Tag Archives: Words in Music

Seeking Shostakovich . . . in the Verses of Michelangelo

The Taddei Tondo by Michelangelo

The Taddei Tondo by Michelangelo

Some kind of spring has broken in my brain. I have not written a note since the Fifteenth Symphony. That is a terrible state of affairs for me.

—Dmitri Shostakovich,
Letter to Isaak Glikman,
January 16, 1973
[Glikman 188]

In the summer of 1974, not long after claiming he hadn’t “a single musical thought in his head,” Dmitri Shostakovich wrote to Isaak Glikman, “I have been composing quite a lot recently.” [Story of a Friendship: The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman, 1941–1975 323, no. 56 and 196]  In 1971, Shostakovich had completed Symphony No. 15, his last. At the time, his final string quartets, the 14th (1973) and 15th (1974), and his last work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano (1975, the year he died), were yet to come, as were three works for voice, including the Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, first written for bass and piano (op. 145, 1974) and subsequently orchestrated (op. 145a, 1975). Continue reading

The Song of the Earth

The only surviving calligraphy in Li T’ai-po's own handwriting

The only surviving calligraphy in Li T’ai-po’s own handwriting

The earth breathes deeply, filled with peace and sleep.
—from Das Abschied (The Farewell), Das Lied von der Erde

I’ve long had a CD of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). I don’t remember where or when I bought it. I set it aside, forgotten, on a shelf. This year, resolving to fill the yawning Mahler gap in my musical education, I began playing it from time to time. I was separated from the liner notes and, with a notable lack of diligence, failed to find out who wrote the texts Mahler set. Continue reading

Guest Post: Brian Long Reflects on Mahler’s First Symphony and World War One

Zygmunt Ajdukiewicz, Krakow and Goral folk costumes in Lesser Poland (1898, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Zygmunt Ajdukiewicz, Krakow and Goral folk costumes in Lesser Poland (1898, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I first “met” Brian Long when we were classmates in two MOOCs offered by the Curtis Institute of Music, Jonathan Biss, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, and From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance. I remember fondly, among other things, our many lively discussions about Arnold Schoenberg in the latter course. 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

The Alchemy of Site-Specific Opera: Works by Monteverdi and Lembit Beecher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger. Scene from Gotham Chamber Opera's production of Lembit Beecher's "I Have No Stories To Tell You," Medieval Sculpture Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger.
Scene from Gotham Chamber Opera’s production of Lembit Beecher’s “I Have No Stories To Tell You,” Medieval Sculpture Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s galleries after closing hours is akin to walking into a darkling dream. I’ve done so only once before, to hear The Crossing perform David Lang’s little match girl passion and other works before the Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. Continue reading