The more flamboyant of Elgar’s two finished symphonies, the Second characteristically contrasts opening swagger with a sense of brooding apprehension and reflection, and includes a nightmarish whirlwind for a scherzo.
Elgar’s final masterpiece, written in the aftermath of the First World War and shortly before the death of his wife Alice, is noble and restrained yet unmistakably expresses grief for an irretrievably lost era.
Recommended recording: Jacqueline du Pré; LSO/John Barbirolli EMI 562 8862
classical-music.com | Fri, 15 Mar 2019 12:58:36 +0000
Faust et Hélène (1913)
Based on a poem by Eugène Adenis – itself based on Goethe’s Faust – Boulanger crafted a thirty-minute cantata for choir and orchestra, featuring solo parts for mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone. The work won her the 1913 Prix de Rome, the first time the prize had been awarded to a woman composer. She is said to have written it in just four weeks.
Du fond de l’abîme (1914-17)
This ambitious work, based on Psalm 130, was on Boulanger’s writing desk for a long while, largely thanks to the outbreak of war. During the war years, the composer volunteered for the Franco-American Committee; she also became quite ill during this period. The work is arranged for contralto, tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra.
Another work which Boulanger had to find time to return to during the war years was her take on a Buddhist prayer (indeed ‘a daily prayer for the whole universe’). An intensely spiritual work, it remains one of the composer’s greatest accomplishments and sits in quite stark contrast to the more nihilistic Du fond de l’abîme of the same period.
La princesse Maleine (1916-18)
The writer Maurice Maeterlinck was no stranger to his works being taken on by composers; the most famous example might be Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Maeterlinck’s La princesse Maleine, however, was one piece he was quite protective of. The only composer he allowed to take it on was Lili Boulanger. It’s said she identified greatly with Maleine, but progress on the five-act opera was slow and she struggled to complete the work. Only fragments of it remain, which leads most scholars to believe it went unfinished.
D’un soir triste / D’un matin de printemps (1917-18)
This two-part work was completed just a couple of months before her death in 1918, the first half being the moving portrait D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening). Boulanger originally arranged the piece for cello and piano. The second half, D’un matin de printemps (Of a spring morning), is the sprightlier of the two works that make up this musical diptych, and was originally arranged for flute/violin and piano. Both halves were also arranged for piano trio and orchestra.
Pie Jesu (1918)
Her final work, the Pie Jesu is a deeply emotional and personal work that is in many ways her own Requiem. So unwell was she while working on the music, she actually finished it on her deathbed, dictating what was required to her sister. Nadia Boulanger is said to have been so distraught at Lili’s death, she turned her back on her own composing and decided to focus on teaching instead.
classical-music.com | Fri, 15 Mar 2019 11:35:20 +0000
At a meeting of the senate in the year 44 BC, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death - an event that would eventually lead to the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. This assassination, as any Shakespeare enthusiast will know, took place on the Ides of March - that's the 15th on today's calendar.
In the centuries since his untimely demise, Julius Caesar – and a host of other Roman leaders and emperors – have featured in great operatic works by the likes of Mozart and Handel among many others. As historical subject matter for opera goes, these Roman figures lives provided music inspiration from the 17th century onwards.
Here, then, are six of the best operas with Roman leaders at the centre of their plots:
1. Claudio Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea)
The first known opera to be based on a factual historical subject (as opposed to mythology), Monteverdi’s masterpiece tells the story of Poppaea, who was able to manipulate her position as the mistress of Nero (emperor, 54-68) to be crowned empress. If anything, Monteverdi tones history down a little – while Poppaea comes across as a nasty piece of work in the opera, by all accounts she was far worse in real life (as was, of course, Nero himself). This opera in three acts was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice between 1642-43. Though Monteverdi is noted as the composer for the work, it is a matter of dispute as to whether or not all of the music was written by him.
2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus)
Though his reign was short lived, Titus (emperor, 79-81) was the perfect subject for this 1791 opera commissioned for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II, King of Bohemia. This two-act opera seria was Mozart’s first operatic work to be performed in England and, though it tells the story of Emperor Titus, he is the only historical character in the work. The plot dwells on the noble qualities of the Roman emperor as he spares the lives of those who try to assassinate him. The real Titus did, in fact, avoid being bumped off, dying instead of natural causes - quite a rarity in early Roman imperial days.
