Sunday, August 31, 2014

Programming - September 2014


Monthly Theme

We are back this month with a fresh slate of Friday Podcasts and Tuesday Blogs. The podcast theme this month is "Dressed to the Nines", a look at some Ninth symphonies.
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

After a Summer ofd, expect a tandem post of the Bruckner Ninth/Te Deum podcast and Pavarotti sings the title role in L'Amico Fritz by Mascagni.

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

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The "Curious Experiment" of 14 November 1954

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Tuesday Blog from November 14, 2011.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

Today's post is a re-hash of an old Tiesday Blog, which I count among my very favourites. The initial discussion in that post goes at length into what I had called "the Golden Age of Television", interspersed with some personal anecdotes as well as some factoids on the early days of (terrestrial) broadcast television.

In spite of the litanu pf specialty Arts and Entertainment channels available to us over cable and satellite, as well as internet content providers like Netlix, it is interesting that many of the nostalgia content )(if you allow me to call it that), especially cultural content, is best found in places like YouTubee, where individuals post their digitized VHS tapes and other such content.

The Anthology series Omnibus

Under the sponsorship of the Ford Foundation, Omnibus (hosted by Alistair Cooke in his American television debut) featured diverse programming about science, the arts, and the humanities. Broadcast live on Sunday afternoons, Omnibus ran from 1952 until 1961.

On November 14, 1954, Omnibus aired what has come to be viewed as a historic broadcast, featuring the young, telegenic and affable Leonard Bernstein and the members of the post-Toscanini NBC Symphony (now known as the Symphony of the Air) in what Bernstein would himself call “a curious experiment”.

The following is taken from Leonard Bernstein’s official webpage:

On November 14, 1954—the anniversary of his surprise, nationally-broadcast debut conducting the New York Philharmonic—Leonard Bernstein made his first television appearance as a musical educator. This event, while less celebrated in the press than that momentous concert event, launched a new and significant facet of Bernstein's career.
[…] At the suggestion of [Omnibus] producers, he put together a program about the genesis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony using sketches discarded by the composer. The scholarly nature of this material could have been seriously dull, and was something of a gamble for the mass medium of television. Bernstein, however, made the subject seem vivid and vital through his clear, unpretentious writing and clever metaphors.
The floor of the television studio had been painted with a huge blow-up of the first page of Beethoven's score. Bernstein had the musicians stand on the lines of music representing their parts to illustrate, visually as well as aurally, the changing colors of Beethoven's orchestration.
[…] The program was widely acclaimed as a model for quality, educational television programming. Over the next few decades, through more Omnibus programs and the many Young People's Concerts, Bernstein set the standard for effective music education, not only on television, but in the classroom as well.

More notes, pictures and artifacts at

As I noted on another post, YouTube no longer displays this Omnibus program. I searched the web, and did find a copy of the program. Here is the hyperlink .

In order to "future proof" this post, what I did is to upload the program to the Internet Archive, and have embedded it here, so that we will always have at least Bernstein's lecture available... AT least, that's the idea.

This post would not be complete without a complete performance of the Fifth symphony. Though YouTube pulled the original clip I had used (Klemperer for BBC television conducting the New Philharmonia), there is no shortage of performances available from a variety of open sources.

People get particular about their fifths, and I'm sure you have your personal favourite performance - maybe it is even available on line! We even have a Bernstein performance on an earlier montage (Montage # 36). Because we can and because I thought it was really cool, I embedded to this post a 78 RPM transfer of a vintage 1941 recording by the New-York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter. It is in the true German tradition: muscular, intense, and nothing is lost in the translation from Analog to Digital.

I think you will love this music too!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Podcast Encore: Beethoven's Late Choral Works

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Friday Blog and Podcast from August 31st, 2012.

The podcast (No. 69 in our ongoing series) can be found in our archives at

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

pcast069- Playlist

The original title of this montage "Concluding the Beethoven Project" telegraphed that this was the last in a year-long monthly (ish) series of podcasts where we featured many of Beethoven's major orchestral works. Nore pertinent to this year's summer series, this montage features more "late" Beethoven - in this case the late choral works.

When reviewing the Kinsky catalogue of Beethoven’s compositions, we notice a large number of works with a choral flavour starting at op. 112 – some of these works like the Choral (Ninth) Symphony (op. 125), the Missa Solemnis (op. 123) and the Ruins of Athens (op. 113) were the object of past musings in our Tuesday or Friday series. last week's sampling of the three last quartets is also in-keeping with this phase of Beethoven's career and output.

