This Week at The Classical Station
by Rob Kennedy
by Rob Kennedy
Sunday, July 23, 2023
Bring your weekend to a close with Herbert Howells’ An English Mass and Gabriel Faure’s Requiem this evening on Peaceful Reflections. 9 p.m. Eastern.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Romance for Viola & Piano is a delightful and heartfelt chamber work that exemplifies the composer’s mastery in creating evocative and expressive music. Composed in 1914, during a period of great creativity for Vaughan Williams, this piece reflects the influences of the English folk tradition while displaying his unique voice as a composer.
The Romance is a short single-movement work that showcases the soulful and lyrical qualities of the viola. Opening with a gentle and melancholic melody played by the viola, the music immediately draws listeners into a world of introspection and emotive storytelling. The piano responds with tender accompaniment, creating a dialogue that weaves seamlessly between the two instruments.
As the music unfolds, Vaughan Williams’ distinctive harmonic language becomes evident, characterized by rich, modal inflections and lush chromaticism. The piece’s harmonic shifts evoke a sense of nostalgia and longing, carrying the listener on an emotional journey through moments of introspection and serenity.
Throughout the Romance, the viola takes on the role of a storyteller, its warm and velvety timbre conveying a range of emotions, from wistful yearning to tender vulnerability. The piano, in turn, provides a supportive and sensitive backdrop, enhancing the viola’s expressive voice and adding depth to the musical narrative.
As the piece progresses, the music builds to moments of heightened intensity, revealing Vaughan Williams’ skill in crafting subtle climaxes that capture the listener’s attention without overpowering the inherent intimacy of the chamber setting. The final moments bring a return to the initial theme, gently fading away like a whispered memory.
Vaughan Williams’ Romance for Viola & Piano stands as a testament to the composer’s ability to infuse his music with profound emotion and a deep connection to the English countryside and its folk heritage. This short and enchanting work serves as a shining gem in the chamber music repertoire, inviting audiences to experience the timeless beauty of Vaughan Williams’ musical language and his masterful understanding of the viola’s expressive potential.
You can hear this beautiful piece of classical music during the 6 p.m. hour of Preview!
This morning’s Great Sacred Music includes music sung by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, the Hilliard Ensemble, and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Also on our playlist is music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Anton Diabelli, and Camille Saint-Saens.
Great Sacred Music begins at 8 a.m. Eastern. Right after Sing for Joy.
On July 23 we observe the birthdays of Swedish composer Franz Berwald (1796-1868), American pianist Leon Fleisher (1928-2020), and Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires (1944-), and American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (1960-).
Berwald was another composer who made his living doing something other than composing. He was a very successful orthopedic specialist. Focal dystonia drastically changed the focus of Leon. Fleisher’s musical career in 1964. Ms. Pires is a musical phenomenon. Ms. Graham shows no signs of slowing down after a long, remarkable career.
Saturday, July 22, 2023
Classical music is a tapestry of instruments, of experience, of emotion, of story. Every piece of music you hear on The Classical Station is also part of the larger tapestry of musical history, a history that goes back through centuries of composition and more than a century of recordings. Every day The Classical Station weaves a tapestry drawn from the many thousands of recordings in our vast music library.
But today the story is all about you – our listener. So seize the day by showing your support today for The Classical Station. Give securely online. Thank you for your support.
Photo: North Carolina Chamber Music Institute
Today is the birthday of American composer Alan Menken (1949-). Alan attended New York University where he earned a degree in musicology. He was won two Academy Awards and composed scores for the Disney films Aladdin, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and many more.
Photo: Sarah Ackerman, CC-by-2.0., Wikimedia Commons
Friday, July 21, 2023
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067, is a gem of the Baroque orchestral repertoire. Composed around 1738-1739, this suite is a prime example of Bach’s mastery in crafting elegant and joyful music for orchestral ensembles.
The suite consists of seven movements, each showcasing different dance forms and instrumental colors. It opens with an energetic and festive Overture, characterized by its majestic dotted rhythms and lively counterpoint. The Overture sets the stage for the suite’s vibrant and varied musical journey.
The following movement, “Rondeau,” features a charming and lyrical melody played by the flute, accompanied by strings and continuo. It exudes elegance and grace, typical of the French dance style.
Next comes the delightful “Sarabande,” a slow and stately dance known for its expressive and deeply emotional character. Bach’s gift for poignant melodies is evident in this movement, creating a moment of introspection and beauty within the suite.
The suite continues with the “Bourrées I and II,” two lively and contrasting dances in quick tempo. The first Bourrée is light and buoyant, while the second features a more rustic and syncopated character, adding rhythmic excitement to the suite.
The following “Polonaise” transports listeners to the lively courts of Poland, with its spirited rhythms and festive atmosphere. The infectious energy of this dance is a testament to Bach’s ability to infuse various national styles into his compositions.
The suite reaches a high point with the famous “Menuet,” a refined and elegant dance often associated with the French aristocracy. Its graceful melodies and intricate ornamentation exemplify the refined artistry of the Baroque era.
Finally, the suite concludes with the exhilarating “Badinerie,” a brilliant and virtuosic movement featuring the flute as the soloist. Its sprightly tempo and dazzling runs make it one of the most beloved and challenging flute pieces in the Baroque repertoire.
Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor is a shining example of the composer’s exceptional command of orchestration, rich harmonic language, and innovative use of dance forms. Its lively and diverse movements, together with Bach’s unparalleled craftsmanship, have made it a cherished and enduring work in the orchestral repertoire. The suite’s charm, elegance, and sheer brilliance continue to captivate audiences and musicians alike, allowing them to revel in the timeless genius of Johann Sebastian Bach.
You can hear this beautiful piece of classical music during the 11 a.m. hour of Classical Cafe.
Stern made a point of championing younger players including such notable artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Pinchas Zukerman. Kuerti has served on the faculties of the University of Toronto and McGill University besides producing 25 recordings.
Photo: Isaac Stern, PBS, Public Domain, Wikimedia Common
Thursday, July 20, 2023
Semiramide is an enthralling opera by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, first premiered in 1823. Set in ancient Babylon, the opera unfolds a tale of power, love, and betrayal, weaving together captivating music and dramatic storytelling.
The story revolves around Queen Semiramide, a powerful and enigmatic ruler of Babylon. She is haunted by the memory of her late husband, King Nino, whose murder remains unsolved. Meanwhile, Semiramide’s feelings for Arsace, a young warrior and captain of the guards, are deepening into romantic love. However, Arsace is unaware of his true identity and his mysterious past, as he was abandoned as a baby and raised by the high priest Oroe.
As the opera unfolds, a prophecy emerges, revealing the identity of Nino’s murderer. It predicts that Arsace must avenge the king’s death, unknowingly putting him on a collision course with Semiramide. The dramatic tension rises as the characters confront their destiny and hidden truths.
Throughout the opera, Rossini’s music beautifully captures the emotions and dilemmas faced by the characters. The vocal acrobatics and soaring melodies highlight the conflicting emotions of love, guilt, and desire for power. The grand chorus and elaborate ensembles add to the excitement and intensity of the unfolding events.
The opera culminates in a gripping and emotional finale, where the truth about Nino’s murder is finally revealed. Love, betrayal, and fate come to a head as the characters grapple with their destinies.
Semiramide is a thrilling opera filled with dramatic twists and turns, showcasing Rossini’s mastery of Italian bel canto style. The opera’s captivating plot, combined with the composer’s dazzling music, makes it a timeless and memorable experience for both seasoned opera lovers and newcomers alike.
You can hear this opera this evening on the Thursday Night Opera House beginning at 7 p.m.
Music makes memories. Hearing our favorite pieces brings us back to those special times when we first heard the music of Bach or Beethoven or Brahms. We each can recall the effect that music had on us.
That’s what we do here at The Classical Station. We program music that soothes you when the stress of everyday life gets to be too much. Our rousing overtures get you going during Rise and Shine in the morning. Classical Cafe and As You Like It keep you company while you go about your daily routine. Allegro and Concert Hall provide a pleasant musical backdrop for your end-of-the-day activities. Then, Music In The Night brings your day to a peaceful close. Sleepers Awake is there for you overnight for those times when you can’t sleep.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, also known as “Fingal’s Cave,” Op. 26, is a picturesque and evocative musical work that captures the breathtaking beauty and wild grandeur of the Scottish islands. Composed in 1830, the overture stands as a shining example of Mendelssohn’s mastery in creating programmatic music, where he skillfully transforms natural scenery and emotions into captivating melodies and orchestral colors.
The Hebrides Overture was inspired by Mendelssohn’s journey to the Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland. During his visit to the island of Staffa, he was particularly captivated by the awe-inspiring Fingal’s Cave, a unique geological formation with its hexagonal basalt columns, where the sea surges and echoes, creating a mystical and dramatic environment.
The overture begins with a haunting and mysterious theme in the cellos and basses, representing the solemn and remote landscape of the islands. This gives way to a swirling and undulating melody in the violins, painting a vivid musical picture of the ebb and flow of the ocean waves. As the music progresses, Mendelssohn masterfully weaves contrasting themes, each reflecting the rugged and untamed beauty of the Hebrides.
In the central section of the overture, Mendelssohn’s orchestration depicts the awe-inspiring grandeur of Fingal’s Cave. The strings and winds blend in sweeping melodies, imitating the sounds of the wind and sea inside the cave’s hollow chambers. The music swells with dramatic intensity, conveying the raw power of nature and the sense of wonder Mendelssohn experienced during his visit.
Following this tumultuous climax, the overture gradually returns to the calm and introspective atmosphere of its opening. The gentle and wistful melodies evoke a sense of longing and nostalgia as if the listener is bidding farewell to the breathtaking Scottish landscape.
Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is a remarkable example of the Romantic era’s fascination with the sublime power of nature and the human response to it. The work’s innovative orchestration, dramatic contrasts, and vivid imagery demonstrate Mendelssohn’s profound understanding of musical storytelling and his ability to conjure emotional landscapes through music.
Today, the Hebrides Overture remains a beloved and frequently performed piece in the orchestral repertoire. Its enduring popularity stems from its ability to transport audiences to the windswept cliffs and echoing caves of the Scottish islands, inviting them to share in Mendelssohn’s own sense of wonder and awe at the wonders of the natural world.
You can hear this beautiful piece of classical music during the 3 p.m. hour of As You Like It.
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Photo: Unknown Author, Public Domain Pictures
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
“Forest Murmurs” (Waldweben) is an enchanting orchestral interlude from Richard Wagner’s opera Siegfried, the third installment of his monumental four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung. Composed between 1856 and 1871, Siegfried showcases Wagner’s revolutionary music drama and his visionary approach to storytelling through music.
“Forest Murmurs” appears in Act II of Siegfried and serves as a transition between two pivotal scenes. In this interlude, Wagner transports the audience to the mystical and magical world of the forest, evoking the tranquil ambiance of nature with extraordinary orchestral writing.
The music begins with gentle and shimmering strings, suggesting the soft rays of sunlight filtering through the trees. As the woodwinds join in, the orchestra weaves a delicate tapestry of sounds, imitating the rustling of leaves and the murmur of the forest streams. Wagner’s use of harmony and instrumentation creates an immersive soundscape, transporting listeners to the heart of nature’s sanctuary.
Throughout “Forest Murmurs,” the orchestra paints a vivid picture of the vibrant life that thrives in the woods. Birds seem to sing in the flutes and piccolos, while the clarinets and oboes evoke the calls of woodland creatures. The music gradually builds in intensity, depicting the bustling activity of the forest, before subsiding into serene and reflective moments.
The ethereal quality of “Forest Murmurs” mirrors Siegfried’s inner journey as he explores the world around him, searching for meaning and wisdom. The interlude captures the opera’s underlying themes of nature’s power, self-discovery, and the connection between the hero and his environment.
Beyond its role in the opera, “Forest Murmurs” has become a cherished orchestral excerpt, often performed as a standalone piece in symphonic concerts. Its lush and evocative orchestration, combined with Wagner’s profound understanding of dramatic pacing, make it a captivating musical experience, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in the magic and wonder of the natural world.
Richard Wagner’s “Forest Murmurs” remains a testament to the composer’s unmatched ability to transcend traditional musical boundaries and create a world of vivid imagination and emotional depth through his groundbreaking music dramas.
