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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Some sopranos

Some years ago a friend gave me a CD in which two English sopranos, Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb, sing duets and solos by Monteverdi; the first seven items on it, all in Italian, are secular, and the following seven, in Latin, are sacred. The singing of the former bowled me over at first hearing. Her voice is by no means big, lacking the force which allowed Joan Sutherland […]

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Problems with polyphony

It would be easy to make a case that the quality of the music composed in England in the early modern period was as high as that of its literature. Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Thomas Morley, John Dowland and Orlando Gibbons were very nearly contemporaries, and wrote music as good as that being produced anywhere. I love what they can achieve with […]

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Classic Countdown

Last year ABC Classic FM invited its listeners to nominate their ten favourite pieces of music, and a Top Hundred was complied on the basis of the nominations. It was a wonderful experience listening to as much of it as one could, being exposed to things one wouldn’t normally listen to and hearing the extraordinarily disparate voices of people who phoned […]

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