Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Symphony

Getting Started with Walter Braunfels

The millions dead and the countless lives ruined are enough reason to abhor the Nazis, but the suppression in the 1930s and 40s of music by certain composers adds even more to the long list of offenses.  In addition, critical tastes and trends also hurt the careers of composers considered old-fashioned.  So it’s heartening to hear the work of Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) being resurrected, albeit decades after the injustice and his death.  You can read about Braunfels’ story plus conductor Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony’s role in his revival in a recent New York Times article, a PSO blog, a Post-Gazette blog, and a Tribune Review concert preview.

In this blog post, though, I’m simply directing you to three recordings in the library’s collection where you can discover his music.

This fantastical opera based on a Aristophanes play was enormously popular in the 1920s and finally was revived in the 90s.  This release is part of the Entartete Musik series, a project on the Decca label to record and reawaken interest in music subdued by the Nazis.

This is the orchestral piece that Honeck excerpted to begin the PSO concerts of last weekend, the finale of their 2010-2011 season.  Hear the whole grand thing here.

Braunfels was born half-Jewish but Catholic in faith.  This sacred choral work was recorded by Manfred Honeck with a Swedish orchestra and choir.  Parts of it were performed in 2009 by the PSO.

Fans of Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Korngold, and other German or Austrian post-romantic composers are especially encouraged to check these out.

– Tim

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Not a Devil to Read and Not a Violin Nightmare

Last time around, I gave you a listening list of horn music in preparation for our Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club discussion of Jasper Rees’ A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.  Well, I’m pleased to report that the book was a delight and not a devil to read.  Rees warms a librarian’s heart by doing so much in-depth investigation of both the ancient and recent history of the horn.  Then he shows off his storytelling skills by deftly weaving the threads of teenage remembrance, present-day experience, and historical research throughout each chapter.  Also impressive is how the struggling amateur Rees ingratiated himself to the community of elite horn players.  Finally, he grew even further in our book club’s estimation by talking to us via Skype even though it was past midnight in the UK.  Consider us charmed.

Next up for the club is Arnold Steinhardt’s Violin Dreams, also a captivating read.  Steinhardt is first violinist of the esteemed Guarneri Quartet.  Unlike Rees, he is a professional musician who studied for decades with the greatest masters and mentors of his instrument.  But like Rees, his book also weaves together memories with research into the premier players and their instruments.  Steinhardt also includes vivid descriptions of his sometimes anxious dreams.  Finally, the most significant piece of music that threads its way through the book is J. S. Bach’s Chaconne (the final movement of his Partita no. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004), the crown jewel and one of the mightier challenges of the violinist’s repertoire.  The book comes with a CD with two recordings of Steinhardt performing the piece, in 1966 and forty years later.

We hope to see you on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department for another great book discussion with your fellow readers, library staff, Jim Cunningham from WQED-FM, and Pittsburgh Symphony Associate Concert Master Mark Huggins.

– Tim

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Plenty of Horns

Do you like books about music?  Check out Jasper Rees’ book A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.  Then come to the library on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. for the first meeting of our second year of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.

Beforehand, you might also want to check out some music performed on “the orchestra’s most difficult instrument” (i.e., the horn) and I’ve prepared a list below.  To clarify, when talking about classical music, “horn” specifically means the coiled brass instrument also known as a French horn.  See the book cover at left and the picture at the bottom of the post.  The French invented it for hunting; the Germans made it an instrument for the orchestra.  It acquired valves in the early 19th century.  Be sure not to confuse it with the English horn, which is a kind of oboe.

Here are some recommended recordings of pieces for one, two, three and even four horns so you can surround your ears with the sound of wide-belled brass.

1 horn:

  • For an overview with spoken commentary of the repertoire that horn players auditioning for orchestras need to know, listen to Orchestral Excerpts for Horn by A. David Krehbiel.
  • Even though he was a violist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) always seemed to write well for brass.  His Sonate für Horn und Klavier from 1939 is an intimate way to hear the horn sing over piano accompaniment.

2 horns:

  • On this recording, the Virtuoso Horn Duo of Kristina Mascher and Kerry Turner play pieces composed for two horns and chamber orchestra by Haydn and his horn-playing contemporary Antonio Rosetti, plus an arrangement for 2 horns of a Vivaldi concerto, and a piece by Turner himself.
  • Baroque concertos were shorter in duration and utilized smaller ensembles than later classical and romantic era works.  Georg Philipp Telemann’s concertos for 2 horns and strings and continuo (TWV 52:D1 and TWV 52:D2) from the early 18th century exemplify concise craftsmanship.

3 horns:

  • Chôros No. 4 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is scored for the unusual quartet of three horns plus trombone.  Its first half is ponderous, perhaps even menacing, while the last minute or so sounds more like a concert in the park.

4 horns:

  • One usually associates Schumann with works for solo piano, vocal and piano, his great piano concerto and his four symphonies.  But also worth hearing is his 1849 Konzertstück (concert piece) for four horns and orchestra.  Originally composed for two valveless and two modern horns, it’s a bridge between two eras of the instrument.
  • While it might not inspire Spanish-style dancing, Four-Horned Fandango by Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960- ) does have castanets accompanying the four horn soloists and, like a lot of contemporary classical music, gets better with repeated listens.

Interlochen music campers playing the horn.

To add one more to the list, though it wasn’t composed specifically for horn, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks) was the most used piece for horn players’ orchestra auditions according to Facing the Maestro.  So you know it will have some impressive parts for the instrument.  (And Strauss did also compose two concertos for horn.)

Last but not least, if you want to get really serious about horn music, use our French Horn Resources page.

– Tim

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s 1791 in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club

Last time around, the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club included a bassoon solo by the PSO’s  James Rodgers and an almost hour long phone call from Vivaldi’s Virgins author Barbara Quick!

The Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club’s second session will be about the book 1791, Mozart’s Last Year by H. C. Robbins Landon.  Read it and find out about Mozart’s debts, his wardrobe, the milieu of Vienna, his declining health, and most important, the stories behind his final masterpieces.

Date:  Monday, November 9, 2009

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main Library (Oakland) — Music Department

MozartRequiem

Once again, let’s review why you should attend!

  • a member of the illustrious Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the discussion — for this session it’s cellist Charlotta Klein Ross
  • local radio celebrity Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM will also be there
  • since it takes place in the Music Department, other materials relating to the subject will be on hand for you to check out
  • it’s an informal discussion so don’t fret if you don’t finish the book
  • you may attend any or all of the meetings
  • it’s free

Please call 412-622-3105 to register.

– Tim

p.s.  Click here to see the other upcoming meetings of the PSO book club.

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club

On Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Library (Oakland), we begin a program about which we are very excited, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.

vivvirThe first book to be discussed is Vivaldi’s Virgins: A Novel (paperback/large print) by Barbara Quick. This intriguing historical novel is about an orphan violinist at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was the maestro di violino. This book was selected by James Rodgers, contrabassoonist for the PSO, who will be participating in the discussion. Also appearing at each meeting will be WQED-FM‘s witty and well-spoken Jim Cunningham.

The weekend following each book club event, the orchestra concerts at Heinz Hall will correspond to the book you just read and discussed. After reading Vivaldi’s Virgins, you can hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Let’s review why you should attend!

  • a member of the illustrious Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the discussion
  • local radio celebrity Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM will also be there
  • since it takes place in the Music Department, other materials relating to the subject will be on hand for you to check out
  • it’s an informal discussion so don’t fret if you don’t finish the book
  • you may attend any or all of the meetings
  • it’s free

Click here to see the other upcoming meetings of the PSO book club.

Please call 412-622-3105 to register so we can save a seat for you!

– Tim

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David Hyde Pierce: an Appreciation

beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827

On the final page of the May 2009 issue of Gramophone magazine, actor David Hyde Pierce (most well known as Niles on Frasier) writes about his early piano lessons and the classical music that has touched him throughout his life. I was pleased to see him mention that some of the recordings that inspired his love for Beethoven were done by the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of William Steinberg.

If David Hyde Pierce ever came to visit our library, I’d sit him down at one of our listening stations with our 8 LP set of Steinberg conducting the 9 Beethoven symphonies with the PSO. We would talk about the greatness of Beethoven. We would discuss how Pittsburgh has a world-class orchestra, well-documented on recordings and still going strong, including lots of performances of Beethoven’s works under the new leadership of Manfred Honeck. Then I would get very serious. I would look Mr. Pierce directly in the eye and tell him how great he was in the ridiculous comedy Wet Hot American Summer, how he looks good in a mustache in the film, how well he taught science to “the indoor kids” at summer camp, and how it is one of my all time favorite, funny movies.

– Tim

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