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      Carl's Morning Quiz

      Carl Grapentine

      Carl's Morning Quiz: American humorist Ogden Nash was born on this date in 1902. In his version of The Carnival of the Animals by St. Saens, he wrote: "The swan can swim while sitting down, For pure conceit he takes the crown. He looks in the mirror over and over, And claims to have never heard of ________." Fill in the blank. Answer >>

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      Chicago Classical Calendar

      Use the calendar below to browse upcoming
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      Top Stories

      When Pink Floyd Meets Mingus and Bach

      It's hard to describe Chicago composer/guitarist Jason Seed, other than as a well-rounded musician. As such, he delights in music and doesn't worry so much about iTunes categories. Jason Seed's credits include jazz bands, rock bands, collaborations with Baroque Band and Bill Frisell. He's also been around the "new music" scene more...

      Passings: Licia Albanese, Carlo Bergonzi

      He gave more than 300 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. She exceeded 400. Two Italian-born, 20th century opera stars passed away in recent weeks: tenor Carlo Bergonzi and soprano Licia Albanese. Bergonzi in particular had a long performance history in Chicago, making his American debut at Lyric Opera in 1955; while Albanese worked primarily in New York more...

      Video: William Bolcom and Grant Park

      It's fitting that the Grant Park Music Festival should commission a piece by William Bolcom to celebrate its 80th anniversary. The two have had a long relationship. In fact, it was at a 1986 Grant Park Orchestra performance of Bolcom's "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" that then Lyric Opera General Director Ardis Krainik more...

      Today’s Mexican Composer

      This week, WFMT's Fiesta!, the popular Latin American music series hosted by Elbio Barilari, zeros in on the new music scene in Mexico. Of course there have been a number of prominent composers to come out of Mexico, like Carlos Chávez, Manuel Ponce, and Silvestre Revueltas more...

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      Peter Maxwell Davies at 80: The music knows things that I dont

      Last year Peter Maxwell Davies was given six weeks to live. Despite absolutely revolting chemotherapy and a blood clot that almost killed him, he went on to complete his 10th Symphony, and now hes about to celebrate his 80th birthday

      I feel like Im on trial, says Peter Maxwell Davies, seated in the Royal Academy of Musics penthouse flat for visiting professors. Davies, one of our greatest living composers, is about to celebrate his 80th birthday, is being feted up and down the country with a cluster of concerts at the Proms in London and in Glasgow on and around the big day. But here he is, feeling as if this epic encounter with his own music is something hed rather not deal with.

      Seriously, he says, with a glint in his eye, all these celebrations are wonderful, but I did have to interrupt a piece I was thoroughly enjoying. Im carrying it around with me in my brain and I just want to get back to it. By back to it, he doesnt just mean composing. He also means his home on the island of Sanday in Orkney, the archipelago where he has lived since the mid-1970s. Whatever happens, he will be back there to vote Yes in the forthcoming referendum.

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      Collegium Vocale Gent rehearse Bach's Mass in B minor for the Edinburgh international festival video

      In this exclusive video for the Guardian, Collegium Vocale Gent prepare for their Edinburgh international festival performance of JS Bach's Mass in B Minor. Completed in 1749 only a year before his death, the work is widely regarded as Bach's crowning achievement. Here, artistic director and founder of Collegium Vocale Gent Philippe Herreweghe introduces the work and we watch the choir and orchestra rehearse the Osanna in Excelsis.

      Read our review of Collegium Vocale Gent in concert

      Watch out for more videos, produced in association with the Edinburgh Film Company and the Edinburgh international festival, of performers preparing for their festival shows Continue reading...

      Symphony guide: Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

      The most innovative symphony of the 19th century was born from diabolical passions

      Something a little different this week: our symphony is Berliozs Symphonie Fantastique, a piece that lays legitimate claim to adjectives such as revolutionary, radical and unprecedented perhaps as much as, or even more than any other piece in this series so far. This jaw-dropping work was made by a 26-year-old composer who had already become a famous, indeed notorious, figure in Parisian musical life. But Hector Berlioz also happened to be one of the most brilliant writers on music; and in his letters he reveals the genesis of this diabolically and passionately inspired work.

      The following is a collection of vivid fragments from Berliozs own words, and some contemporary commentators, which chart Berliozs state of mind just before he was writing the piece, his musical ambitions, his personal hopes and dreams, and the reality of putting on this uniquely challenging symphony. (A performance planned and rehearsed in May 1830 was cancelled, so its premiere had to wait until December.) A couple of ideas to bear in mind when youre reading these blazing bits of Berlioziana: this music is simultaneously the most subjective symphony ever composed, in writing out Berliozs hallucinogenically morbid fantasies and unrequited love for the actress Harriet Smithson (whom he married thanks to a later performance of the Symphonie, but at the time of its composition was only an object of far-off longing and terrible desire). Yet its also one of the most objective, since Berlioz is capable of analysing his emotions with all the cold-hearted dispassion of a scientist observing life forms through a microscope, as his biographer David Cairns puts it. Im indebted to Cairnss still-essential biography, and to Michael Roses brilliant Berlioz Remembered for the following extracts:

      Oh if only I did not suffer so much! So many musical ideas are seething within me Now that I have broken the chains of routine, I see an immense territory stretching before me, which academic rules forbade me to enter. Now that I have heard that awe-inspiring giant Beethoven, I realise what point the art of music has reached; its a question of taking it up at that point and carrying it further no, not further, thats impossible, he attained the limits of art, but as far in another direction. There are new things, many new things to be done, I feel it with an immense energy, and I shall do it, have no doubt, if I live. Oh, must my entire destiny be engulfed by this overpowering passion? If on the other hand it turned out well, everything Ive suffered would enhance my musical ideas. I would work non-stop my powers would be tripled, a whole new world of music would spring fully armed from my brain or rather from my heart, to conquer that which is most precious for an artist, the approval of those capable of appreciating him.

      Time lies before me, and I am still living; with life and time great events may come to pass.

      For some time I have had a descriptive symphony in my brain. When I have released it, I mean to stagger the musical world.

      I wish I could calm the feverish excitement which so often torments me; but I shall never find it, it comes from the way I am made. In addition, the habit I have got into of constantly observing myself means that no sensation escapes me, and reflection doubles it I see myself in a mirror. Often I experience the most extraordinary impressions, of which nothing can give an idea; nervous exaltation is no doubt the cause, but the effect is like that of opium [which Berlioz, in all probability, knew directly!].

      Well, this imaginary world is still part of me, and has grown by the addition of all the new impressions that I experience as my life goes on; its become a real malady. Sometimes I can scarcely endure this mental or physical pain (I cant separate the two) I see that wide horizon and the sun, and I suffer so much, so much, that if I did not take a grip of myself, I should shout and roll on the ground. I have found only one way of completely satisfying this immense appetite for emotion, and this is music.

      Can you tell me what it is, this capacity for emotion, this force of suffering that is wearing me out? Oh my friend, I am indeed wretched inexpressibly! Today it is a year since I saw HER for the last time Unhappy woman, how I loved you! I shudder as I write it how I love you!

      I conceive an artist, gifted with a lively imagination, who sees for the first time a woman who realises the ideal of beauty and fascination that his heart has so long invoked, and falls madly in love with her. By a strange quirk, the image of the loved one never appears before his minds eye with its corresponding musical idea, in which he finds a quality of grace and nobility similar to that which he attributes to the beloved object. [This is the symphonys idée fixe, the melody that appears in all five movements.]

      After countless agitations, he imagines that there is some hope, he believes himself loved. One day, in the country, he hears in the distance two shepherds playing a ranz des vaches to one another; their rustic dialogue plunges him into a delightful daydream. [This is the Scene in the country, which we now know as the third movement; at this stage, Berlioz had his hero go to the country before The Ball, which we now know as the second movement.] The melody [of the beloved] reappears for a moment across the themes of the adagio.

      The next moment [and the fifth movement, the Dream of a Witches Sabbath] he is surrounded by a hideous throng of demons and sorcerers, gathered to celebrate Sabbath night At last the melody arrives. Till then it had appeared only in a graceful guise, but now it has become a vulgar tavern tune, trivial and base; the beloved object has come to the sabbath to take part in her victims funeral. She is nothing but a courtesan, fit to figure in the orgy. The ceremony begins; the bells toll, the whole hellish cohort prostrates itself; a chorus chants the plainsong sequence of the dead [the Dies irae plainchant], two other choruses repeat it in a burlesque parody. Finally, the sabbath round-dance whirls. At its violent climax it mingles with the Dies irae, and the vision ends.

      There are some people who can only make their presence felt and call attention to their activities by means of noisy puffing, coughing, croaking, and spitting. One such appears to be Herr Hector Berlioz. The smell of sulphur surrounding Mephistopheles attracts him, so he must needs sneeze and snort till all the instruments of the orchestra leap around in a perfect frenzy only not a hair stirs on Fausts head I shall certainly find an opportunity when I am teaching to make use of this poisonous abscess, this abortion born of horrible incest.

      I accept that this symphony is of an almost inconceivable strangeness, and that the schoolmasters will no doubt pronounce an anathema on these profanations of the truly beautiful. But for anyone who isnt too concerned about the rules I believe that M. Berlioz, if he carries on in the way he has begun, will one day be worthy to take his place beside Beethoven.

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