February 2010 - Posts
In 1971 , an up-and -coming young American conductor named James Levine made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Puccini's Tosca , and as they say, the rest is history . He was only 28 years old , but had impressive credentials , and had already been conducting many of the top American symphony orchestras and some of the opera companies , was a virtuoso pianist who might have made a solo career ,had studied at Juilliard , and the great Hungarian conductor George Szell , who had died the previous year ,had been his mentor and appointed him assistant conductor of the renowned Cleveland Orchestra .
Born in Cincinnati in 1943 , Levine was enjoying a meteoric career as a fast-rising young conductor, and returned to the Met regularly , soon becoming its first principal conductor , then music director and artistic director . Levine's name became synonymous with the Met , although he continued to appear regularly with such great orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic , the Staatskapelle, Dresden and the Vienna Philharmonic in Europe and at the world-famous Salzburg festival in Austria , and conducted Wagner at the legendary Bayreuth festival .
Levine also spent many years as music director of the Ravinia festival near Chicago , Summer home of the Chicago Symphony orchestra , and conducted numerous concerts with the orchestra there and making recordings .
Later , he became music director of the Munich Philharmonic , succeeding the brilliant but eccentric Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache , and in 2004 succeeded Seiji Ozawa as music director of the Boston Symphony , becoming the renowned orchestra's first American-born music director .
Levine's accomplishments with the Metropolitan Opera have become legendary ; he built its orchestra into one of the world's finest and transformed it into an orchestra which also played symphonic concerts , appearing for several concerts every year at Carnegie Hall and on tour .
He broadened the Met's repertoire greatly , conducting not only such repertoire staples as the operas of Mozart , Verdi , Puccini , Rossini , and Wagner etc, but many important operas which the Met had never done before or not performed for many ,many years , such as Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz , I Vespri Siciliani, I Lombardi and Stiffelio by Verdi , Alban Berg's Lulu , Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok , Francesca Da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai , and the world premieres of The Ghosts of Versailes by John Corigliano and The Great Gatsby by John Harbison, Mozart's Idomeneo and La Clemenza Di Tito , to name only some .
Other notable operas new to the Met but conducted by other maestros have included Busoni's Doktor Faust , War and Peace and The Gambler by Prokofiev , Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Shostakovich , Dvorak's Russalka , Capriccio by Richard Strauss , Doctor Atomic by John Adams , The Last Emperor by Tan Dun , Bellini's Il Pirata , Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa , Janacek's Katya Kabanova, The Makropoulos Case and From The House Of The Dead , and others .
Under Levine , the Met introduced English translations of the operas performed by placing electronic writing on the back of each seat and began to offer High Definition broadcasts of live performances in movie theaters around America only a few years ago .
Levine has brought such eminent conductors as Carlos Kleiber , Riccardo Muti , Esa-Pekka Salonen , Christoph Eschenbach , Giuseppe Sinopoli , Valery Gergiev , Bernard Haitink , Klaus Tennstedt , Lorin Maazel , Seiji Ozawa , Christian Thielemann and others to the Met , and worked tirelessly to foster the development of talented young opera singers , and worked regularly with so many great opera singers , such as Placido Domingo ,Renee Fleming , Luciano Pavarotti , Karita Mattila, Thomas Hampson , James Morris , to name only a few .
Levine also brought the Metropolitan Opera back to the recording studio , recording operas by Mozart , Verdi, Puccini and Wagner , including the first complete recording of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelungen to be made in America after many years .
Therefore , it's only natural that the Met will be celebrating Levine's 40 years of great accomplishments with America's oldest and most prestigious opera house next season , and the company will issue special CDs and DVDs of performances conducted by him . In addition , the award-winning director Susan Froemke will be making a documentary about this towering figure in American classical music . Long may he reign at the Met !
On March 5th , the Metropolitan Opera will premiere its new production of what is without a doubt the weirdest and looniest comic opera of all time - "The Nose " , by the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 -1975 ). This is like no other opera the Met has ever done in its venerable 125 year history . Who knows what opera fans who are accustomed to their beloved operas by Verdi , Puccini , Mozart and Rossini will think of this crazy masterpiece ? That's right . It's an opera about some one's nose . I'm not kidding !
The Nose is one of the composer's earliest notable works , and was premiered in Leningrad (now St.Petersburg ) in 1930 , when Shostakovich was only 24 years old, and is the first of his two operas . The second, the grim , sordid and tragic "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District" , which came about six years later earned the extreme displeasure of Joseph Stalin .
The Nose is based on an absurd surrealistic short story by the 19th century Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol , and deals with one Major Kovalyov , a minor civil servant in St.Petersburg whose nose mysteriously disappears from his face after drunken barber cuts it off by accident .
The barber discovers the nose to his horror in the bread his wife has just baked , and she furiously orders him out of the house . Meanwhile, Kovalyov discovers to his own horror that the nose is missing , and goes out looking for it . He tries to contact the police and even tries to get a newspaper to print an ad for his missing proboscis , but his request is denied .
