Archive for the 'Music' Category


September 8, 2019

Everybody thought that George Crumb was cool for notating his music in a circular fashion, but here’s an anonymous medieval piece on a labyrinthine theme that is actually notated to look like a circular labyrinth. It was way, way ahead of its time (and the music is better than the Crumby modern stuff).

Sunday night Messiaen

August 25, 2019

A lovely performance of Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium!, courtesy Vox Clamantis. The volume is low, so turn it up to hear every delicious chord (and a few coughs from bronchial audience members).

Simultaneous Scarlatti

July 25, 2019

Domenico Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas for keyboard. I actually listened to them all once; it took about 35 hours. Nowadays we hardly have time for such extravagance. Nowadays, thanks to the time-saving marvels of modern technology, we can listen to all 555 in just under 7 minutes — by listening to them all at the same time.

Don’t give up too early; the best part comes last.

The comments on the video at YouTube are better than average. One person notes that it sounds rather like Ligeti. Ouch.

Weinberg: Chamber symphony No.3

June 13, 2019

The four chamber symphonies of Weinberg were written in his final decade, between 1987 and 1992. What is chamber-ish about them is not the duration — they are comparable in scale to his 22 full-scale symphonies — but the number of instruments. My view is that chamber music was the genre at which he particularly excelled as a composer, and I find the chamber symphonies markedly more engaging than his symphonies proper.

I have now reached the end of the Weinberg listening project I launched back in January, and I hope to write up a few concluding thoughts in the next week or two, but in the meantime here is a movement from his Chamber Symphony No.3:

Wonderful music!

Regina caeli

May 5, 2019

For Eastertide, a two-voiced riff on Regina caeli, by Jacob Obrecht, and played on the organ. The video shows how fifteenth-century performers would have read their parts, and is, on that account, both fascinating and instructive.

Happy Easter to all!

Weinberg: String Quartet No.13

May 2, 2019

Weinberg’s thirteenth quartet was written in 1977, just a few years after the death of Shostakovich, and it’s reminiscent of Shostakovich’s late quartets, with an untraditional structure and a tonal, if somewhat thorny, complexion. In fact, like Shostakovich’s own thirteenth quartet, it is composed in one continuous movement, though one in which several different sections are discernible.

I listened to it this evening, and was so taken with it that I thought I’d share it here, in a performance by the Silesian Quartet, who are engaged in what appears to be a project to record all of the quartets. It begins in this way:


Weinberg: Sonata No.2 for solo violin

April 10, 2019

Weinberg wrote three sonatas for solo violin over the course of his life (in 1964, 1967, and 1979). They are good examples of his writing for solo string instruments, a body of work that also includes three sonatas for solo cello, four for viola, and several pieces for a double-bass soloist. But, because of the high profile of the instrument, his solo violin pieces are of special interest.

Naturally, one always thinks of Bach in such situations, and Weinberg doesn’t try to fight that legacy. His Sonata No.2 is arranged in seven short contrasting sections, rather like a baroque suite. In this video, which helpfully allows us to view the score as we listen, the piece is played by Alexander Brusilovsky. It comes from an old Soviet recording from the 1970s. The sound is a bit sub-par, but the quality of the music still comes through.

The modern recording to get, for anyone interested in this music, is the one made by Linus Roth.


Weinberg and the cello

March 20, 2019

My Weinberg retrospective, marking the centenary of his birth, has been progressing well, and I have been finding it immensely rewarding. In recent weeks I have particularly enjoyed his music written for the cello, which I’ll highlight today.


In 1948, when still in his late 20s, Weinberg completed his Cello Concerto in C minor, Op.43, the only concerto he was to write for the instrument. It is a large scale work, lasting about half an hour, in four movements, and the music is lyrical and singing without losing the nervy edge that Weinberg’s music so often boasts. It has been recorded several times, including a notable 1960s recording with Rostropovich as soloist.

There are not many good quality filmed performances of Weinberg’s music available, so it was with gratitude that I discovered this excellent concert film of the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, with Sol Gabetta playing the cello. It’s nice to see Weinberg attracting the attention of top flight musicians like these:

If you’d like to sample just a portion, try the cadenza in the third movement.


I said above that Weinberg wrote only one cello concerto, and that is strictly true, although his Fantasy for cello and orchestra, Op.52 bears a striking family resemblance. It’s on a slightly smaller scale, but still more than 20 minutes in performance. It hasn’t been as popular as the Cello concerto — if we can speak of gradations of popularity when surveying such little-known music. Again, it’s wonderfully intelligent and musical music. Here is a good performance of the piece, with Marcin Zdunik as soloist, and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra:


Weinberg wrote much more music for cello, including three sonatas for cello and piano and several hours of music for solo cello. I am especially fond of the cello sonatas, which seem to me, alongside his string quartets, to show him at his intimate best. Just this week my retrospective brought me to his Cello Sonata No.2, Op.63, for which we actually have an historical recording with Weinberg himself playing the piano. The sound is not great, but this is still a treat. The cellist is Alla Vasilyeva.

A modern recording, in studio sound, of the same section can be heard here.


I hope I’ll be able to return to Weinberg’s cello music later in the year, when I come to his solo cello music, most of which was written late in his life.

Flagstad in spring

March 12, 2019

Sad songs about spring are something of a niche item, but have you ever heard one sadder or more beautiful than Grieg’s Våren? I recently heard this performance by Kristen Flagstad and it stopped me in my tracks. What a song, and what a voice!

Tangled in the web

March 4, 2019
  • Art thieves are the aristocrats of the crime world, retaining something of the aura of a dashing gentleman. Michael Finkel writes about Stéphane Breitwieser, one of the most successful — until he was caught, and caught again. Meanwhile the story of Vjeran Tomic, an art thief whom the French press called “Spider-Man” for his dramatic techniques, is told at The New Yorker.
  • Randy Boyagoda is a Canadian author whose new novel, Original Prin, is both “deeply Catholic and deeply funny”, says André Forget in The Walrus. I’m reading the book now, and Forget is right; the book is delightful — except, perhaps, for my wife, who has to put up with my late night guffaws.
  • Speaking of guffaws, James Geary writes in The Paris Review in defence of puns.
  • Puns may be the highest form of literary comedy, but literary hoax cannot be far behind. J.W. McCormack digs into the history of such hoaxes at Literary Hub.
  • Meanwhile, perhaps perpetrating a hoax of his own, Robert C. Koons argues at First Things that T.S. Eliot was a populist. Actually, his argument is an interesting one.
  • At Catholic Herald, Michael White writes about the premiere of a new piece for tenor and orchestra by Sir James MacMillan, The Hills and Vales Along, based on the war-time poetry of Charles Sorley, who was killed in WWI. We’re MacMillan enthusiasts around here.
  • To wrap up: if you’ve ever wondered if your construction worker might be a well-disguised liberal, or whether your journalist friend might be a secret conservative, put your musings to rest. Business Insider breaks down the political biases of different professions based on campaign contributions in the US. They look about how you’d expect, although it is interesting that the liberal professions (journalism, tech, entertainment, academia) tend to be markedly more liberal than the conservative professions (farming, construction, mining) are conservative. Actually, maybe that is what you’d expect.

For an envoi, let’s hear James MacMillan’s Ave maris stella, beautifully sung by a local parish choir: