Tuesday, 31 May 2016


Today's Quote of the Day comes from the preserved collection of private correspondence between 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and his patron and intimate confidante, the wealthy benefactress Nadezhda von Meck.

The following quote is just one of many exquisitely rendered exchanges between composer and patron, and is paraphrased from a modern translation of a biography on Tchaikovsky originally published at the dawn of the twentieth century, as penned by the musician's brother Modeste.*

"Your [music] is so wonderful, Peter Ilich, that it throws me as I hoped into a state of blissful madness; a condition in which one loses consciousness of all that is bitter and offensive in life.... Listening to such music, I seem to soar above all earthly thoughts, my temples throb, my heart beats wildly, a mist swims before my eyes and my ears drink in the enchantment of the music. I feel that all is well with me, and I do not want to be reawakened..."

The title "The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" will be coming soon to unravelingmusicalmyths Book Reviews, alongside several other highly erudite and immensely enjoyable reads.

*Note: quote does not refer to the hymn below, but rather to a march by Tchaikovsky. I am featuring below the
composers' setting of Hymn of the Cherubim as today's feature sacred piece as it - at least to my taste - best
suits the sentiment von Meck so eloquently conveyed in her correspondence with the composer. Performed
by the USSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir:

"Ah, God, how great is the man who has power to give others such moments of bliss!"
- Nadezhda von Meck.


Monday, 23 May 2016


Queen Victoria in her Coronation Robes
Today citizens of Canada proudly celebrate the official birthday (note: not the actual birthday) of the nation's 19th century Constitutional Monarch, Queen Victoria, who reigned over the Great White North for the staggering length of nearly 64 years, making the former Queen the countries' third longest reigning monarch, just behind current Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II – who recently surpassed Victoria on the occasion of her 90th birthday last month, and whose reign now clocks in at over 64 years and counting; and that of 17th-to-early 18th century French King Louis XIV who reigned for over 72 years.

Today, unravelingmusicalmyths takes a look back at the generous patronage of Victoria to the world of Western Classical Music.

It is perhaps thanks in part to Hollywood’s occasional foray into the lives and times of the great (and not so great) Monarchs Britain that even laymen of history will be familiar with the whirlwind romance of the Princess and later Queen Victoria and her consort (and first cousin) Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to whom she wed in 1840 at the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace in London. Victoria and Albert’s courtship and marriage was most unusual for a royal marriage – much like the Scottish Queen, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (also a former Canadian Sovereign as Queen Consort to the sickly 16th century French King Francis II), it was the Queen herself who proposed marriage to her future husband, filled to the brim with girlish brooding – although in Victoria’s case, the feelings of passion were more than mutual, and had a far happier ending, in spite of both Queens’ reluctance to share with their spouse The Crown Matrimonial.

What is perhaps less known is the Royal couple’s impassioned and generous patronage of music – a shared affinity that would be tantamount into bringing the young relatives together before betrothal.
In fact, the Queen Victoria would famously declare of her soon-to-be husband his prowess in the arena, when she penned the words “he sang to me some of his own compositions, which are beautiful, and he has a very fine voice. I also sang for him…” in the day following her proposal to her royal fiancée.

Victoria & Albert's gorgeous gilded piano, now
part of the Royal Collection Trust. Click here
to learn more about this exquisite instrument.
So cherished was the performance of music, and the creation of music that the princely duo would make it a frequent occurrence to perform for each other the works of famous contemporary composers – and, most impressively – pieces of music the Consort Albert himself had composed, which he would serenade Victoria with as she sat at the court’s gilded golden piano (in addition to having well established singers and pianists perform selections from Albert’s repertoire. The consort-king would also famously take a seat at the piano himself).

So well admired were the works of Albert it is said that were it not for the role in which the Royal consort was stationed at birth, and the expectations expected of a figure representing such a role, the Prince would have pursued a career in composition. Few of Albert’s compositions survive, most of which had been composed prior to the couple’s Royal marriage, but those of which are presently made available convey a level of talent comparable to that of Schubert or Schumann – this, in spite of Albert humbly considering himself an “amateur musician.”

Among the frequent guest performers at the couple’s residence at Buckingham Palace was the famous 19th century German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who, as historical evidence charmingly dictates, made the Royal couple weak in the knees.

