Opening and closing bars of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, “The Tempest”


A little Shakespeare music for his birthday



To celebrate the Bard’s birthday I am sharing my first Shakespeare playlist, a mix of spoken word, Elizabethan songwriting and contemporary score. The Spotify link is HERE, and here’s what you will find on it…

1.  Judi Dench – ‘These Are The Forgeries…’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Judi brings her husky authority to Titania’s speech grieving the feud with Oberon and the disarray it leaves behind in nature.
2.  Julian Bream – Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard by John Dowland
400-year-old classical guitar ode to Good Queen Bess.
3. Choeur de Chambre de Namur – Ingressus: Cantate Dominum
Uplifting church horns from Rogier, under-appreciated Flemish composer and almost exact contemporary of Shakespeare.
4.  Dame Janet Baker/Martin Isepp/Ambrose Gauntlett/Douglas Whittaker – ‘Where the bee sucks…’
Ariel’s poem from The Tempest set to a spritely pastoral theme with Dame Janet’s impossibly precise phrasing bouncing about like the magical bee itself.
5.  Jordi Savall – Lachrimae Antiquae by John Dowland
Neither are teares shed always in sorrow but sometime in joy and gladnesse” wrote Dowland in the 1604 dedication for his lute and violin delight.
6.  Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Act 2 - “On the Ground, Sleep Sound
The dream begins in Britten’s opera, premiered in 1960 and musically looted ever since.
7.  David Munrow –Madrigal (Di novo é giunto)
This list would be incomplete without a madrigal, this one is a twenty-first century creation from music historian and musician David Munrow for lute.
8.  I Fagiolini – Extraliturgical Motet: In ecclesiis by Giovanni Gabrieli
A grand early-Baroque finale piece written for an Italian holy festival in the last years of Shakespeare’s life.
9.  Carlo Gesualdo – O Vos Omnes
‘O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow…’ Beautiful five-voice responsory written the year Elizabeth died, but Catholic of course, so no more mourning for her here…
10.  Hespèrion XX, Jordi Savall – Paavin Of Albarti (Alberti)
A ‘consort’ or ensemble piece that may have soundtracked all manner of art and machinations from Shakespeare’s royal court…
11.  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – Othello, Op. 79: II. Children’s Intermezzo
More British opera, a piece by our greatest black composer on Shakespeare’s noble Moor.
12.Provofiev/London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn – Romeo and Juliet, Op.64, Act I: Dance of the Knights
Originally considered too difficult to choreograph, here is the bombastic soundtrack to the Capulet’s Ball you know and love from the great Russian ballet, a triumphant version from the LSO and André Previn.
13.  Nick Ingman – The End  (Instrumental) from Shakespeare In Love
Sad sad closing piece from an Oscar-winning score. ‘You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die…’
14.  Paul Rogers – John of Gaunt’s Death Speech from Richard II
‘This little world, this precious stone, set in a silver sea…’ John’s goodbye, and tribute to England, from a master Shakespearean, to see us out.

Vladimir Horowitz plays Chopin Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33 No. 4

Vienna, 1987


Giacomo Puccini’s piano at his Torre del Lago estate


Giacomo Puccini’s piano at his Torre del Lago estate


Anthony Minghella’s production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. London Coliseum.


Anthony Minghella’s production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. London Coliseum.

One of the best-known tunes from this fairy-tale opera is a theme associated with Turandot, an icy, man-hating princess in a Beijing of legendary times. The theme is a stately, gentle melody that Puccini adapted from a Chinese folk tune. During the opera we hear it many ways: sung by an angelic children’s choir, blasting forth from the full orchestra, proclaimed by throngs of choristers in the courtyard of the palace.

But at this juncture in Act III, Turandot has been summoned to the scene. Imperial guards are holding Liu, the slave girl, who knows the name of the secretive Prince Calaf, Turandot’s mysterious and determined suitor. When Turandot appears, we hear that “Chinese” theme again in the full-throttled orchestra, with trumpets and trombones blaring. But the sound of the orchestra deflates in just seconds, and the first phrase of the theme is repeated, this time in warm, subdued and glowing orchestral sound, rich with throbbing strings. The melodic line is harmonized in sensuous, impressionistic chords seemingly right out of Debussy, turning it into something yearning, romantic and poignant.

In presenting this now-familiar melody in such a harmonically startling and seductive way, Puccini is signaling the audience not only that Turandot is going to melt, that she is about to fall in love with Calaf, but that she already has. Turandot may not know this. But Puccini knows it, and, hearing this musical moment, the audience does too.

Anthony Tommasini, describing everything that’s awesome about Puccini. (via leadingtone)


Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn, Jr.: American Classical Pianist and Cultural Hero of the Cold War, July 12, 1934 - February 27, 2013

"TEXAS PIANIST WINS TOP SOVIET MUSIC PRIZE In Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, Texas’ Van Cliburn wins the Tchaikovsky Competition, one of the toughest and most prestigious in the world of music with a bravura performance that makes him the toast of Moscow. A rare feat by an American-born, American-trained musician."

Universal Newsreel Volume 31, Release 33, 04/24/1958

Ok I just read “Agnus dei” as “Angus dei” and I’m ashamed of myself because the first thing that came to mind was


"Any great work of art […] revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world—the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.”

—Leonard Bernstein

(via shung0kusatsu)

TRACK: Symphony No.9 in E Flat, Op.70: 3. Presto
ARTIST: St Petersburg Kirov Orchestra & Valery Gergiev
ALBUM: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos.5 & 9

Shostakovich: Symphony No.9 in E Flat, Op.70, mvt. 3: Presto

St Petersburg Kirov Orchestra
Conducted by Valery Gergiev

The ninth symphony was originally intended to be a celebration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany in World War II (see Eastern Front). The composer declared in October 1943 that the symphony would be a large composition for orchestra, soloists and chorus “about the greatness of the Russian people, about our Red Army liberating our native land from the enemy”.

In a meeting with his students on 16 January 1945, Shostakovich informed them that the day before he had begun work on a new symphony. A week later, he told them that he had reached the middle of the development section, and the work was going to open with a big tutti. Isaak Glikman heard around ten minutes of the music Shostakovich had written for the first movement in late April, which he described as “majestic in scale, in pathos, in its breathtaking motion”. But then Shostakovich dropped the composition for three months. He resumed work on 26 July 1945 and finished on 30 August 1945. The symphony turned out to be a completely different work from the one he had originally planned, with neither soloists nor chorus and a much lighter mood. He forewarned listeners, “In character, the Ninth Symphony differs sharply from my preceding symphonies, the Seventh and the Eighth. If the Seventh and the Eighth symphonies bore a tragic-heroic character, then in the Ninth a transparent, pellucid, and bright mood predominates.”