Franz Schubert's Notturno in Eb, D. 897, performed by the Stuttgart Piano Trio, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The Notturno in Eb or Adagio was probably written just one year prior to Schubert's death at the early age of 31. Although the work was published posthumously with the title Notturno (Nocturne), Schubert merely labeled it "Adagio" as it may have been intended as a movement in a larger work for piano trio. With the clarity and contrast of the piano and two, stringed instruments, listen for the simple, Schubertian melody to be exchanged.
In the opening, for example, the violin and cello sing a soft duet while the piano accompanies with rolling, harp-like chords. Then the roles are reversed as the piano takes the melody, and the strings respond with a pizzicato accompaniment. The pianissimo conclusion of this little night music drifts off into a nocturnal dream.
Randall Thompson's Alleluia, performed by Voices of Ascension, Dennis Keene, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
From Randall Thompson, then Director of the Curtis Institute of Music, Serge Koussevitzky wanted a choral fanfare, loud and festive, for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. But Thompson couldn’t do festive, not in July 1940. Evil was spreading in Europe, and France had fallen the month before.
Over five days Thompson took the word “Alleluia”—literally, “Praise the Lord”—and turned it on its head, just as (he said later) it is in the Book of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Thompson calls this a sad piece, this slow and insistent six-minute layered intoning of “Alleluia,” ending in “Amen.” It’s an atypical fanfare, but the Thompson Alleluia is one of the most beloved choral works of all time.
from Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele, Prologue in Heaven
The "Prologue in Heaven" from Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele, performed by soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, mezzo-soprano Monica Minarelli, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor Mimmo Ghegghi, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, the Palermo Teatro Massimo Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Children's Chorus, with organist Sonia Zaramella, and conducted by Stefano Ranzani, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Arrigo Boito is best remembered as a very successful writer who provided Amilcare Ponchielli with texts for La Gioconda, as well as libretti for three of Giuseppe Verdi’s best-loved operas. Success as a composer, though, eluded Boito. His one completed opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe’s Faust, was a dismal failure at its first production. It took Boito several years to rework Mefistofele into what we know it as today, an opera in four acts with a Prelude and Epilogue.
It’s the Prelude that’s most frequently performed as a stand-alone concert piece today and is always a musically thrilling experience, scored as it is for solo voices, multiple choruses including children’s choruses, large orchestra, off-stage band, organ, harps, and percussion.
In the Prologue, a heavenly chorus praises God the Creator. Mefistofele scornfully declares that he can win the soul of Faust, a challenge accepted by the Forces of Good.
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, performed by Capella Istropolitana, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
This iconic masterpiece by West Chester, Pa. native Samuel Barber began its existence in 1936 as the slow movement of his only String Quartet. Barber immediately recognized the expressive possibilities of his music and rearranged the movement for string orchestra later that same year. A continuous ebb and flow of sustained-note cadences that only gradually resolve produces an effect of a great heaving or sighing.
The deep sadness the music evokes has led to the work’s performance as an anthem of mourning for heads of state and during national tragedies. It has also been used to great effect in many film soundtracks.
The Cavatina by Stanley Myers, used as the theme to The Deer Hunter, performed by guitarist Norbert Kraft, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Film composer Stanley Myers scored The Walking Stick in 1970, and then guitarist John Williams convinced him to work up one bit of it for guitar. Williams played it eight years later on the sound track of one of the greatest movies of all time, The Deer Hunter.
Juxtaposing this bittersweet song against the struggle with brutality and love—in Southeast Asian jungles and Pennsylvania mountains—is as piercing now as it was in the years following the Vietnam War. Norbert Kraft performs the solo guitar arrangement with a graceful, glowing sound.
from Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi, O mio babbino caro
"O mio babbino caro," from Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, sung by soprano Miriam Gauci, with the Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The soprano aria "O mio babbino caro" (Oh, my dear Papa) from Puccini’s only comic opera Gianni Schicchi, is one of Puccini's best-known and popular arias in opera. It’s sung with lyrical simplicity by the young woman Lauretta against a backdrop of hypocrisy, jealousy, double-dealing, and feuding in medieval Florence, after tensions between her father Schicchi and the family of Rinuccio, the young man she loves, has reached a breaking point that threatens to separate her from Rinuccio.
Here, she expresses to her father her love for Rinuccio, and begs him to reconsider his feelings for the young man’s family, threatening to go to the Ponte Vecchio and throw herself into the Arno River if she can’t marry him. It’s a very persuasive plea, and dear Papa finds a way!
The Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed by David Greed, violin, and the English Northern Philharmonia conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Has there ever been a musical portrait of such beauty, grace, and tranquility? Inspired by George Meredith’s poem, this gorgeously meditative piece, originally written for violin and piano, was rearranged for violin and orchestra by Vaughan Williams in 1920. Between folksong-like orchestral interludes, the solo violinist takes flight playing soft, fluttering ascending and descending pentatonic (five-note) scale patterns, “ever winging up and up.”
Vaughan Williams’s free use of rhythm in the cadenzas enables the soloist to “lift us with him as he goes,” vividly depicting the song and motion of the lark as he takes wing out over the horizon.
Gerald Finzi's Eclogue for Piano and Strings, performed by Peter Donohoe, piano, and the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Howard Griffiths, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
When the boy was seven, his father died. Three brothers died. His first composition teacher was killed in WWI. He devoured poetry, wrote music, moved to the country, walked for hours in solitude. He cultivated apple trees and cataloged and published a sick friend’s music. At 50 he learned he had Hodgkin’s disease; he wouldn’t live out the decade.
From this seemingly melancholy life Gerald Finzi sculpted music of soft, shimmering beauty. He never finished a piano concerto, but after his death one movement of it was published as Eclogue. The dictionary calls “eclogue” pastoral poetry. This is the essence of Gerald Finzi.
Franz Biebl's Ave Maria, performed by LundCantores Cathedrales, Eva Svanholm Bohlin, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
In 1964 a German fireman asked Franz Biebl, his church organist, to write a piece for the men’s choir at the firehouse. He did, they sang it, and it was forgotten. A few years later, though, Biebl, directing music at a radio station, showed it to the touring Cornell University Glee Club. They took it back to the U.S. It started to be known, and when Chanticleer recorded it, it became a worldwide hit.
Biebl and others have arranged his Ave Maria for different ensembles, vocal and instrumental (the radiant, surging harmonies transport alike a mixed choir or a drum and bugle corps) but the sound of the original double men’s choir version is unmatched.
The Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by the Swiss Baroque Soloists, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721 are among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era. The Third in the set is scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos, and basso continuo, including harpsichord. The Margrave not only never paid Bach for his work, but he failed even to thank him. This third concerto is a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods in Bach's life.
Even though he didn't call them the "Brandenburgs" himself, Bach still thought of them as a set. Compiled from short instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements he had already written, Bach re-worked the old music, often re-writing and elaborating where he saw fit, and creating in the process some of the most brilliant and enjoyable of any of his works.