She’s Leaving Home

Twice in the past few weeks I’ve heard on the radio arrangements of an old song by the Beatles, She’s Leaving Home, made by people who would be generally regarded as serious composers. A friend tells me she has also heard orchestrations of Eleanor Rigby, and come to think of it I’m sure I have heard Norwegian Wood being treated in […]

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In Praise of Arvo Part (ii)

Among the sacred works of the contemporary composer Arvo Part, the mighty Passio (1982), which sets to music the Vulgate text of St John’s narrative of Christ’s Passion, is the best known. It begins with a wall of sound in which the Chorus announces the topic of the work, and proceeds with other voices taking the parts of the Evangelist, Jesus (a […]

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In Praise of Arvo Part (i)

Born in Estonia in 1935, Part is one of those composers who took a while to find his voice. Of his early pieces, the most enjoyable is Solfeggio (1964), in which unaccompanied voices overlay each other. Doubtless being in the USSR imposed constraints on him, as it did on other composers, although while living in an oppressive environment most have […]

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Henryk Gorecki, John Tavener and Arvo Part

Some years ago three composers who seemed to be doing similar things came to prominence at about the same time. It is now becoming easier to separate them. Henryk Gorecki, a Pole, died recently, and his fame will largely rest on one piece, his Symphony no. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) for orchestra and soprano. It’s a very moving composition with an emotional intensity […]

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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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