Show cover of Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Sticky Notes is a classical music podcast for everyone. Whether you are a beginner just looking to get into classical music but don't know where to start, or a seasoned musician interested in the lives and ideas of your fellow artists, this podcast is for you. The show will feature interviews with the top artists of today, in-depth looks at specific pieces from the repertoire, and deep dives into each era of classical music, plus much more.

Tracks

The Music of Film Composers
Film music began as a solution to a problem. Early film projectors were really loud, therefore something was needed to cover up all the noise.  In addition, silent movies apparently seemed a bit awkward without any musical accompaniment.   Enter, usually, a pianist, who would improvise musical accompaniments to the events on the screen. None other than Dmitri Shostakovich got his first job as a cinema pianist, honing his improvisatory skills, and sometimes receiving cat calls and boos for his fantasy filled musings that tended to stray away from the action on the screen. Music in the silent film era had to help the audience in pointing out important moments to the audience,  enhancing the emotional effects of the story, and most importantly, it had to give a certain musical line to every character, giving to them the emotional depth that the audience couldn't get since they weren’t going to hear their voice.  To do this, early film composers turned to the idea of the Leitmotif, an idea developed by the opera composer Richard Wagner. This idea would take hold even once "talkies" took over the screen, with composers such as Max Steiner, Charlie Chaplin, and others setting the stage for a century of brilliant music, by composers like Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Dmitri Shostakovich, Rachel Portman, Hans Zimmer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Christopher Willis, and dozens and dozens more. Today on the show we'll talk about this development of film music, and also hear some of the greatest and most recognizable film music ever written. We'll also talk about why film music is sometimes looked down upon in the classical music world, and how we might begin to change that perception. Join us! 
44:24 01/12/22
Janacek Sinfonietta
Along with Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana, Leos Janacek is known as one of the three great Czech composers. He was born in Moravia, part of the Austrian Empire at the time, and became passionately interested in studying the folk music of his Moravian culture. After World War I, when the empire collapsed and Moravia became incorporated into the new country of Czechoslovakia, those nationalistic sentiments only increased, and Janacek was the perfect person to express those feelings through his music, seeing as his interest in the folk music of his homeland had been a lifelong passion for him. Enter the Sinfonietta, written in 1926, commissioned by none other than a Gymnastics festival! A sinfonietta is usually a smaller scale piece than a symphony, shorter, with a lighter orchestration and a lighter touch. But Janacek was always a rebel, and his Sinfonietta is a symphony in all but name, featuring an absolutely massive brass section that lustily performs the nationliaistic fanfares that Janacek gleefully adds  to the music. The Sinfonietta is an expression of patriotic love for Janacek’s homeland, but it is also a piece that shows off so many of the things that make Janacek such a unique and underrated composer, his love of short fragmented melodies, his shocks and surprises, his innovative use of orchestration, and more. If you're not familiar with Janacek's music, the Sinfonietta is the perfect entry point, so come join us on this Patreon-sponsored episode!
50:23 25/11/22
The Degenerates: Music Suppressed By The Nazis
The center of Western Classical Music, ever since the time of Bach, has been modern-day Germany and Austria.  You can trace a line from Bach, to Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven to Schubert to Schumann, Brahms, and Wagner, and finally to Mahler. But why does that line stop in 1911, the year of Mahler’s death? Part of the answer is the increasing influence of composers from outside the Austro-German canon, something that has enriched Western Classical music to this day. There was also World War I getting in the way.  But after the war, one could have expected that this line would continue again.  The 1920’s in Germany and the rest of Europe were a time of radical experimentation, a flowering of ideas, a sort of wild ecstasy of innovation across all the arts. So why don’t we hear of these Austro-German experimenters and innovators anymore?  Because of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and their Entartete, or Degenerate music.  Hitler’s worst crime was by no means his suppression of dozens of German, Austrian, and Eastern European composers, but it is a fact all the same that from the end of World War I until 1933, classical music in Germany and Eastern Europe(especially Czechoslovakia), was flourishing, with composers such as Zemlinsky, Krenek, Korngold, Schreker, Schulhoff, Haas, Krasa, and Ullmann taking up the mantle of the giants of the past and hoisting it upon themselves to carry it forward.     The Nazis silenced, exiled, or  killed off many of these musicians during the twelve years of 1933-1945, and those voices are forever lost, but the music they wrote before, during the War and the Holocaust, and after it, some of it masterpieces quite on the level of their predecessors, has been preserved.  So why then are these composers not better known? I’ve chosen 12 composers, all of whom were writing music at the highest level.  Some of them may be familiar to you, but many probably won’t be.  And through all of their trials and tribulations, one of the things I want to emphasize throughout these stories, even the bleakest ones, is that so many of them found the will to be able to compose this heart-rending, beautiful, and often optimistic music all as they witnessed unimaginable horrors. It may seem empty when the end for many of these artists was so horrific, but these compositions and the men and women who were behind them are a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit.  These artists created a life for their friends, neighbors, and fellow inmates in concentration camps.  They wrote music they knew would almost certainly not be heard in their lifetimes, from an urge that could not be destroyed, even by gas chambers. Join us to learn about them this week.
57:39 17/11/22
David Krauss, Principal Trumpet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
David Krauss is the Principal Trumpet of the Met Opera orchestra, and in this conversation, we talked about his beginnings on the trumpet, the differences between playing in a symphonic orchestra vs. an opera orchestra, how to manage the vast distances between singers, the conductor, the orchestra, and the brass section, the specific skills an opera orchestra player has to have, and some funny/terrifying stories about on stage moments we both would rather forget! We also talked about David's podcast, Speaking Soundly. This was a really fun conversation and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
45:42 03/11/22
Beethoven Op. 18 String Quartets, Part 2
Note: This episode will be a lot more enjoyable if you listen to Part 1 first! As we turn towards the final three quartets of the set, we’ll see a lot of the same characteristics of the first 3; a perfect classical era proportionality, strong influences from Haydn and Mozart, and that perfect blend of vividly drawn but just very slightly restrained characters that marks Beethoven’s early period. But we also will see something else. We will see C Minor, Beethoven’s favorite key to depict drama and anxiety, we will see music that is almost impossibly charming and Mozartian coming from a composer as irascible as Beethoven, and then we will arrive at Op. 18 No. 6, perhaps the most emotionally complex and forward looking of the 6 Op. 18 quartets. We’ll take our same birds eye view of each of these quartets, as we did last week, but I will also do two more deep dives. We'll take apart the first movement of Op. 18 No. 4, and the last movement of Op. 18 No. 6, which is the movement that for many is the highlight of these quartets. Along the way, we’ll enjoy all of the quirky details of these three mini masterpieces, and see how Beethoven was starting to break the mold and set out onto his own path, one note at a time. PS: All recordings used on the show for the last two weeks were done by The Cleveland Quartet - recordings of the complete quartets are available at clevelandquartet.com
66:32 27/10/22
Beethoven Op. 18 String Quartets, Part 1
In 1798, Beethoven, all of 28 years old, was about to begin a project that would take him to the last days of his life, a project that would result in some of the most far-reaching, most cosmic, most life-affirming, most dramatic, and simply put, some of the greatest music he, or anyone else, ever wrote. This project that Beethoven was beginning was his first set of string quartets. Beethoven wrote/published 16 string quartets during his life, and they are both a superhuman achievement and yet also a testament to the ability of a single person to create music of vast complexity and the deepest of emotions, all for just 4 musicians. To really understand Beethoven’s quartets, and his achievements with them as he progressed through his life, we have to start at the beginning. Beethoven was very rarely in the shadow of anyone during his life, but when it came to the string quartet, Beethoven still felt very much indebted to two of his colleagues, Haydn and Mozart. Haydn had essentially invented the genre of the string quartet, and by 1798 was beginning the massive project of cataloguing and writing out his 68 string quartets. Mozart had died only 7 years earlier, leaving us with some of the most pristine and gorgeous entries in this still relatively new at the time genre of instrumentation.  Beethoven’s music is often separated in to early, middle, and late periods, and these string quartets are always placed into the early period, which makes sense considering his later works, but also belies the fact that Beethoven had already accomplished quite a bit by the time he turned 30! It’s safe to say that these pieces come near the end of this early period, where Beethoven was still working out how to embrace the classical traditions that he admired so much in composers like Mozart and Haydn, while also finding his own path as the creator of brand new traditions, smashing the rule book along the way. So this week, I wanted to take you through an overview of these amazing works. We’ll talk about the genre of the string quartet itself, what Haydn and Mozart had essentially codified when Beethoven wrote his Op. 18s, and of course, what Beethoven did with this genre, even at this early stage, which is often absolutely astonishing in its creativity, intensity, and just plain excitement.
66:37 20/10/22
Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1
In almost every one of the past shows I’ve done about Shostakovich, the name Joseph Stalin is mentioned almost as much as the name Dmitri Shostakovich, and of course, there’s a good reason for that. Shostakovich’s life and music was inextricably linked to the Soviet dictator, and Shostakovich, like millions of Soviet citizens, lived in fear of the Stalin regime, which exiled, imprisoned, or murdered so many of Shostakovich’s friends and even some family members. Post his 1936 denunciation, Shostakovich’s music completely changed. Moving away from the radical experimentation he had attempted with his doomed opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, he adopted a slightly more conservative style, which he hoped would keep him in good stead with the authorities. But the piece I’m going to tell you about today, his monumental first violin concerto, is a bit different. It was written just after World War II, between 1947 and 1948. And yet, it was not performed until 8 years later. Shostakovich himself withdrew the work and kept it “in the drawer” along with his 4th string quartet and his song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry. When the piece was finally performed by its dedicatee, David Oistrakh, it was a massive success, and it remains one of the best ways to “get into” Shostakovich’s music. It is a huge work, in 4 grand movements, and Shostkaocvich himself described it as a “symphony for violin solo.” It features all of the qualities that make Shostakovich’s music so exciting, powerful, heartbreaking, and intense, while also allowing the listener, for the most part, to remove politics from the equation. While there are certainly encoded messages in the piece, one of which we’ll get into in detail, this is a piece that is as close to pure musical expression as any of Shostakovich’s post 1936 works, and so today I won’t be mentioning Stalin all that much, I won’t be mentioning the Soviet government every other sentence, and instead, we’ll explore what makes this concerto so fantastic, so emotionally powerful, and so rousingly exciting. Join us!
60:09 13/10/22
10 Pieces You've (Probably) Never Heard, But Need to Listen To!
Everyone knows Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  Even if United Airlines hadn’t made the piece ubiquitous, it seems like the one piece of classical music almost everyone knows besides the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th symphony is Rhapsody in Blue.  But did you know that Gershwin wrote a second rhapsody for piano and orchestra?   We know Shostakovich’s later works for their intensity, drama, and depth, but did you know that Shostakovich was a completely different composer when he was a young man?  That he wrote funny, sarcastic, and wildly experimental music?   How about Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and his Battalia a 10?  Or Ethel Smyth’s string quintet? Or the music of Teresa Carreno? Leonard Bernstein used to talk about the infinite variety of classical music because there’s simply an endless treasure trove of great and often totally unknown classical music out there.  So today, I want to take you on a bit of an archeological expedition, exploring 10 pieces you’ve (probably) never heard of, but really have to listen to.  My list includes some very recognizable names, including Ravel, Gershwin, and Shostakovich, but also some names you might know less well, like Anton Arensky, Milosz Magin, and Teresa Carreno. Join us and discover something new!
62:37 06/10/22
Ives, "Three Places in New England"
In 1929, the conductor Nicolas Slonimsky contacted the American composer Charles Ives about performing one of his works. This was a bit of a surprise for Ives, since he had a checkered reputation among musicians and audience members, if they even were familiar with his name at all. In fact, he was much more famous during his lifetime as an extremely successful insurance executive! Ives mostly composed in his spare time, and his music was mostly ignored or ridiculed as that of a person suffering from a crisis of mental health. Most of his music was never performed during his lifetime, and even today, he is thought of as a great but extremely eccentric composer, and orchestras and chamber ensembles often struggle to sell tickets if his name appears on the program. But for those who love Ives, there is an almost evangelical desire to spread his music to the world. I’m one of those people, and I’m finally fulfilling a pledge to myself to do a full show devoted to a single work of arguably the greatest and most under appreciated American composer of all time, Charles Ives. The piece I chose to talk about today is Three Places in New England, or the New England Symphony, a piece that is a perfect amalgam of what makes Ives such a spectacular composer - his radical innovations, his ahead of his time experiments, his humor, his humanity, his warmth, and the staggering creativity that marked all of Ives’ great works. We’ll start with a little biography of Ives in case you’re not familiar with him, and then we’ll dive into Three Places in New England, and by the end, I hope , if you’re not already, that I will have converted you into an Ives fan for life! Join us!
60:25 29/09/22
Louise Farrenc Symphony No. 3
In the mid 19th century, the way to make yourself famous in France as a composer was to write operas. From Cherubini, to Meyerbeer, to Bizet, to Berlioz, to Gounod, to Massenet, to Offenbach, to Saint Saens, to foreign composers who wrote specifically for the Paris Opera like Rossini, Verdi and others, if you wanted to be somebody, especially as a French composer, you wrote operas, and you wrote a lot of them. But one composer in France bucked the trend, and her name was Louise Farrenc. Farrenc never wrote an opera - instead she focused on chamber music, works for solo piano, and three symphonies that were in a firmly Germanic style. Writing in a style that was not en vogue in her home country, along with the obvious gender imbalances of the time, meant that you might expect that Farrenc was completely ignored during her life. But that’s not the case. She had a highly successful career as a pianist, a pedagogue, and yes, as a composer too. But after her death, her music was largely forgotten. Bu in the last 15-20 years there has been a concerted effort at bringing Farrenc’s music back to life, part of a larger movement to rediscover the work of composers who were unfairly maligned or treated during their lifetimes and after. One of Farrenc’s greatest works, and the one we’re going to be talking about today, is her 3rd symphony in G Minor. On the surface this is a piece in the mid-to-late German Romantic symphonic tradition, with lots of echoes of Mendelssohn and Schumann, but there’s a lot more to it than that. So today on this Patreon sponsored episode, we’ll discuss how Farrenc’s music fit into French musical life, how a symphony was a still expected to sound in 1847, and of course, this dramatic and powerful symphony that is only now beginning to find its rightful place on stage. Join us!
