Oh, that all my errors should sound this good!

Photographic postcard of the ballerina Olga Pr...

Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche, from a 1900 Imperial Ballet production of The Nutcracker (Image via Wikipedia)

Most of tonight’s show is taken up by the Nutcracker, the ever-popular ballet written in 1892 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  I actually attempted to play the first part of this ballet last week, but the liner notes specify 34:58 minutes for Scene 1, and 10:31 for Scene 2, yet does not mention that they run together for a total of 45 minutes.  So, unfortunately, while I had my timing perfect, that perfection was for 34 minutes, not 45!

This has left me trying to figure out for the last week how I was going to handle tonight – was I to go ahead and just start at where I left off, or was I to play the whole piece, as one of the “rules” for The Galaxy is that I don’t like to play a portion of the music, and I have a distinct distaste for interrupting music.  After some consideration, I’ve decided to go back and play the Nutcracker in its entirety.

Part of the challenge presented me in programming the month of December is that not only do we have the Christmas season, but we also have the December 14th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, and such an auspicious occasion is certainly worthy of some observance.  This was a major part of the dilemma presented me by our issues with the Nutcracker.  So, although Beethoven certainly deserves a full 2 hours dedicated to him and his wonderful music (something I was able to do last year), we can still enjoy tonight’s selection, Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in D, WoO36 No. 2.  This is the second of a trilogy of quartets that he wrote when he was 14 years old, the only piano quartets that he would ever write (most of his chamber music compositions took other forms, such as piano trios, string quartets, etc.).  Tonight’s piece of music is considered to have been modeled after Mozart, specifically the E flat Violin Sonata, K380 (after all, he was all of 14!), although I’ve seen the suggestion that Haydn may also have been a model.  In any case, we are still left with a lovely piece of music.  The quartet and its cousins are also interesting in that there had not been too many piano quartets written prior to this (Mozart, interestingly enough, was writing a pair of piano quartets at the same time that Beethoven was writing these).  Indeed, the piano quartets that Beethoven and Mozart were writing simultaneously ended up being the early works in a genre of chamber music that would not reach its fullest development until the days of Brahms.

(Incidentally, while you may not recognize the name of Richard Bonynge, the conductor of tonight’s Nutcracker, you may remember his wife, if you are familiar with the history of classical music.  He was married to the well-known Australian coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland, who sadly passed away in October; the link takes you to an interview of Sutherland and Bonynge)

So, tonight’s playlist is as follows (you can also view the original):

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
National Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond.
The Nutcracker
Classical, Romantic era, ballet music
London, 1974
Ludwig van Beethoven
Karin Lechner (piano), Alissa Margulis (violin), Lida Chen (viola), Mark Drobinsky (cello)
Piano Quartet in D, WoO36 No. 2
Classical, Romantic era, chamber music
EMI Classics, 2008

I would also like to take a moment to note the December 9th passing of James Moody, a noted jazz saxophonist and flautist.  Moody may be best known for his improvised song “Moody’s Mood for Love”, a 1949 improvisation based on the song “I’m in the Mood for Love”.  But my favorite memory of James Moody is his contribution to the 1972 Charles Mingus album “Let My Children Hear Music“, a great album where Mingus took a big band and extended it to include a number of unconventional instruments (i.e. french horn, bassoon), and used these forces to “build tall buildings” in such compositions as “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife” and “Don’t Be Afraid, the Clown’s Afraid Too”.  Notable in that album was the song “Hobo Ho”, which centered around Moody’s extended tenor solo.  Moody was a veteran sax player, and his warm sax tone has been heard on the Galaxy on a number of occasions, both through the recordings of Mingus and through his own solo work.  He will be missed.


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