Monday, March 31, 2014

Programming - April 2014


Monthly Theme

This month, all of our Friday posts present “One-Work Montages”, that is a single work, without any filler. The first in this series, Mahler’s Third Symphony is also the 150th in our ongoing podcast series, and thus gets “extended podcast” treatment, lasting over 1 hour and three quarters! In addition, the musical selections also continue our sacred work and organ music programming for Lent.

Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

I plan both my OTF contributions this month  to be “tandem” posts of the Mahler’sThird and Faust Symphony podcasts.

NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Montage # 149 - Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911)

As of  April 25, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


The Lenten season is usually an opportunity for me to program organ music, and this year is no exception. On the Tuesday Blog, we have already featured posts on E. Power Biggs and a set of French Organ Masterpieces, and next month we will revisit a live concert by Virgil Fox. On the Friday Blog, in addition to this week’s feature, I plan a complete performance of Messiaen’s Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité.

Olivier Messiaen belongs to a long tradition of French musicians, who were titular organists in some of France’s most prestigious churches (many of them were endowed with organs by Cavaillé-Coll), as well as composers and teachers., The tradition goes back to César Franck and Camille Sauint-Saëns, and in posts here and on our other platforms, we have had opportunity to offer posts featuring many of them.
Somewhat neglected among that who’s who of the French organ is one of France’s first such “triple threats”, Alexandre Guilmant.

A student of his father, then of the Belgian master Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, Guilmant became an organist and teacher in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city ion Northern France and his place of birth. In 1871 he was appointed to play the organ regularly at la Trinité church in Paris - the same church and organ Messiaen occupied for 60 years and a position Guilmant himself held for a mere… 30 years.

From then on Guilmant followed a career as a virtuoso; he gave concerts in the United States (the first major French organist to tour that country), and in Canada, as well as in Europe, making especially frequent visits to England. His American achievements included a 1904 series of no fewer than 40 recitals on the largest organ in the world, the St. Louis Exposition Organ, now preserved as the nucleus of Philadelphia's Wanamaker Organ.

In 1894 Guilmant founded the Schola Cantorum with Charles Bordes and Vincent d'Indy. He taught there up until his death at his home, in 1911. In addition, he taught at the Conservatoire de Paris where he succeeded Charles-Marie Widor as organ teacher in 1896.

As a scholarly organist, Guilmant oversaw critical editions and anthologies (such as Archives des Maîtres de l'Orgue and l'École classique de l'Orgue. These anthologies, despite all the musicological developments which have taken place since Guilmant's own time, remain very valuable sources of early music that is often hard to track down elsewhere.

Guilmant was an accomplished and extremely prolific composer. Unlike Widor, who produced a great deal of music in all the main genres, Guilmant devoted himself almost entirely to works for his own instrument, the organ. His organ output includes: Pièces dans différents styles (published in 18 books); L'organiste pratique (published in 12 books); and L'Organiste liturgique (published in 10 books).

Most of his pieces (and all of the most frequently played ones) are fairly short. Among his most ambitious pieces, Guilmant's Eight Sonatas were conceived with the Cavaillé-Coll organ of La Trinité in mind, and are therefore symphonic in style and form, taking their place alongside the symphonic organ works of Franck and the Organ Symphonies of Widor. Two of these sonatas (Nos. 1 and 8) were given extra orchestral treatment and are also known as his two symphonies for organ and orchestra. These are not “concertos” but rather pieces where the organ is fully meshed to the orchestra. Despite being championed by great conductors (Sonate No. 1/Symphonie No. 1 for organ and orchestra, was programmed by Sergei Koussevitzky in the 1930s), recordings of these works are few and far between. The recordings retained for today’s montage were part of a two-disc set featuring Yan-Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic in collaboration with the Liverpool Cathedral titular, Ian Tracey.

As filler, I added some short works from a recent Naxos release.

I think you will love this music too!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Montage # 148 – Gloria!

As of  April 18, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address: 


This week’s post takes its lead from a very early montage on our ongoing series. At that time, I assembled a number of renditions of Agnus Dei, the recitative that usually ends the Catholic Ordinary of the Mass.

The Gloria (Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace to His people on Earth…) is one of the standard sections of the Ordinary of the Mass, but being such an important prayer in its own right, it has settings that are both within and outside the standard masses. Indeed, our montage looks at two very specific settings, one by Francis Poulenc, and the other by Antonio Vivaldi.

In a separate post, I discussed Francis Poulenc as a “Born Again Catholic”, and his pilgrimages to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. A couple of weeks ago, we sampled some sacred a capella choral music by Poulenc, and the Gloria is definitely of the same ilk. The Gloria and Stabat Mater are two of Poulenc’s sacred choral pieces that have been widely recorded, and it is from a coupling of these works for EMI conducted by Geroges Prêtre that I have pulled today’s performance.

Vivaldi is known to have written at least three settings of the Gloria; only two survive (RV 588 and RV 589) whilst the other (RV 590) is presumably lost. Simply known as the Vivaldi "Gloria" due to its outstanding popularity, RV 589 is the better known setting of the Gloria by the Red Priest. This piece, along with RV 588, was composed at the same time during Vivaldi's employment at the Pieta.

The montage also features a pair of “Mass Glorias” – one from Haydn’s Paukenmesse, the other by the great jazzman Chuck Mangione. Although the latter piece refers to “the Mass of St. Bernard”, there are no traces of a recording of the entire mass. This excerpt is taken from a live performance of Mangione and friends at Toronto’s Massey Hall, backed-up by the Hamilton Philharmonic.

The opening work of the montage isn’t a setting of the traditional Gloria, but rather a musical setting of Gloria, Laus et Honor, a Christian hymn composed by Theodulph of Orléans in 810, and often accompanies the procession on Palm Sunday, so certainly appropriate for the Lenten season.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

French Organ Masterworks

This is a past Tuesday Blog from Mar-18-2014. 

This month’s Once Upon the Internet continues our Lenten organ festival, this time presenting a number of works from the French repertoire. 

The playlist takes its tracks from two sources – one is our main “abandoned” site (the old MP3.COM), and the second is from a site that is still active though the tracks that were downloaded are no longer available there. 

The two works by César Franck are performed by German Church organist Henrik Behrens, who was featured last year in our OUTI series. 

The remainder are digitized vinyl performances from the 1950’s and 60’s that were featured on the site Still active today, the site is dedicated to “the Positive Music Movement”, and proposes many links to openly available music of all genres.

Don Robertson writes:

In March, 1997, Mary Ellen Bickford and I, with the help of our friend Mike Martin, gave birth to a dream: a website that would make available anywhere in the world, my teachings about music. Since the 1960s, when I first made the important discovery that our culture was becoming focused on negative music, I had been researching, studying, and collecting positive and uplifting music.
About Positive Vs. Negative music, Don writes:

My Music Revolution began in 1968, when I first discovered the duochord: the four-note root chord of negative music. I realized then that the current discordant style of contemporary classical music was based on this negative chord, and that the next stage of musical evolution (after the one taken in the early 1900s by American composer Charles Ives and Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg - the first composers to write music based on discordant harmonies) would be a return to music based on concords, the familiar three-note major and minor chords of traditional harmony.

Don takes his dissertation a little too far to my taste, liking some of the bad episodes of the 20th century to the rise of the duochord and Anton Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra... That havinf been said, Don's musical selections are very good to listen to, and some of his musical analysis is worth reading.

Read more about "the Dovesong story" 

There is nothing unusual to linking French organ music to a spiritual music movement – as the composers were for the most part devout in their religious practices, and were associated with many famous churches in France – Widor at St-Sulpice, Messiaen at La Trinité, even Franck at Ste-Clothilde. Some of these works (though not necessarily the performances) have been part of other playlists in our ongoing look into the music of French organ music from past years.

Happy listening!

Marcel DUPRE (1886 –1971)
Prelude & fugue no. 3 in C Major, op. 36, no. 3
Marcel Dupré, plays the organ at St Sulpice

César FRANCK (1822-1890) 
Choral, FWV 38
Prélude, fugue et variation, in B Minor, FWV 30
Henrik Behrens plays an unidentified Chruch Organ

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992
Le banquet céleste, I/1 
Marcel Dupré, plays the organ at St Sulpice

Louis VIERNE (1870-1937) 
Symphony no. 1 in D Minor, op. 14 – VI. Final (Allegro)
E. Power Biggs plays the 1958 Möller Organ, St. George's Church, New York City

Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937) 
Symphonie Gothique in C Minor, op.70 - II. Andante sostenuto
Günter Berger plays the organ at St. Marien Delmenhorst

Symphonie romane in D Major,op. 73– II. Choral/Adagio
Pierre Cochereau plays the organ at Notre-Dame de Paris

Friday, March 14, 2014

Montage # 147 – Trios élégiaques

As of  April 11, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


This week’s montage explores three Russian trios that have a common link; the tradition among Russian composers to write an elegiac trio in memory of a departed friend.
Bearing the inscription "To the memory of a great artist," this trio was dedicated to the recently deceased pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, with whom Tchaikovsky had maintained a difficult friendship. Fittingly, the trio's piano part is quite challenging and often overwhelms the material for violin and cello. Tchaikovsky was not much of a pianist and never realized how difficult his keyboard music could be.
Sergei Rachmaninov wrote two piano trios, both of them essentially elegiac in character. The first was a doleful single-movement work in G minor written in four days in 1892. While it has the gloomy charm of youthful morbidity, its gloom seems facile and superficial compared to the profound emotions of the Trio in D minor that followed only a year later. Inspired by the shocking death of Tchaikovsky on October 23, 1893, Rachmaninov responded by beginning a work in his memory two days later. Laboring over it for six weeks, Rachmaninov composed a work in three huge and hugely despairing movements. Today’s montage retains only the first movement of the rather expansive work – the remainder of the work can be found in last Summer’s look at “intimate music” by Rachmaninov.

Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, is remarkable for a number of reasons. It was written in 1944, just after his Symphony No. 8, with which it shares its overall structure; it is a lamentation for both Shostakovich's close friend, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, and the victims of the Holocaust, the news of which horror did not reach the U.S.S.R. until the liberation of the camps began; and it is his first work to employ a "Jewish theme," a musical tribute that used the scales and rhythms of Jewish folk music as Shostakovich knew it. Shostakovich began composing the trio in December 1943. He had only completed sketches, which he was able to share with Sollertinsky before Sollertinsky's death in February 1944. Shostakovich performed the piano part in the premiere, on November 14, 1944, in Leningrad, with violinist Dmitri Tsyganov and cellist Sergei Shirinsky, both members of the Beethoven String Quartet.
The montage presents performances taken from the 10-year old release of the Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich trios by the Trio Rachmaninoff de Montréal. Founded in 1997, the Trio has been thrilling audiences in Canada, the USA, and Europe with its intense, dynamic, and distinctive approach. The ensemble, whose repertoire covers Haydn to Shostakovich, named their group after composer Sergey Rachmaninov, because of their special emphasis on romantic and post-romantic works. The members [pianist Patrice Laré, violinist Natalia Kononova and cellist Velitchka Yotcheva] studied at the Russian Music Conservatories in Moscow and Saint Petersburg before competing their doctoral studies at the Université de Montréal.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

OTF – Handel’s Radamisto

This is my Once or Twice a Fortnight post from March 11, 2014.

On OTF, we have mostly explored operas of the mid- to late-19th century, from German, Italian and French traditions. We have sometimes bucked that trend, considering Twentieth Century works, or even Russian opera. Today, however, we are trying something different – baroque opera.

I am the first to admit that, although I don’t mind baroque music, I find its rigid form to be quite confining, and the styles and dance patterns that form the cornerstone of that genre don’t “yank my chain” as much as music of the last 200 years. This doesn’t mean that I dislike baroque music – and by extension baroque opera – but rather that it’s not a genre I naturally gravitate towards. One of the things that is also worth noting about baroque opera is how the voice types and characters are depicted – it is not uncommon that male heroes are rendered by higher pitched voices such as castrati and sopranos.

Opera was created in Italy around 1600 as courtly entertainment, intended for the elite and enjoyed in private settings. In 1637 the first truly public opera house opened in Venice and soon opera became hugely popular. The first baroque operas featured mythological stories (such as Orpheus and Eurydice) and the stories were often changed to have happy endings - tragedies did not become operatic staples until the 1800s. Because it pleased audiences, comic relief - and eventually comic operas - became more prevalent.

Around 1700 opera was “reformed” to separate comedy from tragedy – for the next 75 years, with few exceptions, operas were divided into two types: seria (serious opera) and buffa (comic opera). Not until the time of Mozart would the genres start to be mixed again, and the era of Baroque opera end. In a past OTF, we listened to Mozart’s Idomeneo, and we had there a prototypical opera seria – a tale based on history or mythology, with complex and sometimes confusing relationships between the protagonists. You definitely need a libretto to follow the action!

London’s Royal Academy of Music was formed in 1720, with sixty-two original subscribers, a place on the stock market, a royal subsidy from George I, and annual subscribers for each season. Their financial resources were secure and the directors sought to engage to best singers from Italy, and they hired composers in residence as well. George Frederic Handel was hired as master of the orchestra and given an annual salary. Between 1711 and 1740 Handel wrote upwards of 40 Italian operas, most of which are stunning masterpieces of the form. Among his masterpieces are Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Ariodante (1734), and Alcina (1735).

Today’s opera, Radamisto, was Handel's first opera composed for the Academy. Of the two librettists working for the Academy, Handel turned to Nicola Haym, a scholar, orchestral musician, arranger, and author. Haym had an ability to bring out the best in Handel. He shows a flair for creating dramatic momentum, and a dynamic organization of musical text. He knew how to allow room for an aria, and how to integrate melodic set pieces into the flow of the story.

The first operas he composed for the academy were different than previous operas of Handel. Unlike Rinaldo and Amadigi, Radamisto contains no magic, mythology, or spectacle. It adheres much more closely to opera seria traditions. The source for Haym's libretto is a libretto by Domenico Lalli, one of the finer, more poetic opera seria authors. The historical context is found in Tacitus's Annals of Imperial Rome. The happily married Radamisto and Zenobia are besieged by Tiridate, ruler of a neighboring country. Despite his marriage to the faithful Polissena, Tiridate has fallen passionately in love with Zenobia and his attempts to secure and seduce her are the forces that drive the story. The "tyrannical love" which consumes Tiridate eventually gives way and he is reunited with Polissena, while Radamisto and Zenobia celebrate the "sweet refuge" they find in each other's arms.

The important relationships in the opera are familial; daughters, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, all display varieties of love, fidelity, heroism, deception, and callousness. There is an unfeeling tyrant (Tindante) spurred to cruelty by his illicit passions, who repents in the end in part due to the virtues of his wife and the strengths of his friends. In many ways, Tindante is a stock character in opera seria, appearing in many operas of Handel, and hundreds of operas in the eighteenth century.


Review of this performance @

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Radamisto, HWV 12
Opera in three acts
Italian libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, based on L'amor tirannico, o Zenobia by Domenico Lalli and Zenobia by Matteo Noris.


Radamisto, son of Farasmane; Joyce DiDonato
Zenobia, his wife; Maite Beaumont
Tiridate, King of Armenia; Zachary Stains
Polissena, his wife, daughter of Farasmane; Patrizia Ciofi
Farasmane, King of Thrace; Carlo Lepore
Tigrane, Prince of Pontus; Laura Cherici
Fraarte, brother of Tiridate; ), Dominique LaBelle
Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis

Synopsis @
Libretto @

This opera was edited out of the Friday Night at the Opera podcast of 26 August 2011, and includes the spoken introductions by hoist Sean Bianco. Original link:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Montage # 146 – Say your prayers

As of  April 4, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:



As we do every year at this time, our podcasts take on a Lenten flavor, pulling titles from the sacred music catalog. Today’s podcast is one of those, though it looks more broadly at music inspired by prayers.

Acting as bookends, I close two “popular” titles that leverage this idea. The first title, by Romanian violinist, conductor and composer Georges Boulanger was originally titled “Before I die” and would later be called "My Prayer" with a text by Jimmy Kennedy. It was charted in the number one spot for 21 weeks in 1958 in the USA and it is that performance by The Platters that opens our montage.

The closing piece is the iconic performance by Canadian chanteuse k.d. Lang of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; many cover versions have been performed by many and various singers, both in recordings and in concert, with over 300 versions known. The song has been used in film and television soundtracks, and televised talent contests. It is often called one of the greatest songs of all time. In 2004, k.d. Lang first recorded her cover version of the song, and has since sung it at several major events, such at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, before a claimed TV audience of three billion. Of her version, Cohen’s partner singer Anjani Thomas, said: "After hearing K.D. Lang perform that song […] we looked at each other and said, 'well, I think we can lay that song to rest now! It's really been done to its ultimate blissful state of perfection'."

Four well-known “prayers” make it in one form or another in this montage, including Ave Maria (Hail Mary) including the inevitable “well known” settings by Gounod and Schubert, Notre Père (Our Father), Let my prayer be set forth before thee (from the Russian Orthodox hymnal) and the Confiteor (or I Confess), usually part of the opening tranche of the Catholic Mass. Poulenc also sets to music a quartet of prayers attributed to St-Francis of Assisi.

“Musical” prayers by Alkan, Franck and Joaquin Turina complete the montage.

I think you will love this music too!