In the mid-1970’s, a then freelancing Michael Tilson Thomas – in the midst of a Beethoven cycle with the English Chamber Orchestra – recorded many of Beethoven’s late choral works, including the incidental music to Konig Stephan (op. 117), the brief cantata Meeresstille und gluckliche Fahrt (op. 112) and a few more works for chorus, and instrument combinbations, with the help of the London Symphony and the Ambrosian Singers.

Today’s montage presents the entire album, intersperced with the violin romances (with Davd Oistrakh as soloist) and one last symphonic work…

Our discussion of Fidelio brought up Beethoven’s sense of justice and his admiration and later his displeasure for Napoleon BonaparteWellington’s Victory is a work that commemorates the Duke of Wellington's victory over Joseph Bonaparte (the elder brother of Napoleon ) and his forces at the Battle of Vitoria in Spain on 21 June 1813 and not Wellington's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

"Wellington's Victory" calls for two flutes, a piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon, four horns, six trumpets, three trombones, timpani, a large percussion battery (including muskets and other artillery sound effects), and a usual string section. It is interesting to note the greater number of trumpets than horns, and the expansion of brass and percussion forces.

I  think you will love this music too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Budapest String Quartet Plays Beethoven

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Tuesday Blog from August 2nd, 2011.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

Last month, I dusted up a post from one of our Chamber Music series we hosted on TalkClassical in past summers. This week, a look back at The Summer of the String Quartet, and a quartet of quartets by Beethoven, which forced us to get crafty in order to keep the original post more or less intact.

Indeed, until the Summer of 2012, we embedded hyperlinks to the now-defunct site Public Domain Classic, and got bitten by its disappearance on many of our old posts.\

Thank Goodness, YouTube enthusiasts came to my rescue!

For today (and back then...) I have chosen to present four quartets, as played in the early 1950's by the Budapest String Quartet. These monaural recordings, which can be found on their "complete cycle", were recorded at the Library of Congress.

With the exception of the quartet no. 4, the remainder of the program explores three of the five "late quartets" - which go far beyond what musicians or audiences were ready for at that time. One musician commented that "we know there is something there, but we do not know what it is." Composer Louis Spohr called them "indecipherable, uncorrected horrors." Opinion has changed considerably from the time of their first bewildered reception: their forms and ideas inspired musicians and composers including Richard Wagner and Béla Bartók, and continue to do so. Of the late quartets, Beethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C♯ minor, which he rated as his most perfect single work.

Beethoven wrote the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the deeply felt slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Beethoven called "Holy song of thanks ('Heiliger Dankgesang') to the divinity, from one made well." He went on to complete the quartets now numbered Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth. The last work completed by Beethoven was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet, which replaced the difficult Große Fuge.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, no. 4
String quartet No. 14 in C sharp mino, Op. 131
String quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
String quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135

Performed by the Budapest String Quartet (In concert at the Library of Congress, 1951-52)
(Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetsky, violins, Boris Kroyt, viola and Mischa Schneider, cello)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Podcast Encore: Beethoven 2 X 4

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Friday Blog and Podcast from February 17, 2012.

The podcast (No. 43 in our ongoing series) can be found in our archives at

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

 pcast043 Playlist

This post and montage started off innocently enough – put together a “pair” of Beethoven Symphonies for my Februaryt 2012 series the Terrible Twos and our Beethoven Project. I chose the symphonies no. 2 and 4 for the obvious numerological reasons (2 and 2^2), but then all these factoids about the number 2 in this montage all came bubbling to the surface:
  • We are featuring two of our four “cycles” – the Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker and the Dohnanyi/Cleveland;
  • We have two overtures (Creatures of Prometheus and Coriolan)
  • We have two “distinct” parts to this montage – an all-Bernstein first half, and an homage to a Beethoven academy concert for the second half
Let's talk a bit about the academy concert of 13 April 1807, which we brought up in passing when discussing the 22 december 1808 academy. Beethoven's works featured include Coriolan, the Third Piano Concerto and the Fourth Symphony.

A few weeks earlier, these same three works were given their premiere at a private concert given at the estate of  Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. Lobkowitz was one of Haydn's and Beethoven's patrons, and the dedicatee of some of these composers' greatest works, including Haydn's "Lobkowitz" quartets (Opus 77), and Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, and 6th symphonies and his Opus 18 string quartets.

As the Third concerto was part of a separate montage, I am including here a YouTube performance by Emil Gilels and the Philharmonia under the directiuon of Paavo Berglund.

