Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 - Year In Review

This is the time of year where I traditionally take a few moments to write to all of you, to express my sincere thanks for your support during the almost three years that we’ve been involved in this adventure in Classical Music and Blogging.

Every week it seems, somebody provides feedback on one of our posts, or comments on a Video we added to our YouTube Channel, or reviewed one of our Internet Archive submissions. In past years, I took the time to look at statistics, but I find that to be, for one, a lot of trouble and, two, misleading

Our Social Media footprint is always increasing and we have anywhere between 150 and 200 people reading our stuff on a weekly basis – and that’s just the “new” posts. People find our stuff and “binge” on a bunch of posts! I still get views of stuff I posted two or three years ago, either on the blogs or on the Archive.

New subscribers to the Blog, the Facebook feed or the YouTube channel pop up every week! It’s hard work trying to put the word out on this little initiative, but it looks like we have quite the modest fellowship!

It will sound odd to bring it up this way, but I wonder how much longer I can keep this up.

At the time of writing this post, we have banked about 180 podcasts, and about 50 other playlists of MP3 files of music and opera. That’s a lot for one guy! When I look in my little notebooks and crib motes I write with ideas for more podcasts and playlists, there’s certainly at least one more year of it in me. After that, I’m not sure.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy it – I do. But it’s the time investment that is becoming the problem. Not only because I chose to maintain several platforms (here, the Tuesday blog, OTF, the French stuff…) , but because I hold firm to the principle that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right, and do my research and write stuff that isn’t bland or curt.

So far, I’ve been able to do a lot of things in my spare time, over lunch at work, or during business trips, when I have “alone time”. As time goes on, using the computer at work becomes a problem, as our administrators block off non-work related websites in an effort to protect our corporate network.

Everything in balance, they say… The need to balance “personal” time and “together” time is something I am more and more aware of. As I said a few months back, my wife and I have become empty nesters, and she needs more of my attention, since she is still dealing with not having the kids around, and looking for outlets for all that extra bandwidth. Some of those outlets are things she – we – want to do “together”. How can I say “well, I have to work on my blogs, and then we can go to the movies”…

I have a goal, and it is to get to the “five year mark”. I’d like to keep this up at least until April 2016. Five years, that would be a great run, wouldn’t it? Then, maybe I could put my blogging pants in the closet, at least until I retire and look for things to do to fill up my days. I still have “miles to go” before retirement, though…

So, don’t worry, I’m not planning to stop these adventures, at least not yet. But nothing lasts forever…

This year, I did something different, and slowed down during July and August. I may well do that again next year. We focused on Beethoven during the summer of 2014, maybe we’ll do Mozart during the Summer of 2015.

Another thing I did less of this year is podcasting “fragmentary works”. In fact, we dedicated an entire month of podcasts to “unfinished business” and completed some work fragments we’d posted over the last couple of years. We also did “one work montages” for a whole month, and even added a few in the Fall (with Mahler’s 9th and Britten’s War Requiem). I could do something like that again next year, I haven’t quite decided yet.

Do you like the blog’s new look – which we unveiled in the Fall? I did that, in part, to make the site experience a better one for “mobile” users. Does it work for you? How about my new Tuesday Blog feature “Vinyl’s Revenge”? Is that something that you like?

As always, I’m keen to hear from you either directly, through comments on our platforms oir event through our Facebook and Google + handles.
So what about 2015? What’s in store? Here are some themes (and arcs) that I have planned for next year:

  • A Mendelssohn series (that’s coming in January);
  • A series on great pianists;
  • A look at Max Bruch’s concertos (in fact, there is some cross-connections with the Mendelssohn series that will make this quite compelling)
  • I’d like to take a serious bite out of the Mozart Piano Concertos – maybe as part of that Summer series)
  • I see lots of works for two soloists or two performers in our future
  • I’ve been thinking about “concertos” in a traditional and less-traditional sense
I think that’s enough teasing our upcoming programs…

Usually, this post is where I provide my “mixed bag” of YouTube fillers for the year. As I said earlier, there wasn’t much filler material because we didn’t program fragmentary works. So, to grow the mixed bag, I’ve thrown in some works that will remind us of some of the themes we considered in 2015: some Themes and Variations, maybe some “F”’s and “9”’s, Some Vinyl selections from my collection…

Also, at the end of this post, links to some updated directories to podcasts, playlists and featured works.

