Category: MUS 101

  • Time and Space from Beethoven to 1913

    (Variation V m. 30 from the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 32 in C minor, op. 111.) In 1913, an art exhibit was mounted at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City (around the corner from where Hunter College is now located). This exhibit, which came to be known […]

  • Can A White Girl Sing Selena?

    April 16 is a state holiday in Texas: Selena Day. Who was Selena? Selena was, is, and, were I to guess, will remain for eternity the most beloved female of all time in the Latino community. (Second place is the Virgin Mary, if you’re looking for context.) . . . She looked like (a more attractive […]

  • Do the Words Matter?

    Baritone Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer, onstage with “The Gadget” in John Adams’s Doctor Atomic. In a previous blog post, I discussed Oppenheimer’s Act I aria in John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic. The entirety of the aria’s text is John Donne’s Holy Sonnet no. 14, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” As you know, an opera aria is […]

  • Variations on a Theme

    (Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann.) Robert Schumann, no. 4 of Bunte Blätter (Colored Leaves), op. 99. In 1853, his wife, Clara (Wieck) Schumann, wrote a set of variations on this piece. The following year, Schumann was confined to the insane asylum at Endenich. Clara, who gave birth to their seventh child that May, was forbidden to […]

  • Batter My Heart

    (J. Robert Oppenheimer) How does contemporary art music respond to the moral problems of the age? John Adams wrote the opera Doctor Atomic, about the Manhattan Project — the top-secret World War II initiative to develop an atomic bomb before the Nazis could — in 2005. The libretto is by Peter Sellars, whom you will remember […]

  • Is it Composed? Is it Improvised?

    George Crumb (1929 – ) wrote Apparition, a song cycle for soprano and amplified piano, in 1979. The text is taken from Walt Whitman’s elegy on the death of Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” considered one of the greatest of all American poems. Crumb used the following excerpts from the poem: The night in […]

  • From the Village to the Concert Hall

    Bartók recording folk music. His subject sings into the horn of an Edison phonograph, which incised a cylinder disk with a needle. Bela Bartók was one of the earliest ethnomusicologists. Here is a field recording he made of Romanian folk dances. Here is his piano composition entitle Romanian Folk Dances. Here is a folk song he […]

  • Clair de lune

    Nuit du carnaval (Henri Rousseau, 1886). In an art song, there are many layers of meaning. There is the meaning of the sounds of the music. There is the meaning of the words of the text. There is also the meaning of the sounds of the words themselves. Listen to the sounds of the text read in French. […]

  • Pierrot

    Pierrot and Harlequin (Pablo Picasso, 1920). Pierrot is one of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte, an improvised form of theater that was performed by traveling players throughout Italy and France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He is a sad clown, in love with the stock heroine of commedia, Colombina (Columbine), who in turn is […]

  • The Alliances that Led to WWI

    Europe in 1914. The multiple alliances that led to the European conflagration This sums it up: