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Classical Music

Music In The Making: No Shave November

I mustache you a question. Will you listen to this week’s episode of Music in the Making?


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With the end of No-Shave November drawing near, many will be reaching for their razors. But what about those classical composers who rocked facial hair throughout their careers? We’ll hear music by the bearded Brahms, stylish Stravinsky, and other men with mustaches.

Johannes "Bearded" Brahms
Johannes “Bearded” Brahms

Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor
Richie Hawley, clarinet; Maureen Nelson and John Marcus, violin; Melissa Reardon, viola; Richard Belcher, cello
Duncan Recital Hall

After hearing clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld perform, Johannes Brahms famously and surprisingly came out of retirement, offering four chamber works that became the essential literature for the instrument. This set includes two Clarinet Sonatas, the Clarinet Trio, and his Clarinet Quintet, an astonishing four-movement work which is almost cyclic in nature; that is, the work is unified by its melodic shapes and eventual thematic reappearance. Structurally, the work is modeled on it’s famous predecessor by Mozart; Brahms mimics the forms while infusing the music with his own rich harmonic language.

Claude "Dapper" Debussy
Claude “Dapper” Debussy

Claude Debussy: La cathedrale engloutie, from Book I
Alexei Lubimov, piano
Moores Opera House

By the time he was composing the first book of piano preludes, Claude Debussy was already a well-recognized composer, with works such as La Mer, Pelleas et Melisande, and Prelude a l’apres-mis d’un faune establishing him as a musical tour-de-force. The preludes offer a glimpse of mature Debussy, a composer in touch with his own abilities to control color, harmony, texture, and rhythm. Interestingly, Debussy places the titles after each of the preludes, suggesting that the performer or listener be an active interpreter of the music, rather than be influenced by Debussy’s programmatic vision. His tenth prelude is titled “La cathedrale engloutie” (The Sunken Cathedrale), which refers to a legendary submerged cathedral off the coast of Brittany.

Pyotr "Posh" Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr “Posh” Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Suite from Swan Lake, “Scène” and “Danse des cygnes”
Moores School Chamber Orchestra; Franz Anton Krager, director
Moores Opera House

The holiday season is filled will recognizable music, but none perhaps more iconic than Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. This ballet, though, was preceded by other works for the stage, including the now-famous Swan Lake. It was not an immediate success; the score was deemed complicated, the conductor was described as “semi-amateur,” the choreography unmemorable, and the dancing uncoordinated. Now, of course, the image of the four cygnets and the contrast between the black and white swans is iconic.

Igor "Stylish" Stravinsky
Igor “Stylish” Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite (1919)
Texas Festival Orchestra; Lavard Skou Larsen, conductor
Moores Opera House

Over three decades later, another Russian composer would compose music for a ballet about a bird, yet the effect could not be more different. Commissioned by by impresario Sergei Diaghilev for the Ballet Russes, the company he’d established in 1909, the scenario of The Firebird drew inspiration from Russian folklore. Stravinsky followed suit, using Russian folk motifs and traditions. Already, though, in this first ballet, one hears the individuality that marked Stravinsky throughout his career; the ostinati for which he would later become so famous in Rite of Spring are present, he already demands new techniques from the performers (such as harmonic arpeggios), and he writes for a large orchestra and combines the instruments in innovative ways, creating a diverse palette of colors.