So stalwart an admirer was Albert of Mendelssohn and his oeuvre, he arranged for the Queen to meet the famous romantic era composer by orchestrating a private concert for the pair at Buckingham Palace following a most pleasing visit with the composer the prior evening, in which Mendelssohn had traveled to London to hand deliver to Albert a correspondence from the consorts’ cousin, Frederick William IV, King of Prussia. Mendelssohn happily obliged, and, as the saying goes – the rest was history. It was later recorded, following the composer’s first visit to the royal palace, that the giddy couple was more than excited (and quite nervous) at meeting their musical hero, with one Mendelssohn biographer describing the overindulgent pair as “quite fluttery” for “all their exalted station.” Victoria would as much as confirm this when she took to her diary to recall the couples first meeting with the composer: "After dinner came Mendelssohn, whose acquaintance I was so anxious to make…”

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Felix would become a staple member of the musical royal household and of the private repertoire performed by the couple at Buckingham Palace, having performed for the Queen his famous Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words), and performing impressive musical feats such as improvising on the themes of the Austrian national anthem and the British patriotic, “Rule Britannia,” to which the Sovereign was much impressed, recording in her trusty diary: “He began immediately and really I have never heard anything so beautiful, the way in which he blended them both together and changed over from one to the other, was quite wonderful as well as the exquisite harmony and feeling he puts into the variations, and the powerful rich chords, and modulations, which reminded me of all his beautiful compositions.”

Strauss I
This homage-of sorts to the Queen and to Britain had been preceded 4 years earlier in 1838 by another famous composer of whom Victoria patronized: grandfather of the waltz, Johann Strauß the Elder (-Strauss I), who, following a disastrous debut at London, would climb his way to success through mingling in high circles (of the British nobility), and through the patronage of the then-Princess Victoria in whom Strauß was commissioned to provide for the state ball honoring Victoria’s accession to the throne a sequence of waltzes, which Strauß complied, penning his famous Huldigung der Konigin Victoria von Grossbritannie (An Homage to Queen Victoria of Great Britain):

Edward Elgar
Yet another member of the musical arts in whom Victoria and Albert supported was a formative Edward Elgar – whose astronomical rise to success would later see the English composer gainfully employed as Master of the King’s Musik under King George V (grandson to Victoria and Albert).

In addition to assisting in the makings of musical icons and rubbing shoulders with Classical music’s elite, Victoria herself would famously patronize many an opera and theater, attending some fifty performances annually!

Further reading:


Canada as we know it today is known as a Sovereign State. It is also one of the 16 Commonwealth countries that comprise the Commonwealth of Nations. This makes the present reigning Queen, Elizabeth II the nation's current Head of State.

Our great nation’s (I am a proud Canuck) ties to the Royal family extends back centuries, and includes rulers of both Britain and France, covering Canada’s pre-confederate standing as Colonies of both Britain and France, and, later as a British Dominion upon the nation’s Confederation in 1867. Through many years of constitutional action, the Dominion would not achieve full autonomy until 1931, under the so-called Statute of Westminster Act.

This meant that Canada would be re-born as an Independent Nation whilst sharing as Head of State the Sovereign of the United Kingdom alongside other members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

To many Canadians, the passing of this Statute would seemingly render the ‘powers’ of the Monarch inconsequential. This is not altogether true, in that our current Head of State remains the Queen, who, aside from performing what are essentially ceremonial duties, continues to retain the power over the assignation of the Nations governors general (the chief representative of the Crown in a given commonwealth nation), and provides assent for the passing of bills into law.

The Sovereign’s role in the Canadian Government can be quite confusing for many a citizen. Currently “the executive government and authority of and over Canada” is vested in the Queen through the Nation’s constitution. However, the actual role of the Sovereign is quite minimal: this is because, as an autonomous nation, the Queen agrees to delegate the vast majority of her powers to the current and the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government – currently Justin Trudeau, the countries Prime Minister, who governs on the “Queen's Behalf,” passing laws in her name ‘using her authority.’ Other duties of the Sovereign are performed by the aforementioned Governor General, with each province representing the Queen via a lieutenant governor.

The Queen is also the nation’s commander-in-chief of the Canadian armed forces.

The Queen Victoria, however, is unique in the aspect that the Monarch was the first Queen to have been occupying the British Throne upon Canada’s Confederation (when Canada became a nation: the Dominion of Canada, on July 1, 1867), and is known colloquially as the “Mother of the Confederation.” Although there exists no evidence of Victoria acknowledging the landmark occasion in the many letters of the Queen that survive, the Queen’s influence can still be felt today across the nation in it’s many preserved architectural wonders of the so-called Victorian era, and in the names of both cities and capitals themselves, which the former Sovereign both named and approved (it was Victoria’s selection of Ottawa as the capital of the United Province of Canada that would allow the Ontario city to remain the nation’s Capital) and in the many institutions named after her.

Join in the singing of Our great Nations' Royal Anthem "God Save the Queen" with Prince William
and Duchess Kate (filmed during an earlier performance for the separate Canada Day holiday):

Discover more:
  • A brief retrospective of the National anthem “God save the King/Queen” - Composition history and the hunt for the originator of the tune at Cmuse
  • A timeline of Canadian Monarchs at Wikipedia

Happy Victoria Day!


