Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

Joshua Weilerstein

  • 47 minutes 22 seconds
    The Life and Music of Lili Boulanger

    The history of classical music is littered with the stories of great composers who tragically died young. The composer I’ve been talking about for the last two episodes, Franz Schubert, died at 31. Mozart died at 36, Mendelssohn at 38, Bizet at 37, Gershwin at 38, Gideon Klein at 25, Purcell at 36. The composer I will tell you about today is part of this sad list. Lili Boulanger, one of the most talented and promising composers of her era, died at the age of just 24, and her entire life since the age of 2 was marked by illness and poor health. In her short life she wrote around 24 works, many of which show extraordinary prowess for such a young composer. Boulanger was the first woman to win the famous Prix de Rome, a French composition prize won by past luminairies such as Berlioz, Gounod, Debussy, Faure, Massenet, and many other greats of French composition. It was also won by Boulanger’s father, a story we’ll get to as we go through Boulanger’s life. Her music was marked by the influences of impressionism, but also by the influence of her perhaps more well known sister, Nadia, who became a legendary composition teacher throughout the 20th century. Today I’ll take you through some of the key moments in Boulanger’s life, and we’ll also take a look at 3 of her pieces: Les Sirenes, Faust Et Helene, the piece that won Boulanger the Prix de Rome, written when she was just 18, and we’ll finish with an orchestral piece that might be the most frequent way you might encounter Boulanger’s music in the concert hall these days entiled D’un Matin de Printemps. Boulanger, despite her short life, is one of hte most fascinating and underrated musical figures in classical music history, so if you aren’t already familiar with her music, I can’t wait to introduce you to her this week. Join us!

    A big thank you to Thomas Goss for his research on Lili Boulanger - his fantastic article on her is available here: https://orchestrationonline.com/lili-boulanger-in-her-own-right/

    Performances:

    Les Sirenes: Chorus: Philharmonia Chor Stuttgart with Helene Schneiderman, mezzo-soprano and Émile Naoumoff, piano

    Faust Et Helene: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Bonaventura Bottone (tenor), Jason Howard (baritone), BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Conductor

    D'un Matin de Printemps: BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Conductor

    4 July 2024, 7:07 am
  • 54 minutes 14 seconds
    Schubert Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 (Part 2)

    There are a few tropes when it comes to Schubert’s late music. The pieces are very long. They have four movements.  The first two movemnts are expansive, magisterial explorations of the human psyche, and the last two movements are much lighter, almost like two different pieces are at play. All of these tropes fit the Schubert B Flat Sonata we started talking about a couple of weeks ago. After the huge first movement, Schubert takes us into a world of the most remarkably simple and yet profoundly moving music in the second movement, followed by a scherzo and last movement that seem(and I emphasize the word seem) to wash all of that away. The last two movements of this sonata in particular have come in for criticism in some quarters, but this is nothing new for Schubert. You hear this criticism about his G Major Quartet, his cello quintet, and other large scale works. It’s also been theorized that the final two movement “curse” Schubert seemed to struggle with is why he left his 8th symphony unfinished. But as you’ll hear today, I don’t think there’s much, if anything, to criticize in these final two movements, and I’ll try to argue that there’s no drop off in quality in this music, just a different approach and outlook. But the bulk of today’s show will be about this second movement. There is something beyond otherworldy in this character of Schubert’s music. It doesn’t belong to our world, but it doesn’t belong to another world either. Instead it goes somewhere even deeper than we can possibly imagine. Schubert goes to a different place than any other composer when he is in this “mood,” and in this movement, that bleak character is married to profound consolation, creating a movement of utter perfection. So let’s explore the final three movements of this remarkable Sonata together. Join us!

    20 June 2024, 4:11 am
  • 40 minutes 7 seconds
    Schubert Sonata in B Flat, D. 960 (Part 1)

    For a long time I’ve received emails and messages from people asking, and sometimes demanding, that I explore the solo piano repertoire. Other than a look at the Goldberg Variations of Bach, I’ve basically neglected a huge amount music, including some of the greatest works ever written. Why have I been doing this? Well, if I’m totally honest, it’s been slightly out of a sense of intimidation. I’m not a pianist, and I’ve always been somewhat in awe of the piano and pianists. Even after spending years with this music, I still felt that I just simply didn’t know the solo piano repertoire well enough to do it justice. Well, now that I’ve gone through ALMOST all of the symphonic standard repertoire, and now that I’ve started exploring the string quartet repertoire, I think it’s time to throw off this sense of awe and dive right in. You might think I might not reach too high to start off, maybe an early Beethoven sonata, or a Mozart or Haydn Sonata. Well, in my opinion you’ve got to go big or go home, so I’ve decided to explore one of the towering masterpieces not only of the solo piano genre, but of all music, Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major. This is a piece that has been described as “well-nigh perfect,” as “beyond analysis,” as including “the most extraordinary trill in the history of music,” and as “the climax and apotheosis of Schubert’s instrumental lyricism and his simplicity of form.” These are just a few of the superlatives I’ve found in researching this piece. It was written in the last weeks of Schubert’s short life, and it truly does take the listener on an unforgettable journey. There is nothing quite like Schubert’s final works, and so over the next two episodes, I will take you through this remarkable sonata, a piece that Alex Ross has described as “a premature communication from the beyond.” This is a huge piece, with so much to talk about, so I’ve split this episode into two parts. This week we’ll look at the first movement, and then in two weeks we’ll cover the final three movements. Join us!

    6 June 2024, 5:00 am
  • 48 minutes 12 seconds
    Mozart Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466
    H.C. Robbins Landon, the great musicologist, once wrote about Mozart that his music was “an excuse for mankind's existence and a small hope for our ultimate survival." I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to a piece like the one we’re going to talk about today, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, NO. 20, or K. 466. These days, Mozart is still one of the most popular composers in the world, one of two composers almost anyone on the street could name off the top of their head. But it might surprise you to know that Mozart was not always so popular. During the 19th century, Mozart’s music was seen as too light, graceful, and even superficial by the stormy Romantics who wanted to probe the deepest and darkest feelings of humanity and the natural world, by extreme means if necessary. Only a few of Mozart’s works were played regularly during this time period, and this concerto was one of them. It’s easy to say why - it is one of only two Mozart Piano Concertos in a minor key, and its stormy and dramatic character allowed the Romantics to create fantastical stories to go along with the piece, and to connect it to the one Mozart opera that remained popular throughout the 19th century, Don Giovanni. Strangely enough, I see a similar thing happening today, among young lovers of classical music. I often see Mozart’s music being criticized on social media by younger musicians as being too light and superficial, and sometimes I even see this criticism from musicians who seem to gravitate to works that have more extroverted dramatic intentions. But to me, Mozart is just as, if not more dramatic that many of the Romantic era composers. It's all just done in a very different way. This concerto might be the perfect example of all of this! It has all the drama you could ever want for you thrill seekers, and it also has all of the masterful subtlety that for me makes Mozart’s music so endlessly touching. This is a concerto of remarkable breadth of emotion, character, and feeling, and it’ll be a joy to take you through it this week. Join us!    Performance is Mitsuko Uchida with Camerata Salzburg. Assorted first movement cadenzas are performed by Michael Rische.        
    24 May 2024, 10:24 am
  • 44 minutes 37 seconds
    What is a Mode?

    My first interaction with the musical term modes was Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant Young People’s Concert, also called What is a Mode? In that show, Bernstein showed how modes are an essential part of what makes modern music, meaning pop and rock music, tick. This was central to Bernstein’s point during this amazing show, which is available on Youtube, and he punctuated his discussion with multiple examples of pop music from the time that used modes. Today, on this Patreon sponsored episode, I was asked to go through all of the modes and show how they have been used in classical music. Much of my show today is modeled on and takes its inspiration from that Bernstein Young People’s Concert, and I’ll be peppering clips from that show throughout my own exploration. As Bernstein says, the common practice period of classical music, starting with Haydn and ending sometime early in the 20th century, didn’t feature a lot of modal music, though that doesn’t mean it was completely absent. So today I’ll explain what modes are, and we’ll go through each of the so called church modes, explaining their characteristics, and then showing you examples throughout musical history of exactly how these modes were used by the great composers. This show might seem a bit technical, but I think there’s a lot of really interesting and fascinating stuff here, so stick with me, and let’s explore modes together. Join us!

    9 May 2024, 5:09 am
  • 1 hour 3 minutes
    Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1

    In 1857, Brahms wrote to his friend Joseph Joachim about his first Piano Concerto, saying, “ “I have no judgment about this piece anymore, nor any control over it.”  Brahms first began sketching his first piano concerto in 1853, but it would be five full years before Brahms finished the piece, and another year until its first performance.  During that time, the piece became a Sonata, then a symphony, then a sonata for two pianos, and then finally a concerto for Piano and orchestra, or as the joke goes, a concerto for piano VERSUS orchestra.  The piece, and Brahms’ struggles with it, are completely understandable considering Brahms’ youth, and the extraordinarily tumultuous circumstances of his private life during the years of 1853-1858.  During this time period, he was anointed by no less than the kingmaker of classical music at the time, Robert Schumann, as the Chosen One that represented the future of music. He became friendly with both Robert and Clara Schumann, began achieving huge successes, then witnessed the slow mental breakdown of Robert, culminating in a suicide attempt and institutionalization, all while falling deeper and deeper in love with Clara Schumann, and she with him.  The turbulence and emotional weight of all of this is reflected in one of Brahms’ most impassioned works, the first piano concerto.  We’ll talk about the historical background for the piece, Brahms’ working out process, and of course, the structure and insides of this massive, daunting piece.