The Symphonies

The symphonies have a common thread: Count Franz von Oppersdorff, a relative of Beethoven's patron, Prince Lichnowsky. The Count met Beethoven when he traveled to Lichnowsky's summer home where Beethoven was staying. Von Oppersdorff listened to Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in D Major, and liked it so much that he offered a great amount of money for Beethoven to compose a new symphony for him, which became his fourth.

The original post has embedded YouTube clips featuring Leonard Bernstein introducing both symphonies.

Though the Prometheus overture heard here is performed along “traditional lines”, I cannot say the same of the Coriolan, performed here “a la française” by Charles Munch and his “very French” Boston Symphony of the 1950’s. The pace – all things considered – is backbreaking, when compared to the “German style” we are more accustomed to. Tell me what you think of it…

I think you will love this music too!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Otto Klemperer's 1962 Studio Recording of Beethoven's Fidelio

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Once or Twice a Fortnight from April 21st, 2012.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

Related ArticleWhat made Beethoven dislike Fidelio so much?

My musing and musical selection to launch our month-long Beethoven Sumner Festival is Ludwig’s only opera, Fidelio. Much has been written about Fidelio, about how the subject matter resonated with the composer, and Beethoven’s own struggles with this particular opus. In a Friday blog and podcast from September 2011, I brought up a series of works by Beethoven that highlighted his inner sense of justice, and his embracing – and later denunciation – of Napoleon Bonaparte. When I think of the main theme of Fidelio (injustice, arbitrary justice, justice restored and love conquering impossible odds), I am well reminded of the works I discussed on that Friday, which all happen to start with the letter “E”: Egmont, Eroica and Emperor.

Indeed, Beethoven's Fidelio was written in a time when the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror were fresh in everyone's mind. There were many tales of unjust imprisonment and heroic rescues, but Beethoven's immediate source was a libretto by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, Léonore, ou L'Amour conjugal which was set to music by Pierre Gaveaux in 1798. Years later, in his 1836 autobiography, Bouilly claimed the story was a true one and one in which he had actually participated while he was a judge of the Criminal Tribunal in Tours. However, no records justifying his assertions have ever come to light.

As an appetizer, I thought I would offer this YouTube playlist of a 1970 installment of the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, where Leonard Bernstein discusses how Fidelio is a "flawed masterpiece", a stage work that has a bevy of problems...

As we all know, there are at least two complete stage versions of the opera: the first (op. 72a) is known as Leonore, and went through a number of revisions and rewrites to become the version we all know and love today (the op. 72b). A very real artifact of this struggle is the collection of four overtures Beethoven wrote for the stage versions of the opera (and, I am sure, there are a few more in sketch books that never made it to the stage).

Walter Legge (1906 –1979) was an influential English classical record producer, most notably for EMI. He worked in the recording industry beginning in 1927, was assistant to Sir Thomas Beechamat the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and in World War II played a role in bringing music to the armed forces and civilians.

After the war, Legge founded the Philharmonia Orchestra and worked for EMI as a recording producer. In its early years, the Philharmonia became closely identified with Herbert von Karajan, but when he turned his attentions to the Berlin Philharmonic, Legge worked more and more with Otto Klemperer, a famous conductor in the 1920s and 30s who had been out of the limelight until Legge revitalised his career. In its heyday in the 1950s the Philharmonia was widely rated as the finest British orchestra. In 1964, concerned at what he saw as falling standards, Legge disbanded the orchestra, which at once re-formed as the New Philharmonia, without him but with Klemperer as chief conductor.

Among some of the Legge/Philharmonia/Klemperer projects of note, there was a widely acclaimed Beethoven cycle and today’s recording of Fidelio featuring Christa Ludwig as Leonore and Canadian tenor Jon Vickers in the short but demanding role of Florestan.

Today’s performance is a version I edited from one of the many fine Friday Night at the Opera podcasts by Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio hosted by Sean Bianco. As part of this editing, I kept Sean’s spoken introductions to both acts (as separate tracks), so you can skip them if you wish. The original podcast can be found here.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio, opera in two acts, op. 72b
German Libretto by Joseph von Sonnleithner and Georg Friedrich Treitschke from the libretto of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly Léonore ou l’amour conjugal


Christa Ludwig, Fidelio/Leonore
Jon Vickers, Florestan
Walter Berry, Pizarro
Ingeborg Hallstein, Marzelline
Gottlob Frick, Rocco

Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conducting
(Studio recording, 1962)

Opera Synopsis:
Opera Libretto: