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The Illustrious Jerry

What is the last piece of classical music you listened to?

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Today's lesson in Aaron Copland's self-borrowing from unpublished works comes courtesy of the United States government!

 

In 1945, Copland wrote a score for a 20 minute short film created by the US Office of War Information.  This was a propaganda film that was intended to ease fears of eastern European WWII refugees who were relocating to America (there is evidence it was shown to refugees in Hungary at least).  The film is available on YouTube through the National Archives.

 

Listen to this part at 12:50 - 13:22

 

Copland reused this material for the middle section of the first movement of the Clarinet Concerto

 

3:13 - 4:30 (especially the crescendo at 4:05)

 

 

He later published a central theme of The Cummington Story as a short solo piano piece titled "Down a Country Lane" in 1962, which was later arranged for orchestra.

 

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I primarily (though not exclusively) listen to music from the classical period. Here‘s some staples from my "weekly diet“:

1) Neville Marriner and his Academy with by far the best rendition of Haydn‘s farewell symphony that I‘ve heard. Has all the intensity that a Haydn Sturm und Drang-symphony needs, while not losing a beautiful sound. Here‘s the first movement:


2) Rattle makes the Berlin Phil. sound unrecognizable in his Haydn recordings - and that‘s a good thing for once! They sound like the best chamber ensemble in the world in this 4th movement of Symphony No. 91:

 

3) Finally, Robert Levin and Christopher Hogwood with Mozart‘s piano concerto No. 23, 3rd movement. Never ceases to thrill me and the period sound works really well, imho.

 

Coincidence that I chose 3 British conductors?

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My deep dive into the music of Ned Rorem continues unabated.

 

He only ever set two poems of Robert Frost (my favorite poet) to music, sadly, but both are completely, utterly transporting.  Here's a fantastic performance of "Come In" from Rorem's song cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen.  My one minor nitpick is the singer changes the preposition "to" to "from" at a key point that completely changes the meaning of the entire poem

 

She changes

 

Quote

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

 

to 

 

Quote

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
From the dark and lament.

 

The whole point of the poem for me is that the narrator is being beckoned into death, to enter the dark woods.  To go into the dark, not come in from it.  But it doesn't matter much, the music is beautiful.  When she sets flight with the phrase "pillared dark" my heart melts (at 1:20).

 

 

 

Here's a recent photo of Rorem on his 96th birthday, he's still alive!  Incredible how long-lived he and Elliott Carter both turned out to be.

 

 

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Relistened to Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde", and I must say, this piece is a lot more boring than I remember it being. Oh well, maybe I was just in a bad mood. The first and fifth songs stand out as all-time favorites, but the last song is like some cruel joke being played on the audience, in terms of length. You see 6 songs on the program and get a general feeling and expectation for how long each one is, and then you get to the last one and it just... keeps going, and going.

 

The first one, though... Man, it doesn't get better than this:

 

 

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The third Piano Trio of Daron Hagen, a very fine contemporary American composer.  I mentally group him with Lowell Liebermann as a fellow American composer who came to prominence in the 1980s and is noted for his tuneful, expressive, and intelligent style.

 

 

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The first time I ever remember hearing Rule Britannia was in Ultima Ascension:

 

 

It wasn't until a few years later that I realised this was actually the (to me) elusive Rule Britannia, which I'd first read about a few years earlier in an article about Max Steiner.

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It doesn't get much better than this...

 

 

 

On the subject of Rule Britannia, for me the definitive performance is by Elizabeth Bainbridge with The New Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Bliss:

 

 

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On 1/30/2020 at 8:57 AM, Jurassic Shark said:

I prefer the final movement!

 

Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. Most people do. ;)

 

On this lovely Sunday, I'm listening to Haydn's lovely Missa sancti Nicolai, Hob. XXII:6 and Mozart's Missa longa in C, K. 262 (both of which I've also had a joy to play some years ago).

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Today I had the pleasure of listening to a recording of excerpts from Wagner's Parsifal that, to put them into a right perspective, were as close to the time of the work's premiere and Wagner's death as we are still right now to the premiere of Williams' The Last Crusade. Enchanting in itself, even before I account for the great interpretation.

 

Alfred Hertz & Berlin Philharmonic, 1913 [NAXOS]

 

Wagner: The Complete Karl Muck Parsifal Recordings, Orchestral Suite, etc / Muck

 

And is it only me, or does Williams' Grail Theme recall the one written by Wagner? It's such a powerful moment when Donovan says "The Holy Grail, Doctor Jones", an makes it clear that it's the Grail, the one from all the tales---and Williams grounds that musically, not only remniscing Wagner's music, but also filling the scene with  a warmth of comforting, blissful orchestration.

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Symphony No. 2 (Elgar)

Requiem (Verdi)

Cantatas for Ascension Day (Bach)

Symphonies No. 1 & 4 (Sibelius)

 

The second movement, Larghetto, from Elgar's second really left its mark on me. Fantastic composition. Verdi's Requiem and the Bach Cantatas were simply glorious beyond measure, the latter especially, and the first and third movements from Sibelius' first are definetly worth repeated listens. 

 

I suppose I glanced over a review excerpt on the back of the Verdi album a tad too quickly, because I was taken aback by the way the critic cited Elina Garanca's "thrilling chest" as being an unexpected characteristic. 

 

Quote

"I was blown away by this Requiem- (Jonas) Kauffman's first entry was an erupting volcano. (Elina) Garanca was as mesmerizing, floating creamy legatos while mustering a thrilling chest voice that I never thought she possessed."

 

- Richard Morton

 

Guess I skipped over the word "voice". Still sounds kind of funny when you say it out loud. :lol:

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8 hours ago, The Illustrious Jerry said:

Symphony No. 2 (Elgar)

 

The second movement, Larghetto, from Elgar's second really left its mark on me.

 

This is one of my favourite movements from any symphony.  I first heard it shamefully recently at the BBC Proms in 2014 performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko.  I found it an incredibly moving performance.

 

Luckily the concert was televised that season and is now available in full on YouTube (albeit not in optimum quality, although the sound is fine).  The second movement starts at about 18:30 and is highly recommended for anyone new to this symphony:

 

 

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This trio of choral works by Georgij Sviridov, the last of which is among the most depressingly lovely pieces of music I know:

 

 

 

 

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I went to a concert last night of Haydn and Beethoven piano trios.  The music was pleasant enough, all very dance-ish, and charmingly performed, but nothing more than that to me.  None of the music stuck with me after.  It was interesting to see and hear the period instruments, including a fortepiano.

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In a fit of pure insanity, this morning I've listened to 5 French piano trios across 100 years.

 

Saint-Saëns Op. 18 (1863)

Chausson Op. 3 (1881)

Ravel M. 67 (1914)

Fauré Op. 120 (1923)

Milhaud Op. 428 (1968)

 

This was just a brief stroll across the ocean, I'll be back to my "Americans only" habit this afternoon ;) 

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There's a new recording out today of Copland's Billy the Kid suite by Noseda with the National Symphony Orchestra (the same orchestra I saw perform Copland's 3rd last year!).

 

Did the world need a 1,000th recording of Billy (let alone a 100,000th recording of the New World symphony)?  Maybe not, but that doesn't mean it isn't still a masterpiece!  On the off-chance anyone reading this hasn't listened to the whole thing, do yourself a favor and listen to a fine performance of Billy the Kid, one of the great pieces of music, period.

 

https://open.spotify.com/album/6UBMfeaVd2CnqugDdLem3M

 

image.png

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Listened to an exploratory album off of the NAXOS label entitled Polish Violin Concertos. Good opportunity to listen to some composers whom I'd never heard from (Tansman, Spisak, Panufnik), although nothing left an impression on me save for Bacewicz's Violin Concerto No. 1.

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24 march 1721, Bach sent this collection of 6 of his best composed works to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, hoping to get a better job.

Perhaps not realising that he was dealing with one of the great musical geniuses of the time, the Margrave didn't even bother to get back in touch with Bach

Bach was 35.

 

https://open.spotify.com/album/7G7Ipfrprgwmbb2uT3h1aU?si=ipv82oHWQRa5F0DC8-1BHg

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Image result for esa pekka salonen cello concerto

 

Esa-Pekka Salonen, a conductor I'm fond of but a composer I'm not familiar with, describes his cello concerto as "a simple thought emerging from a complex landscape". Perhaps the most appropriate comparison after listening to this tricky work is the idea of a single object (cello) moving through the vastness of outer space. Not a particularly easy-to-follow piece, but definitely one to consider. Yo-Yo Ma certainly takes on the leading role with great expertise, evident in every swirling, curling line of the work. Watch out for the percussion section too.

 

Image result for ehnes prokofiev complete violin

 

I later took refuge in something a tad more digestible as far as Sunday afternoon listening goes; James Ehnes' recording of Prokofiev's complete works for violin with the BBC Philharmonic. *contented sigh*

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A new recording of Copland's Symphony No. 3 is released today, which is obviously a big day for me!  Especially because this recording is by Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony.  MTT has made many great Copland recordings over the decades, but now he has finally tackled the big one, the grand Third Symphony.  MTT has what I consider the current definitive recording of Copland's Symphonic Ode (granted, it only has three other recordings to compete with) so I was excited to dive into this new release and maybe come out with a new favorite recording of my favorite piece of music.