Podcast Directory -

Once Upon The Internet Directory-

Monday, December 22, 2014

Handel's Messiah

This is ma Once or Twice a Fortnighty post from December 22, 2014.

As evidenced by other discussion threads on OperaLively, this is the time of year for staging Handel’s enduring oratorio, Messiah. (The other time of year, of course, being Easter).

The Messiah discography and the traditions surrounding its performance are extensive, and require a few comments.

The oratorio contains 53 individual sections, and it is customary – in live performance anyway – to omit about a dozen of them. Some “purists” may feel slighted by that long-standing tradition, but I consider that many sections can be skipped without really affecting the overall opus as they are sometimes quite introspective in nature and a shorter “live performance” isn’t worse for wear, if you ask me…

Speaking of purists, I’ve heard Messiah performed under “authentic” conditions, some of them adopting original orchestration - classical-era musicians added woodwinds – and more British/Victorian era conditions where there’s “strength in numbers”. As with a lot of music, there’s nothing sacrilegious about doing things one way or the other, as Messiah is about the tone, the text and the interpretation.

I read recently in a review that, like we do for Bruckner symphonies, it is important to identify the “edition”: the 1998 Clifford Bartlett edition seems to be the recent “darling” edition, supplanting the Watkins Shaw edition that many ensembles used in the 80’s and 90’s. Both editions keep to the Handel model of three “parts”, Part Two ending with the famous “Halleluiah Chorus”.

Today, however, I wanted to share a different interpretation, that precedes the HIP movement by a couple of decades, and takes liberties in the arrangement of the sections that few musicians would dare to attempt nowadays.

It should first be stated that in one way or another every performance of Messiah is a version of the work - whether because of cuts (almost always model), or drastic variation in the size of orchestra and/or chorus, or differences in instrumentation (there is much scholarly debate on the subject of Handel's original orchestral intentions), or in the use of Mozart's additional wind parts (some of which have been proved to be by Hiller, not Mozart, or for many other reasons too technical to discuss here.
This quote is taken straight from the original liner notes accompanying today’s performance on vinyl by the conductor, Leonard Bernstein.

Indeed, there is such a thing as a “Bernstein Edition” of Messiah, and it finds its inception in a live performance by Bernstein and the New-York Philharmonic that pre-dates his tenure there as music director – Carnegie Hall, 1956.

Bernstein in those early years, and throughout his life, was a maverick of sorts, looking for new ways to approach just about everything he performed. Here are the two main things you should know:

  • He used the “Victorian” edition by Ebenezer Prout (with a real continuo instead of the wind quartet suggested in this edition). In some movements the Mozart/Hiller instrumentation (additional winds) is used.
  • Bernstein saw the second part of the work as falling into two sections: switching them put the "joyful" music of the latter half of Part II immediately after Part I (the "Christmas" section), reshaping the whole work into two large parts rather than three.

The result? Well, it sure isn’t for the purists… The quest for authenticity has overtaken interpretation in many ways, and a conductor recording 'Messiah' without attempting a historically-informed style of performance does so at its own peril! And nobody would dare introduce the level of revision that Bernstein did for this 1956 recording and the Carnegie Hall performances which preceded it.

Sometimes, you have to take the moment in, and admire the “sporting element” (as Bernstein and his friend and mentor Dimitri Mitrpoulos would say). Bernstein's rearrangement of the sections works as the dramatic sequence he intended, and his reasons for doing it make sense. He made no claims to authenticity and didn't apologize for mucking about with a "masterpiece."

This is a powerful, vibrant 'Messiah' with elegant solo singing and a chorus which could sing softly when necessary and let the great choruses rip through. Although not for purists, it is both a fascinating document of Bernstein's concept of the piece and a performance well worth listening.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685 - 1759) 
Messiah, HWV 56
Libretto by Charles Jennens after the Bible
Adele Addison, soprano
Russell Oberlin, countertenor
David Lloyd, tenor
William Warfield, baritone
Westminster Choir
(John Finley Williamson, director)
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Part One: Christmas Section

Part Two: Easter Section

Detailed Order of Numbers:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hódolat Magyarország

No. 178 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast178- Playlist

The last of our montages for 2014 (already!) also completes our trifecta dedicated to the music of Hungary. Our yearly programming has always had summer montages that fall under the broad category of “musical passports”, collages of music inspired by or featuring artists from different parts of the world. Because we decided to take a break this summer, we didn’t have any such montages thus far. Today, we oblige with a tip of the hat to artists, music and the gypsy flair associated with the “other half” if the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Hungarian folk music includes a broad array of styles, including the recruitment dance verbunkos (central to Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies), the csárdás and nóta.

Three names pop up of our playlist this week, all three are not only Hungarians but  they are also significant comntributors to the musical scene of the 20th Century: Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók and George Szell.

During the 20th century, Hungarian composers were influenced by the traditional music of their nation which may be considered as a repeat of the "nationalist" movements of the 19th century (notably in German and Russian traditions) but is probably more an opportunity to break from the form and rigour of the classical tradition. Béla Bartók took this departure into the abstract musical world in his appropriation of traditional Hungarian folk music as the basis for symphonic creations.

Kodály (like Bartók) was an ethnomusicologist, interested in preserving the Hungarian folk music tradition and one of his most enduring works, the folk opera Háry János, is a spoken play with songs, in the manner of the German Singspiel. Kodály wrote in his preface to the score: "Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier who day after day sits at the tavern spinning yarns about his heroic exploits... the stories released by his imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naivety, of comic humour and pathos." People may assume that the title Háry János refers to a man named Harry. In Hungarian, names are always presented in the order 'surname', 'first name' (as in Bartók Béla and Liszt Ferenc). Therefore, the title refers to a man called János (a common first name in Hungary, equivalent to the English John), whose surname is Háry…

Kodály extracted the orchestral Háry János Suite from the music of the opera. The suite notably includes the cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian variant of the hammer dulcimer. The legendary George Szell conducts the suite in today’s montage, a memorable oft-reissued vintage recording.

Bartók contributes one of his many pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music, improvisations on Peasont Songs “op. 20”. This composition is the last one on which Bartók put an Opus number, because henceforth he would treat his folk music and his more artistic side as equal. However, interestingly, this work is far from his folk pieces, with its abrasive harmonies and rhythms. The great Murray Perahia is at the keyboard.

Sprinkled about in the first portion of the montage are “inspired” pieces from non-Hungarian composers: Tchaikovsky and Hector Berlioz. The "Rákóczi March" (Hungarian: Rákóczi-induló) was the unofficial state anthem of Hungary until 1823. Berlioz included the music in his composition "La Damnation de Faust" in 1846, and Franz Liszt wrote a number of arrangements, including his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, based on the theme.

The works by Rachmaninov, Popper and Sarasate that constitute the latter section of the montage make the transition from a more folk/peasant Hungarian atmosphere to the Romani or “Gypsy” tradition, which was also exploited by Johannes Brahms in his Hungarian Dances.

Azt hiszem, szeretni fogja ezt a zenét is!
(I think you will love this music too!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Magyar rapszódiák, Part Two

No. 177 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Today’s podcast is the second in our two-part look at Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. After considering the sub-set of six that were set for orchestra, we now turn to the remaining 13, in their original piano solo setting.

Franz Liszt's 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies use gypsy tunes from his native Hungary, and combine them with his own dazzling piano writing. The colorful and flamboyant pieces which result tax pianists as much as delight listeners!

Interestingly, however, Liszr was born on the Hungarian side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, yet spent most of his formative years in Vienna and later in Paris. Liszt's father played the piano, violin, cello and guitar and had been in the service of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy. In that musical environment, he met Haydn, Hummel and Beethoven whom he knew personally. At age six, Franz began listening attentively to his father's piano playing and showed an interest in both sacred and Romani (Gypsy) music – so the seed was sewn for these rhapsodies quite early.

As Liszt toured Europe as a piano virtuoso, notably in the late 1830’s, he returned to his native Hungary where he re-encountered those folk tunes of his youth, and from there the Rhapsodies are finally hatched.

All the works bear dedications to important Hungarians of the day (Szerdahelyi, Teleki, Festetics, Kázmér Esterházy, Mme Reviczky, Apponyi, Orczy, Augusz, Egressy), or to musicians with Hungarian interests (Joachim, Ernst, von Bülow). The later works express an even stronger affinity with Hungary: Rhapsodies XVI–XVIII are entirely original compositions in the Hungarian manner, whilst XIX returns to the methods employed in the earlier works, this time citing the origin of the themes. The last four Rhapsodies were all published in Hungary, generally with Hungarian and German titles, and with Liszt’s name in his now-preferred Hungarian style: Liszt Ferenc. Rapsodie hongroise I was begun no earlier than 1847, and uses material from the Consolations. The piece is in the familiar csárdás pattern of lassú and friss: fast and slow sections, each with a mixture of elements of improvisation and variation.

More insight on the individual rhapsodies can be found in the excellent “introduction” to the complete rhapsodies recorded by Leslie Howard for Hyperion. It is hard to characterize the level of pianistic gymnastics required to perform these works – especially as I am not a pianist myself. If I were to provide a synopsis of any one of these, I’d say something like “a mix of melancholy, glittering keyboard acrobatics and stormy, rousing dance”.

The pianists we have retained for this montage constitute a varied mix of stellar soloists: Misha Dichter, Nelson Freire, Alfred Cortot, Grigory Ginsburg, Alfred Brendel and Vladimir Horowitz.

I Think you will love this music too!

As a post-scipt to this post, here is a complete set of all 19 rhapsodies, by an unidentified performer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Aeolian String Quartet Plays Haydn (Part 2)

This is a past Tuesday Blog from Dec-09-2014 . 

Vinyl’s Revenge returns for the second of a two-part series on the String Quartets of Joseph Haydn -last month's considered his six quartets of the opus 20.

Composed in 1790, the string quartets of Opus 64 constitute a second set of six quartets for violinist Johann Tost (the first set of six are the opp. 54 and 55), who had led the second violins of Haydn's orchestra at Esterháza from 1783 until his departure for Paris in 1788. In Paris Tost sold some of Haydn’s compositions, and Haydn actually dedicated the Op. 64 set to Tost in gratitude for his efforts. 

Later in life, Tost became a cloth-merchant and dabbled in music promotion - Mozart also apparently provided Tost with chamber music, namely his last two string quintets.

The best known quartet from this set is the fifth, known as The Lark from the initial entry of the first violin in the eighth bar in the high register used from time to time in these quartets. 

Heard in our two posts and YouTube selections, the Aeolian Quartet was a highly reputed string quartet based in London (UK), with a long international touring history and presence, an important recording and broadcasting profile. It was the successor of the pre-War Stratton Quartet, adopting its new name in the late 1940s and disbanding in 1981.

The Quartet made many recordings, but is especially noted for this complete Haydn cycle, which included the dubious op 3 series, and an account of the Seven Last Words From The Cross with poetic readings by Peter Pears. ( 
Of course, the times have changed since these were captured on vinyl (mid-1970’s), and there are excellent versions of these quartets available with both modern and period ensembles. However, the enduring quality of these performances is undeniable: everything seems perfect and royally balanced, ahead of the approach embraced by period groups. This is distinguished classicism, uncompromising but still colorful, cheerful and often, when necessary, infinitely deep.

Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 64

No. 1 - Quartet in C major, Hob.III:65 
No. 2 - Quartet in B minor, Hob.III:68 
No. 3 - Quartet in B♭ major, Hob.III:67 
No. 4 - Quartet in G major, Hob.III:66 
No. 5 - Quartet in D major ("The Lark"), , Hob.III:63 
No. 6 - Quartet in E♭ major, Hob.III:64

The Aeolian String Quartet:

Emanuel Hurwitz & Raymond Keenlyside - Violins
Margaret Major - Viola
Derek Simpson - Cello

Tracks from Disks 4-6 of "Joseph Haydn, Aeolian String Quartet ‎– Haydn String Quartets Volume 6 [Op.20 & Op.64]"
London Records ‎– STS15447-52-6



Friday, December 5, 2014

Magyar rapszódiák, Part One

No. 176 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

For the next couple of weeks, I wanted to spend some time considering a set of works that – for the most part – are both well-known and fun to listen to.

The Hungarian Rhapsodies constitute a set of 19 piano pieces based on Hungarian folk themes, composed by Franz Liszt during 1846–1853, and later in 1882 and 1885. Liszt also arranged versions for orchestra, piano duet and piano trio.

Some are better known than others, with Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 being particularly famous.

Liszt incorporated many themes he had heard in his native western Hungary and which he believed to be folk music, though many were in fact contemporary tunes written by members of the Hungarian upper middle class, or by composers of the time, and performed publically by Roma (Gypsy) bands.
The large scale structure of each was influenced by the verbunkos, a Hungarian dance in several parts, each with a different tempo. Within this structure, Liszt preserved the two main structural elements of typical Gypsy improvisation—the lassan ("slow") and the friska ("fast"). At the same time, Liszt incorporated a number of effects unique to the sound of Gypsy bands, especially the pianistic equivalent of the cimbalom.

In their original piano form, the Hungarian Rhapsodies are noted for their difficulty. As is the norm for much of Liszt’s piano solo output, the thinking has to have been to use these works to showcase and display his legendary technique at the keyboard.

All nineteen rhapsodies will not fit our usual 75 to 90 minute podcast format, so I had to come up with a logical way of splitting them up over two podcasts… To do so, I chose to consider first the orchestral versions of the rhapsodies.

Indeed, Rhapsodies no. 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, and 14 were arranged for orchestra by Franz Doppler, with revisions by Liszt himself. These orchestrations appear as S.359 in the Searle catalogue; however, the numbers given to these versions were different from their original numbers. The orchestral rhapsodies numbered 1-6 correspond to the piano solo versions numbered 14, 2, 6, 12, 5 and 9 respectively.

In my record collection, I have two sets of these orchestral rhapsodies – one by Kurt Mazur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra (from the mid-80’s) and a second as part of a two-disc set of Liszt orchestral music performed by the orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper (the Vienna Philharmonic under an assumed name, from the late 1950’s) under the legendary Herrmann Scherchen, whose rough-and-ready style is suits the mood of these pieces so well. Our montage features the latter, in a digitally restored version.

Back next week with the other 13, in piano form.

I think you will love this music too!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Programming - December 2015


Monthly Theme

The year 2014 comes to an end (already!) and our line-up for December offers what I hope is a “lighter” load for the holidays. Our main feature this month is a “complete” set of Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, both for the orchestra and the piano. I think – if we combine our Once Upon the Internet post, we will cover all but a couple of the rhapsodies in their piano version.

Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

This month, I will “consolidate” the posts on the rhapsodies for a mid-month OTF, and propose listening to a vintage performance of Handel’s Messiah.

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

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