3. George Frideric Handel: Giulio Cesarein Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt)
Giuiio Cesare (premiered 1724) is undeniably one of the longest and most elaborate of Handel’s operas and its rich historical subject matter has made it the most revived of his stage works. The plot centres around the arrival of Julius Caesar (dictator, 49-44BC) in Egypt following the defeat of Pompey at Pharsalia in Greece. On learning of the assassination of Pompey by Ptolemy, King of Egypt, Caesar is disgusted and, assisted by Pompey’s family and Cleopatra, seeks revenge. Though there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, eventually good overcomes evil and the odious Ptolemy meets his come-uppance. Much of the opera, though, is really about the growing infatuation of its title character with the ultra-seductive Cleopatra.
Nerone was premiered in 1924 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. Boito (1842-1918) spent approximately 50 years working on the opera, which was both his second and his final operatic work – alas, he died before it was completed and the music had to be completed by several other composers. The plot depicts Ancient Rome during the rule of Nero and highlights the difference in lifestyle between the Romans (debauched) and the Christians (noble) and ends with the Great Fire of Rome.
Premiered in 2006, this four-act opera delves into the life of Caligula (emperor, 37-41) and his tyrannous and sadistic reign following the death of his sister, Drusilla. Glanert based his work on a drama by French writer, Albert Camus, and his frantic orchestration is reflective of the mental conditions of Caligula during his rule. The opera combines ideas of mass murder, incest and rape as a way of expressing the madness of the final years of an emperor who, early in his reign, had actually been remarkably liberal and benign as a ruler.
6. Antonio Vivaldi: Ottone in Villa (Otho in the Country)
Ottone (Otho, emperor, 69) features as a protagonist in Vivaldi's 18th-century opera, though his role is more as a lover than a heroic Roman leader. Vivaldi’s first opera, it revolves around the character of Cleonilla, mistress of Ottone. The story is pastoral, following the different romantic excursions of the emperor’s mistress as she fawns for the attention of Caio and Ostillo. It turns out that Ostillo is a woman and lover to Caio and the opera concludes with their marriage. The real-life Otho, meanwhile, did not enjoy a happy time as emperor, ruling for just three months during which he faced a major rebellion and then committing suicide.
classical-music.com | Thu, 14 Mar 2019 07:00:00 +0000
JS Bach is regarded as the greatest German Baroque composer today, but back at the start of the 18th century, it was Telemann who ruled the roost.
1.Telemann was so revered in his day that he was the favourite for the Thomaskirche job back in 1722. Fortunately for JS Bach, Telemann turned the post down. In fact, Bach was something like fourth choice for the post of Thomaskantor, or music director.
2. Bach and Telemann may have been competitors, but they were also linked personally. Telemann was CPE Bach (JS’s second surviving child) godfather, although it should be noted that that did not mean that that JS Bach and Telemann were friends. It was CPE Bach who took over as the director of music of Hamburg’s five principal churches when Telemann died in 1767.
3. He was one of music’s most prolific composers, writing in excess of 3,000 works, or almost three times as many as Bach and five times as many as Mozart. His stylistic range is incredible too, able to write equally proficiently in the French, Italian and German styles.
4. Telemann had an interesting love life. His second wife regularly cheated on him and built up massive debts before leaving him in the lurch. The composer was eventually bailed out by his friends.
5. Somehow, Telemann also found time for gardening, at which he excelled. ‘I am insatiable where hyacinths and tulips are concerned, greedy for ranunculi, and especially for anemones,’ he wrote once in a letter. He spent a good deal of time in his Hamburg garden and exchanged bulbs and plants with renowned botanists across Europe.
classical-music.com | Wed, 13 Mar 2019 11:54:13 +0000
Sea shanties have long been an important part of British musical and maritime culture, and even if that sefaring heyday is now over, groups around the country still preserve the tradition, albeit safe on dry land.
The word shanty is said to have derived from the French verb ‘chanter’, meaning ‘to sing'. Usually sung by a shanty-man and his crew, shanties often involve call-and-response phrases with strong rhythms to keep sailors in time and lighten the load of their work.
With the release of Fisherman’s Friends this month – the film based on the real-life shanty crew from Port Isaac in Cornwall – we’ve chosen some of the best sea shanties to get your teeth into. Have a listen, pop down to Cornwall, find the nearest pub, grab a pint and you’ll be able to join in with aplomb.
‘We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors’. Ah, the shy retiring Brits. This tune describes a voyage from Spain to England, with sailors trying to gauge how far they are from home. A difficult task, thanks to the awkward location of landmarks on the way – and perhaps a tot or two of rum. Spanish Ladies also forms a section of Henry Woods’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, so you will probably find this one familiar if you ever tune into the Last Night of the Proms. You'll also have heard it if you're a Jaws fan, as Quint sings it throughout the film.
Any cartoon lovers will already be well acquainted with this shanty: it forms the basis of the theme for SpongeBob SquarePants and also appears in the Popeye cartoons. As opposed to most of the other tunes featured in this list, this shanty doesn’t entirely revolve around raucousness, drinking and debauchery.
There’s a disagreement among historians about whether Blow the Man Down is to do with the physical fighting that took place on ships or the savage weather conditions to which sailors were exposed. Often, the force of a big wind at sea could knock all the men to the decks.
Another shanty for a long journey. This one was sung on boats sailing between the ports of England and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Australia. Its relentless refrain ‘Heave away, haul away’ was used to encourage crews hauling heavy objects to and fro.
The verses are flexible and have evolved over time, but the story of the shanty has remained the same. It is an ode to the girls the sailors are leaving back home, while they also drink to the women they will meet on their travels. It’s possible that this shanty dates from the 19th century during the Australian gold rush, when trade between England and Australia was at an all-time high.
Sloop John B is a Bahamian shanty, and was well-known and loved across the seas in the 19th century. Today, you will probably recognise its ‘I want to Go Home’ refrain from The Beach Boys’ adaptation on the album Pet Sounds. Although their recording is commendable, it’s not quite got the authenticity of a bunch of bearded fellas belting it at the top of their lungs with pints in hand.
'Nelson’s Blood' became a term for rum, so the story goes, after Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. His body was preserved in a cask of spirits which was tapped and drained, so that sailors were then essentially drinking his blood for the rest of the journey. This shanty – despite its questionable glamorisation of alcoholism and objectification of women – is often sung by groups today, and is also known as 'Roll the Old Chariot Along'.
Fisherman’s Friends is released in UK cinemas on 15 March.
classical-music.com | Wed, 13 Mar 2019 11:42:45 +0000
'Xiayin Wang encompasses Tchaikovsky's virtuoso writing with an arresting poetic impulse and thrilling depth of tone'
This week's free download is the third movement 'Allegro con fuoco' from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, performed by pianist Xiayin Wang with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Peter Oundjian. The recording received four stars for performance and five for recording in the January 2019 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.
Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.
If you experience any technical problems please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.
classical-music.com | Wed, 13 Mar 2019 10:00:15 +0000
A brush with death caused by a violent intestinal haemorrhage, and his marriage to Alma Schindler (‘superhuman love’) a year later: these are often cited as major biographical stimuli for Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (1901-02), inspiring both the death-haunted turbulence of Part One, the tender, impassioned Adagietto – strikingly used in Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice – and the exuberant Finale. Both events had an influence, as had his immersion in Bachian counterpoint.
But it’s important to note that the Fifth is the first symphony for which Mahler himself provided no detailed programme notes, no extra-musical aids to interpretation. The human voice, so prominent in Symphonies Nos 2-4, is also abandoned (‘There is no need for words – everything is purely musically expressed’).
It’s clear Mahler was aiming in the Fifth at a new beginning. ‘A totally new message demanded a new technique,’ he said. This new enrichment of his style, and the Symphony’s optimistic death-to-life narrative, continues to enthral audiences today.
SWR Symphony Orchestra/Michael Gielen (2003) Hänssler Classic CD 93.101
Gielen is to Mahler what Günter Wand was to Bruckner: a life-long student of the composer’s symphonies, conductor of an orchestra steeped in his interpretations, and wise enough to delay recording them until everyone concerned was ready. Gielen’s Mahler cycle, when it eventually came, was stunning, and this recording of the Fifth is typical of it.
It marries, to an extraordinary extent, intensity of feeling with a total absence of the cheap schmaltz and self-indulgence that too many Mahler performances tip into when they try to be explicitly emotional. The playing of Gielen’s SWR Symphony Orchestra is sure-footed and articulate: no other orchestra on disc has such a wide variety of Mahlerian timbres at its fingertips, nor such a keenly tutored understanding of how to use them.
The range of expression in Gielen’s interpretation is wide. He makes the listener aware of the Fifth’s darker, more uncompromising elements, the tough ground to be negotiated from the stress and turbulence of the opening two movements to the Finale’s triumphs. His Adagietto is, at 8:30, among the fleetest, a sweet but uncloying lyrical interlude amid the grander symphonic questions being debated. A balanced, powerful recording sets the seal on a magnificent Fifth from a definitive cycle.
Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein (1987) Deutsche Grammophon 477 6334
It’ll soon be 25 years since Leonard Bernstein gave the live performance of Mahler’s Fifth captured in this recording. It seemed a great interpretation then, and it still does now: a timeless combination of inspired conducting and magnificent orchestral playing from a palpably fired-up Vienna Philharmonic.
Bernstein’s Mahler was famously impressionable, but here his tendency towards emotionalism is tethered to a rock-solid appreciation of where the work is headed structurally. There are some truly unforgettable moments – who other than Lenny could have conjured the orgasmic ascent to the second movement’s glorious brass-capped climax?
The Adagietto is slow, but underpinned by Bernstein’s pliant sense of phrasing, and ravishing string sonorities. In its expansiveness and spontaneity, this CD complements the Gielen version perfectly.
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev (2010) LSO Live LSO0664
Gergiev’s Mahler can be broad-brush in effect, but this Fifth is full of telling local detail, coupled with the conductor’s trademark volatility. The recapitulation of the opening movement’s funeral march, for instance, highlights the influence of Mahler’s Jewish heritage in the woodwind writing, and the Adagietto, though on the slow side, uses bold dynamic contouring to define and accentuate the music’s emotional trajectory.
In what Mahler called ‘Part I’ of the Symphony (the first and second movements) Gergiev catches the dark, glowering sonorities in the underbelly of the orchestra, and is supported by bold, expressive playing from all sections of a fearless LSO. The recording expands in amplitude on the multichannel SACD layer, where it makes a formidably hefty impact.
For those coming new to Mahler’s Fifth this is an attractive package, for on a bonus disc there is nearly 80 minutes of conductor Benjamin Zander (a Mahler specialist) discussing the Symphony in various categories (motives, structure etc). This is musical commentary of high insight and articulacy, and it enhances the listening experience.
Zander is also an astute, fiery Mahler conductor, and his Fifth is an exciting performance, similar to Gielen’s in general outline, without perhaps his ultimate degree of authority. Zander gets colourful, committed playing from the Philharmonia, especially in the perky woodwind writing of the Scherzo, and the Telarc sound combines clarity with a mighty wallop, especially on the SACD layers. A rare combination of erudition and executive excellence.
Gustavo Dudamel has done extraordinary work with his youthful Simón Bolívar Orchestra, and this Mahler Fifth regularly demonstrates how vibrantly the orchestra is capable of playing. But the longer view is missing: there are disjunctions at moments of transition, textures tend to be homogenised, not distinctive, and the total import of the symphony, both sonically and intellectually, has yet to be fully assimilated.
classical-music.com | Wed, 13 Mar 2019 09:43:13 +0000
A quick guide to the best recordings of The Planets
When Gustav Holst combined his brilliant creative musical mind with his keen interest in astrology, the result would become one of the best loved orchestral works of all time.
'As a rule I only study things that suggest music to me,' Gustav Holst once said about his interest in astrology. That was true enough, but Holst's claim does less than justice to the depth in which he studied the subject - in fact, it was through those studies that Holst finally overcame his sense of failure as a composer.
By 1913 he had composed several works now recognised as among his most significant, including two major operas - the epic Sita (1899-1906) and the chamber opera Savitri (1908-09) - the oriental suite Beni Mora (1912) and his ambitious choral work The Cloud Messenger (1913), yet all of these had either failed to reach performance, or had been given disastrous or indifferently received premieres.
Encouraged by the writer and fellow astrologer Clifford Bax (brother of composer Arnold Bax), Holst soon acquired texts ranging from the English astrologer Raphael (1975-1832) to the contemporary Alan Leo.
Although The Planets, composed 1914-16, opened new avenues in Holst's treatment of tonality and structure, it did not represent an entirely new chapter in his creativity. Rather, it crystallised much of his thinking, both in terms of musical potential and in his understanding of the human condition.
Looking at The Planets through the context of what he had previously composed, and what came after, helps us to understand not only one of the most loved works in the modern orchestral repertoire, but also the extraordinary creative mind behind it. Join us now on this journey, as we visit each planet in turn, and recommend their finest recordings...