’s show will be about this second movement. There is something beyond otherworldy in this character of Schubert’s music. It doesn’t belong to our world, but it doesn’t belong to another world either. Instead it goes somewhere even deeper than we can possibly imagine. Schubert goes to a different place than any other composer when he is in this “mood,” and in this movement, that bleak character is married to profound consolation, creating a movement of utter perfection. So let’s explore the final three movements of this remarkable Sonata together. Join us!
For a long time I’ve received emails and messages from people asking, and sometimes demanding, that I explore the solo piano repertoire. Other than a look at the Goldberg Variations of Bach, I’ve basically neglected a huge amount music, including some of the greatest works ever written. Why have I been doing this? Well, if I’m totally honest, it’s been slightly out of a sense of intimidation. I’m not a pianist, and I’ve always been somewhat in awe of the piano and pianists. Even after spending years with this music, I still felt that I just simply didn’t know the solo piano repertoire well enough to do it justice. Well, now that I’ve gone through ALMOST all of the symphonic standard repertoire, and now that I’ve started exploring the string quartet repertoire, I think it’s time to throw off this sense of awe and dive right in. You might think I might not reach too high to start off, maybe an early Beethoven sonata, or a Mozart or Haydn Sonata. Well, in my opinion you’ve got to go big or go home, so I’ve decided to explore one of the towering masterpieces not only of the solo piano genre, but of all music, Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major. This is a piece that has been described as “well-nigh perfect,” as “beyond analysis,” as including “the most extraordinary trill in the history of music,” and as “the climax and apotheosis of Schubert’s instrumental lyricism and his simplicity of form.” These are just a few of the superlatives I’ve found in researching this piece. It was written in the last weeks of Schubert’s short life, and it truly does take the listener on an unforgettable journey. There is nothing quite like Schubert’s final works, and so over the next two episodes, I will take you through this remarkable sonata, a piece that Alex Ross has described as “a premature communication from the beyond.” This is a huge piece, with so much to talk about, so I’ve split this episode into two parts. This week we’ll look at the first movement, and then in two weeks we’ll cover the final three movements. Join us!
H.C. Robbins Landon, the great musicologist, once wrote about Mozart that his music was “an excuse for mankind's existence and a small hope for our ultimate survival." I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to a piece like the one we’re going to talk about today, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, NO. 20, or K. 466. These days, Mozart is still one of the most popular composers in the world, one of two composers almost anyone on the street could name off the top of their head. But it might surprise you to know that Mozart was not always so popular. During the 19th century, Mozart’s music was seen as too light, graceful, and even superficial by the stormy Romantics who wanted to probe the deepest and darkest feelings of humanity and the natural world, by extreme means if necessary. Only a few of Mozart’s works were played regularly during this time period, and this concerto was one of them. It’s easy to say why - it is one of only two Mozart Piano Concertos in a minor key, and its stormy and dramatic character allowed the Romantics to create fantastical stories to go along with the piece, and to connect it to the one Mozart opera that remained popular throughout the 19th century, Don Giovanni. Strangely enough, I see a similar thing happening today, among young lovers of classical music. I often see Mozart’s music being criticized on social media by younger musicians as being too light and superficial, and sometimes I even see this criticism from musicians who seem to gravitate to works that have more extroverted dramatic intentions. But to me, Mozart is just as, if not more dramatic that many of the Romantic era composers. It's all just done in a very different way. This concerto might be the perfect example of all of this! It has all the drama you could ever want for you thrill seekers, and it also has all of the masterful subtlety that for me makes Mozart’s music so endlessly touching. This is a concerto of remarkable breadth of emotion, character, and feeling, and it’ll be a joy to take you through it this week. Join us!    Performance is Mitsuko Uchida with Camerata Salzburg. Assorted first movement cadenzas are performed by Michael Rische.        
What is a Mode?

What is a Mode?

2024-05-0944:371

My first interaction with the musical term modes was Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant Young People’s Concert, also called What is a Mode? In that show, Bernstein showed how modes are an essential part of what makes modern music, meaning pop and rock music, tick. This was central to Bernstein’s point during this amazing show, which is available on Youtube, and he punctuated his discussion with multiple examples of pop music from the time that used modes. Today, on this Patreon sponsored episode, I was asked to go through all of the modes and show how they have been used in classical music. Much of my show today is modeled on and takes its inspiration from that Bernstein Young People’s Concert, and I’ll be peppering clips from that show throughout my own exploration. As Bernstein says, the common practice period of classical music, starting with Haydn and ending sometime early in the 20th century, didn’t feature a lot of modal music, though that doesn’t mean it was completely absent. So today I’ll explain what modes are, and we’ll go through each of the so called church modes, explaining their characteristics, and then showing you examples throughout musical history of exactly how these modes were used by the great composers. This show might seem a bit technical, but I think there’s a lot of really interesting and fascinating stuff here, so stick with me, and let’s explore modes together. Join us!
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1

2024-04-2501:03:253

In 1857, Brahms wrote to his friend Joseph Joachim about his first Piano Concerto, saying, “ “I have no judgment about this piece anymore, nor any control over it.”  Brahms first began sketching his first piano concerto in 1853, but it would be five full years before Brahms finished the piece, and another year until its first performance.  During that time, the piece became a Sonata, then a symphony, then a sonata for two pianos, and then finally a concerto for Piano and orchestra, or as the joke goes, a concerto for piano VERSUS orchestra.  The piece, and Brahms’ struggles with it, are completely understandable considering Brahms’ youth, and the extraordinarily tumultuous circumstances of his private life during the years of 1853-1858.  During this time period, he was anointed by no less than the kingmaker of classical music at the time, Robert Schumann, as the Chosen One that represented the future of music. He became friendly with both Robert and Clara Schumann, began achieving huge successes, then witnessed the slow mental breakdown of Robert, culminating in a suicide attempt and institutionalization, all while falling deeper and deeper in love with Clara Schumann, and she with him.  The turbulence and emotional weight of all of this is reflected in one of Brahms’ most impassioned works, the first piano concerto.  We’ll talk about the historical background for the piece, Brahms’ working out process, and of course, the structure and insides of this massive, daunting piece.
Very often, when I tell people that I’m a classical musician, I am told, “wow, I love classical music! It’s so relaxing!” I think almost all classical musicians have heard that before, and you know what? Sometimes, it’s true! Classical music can be relaxing! But sometimes, and actually pretty often, classical music is NOT relaxing. It is exciting, emotional, passionate, and can make your heart race!  Don’t believe me? Today's show is all about proving that to you. I'm going to share with you some of the most thrilling, powerful,  and well, some of hte loudest music in the history of classical music. I should say SOME OF, because what we are going to play for you today is absolutely not an exhautive list. If you like what you hear today, there is so much more where that came from. What we’re going to do today is to take you through a kind of musical time machine of fast and furious symphonic music, trying to cover as many different styles and eras of classical music as possible. NOTE: What will appear on the podcast feed is a shortened version of a full live concert I did with the Aalborg Symphony a few weeks ago. I highly recommend listening to that version as well, which features full length performances of many of the pieces I'm talking about on the show. You can find that here: https://www.dr.dk/lyd/p2/p2-koncerten/p2-koncerten-2024/p2-koncerten-fuld-pedal-det-er-vildt-det-er-hoejt-det-er-weilersteins-stoerste-hits-12422443145 Enjoy!
Copland Symphony No. 3

Copland Symphony No. 3

2024-03-2801:01:021

There has always been a debate about “The Great American Symphony.” By the time most prominent American composers got around to writing large scale symphonic works, the symphony had very nearly gone out of fashion. To many musicians and thinkers, the symphony had passed on with the death of Mahler. With the advent of atonality, which essentially destroyed the developmental structure that symphonies rested on, there seemed to be nowhere for the symphonic genre to go. The traditional udnerstanding is that composers like Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Sibelius, among others, picked the symphony back up from its deathbed and resurrected it. But there was a generation of American composers also writing symphonies around this time, and many of them have never quite gotten the consideration they deserve. Ives wrote 4 brilliant symphonies, Bernstein wrote 3 ambitious symphonies, there are the symphonies by the first generation of Black American composers, namely William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, and then there are much less known symphonies by composers like Roy Harris, which were huge successes at the time of their premiers, but which have faded into obscurity. Despite many strong efforts, very few American symphonies have made their way into the standard “canon.” That is, except for one: Copland’s 3rd Symphony, which is almost certainly the most played American symphony. It was written as World War II was coming to an end, and it is one of Copland’s most ardent and life-affirming works. Naturally, connections were made to the Allied triumph in World War II, but Copland insisted that the symphony wasn’t a reflection of the era, writing: "if I forced myself, I could invent an ideological basis for the Third Symphony. But if I did, I'd be bluffing—or at any rate, adding something ex post facto, something that might or might not be true but that played no role at the moment of creation." Whatever the inspiration, this symphony has become one of Copland’s most enduring works, even though it is also in many ways one of his most complex. It is a massive work, nearly 40 minutes in length, and it requires a huge and virtuosic orchestra. It also features some of Copland’s most recognizable tunes, including of course, the Fanfare for the Common Man, which permeates the symphony and is in many ways its central theme. So today, on this Patreon Sponsored episode, we’ll dig deep into this symphony, mapping out its unusual form, and savoring the energy, optimism, and creativity with which Copland attacked the well-worn genre of the symphony. Join us! 
Klezmer music has always been very close to my heart, even as a classical violinist. During the pandemic I attempted to learn Klezmer clarinet, and soon I began collaborating with the great Klezmer(and classical!) violinist Abigale Reisman on her work for Klezmer band and orchestra called Gedanken. Abigale taught me so much about Klezmer music, including the fact that despite its reputation as a clarinet-centric genre, the violin is actually the original voice of the Klezmer sound. I've been wanting to do a show about Klezmer music for a while, and Abigale was the perfect person to talk to, as she has experience in both the classical and Klezmer worlds, and was able to talk about the differences between the two sounds, as well as all of the characteristics that make Klezmer music so instantly recognizable. We also talked about the similiarites between classical and Klezmer music, which classical violinists had the most Klezmer like sound, and how to tell the difference between a traditional Eastern European folk tune and a Jewish Klezmer folk tune. I so enjoyed this conversation and I hope you will too! You'll hear an excerpt of Abigale's band Ezekiel's Wheels at the end of the show, but check them out here:  https://www.youtube.com/@ewklezmer/videos Link to the concert I mentioned at the top of the show:  https://www.br-klassik.de/audio/20240308-on-demand-so-joshua-weilerstein-vilde-frang-strawinsky-schostakowitsch-100.html    
