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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…

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Music Post: Progressive rock, retrospectively

The 50th anniversary of “Sergeant Pepper” set off a wave of interesting essays on the Beatles in general and that album in particular (see above.) Then, that topic exhausted, music writers turned their attention to something “Sergeant Pepper” partly triggered: prog rock. The wave of articles is nominally set off…

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Steve Reich: Maximum Minimalism

Minimalist music fascinates me. It’s so simple and repetitive, yet it vanquished the serial school that sidetracked so many composers in the first half of the 20th century. It brought new audiences to classical music because its pulse felt good to listeners raised on rock. Minimalism has the further trait…

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Why everyone, even Trump, might benefit from Russia probe

I guess it’s no surprise in this time of passionate partisan politics that so many people are jumping to conclusions about the purpose and likely outcome of any investigation of Russian interference in American politics. But both sides may be missing the point. President Trump thinks Democrats are out to…

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Music Post: Prague rocks the classics

Classical music was a more or less unified concept through the Baroque and Classical periods. The idea that your music would be distinctive if you came from a particular country did not really take hold until halfway through the 1800s. Some cities did have reputations long before that as sources…

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Music Post: Endings to end all endings

I once did, and doubtless will do again, a program on the many ways composers end their pieces, contrasting big finishes with other kinds. Such a program will necessarily include bombastic endings to Beethoven’s Fifth and Rossini’s William Tell Overture along with the great icebergs of sound at the end…

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Music Post: Music on the “wrong” instruments

A great soul record came out in the summer of 1967. Jackie Wilson’s “(You’re Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” gave the back-up singers so much to do that their short notes added to the rhythmic propulsion of this uptempo love song. Four Motown musicians including bassist Jamie Jamerson…

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Peter Schickele is a composer and teacher – Juilliard-trained and teaches there – who has brightened six decades of classical music appreciation worldwide. He has done by inventing a composer – Johann Sebastian Bach’s extra son PDQ Bach, whose compositions Schickele keeps “discovering,” sometimes in response to commissions. His humor…

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Journalism in trouble – and not because of Donald Trump

America is in danger of losing its independent press, and almost everyone is blaming it on the wrong things. I’m not arguing that there is no threat from “alternative facts,” or the preference for security over freedom, or the balkanization of media in the age of the Internet, or reporters…