Later Kovalyov goes to a cathdral and notices his nose dressed as a state councilor , but it refuses to have anything to do with him ! The nose later goes all over town creating havoc , and all St. Petersburg wants to see it ! Eventually the troublesome schozola returns to his face , and every one shrugs the whole absurd affair off !
The orchestra features an extral large percussion section which has a whole interlude to itself between scenes , plus traditional Russian instruments such as Balaliakas and Domras ; it makes all manner of bizarre rude noises with contrabasson solos , sliding tombones etc, and the vocal lines are highly jagged and declamatory . The whole score is raucous , chaotic and brilliantly inventive .
The large cast will feature the Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot (shot) , making his Met debut as the unfortunate Kovalyov , and tenor Gordon Gietz will sing the high -lying and difficult role of the nose , which also requires falsetto , and the great Ossetian conductor Valery Gergiev will conduct .
The brilliant South-African born artist William Kentridge makes his Met debut both as set designer and director . The production will feature all manner of moving projections across the stage , consisting of newpaper articles in Russian and all manner of bizarre images . The radio brooadcast will be on March 13, and if you are unable to get it on your radio , you can listen on the internet at WQXR.org .
Maestro Gergiev recently recorded The Nose with the forces of the Maryiinsky opera in St. Petersburg , where he has long served as music director , and this is on the company's own newly formed record label . Check arkivmusic.com or amazon.com for it .
To paraphrase Saturday Night Live , this is one wild and crazy opera !
The New York Philharmonic has recently announced details of its next season, which will begin this September with a new work by the renowned Jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis which will combine the orchestra with the Lincoln Center Jazz orchestra . Music director Alan Gilbert , in his second season as head of America's oldest symphony orchestra , will conduct , and the program will also include more traditional fare with music by Paul Hindemith and Richard Strauss .
Marsalis has also been involved with classical music and has performed and recorded numerous trumpet concertos with leading orchestras and conductors . As usual , the next Philharmonic season will feature a stimulating mix of new and recent works , staples of the orchestral repertoire and revivals of long-neglected but interesting works from the past .
The world's most distinguished conductors will appear as guests , as well as the world's greatest pianists, violinists, cellist and other instrumentalists playing concertos , and great singers for vocal works with orchestra will be there as usual , and promising young conductors will make their Philharmonic debuts .
The distinguished Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg will begin his second season as composer in residence , and the New York premiere of his new orchestral work "Kraft" , which combines electronic music and acoustical instruments will take place , among other new or recent works by a variety of today's leading composers .
Among the renowned instrumental soloists will be violinists Anne-Sopie Mutter, who will be artist-in-residence, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman , Joshua Bell and Gil Shaham , and pianists Emmanuel Ax , Yefim Bronfman , Radu Lupu and Jean-Pierre Aimard .
Alan Gilbert will conduct a staged performance of Leos Janacek's fascinating opera "The Cunning Little Vixen " , the story of the animals of a Czech forest and their relationship with humans , featuring a fox as the protagonist ! The distinguished Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, , former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic , will conduct a three week festival with the theme of Hungarian music , with works by the great Bela Bartok, the late Gyorgy Ligeti , and Joseph Haydn, who though an Austrian and not Hungarian , spent much of his life in what is now Hungary .
The gifted but controversial young Chinese pianist Lang Lang will play the familiar Tchaikovsky piano concerto no 1 as part of an all Tchaikovsky new year's eve concert , showing that the Philharmonic is not ababndoning the most popular works of the orchestral repertoire .
You will be able to hear some of the Philharmonic's concert over the internet and the radio , as well as see them on PBS boradcasts . Check out the orchestra's website, newyorkphilharmonic.org for more information .
The February issue of Opera News has the eminent Italian conductor Riccardo Muti on the cover, and editor in chief F. Paul Driscoll interviews the fiery and uncompromising conductor , who will conduct the Met's first production of Verdi's Atilla at the Met next week .( I profiled the opera in a recent post here.)
Writer Patrick Dillon has an interesting article on the historical background of the opera , and the Russian (actually ethnic Tatar ) bass Ildar Abrdrazakov , who sings the juicy role of the infamous "scourge of God", is interviewed by Matthew Gurewitsch , who frequently writes about classical music for the New York Times .
Renowned New Zealand -born soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, now at the end of her long and distinguished career , talks about teaching gifted young vocal students who may be tomorrow's top opera singers , and Driscoll has an appreciation of the great Swedish soprano Eliseabeth Soderstrom , who passed this past November at the age of 82 .
Writer Barry Singer has an interesting article on the operas of two American composers, Samuel Barber , who would have turned 100 this year , and the African-American composer William Grant Still , (1895 -1968 ), whose music has been receiving increased attention after many years of neglect . Still was one of the first African-American classical composers to make a reputation in the field .