Sunday, 22 May 2016


Part II of my 13 Most Frightening Works is now complete! * RECAP: I present to the reader part II of my new article “13 Decidedly - and Unexpectedly - Frightful Works from the Realm of Western Classical Music,” based on works that I personally deem as either overtly horrific, or as naughty devils in the disguise of beautifully melodic music (who appear as wolves in sheep's clothing).*

There is much to cover, so let’s dive right in!

* View Part I of this entry here.


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from the diary of famed British novelist Clive Staples Lewis, better known as C.S. Lewis, author of the extremely popular The Chronicles of Narnia, and is in reflection of the Irish-born writer’s first experience with the music of 19th century Romantic composer Richard Wagner.

Writer C.S. Lewis

“…the Ride[1] came like a thunderbolt. From that moment Wagnerian records ... became the chief drain on my pocket money and the presents I invariably asked for… 'Music' was one thing, 'Wagnerian music' quite another, and there was no common measure between them; it was not a new pleasure but a new kind of pleasure, if indeed 'pleasure' is the right word, rather than trouble, ecstasy, astonishment,'a conflict of sensations without name.' "

The 22nd of May, 2016, marks the 203rd observance of the birth of the megalomanic German composer, who was born this very day in 1813 at Leipzig.

Herr Wagner is an unravelingmusicalmyths composer favorite, and as such, has been much featured on this blog. Subjects range from contemporary to pop culture perspective, the composer’s inadvertent ‘relation’ to the Third Reich (and his anti-Semitism); Wagner’s involvement with the King of Bavaria (including the funding and construction of his much coveted Festspielhaus at Bayreuth), his relationships with his second wife Cosima and her father (Wagner's father-in-law) Franz Liszt, and his various debts and time spent in exile, and, of course, the maestro’s majestic oeuvre. These articles (and more) can be found by perusing the posts found in the Wagner Archives or by clicking on the pertinent link below.

Listen below to the famous Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure’s third act:

[1] The event of which Lewis refers is to his first listening of a record of Wagner’s 1870 opera, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) – in specific, the now famous 3rd act battle cry Ride of the Valkyries. Die Walküre is the second of four operas that together comprise Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle tetralogy.

Discover more:
  • External link: C.S. Lewis Life & Works: (at Wikipedia)
  • External link: Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia heptalogy: (at Wikipedia)


Friday, 20 May 2016


Scroll down to view my selections!
A note on this article: As mentioned in my posting on May 14, I will be posting for a brief period at a slower than usual rate due to external obligations outside of this blog.

The following entry was meant to be published last Friday (the 13th of May), but was not yet complete by the date desired (and remains a work in progress – hence the splitting of this entry into two postings - the second of which will be up as soon as I can dedicate the time to finish editing the piece). It is, however, my goal to not leave my audience without fresh material for extended periods, and so, in that vein, I present to the reader part I of my new article “13 Decidedly - and Unexpectedly - Frightful Works from the Realm of Western Classical Music,” based on works that I personally deem as either overtly horrific, or as naugthy devils in the disguise of beautifully melodic music (who appear as wolves in sheep's clothing).

Keep checking back often for updates, as I will continue to post as my schedule permits. Part II of this entry will be up soon!*

*(after a brief period as top posts, both entries will become backdated under the date of the 13th of May).

The post-in-progress (I-VI):

To celebrate this month’s superstitious Friday the 13th, unravelingmusicalmyths has gathered together thirteen of the most spooky and spine-tingling sounds to come out of the world of western classical music.

I have made every attempt to steer clear of the stereotypical/clichéd “Hallowe’en” favorites (such as Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, Giuseppe Verdi’s Dies Irae chorus from his famous Requiem Mass or Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain) in favor of arias and lieder that are atypical of the common ‘horror genre’ of western classical music. Hidden amongst some intentionally frightful scores are works I personally deem to be horrifying in their own right: gooseflesh-inducing music which relies more on subtle and muted tones than in sudden startles and jumps bursting out from the orchestral fray.

Among the horrifying gems I have selected for inclusion on this list of most frightful works include pieces of music that appear both pleasant and melodic on face value - but which have rather macabre undertones laying just beneath the surface, cleverly disguised within sinister lyrics.

Now, without further discourse, I present to the reader a motley brew of sorcery, spirits and plain ole' spook to set your spine a-shiver: 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from the Greek ‘electronic’ /crossover composer and musician known as “Vangelis,” and is in tribute to this week’s grand celestial tour de force and the planet Mars, which is set to dance amongst the heavens, in a slow tango with the planets Jupiter and Saturn, providing a spectacular feast for the eyes for professional and amateur astronomers around the globe:

"I made up the name Mythodea from the words myth and ode. And I felt in it a kind of shared or common path with NASA's current exploration of the planet [Mars]. Whatever we use as a key — music, mythology, science, mathematics, astronomy — we are all working to decode the mystery of creation, searching for our deepest roots."


Listen below to the 5th movement of Vangelis’ 11-movement choral symphony piece “Mythodea,”  a crossover project for the electronic composer into Classical, and which was the official music of the 2001 Mars Odyssey – NASA’s mission to send into the orbit of Mars a robotic spacecraft designed to detect evidence of historical water, present geology and the current “radiation environment” of the red planet. The album’s laserdisc had likewise been corresponded to release on the date of the spacecraft’s official entry into orbit on the 23rd of October, 2001, and was recorded from the acoustical haven of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, (constructed c. 6th century BC) at Athens, in Greece. The movement featured below is sung by American soprano Kathleen Battle.

Notice to fans of Kathleen Battle residing in Canada:

As the world waits with bated breath for the triumphant return of Ms. Battle to the MET for what will be a ‘farewell’ concert in November of 2016, residents of Southern Ontario will be treated to a preview of this silvery hued vocal nightingale at the close of this month: May 29th, 2016 at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, where the American soprano will be performing a recital of spirituals (typical of her recital repertoire) based on the historical abolitionists of slavery and which will feature “traditional slave spirituals,” in what the concert hall describes as “…a journey through the spirituals and hymns that express suffering, salvation and freedom.”
The concert program, which will be repeated in New York at the close of the year is entitled “Kathleen Battle Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey”

Discover more:

2001 Mars Odyssey Launch History and Retrospective:
  • PDF: 2001 Mars Odyssey contemporary press release - Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA
  • 15th Year in Orbit: a Look Back at the spacecraft’s most important discoveries at NASA 
Present and Upcoming Celestial Events:
  • This week's celestial events (May 16-22) - visible from earth at Sky News
Kathleen Battle:
  • Kathleen Battle - Toronto concert and ticket information at Masseyhall.com 
  • Kathleen Battle's history and much awaited return at New York's Metropolitan Opera House
(internal link): at unravelingmusicalmyths
(external link): at NPR (*transcript*)


Saturday, 14 May 2016


Dear reader,

Welcome back to unravelingmusicalmyths.blogspot.ca! Just a quick note to inform the reader that I will be - for a brief period - posting at a slower than usual rate due to external obligations that exist outside of this blog.

One needn't fear that I will disappear - I will still try to post when time permits.

In the interim, feel free to peruse the many articles on unravelingmusicalmyths and enjoy the wide variety of orchestral, operatic, sacred and secular music - all of which I have selected for inclusion on this blog due to my personal affinity for each piece (and all of which also exist within my private collection of favorite works). There is much to listen to and enjoy, and much to learn and discover!

As always, keep checking back often and enjoy your stay at unravelingmusicalmyths.blogspot.ca!

Listen below to Greek-American soprano Maria Callas sing "Pace, Pace Mio Dio" from Italian composer
Giuseppe Verdi's 1862 opera Forza del Destino:


Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from composer, musician and critic Carl Maria von Weber, one of late 18th – early 19th century Germany’s most influential and important composers of the Romantic era:

“What love is to man, music is to the arts and to mankind.
Music is love itself - it is the purest, most ethereal language of passion,
showing in a thousand ways all possible changes of color and feeling;
and though true in only a single instance, it yet can be understood by thousands of men - who all feel differently.”

-Carl Maria von Weber

Enjoy below one of the greatest Overtures in opera (according to the author of this blog!) from under the baton of the greatest conductor to have ever performed it: the famous Overture from Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (The Marksman) as performed by the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester in this rare 1970 recording.*

*Rare in the sense of the maestro’s ever-illusive mystique surrounding rehearsal footage - which was included alongside this concert footage, and whose distaste for such ventures included audio recordings in addition to video (see: Did You Know? Tristan und Isolde from my post on Schopenhauer). Kleiber, an infamous perfectionist and recluse “astonished” contemporary conductors across Germany (and indeed, across the continent), when he agreed, nearly 50 years ago - at what would be the very Zenith of his career as a much esteemed master of the baton and orchestra - to be recorded in rehearsal with the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester, rehearsing the overtures of Weber and waltz king Johann Strauß II (Der Freischütz and Die Fledermaus, respectively – that latter of which would become a staple piece of his repertoire, along with Strauß' full opera). It is said the audience was so bowled over by the lush interpretation and personal aesthetics of Kleiber, that those attending the concert for the overtures became rhapsodized by the German maestro, and would begin what would become a trend in the later performances in which he would conduct – with all eyes on Kleiber.
I am of the opinion that when it comes to Carlos, the undoubted veracity of Weber's quote is put to the test with triumphant results - just look at that passion! The late maestro Kleiber was second to none in the esteemed realm of enrapturing an audience - how could one possibly witness a 'performance' like this - and not "feel" what Carlos is feeling? In Carlos, truly, the spirit of all men are united.

to have been there at such a moment!

Monday, 9 May 2016


Scroll down to view my selections!
Today’s AUTHOR’S CHOICE entry is made in honor of 18th to early 19th century poet, playwright, historian and physician, Friedrich Schiller - arguably one of Germany’s greatest exports of political and philosophical minds, who also happens to hold the much coveted distinction of frequently sourced and internationally renowned contributors to art and authorship.

Schiller, who died this day on the 9th of may, 1805 at the tender age of 45, was a pioneer of the famed Weimar Classicism movement - producing a litany of his most beloved stage-plays in the late 18th - early 19th centuries.

Much like Schiller’s contemporary and close companion, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (who, alongside Schiller, became the most famous of the movement: Goethe would pen his famous Faust during this period), the German polymath would become one of Western Classical Music’s most favored authors on which to source material for constructing libretti (one could, in this instance, refer to Schiller as the German Shakespeare, although he operated at a far less output than the Bard and is thusly less sourced by comparison. It is highly probable Schiller would have continued writing, were it not for his untimely demise).

I have selected for the reader four of my favorite Schiller-inspired arias from the world of Opera, all of which are based on the works of this most revered master of Gestalt:

BASED ON: the play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (Don Carlos, Infante of Spain; produced 1787) 

as sung by German Bass René Pape:


Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from 20th century English composer Gustav Holst (of “The Planets” fame), and is in honor of today’s celestial spectacle of the planet Mercury making it’s visible-from-earth transit across the sun:

“Music, being identical with heaven,
isn’t a thing of momentary thrills, or even hourly ones.
It’s a condition of eternity."

-Gustav Holst 

Discover more about today's celestial event (and more about the heavens):

NASA’s “live” feed: (at Ustream)
Still images from the transit (at NASA) 

Enjoy below Holst’s Mercury: the Winged Messenger, the third installment in the composer’s epic Planets Suite:



Dieterich Buxtehude
One name not commonly mentioned amongst Western Classical Music’s most influential composers is that of 17th century Danish-German Baroque master Dieterich Buxtehude. This was certainly not the case in 17th century Europe, wherein Buxtehude would find himself much revered as a musician and composer.

Probably born in 1637 in what is now a part of Sweden, young Buxtehude would begin his love affair with music at a very early age, receiveing lessons on the organ by his father, Johannes Buxtehude, who was himself organist at St. Olaf's church in Helsingør. The son Buxtehude would likewise make his entrance into the field of music as organist to several churches from the period of 1657-1668. His foray into the world of composition would experience much growth and project much influence on the musical public following his move to Lübeck in Germany, where he had accepted what would become his final post as church organist at the city’s Marienkirche.

In 1673, Buxtehude would co-found Lubeck’s own Abendmusik - a series of evening performances featuring the works of contemporary musicians, often with the composers themselves appearing in their own productions. Buxtehude's keen business sense and musical acuity would influence many a great maestro of the later baroque era, not the least of whom were George Frideric Handel, Johann Mattheson, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The latter personage was said to have so much revered Buxtehude that he set off on foot from his home church at Arnstadt to the city of Lübeck – a trek of some 250 miles (400km!) telling friends that his mission was "to comprehend one thing and another about [Buxtehude’s] art!"

With the video below displaying just a small preview of the beauty contained within Buxtehude's vast oeuvre, (only a small portion of which survive in the present era) it is easy to see what inspired Bach to take to his arduous journey!

Listen below to Dieterich Buxtehude's sacred cantata Herzlich lieb hab ich dich o Herr (excerpt):

Today's post is written in honor of the 17th century Baroque composer Buxtehude, who left this earthly sphere 309 years ago today on the 9th of may, 1707 at Lübeck in Germany.


Saturday, 7 May 2016


Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from birthday composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky of Russia who was born 176 years ago today.

The following extract is from a letter dated 5th of November 1880, and is but one of the many pieces of private correspondence between Tchaikovsky and his wealthy benefactress and close companion Nadezhda von Meck.

The quote, from the hindsight offered by prosperity, is delightfully retrospective: in the quote re-printed below, Tchaikovsky expresses his frustration and intense disregard for the concept of composing a piano trio (which von Meck had requested of the 19th century romantic composer):

“You ask why I have never written a trio. Forgive me, dear friend, I would do anything to give you pleasure but this is beyond me! My acoustic apparatus is so ordered that I simply cannot endure the combination of pianoforte with violin or violoncello. To my mind the timbre of these instruments will not blend, and I assure you it is a torture to me to have to listen to a trio or sonata of any kind for piano and strings. I cannot explain this physiological peculiarity; I simply state it as a fact.”
-Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, to Nadezhda von Meck, 5th November, 1880

Nadezhda von Meck
Tchaikovsky, of course, would come to eat his own words when he sat down - only one year later - to begin sketching the outline for his breathtaking Piano trio in A minor, which would hold it’s public premiere just shy of two years following the composers' outright refusal to ever pen such a work at the Russian Musical Society at Moscow in October of 1882.

