Short Takes: Central Park Conservatory, Early Spring

Snowdrops IMG_0037_edited-1

Finally, a different sort of white. Finally, spring begins.

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Listening List

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In the summer of 1941, Prokofiev (1891-1953), Myaskovsky (1881-1950), and other composers were evacuated to Nalchik, on the north slope of the Caucasus. While there, Prokofiev received a commission from Khatu Temirkanov, the chairman of the local Arts Affairs Administration, for a string quartet “merging ‘new and untouched Eastern folklore with the most classical of classical forms—the string quartet.’” Prokofiev expressed concern that people in Nalchik wouldn’t comprehend his work, since, “excluding its excellent folksongs, Kabardinian musical culture, from a European musical perspective, remains undeveloped.” Temirkanov responded “write what you feel: if we don’t understand your quartet at first, we will appreciate it later.” Myaskovsky thought the string quartet “wild-eyed and fantastical” and “monstrously, even ‘nightmarishly’ interesting.” [Simon Morrison, The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years, 178] Information on songs and dances Prokofiev used in the quartet may be found here (the date of composition given at the link appears to be incorrect).

Prokofiev wrote only two string quartets. Myaskovsky was much more prolific in the genre. While in Nalchik in 1941, Myaskovsky wrote his seventh string quartet, about which information may be found here.

On YouTube:

Sergei Prokofiev, String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 92 (1941)

Nikolai Myaskovsky, String Quartet No. 7 in F. Major, Op. 55 (1941) (First Movement)

Click on the links for the second, third,  and fourth movements.



Adventures in New Music: The New Juilliard Ensemble at Alice Tully Hall

Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, photograph by Robert Mintzes

Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, photograph by Robert Mintzes

Composer Dylan Mattingly once said, “Part of the excitement to me of hearing something completely new is that you have no idea what it’s going to be. Nothing has proved it not the best thing in the world.” Mattingly’s statement has become my mantra when hearing brand new works, and I’ve discovered many a “best thing” as a result. Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich: Listening to the Tenth Symphony (Part 2 of 2)

Dmitri Shostakovich, undated

Dmitri Shostakovich, undated

In 1975, Arnold Schoenberg wrote of both Sibelius and Shostakovich, “I feel they have the breath of symphonists.” [Fanning 1]  That “symphonic breath,” as I perceive it when I listen to Shostakovich’s symphonies, is built out of the simplest of elements: small cells of notes that, together with subtle shifts in rhythm, timbre, harmony, dynamics, and controlled mastery of orchestration, create resonant contrasts in mood and, in the best of his symphonies, including the Tenth, a compelling—and thoroughly human—whole. Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich: Thinking About The Tenth Symphony (Part 1 of 2)

Dmitri Shostakovich, undated

Dmitri Shostakovich, undated

Shostakovich usually composed at white-hot speed, and the Tenth Symphony was no exception. While he may have started mulling over ideas that became part of the Tenth Symphony some years before [Wilson 302], “the preponderance of both external and internal evidence” indicates that he started work on it in June, 1953—three months after Stalin died—and completed it in October of the same year [Fay 2673]. Continue reading

Shawn Jaeger’s Payne Hollow

Anna and Harlan Hubbard

Anna and Harlan Hubbard

Harlan: I wanted to watch, every morning forever, the world shape itself again out of the drifting fog.

—from Wendell Berry’s Sonata at Payne Hollow

It’s not often that Modern Farmer is the magazine of choice for a preview article about an opera, yet there’s no question but that Payne Hollow, composed by Kentucky-born Shawn Jaeger, was an excellent fit. The opera is based on a verse play by Kentucky poet Wendell Berry about Harlan and Anna Hubbard who, for thirty-five years, lived lightly on the land in their small home along the Ohio River. In keeping with the subject matter of the opera, Berry responded by handwritten letter to Jaeger’s request for permission to use the story and handed Jaeger a completed libretto while they sat together on Berry’s front porch.

Continue reading