Sunday, April 29, 2018

Project 366 - Beethoven Floats My BOAT

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

Yes, he’s my Best Of All Time.

Today’s installment of Time Capsules completes our look into the Classical period and its principal composers. Beethoven, and to a lesser extent Schubert, can’t be readily thought of as “Late classical” composers, but rather as “transitional” composers, marking the bridge from the formulaic, classical approaches and the more expansive “romantic” school of composition.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Beethoven was a German pianist and composer whose innovative compositions combined vocals and instruments, widening the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet. He is the crucial transitional figure connecting the Classical and Romantic ages of Western music. Beethoven’s personal life was marked by a struggle against deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was quite unable to hear. Beethoven died at age 56.

Much ahs been written about Beethoven’s music, his contemporary and lasting influence and legacy, but the singular storyline about the man, as stated above, was his struggle with deafness. At times driven to extremes of melancholy by his affliction, yet despite his rapidly progressing deafness, Beethoven continued to compose at a furious pace. From 1803 to 1812, what is known as his "middle" or "heroic" period, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs. The most famous among these were symphonies No. 3-8, the "Moonlight Sonata," the "Kreutzer" violin sonata and Fidelio, his only opera. In terms of the astonishing output of superlatively complex, original and beautiful music, this period in Beethoven's life is unrivaled by any of any other composer in history.

When Beethoven died, he left (as many other composers) a great many compositions behind. In Beethoven's case, a sizable majority of his works were published. However, some works were not published, and some works were unfinished, either because he had laid them aside, or died before he could finish them. All of Beethoven's compositions up to and including Opus 135 were published in Beethoven's lifetime; later numbers were published posthumously, and are generally denoted by "Op. posth." In 1955, Georg Kinsky and Hans Halm published a catalogue of Beethoven's works, in which they assigned numbers to 205 "Werke ohne Opuszahl" (meaning "works without opus number" in German) to some of Beethoven's unpublished works. These numbers given these works are generally preceded by "WoO".

Your Beethoven Time Capsules

Listener Guide # 174 – Beethoven Sonatas

More than anybody in the late Classical era, Beethoven is the composer responsible for bringing chamber music to the concert hall. Among his chief achievements in the genre we note seventeen string quartets, several trios, ten violin sonatas and five cello sonatas. This listener guide shares three sonatas for instrument with piano accompaniment (ITYWLTMT Montage #202 - 12 jun 2015)

Listener Guide # 175 –Themes and Variations

The piano music of Beethoven is an indispensable part of the repertoire of any serious pianist. Especially appealing are the variations, magnificent compositions second only to the sonatas and concertos in importance, and among the most recorded and performed music in the piano literature. (ITYWLTMT Montage #138 - 10 Jan 2014)


Listener Guide # 176 – Kovacevich & Beethoven

Although Beethoven was far from the first great composer to write multi-movement compositions for solo piano, he was, nonetheless, the first to show how much power and variety of expression could be drawn forth from this single instrument. For composers who came after him, notably, but not exclusively, Brahms, his sonatas became the standard of excellence. This listener Guide features Srephen Kovacevich performing Beethoven last three of 32 sonatas. (ITYWLTMT Montage #198 - 15 May, 2015 )

Listener Guide # 177 – Beethoven’s #1 Montage

Beethoven composed at least six concerti intended for the piano, and this listener guide features his first, along with the first symphony and first overture to his opera Leonore (later renamed Fidelio) (ITYWLTMT Montage # 28 - October 28, 2011)

Listener Guide # 178 – Brautigam & Beethoven

Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam is our feature soloist in this pair of Beethoven piano concertos: the second and the op. 61a adaptation of the violin concerto. (ITYWLTMT Montage #56 - 25 May, 2012)

Listener Guide # 179 – Serkin & Beethoven

On December 22nd 1808, Beethoven organized a musical academy comcert in Vienna where he premiered three major works – the first of these was his fourth piano concerto, performed in thls Time Capsule by the late Rudolf Serkin. Also featured in this montage, the Hammerklavier sonata. (ITYWLTMT Montage #267 – 22 Dec, 2017)

Listener Guide # 180 –Beethoven Live!

Also premiered on December 22nd 1808, Beethoven’s symphonies no. 5 and 6! This Time Capsule features both of these works recorded in concert, performed by two conducting legends: Wilhelm Furtwangler and Victor de Sabata. (Once Upon the Internet #59 – 26 Dec, 2017)

Listener Guide # 181 – The Creatures of Prometheus

Beethoven’s stage works include overtures and incidental music to at least four plays, his opera Fidelio and this ballet, first performed at Vienna’s Hofburgtheater on 28th March 1801. (Cover2Cover #8 – 10 Apr 2018)

 Listener Guide # 182 – King Stephan and Late Choral Works

This Time Capsule features a cover-to-cover performance of a vintage Michael Tilson Thomas recording of the complete incidental music to the play King Stephan, along with a number of short vocal and choral works, and filler material including a loud surprise!. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 69 - 31 Aug, 2012)

Listener Guide # 183 & 184 – Fidelio (Klemperer, 1962)

Beethoven’s only opera, like many of his epic works, had a long and tortuous gestation, resulting in at least two versions of the opera – an earlier three act version (Leonore) and the later much revised two-act version we know today. This vintage stidio performance features Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers, with Otto Klemperer conducting (Once or Twice a Forrtnight – 21 Apr 2012)

More Beethoven Listener Guides (From Part 1): 25, 30, 40, 69, 83, 114, 117, 120 & 122

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bernstein Conducts Ives

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

Vinyl’s Revenge takes a look at an early-60’s Columbia recording by Leonard Bernstein and the New-York Philharmonic. According to Bernstein’s own website, he recorded over 500 compositions with Columbia Masterworks (now Sony Music Entertainment) between 1956 and 1979, 455 of which were recorded with the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein’s commitment to 20th century music – from the symphonies of Gustav Mahler to his own symphonic works – is well known, and this vintage recording of Charles Ives’ Third Symphony and a trio of short symphonic works adds to this aspect of his recording legacy.

I loath to pigeon-hole Charles Ives as an “American:” composer, as his work transcends the ill-defined notion of “America Music”. His music is a blend of late-Romantic and modern music, more akin to, say, Scriabin than to Schoenberg or Stravinsky in that sense (save for the mysticism). His later works can be challenging to listen to at times (e.g., the landmark first recording of his Fourth Symphony by Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra), but the set assembled by Bernstein is quite accessible, and some of the pieces have become American classical music “standards”.

Ives wrote at least five symphonies – four are numbered, and a fifth is the result of four movements dedicated to “New England Holidays”.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that Ives and Gustav Mahler ever met, Mahler had seen the manuscript and talked of premiering the Third Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. There is also a story (which Ives himself put out) that Mahler took the score back to Europe, planning to conduct it there. Mahler's death in 1911 prevented any such performances.

Subtitled “The Camp Meeting” – a reference to the travelling religious revivals of yesteryear when people gathered in fields to sing and listen to preachers - the third symphony has many influences including War songs, dances, and general European classical music. Ives was sentimentally nostalgic, glancing back as a modern composer at a nineteenth-century childhood of hymns, bells, and children's games. The symphony is filled with complex harmonies and meters. In 1947, the symphony was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Decoration Day, the second movement of the afore-mentioned Holidays symphony, was completed in 1912. The holiday, forerunner of the US Memorial Day, takes its name from the practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers. Ives was inspired by more childhood memories, this time of listening to his father’s marching band play on Decoration Day. The marching band would march from the Soldiers’ Monument at the center of Danbury (Connecticut) to Wooster Cemetery, and there Ives would play Taps. The band would leave often playing David Wallace ReevesSecond Regiment Connecticut National Guard March.

Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question form a diptych known as “Two Contemplations”. Whereas The Unanswered Question is subtitled “Contemplation of Something Serious”, Central Park is a contemplation of “Nothing Serious”. Both pieces, scored for Chamber Orchestra, sometimes involve divided forces – which is the case for Central Park in this recording. For the occasion, two of Bernstein’s “apprentices” are credited as conductors, their names you will readily recognize.

Happy Listening!

Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Symphony No. 3, S. 3 (K. 1A3) "The Camp Meeting"
(*) Central Park In The Dark (1906)
Decoration Day (1912)
The Unanswered Question (1907, rev. 1930-35)

New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein, Maurice Peress (*) and Seiji Ozawa (*), conducting

Columbia Masterworks ‎– MS 6843
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo
Released: 1966
Details -


Internet Archive URL -


Friday, April 20, 2018

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov (1865-1936)

No. 277 the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at

This week’s podcast is the first of four planned montages discussing Russian composers, and the first of two showcasing composers of the St-Petersburg school, home of the “Mighty Five” composers that are most-closely associated with Russian Nationalist  movement in music. That group, led by Mily Balakirev included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and César Cui. Among their moist well-known “second generation” devotees figures our featured composer this week, Alexander Glazunov.

Glazunov was significant in that he successfully reconciled nationalism and cosmopolitanism in Russian music. While he was the direct successor to Balakirev's nationalism, he tended more towards Borodin's epic grandeur while absorbing a number of other influences. Glazunov was gifted with an exceptional ear and musical memory; after Borodin's death, he completely reconstructed the Overture to Prince Igor from recollections of Borodin's piano performance of the piece!

The 19th-century mania for the Viennese waltz raged in Russia as virulently as it did in the rest of Europe—Johann Strauss the Younger spent many summers at the fashionable resort of Pavlovsk, south of St. Petersburg, after he began touring in 1856—and left its progeny in the concert and stage works of Tchaikovsky, and that of other Russian composers. In 1894 Glazunov contributed two fine specimens to the genre of the concert waltz, which are based on the Viennese model that strings together several continuous strains of complementary character. Today’s podcast opens with the first of these two waltzes.

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor is one of his most popular compositions. Written in 1904, the concerto was dedicated to violinist Leopold Auer, who gave the first performance at a Russian Musical Society concert in St. Petersburg on 15 February 1905. The violin concerto is quite representative of Glazunov's technically brilliant style. There are no pauses or numbered sections in the concerto; it is nevertheless often described as consisting of either three or four movements, which may be variously labeled; the slow second movement is seamlessly inserted by the composer into the middle of the first movement, which is an original and rare structural peculiarity of this composition.
The Eighth Symphony was composed the same year the concerto was premiered, 1905. This was his last completed symphony: he started a Symphony No. 9 in 1910, but only finished an opening movement before permanently shelving the work. The Eighth is one of the greatest of Glazunov's symphonies, a brilliantly composed work of distinguished themes integrated into compelling architectural forms.

Also in the podcast, his Minstrel's song for cello and orchestra.

The Eighth hardly sounds like the work of a Russian composer of the Silver Age. The fashionable despair and the stylish taste for the apocalyptic that mars the works of other fin de siècle Russian composers like Tchaikovsky is nowhere in evidence in the Eighth. Like Glazunov's earlier symphonies, the Eighth is a powerfully positive symphony with affirmation its aesthetic and exultation its goal.
Glazunov later served as director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory between 1905 and 1928 and was instrumental in the reorganization of the institute into the Petrograd Conservatory, then the Leningrad Conservatory, following the Bolshevik Revolution. He continued heading the Conservatory until 1930, though he had left the Soviet Union in 1928 and did not return. The best-known student under his tenure during the early Soviet years was Dmitri Shostakovich.

I think you will love this music too. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Beethoven - The Menuhin Festival Orchestra ‎– The Creatures Of Prometheus, Op. 43

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

This week’s Cover 2 Cover share is a 1970 Angel LP of Beethoven’s 1801 ballet music for Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò. It is the only full length ballet by Beethoven.