Further correspondence preserved by biographers and scholars of this most influential composer would showcase a gradual yielding to the formation of violin, cello and piano into a seamless whole – perhaps in an effort to appease his beloved Nadezhda, who would go on to support the composer in good times and bad – including during the fallout from Tchaikovsky’s disastrous marriage to his former pupil Antonina Miliukova in 1877, for a period of some thirteen years.

Certainly, Tchaikovsky owed much of his success to the musical savant von Meck, who had supplied the composer with an annual salary in the staggering amount of 6000 rubles - more than enough for Tchaikovsky to dedicate his attentions to composing music full-time.

Whatever Tchaikovsky’s motivation for constructing the work, the Piano Trio in A minor would prove to both speculative composer and admirer alike of the Russian musician's prowess in the arena.

Listen below to the highly emotive “Pezzo Elegiaco,” the 1st movement of Tchaikovsky’s 50th opus, his Piano Trio in A minor, in a luxuriously powerful rendition of the piece by violinist Susanna Yoko Henkel, Monika Leskovar, cello; and Ian Fountain on piano (separated into two parts):




German composer Johannes Brahms
Today’s Featured ‘Aria’ comes to us from 19th century Romantic era composer Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), in honor of the late composer’s 183rd birthday.

Featured below is the exquisite Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sadness) - the fifth movement from Brahms’ seven-movement, non-liturgical sacred piece, scored for orchestra, soprano and chorus.

The absolutely breathtaking Requiem, Brahms’ 45th opus, derives it’s text from the German Luther Bible and was conceived to be performed in the composers mother tongue. This adherence to the texts of the Lutheran bible is in stark contrast to the traditional Latin Requiem commonly employed by composers of western classical music, who draw on the texts used by the Roman Catholic Church.

Singing in German was but just one of many distinctions of the piece: intent on removing from his requiem the dogmatic themes of Christian theology (chiefly of the suffering, sacrifice and rebirth of Christ on the Cross, Brahms employed for his version of the Requiem the sympathetic man (as represented by the Lord), who seeks to comfort the living.

Ein Deutsches Requiem is believed to have been inspired by the death of a close companion to the German composer – either his mother, who had perished in February of 1865, or the composer and best mate to Brahms, Robert Schumann - who had succumbed to complications of syphilis (in all likelihood neurosyphilis) at a mental asylum outside of Bonn in 1856.

Listen below to the beautiful fifth movement, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sadness) from
Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, as sung by Austrian lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz under the
baton of maestro Herbert von Karajan:



Gioachino Rossini
It’s time to pour into yet another Historic Letter – this time from the pen of 19th century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini to one author and art collector Edmond Michotte, as re-printed in Michotte’s 1858 anthology Souvenirs: Une Soirée chez Rossini à Beau-Séjour (Passy) (An Evening at Rossini’s in Beau-Sejour (Passy).

In the letter written by Rossini (to be fair, one should preface the authorship of the original letter as having come from the alleged hand of Rossini, as Michotte’s book would not be published until 1858 – a full 42 years after the premiere of the opera mentioned below.) 

The composer describes for Michotte in surprisingly shocking – yet delightfully humorous – detail of his utter indifference to a crowd of adoring fans who had the audacity of rousing the grouchy composer from a most pleasant slumber on the evening following the second performance of the rotund one’s 1816 opera buffa The Barber of Seville  (the same work which had been successfully salvaged by an honest opera-going public following the infiltration of claquers paid off by a rivaling composer at it’s premiere at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in February of that year.)

Rossini, weary-eyed as he is so rudely aroused from his slumber, at first mistakes the crowd as a fire breathing mob ready to tear his lodgings asunder in retaliation for the disastrous premiere (with a poor tenor paying for his employer's rage with his face!)
“I was sleeping peacefully when I was suddenly awakened by a huge noise out in the street, together with a bright light from torches; as soon as I got up I saw that they were making for my hotel. Still, half asleep, and bearing in mind the scene of the night before, I imagined that they were coming to set fire to the building, and I fled to a stable at the rear of a courtyard. However, after a few moments, I heard Garcia[1] shouting for me at the top of his voice…Hurry up. Come on! Listen to those shouts of Bravo! Bellissimo, Figaro! An unprecedented success! The street is full of people. They want to see you.’

‘Tell them,’ I replied…‘that I f*ck them, their bravos and all the rest of it! I’m not coming out of here!’

I don’t know how Garcia put my refusal to that excited crowd – in fact, he was hit in the eye by an orange, which gave him a black eye that didn’t go away for several days..

Meanwhile, the noise in the street continued to increase.

Next, the owner of the hotel arrived, panting: ‘If you don’t come, they’ll set fire to the windows! They’re breaking the windows now..’

‘that’s your business,’ I told him. ‘all you have to do is stay away from the windows…I’m staying right where I am.’

Finally, I heard some breaking panes.