As usual during the Saturday radio boradcast season , this months broadcast operas are profiled , with lists of cast , conductors etc and brief profiles of them and their current activities .
Opera news critics have reviews of the New York City Opera's new production of Don Giovanni and the revival of Hugo Weisgall's Biblical opera Esther , the Met's acclaimed new production of Janacek's From The House Of The Dead , and various opera productions in London and Berlin .
The CD reviews include recordings of the recently premeiered opera L'Amour Du Loin "(love fram afar) by the Finnish composer Kaaia Saariaho , and the operetta Tom Jones , based on the famous novel by Henry Fielding by the now obscure English composer Edward German , albums of assorted opera arias by sopranos Diana Damrau , Sandine Piau and Viveca Genaux and Verdi's great requiem by conductor Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera in London .
There are also reviews of live opera performances on DVD including Rossini's La Cenerentola(Cinderella) from Barcelona , Puccini's rarely performed early opera Edgar from Turin, Italy , and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin from the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow .
Even if you're an opera newbie , Opera News is always great reading ! Check their website operanews.com .
The Sunday New York Times arts and leisure section has another very interesting and thought-provoking article by its chief music critic Anthony Tommasini . In it he discusses the many divergent musical styles of different 20 th and 21st century composers , and how he has come to reject dogmatic insistence on one right compositional style .
The history of classical music in the 20th century has in many ways been a war between conflicting schools of compositional style ; for example, the doctrinaire serialists who followed in the footsteps of Arnold Schoenberg and the so-called second Viennese school which he started , and those composers who never abandoned tonality and melody .
Tommasini recalls how when he was a graduate music student at Yale in the 60s, how some of his professors turned up their noses at contemporary composers who did not follow avandt-garde techniques and strove to write music which was not puzzling to audiences . And composer/conductor Pierre Boulez declared many years ago that any composer who was not a doctrinaire serialist was "useless". Useless to whom ? Certainly not audiences .
Tommasini reveals how he is open both to the music of diificult composers such as Elliott Carter , Charles Wuorinen and Poulez , and more conservative ones such as Samuel Barber etc, and many different living composers . Rightly , he is willing to judge each work on its individual merits , not by whether it fits into some procrustean bed .
But there are also listeners and critics who go too far in the opposite direction and reject any work which is much more harmonically and rhythmically complex than Brahms, and who are convinced that only tonality is valid , and that Schoenberg and his followers "ruined" music in the 20th century . They are equally wrong .
So if you're realitively new to classical music , listen to a wide variety of works from the 20th century , and make up your own mind . Don't reject the avant-garde merely for being modern , and don't reject conservative composers merely for being more traditional . Judge each work on its individual merits . The world of classical music is big enough for many divergent styles .
You may have heard some famous concertos for instruments such as piano, violin, cello or other instruments and orchestra by such great composers as Mozart , Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky and others . It's traditional near the end of the first movement for the orchestra to come to a halt , and then, the soloist plays alone for a while in a manner which sounds sort of improvised .
Then , the orchestra resumes playing and the movement soon comes to a close . Why is this done ? It's a tradition which began in the 18th century with composers such as Mozart and his contemporaries . This part of a concerto is called a Cadenza , which is Italian for cadence . Cadenza ultimately comes from the Latin verb cadere, which means to fall .
In music theory , a cadence is where the music seems to come to a close . A cadenza is often a chance for the soloist to show off his or her virtuosity . In the 18th century , a soloist was usually expected to improvise the cadenza on the spot . And the soloist was often the composer himself (women composers rarely got a chance to be heard in the past ).
Mozart, who was one of the greatest pianists of his day , wrote no fewer than 27 concertos for his instrument ; one is for two pianos and one for three . In the last decade of his life, where he had escaped working as more or less a hack for the church and the aristocracy and was living as a fee lance composer and pianist in Vienna , Mozart put on many concerts of his music and hired he orchestra .
When he played his piano concertos , he would improvise the cadenzas . Later, other composers such as Beethoven wrote cadenzas for some of them . In the 19th century , Johannes Brahms wrote his famous violin concerto for his close friend Joseph Joachim, perhaps the greatest violinist of his day .
Joachim gave Brahms advice on writing for the violin and wrote the first movement cadenza, which is still played and has been standard for well over a century . Beethoven wrote cadenzas for his five piano concertos and was a great pianist himself until his tragic deafness forced him to give up playing in public , and these are also still used, but other pianists have used their own .
In the 20th century , the tradition of soloists improvising cadenzas had died out altogether , but there is a growing trend to revive this tradition . Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson are specialists in performing on old pianos and scholars as well . They have performed and recorded Mozart's piano concertos and have improvised cadenzas of their own .
There is even an example of a modern composer writing an alternate cadenza for Beethoven's great violin concerto , which was premiered a little over 200 years ago in Vienna . The late Alfred Schnittke (1934 -1998 ) , an modernist who combined a variety of compositional techniques from different centuries to create a strange eclectic collage style , wrote a bizarre cadenza for this beloved staple of the repertoire which used atonality and wild dissonance in a deliberately anachronistic manner !
He wrote this weird cadenza for the great Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer (1947-) , who recorded it for Philips records in London back in the 1980s . Check arkivmusic.com to se if it's still available; it may not be. It's absolutely startling . Kremer has also long been a champion of contemporary music for the violin .
If you listen to different recordings of concertos you can hear a wide variety of different cadenzas for them . AS they say , variety is the spice of life !
There's a highly interesting article in this past Sunday's Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times by one of its music critics , Allan Kozinn . He was inspired by recent concerts in Carnegie hall by the great Vienna Philharmonic under two of today's leading conductors ; composer/ conductor Pierre Boulez, and pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim , featuring works by the founder of atonality Arnold Schoenberg , and one of his best known pupils and followers , Anton WEbern, whose music I discussed in my last post .
Kozinn discusses how different the interpretations of both conductos were of Schoenberg's music ; yet he points out that neither conductor had a monopoly on the one "right" way to perform the music . According to Kozinn , Boulez emphasized "delicacy and transparency " (transparency in the sense that one could hear all the different things going on in the orchestra clearly, a Boulez trademark), while Barenboim's interpretations featured "raw power and heft".
The interpretation of music is something which has caused an enormous amount of debate for centuries, among composers, scholars, critics and music lovers in general . They argue endlessly over whether a particular musician was "faithful to the composer's intentions". Who is right? Did this or that conductor, pianist or other instrumentalist or singer faithfully observe what was written in the score, or did the performers take unwaranted liberties and distort the music, making a travesty of it ?
It's all highly subjective. One musician's interpretive freedom and license is considered egotistical distortion and self-indulgence by one critic or fan, and another performer's scrupulous observance of the score's written instructions is considered pedantic literalism and lack of imagination by the same listeners, or vice-versa.
The trouble is that the score cannot tell us everything about how to interpret any given work; performers must use their discretion . The score gives us the notes, and many other guidelines on how to play the music. Some composers provide more information than others depending on the time period in which the music was written.
In general, the earlier a work, the fewer indications there are in a score. Other scores, particularly in 20th century and late 19th century works, contain a great deal of information , some of them written instructions which are highly specific. But performers have often been expected to personalize and customize the music according to their own discretion by composers . And it's always possible to go overboard and take too many liberties . But in many cases, composers have wanted the performers to do more than "just play the notes". That isn't enough.
You don't expect an actor in a Shakespeare play to stand there and speak the lines in a deadpan manner ; that would be ridiculous . There are an infinite number of ways an actor can inflect the lines and add gestures and facial expressions . Gielgud's Hamlet was vastly different from Olivier's . It's very similar in classical music .
For example; there's the thorny question of what is called Rubato, or "robbing" the tempo to slow down or speed up the music , even though it's not written in the score . In some cases, a composer will specifically indicate that the music is to slow down or speed up ; but most do not want the performer to play the music in a metronomic fashion ; they expect the performers to use some rubato .
But while rigidity of tempo is bad, it's equally bad to exaggerate the rubato and slow down and speed up constantly in an arbitrary and chaotic manner . The best performances find a happy medium between these two extremes .
But unfortunately, composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms etc have been dead for a very long time . We will never know for certain what they would have liked or disliked in today's performances and recordings of their music . However, we are fortunate to have recordings of the music of some great composers conducting or playing their music , such as Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland , Leonard Bernstein , Paul Hindemith , Richard Strauss and Sir Edward Elgar .
But these and other composers have been known to perform their music in a different manner on different occaisions , and to use different tempi . Tempo, are rate of speed is another can of worms in the discussion of music . Composers supply written instructions such as the Italian words Allegro, Adagio, Presto, Andante , etc to indicate slow rates of speed or fast ones, and speeds inbetween . The metronome was invented in the early 19th century so that composers could indicate specific rates of speed in mathematical proportions, so that performers could avoid playing the music either too fast or too slow and displease the composer .
But the problem is that composers have been known to disregard their metronome markings years after they wrote them in the score while playing the piano or conducting . They just felt like different tempi at the time . So performers and critics must be wary about exact observance of the metronome markings .
Some conductors have been known for tending to take unusully slow tempi , and others for unusually fast ones . Which are right ? There are no easy answers to this question .
And there are also recordings by certain conductors and other musicians who were trusted interpreters of their music and who are known to have pleased the composers .
But even the composers acknowkedge that their recordings are not the only way to do the music . The composer's intentions are not written in stone .
Classical music blogger Greg Sandow recently attended a HD broadcast of Verdi's opera Simon Boccanegra by the Metropolitan Opera at a movie theater , and in his latest blog post at artsjournal.com , he is dismayed by the fact that almost every one in the theater audience seemed to be 60 or over . At least the theater was almost full , which is an encouraging sign !