 

This is a fine recording of a fine performance, there is no doubt, but overall I am disappointed.  It has definitely not dethroned Leonard Slatkin's 2017 release with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  In fact, I'd say that Leonard Slatkin is the premiere interpreter of Copland currently living.

 

Observations:

 

1. First and foremost, the biggest problem is that this new recording does not include the 10 measures cut by Leonard Bernstein in the late 40s (this was the official published version until Boosey & Hawkes put out a restored edition a few years ago that is the version which was premiered by Koussevitzky in 1947).  There is no excuse for this in my opinion.  The cut measures include recurrences of themes from previous movements and I think are essential to the grand effect of the finale.  The full, original version has been recorded 4 times over the last decade, thankfully.

 

2. The Detroit recording has a richer, deeper sound that I think suits this symphony particularly well

 

3. MTT takes the main section of the scherzo movement a tad too slow for my taste.  I will say that MTT's performance of the tender and ambiguous 3rd movement is breathtaking and masterful, though.

 

4. MTT takes the grand finale too fast!  I think that some people take issue with the finale being "too much" because conductors like Bernstein and MTT rush it.  Slatkin really gives the finale space to breathe and emphasizes the nobility of it all.  MTT's 4th movement is 13:25 compared to Slatkin's 15:04!

 

5. There appears to be a weird hiccup in the climax of the scherzo movement that sounds to me like an editing mistake, not a performance mistake

 

Compare 7:48 here in the new recording

 

To 7:35 here in the Slatkin

 

Maybe it's only subtle enough for my ears that have listened to this symphony hundreds of times, but there's weird little jump cut in the MTT at that spot.

 

Also, if you want to hear the difference the removed measures makes.

 

Compare 12:23 - 12:30 here

 

To 13:34 - 14:04 here.  13:40 - 14:04, are missing from the same section above

 

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33 minutes ago, Disco Stu said:

this was the official published version until Boosey & Hawkes put out a restored edition a few years ago that is the version which was premiered by Koussevitzky in 1947

 

This sounds very strange if Copland didn't approve of the cut. And indeed he did:

 

In 1947 Leonard Bernstein, while performing the work in Israel, removed some 12 bars from the fourth movement without Copland's consent. Later on, the composer agreed to these cuts, which were incorporated in the 1966 edition published by Boosey & Hawkes. However, in June 2015, B & H published a new performing edition in which the cuts have been restored to conform with the original 1946 manuscript. The overall tone of the work is one of heroism and dignity, and it leaves an appropriately stirring impression.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._3_(Copland)

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30 minutes ago, Jurassic Shark said:

 

This sounds very strange if Copland didn't approve of the cut. And indeed he did:

 

In 1947 Leonard Bernstein, while performing the work in Israel, removed some 12 bars from the fourth movement without Copland's consent. Later on, the composer agreed to these cuts, which were incorporated in the 1966 edition published by Boosey & Hawkes. However, in June 2015, B & H published a new performing edition in which the cuts have been restored to conform with the original 1946 manuscript. The overall tone of the work is one of heroism and dignity, and it leaves an appropriately stirring impression.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._3_(Copland)

 

Bernstein did originally make the cuts *without* asking when he started performing it in 1948.  Of course Copland approved it when it came time to publish the revision in 1966, but it's certainly not as simple as "this is the composer's preferred, definitive version."  He went with the advice of his trusted confidante and close friend, Bernstein, which is understandable.  And of course it's not a *huge* change, only 10 measures, about 20 seconds of music.  It probably only makes a difference to uber-fans like me.

 

Quote

As is well known, he authorized a ten-measure cut in the fourth movement as proposed by Leonard Bernstein.

 

Copland explained in his autobiography that he "thought it was pretty nervy of Lenny to take it on himself to make a cut. Being a careful and slow worker, I rarely felt it necessary to revise a composition after it was finished, and even more rarely after it was published. In the case of the Third Symphony, however, I came to agree with Lenny and several others about the advisability of shortening the ending"

 

But Copland later indicated to Christopher Rouse, in the early 70s, that he was open to restoring the measures, quoted as saying "It certainly would be interesting to hear the work performed as I originally conceived it."

 

This is why the current published version gives conductors the option of choosing which one they want to perform.

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