You can hear this beautiful piece of classical music during the 5 p.m. hour of Allegro this afternoon.
Kurt Masur conducted most of the world’s principal orchestras in his lifetime. He also served as director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Fučík wrote hundreds of marches. Think of him as a Czech John Philip Sousa. WCPE The Classical Station went on the air on July 18, 1978, with a 1,000-watt transmitter in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a vision of bringing classical music to everybody, everywhere. Forty-five years later, thanks to listener support and volunteer power, our great classical music reaches around the world.
Photo: WCPE Photo Services
Monday, July 17, 2023
Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14, stands as a groundbreaking and visionary work in the Romantic symphonic repertoire. Composed in 1830, this symphony reflects Berlioz’s intense emotions, vivid imagination, and innovative orchestral techniques, making it a seminal piece in the development of programmatic music.
The Symphonie Fantastique is a musical depiction of an artist’s opium-induced dreams and the wild, passionate emotions experienced during a feverish state. The symphony unfolds in five movements, each representing different episodes of the protagonist’s dream journey.
The first movement, “Rêveries – Passions,” sets the stage with the artist’s restless musings and yearnings for unattainable love. From the haunting, ethereal introduction to the surging waves of passion, Berlioz captures the tumultuous emotions of the protagonist, creating a gripping opening to the symphony.
In the second movement, “Un bal” (A Ball), the artist finds himself at a glittering ball where he imagines catching glimpses of his beloved. The waltz rhythms and vibrant orchestration create a whirlwind of excitement and illusion as the artist’s emotions swing between ecstasy and despair.
The third movement, “Scène aux champs” (Scene in the Country), is a tranquil and pastoral interlude. Here, Berlioz evokes the serenity of nature, with delicate melodies and gentle orchestration painting an idyllic landscape. Amidst this calm, the artist is haunted by the memory of his beloved, their melody mingling with the sounds of nature.
The fourth movement, “Marche au supplice” (March to the Scaffold), thrusts the listener into a nightmarish scene where the artist imagines himself being led to the guillotine. The pulsating rhythm and ominous brass and percussion create a sense of impending doom, intensifying the symphony’s dramatic tension.
The fifth and final movement, “Songe d’une nuit de sabbat” (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath), is a tumultuous and hallucinatory finale. Berlioz unleashes a wild and grotesque musical depiction of a witches’ Sabbath, complete with eerie chants, grotesque dances, and the menacing “Dies Irae” motif. The symphony culminates in a frenzied and nightmarish climax, representing the artist’s ultimate descent into madness.
Symphonie Fantastique is a tour de force of orchestration and emotional intensity, challenging the boundaries of traditional symphonic form. Berlioz’s use of recurring themes and innovative instrumental techniques paved the way for the development of programmatic music and exerted a profound influence on future generations of composers.
The symphony’s bold and imaginative storytelling, along with its exploration of intense emotions and vivid imagery, has cemented Symphonie Fantastique as one of the most celebrated and iconic works in the Romantic repertoire. It continues to captivate audiences with its extraordinary power, emotional depth, and revolutionary approach to orchestration and storytelling.
You can hear this beautiful piece of classical music this evening on Monday Night at The Symphony.
This week, Monday Night at the Symphony features the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra which was founded in 1888. The program includes music by Hector Berlioz, Max Bruch, and Sergei Rachmaninoff conducted by Daniele Gatti, Mariss Jansons, and Bernard Haitink.
The concert begins at 8 p.m. Eastern. Tell your smart device to “Play The Classical Station.”
On July 17 we observe the birthdays of American sopranos Eleanor Steber (1914-1990) and Dawn Upshaw (1960-) and American composer and authority on P.D.Q Bach, Peter Schickele (1935-).
A West Virginia native, Ms. Steber graced the stages of major opera houses during her career. She also appeared on some of the popular radio programs of the day. Grammy Award winner Dawn Upshaw is equally at home singing operatic roles or art songs. The discoverer of the hitherto unknown composer P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele is an accomplished bassoonist. Happy 88th birthday, Professor!
Photo of Ms. Upshaw: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation