Ravel, An Inspiration to Joel McNeely

Not everyone is familiar with the installment of the Star Wars franchise titled Shadows of the Empire, but that’s mostly because it was a media event that never made it to the big screen. Nonetheless, the video game it spawned deserves some recognition among video games for its use of a fully orchestrated, studio recorded, original soundtrack composed by film and TV composer Joel McNeely. Continue reading Ravel, An Inspiration to Joel McNeely

The Magical Raised Fifth (or Flat Six)

There’s something special about the fifth scale degree of the tonic (major) key when raised a half-step.   Granted, there’s something special about every non-key pitch in a tonal system, but what really captivates me about the flat six is its affective power in a Romantic context.  Take a minute to listen to this excerpt: what do you feel when you hear the horn make its solo entrance above the sustained bassoon and strings? Continue reading The Magical Raised Fifth (or Flat Six)

Rachmaninoff’s Fourth, the Original Version

The other day, I treated myself to the manuscript version of Rachmaninoff‘s fourth piano concerto, which I had never heard before.  This version, dated sometime in late August of 1926, is the original version of the piece that the composer premiered that year, before revising it twice to cement what we know now as his fourth concerto. Continue reading Rachmaninoff’s Fourth, the Original Version

The Horn Trill in Dvorak’s 8th Symphony

Following in the steps of my last post, here’s another nifty little eight bar passage—this one from the finale of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G, featuring the principal and second horns.  The movement opens with a modest trumpet fanfare introducing a series of pastoral variations in the strings, but then it’s off to the races at rehearsal letter C when Dvorak calls upon the entire ensemble to repeat the main theme. Continue reading The Horn Trill in Dvorak’s 8th Symphony

Sibelius on the Piano

The piano seems like such an integral part of every classical composer’s output, if not as a vehicle for masterworks, then as a platform for experimentation.  And we may take it for granted sometimes, but it is truly the ultimate musical tool.  Not only can it sound multiple, simultaneous pitches (something that is difficult or even impossible on other instruments), it also provides a very natural interface for its operator. Continue reading Sibelius on the Piano

Clarity in Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Concerto

Rachmaninoff’s fourth piano concerto is one of these works that, together with the third symphony and the Symphonic Dances, represents the last stage of the composer’s musical output. This was his least prolific period of composition, and as well the period that is vastly less popular with concert-goers. The concerto itself has neither the pianistic showmanship of the third nor the thematic inspiration of the second Continue reading Clarity in Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Concerto

San Francisco Symphony (March 5, 2010)

I bought my tickets for last night’s concert with the San Francisco Symphony last fall when I was under the spell of an almost child-like excitement over this season’s programming of popular masterworks.  In particular, the 2009-2010 season has seen the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Rachmaninoff, as well as a few other big names from the middle Romantic era. Continue reading San Francisco Symphony (March 5, 2010)