Byrd on Jerusalem

Among the extrordinarily talented composers of Tudor England, none stands higher than William Byrd. He was something of an outsider, being a convinced Catholic in a country that was increasingly identifying itself by its adherence to Protestantism, and while he composed some beautiful pieces for Anglican liturgy his most powerful sacred music is, explicitly or implicity, composed with the old religion […]

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Tchaikovsy does Mozart

When a schoolboy I was bowled over by the excitement of Tchaikovsky’s stirring 1812 Overture, and I imagine girls of a similar age being entranced by the delicate beauty of Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky is a thoroughly enjoyable composer. But there are some things that should never be attempted. I’ve been listening to his Suite No. 4 in G, the Mozartiana, in […]

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In Praise of The Magic Flute

A number of productions of Mozart’s opera are taking place in Australia at around this time, and while I probably won’t see any of them they’ve led me to turn again to a version of it on one of the first CDs I bought, that in which Kiri Te Kanawa sings Pamina (further back lies a dimly recollected and most enjoyable movie version directed by Ingmar Bergman.) […]

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In Praise of Handel’s Messiah

Attending one of the performances of this oratorio that proliferate around this time of the year reminded me of just how enjoyable it is. Handel could certainly write a good tune, and there’s something of the Broadway musical about the way in which the numbers keep coming; from ‘Comfort ye’ onwards there is sustained melodic pleasure. And the music is beautifully appropriate to […]

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Twentieth Century Countdown

A busy week kept me from listening to as much as I would have liked of a countdown on the radio of the top hundred pieces of twentieth century music, as voted by the listeners of the ABC. But it was wonderful to hear some old favourites, among them Vaughan Williams’ Fantasias on Greensleeves and a Theme from Thomas Tallis, Kats-Chernin’s […]

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In Praise of Chopin

The coming of the piano was one of the great leaps forward in western music. There was now a keyboard instrument capable of long legato passages, of crescendo and diminuendo, and of the sustained notes, whether or not prolonged by the use of a pedal, that make the Moonlight Sonata so beautiful. Already employed to good effect by Haydn and Mozart, […]

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Back in the USSR?

Over the course of a few happy days not long ago (thank you, A!) I spent some time listening to the music of the Beatles and the Beachboys. Both used to give me great pleasure, but on hearing the old songs again I was struck by how much more interesting those of the Beatles are. Their music is more complex, takes more […]

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In Praise of Beethoven’s Sixth

Shortly after my music-playing apparatus was repaired a concert was broadcast that included the immensely likeable Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony of Beethoven. It contains five sections, that it may be going to far to describe as movements. The first expresses Beethoven’s feelings on arriving in the country; these are light-hearted and serene, the notes of the music often not quite forming themselves […]

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In Praise of Aaron Copland

There can be no-one who doesn’t warm to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. From its haunting, gentle beginning, suggestive of Grieg or Wagner, and the lovely passage about six minutes in right through to the Shaker melody that has found popularity elsewhere as the Lord of the Dance and segues into the tranquil beauty of the final bars, there is continual enjoyment. I relish […]

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In praise of Handel

I’d been looking forward to listening to a broadcast of a performance of Handel’s Messiah, but the program was pulled, and instead something I didn’t know existed, a reorchestration of the oratorio produced by Johan Hiller in 1786, was played. It was no more successful than reworkings of earlier music usually are, turning it into something softer and more lush…of course such […]

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