The Midnight Special

What do Cheryl Wheeler, Pete Seeger, Ferron, Woody Guthrie, John Gorka, Ani Difranco, Jean Redpath, Robin & Linda Williams, and Mike Nichols & Elaine May have in common?

They and hundreds of other traditional and contemporary folk performers and comedians fill a three hour spontaneous entertainment program that we callThe Midnight Special. Original, offbeat and always entertaining, The Midnight Special is WFMT’s (Chicago’s Fine Arts Station) weekly aberration of folk music and farce, show tunes and satire, odds and ends, madness and escape.

As The Midnight Special speeds past its 50th birthday, it demonstrates one of the reasons for its longevity by being broadcast on XM Satellite Radio. It has stayed current through decades of change. Although rich in tradition and history, The Midnight Special retains its timeliness, delighting listeners with gentle irreverence or touching them with candid observation. Over the years, the “Special” has evolved into an eclectic mixture of song and story that attracts not only a loyal, almost cult following, but also new, younger listeners with each broadcast. They hear an incredibly diverse selection of artists, from the traditional to the contemporary: Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Arlo Guthrie, Mike Cross, The Weavers, Dudley Moore and Carol Channing, to name a few.

The Midnight Special often airs live performances recorded by WFMT over the past 35 years that are not available commercially, including well-known artists appearing at Chicago area clubs, the University of Chicago Folk Festivals and the comedy revues of Chicago’s famed Second City.

The Midnight Special airs Saturday nights from 9:00 until Midnight, on 98.7WFMT. One of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is, “If it’s the Midnight Special, why isn’t it on at Midnight?” That’s a good question. It never has been.


Folkstage: Live in the Levin Music Performance Studio

Folkstage, heard Saturday’s at 8 pm on WFMT, immediately preceding The Midnight Special, is an uninterrupted, one-hour concert featuring some of the best traditional and singer-songwriter talent in folk music. About 23 concerts per year are broadcast live from our studio in front of an audience. The remainder of the concerts are from our archives that stretch back 45 years, recent recordings made in the Chicago area, live broadcasts from the Old Town School of Folk Music, or recorded portions of our live studio concerts that were not previously broadcast. The series is totally listener funded, and made possible in part by Peter & Nancy Clark, Andy & Becky Anderson, Art Yefsky, an Anonymous Family Foundation and the members of the WFMT Fine Arts Circle.


The World of Robert Schumann

Producer/Host: John Tibbetts
Executive Producer: Steve Robinson
Underwriter: Park University, Kansas City, Kansas

The World of Robert Schumann took more than 20 years to produce. It has gone from a few programs with narration and music to a 13-week, one-hour series featuring dramatizations, interviews, critical commentary and hundreds of musical excerpts. “But,” says John, “I’ll never say that it is finished, rather that the work has been provisionally suspended for now, and that the music and the interviews and the study will always continue.”

The Romantic Apprenticeship: Student Days, 1810-1830

PROGRAM #WRS 06-01 Upbringing in Zwickau. Early conflicts between a career in law and music. Extended analyses of Schumann’s early piano music, including the Beethoven Variations and the Papillons, Opus 2, by conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, pianists Claude Frank, Paul Badura-Skoda and Cyprian Katsaris. Commentary by historian Eric Sams and biographer Dr. Peter Ostwald.

Florestan and Eusebius: A Case Study in Dual Personality

PROGRAM #WRS 06-02 Schumann creates alter egos to express his creative and personal conflicts and divisions. Analyses of the piano cycles Kreisleriana, Opus 16, and the Davidsbundler Tonze, Opus 6, by pianists Anton Kuerti, Charles Rosen, Jean-Bernard Pommier, Ivo Pogorelich, Vladimir Feltsman and Philippe Bianconi. Psychoanalytical commentary by biographer Dr. Peter Ostwald and Dr. Ronald Taylor.

The Courtship of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck, 1835-1840

PROGRAM #WRS 06-03 The celebrated love story runs into numerous difficulties, parental objections and legal tangles. Commentary by biographers Dr. Peter Ostwald and Dr. Nancy Reich; and musical analyses of Fantasie in C, Opus 17 by pianists Charles Rosen and Mary-Louise Boehm, and historian Eric Sams; and the Clara Variations by pianist Anton Kuerti.

Carnival: A Dance of Masks

PROGRAM #WRS 06-04 Profile of “Biedermeier” Germany and the rise of popular dance music as a Romantic expression. The psychological, musical and metaphorical importance of the Carnival (Fasching) season to Schumann. Psychoanalytical analysis by biographer Dr. Peter Ostwald. Extended analysis of Carnaval, Opus 9 by pianist José Feghali and historian Professor Lawrence Kramer.

The Band of David

PROGRAM #WRS 06-05 Robert Schumann was one of the leading figures in 19th century music criticism and journalism. In his own music magazine he proclaimed and supported a whole generation of Romantic composers, including Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz, and Mendelssohn. And in his imagination, he gathered them all together in a mysterious league of musical revolutionaries he dubbed “The Band of David.” Featured interviews include scholars Alan Walker, Leon Plantinga, Hugh Macdonald, Larry Todd, Eric Sams; critics Virgil Thomson, Jacques Barzun, Martin Bookspan; and musicians Leslie Howard and Charles Rosen.

The Romantic Piano: a Symposium of Pianists

PROGRAM #WRS 06-06 Schumann’s piano music is discussed and played by many eminent concert pianists, including Eugene Istomin, Joerg Demus, Peter Frankl, John Browning and György Sandor. Extended analyses of the Toccata, Opus 7, and Songs of the Dawn.

Love and Marriage: Art, Career and Family in the Schumann Household

PROGRAM #WRS 06-07 Robert and Clara struggle to work and raise children in the new middle-class Germany. Marital tensions, family responsibilities and professional ambitions force Schumann to attempt the popular forms of the symphony, opera and oratorio. Discussion by biographers Dr. Nancy Reich and Dr. Peter Ostwald and conductors David Zinman and Leonard Slatkin. Analyses of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by André-Michel Schub and Mischa Dichter; and Paradise and the Peri by John Eliot Gardiner.

The World of Childhood: The Cult of the Child in the Romantic Age

PROGRAM #WRS 06-08 Schumann’s music about childhood draws upon the traditions of folklore and the fairy tales of Grimm, Andersen and E.T.A. Hoffmann, and his experiences with his own children. Analyses of the Scenes from Childhood, Opus 15 and Album for the Young, Opus 68, by pianists Joerg Demus, Claude Frank, György Sandor, Constance Keene; and theLiederalbum für die Jügend by singer Elly Ameling. Special commentary by author/illustrator Maurice Sendak.

Schumann and Heine: The Romantic Irony

PROGRAM #WRS 06-09 The poems of Heinrich Heine and the music of Robert Schumann were joined together in many of Schumann’s finest songs, including two of the greatest song cycles in music history, the Liederkreis, Opus 24 andDichterliebe, Opus 48. The texts and the music bespeak what has been described as “The Romantic Irony,” i.e., the typically Romantic perception of the disparity between private dreams and ideals and worldly reality – and, in artistic terms, the uneasy and complex fusion of words and music. Song historians Rufus Hallmark and David Ferris, and Heine biographer Roger F. Cook, join distinguished art song/opera singer Thomas Hampson in a detailed examination of these songs and their texts.

The Chamber Music: A Symposium of Players

PROGRAM #WRS 06-10 From “Hausmusik” to modern recording practices. Commentary and analyses of the Violin Sonatas, the three String Quartets, the three Trios, the Piano Quintet and the Piano Quartet by pianist Emanuel Ax, Paul Katz of the Cleveland String Quartet, members of The Juilliard String Quartet, members of the Tokyo String Quartet, violinists Peter Zazovsky and Christine Edinger, oboist Heinz Holliger, cellist Lynn Harrell and horn player Hermann Baumann.

The Haunted Forest; Romanticism and Nature

PROGRAM #WRS 06-11 The Romanticists responded to new opportunities and venues of travel in the early 19th century and produced in their music, poems, novels, and paintings, their sense of the glories and the mysteries of nature. Three works by Schumann are selected for commentary and analysis, theWaldscenen (Forest Scenes) for Piano; the song cycle, Liederkreis, Opus 39, to texts by the German poet Joseph von Eichendorff; and a choral work, Manfred, set to Lord Byron’s dramatic poem. Guest commentators include song historians Rufus Hallmark, Eric Sams and David Ferris, and musicians Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin.

Breakdown: The Madness of Robert Schumann

PROGRAM #WRS 06-12 The Romantic fascination with madness and creativity: the suicidal plunge into the Rhine in 1854, and incarceration in the Endenich Asylum. Commentary by biographers Dr. Peter Ostwald, John Daverio, Alan Walker and Eric Sams; and scholars Margit McCorkle, John Macgregor and Albert Boime. Analyses of late works like the Cello Concerto by cellist Lynn Harrell, the Violin Concerto by violinist Thomas Zehetmaire, Manfred by conductor Gerd Albrecht and the Geister Variations by Peter Frankl and Anton Kuerti. New findings on the Endenich papers of Dr. Richarz by biographers Dr. Nancy Reich and Dr. John Daverio.

The Young Eagle: The Arrival of Johannes Brahms

PROGRAM #WRS 06-13 Schumann discovers the young Brahms in 1853, and promotes his career. The controversies surrounding Brahms’ relationship with Clara Schumann are discussed by historian Styra Avins and biographers John Daverio and Dr. Nancy Reich. Analyses of Brahms’ Schumann Variations, the B-Major Piano Trio, the First Piano Concerto and the Four Serious Songs by historians Prof. Robert Winter and Dr. Nancy Reich and pianist Eugene Istomin.


Remembering Jerry Hadley

On January 25th, 2007, 98.7WFMT broadcast the concert Remembering Jerry Hadley, live from Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Performing were colleagues of the Illinois-born tenor, including soprano Elizabeth Futral, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, tenor Richard Leech, baritone Thomas Hampson, and bass Samuel Ramey, as well as the University of Illinois Orchestra, led by Eduardo Diaz-Muñoz, and several University Choirs.  We’re delighted to be able to share highlights from that remarkable program, hosted by WFMT Program Host Carolyn Paulin.


Pavarotti: The Legend at 70!

Commissioned by the WFMT Radio network, this special was produced by London-based Jon Tolansky (Renata Tebaldi: The Voice of an Angel, Fisher-Dieskau at 80, Guilini at 90). Tolansky interviewed Pavarotti at his summer home in Pesaro, Italy. This in-depth interview covers a wide range of topics, from Pavarotti’s life, career and experiences with other legendary musicians, to inside stories about his recordings and operatic roles. He also reflects on specific roles and his greatest stage achievements, including Tonio (La Fille du Regiment), The Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), King Gustavus (Un Ballo in Maschera), Canio (Pagliacci), Manrico (Il Trovatore), Rodolfo (La Bohème), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Calaf (Turandot).


Tribute to Renata Tebaldi: La Voce D’Angelo

Producer/host: Jon Tolansky
Executive Producer: Steve Robinson

La Voce d’Angelo (The Voice of an Angel) is a tribute to the great, late soprano, Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004), in the words of distinguished musicians and others, who knew and worked with her.