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Music Post: Fugues of the Modern Age

Two things that inspire creative people are freedom and bondage. The best radio shows, for example, are free-ranging and unpredictable but still hew to a format. The best architecture displays art while still meeting the physical demands of the project. In classical music, the fugue has brought out the best in…

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Music Post: Minimalists Other Than Reich and Glass

Minimalism started in San Francisco, mostly, and the Sixties scene in San Francisco specifically spawned both Steve Reich and Philip Glass, so it’s understandable that we often regard Minimalism as an American thing. But all kinds of interesting Minimalist music has come out of Europe, and some American Minimalism has…

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Music Post: The soundtracks of video games

Video games have roots going back to the 1940s, when a “cathode ray tube amusement device” was patented by the chief engineer of the Dumont Television Network. “Tennis for Two” came in the 1950s and Pong in 1972. Most of us, however, were innocent of the existence of video games…

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Music Post: Music from the gardens of Spain

When we speak of classical music history, we speak mostly of Italy, Germany and France. When we discuss the roots of jazz, we speak mostly of America and Africa. Yet Jelly Roll Morton, breaking jazz down into component parts, said one was “the Spanish tinge.” And Spain has been an…

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Music Post: The nine or 10 members of “Les six”

Members of Les Six – Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric (not shown), Arthur Honegger, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey, with their friend and promoter Jean Cocteau seated at the piano. On Jan. 8, 1920, at 4:30 p.m., according to Arthur Honegger’s diary, Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), then 27, had several young composer…

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Music Post: Composers who also had other careers

Charles Ives, the successful New York insurance executive. In the Roaring Twenties a New York insurance agency was famous for having invented estate planning, and the head of the firm was wealthy and a hard man to see – unless you were a musician. Then he would clear his calendar…

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Music Post: Angelic even when profane, the music of the harp

English-speaking lovers of classical music can easily misunderstand the title of Claude Debussy’s “Dances, Sacred and Profane,” a sensuous pair of pieces that really doesn’t seem to fit either of the title’s adjectives. It helps to know that in French, “profane” can simply mean, “secular.” The harp is a fascinating…

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Music Post: Focus on the cello

We all have our favorite instruments, and our unfavorites, I suppose, but nobody doesn’t like the cello, and as someone who loves low notes in music, I am happy to oblige with an entire cello-centric HDO. Violoncellos, to use their original full name, were widely used from the 1500s, almost…

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Music Post: Picture this – variations on Moussorgsky

Modest Moussorgsky (1839-1881) was one week past his 42nd birthday when he died of a grand mal seizure from alcohol withdrawal. He was the first to go of the Russian “Mighty Handful” nationalist school that included Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Cesar Cui and the leader Mily Balakirev. One can argue that Rimsky…

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Music Post: The Beatles, 50 years later

In 1964, the year I turned 11, the Beatles made their first and second appearances on the Ed Sullivan. They had been a band for only four years, Ringo Starr had been the drummer for only two, and their first hits in Britain had happened the previous year. I remember…