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Underscore - The AR Blog

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The Mighty Handful’s “Phantom” Opera

Thursday, November 2, 2017 10:38:00 AM America/Chicago

By Albrecht Gaub

Mlada (1872)

Within the annals of Russian opera, the collaborative opera-ballet Mlada (1872), with music by four members of the group of composers known as the Mighty Handful, is a case sui generis. The four-act spectacle was originally devised by Stepan Gedeonov, the director of the imperial theaters, who combined a scenario borrowed from an 1839 ballet with his own historical theories concerning the Western Slavs and their role in founding the first Russian empire. The music was divided act by act among the members of the Handful, with Cui taking the first act, Borodin the fourth, and Musorgskii and Rimskii-Korsakov sharing the two middle acts scene by scene. The surviving music for Mlada is now available in its entirety for the first time, and with this edition all surviving operas by major Russian composers of the nineteenth century have been published.

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A Rare Pair: Marcello’s Oratorios for the Assumption

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 10:38:26 AM America/Chicago

By Michael Burden

Benedetto MarcelloMusical works rarely come in pairs—at least in genuine ones, that is. But the two oratorios written to mark the feast of the Assumption by the Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello (1688–1739)—Il pianto e il riso delle quattro stagioni (1731) and Il trionfo della Poesia, e della Musica (1733)—are exceptional in this regard. They were both written by the same composer for the same feast day, the same venue, and the same series of oratorio performances; and both texts, though unconnected, are highly allegorical in nature. In both works, the story is carried forward by a small number of characters, with little or no involvement of a chorus, and both are characteristic examples of the oratorio volgare genre—the dominant oratorio genre of early eighteenth-century Italy.

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Förster’s “Bizarre, Humorous, and Searching” String Quartets

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 12:56:20 PM America/Chicago

By Nancy November

The name of Emanuel Aloys Förster (1748–1823) comes up with some frequency when one researches Beethoven’s string quartets, yet Förster’s own quartets are no longer part of the standard chamber music repertoire, nor are they much discussed by musicologists. This neglect stems partly from the fact that only three of Förster’s string quartets were available in score until recently. But it also reflects the fact that his works have invariably been considered solely in comparison with Beethoven’s string quartets. These three editions, comprising the eighteen quartets published during Förster’s lifetime (opp. 7, 16, and 21, featuring six quartets each), aim to bring this important composer back to the notice of performers and scholars.

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Hit Tunes from Restoration London, Part 1

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 1:58:46 PM America/Chicago

By Amanda Eubanks Winkler

B190 CoverJohn Eccles was one of the most popular composers working for the Restoration-era London stage, second only to Henry Purcell, with whom he briefly worked in 1693–95. Judging from contemporary reports, Eccles’s music often surpassed Purcell’s in terms of its crowd-pleasing qualities. Although he did write for professionals, Eccles spent most of his time composing for actor-singers, expertly devising music that suited their talents. Eccles gave his collaborators the space to add their own expression, which made his songs tremendously effective in the theater—even if they do not always reward modern musicologists keen on analysis.

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Rosh Hashanah at a Picture Palace

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 4:14:04 PM America/Chicago

By Paula Eisenstein Baker

It is two weeks before Rosh Hashanah 1929, the Jewish New Year, and the movie show is about to start at the Capitol, one of New York’s huge “picture palaces.” Over the decade, the more than 5,000-seat Broadway theater has often programmed a minor work on Jewish motives to acknowledge the Jewish holidays, but this year, their choice is more ambitious: conductor Yasha Bunchuk raises his baton, and the eighty-man Capitol Grand Orchestra opens the program with Leo Zeitlin’s Palestina. The piece received both critical and popular acclaim, hailed by reviewers as “exotically descriptive” and “a new number . . . that is appreciated”: “once more,” one wrote, “[conductor] Yascha [Bunchuk] overworks the traps and the brass to the delight of Capitol payees.” The theater repeated Palestina in November 1929, in April of the following year (in honor of Passover), and again for the High Holy Days in September 1930 and September 1931.

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