Then, weary with the fight, the crowd at last dispersed. I left my safe place and went back to bed. Unfortunately, those brigands had put out two windows opposite my bed..

It was January.

I would be lying if I told you that the freezing air penetrating into my room gave me a charming night.”

This delightfully amusing anecdote certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “a rude awakening!”

[1]Manuel Garcia, the tenor who played the role of Count Almaviva and who would form from members of his own family an Italian operatic troupe that would rise to prominence both collectively and individually (just one of it’s many famed members was the beloved soprano Maria Malibran), particularly in New York, where the troupe, alongside Rossini would stage the first ever Italian-language opera to be staged in the U.S. State with Il Barbiere, which premiered at the Park Theatre on 29 November 1825.

[2]Rossini must have penned this note some time after Il Barbiere’s premiere at Rome (or had a poor memory): the first production of the opera occurred in February of 1816 (the 20th).

Enjoy below Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez sing Almaviva’s act I aria Ecco, ridente in cielo from The Barber of Seville:


Friday, 6 May 2016


Title Page, 1901: The Kreutzer Sonata, Leo Tolstoy
Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from the prolific Russian author Leo Tolstoy's 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata, a highly controversial (at the time of it's publication) philosophical ranting (of sorts) on man's intoxicated state of mind in matters of lust, desire, jealousy and rage (and the power of music) as depicted by the stories' most murderous main character Pozdnyshev, who offers to the reader a play-by-play analysis on the events leading up to the murder of his 'unfaithful' wife, who has fallen for a local violinist, Troukhatchevsky - and who spurns on her husband's murderous blind rage following a performance with Troukhatchevsky of Ludwig van Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata (no. IX in A major, for Piano and Violin, Op. 47).

The 'scorned' Pozdnyshev, finding himself suspect to experiencing the altered, "dangerous states" forced upon the listener by such music, watches in horror as his wife makes of him a cuckold (at least, in his mind) by taking to the piano - and her lover to the violin - and witnesses firsthand the power of Beethoven's Sonata, contrasting it's ethereally penetrative and soulfully invasive effects with that of the lust he senses courses through the veins of his wife and her inamorata. The spurned spouse's rage burns ever hotter as Pozdnyshev then prefaces both reader and the murder of his wife with a soliloquy on the transitory effects of music that drive him to "feel" another state of being "not of [his] own:"

"How can I put it? Music makes me forget myself, my true condition, it carries me off into another state of being, one that isn’t my own: under the influence of music I have the illusion of feeling things I don’t really feel, of understanding things I don’t understand, being able to do things I’m not able to do…

Music carries me instantly and directly into the state of consciousness that was experienced by the composer. My soul merges with his, and together with him I’m transported from one state of consciousness into another.”[1]

-Leo Tolstoy “The Kreutzer Sonata”

[1]Beethoven’s “state of mind” – in regards to the Kreutzer’s premiere, was most scorned, agitated, and betrayed, very much in vein with Pozdnyshev’s own whilst witnessing what he believes (at the juncture of the story offered by the quote above) to be the ultimate betrayal by his wife and Troukhatchevsky. Originally dedicated by the composer to the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower of Poland (which read “Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [Bridgetower], gran pazzo e compositore mulattico” (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, great fool mulatto composer), Beethoven would find himself much enraged by the actions of Bridgetower - who not only failed to rehearse for the part of violinist, the brash musician would make the mistake of besmirching the name of a woman in whom Beethoven found himself enamored.
Feeling grossly betrayed by his contemporary and friend, Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Bridgetower, replacing in his stead the name of a rival violinist.

The “mood” of both composer and composition can also be interpreted as reflective of Pozdnyshev’s own state of mind and the perceived state of mind of the late 19th century composer Beethoven: the work’s first movements, ranging from agitated and furious, to placid and meditative, gives way in the finale to revelatory exuberance – fitting almost perfectly in tandem with the range of mood experienced by Pozdnyshev as his introspective analysis of his wife’s alleged cuckoldry grows ever more sinister – and ultimately quite zestfully bizarre - following her slaying (after catching his spouse and
Troukhatchevsky in flagrante delicto): Tolstoy ends Kreutzer with it’s homicidal protagonist seeming to find a sense of both relief and macabre irony (Pozdnyshev famously considers – then quickly passes – on slaughtering the ‘lover’ Troukhatchevsky simply because he is wearing socks: a very minor triviality to mimic the novella’s theme of the fleeting states of man’s passions).

Listen below to the Sonata that inspired Tolstoy, performed by Pianist Yuja Wang and violinist Joshua Bell:

Suggested Reading:



(Franz) Joseph Haydn
18th century Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, known by contemporaries as the “Father of the Symphony” experienced most precarious beginnings from within the Classical Music sphere. Having moved away from his parents and family home at the unprecedented early age of six years, young Haydn would take up residence and singing lessons under the tutelage of relative Johann Matthias Frankh, the schoolmaster and choirmaster who lived some 12 km (7.5 miles) away from his parents in the city of Hainburg. Here, Haydn would refine his skill as a vocalist in the local church choir whilst simultaneously taking up the study and practice of harpsichord and violin. He would soon attract the attention of one Georg von Ruetter, director of the great cathedral of Vienna. Ruetter pressed the young musician to enroll as a member of the choir of St. Stephen's.

It seemed the budding young singer was facing the prospect of a most fruitful life within the musical sector, but, much like his later hero Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whose sticky situation we will learn about below), the hopeful musician also had his share of powerful detractors.

The neophyte Haydn, who was said to possess the gifts of a learned man, nonetheless retained the boyish insouciance brought upon by youth: it would be during a lesson at the Church’s school that a young Haydn would chop off the pigtail of a fellow pupil seated in front of him in class, which brought upon the wrath of both the academy and it’s patron, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who angrily denounced the boy and his vocal talents as substandard, declaring “young Haydn sings like a crow!” 

This scandal could not go unpunished, and the sentiment offered forth by the empress forced the hand of the church, who promptly expelled Haydn from both it’s choir and academy – but not before administering to the young composers backside a solid round of flogging!

Enjoy below the tender aria "Del Mio Core Il Voto" from Haydn's L'anima del Filosofo (Soul of the Philosopher); sung by French soprano Patricia Petibon:

This punishment, oddly, would be repeated in the life of contemporary Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whom Haydn revered above all others at the court of newly installed Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in March of 1782.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It would be following the successful premiere of Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo, which had premiered in Munich the previous year, that word of the gifted composer would reach sufficient enough height for the composer to be summoned to Vienna and the presence of his employer Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who had been attending the celebrations provided for the accession of Emperor Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Mozart, filled to the brim with an overwhelming sense of confidence following his successful run in Munich (and with perhaps a soupçon of cockiness) fully expected to be presented with and accept commission to perform before the Emperor at the residence of one Countess Thun for a fee equal to half of his annual salary at Salzburg, which Colloredo vetoed. This was an injustice most foul for the young composer – and yet another slap in the face to be added to the already contentious relationship between employer and employee. Mozart felt himself subjected to the standard of living as experienced by the most lowly servant (which composers were generally considered at the time, to be fair), as Colloredo had the audacity to set him up in precarious and dilapidated lodgings at the headquarters of the Teutonic Order, wherein the brooding composer was made forced to dine alongside cooks and valets – a dramatic fall from the graces of Elector Carl Theodor who had previously set up the composer in luxurious surroundings during his journey to Mannheim.

Mozart apparently had decided enough was enough, and, after having been called a "scoundrel" amongst other unappealing pejoratives by the archbishop, stood his ground - threatening to resign as composer to Colloredo should his needs continue to go unattained, to which the archbishop defiantly refused. Mozart would suffer one more grueling month as little more than a benefit composer performing gratis, before he finally got his wish - with a little more than he asked for to "boot."* (*Those familiar with this anecdote will appreciate this rather drôle pun!)

In a letter dated 9th of June 1781 to his father Leopold back in Salzburg, Mozart describes his most unceremonious firing – not by Colloredo himself - who refused to provide an audience for the composer and instead hid within his private chambers - but rather via proxy (he sent his steward, one  Count Arco to do the dirty work):
“[just] as this fellow is forced to hand in his petition himself, instead of granting him access, you throw him out the door and give him a kick in his behind!” 
This statement was to be taken very literally: Mozart was in fact kicked “in the arse” by the Count, which prompted the incensed young composer to pen to his father:
“I care little for Salzburg and not at all for the Archbishop: I shit on both of them!”
But then, Mozart always did have a potty mouth.

Enjoy below Ilia's beautiful aria "Se il padre perdei" from Mozart's Idomeneo; sung by Swiss soprano and Mozart aficianado Edith Mathis under the baton of maestro Karl Böhm:


Thursday, 5 May 2016


Today's Quote of the day comes to us from late 19th to early 20th century English composer and Baronet Sir Edward Elgar:

“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us;
the world is full of it…”

-Edward Elgar

Listen below to movement I of Elgar’s spectacular Cello Concerto in E minor as performed by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Elgar aficionado Daniel Barenboim:

Fun Fact:
Legend has it the opening theme of Elgar’s famous Cello Concerto was first imagined by the ailing composer (who is said to have suffered from an aberration of the mouth or throat at the time of composition) following his emergence from a slumber brought upon by a deep sedation allegedly administered to the 20th century English musician following a tonsillectomy (some reports list the procedure performed on the composer by a rather vague description of “dental surgery” – it remains uncertain which report is correct).

This would mean the much beloved Cello Concerto was – at least in part – composed (in the form of an outline) ‘under the influence’ of sedatives!