Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"

This month we’ve been looking at various types of classical crossover. Today, let’s look at a classical symphony that shocked everyone, including the composer, when it topped Britain’s pop charts.

Henryk Gorecki (1933–2010) never thought his Symphony No. 3 would become one of the top selling contemporary classical recordings of all time, especially after it was quickly forgotten following its 1977 premiere. It wasn’t until his symphony, also known as “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” was released on a 1992 album with soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta led by David Zinnman that it became an international sensation.

Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 plays on deep emotions, each movement’s text taken from a Polish text. The first movement uses the “Lament for the Holy Cross,” a liturgical work dated from the 15th century. The second movement incorporates a prayer that was found written on the wall of a Nazi prison in Poland from World War II. The final movement uses a Polish folk song that refers to a mother who mourns the loss of her son in battle. Perhaps these moving texts and the stirring music are what sparked the symphony’s popularity?

Gorecki ended up becoming the first living classical composer to have a pop hit in the UK and a number one album on the US classical charts. You can hear the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs below. Does it move you? Can you see why it experienced success in both the classical and popular music worlds?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tosca Through the Years

Want to learn more about Tosca before attending the Cincinnati Opera's performance of Puccini's masterpiece? Check out "Tosca Through the Years" hosted by the Cincinnati Opera's Harry T. Wilks Artistic DirectorEvans Mirageas. This 30-minute special tells the story of Tosca, and includes recordings of famous artists who have sung the part with Cincinnati Opera over the last century. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Duke Ellington: A Crossover Musician

Did you know that Jazz Age leader Duke Ellington can be considered a Crossover musician? While known as the leader of the house band at the Harlem Cotton Club during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Duke did not want to be recognized as a jazz composer and arranger. He hoped to stretch people’s concept of jazz, from dance music to art music. To do this, he would rehearse arrangements ahead of time with his band, rather than improvising. Many of these arrangements had an alternating, concerto-like feel between the ensemble and the soloist.

While Duke loved jazz, he also enjoyed the music of many classical composers and longed to break down the barrier between the two types of music. He even arranged several classical favorites for jazz band, including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Enjoy these two pieces below:

Besides his arrangements of classical pieces, Duke also composed several of his own jazz suites, drawing from classical characteristics. One example is his Black, Brown, and Beige (1943), his first attempt at this type of composition. Black, Brown, and Beige traces the history of African American culture in the U.S. It was debuted in Carnegie Hall, a first for a black composer.

Can you hear any quotations from popular American tunes in this work?