The world's most beautiful music: Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga

>> Friday, January 30, 2009

I'm using this aria as a "set piece" in my novel, a catalyst for a change in the relationship between my two main characters. And as this evening will be when I write the scene where this aria takes the main focus, I thought it appropriate to feature in my blog today.

One of the most beautiful and moving pieces ever composed, it is as much loved today as it was in the time of Mozart.

Let me weep over
my cruel fate,
And that I long for freedom!
And that I long,
and that I long for freedom!
Let me weep over
my cruel fate,
And that I long for freedom!

The duel infringes
these images
of my sufferings
I pray for mercy.
for my sufferances.
I pray for mercy.

Let me weep over
my cruel fate,
And that I long for freedom!
And that I long,
and that I long for freedom!
Let me weep over
my cruel fate,
And that I long for freedom!


The Sopranos: Renee Fleming

>> Thursday, January 29, 2009

The elegant and seductive Renee Fleming sings "Je marche...Obssesions" from Massenet's tragic opera, Manon.


It's your birthday, Mozart! How does it feel to be 253?

>> Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The World's most beautiful music: Mozart's Lied, Abendempfindung

>> Monday, January 26, 2009

Evening it is; the sun has vanished,
And the moon streams with silver rays;
Thus flee Life's fairest hours,
Flying away as if in a dance.

Soon away will fly Life's colorful scenes,
And the curtain will come rolling down;
Done is our play, the tears of a friend
Flow already over our grave.

Soon, perhaps (the thought gently arrives like the west wind -
A quiet foreboding)
I will part from life's pilgrimage,
And fly to the land of rest.

If you will then weep over my grave,
Gaze mournfully upon my ashes,
Then, o Friends, I will appear
And waft you all heavenward.

And You [my beloved], bestow also a little tear on me,
And pluck me a violet for my grave,
And with your soulful gaze,
Look then gently down on me.

Consecrate a tear for me, and ah!
Do not be ashamed to cry;
Those tears will be in my diadem
then: the fairest pearls!


Gender Bending Through the Ages: Despina and Dr. Anton Mesmer

>> Sunday, January 25, 2009

Probably one of the funniest scenes in Mozart's hilarious comic opera, Cosi fan tutte, is the finale of Act I when the sisters' maid, Despina, comes out disguised as Dr. Anton Mesmer.

Mesmer, a late 18th century Viennese physician who was an object of ridicule by most of his contemporaries including Mozart and DaPonte, today is considered the father of modern psychology despite the fact that most of his medical research has been debunked and discarded. He was known for his experiments using large magnets in the treatment of human diseases and psychological disorders and is the one who coined the term "animal magnetism". We also get the term "mesmerized" from his name.


The mature Mozart emerges

>> Friday, January 23, 2009

It was after Mozart's move to Vienna in 1781 that he met a man by the name of Gottfried van Swieten, a diplomat, librarian, and government official to Emperor Joseph II. An amateur musician of the highest order, van Swieten owned a collection of original scores of Bach and Handel, (Haydn estimated their worth at being around 10,000 gulden which today would be in the millions of dollars). Mozart and van Swieten developed a close friendship and van Swieten introduced Mozart to the music of Bach and Handel through this collection of scores. As a result, Mozart began to play with fugues and other compositional devices used by Bach and Handel in some of his own compositions. The first of Mozart's mature works that showed this influence was his C minor Mass, known today as the Great C minor Mass, K. 427.

Among my favorite of Mozart's sacred pieces, the Great C minor Mass stands today as one of his greatest works. Featured here: John Eliot Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir in the Kyrie of Mozart's Mass in C Minor, K.427.


The hope of a nation expressed in the songs of her people

>> Thursday, January 22, 2009

What could be more beautiful or moving than this arrangement of Amazing Grace sung by Wintley Phipps, yesterday morning at the National Prayer Service at the Washington Cathedral? President Obama and the First Lady seemed genuinely moved, as was the rest of the congregation. Our prayers as a nation are for our new President and his family. May he lead us into a new era of peace and prosperity, and may we follow him with courage and determination to live in a way that honors that hope.


The music of Black America: The Queen of Soul

>> Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If you watched yesterdays festivities, you couldn't miss Aretha Franklin. She was the one who sang My Country tis of Thee wearing that incredible hat. It had to have been a proud moment for her.

Aretha Louise Franklin (born March 25, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter and pianist commonly referred to as "The Queen of Soul". Although renowned for her soul recordings, Franklin is also adept at jazz, rock, blues, pop, R&B and gospel. She is widely acclaimed for her passionate vocal style and powerful range. In 2008, the American music magazine Rolling Stone ranked Franklin #1 on its list of The Greatest Singers of All Time.

Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, with 21 wins to date, including the Living Legend Grammy and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy. She also sang at the presidential inauguration of 44th President of the United States Barack Obama. She has scored a total of 20 #1 singles on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart, two of which also became #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: "Respect" (1967) and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (1987), a duet with George Michael. Since 1961, Franklin has scored a total of 45 "Top 40" hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Information Source: Wikipedia


One of today's most beautiful moments

>> Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One of the most beautiful and meaningful moments for me today was the quartet composed by John Williams on the old Shaker tune, "Simple Gifts". Izak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma were brilliant as always.


Congratulations, Mr. President!

Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama ran so we can all fly.


The music of Black America: Leontyne Price

>> Monday, January 19, 2009

Mary Violet Leontyne Price (born February 10, 1927) in Laurel, Mississippi in the United States is one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th Century and one of the very best sopranos of the 1960s. She was best known for her Verdi roles, above all the title role of Aida. Despite being born in the segregated South, she rose to international fame in the 1950s and 60s, and became the first black "superstar" at the once-segregated Metropolitan Opera. For almost 40 years, she was one of America's most beloved and widely recorded sopranos.

Price was a leading interpreter of the lirico spinto (Italian for "pushed lyric", or middleweight) roles of Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, as well as of roles in several operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Her voice ranged from A flat below Middle C to the E above High C. (She said she sang high Fs "in the shower.") The voice is noted for its brilliant upper register, the smoky huskiness in the middle and lower registers (sounding almost like a contralto), its smooth "legato" phrasing, and wide dynamic range. She herself called her singing "soul in opera."

She is a quotable woman whose many bons mots have entered opera lore. Once, when discussing whether she would sing in Atlanta as Minnie, the cowgirl lead in Puccini's La fanciulla del West, the Met's general manager Rudolf Bing warned her she wouldn't be able to stay in the same segregated hotel with the company. She said, "Don't worry, Mr. Bing, I'm sure you can find a place for me and the horse."

After her retirement from the opera stage in 1985, she gave recitals for another dozen years. Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1965), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of Arts (1985), numerous honorary degrees, and nineteen Grammy Awards, including a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, more than any other classical singer. In 2005, American talk show host Oprah Winfrey honored Price and 24 other influential African-American women at a Legends Ball.

Information Source: Wikipedia

The following is Ms. Price singing "L'amero saro costante" from Mozart's Il Re Pastore with violinist Iszak Perlman. 1980


The Sopranos: The great Jessye Norman

>> Sunday, January 18, 2009

By far one of the greatest sopranos in history is the wonderful Jessye Norman. Here singing in concert the Contessa's aria, Dove sono, from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Norman presents one of the most magnificent performances of this aria I've ever heard.


I may be a sucker for baritones but sometimes there's nothing like a tenor

>> Saturday, January 17, 2009

Especially when the tenor's singing this!

Topi Lehtipuu: Un'aura amorosa from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte


Mozart's beloved Idomeneo

>> Friday, January 16, 2009

Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante (Italian for Idomeneo, King of Crete, or, Ilia and Idamante; usually referred to simply as Idomeneo, K. 366) is an Italian opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was adapted by Giambattista Varesco from a French text by Antoine Danchet, which had been set to music by André Campra as Idoménée in 1712. Mozart and Varesco were commissioned in 1780 by Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria for a court carnival. He probably chose the subject, though it might have been Mozart.The libretto clearly draws its inspiration from Metastasio and its overall layout, not to mention the type of character development which Metastasio had developed and mostly from the highly poetic language used in the various numbers and the secco and stromentato recitatives. The style of the choruses, marches, and ballets was very French, and the shipwreck scene towards the end of Act I is almost identical to the structure and dramatic working-out of a similar scene in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. The sacrifice and oracle scenes are similar to Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide and Alceste. Kurt Kramer has suggested that Varesco was familiar with Calzabigi and therefore the work of Gluck, especially the latter's Alceste; much of what we see in Varesco's most dramatic passages is the latest French style, mediated by Calzabigi. It is thanks to Mozart, though, that this mixture of French styles (apart from a few choruses) moves away from Gluck and France and returns to its more Italian (opera seria) roots; the singers were all trained in the classical Italian style, after all, and the recitatives are all classically Italian.

It was first performed at the Cuvilliés Theatre of the Residenz in Munich on January 29, 1781. Written when the composer was 24, Idomeneo was Mozart's first mature opera seria, and with it he demonstrated his mastery of orchestral color, accompanied recitatives, and melodic line. In certain respects (e.g., the choirs), however, this opera is still an experimental drama, resulting more in a sequence of sets than in a well developed plot. Mozart also had to fight with the mediocre author of the libretto, the court chaplain Varesco, making large cuts and changes, even down to specific words and vowels disliked by the singers (too many "i"s in "rinvigorir").

Idomeneo was performed three times at Munich, and later in 1781 Mozart considered revising it to harmonise it with Gluck's style. This would have meant a bass Idomeneus and a tenor Idamantes, but nothing came of it. A concert performance was given in 1786 at the Auersperg palace in Vienna, and as well as changing Idamantes from a castrato to a tenor, Mozart wrote some new music and cut out other parts.

Today Idomeneo is part of the standard operatic repertoire.

Information source: Wikipedia

The following is the chorus from Act II: Placido e il mar (Salzburg Festival 2006), probably one of the most beautiful choruses in all of opera.


Gender Bending Through the Ages: A girl, a boy, a girl again

>> Thursday, January 15, 2009

One of my favorite scenes in Le Nozze di Figaro is when Susanna dresses Cherubino as a girl, and makes fun of him the entire time. Absolutely charming.

Come, kneel down,
Stay still there,
Now turn around very slowly,
Bravo, that's just right!
Now turn your face toward me,
Hey! keep your eyes on me,
Right here, look at me!
Madame isn't here.
That neckline higher,
That hem a little lower,
Your hands below your chest,
We'll see how you walk afterwards,
When you're on your feet.
Look at the little rascal,
Look how beautiful he is,
What a clever look,
What charm, what a figure!
If women love him,
They certainly have their reasons.

Susanna's aria in act two with Dawn Upshaw.


The aria

>> Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Over the last ten years I have devoted the better part of my life towards the research of this extraordinary woman in Mozart's life, Anna "Nancy" Storace. This effort began in 1999, when upon entering graduate school to persue a Master of Music in vocal performance and pedigogy, I had to choose a subject on which to write my thesis. Being that Mozart was my favorite composer, and I was devoted to the study of the music of the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic periods in Europe, it didn't make it too difficult for me to decide upon a subject. I chose to base my thesis on the life and career of Nancy Storace, Mozart's first Susanna, and to center it upon their professional and personal relationship and the concert aria, Ch'io mi scordi di te...Non temer amato bene, K 505, which Mozart composed for her as a personal and tender farewell gift upon her departure from Vienna in 1787.

Anna Storace arrived in Vienna in January 1783 to begin rehearsals for the Italian Opera Company that would be opening the following April. It is likely that she first met Mozart during the premier of Antonio Salieri's La scuola di de'gelosi. Mozart would have been in attendance at this premier because he would have been highly interested in the new singers who were being heard for the first time, plus he always made it a point to attend the openings of his fellow composers' operas in order to keep abreast of what they were composing. Mozart would have been extremely impressed and excited over this new and flamboyant little soprano. She would have won him over instantly with her full, velvety voice, her delightful appearance and her marked comedic flare. Anna was truly unique! It wouldn't have taken Mozart long to introduce himself to Anna make his presence known to her.

Anna and Mozart were known to have developed a very close and warm professional relationship, but it is less well-known that she and Mozart were also considered dear friends. She and her other British associate, the Irish tenor, Michael Kelly became quite close to Mozart and it wasn't unusual to find Kelly, Anna, her brother, Stephen and their mother, Elizabeth in the Mozart home for private musicales, soirees and parties. Mozart could also be found in attendance at dinner parties in the Storace apartment as well. It is believed by some of the most prominent and most respected Mozart scholars that Mozart and Anna may have even been romantically involved, as there was ample opportunity and reason for this to be so. However, there is no solid evidence or proof that such a relationship between them existed. The great Mozart historian, Alfred Einstein wrote of their relationship:

Between Mozart and her there must have been a deep and sympathetic understanding. She was beautiful, attractive, an artist, and a finished singer, whose salary at the Italian opera in Vienna attained a figure at that time unheard of.

He continues by stating that after Anna's return to London in 1787, she and Mozart continued their relationship through correspondence by letter:

But he remained in correspondence with Anna Selina. What happened to these letters is a mystery. Anna Selina certainly treasured them, but perhaps before her death, which occurred in Dulwich in 1817, she destroyed them as not intended for the eyes of an outsider.

In addition to the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, it is believed that Mozart most certainly composed the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni for Anna. Unfortunately, she was unable to sing it because she returned to London before the opera opened in Prague. Anna did have plans to return to Vienna in 1788, but contract negotiations fell through and the emperor could not offer her the salary that she demanded due to escalations in the ongoing war with Turkey.

When Mozart learned that his British friends, including Anna, would be returning to England he decided that he would like to go with them and see if he could obtain a commission for an opera at the King's Theatre in London. Anna, Stephen, Kelly and Mozart's pupil and friend, Thomas Attwood agreed that this would be a good plan and decided that they would all participate together in procuring a commission for Mozart. However, plans fell through when Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart refused to take his son's children while Mozart got settled in England. It was a disappointed Mozart who then made plans to travel to Prague with Constanze for several performances of Figaro. Just before his departure for Prague Mozart composed the great concert aria, Ch' io mi scordi di te?... Non temer amato bene K505 as a farewell gift for Anna. Upon his return to Vienna, Mozart and Anna performed the piece together at her farewell concert at the Kärntnertor Theater. What makes this concert aria unique and outstanding is the fact that it is actually a concerto for voice and piano. Mozart composed the piano part to be played by himself. Einstein writes,

...the voice and piano carry on a dialogue so intimately interwoven and so heartfelt that one feels the particular intention in every measure. And at the same time the aria is so extended that it seems more like a concerto movement than an aria. We have the impression that Mozart wanted to preserve the memory of this voice, no brilliant soprano and not suited to display of virtuosity, but full of warmth and tenderness; and that he wanted to leave with her in the piano part a souvenir of the taste and depth of his playing, and of the depth of his feeling for her: Few works of art combine such personal expression with such mastery--the intimacy of a letter with the highest grandeur of form...

Nancy returned to London, leaving Vienna on 27 February 1787. Her last glimpse of Mozart would have been from the rear window of her carriage as he stood shivering at the customs house, where he came to see his friends off. As stated earlier, Mozart and Anna would continue their friendship through letters, but they would never see one another again. Anna worked for several years procuring a commission for Mozart in London and would succeed in the fall of 1790. However, by then Mozart's health was starting to fail and economic conditions in Austria were not good, so he was obliged to decline the commission. Anna died from a stroke in August of 1817, but not before burning the letters to her from her friend and perhaps lover, Wolfgang Mozart, as they were "For my eyes only".

English Translation of Italian text:

You ask me to forget you? You advise me calmly to forget you and love another and want that I still live? Ah, No! I would rather die! Come death! I wait for it courageously! To seek consolation from another, to give my love to another only fills my heart with dread! Cruel suggestion! Ah! My despair will kill me. Do not fear, my love will never be changed. Faithful I shall always remain. But my affliction has caused me to falter and now my soul from grief must flee. Are you sighing? O woe outpouring? But all is vain to one who is begging. O Heaven, I cannot express it! Pity me, Heaven, see my anguish, see the grief due to my affection! Has ever such torment plagued so faithful a heart? Has such doom or dejection ever beset such a loyal heart? Hateful galaxies! Vile constellations! Why should you beset me with such sorrow? Ah, why?

I have now begun a new project, a novel, based on the love story between these two extraordinary people. I finished the prologue last night and posted it on A Window to My Soul.

The following is a recording of Mozart's C'hio mi scordi di te, K. 505.


Mozart's Great C minor Mass

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

By far my favorite of Mozart's Masses is his unfinished C minor Mass. The work was composed in 1782-3. It embodies all of the pomp and solemnity associated with the Salzburg traditions of the time, but it also anticipates the symphonic masses of Haydn in its solo-choral sharing. The mass shows the influence of Bach and Handel, whose music Mozart was studying at this time. The Mass was written as a result of a vow Mozart made with himself in relation to his wife Constanze and his father Leopold and their strained relationship. The Mass was first performed in the Church of St. Peter's Abbey in Salzburg on 26 October 1783. The premiere took place in its natural context of a Roman Catholic mass, and the performers were members of the "Hofmusik", that is the musicians employed at the court of Salzburg's ruler, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. It is believed that Mozart's wife, Constanze, sang the soprano solo, "Et incarnatus est" at the performance.

The work is incomplete, missing all of the Credo following the aria "Et incarnatus est" (the orchestration of the Credo is also incomplete) and all of the Agnus Dei. The Sanctus is partially lost and requires editorial reconstruction. There is a good deal of speculation concerning why the work was left unfinished. Given the absolute necessity of a complete text for liturgical use, it is likely that Mozart spliced in movements from his earlier Masses for the premiere.

Information source: Wikipedia

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir in the Kyrie of Mozart's Mass in C Minor, K.427. Barbara Bonney is the soprano soloist.


The World's most beautfiul music: Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vesperae Solemnes de Confessore

>> Monday, January 12, 2009

I must confess, the first time I heard this stunningly beautiful piece, I wept. Steph and I chose this to be sung in our Holy Union Service, which took place on May 25th, 2001 at the College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, (it's a "More Light" church, which means it is LGBT inclusive). There wasn't a dry eye in the sanctuary. Even our minister had tears streaming down his cheeks.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Vespers and Vesper Psalms

The greater part of Mozart's church music, including his two settings of Vespers and his setting of the Vespers Dixit Dominus and Magnificat, was written for the Cathedral in Salzburg, where he, like his father, served in the musical establishment of the ruling Prince-­Archbishop, from 1772 Hieronymus von Colloredo. Mozart had been born into a musical family in Salzburg in 1756 and was soon established as a child prodigy, his precocious talents perceived and fostered by his father. The fact that Mozart died at the relatively early age of 35 makes his achievement even more amazing, only leaving regret at what might have followed.

Mozart's early years brought a series of more or less extended concert tours, including performances at Versailles and at the English court. After 1772 leave of absence for his father, Leopold Mozart, Deputy Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg, was only granted with considerable reluctance and the composer, now in paid employment to the court, suffered similar restrictions. In 1777 he resigned his position in search of greater opportunities that might be on offer in Mannheim or in Paris. After his mother's death in the latter city in 1778, he returned to Salzburg once more, now to be employed from 1779 as court organist. A visit to Munich in 1781 for the performance of the opera Idomeneo, commissioned by the Elector of Bavaria, was followed by a summons to join his patron in Vienna, where disagreement led to his dismissal. He now took up residence there, marrying imprudently, winning early success but existing in increasingly precarious independence until his death in 1791.

Mozart's first liturgical composition is a setting of the Kyrie, written in Paris in 1766. His first Masses and sacred music for Salzburg began in 1769. The office of Vespers was often allowed relatively elaborate settings for performance on the eve of a feast day and on the evening of the day itself. The liturgical form includes a series of psalms and the canticle, the Magnificat. The present release opens with settings of the opening Vespers psalm, Dixit Dominus and of the final Magnificat, completed in July 1774. These are scored for trumpets and drums, three trombones, strings and organ, with soloists and choir. Much of the first is homophonic, with occasional antiphonal writing. The final Gloria introduces a moment of solemnity, before the lively pace resumes in a contrapuntal final verse and Amen. The Magnificat is generally more contrapuntal in texture, offering graphic illustration of the words and ending in a fugal et in saecula saeculorum.

The two settings of Solemn Vespers that Mozart composed for Salzburg a year apart from each other in 1779 and 1780 reflect the reformist tendencies of Archbishop Colloredo, who had decreed that the settings of the words should be concise and not structured operatically as arias and ensembles, as was the style in Neapolitan church music of the day. In a letter to Padre Martini in 1777 Mozart had complained about the musical limitations on church music in Salzburg, coupled with the continuing demand for trumpets and drums and so on. Both these settings are relatively brief and rely little on repetition.

The earlier setting, the Vesperae solennes de Dominica, K321, (Solemn Vespers for Sunday), was written in the same year as the well-known Coronation Mass. Scored for soloists, choir, trumpets, drums, three trombones, strings and organ, it includes five psalms and a final Magnificat. Mozart is here breaking away from convention in his choice of keys, with a beginning and ending in C major, but otherwise four separate keys – E minor for the Confitebor, B flat major for the Beatus vir, F major for the Laudate pueri and A major for the Laudate Daminum. There is contrast between the settings, with the Laudate pueri, for example, a choral setting beginning in canon and proceeding with a sure command of counterpoint, to be followed by a coloratura aria with strings and organ for the Laudate Dominum. Remarkable too is the final Magnificat where Mozart combines majestic choral writing with contrasting passages for solo voices and an orchestral symphonic texture.

The Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339, (‘Solemn Vespers for a Confessor’), was written shortly before the great opera seria for Munich, Idomeneo. It is scored as before and the Laudate Dominum is again set for soprano solo, this time one of Mozart's most serene melodies. The six movements cover a wide range of keys with the opening and closing sections in C major, passing through the keys of E flat, G, D minor and F. The writing is mainly energetic with alternations between soloists and choir and a conventional fugue for the Laudate pueri. It is with the conciseness and imagination of these two settings that Mozart, far from being servant to church music conventions, is already forging a new language for sacred music.

The following performance is from the Adventskonzert, Dresden Frauenkirche, 29 November 2008, featuring soprano, Anja Harteros, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.


Mozart's Sister: Maria Anna, "Nannerl"

>> Sunday, January 11, 2009

Maria Anna Mozart was a gifted musician whose abilities were quickly overshadowed by the achievements of her younger brother.

But at first, "Nannerl" was seen as the musical equivalent of Wolfgang, half of a sister-brother act that toured the capitals of Europe. As late as 1765 in London, she received top billing in concert advertisements written by her father. That soon changed, however, as the children grew older. Because he was the younger of the two -- and because he performed his own compositions -- Wolfgang became the star and Nannerl the supporting player.

Mozart thought highly of his sister's ability. In September 1781 he wrote to her from Vienna: ". . . believe me, you could earn a great deal of money in Vienna for example, by playing at private concerts and by giving piano lessons. You would be very much in demand -- and you would be well paid."

But it was not to be. Nannerl indeed became a piano teacher, but in "this dull Salzburg," as she called it. And in the wake of her brother's perceived rebellion, she surrendered control of her life to her father -- even her choice of suiters who, one by one, were turned away by Leopold. In 1784, she married the magistrate Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (1736-1801) and moved to St. Gilgen -- but returned to Salzburg to give birth to her first son, and left the newborn there in Leopold's care.

Meanwhile, she grew more distant from Wolfgang, especially after his marriage to Constanze Weber. Their correspondence resumed briefly after Leopold's death. But by then their affection for each other had all but disappeared; Mozart's brief letters to her deal almost exclusively with the disposition of their father's estate.

After her husband's death, Maria Anna returned to Salzburg and supported herself once again by giving piano lessons. She died on October 29, 1829, and was buried in St. Peter's cemetery.

From The Mozart Project

The Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major for Two Pianos, K. 365, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was written in 1779. Mozart wrote it to play with his sister Maria Anna (“Nannerl”). He was 23 years old and on the verge of leaving Salzburg for Vienna.

The concerto is scored for the two pianos together with two oboes, two bassoons; two horns; timpani; and strings. The piece is in three movements:

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Rondo: Allegro

The concerto departs from the usual solo piano concerto with the dialogue between the two pianos as they exchange musical ideas. Mozart divides up the more striking passages quite evenly between the two pianos. Also, the orchestra is rather more quiet than in Mozart's other piano concertos, leaving much of the music to the soloists.

The following performance is the third movement, Rondo: Allegro, of the Concerto No. 10 in E-flat for Two Pianos. Preformed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Tamara Stefanovich, and the Salzburg Camarata.


The Sopranos: Diana Damrau

>> Saturday, January 10, 2009

By far the most outstanding Queen of the Night I've ever heard anywhere, is the German soprano sensation, Diana Damrau! Clear, crisp, and bell-like, she handles the little "turn-arounds" in Der Hölle Rache with clarity and ease, and she plinks out the high "F6" as if it were nothing, and does it all with a sinister snarl befitting the Queen of darkness.

I've posted Ms. Damrau singing both of the Queen's arias from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, because I had a difficult time choosing which one to post. She's just that fantastic! These are from a recent production at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

Sie kommt! Sie kommt!


So I'm a sucker for baritones: Sir Thomas Allen as Count Almaviva

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

By far my favorite Count of all time has to be Sir Thomas Allen. He's so wonderful that he almost makes you want for Susanna to leave Figaro behind and go off with the Count! Oooooh baby...!

Sir Thomas Boaz Allen, CBE, (born September 10, 1944) is an internationally renowned English baritone opera singer from Seaham Harbour, County Durham.

Born to Florence and Thomas Allen in the Durham fishing village of Seaham Harbour in 1944, Allen studied at Ryhope Grammar School from 1955 to 1964, becoming captain of his house and later head boy while also doing well in sports, such as in athletics, rugby and especially golf.

Allen's initial ambition was to be a doctor but this was later abandoned when he won a place at the Royal College of Music in 1964, where he studied for four years, specializing in oratorio and Lieder until 1968. He won the prestigious Queen's Prize while studying at the college which allowed him to study under James Lockhart who noticed Allen's talents. Under Lockhart, Allen then shifted his attention from Lieder and oratorio to opera and in 1969, he made his debut as Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville with the Welsh National Opera. His early roles with the WNO also included Mozart's Almaviva, Guglielmo and Papageno, Falke, Billy Budd, Posa, Yevgeny Onegin and Germont.

In 1971, Allen made his Covent Garden debut as Donald in Billy Budd and he joined the company the following year. His solo Glyndebourne Festival debut was as Papageno in 1973, and he returned as Mozart's Figaro (1974), Guglielmo (1975) and Don Giovanni (1977); he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1981 as Papageno. He sang Faust in the British stage premiere of Busoni's opera for the English National Opera in 1986. His Chicago debut was Rossini's Figaro in 1991.

More recently, Allen has performed Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Don Alfonso, Ulisse and Don Giovanni at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Don Giovanni at La Scala, Yeletsky (in The Queen of Spades), Sharpless (in Madama Butterfly), and the title role in Sweeney Todd at the Royal Opera House, Eisenstein at the Glyndebourne Festival, Don Alfonso at the Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals, Forester (The Cunning Little Vixen) at the San Francisco Opera and Beckmesser (in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Allen also appears in recital in the United Kingdom, throughout Europe, in Australia and America. The greatest part of his repertoire has been extensively recorded with such distinguished names as Georg Solti, James Levine, Sir Neville Marriner, Bernard Haitink, Sir Simon Rattle, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Riccardo Muti.

Thomas Allen's first book, Foreign Parts - A Singer's Journal was published in 1993. He recently directed for the first time in Albert Herring at the Royal College of Music, Così fan Tutte and Don Giovanni (for the Samling Foundation, of which he is the patron) at the Sage Music Centre in Gateshead. In 2006, he made his American directorial debut with a production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro for Arizona Opera. In 2007, he directed a new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia for Scottish Opera.

Allen has performed with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for thirty-five years. He has sung over forty roles with the company.

Sir Thomas Allen also performed in a Live Concert Recording of Leonard Bernstein's Candide at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York was also celebrated in 2006.

In September 2008, he performed under the direction of Woody Allen in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi for the LA Opera.

Information Source: Wikipedia

Featured here as Count Almaviva at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze (Florence), 1979.


I'll show you mine...

>> Thursday, January 8, 2009

Steph started a Meme over on The Incurable Insomniac, where you print screen of your desktop and show it on your blog. Here's mine.

It's a page from Mozart's thematic catalog which includes the first seven bars from the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro.


The music of Black America: Kathleen Battle sings Mozart

Kathleen Battle (born August 13, 1948, Portsmouth, Ohio, USA) is an African-American soprano known for her agile and light voice and her silvery, pure tone. One of the most prominent recitalists and opera singers of her generation, she is admired for her wide ranging recital repertoire and performances of the operas of Handel and Mozart. Battle initially became known for her work within the concert repertoire through performances with major orchestras during the early and mid 1970s. She made her opera debut in 1975 and by the early 1980s had become a favorite at many of the world's best opera houses within the soubrette repertoire. Battle expanded her repertoire into light lyric soprano and lyric coloratura soprano roles during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1985, Michael Walsh of Time magazine called her the best lyric coloratura in the world. Although she no longer appears in operas, Battle remains active in concert and recital performances.

Information Source: Wikipedia

The following is a performance of the "Alleluja" from Mozart's Exultate Jubilate, conducted by Andre Previn.


Mozart: Beyond the fluff

>> Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Too many times I've heard people say of Mozart's music that it's "pop music" or "fluff". And indeed, it does have that reputation for several reasons. First of all, Mozart was the first freelance composer in history. In other words, he composed strictly on commission. He wasn't employed by a prince, king, or bishop, therefore he had to compose what he was asked to compose and compose it to the liking of the one who commissioned it. Second, Mozart's music is extremely "tuneful". Because he had to market his music to the general public, he composed it in a way that appealed to the musician and the non-musician alike. Third, Mozart wasn't afraid to "buck the system". He played to the general public and not just royalty and/or nobility and so he composed music that appealed to a wide spectrum audience.

But venture into Mozart's chamber works, his string quartets, quintets, nocturnes and Lieder, the things he composed for himself and for his closest musician friends, and here's where the man's genius moves beyond public appeal. Here's where the serious, ahead-of-his-time, innovator, the composer who didn't give a fig what the public thought, revealed himself.

Featured today are all four movements of the Mozart string quintet in g minor k.516,the Salomon Quintet. Like all of Mozart's string quintets, this work is a "viola quintet" in that is scored for string quartet and an extra viola (two violins, two violas and cello).

Please, take the time to listen to the work in its entirety, and experience Mozart beyond the fluff.


Interview Meme

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I have been chosen to be interviewed by Steph , The Incurable Insomniac. I will answer the following five questions and then I will invite, you, my readers to be interviewed as well.

1. You now have three blogs. Which one do you enjoy most, and why?

This is a really difficult question to answer because I enjoy all three of my blogs for different reasons.

I created my political blog last month because I realized that the number of politically oriented posts on this blog were starting to outnumber my other posts and I was afraid that I would alienate my readers who really aren't into politics as much as I am. Okie Sings the Blues was born out of my love for history and politics and keeps me challenged in those areas because I am constantly having to research the web for current events and news articles to post.

I created A Window to My Soul a couple of weeks ago as a place mostly for personal reflection and introspection. It's literally what the title says it is--a window to my soul.

However, if I must declare a favorite, I still have to say that Life in Shades of F-major is my favorite one because it's the one that expresses my passions. I enjoy sharing the things I've learned and/or discovered about music, life, people, places, and things, here. I'm a teacher at heart and this blog serves as an online classroom of sorts.

2. What has been the greatest (i.e. best) surprise you've experienced via blogging in the past year?

Almost a year ago I started a series of posts entitled, "The World's Most Beautiful Music" where once every week or two I feature a piece that I believe to be some of the world's most beautiful music. In June I featured Howard Goodall's lovely choral setting of the 23rd Psalm, which was composed for the opening of the BBC sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley, several years ago. I was thrilled when the composer, Howard Goodall, himself, posted a comment on my entry thanking me for featuring his piece and inviting me to listen to some of his other works. That event served to remind me how the web has made the world a much smaller, and friendlier place.

3. What would constitute the perfect day for you, if money, time, and place were no object?

Wow! Tough question. There are SO MANY options! The place would be Vienna. I would be with Steph. We would wake, not too early, and have a relaxing breakfast in our hotel and then we'd go out on a walking tour of all of our favorite sites in the old city--the Figarohaus, the Graben, St. Stephan's, the Hoffburg. We'd lunch at a sidewalk cafe and then do a little shopping on the Graben. At 3:00 we'd duck into a favorite coffee house for jouse and then return to the hotel for a little nap. Then we would dress for an evening performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Staatsoper, and then to a nearby restaurant for a late dinner afterwards.

4. How do you come up with ideas to write about on your blogs?

As I explained in question #1, I am a teacher at heart. I love sharing my passions for music, life, art, etc. I've discovered a wealth of resources on YouTube, and much of my inspiration, especially for my different post series come from there. My first series, as I explained earlier, was "The World's Most Beautiful Music". That one became so popular that I decided to create several others--"So I'm a Sucker for Baritones" featuring my favorite baritones both living and deceased, "The Music of Black America", (in honor of President-elect Obama), "Gender Bending Through the Ages", and now my newest series, "The Sopranos". All of these express my passion for music, film, culture, history, the theater, and the arts in general.

5. Before blogging, what, if any, was your main mode of personal expression?

Oh, music, most certainly. I have a musical soul. I express myself best and relate to the world most effectively through music. That's why I've dedicated so much of my blog to it. Music is who and what I am.

To be interviewed:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


California Dreamin...

>> Monday, January 5, 2009

I've found myself dreaming about our possible move back to Steph's home in Ventura a lot lately, and what it would mean for me and for our family. I find myself growing more and more hopeful every day. I think of the time, almost ten years ago that I flew out there to meet Steph, face-to-face for the first time, and how I fell in love with the quirky, artsy, beach town and a life that I could only dream of. Now I'm looking at the real possibility of actually living that life in that town. I'm afraid to breathe on it, believing that if I want too hard that the dream will be crushed and blow away in a million pieces, just as the dream for Vienna did. So for now, I'm still holding it at an arm's distance hoping that very soon it will move in closer.


She lost it

>> Sunday, January 4, 2009

How many times have you seen a production of Le Nozze di Figaro and when it came time for Barbarina's Act IV aria, "L'ho perduta", you were perplexed by this girl who wanders out on stage singing a melancholic, mournful tune about having lost a pin? Well, that's because too many times the director isn't making it clear that backstage, Cherubino has been on the prowl and the subject of Barbarina's grief isn't a lost pin, but of her lost innocence. Only then does this lovely, mournful, arietta make complete sense. Bear in mind, as well, that Anna Gottlieb, the original Barbarina, turned twelve on May 1, 1786, the day that Figaro opened in Vienna.

I have lost it, woe is me!
Ah, who knows where it is?
I can’t find it. I have lost it.
Miserable little me etc.
And my cousin, and the boss
what will he say?

The following is from a production conducted by John Elliot Gardner at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, wtih Constanze Backes as the deflowered Barbarina.


The Sopranos: Anna Netrebko

>> Saturday, January 3, 2009

I first heard this amazing singer in a PBS broadcast from Salzburg of the 2006 Mozart 250th birthday celebrations. She sang Electra's "mad" aria from Mozart's Idomeneo and I was completely taken in. Angry. Powerful. Beautiful.

Anna Netrebko, born in Krasnador, Russia in 1971, studied voice with Valery Girgiev of the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2006 she moved to Vienna and applied for Austrian citizenship and received it in July of that same year.


The music of Black America: Sammy Davis, Jr.

>> Friday, January 2, 2009

Samuel George “Sammy” Davis, Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer. He was a dancer, singer, multi-instrumentalist (vibraphone, trumpet, and drums), impressionist, comedian, convert to Judaism, and Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actor. He was a member of the 1960s Rat Pack, which was led by his old friend Frank Sinatra, and included fellow performers Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

"Sammy" Davis, Jr. was born in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York to Elvera Sanchez (1905-2000), a Puerto Rican dancer, and Sammy Davis, Sr. (1900-1988), an African-American entertainer. The couple were both dancers in vaudeville. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents split up. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. During his lifetime Sammy Davis, Jr. stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan. As a child he learned how to dance from his father, Sammy Davis, Sr. and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a young child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his long career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing.

Mastin and his father had shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance. When Davis served in the United States Army during World War II however, he was confronted by strong racial prejudice. As he said later, "Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color anymore. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open."

While in the service, however, he joined an integrated entertainment Special Services unit, and found that the spotlight removed some of the prejudice. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.

In 1959, he became a member of the Rat Pack, which was led by his old friend Frank Sinatra, and included such fellow performers as Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Shirley MacLaine. Initially, Sinatra called the gathering of fast-living friends "the Clan," but Sam voiced his opposition, saying that it invoked thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan. Sinatra renamed the group "the Summit"...but nevertheless, the media kept on calling it the Rat Pack all along.

Davis was a headliner at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada for many years, yet was required to accept accommodations in a rooming house on the west side of the city, rather than reside with his peers in the hotels, as were all black performers in the 1950s. For example, no stage dressing rooms were provided for black performers, so they were required to wait outside by the swimming pool between acts.

During his early years in Las Vegas, he and other African-American artists like Nat King Cole and Count Basie could entertain on the stage, but often could not reside at the hotels at which they performed, and most definitely could not gamble in the casinos or go to the hotel restaurants and bars. After he achieved superstar success, Davis refused to work at venues which would practice racial segregation. His demands eventually led to the integration of Miami Beach nightclubs and Las Vegas casinos. Davis was particularly proud of this accomplishment.

Davis died in Beverly Hills, California on May 16, 1990, of complications from throat cancer. Earlier, when he was told he could be saved by surgery, Davis replied he would rather keep his voice than have a part of his throat removed; the result of that decision seemed to cost him his life. However, a few weeks prior to his death his entire larynx was removed during surgery. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California next to his father and Will Mastin.

Information Source: Wikipedia

The following clips are from a 1960 television special. It's a "must-watch"! It's classic Sammy Davis Jr. in his prime, at his very best.


Happy New Year 2009!

>> Thursday, January 1, 2009

Steph & Jaeson -the night is young!

My Umbrella Drink

Heather trumpets in the New Year!

Happy 2009!

Hugging our guest of honor!


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