Friday, April 28, 2017


No. 246 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s Blog and Podcast is the first of a pair of “single work:” podcasts, picking up an old podcasrt arc from a couple of years ago. It also serves as tribute to this week’s featured composer, who died 25 years ago.

Post World War II was a turbulent time for classical music. If it ever existed, the linear narrative of music from Bach through Brahms had broken down. In 1949, the year Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie premiered in Boston, Richard Strauss died, the school for new music in Darmstadt, Germany, celebrated Schoenberg’s 75th birthday with performances of his works, and Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music appeared, in which he wrote that new music had “taken upon itself all the darkness and guilt of the world.” This didn’t mean that audiences were eager to embrace new music…

Turangalîla is one of the most epic symphonic works of the 20th century. An example of “world music” long before that term had currency, it combines the Tristan myth, Eastern mysticism, Hindu and Greek rhythms, Indian scales, African dance, Indonesian drumming, and Poe-inspired Gothicism, while laying out Messiaen’s lifelong signatures, including birdsong, piercing woodwind choirs, and mystical blocks of sound. Few symphonic works are more challenging, yet more viscerally thrilling.

Messiaen faced much personal tragedy during and after WWII – his capture and internment in a German Stalag, and the increasingly debilitating mental illness of his wife, Claire Delbos. Among his first students at the Paris Conservatoire was Yvonne Loriod, a brilliant pianist who was his inspiration for the Turangalîla-Symphonie and became his second wife after Delbos’ death. It was in this context that, in 1945, Serge Koussevitsky commissioned the work.

The Turangalîla-Symphonie focuses essentially on love: its euphoria, terror, and link with death. The title of the symphony itself suggests the interwining of love and death, combining two Sanskrit words, “turanga” (“the passage of time, movement, and rhythm”) and “lîla” (“the play of creation, destruction, life and death, also love”). It was Messiaen’s first large orchestral piece and notable for inclusion of prominent solo parts for piano and ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument known for its otherworldly sound.

While a symphony in name, Turangalîla bears little relation to a traditional symphony, unfolding in 10 movements - some harshly dissonant, others unabashedly sensual. It retains elements of classical form, but inaugurates a counter-tradition of stasis, repetition, and mosaic-like color patterns.
The premiere of the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra received mostly negative reviews. Koussevitsky had a different view, proclaiming the Turangalîla-Symphonie “the greatest composition composed in our century” after Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. If performances and recordings are any indicator, Koussevitsky’s judgment came closest to the mark.

The recording featured in this week’s podcast is a vintage recording by a young Seiji Ozawa during his tenure as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony. (We have to note the close relationship between Ozawa, Messiaen and Leonard Bernstein, which gives much credence to the performance). Although there have been recordings specifically identified as having benefited from Messiaen’s personal supervision, the presence of Messiaen’s wife and sister in law (Yvonne Loriod is the pianist and her sister, Jeanne Loriod, plays the ondes Martenot) very likely mean that Messiaen was in Toronto during the sessions. There have been numerous accounts of Turangalîla since Ozawa's pioneering effort in 1967 (the first really viable version of the stereo era), but none have surpassed Ozawa for the ideal balance of elemental power and discipline; the majestic energy and terrifying ethereality can be best described as explosive.

I think you will love this music too!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Project 366 - The World of Transcriptions

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

They are called arrangements, orchestrations, or even reductions but they are all different paths to achieving a common goal, that is to “re-purpose” a piece of music originally created in one setting, and offering it in a different setting.

There are many examples of transcriptions, and they generally follow distinct formulas. Here are some of these formulas:

The piano transcription (which can be extended to a different instrument like a guitar, or an organ) takes a piece of music – more often than not, a piece of orchestral music or a large-scale stage work – an transposes it for a solo pianist (or sometimes piano four hands) in a bid to allow it to be played at home. I like to think of these as being the direct ancestor of broadcasts and recordings, as a means to allow works to be played and heard outside of their original setting. Nor unlike going to your local record store, one can imagine purchasing the sheet music for the piano reduction of a symphony, or even opera arias. The piano transcription, when penned by a great performer like Liszt, or Thalberg or even Vladimir Horowitz can be thought of as a vehicle for showcasing virtuosity in recitals.

An instrumental substitution allows for a piece of music originally intended for a specific voice, pitch or instrument to be substituted by another; this often occurs at the suggestion of the composer! Think of replacing a viola by a clarinet (Brahms trio, op. 114), or Mahler’s Song of the Earth where he suggests as a note "if necessary, the alto part may be sung by a baritone". Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez was originally scored for guitar and orchestra, yet he produced a version for harp and orchestra.

Johann Sebastian Bach is notorious for “reassigning” soloist parts to different instruments: his concerto for keyboard BWV 1058 is a transcription of his violin concerto BWV 1041, his concerto for two violins BWV 1042 reappears as his concerto for two keyboards BWV 1062, and so on.

Sometimes, necessity forces instrument reassignment – ancient instruments like the viola da gamba or the dulcian being replaced by cello and bassoon, respectively; the forte piano can be substituting a harpsichord, and either can be replaced by a “modern” acoustic piano.

Another formula is the setting substitution – adaption a string quartet or sextet for string orchestra, or adapting a symphonic piece for wind band.

Finally, there are orchestrations – often times, taking a piece for solo piano or organ and rendering it for full orchestra – the most famous example of this being the many different orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or even the many different settings of Les Sylphides , a ballet setting several of Chopin’s piano works for orchestra.

The following set of listener guides explores many of these formulas – piano transcriptions, instruument substitutions and, finally, some unforgettable orchestrations.

Listener Guide #90 - "Magyar rapszódiák". Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra perform Liszt's orchestration of 6 of his 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #176 - 5 Dec 2014)

Listener Guide #91 - "Three transcribed concertos". Concertos by Marcello, Mozart and Rodrigo are re-purposed for different solo instruments. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #33 - December 2, 2011)

Listener Guide #92 - "Opera Transcriptions". Earl Wild and Jorge Bolet  perform piano transcriptions of arias and syntheses of operas by Liszt, Thalberg and other virtuoso pianists of the Late Romantic period.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #167 - 3 Oct 2014)

Listener Guide #93 - "Play Bach". Bach has been known to have "tinkered" with his music, but never in a jazz vein, as perfirmed by Jacques Loussier’s original Play Bach trio.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #214 - 29 Jan 2016)

Listener Guide #94 - "Kartínki s výstavki". Leonard Slatkin proposes a unique orchestral look at Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in this compendium of individual sections from known (and less-known) orchestrations of the work. [This is preceded by an 18-minute documentary] (Tuesday Blog - 16 Oct 2012)


Listener Guide #95 - "An Unlikely Pairing". The Mighty Moog is front and centre in this look at classical works adapted for the Synthesizer. This Guide includes two versions of Ravel's Bolero - in its original orchestra version, and on the Moog Synthesizer (Vinyl's Revenge #27 - Apr 18 2017)

Listener Guide #96 - "The Bach Partitas Played on the Viola". Scott Slapin performs the three s lo violin partitas and the partita for solo flute on the viola. (Once Upon the Internet #39 - Jun-16 2015)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Unlikely Pairing

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s Tuesday Blog melds two of our ongoing series: Vinyl’s Revenge and Cover 2 Cover in an exploration of music adapted to the Synthesizer and what I consider to be shamelessly exploiting a phenomenon of the day.

Released in 1979, the movie 10 starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews and (introducing) Bo Derek told the tale of a Hollywood lyricist going through a mid-life crisis who becomes infatuated with a sexy, newly married woman. The film brought renewed fame to the Boléro by Maurice Ravel. Use of the piece during the love scene between Derek and Moore's characters, with Jenny describing it as "the most descriptive sex music ever written", resulted in massive sales of the work.

(Because Ravel's music was still under copyright at the time, sales generated his estate an estimated $1 million in royalties and briefly made him the best-selling classical composer—over 40 years after his death.)

Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to sell some records, Columbia re-issued its fantastic version of Boléro by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France. As a companion filler piece, it also re-issued a less traveled version of the piece, performed on the Moog Synthesizer. This disc, acquired during my years in the Columbia Record and Tape Club covers the “Vinyl’s Revenge” portion of today’s post.

The Boléro performance was originally released as part of a 1972 “experimental” album produced and realized by a pair of staff Columbia Classical Music producers (associated in the 1970's and 80’s with the successful New York Philharmonic recordings with Zubin Mehta among others) titled “Everything You Always Wanted To Hear On The Moog (But Were Afraid To Ask For)”, a not-too-subtle reference to a contemporary sex-help best-seller (and Woody Allen feature film) with a similarly concocted title. This album tried (with limited success) to ride the coat tails of other “electronic” albums, such as Switched on Bach and Oxygène.

The tracks of the album all had “Spanish roots” – works by Chabrier, Ravel, Bizet and Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Happy Listening!

Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España, rhapsody for orchestra (1883)

Ernesto LECUONA (1896-1963)
“Malaguena”, from Andalucía, suite for piano (ca. 1927)

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Selections from Act I of Carmen (1873-74)

(Prelude To Act I; Habanera; Les Toréadors)

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Boléro, MR 81 (*)

Andrew Kazdin, Thomas Z. Shepard at the Moog Synthesizer
Columbia Masterworks ‎– M 30383
See –
(*) This track is also Side B of MX 35860, see below

Maurice RAVEL
Boléro, MR 81

Orchestre National de France
Leonard Bernstein, conducting

CBS Masterworks ‎– MX 35860
See -

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

In June 2016, Hugo Shirley wrote a very interesting article for Gramophone titled “The opera that changed music”. The article opens with quotes from Alma Mahler, Clara Schumann and Edward Elgar as they each react to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; a quote from one of Grieg’s pen pals is especially “graphic”:

[T]he most enormous depravity I have ever seen or heard, but in its own crazy way it is so overwhelming that one is deadened by it as by a drug. […] Even more immoral…than the plot is this seasick music that destroys all sense of structure in its quest for tonal colour. In the end, one just becomes a glob of slime on an ocean shore, something ejaculated by that masturbating pig in an opiate frenzy!
The Gramophone article is a great read, especially for those of us who have mixed emotions about sitting through a Wagner opera from curtain rise to curtain fall – let alone try and sink their teeth into the material and make sense if it all. This is a commitment, to be sure!
Shirley writes that the past 150 years are littered with writers trying to express the fascination, revulsion (or both!) that Tristan inspires. Even today, Tristan remains a work that can inspire fierce devotion or baffled resistance: it eludes clear definition and explanation and encourages intemperate hyperbole at every turn. Maybe Michael Tanner’s thought-provoking description is one of the best: ‘Along with Bach’s St Matthew Passion,’ he writes, ‘it is one of the two greatest religious works of our culture.’

The Internet is littered with resources and authoritative (as well as authoritative-sounding) articles regarding Tristan, and I would hate to add more… To me, Tristan is in many ways a “regular day in the office” for Wagner: the creative convergence of Wagner’s devotion to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, the soap-opera that is his own love life and musical exploration that takes him away from established musical convention.

The re-discovery of mediaeval Germanic poetry, including Gottfried von Strassburg's version of Tristan, the Nibelungenlied and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, left a large impact on the German Romantic movements during the mid-19th century. Again, we note here subject matter that Wagner has mined to form the core of his epic operas.

Tristan took five years to compose with the bulk of the work between 1857 and 1859. Sections of the opera and libretto were composed in Switzerland and Italy, as Wagner’s 20-year marriage was disintegrating in large part because of his relationship with German poet and author Mathilde Wesendonck , the wife of a wealthy silk trader. (Wagner set five songs to her words, called the Wesendonck Lieder, in the same time period).

Staging an opera isn’t easy – and it is even less so when it comes to a Wagner opera! The completed work remained unstaged for several years and it’s only after King Ludwig II of Bavaria became Wagner’s sponsor that enough resources were secured to mount the premiere of Tristan und Isolde. Hans von Bülow was chosen to conduct the production at the Nationaltheater in Munich. This of course is happening at the time Wagner was having an affair with his wife Cosima which resulted in a daughter – Isolde – born about two months before the premiere on 10 June 1865.
The next production of Tristan was in Weimar in 1874. Wagner himself supervised another production of Tristan in Berlin in March 1876, but the opera was only performed at the Bayreuth Festival after his death; Cosima (now his widow) oversaw this widely acclaimed production in 1886.

Today’s 1953 performance is also from the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. In a review by Webster Forrest for, he writes:

This recording of Tristan is especially valuable, as it is the only available recording featuring the Isolde of the great Astrid Varnay. The performance is led by one of the German repertoire's most competent if not most passionate conductors: Eugen Jochum […] and this Tristan emits more heat and commitment than many […] From the outset the key words for this performance are concentration, accuracy, and commitment. Jochum handles the orchestra with a beautiful skill that reminds one of the more sensitive and beautiful performances […] The pace is exciting - and measured. The conducting throughout keeps the drama moving very convincingly, though there is not very much in the way of sudden excitement where it might be wanted.
Varnay's Isolde is rather intelligent and proud, and where it counts, passionate. […] Varnay's was a voice of huge volume and a rather hot and heavy timbre; some found that she sat on words, using a peculiar pronunciation of consonants to pry her way into a note. This can be true in some of her recorded performances, but here […] she displays great vocal facility as well as incredible musicality. Her involvement in the entire night scene, ending with the great love duet in Act II is exceptionally rewarding both musically and dramatically. Her Liebestod must be regarded as one of the finest ever recorded.
[…] The much-loved and under-recorded Ramón Vinay sings Tristan, and he is a fine choice for the role. Vinay's tenor is one of fine baritonal strength and a robust and penetrating top. His approach to the role is full-blooded and martial without being at all strident. […] He certainly makes a great deal of the text in many ways and in most instances convinces us of his character. His dying words are a touching yet well-controlled expression of deranged love.
[…] The last forty minutes of the opera - from somewhere around Tristan's 'Ach Isolde ... wie schön bist du' there is a distortion in the sound at the upper dynamic levels. (This alone may perhaps account for the recording's rarity.) It's a crackling, as though the recording levels were a little too high, but it is a noise on top of the recorded music, and apart from it there is no distortion of the actual sound captured (no loss of detail, e.g., or no muffling - just this extra noise on top, like a scratch on a record.)

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90
music drama in three acts
German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Strassburg.

Tristan - Ramón Vinay
Isolde - Astrid Varnay
Brangäne - Ira Malaniuk
Kurwenal - Gustav Neidlinger
Marke - Ludwig Weber
Melot - Hasso Eschert
Ein Hirt - Gerhard Stolze
Ein Seemann - Gene Tobin
Ein Steuermann - Theo Adam
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Conductor: Eugen Jochum

Festspielhaus Bayreuth
July 30, 1953 (Live recording)


Synopsis -
Libretto -

Internet Archive URLs

Act 1 -
Act 2 -
Act 3 -

Friday, April 14, 2017


No. 245 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


For this year’s Good Friday montage, I selected some early music for which it is difficult to attribute the authorship.

Anonymous works are works of art or literature, that have an anonymous, undisclosed, or unknown creator or author. In the case of very old works, the author's name may simply be lost over the course of history and time. In such cases the author is often referred to as Anonymus, the Latin form of "anonymous". In other cases, the creator's name is intentionally kept secret. The author's reasons may vary from fear of persecution to protection of his or her reputation. For the most part, works attributed to Anonymus pre-date the Baroque era, and can be thought of as being passed down following “oral” tradition.

This is the case for the collection of titles that make up today’s montage. As I have provided many - shall I say - austere montages in past years appropriate for the Lenten season, I avoided gloomy works in this collection, though a few are spiritual or religious in nature.

Not all titles are “Anonymous” – in my defense, when I started assembling this playlist, all the titles were of unknown authorship. Over time, I managed to unmask the composer but – with your indulgence – kept them in the montage, as they are of similar tradition to the others.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Helmut Walcha - Organ Masters Before Bach

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

To complete our Lenten look at Organ music, I am sharing this Cover 2 Cover YouTube copy of an Achiv-DGG-Eloquence re-issue of a compilation disc by the late great harpsichordist and organist, Helmut Walcha (1907-1991).

One of the great interpreters of J. S. Bach, Mr. Walcha recorded the composer's complete organ works twice, as well as the complete "Well-Tempered Clavier" and, with Henryk Szering, the six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Although blind, he had an active international career as a performer, recording artist and teacher.

Walcha did not record very much music by composers other than Bach. This disc, his last recording before his retirement at the age of 70, is an overview of the music that stands as a foundation for Bach’s great organ music. No one can deny the importance of Buxtehude in Bach’s career - Bach walked a long distance to meet his elder, and stayed with him for three months, absorbing much of his technique. Three works on this disc are by Buxtehude; other composers represented on this disc, which covers the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries, include such well known names as Johann Pachelbel and Georg Böhm, as well as lesser known composers such as Nicolaus BruhnsSamuel Scheidt and Vincent Lübeck. The wide variety of music presented gives the listener a very good idea of what Bach heard and studied - music which had a great influence on his own compositions.

The YouTube poster, Polyphonie X shares some observations about Walcha’s playing:

Walcha's style being as super humanly lucid and tactful as one would expect from his Bach recordings, though often with an improvisatory character which nothing in those recordings foreshadows. Pachelbel's F minor Chaconne, a rather turgid work under lesser artists' hands, here has a very agreeable forward momentum yet never sounds the slightest bit breathless; it benefits also, as do all other items, from a wonderful instrument (the 18th-century Schnitger organ in Cappel, Germany). The sound quality is - dare one say - perfect: with pleasing resonance, yet no detail gets blurred.
Happy Listening!

Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707) 
Prelude And Fugue In D Minor, Buxwv 140
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) 
Chorale Prelude: O lamm Gottes unschuldig, T. 60
Vincent LUBECK (1654-1740) 
Prelude And Fugue In E Major
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654) 
Chorale Variation: Jesus Christus,Unser Heiland
Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697) 
Prelude And Fugue In E Minor
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707) 
Chaconne In C Minor, Buxwv 159
Jan Pieterzoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621) 
Fantasia Chromatica in Dorian, SwWV 258
Franz TUNDER ( 1614-1667) 
Chorale Prelude: Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herr Gott
Georg BÖHM (1661-1733) 
Prelude And Fugue In C Major
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) 
Chaconne In F Minor T. 206
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707) 
Passacaglia In D Minor, Buxwv 161

Helmut Walcha
INST: Arp-Schnitger Organ, St. Peter-und-Paul-Kirche of Cappel, Germany

Deutsche Grammophon 469 764-2 (originally released in 1978)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Quarterly Programming for April-June 2017


Highlights for this quarter include a couple of Lenten selections, the start of a series on Mozart’s late piano concertos, a pair of “Robert Johnsons” and our 250th montage (which, as we do when we hit a multiple of 50, is an extended play podcast). Here we go:

Friday Blog and Podcast:

  • A pair of one-work montages: Busoni’s Piano Concerto (NEWPODCAST) and the Turangalîla Symphony (NEW PODCAST)
  • Early and classical-era music favourites by Anonymous (NEWPODCAST), an assortment of classical works (NEW PODCAST
  • A look at the legacy of Igor Markevitch (NEW PODCAST)
  • Our 250th montage, dedicated to “Unfinished” symphonies (NEW PODCAST)
  • In time for Canada’s 150th birthday, a tribute to Oscar Peterson (NEW PODCAST)

Tuesday Blog (TalkClassical):

  • Cover 2 Cover: Organ Masters Before Bach (PTB), Lute Music by Renaissance composer Robert Johnson (PTB)
  • Vinyl’s Revenge: Two competing versions of Ravel’s Bolero (PTB), Delta Blues standards performed by Robert Johnson (PTB) and Jeffrey Tate conducts Schubert (PTB)
  • Once Upon the Internet: Hermann Scherchen conducts three of Haydn’s London Symphonies (PTB)
  • Our Bonus 5th Tuesday montage for the quarter: Haydn at the keyboard (NEW PODCAST)


L’Heure Espagnole (Ravel, OTF), Tristan und Isolde  (Wagner, OTF).

I will update this page if programming changes in the coming weeks, and also look for unannounced “repatriated” posts from our PTB and OTF series.

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