The original scenario of the ballet is lost, making it difficult to establish the precise context of many of the sixteen numbers of the score and leading to different treatments of the music by various choreographers since. Nevertheless a broad outline of the story can be gathered from a surviving theatre-bill for the first performance at the Hofburgtheater on 28th March 1801:

The basis of this allegorical ballet is the fable of Prometheus. The Greek philosophers, by whom he was known, allude to him thus—they depict him as a lofty soul who drove ignorance from the people of his time, and gave them manners, customs, and morals. As the result of this conception, two statues that have been brought to life are introduced… and these, through the power of harmony, are made sensitive to the passions of human life. Prometheus leads them to Mount Parnassus in order that Apollo, the deity of the arts, may instruct them. Apollo gives them as teachers Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to instruct them in music; Melpomene to teach them tragedy; Thalia, comedy; Terpsichore and Pan, the latest Shepherd’s Dance which the latter has invented, and Bacchus, the Heroic Dance of which he was the originator.
The punishment of Prometheus, who had stolen fire from Olympus to bring to life his “creations” and was, at the command of Zeus, the King of the Gods, chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver was daily eaten by vultures, is omitted.

Rarely performed as a complete ballet, we are familiar with the overture and Bacchus’ Heroic dance in the finale - which Beethoven reused later as the “theme” for the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations for piano.

As I’ve opined before in these pages, ballet music sometimes stands alone well in the concert hall without dancers, though many composers typically assemble suites of highlights from their ballets for concert use. Maybe Beethoven should have followed that model; as a stand-alone piece of concert music, Prometheus lies somewhere between a curiosity and a piece of programmatic music (in the romantic vein) with a hard-to-follow story line.

Still, it’s worth the 50-odd minute investment. The performance is light and velvety, which is in itself something of a departure from the traditional German sound we typically associate with this composer.

Happy Listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827) 
Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, op. 43
Ballet in two acts with an overture, after Greek mythology

The Menuhin Festival Orchestra
Yehudi Menuhin, conducting
Angel Records - S-36641
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo

Details -

Internet Archive

Friday, April 6, 2018

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

No. 276 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


Music is the Soind of Life

I wish I had come up with that one - it's so true. The quote comes from today's feature composer, Carl Nielsen, who stands atop the composers of his native Denmark,  a lot like SIbelius does for Finnish composers.

We have featured some of Nielsen's music in the past, notably his symphonies no 2 and 5. Today's post - feeding future listener guides in our Project 366 - begins our attempt at completing his complete cycles of symphonies, by adding today his 3rd.

Nielsen wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia Espansiva"between 1910 and 1911 following Nielsen's tenure as bandmaster at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Nielsen himself conducted the premiere of the work (along with the premiere of his Violin Concerto) on February 28, 1912 with Copenhagen's Royal Danish Orchestra.

The character designation of the first movement (Allegro espansivo) serves as the symphony's subtitle, but it is not clear what Nielsen meant by 'espansiva'. It has been suggested that it implies the "outward growth of the mind's scope".The symphony is unique in Nielsen's symphonic  output for having vocal parts, specifically wordless solos for soprano and baritone in the second movement.

In 1921, Nielsen heard the Copenhagen Wind Quintet rehearsing some music by Mozart. He was struck by the tonal beauty and musicianship of this group, and he soon became intimately acquainted with its members. That same year, he wrote his Wind Quintet expressly for this ensemble. Nielsen planned to write a concerto for each of the five players. Only two of these compositions ever came into being. For Gilbert Jespersen, who succeeded Paul Hagemann as flautist of the Copenhagen Quintet, he wrote his Flute Concerto in 1926; two years later, he composed his Clarinet Concerto for the group's clarinettist, Aage Oxenvad.

The Clarinet Concerto was conceived during the most difficult period in Nielsen's life. He was sixty-three, and had achieved considerable renown throughout Scandinavia; yet he was disappointed that his music had not reached a wider audience, he was deeply concerned with the unsettled state of the world, and he knew that his days were numbered. Perhaps this accounts for the bitter struggle which occurs throughout this concerto—a war between the tonalities of F major and E major. Every time hostilities seem to be at an end, a snare drum incites the combatants to renewed conflict. Another explanation for this is that the clarinetist for whom he was writing the concerto had a bi-polar disorder. Therefore, the concerto was poking fun at his constant mood swings.

To complete today's montage, I added two short works. The Helios Overture stems from Nielsen's stay in Athens which inspired him to compose a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea. At the Bier of a Young Artist for string orchestra was written for the funeral of the Danish painter Oluf Hartmann in January 1910 and was also played at Nielsen's own funeral.

I think you will love this music too!