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.
"O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Youth Chorus, and the Highcliffe Junior Choir, conducted by Marin Alsop, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Carmina Burana begins with a blast in the opening section, "O Fortuna"—Luck, Empress of the World. Then a quiet, rhythmic repetition follows, with a smashing conclusion about the forces of life controlled by Fortune and Fate. The 25th and last section repeats the first. What's between the bookends?
Carmina Burana means "Songs of the Beurens," and are medieval poems, mostly in Latin, discovered in a monastery in 1803 in Bavaria. The musical collection includes the ephemeral pleasures of spring, health, drinking, gambling, and lust.
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.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Ave verum corpus, performed by the Kosice Teachers’ Choir and Camerata Cassovia, conducted by Johannes Wildner, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Mozart wrote this for a church musician friend of his, for the Feast of Corpus Christi. “Hail, true Body” is sung at the central moment of the Catholic liturgy, but is here so simple, so self-effacing, that it almost sneaks by. The melody is nearly too sweet, the harmonies stay put, the bass line doesn’t travel much, the voices move together. But at “May it be for us a foretaste in the trial of death,” Mozart holds back the tenors and basses—just for a space.
When they enter, oh so quietly, repeating the women’s “may it be,” Mozart’s genius detonates the mysterious celebration of the power of suffering. He wrote this in June, 1791. In December he would be dead. Ave verum corpus may be the most stunningly compact explosion of music ever composed.
from Marin Marais: Sonnerie de Saint Geneviève du Mont de Paris
The Sonnerie de Saint Geneviève du Mont de Paris (The Bells of St. Genevieve) of Marin Marais, performed by Spectre de la Rose, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The French composer and viol player Marin Marais was one of the leading figures in French music of his day. After composition studies with Jean-Baptist Lully, and bass viol with Saint-Colombe, a master of the instrument, he landed a job in the royal court of Versailles and had a great deal of success as a court musician.
His Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont de Paris is actually part of a larger collection of virtuoso viol pieces and is probably his most famous work, and was composed in 1723.
Ludwig van Beethoven's Romance No. 2 in F Major, Op.50, performed by Takako Nishizaki, violin, with Kenneth Jean conducting the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
This is the second of a pair of works written for solo violin and orchestra. A favorite with concert artists, it is pensive and beautifully melodic, highlighting the sonic qualities of the violin at its best and allowing the soloists a wide range of emotional options.
Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, performed by the Elora Festival Singers, Noel Edison, conductor, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
“O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!” This text was first chanted by monks in the cold, pre-dawn hours before Christmas mornings centuries ago. Now, the mystical, soaring music of Morten Lauridsen warms millions worldwide.
Simple in structure and harmony, yet quietly overwhelming, the Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium transcends style with its luminously expressive writing. Morten Lauridsen is one of the most-sung choral composers in America and around the world, and this work is a fine example why.
The Tragic Overture of Johannes Brahms, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conducting, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
"One weeps, the other laughs." So Brahms remarked about his two, contrasting pair of concert overtures—the jovial Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture. The complementary overtures are like the masks of the Greek dramas: Comedy facing one way, Tragedy the other.
Although Brahms read Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Goethe, in the musical tragedy he is not telling a specific story, but instead is invoking a mood, an emotional impression. Two hammer chords announce and reappear throughout the overture. It is a dark and stormy overture.
from Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Prelude and Liebestod
The Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Wildner, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
There are those who feel, quite frankly, that the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is the greatest piece of music ever written. The final climax of the music drama probably inspired by Wagner’s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, is certainly one of the peaks of the operatic repertory. Here, before our very ears, we experience the beginning of the move away from conventional harmony and tonality, and witness Wagner laying the groundwork for the direction of classical music in the 20th century as early as 1857!
The very first chord in the piece, the Tristan chord, is of great significance in the move away from traditional tonal harmony as it resolves to another dissonant chord! For me, the anticipation of final release in that last chord of the Liebestod is almost unbearable; but, when it finally comes, the lasting sense of ecstasy is as spine-tingling and blissful as anything in all art. I dissolve every time I hear it, and ask myself, “How could any human being have written this?”