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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…

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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…