Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here are a few of my favorite classical love songs for today. What are some of your favorites?

Liszt, Dream of Love

Elgar, Love’s Greeting

Puccini, Turandot: Nessun dorma (this is one of many great love arias by Puccini!)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Liebestod

Ho Zhan Hao & Chen Kang: Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Settings of Romeo and Juliet: Berlioz

Today we continue our look at various musical portrayals of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Did you know that Hector Berlioz wrote his own dramatic symphony based on this beloved tragedy in 1839? After watching Harriet Smithson as Juliet in a theater production in 1827, Berlioz fell in love with both the actress and the play. He went on to write his famous Symphonie fantastique in 1830, inspired by his passion for Smithson. He then married Smithson several years later. The marriage did not turn out to be what he fantasized for so long.

It wasn’t until several years later that he was able to act on his love for Romeo and Juliet. Violin virtuoso Nicol√≤Paganini offered to pay Berlioz 20,000 francs, rewarding him for his talent. He compared Berlioz to the late Beethoven and perhaps hoped the young composer would carry on Beethoven’s legacy in his own work. Berlioz used the money to devote his time to writing a large-scale symphony including solo voices, chorus, and orchestra—similar to Beethoven’s Ninth. This work, Romeo and Juliette, was completed in 1839 and later revised in 1846. The premiere included more than 100 singers and 100 instrumentalists. It is written in three parts and seven sections. Due to the grandeur and length of the performance, many orchestras today play excerpts rather the full symphony. Below, you can listen to the work in its entirety.

Be sure to tune into 90.9 this Friday, February 12 at 7pm for our annual Valentine’s Day special “Love Greetings,” hosted by Mark Perzel. When you download our free mobile app, you can listen to this special wherever you are that evening! 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Settings of Romeo and Juliet: Prokofiev

This month on Clef Notes we are exploring love stories in music. First, we are taking a look at several well-known settings of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. Last time we listened to Tchaikovsky’s setting. Today, let’s compare it to Prokofiev’s version.

In 1934, the Kirov Theater in Leningrad expressed interest in staging a ballet written by Prokofiev, suggesting Romeo and Juliet as a subject. Not long after this, the theater changed their mind and he went on to sign a contract with the Moscow Bolshoi Theater instead. Despite his work alongside the choreographer, the Bolshoi ended up dropping the ballet as well, claiming the music to be too complex for the dancers. The ballet ended up holding its premiere in Czechoslovakia in 1938 by the Brno Opera. It did not receive a Soviet premiere until 1940.

Today, most listeners are familiar with the concert suites Prokofiev created using selections from the ballet. Excerpts from these suites feature titles highlights key moments in the story including “Death of Tybalt,” “Juliet as a Young Girl,” and “Romeo at the Tomb of Juliet.” Below you can enjoy all three suites. Do you prefer Prokofiev’s setting or that by Tchaikovsky that we heard last time?

Next time, we’ll look at one more setting of Romeo and Juliet composed by Hector Berlioz.