Like many who love classical music , and are involved with it as composers, critics , performers or administrators , he is worried that eventually , the audience for classical music in America may die out altogether . The situation is rather different in Europe and Asia. But is this a genuine risk today , and if so, why is the audience getting older ? Is it the fault of our orchestras and opera companies , or the result of lack of education about classical music in our schools , or the fault of classical music in general ?
There are no easy answers to these questions . But one idea which must be rejected is that our orchestras and opera companies, and other classical groups have failed to make concert and operagoing worthwhile . They offer a quality product , and make it possible for us to listen to a vast amount of wonderful classical music going back from centuries ago to the present day .
Another possible reason for the problem is expensive tickets . Depending on where you sit, you can have to pay up to $250 dollars for a ticket to the Metropolitan opera, although there are much less expensive ones . But expensive tickets can be a discouragement no matter what your age, and tickets to Broadway shows aren't exactly cheap, either .
Is it the supposed "stuffiness" of classical concerts, where audiemces are expected to remain silent until it's time to applaud ? No one complains about silence in movie theaters; in fact, if some one makes a lot a noise there ,people will call for an usher .
And if more public schools offered classes which would introduce kids to classical music, would there be more younger people at concerts ? Who knows ?
I remember the Summer performances by the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera at a park on Long Island near where I used to live . They were free ! But unfortunately budget cuts in Nassau county put an end to these performances in the park some years ago, although the Met and Philharmonic still give free Summer performances at various parks in the five New York boroughs and elsewhere .
Eisenhower park on Long Island was always full for these free performances, and people of all ages came . Parents brought their children , and there were plenty of teenagers and young adults who appladed and cheered as loudly as any one else.
But at least in opera in America, there is a definite presence of younger people at performances today all over the US. More and more young people have been discovering the joys of opera .
But one thing is certain ; classical music will survive and flourish in America in the future no matter what problems it faces . You can't keep a great art form down .
At a recent New York Philharmonic concert in Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center , the orchestra's new music director Alan Gilbert addressed the audience before he conducted a performance of a highly esoteric work by the Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883 -1945 ), who was a student of Arnold Schoenberg , the father of atonality .
This happens sometimes at concerts , when a conductor has programmed something out of the ordinary which might be baffling to audiences , and not every one agrees on whether this is a good idea . After all, every professional orchestra provides program notes for the audience written by an expert on classical music , often a distinguished musicologist , to provide them with background information on whatever is being performed .
And shouldn't the conductor and orchestra just allow the music to speak for itself ? But I suppose it can't hurt for the conductor to provide the audience with an introduction to the music , and try to put them at ease before listening to something which might be a real challenge to listen to .
The work in question is called "Six Pieces For Orchestra ". Like all of Webern's mature works, it's short but highly complex , and spikily atonal . Not exactly easy listening . Webern had enormous influence on avant-garde European music and is a very important composer . Interestingly , Gilbert also conducted an early, uncharacteristically romantic and melodious work by Webern called "Im Sommerwind" (In the summer wind ) , which is quite pleasant to hear , for comparison . It's no more atonal than Brahms .
I once played a performance of Six pieces with an orchestra , and got a chance to get familiar with it over the course of several rehearsals , and I came to like it very much , and no longer have any problem listening to it . Which illustrates one of my maxims about classical music - it's not familiarity which breeds contempt, but unfamiliarity !
But back in the 1950s , when the New York Philharmonic played this work under its then music director , the eminent Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896 -1960) , it wasn't only the audience which found the work problematical , but the members of the orchestra ! They were openly rebellious during the rehearsals , and hating having to play the work .
I wonder if Mitropoulos had talked to the audience about the work , or perhaps even the orchestra during reharsals , if things might have turned out differently . If you'd like to hear Webern's challenging and enigmatic music , there are some excellent recordings of it by such leading exponents of atonal music as Pierre Boulez, Robert Craft and Christoph von Dohnanyi, all conductors with great expertise in this kind of music . If you give the music repeated hearings , it will cease being so puzzling after a while, and you may actually enjoy it !
The great German composer Robert Schumann was born 200 years ago this year and died in tragic circumstances in 1856 . He is one of the most important composers of the 19th century , and is the very embodiment of German romanticism .
He was born in Zwickau , Saxony , in what used to be called East Germany before reunification , the son of a bookseller and publisher , which explains his great interest in literature as well as music and explains its infuence on his compositions. Schumann hoped to become a great pianist and studied with the noted piano pedagogue Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara he married .
But his ambitions to become a pianist were thwarted by a finger injury caused by a mechanical device which he used in an attempt to strengthen his keyboard technique , and he then concentrated on composing . His wife Clara was one of the most famous pianists of the 19th century and was an ardent champion of her husband's piano works . She survived him for 40 years and the couple had no fewer than eight children . She even composed music on her own , some of which has been recorded .