In 1850, Robert Schumann accepted a position as the new Music Director in Dusseldorf. This job had a lot of responsibilities, including conducting the city orchestra. Schumann, along with his wife, the legendary pianist Clara Schumann, and their 7 children moved to Dusseldorf. The city made a huge to do about the Schumann’s arrival, welcoming him with balls, speeches, and parades. This was a new adventure for the Schumann family, and Robert, at least at first, was invigorated. He loved the less reserved personality of the residents of Dusseldorf, and he was deeply inspired by the Rhine river. Very quickly, Schumann had begun composing at his usual feverish pace. He wrote his cello concerto in just two weeks, and then he began a new symphony, what would turn out to be his last symphony. It would be a celebration of the Rhineland and all of its prosperity, beauty, and charm. Soon after the symphony was written however, the euphoria turned towards catasprophe. Schumann was not a good conductor, and the musicians of the orchestra soon turned bitterly against him. His compositions were still not well understood, and his mental health began sliding towards a crisis point again. So Schumann’s 3rd symphony, the Rhenish, really represents a snapshot in time - a time of euphoria, of joy, of possibility. It is this boundless energy that comes up again and again in this remarkable symphony which we are going to talk about today. We’ll discuss the wonderful varieties of joy Schumann includes in the piece, its unusual structure, it’s transcendent fourth movement, and the unique challenges of performing Schumann’s music, which often bedevil conductors to this day. Join us!
In 1806, the 36 year old Beethoven received a commission from the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky. Razumovsky wanted a set of string quartets for what would soon be his house string quartet which included some of the finest players Vienna had to offer. As part of his commission, Razumovsky asked Beethoven to include a Russian theme in each one of the quartets. Beethoven obliged him in 2 of the quartets, and the Razumovsky quartets, Op. 59 1, 2, and 3, were born. 1806 was near the height of Beethoven’s astonishing so called Middle Period, where the scale of his music drastically expanded from his earlier works and he began writing in a so called heroic style, with much more brash and adventurous music. This all started in 1803 with his Eroica Symphony, but Beethoven did not limit his adventures and his expanding palate to his symphonies. Everything with Beethoven’s music was expanding, including his string quartets.  These middle quartets form part of the core of most string quartets repertoires. They are astonishing works in every regard, where Beethoven starts pushing limits we didn’t even, or maybe he didn’t even, know he had. From the expansive 59, 1, to the intensely felt and taut 59, 2, to the often fun loving 59, 3, Beethoven explores every facet of string quartet playing and brings that heroic and passionate new style to the genre of the string quartet. For today, we’re going to go through Op. 59, 1, a remarkably expansive and brilliant piece that explores every facet of string quartet playing, pushing quartets to their technical and emotional limits in ways that were absolutely shocking at the time and still unbelievably challenging today. If you come to this show for symphonies, that’s great, but for me and many other musicians, Beethoven’s string quartets are the greatest collection of pieces by any composer in any genre. I hope that today’s exploration will help convince you of that! Join us!
I’ve mentioned Ethel Smyth a few times in the past on this show. This is partly because of her music, and partly because she remains one of the most interesting people who ever lived. She was a composer of course, but she was also a conductor and an author, as well as a political activist. Specifically, she was a suffragette, fiercely advocating for the rights of women to vote in her home country of the UK. As a composer Smyth wrote dozens of works, all of which are starting to become better known as performers and administrators look to bring more music by female composers onto concert stages around the world. Smyth did not have it easy, constantly fighting for her place, battling conductors, other composers, and even her own father, all for the right to be a composer.  Today, after I introduce you to a bit more of Smyth’s amazing biography, we’re going to focus on her first orchestral work, her Serenade in D Major. This is a piece that certainly doesn’t sound like a first orchestral piece, and it is full of all of the qualities that make Smyth’s music so enjoyable to listen to - lush warmth, humor, raucous intensity, and the quiet passion that runs through the music of so many great British composers. Smyth’s Serenade in D is starting to be performed more, and I’m really proud to be using my own recording of the piece for the show today, which I made with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in 2021. It is only the second professional recording of the piece, and the recording has just been released on Claves Records. So today, we’re going to go through this wonderful piece and also spend some more time in the wild and unpredictable world of Dame Ethel Smyth. Join us!
Dvorak Cello Concerto

Dvorak Cello Concerto

2024-01-1848:531

When you think of the genre of the concerto, you might be thinking of something like this: virtuoso fireworks, perhaps over romantic gestures designed simply to show the soloist off, and a rather pedestrian orchestral part, giving the soloist all of the spotlight while the conductor and orchestra are mere accompanists.  Of course, this is a huge generalization and it isn’t true about many concertos.  But of all of the concertos that I conduct regularly, and hear regularly, there is one that always stands out as the exception to the rule: Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.  The Dvorak deserves every bit of popularity it has received over the years. In fact, you could argue that it is THE perfect concerto.  It's enjoyable to play, perfectly written for the cello, enjoyable to listen to, and enjoyable to accompany for the orchestra. It has everything, which makes it all the more shocking to think that before Dvorak wrote the piece, he didn’t even think of the cello as a suitable instrument for a solo piece!   But once convinced of the cello’s viability as a solo instrument, Dvorak gave everything to to the piece. We’ll talk all about the sometimes tragic history behind the writing of the concerto, the specific difficulties it places on the cellist, the conductor, and the orchestra, and of course, go through the piece in detail, pointing out all the different facets that result in the Dvorak being perhaps the greatest of all concertos. Join us! Cellist: Miklos Perenyi 
We're back! Welcome to Season 10! Leonard Bernstein to his wife: "These days have flown so -- I don't sleep much; I work every -- literally every -- second (since I'm doing four jobs on this show -- composing, lyric-writing, orchestrating and rehearsing the cast). It's murder, but I'm excited. It may be something extraordinary. We're having our first run thru for PEOPLE on Friday -- Please may they dig it!."  Westside Story ran for 732 performances, spawned a movie that won 11 Academy Awards, and is still a go to on every list of the greatest Broadway Musicals ever written.  The collaboration between Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins was a revolution on par with the collaborations of Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky with the Rite of Spring.  Simply put, no Broadway show had ever been so gritty, so tragic, and so raw. This was a musical, a comedy, a tragedy, a political statement, and most importantly, a stunningly revolutionary work of art by these collaborators.  And today, I want to tell you about the music, and more specifically, the Symphonic Dances from Westside Story; an arrangement that Bernstein made with his colleague Sid Ramin 3 years after the show’s premiere.  The Symphonic Dances brought Bernstein’s electric music from the theatre to the concert stage, and it’s stayed there ever since.  So today, we’ll go through each number, talking about just what makes this music so great, and also about the show itself - its background, its production, and the issues that Bernstein, Laurents, Sondheim, and Robbins were trying to tackle, all through the eyes of a tale of woe about Juliet and her Romeo, or of course, Maria and Tony. Join us!
I had the great joy to do my first ever live edition of Sticky Notes last month with the Aalborg Symphony in Denmark. For this concert, I chose a piece that is extremely close to my heart, Dvorak's New World Symphony. The story of the New World Symphony is a fascinating one. The symphony was the result of an extraordinary series of events, with Dvorak coming to America in 1892, meeting the great singer Harry Burleigh, and falling in love with a totally new, to him, genre of music: Black American and Native American folk music. Listening to Burleigh and other voices around America, Dvorak had discovered a new “American” sound for his music, and even though he would end up staying in the US for just three years, in that time he composed two of his most popular pieces, the American String Quartet, and the New World Symphony But of course, the New World Symphony isn’t really an American piece. It is a piece written in America by a Czech composer, which means it embodies traits from both sides of the Atlantic.  Moments of Black American influence elide into Czech Slavonic Dances and back again with incredible ease.  All along the way, Dvorak infuses his highly traditional symphonic style with this "American" sound, a sound that enraptured the public from the very first time they heard it, and remains both incredibly popular and incredibly moving, today. Join myself and the Aalborg Symphony for this exploration of the symphony, followed by a complete performance. I'm extremely grateful to the Danish Radio for allowing me to use this performance for the show. 
Throughout the history of Western Classical Music, folk music has imprinted itself as an invaluable resource for composers from all over the world. In fact, it’s easier to make a list of composers who never used folk music in their compositions than it is to make a list of the composers who did! This tradition began long before the 20th century, but the work of composers like Bartok and a resurgence in the influence of nationalist music sparked a massive increase in composers using folk music throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Bartok is thought of as the king of using folk music, as he was essentially the worlds first ethnomusicologist. But Stravinsky, who used dozens of uncredited folk tunes in his Rite of Spring, as well as Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Szymanowski, Dvorak, and so many others embraced folk music as an integral source for their music. This was in stark contrast to the second Viennese school composers like Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and post World War II composers like Stockhausen, Boulez, and others who deliberately turned their backs on folk music. One composer who straddled both worlds during their lifetime was the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, a brilliant composer whose career started out in the folk music realm, though not entirely by choice, and ended up in music of aleatory, a kind of controlled chaos! One of his first major works, the Concerto for Orchestra is the topic for today’s show, and it is heavily influenced by folk music from start to finish. It is a piece also inspired and might even be a bit of an homage to the great Bela Bartok and his own Concerto for Orchestra, which was written just ten years earlier. Lutoslawski, if you’re not familiar with him, is one of those composers that once you learn about him, you can’t get enough of him. I’ll take you through this brilliant and utterly unique piece today from start to finish. Join us!
In January of 1839, Clara Wieck, Robert's future wife, wrote to Robert, “Don’t take it amiss if I tell you that I’ve been seized by the desire to encourage you to write for orchestra. Your imagination and your spirit are too great for the weak piano.” Clara knew that she would have struck a nerve with Robert, whose history with the piano was full of trials and tribulations. Robert had trained as a pianist, but a 3 year period of reckless amounts of practicing as well as the exacerbating effects of experimental devices meant to strengthen his fingers had destroyed his ability to play professionally. But already from the age of 17, in 1827, Robert had considered writing a piano concerto, probably for himself to perform. He made 4 further attempts to write a concerto, but it seems, like so many things in Schumann’s life, that his marriage to Clara was the final inspiration that he needed to get over the hump. It made sense, as Clara Schumann was possibly the greatest pianist of her age, and someone who was ceaselessly devoted to promoting her husband’s works wherever she played. In 1841, one year after their marriage, Robert finished a one movement piano concerto in A minor, which he called a Phantasie. Clara reported adoring the piece, but no publisher was interested in the work of a still relatively unknown composer. They were especially uninterested in a on movement concerto, and so Robert knew he needed to “finish” the piece with two extra movements. It would take him 4 more years to finally tack on those extra movements, and the first performance would be given 4 years after that Phantasie had been written, of course with Clara as soloist. This concerto has remained popular practically ever since it was written, and there are so many reasons for it, from its arresting opening, to its abundant lyricism, to its constant interplay with the orchestra, something that Robert grappled with when writing this concerto. This piece is one that doesn’t have a story behind it, or any sort of narrative - it lives in the world as a sort of fantasy, constantly evolving in its beauty throughout. We’re going to talk about this piece in detail, from start to finish on this Patreon Sponsored Episode. Join us!
Brahms Violin Concerto

Brahms Violin Concerto

2023-10-2650:261

Brahms’ violin concerto is one of the most difficult works for any violinist to tackle. It is as virtuosic as the hardest piece of Paganini as well as being as musically complex as a Brahms symphony. It takes most violinists years or even decades to feel comfortable with this piece, and many violinists consider it a kind of Mount Everest. Why? What makes this piece so complex, and yet so beautiful? What kind of choices do violinists make in their interpretations? For today, I'm not only going to tell you about this piece and how Brahms composed it, but I'm also going to compare 3 different recordings of the piece(Heifetz, Oistrakh, and Ferras) in order to show you the differences in interpretations between these 3 titanic violinists. We'll also talk about many of the topics we’ve covered before with Brahms; continuous development, gorgeous melodies, and that amazing Brahmsian quality of both respecting established forms while constantly subtly subverting them. Let's start the climb together and get to know this remarkable piece. Join us!
What Does Music Mean?

What Does Music Mean?

2023-10-1952:271

Today is a bit of an unusual episode. Last month I was invited by the British Society of Aesthetics to address their annual conference. My task was to give a lecture on whatever topic I wanted, having to do with music. So, considering it was an Academic Philosophy conference, I chose the easiest and most straightforward topic possible - What Does Music Mean?  Obviously, this is a topic that has been interrogated from just about every different angle, and I certainly would never claim to have all the answers. But for my lecture, I decided to focus on how to find meaning in these amazing works from a performer's perspective. How do I study and learn these pieces so that I can find the meaning that I think is inside of them? What does history teach us about these pieces and can we use history to find meaning in these works? To try to answer these questions I chose three pieces to explore - Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Barber's Adagio for Strings, and Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. After the lecture I realized it could easily be a podcast episode, so I've slightly changed a few things to make the lecture a bit more podcast-friendly. I hope you enjoy this one, and thanks to the British Society of Aesthetics for their invitation and their warm welcome!
On October 29th, 1931, The Rochester Philharmonic presented the world premiere of a new symphony by the composer William Grant Still. A symphonic premiere is always something to look out for in musical history, but this one had an even greater significance. The premiere of Wiliam Grant Still’s First Symphony, subtitled  “Afro American,” was the first time a symphony written by a Black American composer was performed by a leading orchestra. William Grant Still was a man of many firsts, whether he was the first Black American conductor to conduct a major orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, the first Black American to conduct an orchestra in the South of the United States, and much more.  Today we’re going to focus in on Grant Still’s first symphony, a piece that Grant Still had long thought about, conceptualized, and dreamed of. It was also a symphony wrapped up in the roiling currents of Black America at the time, with the Harlem Renaissance in full swing and Alain Locke’s tract The New Negro sparking discussion and debate all over the country. It was a symphony that attempted to do something no one had ever done before, that is, to marry together the genre of the Blues with that of symphonic music. At the time of its premiere and afterwards, it was quite a success, and until 1950, it was THE most performed symphony written by an American composer. After 1950, the symphony practically disappeared from concert stages, but due to the explosion of interest in Black American composers of the past and present, this brilliant symphony is making its way back into the repertoire of orchestras all over the world. The way that Grant Still constructed this meeting of two genres of music was ingenious and innovative from start to finish, and so today on the show we’ll explore all of the historical context of the symphony, what Grant Still was trying to do with his monumental new endeavor, and of course, all of the music itself. I'm also joined today by the great writer and linguist John McWhorter, who discusses the 4 Paul Laurence Dunbar poems Grant Still added to each movement as epigraphs, as well as their cultural context. Join us!
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Comments (26)