57:31 22/09/22
Saint-Saens, The Carnival Of The Animals
In 1922 a review appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro: “We cannot describe the cries of admiring joy let loose by an enthusiastic public. In the immense oeuvre of Camille Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals is certainly one of his magnificent masterpieces. From the first note to the last it is an uninterrupted outpouring of a spirit of the highest and noblest comedy. In every bar, at every point, there are unexpected and irresistible finds. Themes, whimsical ideas, instrumentation compete with buffoonery, grace and science. ... When he likes to joke, the master never forgets that he is the master.” You would think that this review came after a triumphant performance for Saint-Saens, and that he basked in the glory of the major success of what would become perhaps his most well known work, the Carnival of the Animals. But it just wasn’t the case. In fact, this review appeared after a performance of the piece given after Saint-Saens death, and there was a reason for that. Saint-Saens, after 3 private performances of the piece, forbade it from being performed publicly during his lifetime. Why? Well, he was concerned that this lighthearted piece would diminish his standing as a serious composer. Even in the mid 1880s when this piece was written, Saint-Saens began to evince the conservatism, musical and otherwise, that would mark his later career, to the point that he wanted Stravinsky declared insane and said this about Debussy: "We must at all costs bar the door of the Institut against a man capable of such atrocities; they should be put next to the cubist pictures." Why was Saint-Saens so opposed to modernism? Why was he so concerned with his reputation as a serious composer, to the point that he suppressed this wonderfully creative piece? And just what makes the Carnival of the Animals so fantastic and so much fun to listen to, as well as being so vivid in its portrayals of the animals it represents? Join us to find out!
56:57 15/09/22
Brahms Symphony No. 4
Welcome to Season 9 of Sticky Notes! We're starting with a bang this season with Brahms' incomparable 4th symphony. This symphony takes the listener on a journey that unexpectedly ends in a legendarily dramatic and stormy way. What would compel a composer like Brahms to write an ending like this? Was it a requiem for his place in music? For Vienna? For Europe? Or was it the logical conclusion to a minor key bassline he stole from a Bach Cantata? This is the eternal question when it comes to Brahms - logic or emotion? Well, usually the answer is a bit of both, and today we're going to go through this remarkable piece with all of this in mind. Join us!
70:30 08/09/22
Mozart, The Music, The Myth, The Legend, w/ Jan Swafford
"I think Mozart just really loved people." - Jan Swafford. For the Season 8 Finale, I had the great pleasure of welcoming back Jan Swafford, the great writer on music, who has written a spectacular new biography of Mozart. In this conversation, we talked about who Mozart really was as a person, some of the myths that defined him during his lifetime and into the present day, and of course, the incomparable music that Mozart was able to create, sometimes on a whim or in a single afternoon. This is a conversation about a man who understood people perhaps better than almost any composer, and a musician who scraped and struggled during his life while achieving immortality through his creations. Please note that this will be the last episode of Season 8 and Season 9 will begin on September 8!
59:52 04/08/22
The Life and Music of George Gershwin
George Gershwin’s story is like the story of so many American immigrants.  His mother and father, Moishe and Rose Gershowitz,  were Russian Jews who came to New York City in the 1890s looking for a better life and to escape persecution at home. Soon they became the Gershwines, and in 1898, Jacob Gershwine was born. Later on he changed his name to sound just a little bit more American, and the name George Gershwin was on its way to immortality.  In just a few short years, the Gershowitz’s had become the Gershwins, and the story of George Gershwin was beginning to be written.  On today’s show we’ll talk about some of Gershwin’s greatest works, including his Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue, and Porgy and Bess, but we’ll also talk about the collision between Classical and Pop music, a Russian Jew imbibing the purely American form of Jazz, and Gershwin’s place in the modern classical and jazz repertoire, and in America. Join us!
43:15 28/07/22
Haydn Symphony No. 94, "Surprise"
If you want to understand how a symphony works, look no further than the works of the Father of the symphony, Joseph Haydn. In 1790, a concert promoter and impresario named Johann Peter Solomon showed up un-announced at the Vienna home of the great composer Joseph Haydn.  He immediately told Haydn: “I am Solomon from London and I have come to fetch you.”  What Salomon and Haydn were about to embark upon would be one of the greatest successes of both of their lives.  Haydn would end up making 2 visits to London, presenting an adoring audience with 12 symphonies, almost all of which are still regularly performed today.  But the most famous one is the one we’re going to be talking about today, the 94th symphony, nicknamed “Surprise” or in the slightly drier German version: “the one with the Drumstroke.”  The piece is famous for this surprise, which is now so well known that it rarely surprises anyone, though we’ll get into just how you might be able to do that in 2022.  But the entire piece is a masterpiece in its own right, and so today we’ll discuss all of the tricks and traps Haydn pulls with his audience, leading to one of the most enjoyable symphonies of his entire catalogue.
39:41 21/07/22
Derrick Skye: "Prisms, Cycles, and Leaps" w/ Derrick Skye
Derrick Skye is one of the most creative, innovative, and brilliant composers of our time. His orchestral work, Prisms, Cycles, and Leaps is a musical thrill ride spanning influences from literally all over the world, from West African Music, Balkan Folk Music, Hindustani Classical Music, all the way to Appalachan Folk harmonies. I had the great pleasure of talking my way through this piece with Derrick, exploring the mind-bogglingly complex rhythmic patterns, the melodic lines that blend cultures and harmonies, and the infectious joy of this unique piece. If you're not familiar wiith Derrick's music, trust me, take the time to get to know him and his music in this interview/analysis - you won't regret it!
60:27 14/07/22
The Music of Olivier Messiaen
There is one composer who I’ve never devoted a full show to that fills me with the same devotion and ecstasy as the people who claim that Wagner almost immediately dissolves them into tears. His music is widely played, but it has never been totally embraced by the wider classical music audience. There are a variety of reasons for this, but his uniquely 20th century language of tonality mixed with atonality mixed with something completely different from anyone who has ever written music makes it sometimes difficult to pin down his vast contribution to the world of music. His music is as deeply connected to his religious faith as any composer in history, and yes, that includes Bach. His music is as deeply connected to Nature as any composer who ever lived, and his music is tied directly to the colors he saw as he played and listened to it. His name is Olivier Messiaen, and he is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. I wish I could describe to you the otherworldly feeling I get when I listen to his music, but for a very long time, I shied away from it.  Perhaps the reason is that it’s extremely hard to talk about Messiaen’s musical outlook without talking about his religious faith. I’m a non-religious Jewish person, so the depths of devotion that Messiaen describes regularly as his inspirations were and are foreign to me. And yet, the first time I heard his L’Ascension, every single hair on my body seemed to stand on end. I was completely blown away by these ravishing harmonies, how light seemed to shine off of them, how Messiaen translated his religious devotion into sound. I’ve not talked about Messiaen’s music on the show because it’s not easy to grapple with, but I can’t wait any longer. Today I’ll tell you a bit about Messiaen’s life, his upbringing, his musical and religious revelations, and then I’ll discuss some of his greatest pieces using three frameworks - religion, nature and specifically birdsong, and color. Join us!
60:34 07/07/22
Dvorak Symphony No. 8
Bucolic. Sunny. Cheerful. Joyous. Folksy. Ebullient. Thrilling. These are all words that I found while researching Dvorak’s 8th symphony. Dvorak’s gift for writing the most gorgeous of melodies is on full display in his 8th symphony, a piece that has been charming listeners ever since its very first performances. It is, on its surface, an uncomplicated piece, bursting at the seams with melody after melody after melody, almost mirroring one of Brahms’ greatest one-liners, where he referred to his summer country home as a place where melodies were so heavily present thatt one had to be careful to avoid tripping on them! The overriding characteristic of this 8th symphony is joy, from its childlike key of G Major, to its raucous use of folk music, and even its smiling through tears slow movement. Very often on this show I try to take pieces that are quite complicated and break them down for you to show you how to follow their twists and turns despite their complexities. But today, I’m going to do the opposite. Today, I’m going to take a piece that is, on its surface, quite simple, and I’m going to show you how this symphony is not quite as simple as it seems. It is a piece full of invention and of the scintillating energy of trying out new ideas. As Dvorak said, he would try to make this symphony ”different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way.” So today on the show we’re going to talk about how this symphony is different from other symphonies, and also how Dvorak constructs his chains of melodies that add up to the joyful whole of this piece, though tinged with the melancholy that is almost always present with Dvorak. Join us!
60:01 30/06/22
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4, "Italian"
How does a composer capture the spirit of a country, especially if it's not his native land?  Mendelssohn, in his Italian Symphony, gives us one of the best examples of someone doing just that, giving us a tightly integrated, yet highly independent set of 4 snapshots from his travels all over Italy.  And yet, despite the piece being called the Italian Symphony and being indelibly associated with the country, the symphony remains a relatively traditional 4 movement German classical symphony.  What we hear then is a brilliant amalgamation of a symphony and a tone poem that is among the first of its kind.  The symphony tells no story, has no narrative, and yet, when we finish the breathless Tarantella that ends the piece, we feel like we’ve been flicking through a photo album of Felix’s vacation, smiling (mostly) all along the way. Today we’ll talk all about how Mendelssohn builds this symphony and how each movement captures such a distinctive character, while remaining Mendelssohnian to its core - kind, warm-hearted, and full of bubbling energy. Join us!
47:05 23/06/22
Brahms Piano Quartet in G Minor (+Schoenberg!)
Today I’m going to be talking about one piece, but in two different ways.  I’m going to start today with an in-depth look at Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G Minor, an early piece of his that reveals an incredible sense of drama, drive, and creativity. This is very different music than I’ve talked about before with Brahms as this is decidedly the work of a young composer, without all the burnished maturity of Brahms’ later music. This is also a great opportunity to revisit the bedrock of the Classical and Early Romantic eras, Sonata Form, a form that makes so many pieces from those eras intelligible and clear.  But I’m also going to be talking about another piece. Well, it’s the same piece, but to some people, it sounds so completely different that it constitutes a completely new piece entirely. To some others, myself included, it almost constitutes an entirely new Brahms symphony. What I’m talking about is the composer Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms’s Piano Quartet for a massive orchestra, filling the stage with instruments that Brahms never would have even conceived of! You don’t often think of Schoenberg and Brahms in the same breath, but Schoenberg was a devotee of Brahms’ music, and often defended him against those who called him a crusty old conservative composer. But Schoenberg was still Schoenberg, and this arraangement of the quartet reflects that in a lot of ways. So along with an exploration of Sonata Form, I’ll save a look at the Schoenberg arrangement for the end of th show, since this is a great chance to look at orchestration and how a composer takes a piece written for 4 people and transforms it into a piece for 100. So today we’ll dive into this vast and complex piece, and along they way we’ll visit Schoenberg’s fascinating and sometimes downright wacky arrangement.  Join us!
58:22 16/06/22
Berio Folk Songs
In 1964, the popular 20th century composer Luciano Berio was commissioned by Mills College in California to write a piece for voice and chamber orchestra. What Berio came up with is one of his most remarkably creative works, which is really saying something considering the innovative and constantly evolving way that he wrote music. Berio once said:  “My links with folk music are often of an emotional character. When I work with that music I am always caught by the thrill of discovery… I return again and again to folk music because I try to establish contact between that and my own ideas about music. I have a utopian dream, though I know it cannot be realized: I would like to create a unity between folk music and our music — a real, perceptible, understandable conduit between ancient, popular music-making which is so close to everyday work and music.” The words "thrill of discovery" are at the core of what makes the Folk Songs so wonderful and easy to listen to. They combine a modernist classical aesthetic with songs that are of such beauty that it is hard not be overwhelmed by them. Berio took 11 folk songs from 5 different regions of the world, from places as far away as the United States and Azerbaijan, and transformed them. He wrote: “I have given the songs a new rhythmic and harmonic interpretation: in a way, I have recomposed them. The instrumental part has an important function: it is meant to underline and comment on the expressive and cultural roots of each song. Such roots signify not only the ethnic origins of the songs but also the history of the authentic uses that have been made of them.” Today on the show I’m going to take you through these 11 songs, going on a historical expedition to find some of their roots and to get as close to the original songs as I can, and then looking at how Berio re-worked these songs into this cycle that consistently stuns people with its beauty and creativity. If you’ve never heard these pieces before, get ready, because Berio will take you on a remarkable journey. Join us!
55:52 09/06/22
Prokofiev Symphony No. 5
It’s very easy to compare Sergei Prokofiev to Dmitri Shostakovich.  They are the two most famous representatives of Soviet and Russian music of the 20th century, they lived around the same time, and their music even has some similarities, but at their core, you almost couldn’t find more different people than Prokofiev and Shostakovich.  Shostakovich was neurotic, nervous, and timid.  Prokofiev was confident and cool.  Shostakovich was tortured by the Soviet government, and while Prokofiev certainly had his runins with Stalin and his crones , his life wasn’t so inextricably linked to the Soviet Union, besides the fact that he had the bad luck to die on the same day as Joseph Stalin, which made it so that there were no flowers available for his funeral. Prokofiev was able to travel, and see the world, generally without nearly as much interference as Shostakovich faced.  These two lives are reflected in two very different musical approaches.  Shostakovich's wartime symphonies are full of terror and violence, whlie Prokofiev wrote that his 5th symphony was a hymn to the human spirit. We don't know how much that reflects his true feelings, but its undeniable that there is a certain "optimism" to this symphony that both thrills and unsettles listeners to this day. It is also filled with traademark Prokofiev cynicism and sarcasm, and so we are left, as always, with a contradiction. What did Prokofiev mean with this symphony? Join us as we try to find out!
63:05 02/06/22
Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24
Imagine writing a concerto that prompted Beethoven to remark to a friend: “we’ll never be able to write anything like that.  Or a piece that prompted Brahms to call it: “a masterpiece of art, full of inspiration and ideas.”  Or had scholars and musicologists raving, saying things like: "not only the most sublime of the whole series but also one of the greatest pianoforte concertos ever composed" or "whatever value we put upon any single movement from the Mozart concertos, we shall find no work greater as a concerto than this K. 491, for Mozart never wrote a work whose parts were so surely those of 'one stupendous whole'."  I could go on and on, but the simple end to this story is that Mozart’s C Minor Piano Concerto has been considered one of the great achievements of humanity ever since it was premiered on either April 3rd of April 7th of 1786, performed by Mozart himself.  While we don’t know exactly how long it took Mozart to complete this concerto, it could not have taken more than a few months, and it came amidst him writing his 22nd and 23rd piano concerti, both masterpieces in their own right, and it was written just as Mozart was putting the finishing touches on his comic magnum opus, The Marriage of Figaro.  It’s almost a cliche at this point, but its one of those rare cliche’s that really deserves to be repeated:  If Mozart had written just one of those 4 pieces, his name would have been etched in history. Instead he was working on all 4 at the same time! Today, we’re going to be talking about the astonishing harmonic language of the piece, it’s skeletal manuscript, and how performers deal with the contradictions and quite frankly, missing pieces of this concerto. Join us!
44:00 26/05/22
The Life and Music of Florence Price
Today I’ve got a pretty special show for you. It’s set up in two parts, with the first part featuring an interview, and the second part will be a more typical Sticky Notes analysis of a specific piece. Why did I set up the show this way this week? Well, I had the opportunity a few months ago to work with an extraordinary scholar and musician, Dr. Samantha Ege, who is the Lord Crewe Junior Research Fellow in Music at Lincoln College, University of Oxford,  and is also one of the foremost scholars on the music of Florence Price. Florence Price is a composer who has been receiving a lot of attention over the last 5-7 years. As the first African American woman to have a major piece performed an orchestra, her first symphony was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony, Price has become one of the most prominent figures in the revival of music written by Black composers as orchestras and performers not only in the US but all over the world attempt to diversify their programming. Price is part of a group of composers from the early twentieth century who were the first nationally successful Black composers. This group included luminaries such as William Grant Stiill, William Levi Dawson, and Nathaniel Dett, among others, and all of these composers have had their works rediscovered during this period, a truly exciting development that has brought a lot of neglected music back onto the concert stage. I’ve wanted to do a show devoted to Florence Price for a while, but when I got the chance to perform Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement with Dr. Ege, I knew I had to ask her to come on the show to tell the incredible story of this wonderful American composer. So the first part of the show is devoted to an interview with Dr. Ege going through Price’s background and talking about her writing style and approach to music. This was such a fun interview - Dr. Ege is a great teacher and I learned a ton about Price that I didn’t know about beforehand. The second part of the show will be an analysis of one of Price’s most rarely played, but in my opinion, one of her best, orchestral works, Ethiopia’s Shadow in America. Join us!
51:26 19/05/22
Mahler Symphony No. 9, Part 4
Mahler once said this to Bruno Walter, his protege and great advocate of Mahler’s works: "What one makes music from is still the whole—that is the feeling, thinking, breathing, suffering, human being”   You could almost just stop there with the last movement of Mahler 9.  This is music so full of feeling, thinking, breathing, suffering, but also of also acceptance and consolation, that words fail to describe its emotional impact. But as always with Mahler, this isn’t merely an emotional outpouring, a dumping of his innermost feelings onto the audience. It is a superbly paced, beautifully written movement, and despite its 25 minute length, and very stable and slow tempo, the movement does the seemingly impossible and feels both endless and compact at the same time.   So today, while of course we’ll talk about the emotional content of the music, I want to focus a bit more on how Mahler writes this music to make it so effective, and how he finds a way to reach the peaks of expression and the epitome of using silence as music. And finally, we'll explore how and to whom Mahler says goodbye to at the end of this symphony, as everything fades away. Join us!
47:06 12/05/22
Mahler Symphony No. 9, Part 3
It's easy to forget that Mahler, for all of his ubiquitous success nowadays, was much better known as a conductor during his life than as a composer.  He had basically one major success in his compositional career: a performance of his 8th symphony in Munich in 1910 that finally seemed to give him the approval he craved from the audience.  But for much of his compositional life, Mahler was misunderstood. His symphonies were either too long, too dense, too confusing, too esoteric, too vulgar, too banal, lacking in sophistication, or had too MUCH sophistication - the list goes on and on.  Mahler famously said in regards to his music that “my time will come” and it certainly has come, with regular performances of his music all around the world.  But as we discuss the third movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony today, I want to keep reminding you that Mahler was really not a popular man.  Even as a conductor, he had bitter enemies that drove him out of his position as the Director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1907.  As a person, he could charitably be described as difficult, with moments of kindness followed by bouts of stony silence or fierce rages.  Mahler was a complicated man, and it's perhaps in this third movement that we can learn so much about this side of Mahler that doesn’t get talked about as much - that bitter, sarcastic, nasty side of him that many choose to ignore, preferring to focus on the love and warmth that he instills into much of his music.  In the third movement of his 9th symphony, Mahler seems to be letting out some of his rage and anger at the Viennese public, concerned in his mind only with intrigue and gossip, and those critics who trafficked in open Anti-Semitism in order to bring him down from his lofty perch.  But amidst all of this, Mahler continually grasps for order throughout the movement, only to find it ripped away from him.  This is the shortest movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony, but it is also the most dense.  So today, we’ll talk about that bitter pill that is this movement, a movement that is nevertheless relentless in its search for beauty, form, and order. Join us!
36:28 05/05/22
Mahler Symphony No. 9, Part 2
Remember where we ended in the first movement of Mahler's 9th symphony? After a 27 minute farewell which touched on the two poles of rage and acceptance, while filling in every conceivable emotion in between, we ended in total peace, calm, and acceptance .   There is a lot about this symphony that is traditional - it has four movements, it's tonal(for the most part), it uses(mostly) traditional forms, but there is one thing about the symphony which is extremely unusual: the fact that it is bookended by two slow movements.  A traditional symphony takes the form of a moderately fast first movement, either a slow movement or a fast dance movement for the second movement, the same for the third(almost always the opposite of whatever the second movement was), and a fast last movement to send the crowd home happy.  Mahler,  using a form that he never used before, and would never be used again by any composer, writes a slow first movement, then 2 fast dance movements, followed by a slow final movement.  It's a fascinating formal design, but one that presents a lot of problems to solve; how do you contrast the two middle dance movements?  How do you create a sense of excitement when you’ve just finished a 27 minute slow movement which could easily be its own piece?  And perhaps most importantly, how do you conceive of the arc of a 16 minute dance movement, one that seems almost shockingly simplistic in its basic harmony and melody.  Well, Mahler finds a way through a combination of genuine joy, sarcasm, bitterness, and irony, emotions we will certainly be talking about as we take apart this second movement.
37:39 28/04/22
Mahler Symphony No. 9, Part 1
Two events, occurring on the same day, drove Mahler to the brink. His daughter Maria died at the age of just 4, and Mahler himself was diagnosed with a heart condition that would prove to be fatal. He became consumed even more so than he ever was before with the idea of death, the afterlife, and all the philosophical trials and travails that came with these thoughts.  These ideas of death did not come only from his own sense of loss and grief; they were about his place in history, and how he would be remembered. The 9th symphony explores all of these questions in a remarkably powerful way. The symphony sets up two poles: acceptance and struggle, and then wavers between them for its duration, vacillating between desperately clinging to life, and accepting and letting go.  Leonard Bernstein famously said that the symphonies' 4 movements represent 4 ways for Mahler to say farewell, but they could just as easily be 4 movements for Mahler to say he will be here forever. Join us today for part 1 to discuss the first movement of this monumental symphony!
54:21 14/04/22
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 4
Shostakovich is one of the easiest composers to do podcasts about because his life and his music is full of such incredible stories. But as easy as it is, it's also complicated. Shostakovich's music is sometimes heard as a musical history book, a testament, which it often is, but we should never lose sight of the fact that Shostakovich was a composer first, not a politician.  So today we're going to be looking at the 4th quartet in two contexts, the historical and the musical, and then try to see how one works(or doesn't) with the other.   How do you incorporate religion into music, and how do you handle the heavy burden that was laid down to you by masters of the String Quartet like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert? How do you write political music without getting in trouble with the authorities? How do you speak out against injustice when it can put you in grave danger? Shostakovich, as always, has the answers. Join us!
46:20 07/04/22
Barber Adagio For Strings
Barber’s Adagio seems to access a deep well of sadness, heartache, passion, and nostalgia in the listener that is very difficult to explain.  As dozens of commentators have noted, there is nothing in particular in the piece which is particularly remarkable.  There are no great harmonic innovations, no formal surprises, nothing NEW, at all. In fact, the music was completely anachronistic for its time.  Despite all of that, or perhaps because of it, Barber’s Adagio has become perhaps the most well known piece of American classical music in the world.  It became even more famous after its use in the Vietnam War Movie Platoon.  It was played at the funeral of Franklin Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, and was performed to an empty hall after the assassination of John F Kennedy.  A deeply emotional performance of the piece was done at the Last Night of the Proms, a traditionally celebratory affair, on September 12th, 2001.  Simply put, this piece has come to symbolize SADNESS in music.  But would it surprise you to hear that the Barber Adagio for Strings wasn’t originally for string orchestra at all?  That it was the second movement of a string quartet, sandwiched by movements that were much more modernist and “forward-thinking” than its slow movement?  Would it surprise you that sadness might never have been the intention of Barber in the piece?  Well, let’s take a closer look at Barber’s Adagio this week - how the piece works, what originally surrounded it, it’s different arrangements, and its tempo. Join us!
36:21 31/03/22