Schumann's later years were clouded by mental illness which may have been caused by syphillis , and he had to be confined to a mental institution toward the end . His mental instability caused him to attempt suicide by jumping into the Rhine at one time . But prior to his tragic later years , he poured out a substantial number of beatifully melodious and highly imaginitive works in many forms ; piano pieces , songs , four symphonies , a concerto for piano written for his wife , oratorios , assorted works for chamber ensembles and even one opera which has occaisionally been revived over the years .
Some of his most important piano works are Kinderszenen(scenes from childhood), Kreisleriana , inspired by the German poet and musician E.T.A. Hoffmann , Carneval, a depiction of the Carneval season , Papillons(French for butterflies), and the Fantasia in C . All have extra-musical associations based on literature .
There are many beautiful songs for voice and piano with poetry by such great German poets as Goethe and Joseph Eichendorff , including the song cycles Dichterliebe (poet's love) and Frauenliebe Und Leben (woman's love and life ), which is about a young woman who gets married , bears a child and is eventually widowed , and assorted other songs , including the famous "Two Grenadiers", about two soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars and find their homeland devastated .
The famous piano concerto has been in the repertoire of almost every great pianist for over 150 years , and there are two other concertos, one for violin and one for cello . The first of Schumann's four symphonies is known as the "Spring Symphony " , and was inspired by a poem about that season, and the third is known as the "Rhenish", having been inspired by his time living in Cologne in the Rhineland . The slow movement is supposed to represent a solemn ceremony at Cologne's famous cathedral , which dates from medieval times .
Although his music is strongly influenced by great composers who proceeded him such as Bach and Beethoven , Schumann brought a new kind as fantasy and emotionalism into music and broke from the tendency of past composers to keep music purely abstract and reliant on pre-existing formal tendencies .
There is a highly personal, subjective and quirky quality in Schumann's music which you should find highly appealing . Many great pianists , singers, conductors and other musicians have recorded Schumann's music , including pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Wilhelm Kempff , Marthat Argerich , Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu for example to name only a handful , and the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau ,now retired , and ther great singers such as Christa Ludwig and Lotte Lehmann have made superlative recordings of the songs .
Great conductors who have recorded the symphonies include Wilhelm Furtwangler, George Szell, Leonard Bernstein , Daniel Barenboim , Rafael Kubelik , James Levine , to name only some. A good place to look for these and other Schumann recordings is arkivmusic.com.
If Classical music is something completely new to you , and you don't know Beethoven from a baseball , where do you start ? Good question . I suppose the best way is simply to start listening to recordings of the most famous works by the most famous composers , and then go on to listen to more and more classical works , and just get accustomed to listening to this kind of music .
Also , get a really good book for Classical newbies such as Classical Music 101 by Fred Plotkin , which you can easily get at Amazon.com or other similar websites . Or "What To Listen For In Music " by the great American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) ,also easily available on the internet . This gives you technical information about classical music in a wonderfully clear and down to earth manner .
Listening to classical music is a completely different experience from the kind of music you know. it's not just meant to be for casual listening , and it tends to be much more complex than popular music . Also, if you're accustomed to Rock music or pop , you'll be listening to a lot of music which is purely instrumental , such as orchestral and chamber music , although vocal music is a very important part of classical .
And there are many degrees of complexity in it . Mozart and Haydn from the 18th century are much less complex than much music from the 20th century or even the 19th . So it might be a goood idea to start with music from the 18th century by composers such as Bach , Handel, Vivaldi , Haydn and Mozart , and then proceed to Beethoven and later composers .
For example , you might start with Handel's "Water Music ", the stately suite of music written by this German-born, London based composer who lived from 1685 to 1759 . It's called water music , because the composer wrote ceremonial music for a trip on a Royal barge for the English monarch .
Then you might listen to Handel's famous Oratoirio "Messiah", a great work for orchestra, chorus and vocal soloists taken from the Bible dealing with the birth and crucifiction of Christ . You might then try the six "Brandenburg Concertos " of Handel's great contemporary Bach , who wrote these wonderfully melodious and vivacious instrumental works for a German aristocrat .
Next try Bach's famous "Goldberg Variations", which can be played on either harpsichord or piano , and the four suites for orchestra . For Vivaldi , try the famous and ubiquitous "Four Seasons", four concertos for violin and string orchestra , each depicting a different season, and any of his many concertos for violin , cello and other instruments .
Try Mozart's symphonies 39, 40 and 41 , and some of his many piano concertos , such as nos 20-27 , and his five violin concertos . For Joseph Haydn , some of his best known symphonies , such as nos 88, 94 , and 104 . Or Mozart's four horn concertos .
Then you might go on to Beethoven's nine symphonies , his five piano concertos, his one for violin , and some of hisd 32 sonatas for piano . Then symphonies 5,8 and 9 by Franz Schubert , the four of Robert Schumann , nos 3 and 4 by Felix Mendelssohn , the four of Johannes Brahms , nos 7,8 and 9 of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak , the one symphony by Belgian composer Cesar Franck , no 3 by Frenchman Camille Saint-Saens, and nos 4,5 and 6 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky .
Now you're into the 19th century . For more piano concertos , try those by Schumann , Norwegian Edvard Grieg , Tchaikovsky , Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninov , a Russian who lived from 1873 - 1943 . For violin concertos , the ones by Mendelssohn , Brahms, Tchaikovsky , and Beethoven .
For miscellaneous orchestral works , such as tone poems , which tell a story or describe things in nature etc , try Romeo &Juliet by Tchaikovsky , the middle eastern flavored suite Scheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky -Korsakov , The Planets by English composer Gustav Holst , La Mer(The Sea) by Frenchman Claude Debussy , and by Ravel, another French composer , Bolero , Daphis and Chloe suite no 2 , La Valse , and Rhapsodie Espagnole .
The Moldau , by 19th century Czech composer Bedrich Smetana , describes the course of a river which runs through what is now called the Czech republic ; by German composer Richard Strauss (1964-1949 ), the tone poems Till Eulenspiegel , Don Juan , Also Sprach Zarathustra (made famous by Kubrick's classical sci-fi film 2001 ), Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben (A hero's life). Or by his great Finnish contemporary Jean Sibelius : Finlandia , En Saga, The Swan of Tuonela, and Tapiola .
These are just some basic famous works to try . There's so much to explore by these and other great composers . And when you start , listen carefully . Concentrate on the music . And if you don't seem to connect with a piece at first, give it repeated hearings , and it should start to make more sense to you . As I said , classical music is not for casual listening . But if you take the time and effort to get accustomed to it , classical music will provide you with a lifetime of pleasure and excitement .
Here are some interesting stories about the latest developments in the world of classical music . As the old Chinese saying (or possibly curse ) goes, may you live in interesting times !
Italian conductor Fabio Luisi has just resigned from his prestigious position as music director of the legendary Saxon State Opera in Dresden and conductor of the world's oldest orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden, which functions both as the city's opera and concert orchestra .
Luisi was angered by the fact that a special New Year's eve concert by his orchestra led by German conductor Christian Thielemann, who is set to take over the same position in 2112 was scheduled by the orchestra's management without his consultation .
Formidable American piano virtuoso Earl Wild has died at the age of 94 . Wild was a pianist of phenomenal technique and panache , and also a composer . He was a specialist in the flamboyant piano works of the 19th and early 20th century and leaves numerous acclaimed recordings .
The Philadelphia Orchestra , one of the world's most prestigious orchestras , is facing such severe financial difficulties that it may declare bankruptcy soon . If so , it will be the first of America's so-called "Big Five " orchestras, which also include the New York Philharmonic , Boston and Chicago symphonies and the Cleveland Orchestra , to do so . Other US orchestras have been forced to do this , most recently the Honolulu Symphony . Not a good trend .
The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and its music director Michael Tilson Thomas have won the Grammy award for the best classical recording of the year for their performance of Mahler's monumental 8th symphony , for huge orchestra , 8 vocal soloists chorus and children's chorus . This is part of the orchestra's cycle of recordings of all 9 Mahler symphonies and is on the orchestra's own record label , which releases some of its live performances on CD .
The rising Italian conductor Alberto Veronesi will succeed Eve Queler as music director of the Opera Orchestra Of New York , founded nearly 40 years ago by Ms. Queler as a means to give concert performances of rarely heard but interesting operas a chance to be heard and using many acclaimed opera singers and rising vocal talents . Veronesi is active primarily in Italy and has conducted recordings of such rarely perfomed Italian operas as Puccini's early Edgar and Pietro Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz for Deutsche Grammaphon records .
So it's a mixture of good and bad in the complex and multi-faceted world of classical music . But don't believe any one who says things are dull and humdrum there !
The next season of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center will feature a diverse and interesting collection of operas ranging from the 18th century to the present day , and as usual , the world's foremost singers, conductors , opera directors and stage designers will be there .
There are several new productions which appear like something worth looking forward to , and some notable debuts by eminent conductors . Opening night in late September this year will be Wagner's sweeping mythical epic Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold) , which inaugurates the Met's new Ring , and will continue later in the season with the second of the Ring operas Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) .
The brilliantly innovative Canadian director Robert Lepage is responsible for the new Ring, and this is supposed to feature bold new computer technology in the sets and staging . This production replaces the controversial previous Met Ring , which was damned by some critics for being too old-fashioned but beloved of audiences for its freedom from the Eurotrash gimmickry which has been so common in European Wagner productions .
Master Wagnerian James levine, the Met's veteran and beloved music director ,will conduct , and some of today's leading Wagner singers will be in the casts .
Gioacchino Rossini's zany comic opera "Le Comte Ory "(Count Ory ) will have its first Met staging , and Verdi's sombre and powerful "Don Carlo" will have a new production. This is based on 16th century Spanish history and deals with the conflict between prince Carlos of Spain and his imperious father King Philip of Spain , and the conflict between the tyranny of the Spanish inquisition and freedom fighters in occupied Flanders .
The Met's first new production of Modest Mussorgsky's epic "Boris Godunov" in nearly 40 years will feature the great German bass Rene Pape (Pah-peh) as the tormented Russian Tsar Boris , and Valery Gergiev, incomparable master of Russian music , will conduct .
John Adams, one of America's foremeost composers , will conduct the Met's new production of his strikingly original opera "Nixon In China" , which is about Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972. Other characters in the opera are believe it or not, Henry Kissinger, Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai ! The opera had its world premiere at the Houston Opera in 1987, and has gone on to become one of the most acclaimed operas of our time .
The other operas are such staples of the repertoire at Puccini's La Boheme,Tosca , Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor, Bizet's Carmen, a new production this season , Verdi's Rigoletto, Il Trovatore , Gluck's Orfeo&Euridice , Donizetti's Don Pasquale , a return of this season's new Tales Of Hoffmann , Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and The Magic Flute , and Gounod's Romeo& Juliette .
Other operas include Alban Berg's Wozzeck , Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, Debussy's Pelleas &Melisande , Puccini's La Fanciulla Del West , Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride , Rossini's Armida (new this season) , Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (also done this season), and the final opera of Richard Strauss , Caprioccio .
The distinguished English conductor Sir Simon Rattle, currently head of the Berlin Philharmonic , makes his Met debut with Debussy's Pelleas , and baroque specialist William Christie , an American conductor and harpsichordist based in Paris , makes his debut with Cosi Fan Tutte .
Among the starry names in the casts are such outstanding singers as Renee Fleming , Karita Mattila, Deborah Voigt , Natalie Dessay , Diana Damrau , the indestructable Placido Domingo , now almost 70 and still going strong , Olga Borodina, Rene Pape, Dolora Zajick , Stephanie Blythe , Daniele De Niese , Angela Gheorghiu , Joyce DiDonato , Anna Netrebko, Sondra Radvanovsky , Jonas Kaufmann, Matthias Goerne , Elena Garanca , Patricia Racette , Nathan Gunn , David Daniels, Susan Graham , Juan Diego Florez, and Ildar Abdrazakov , to name only some . It's a who's who of opera today . Keep in touch with the Met's website metopera.org, for further information shortly .
And even if you can't make it to New York , you can attend the HD broadcasts in movie theaters around the country , listen to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts and see Met performances on the internet .
The next new production at the Metropolitan Opera this season is Giuseppe Verdi's 1846 blood-and -thunder opera Attila (AT- tila) , which premieres on February 23 . This is an exciting if not too historically accurate portrayal of the brutal 5th century conqueror who was known throughout Europe as the "Scourge of God . "
This is the ninth of Verdi's 26 operas , and had been long neglected until about only 30 or so years ago , when there was renerwed interest in the great Italians early operas in Europe and America , and there have been a fair number of productions in recent years . This is the Met's first production , but the neighboring New York City Opera revived it back in the 1980s .
The opera is set in the area around Venice in the 5th century , at the very end of the Roman empire , when the marauding Huns sacked Italy . Attila is impressed by the bravery of a young Roman patrician woman named Odabella , who is the daughter of a prominent patrician he has just killed . She is loved by a young noble named Foresto , and the two hope to assasinate Attila as soon as possible .
But the wily Roman politician Aetius (Ezio in the opera) hopes to cut a deal with the brutal Hun by which he will spare Italy . In an aria , he tells Attila that "he may have the world, but leave Italy to me . " Aetius was a real historical figure who actually dealt with Attila . At the end of the opera , Odabella is about to marry Attila , but she stabs him to death , and the Romans rejoice !
That's not what really happened ; according to history , Attila died on his wedding night to some forgotten woman of a nose bleed ! But no matter; Verdi's music is truly stiirring and melodious . In the opera , Attila may be a brutal conqueror , but he is a noble and honorable man none the less .
The eminent Italian conductor Riccardo Muti makes his long awaited Met debut with this production . He has made something of a specialty of this opera , and you should definitely get the DVD of the La Scala Milan production of Attila which dates from almost 20 years ago , with the formidable American bass Samuel Ramey in the title role . He's near the end of his great career now and was perhaps the foremost exponent of the role in our time, and you might also check out the EMI recording of the opera they made at this time if it's still available .
The Russian bass Ildar Abrazakov is Attila . Interestingly , since he is an ethnic Tatar , he may actually be of related ethnic stock to Attila and the Huns !
The exciting Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana is Odabella , and tenor Ramon Vargas is her betrothed Foresto . Baritone Carlos Alvarez sings Ezio . Unfortunately , this production is not one of the Met;s HD movie broadcasts , so do look for the DVD .