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Mar 16th
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Jan 29th
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Sinclair Ethan

I appreciate you mentioning that it is accessible to both new and veteran listeners, the combination of introductory and deep-dive topics is perfect. Re-recording old episodes to improve the sound is also worth considering. If not, you can take a look at the website https://toquedecelular.com/ which can help you find new ringtones easily and completely free.

Jan 20th
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brazil pele

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Nov 8th
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NewtonPhysicsNo2

Oh I guess not the Szell one but this one is better than his

Sep 20th
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NewtonPhysicsNo2

Whose version is this? Szell? Not sure

Sep 20th
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fateme Pahlavan

this podcast is just amazing. I love it🥺👌

Feb 23rd
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Sue Picco

Excellent podcast. Definitely worth subscribing. Used to listen to Karl Haas on the radio and miss him.This is a great listen for a modern audience and he bring to light not only the music but the social setting as well. Love it!

Jun 23rd
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Ashley

It took me a second to realize who "WC" is. You're mispronouncing "Debussy", lol.

May 4th
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Devin Leatherwood

What is the piece being played during the intro of the podcast?

Nov 13th
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Nikhil Bhatt

Hey I just came across your podcast and it was really nice, thank you!

Jun 25th
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New Jawn

You sound like such a tool with the throat-clearing pronunciation of Bach. Unless you are going to pronounce Polish composers the way Polish speakers would, Italian composers as would Italians, then stop with saying Bach as if you're battling COVID. It impresses not a soul. Good grief.

Apr 25th
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Ini Periodi

Hi. I had really liked the episode called "History of classical music in 60 mins". Wanted to play it in my sociology class today for my students who are all tracing predominant ideas of each era and how they influenced various aspects of life. I'm not able to find the episode. Has it been taken down? :(

Oct 19th
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Suzanne Dicker

This is such an excellent podcast! The question of attracting new audience members who feel they just don't understand classical music makes me think of religion. I think people go to concerts and go to church for the same reason. The silence just before and after a piece ends and the listening during a piece is a sacred, communal act. It does take a lot of Sunday school classes, family participation and commitment to create the practices and knowledge base to feel at home in a service at a house of worship. And most churches have to create engagement tools to attract new members. I see the concert hall as the new church for all people. Cultivating a community where the individual and collective mind can be elevated is surely something everybody craves. At the very end of the podcast, Joshua asked Zsolt what makes him an interviewer who can draw out even the stiffest musician. Zsolt described a friend who characterized his approach as "soulful listening". I agree! This approach is be

May 29th
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Devin Leatherwood

love this piece, I'm curious to why such a bad recording was used?

May 28th
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Suzanne Dicker

Great talk! I think that through streaming, if the regional audiences can become familiar with the personalities and abilities of the conductor and orchestra members, just as baseball fans become familiar with the individual players, attending actual live concerts will have the same interest and excitement as attending games in a professional ballpark. People want to feel connected. Responding to comments and questions before and after a streamed performance, is a wonderful engagement tool.

May 16th
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Nicholas Morgan

Thank you so much for making these documentaries and producing them with much devotion and a lifetime of study - a lifetime so we may understand in this brief hour of time..

Feb 27th
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Robert Howell

excellent discussion and analysis!

Feb 27th
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Suzanne Dicker

This was such a lovely interview. Many parents would benefit from your parents' thoughts on raising children, especially musical ones. The incredible creativity of Donald in working with Alisa is priceless. Humor and imagination combined with devotion to child and music!

Jan 29th
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Frank cooper

does a conductor hear all the music being played? can they hear each instrument, or even each section at once? is that possible?

Sep 5th
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