    25 April 2024, 4:32 am
  • 46 minutes 31 seconds
    Fast, Furious, Fortissimo

    Very often, when I tell people that I’m a classical musician, I am told, “wow, I love classical music! It’s so relaxing!” I think almost all classical musicians have heard that before, and you know what? Sometimes, it’s true! Classical music can be relaxing! But sometimes, and actually pretty often, classical music is NOT relaxing. It is exciting, emotional, passionate, and can make your heart race!  Don’t believe me? Today's show is all about proving that to you. I'm going to share with you some of the most thrilling, powerful,  and well, some of hte loudest music in the history of classical music. I should say SOME OF, because what we are going to play for you today is absolutely not an exhautive list. If you like what you hear today, there is so much more where that came from. What we’re going to do today is to take you through a kind of musical time machine of fast and furious symphonic music, trying to cover as many different styles and eras of classical music as possible.

    NOTE: What will appear on the podcast feed is a shortened version of a full live concert I did with the Aalborg Symphony a few weeks ago. I highly recommend listening to that version as well, which features full length performances of many of the pieces I'm talking about on the show. You can find that here:

    https://www.dr.dk/lyd/p2/p2-koncerten/p2-koncerten-2024/p2-koncerten-fuld-pedal-det-er-vildt-det-er-hoejt-det-er-weilersteins-stoerste-hits-12422443145

    Enjoy!

    12 April 2024, 6:29 am
  • 1 hour 1 minute
    Copland Symphony No. 3

    There has always been a debate about “The Great American Symphony.” By the time most prominent American composers got around to writing large scale symphonic works, the symphony had very nearly gone out of fashion. To many musicians and thinkers, the symphony had passed on with the death of Mahler. With the advent of atonality, which essentially destroyed the developmental structure that symphonies rested on, there seemed to be nowhere for the symphonic genre to go. The traditional udnerstanding is that composers like Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Sibelius, among others, picked the symphony back up from its deathbed and resurrected it. But there was a generation of American composers also writing symphonies around this time, and many of them have never quite gotten the consideration they deserve. Ives wrote 4 brilliant symphonies, Bernstein wrote 3 ambitious symphonies, there are the symphonies by the first generation of Black American composers, namely William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, and then there are much less known symphonies by composers like Roy Harris, which were huge successes at the time of their premiers, but which have faded into obscurity. Despite many strong efforts, very few American symphonies have made their way into the standard “canon.” That is, except for one: Copland’s 3rd Symphony, which is almost certainly the most played American symphony. It was written as World War II was coming to an end, and it is one of Copland’s most ardent and life-affirming works. Naturally, connections were made to the Allied triumph in World War II, but Copland insisted that the symphony wasn’t a reflection of the era, writing: "if I forced myself, I could invent an ideological basis for the Third Symphony. But if I did, I'd be bluffing—or at any rate, adding something ex post facto, something that might or might not be true but that played no role at the moment of creation."

    Whatever the inspiration, this symphony has become one of Copland’s most enduring works, even though it is also in many ways one of his most complex. It is a massive work, nearly 40 minutes in length, and it requires a huge and virtuosic orchestra. It also features some of Copland’s most recognizable tunes, including of course, the Fanfare for the Common Man, which permeates the symphony and is in many ways its central theme. So today, on this Patreon Sponsored episode, we’ll dig deep into this symphony, mapping out its unusual form, and savoring the energy, optimism, and creativity with which Copland attacked the well-worn genre of the symphony. Join us! 
    28 March 2024, 4:16 pm
  • 56 minutes 48 seconds
    An Exploration of Klezmer Music w/ Abigale Reisman

    Klezmer music has always been very close to my heart, even as a classical violinist. During the pandemic I attempted to learn Klezmer clarinet, and soon I began collaborating with the great Klezmer(and classical!) violinist Abigale Reisman on her work for Klezmer band and orchestra called Gedanken. Abigale taught me so much about Klezmer music, including the fact that despite its reputation as a clarinet-centric genre, the violin is actually the original voice of the Klezmer sound. I've been wanting to do a show about Klezmer music for a while, and Abigale was the perfect person to talk to, as she has experience in both the classical and Klezmer worlds, and was able to talk about the differences between the two sounds, as well as all of the characteristics that make Klezmer music so instantly recognizable. We also talked about the similiarites between classical and Klezmer music, which classical violinists had the most Klezmer like sound, and how to tell the difference between a traditional Eastern European folk tune and a Jewish Klezmer folk tune. I so enjoyed this conversation and I hope you will too! You'll hear an excerpt of Abigale's band Ezekiel's Wheels at the end of the show, but check them out here: 

    https://www.youtube.com/@ewklezmer/videos

    Link to the concert I mentioned at the top of the show: 

    https://www.br-klassik.de/audio/20240308-on-demand-so-joshua-weilerstein-vilde-frang-strawinsky-schostakowitsch-100.html

     

     

    14 March 2024, 7:13 am
  • 54 minutes 36 seconds
    Schumann Symphony No. 3, "Rhenish"

    In 1850, Robert Schumann accepted a position as the new Music Director in Dusseldorf. This job had a lot of responsibilities, including conducting the city orchestra. Schumann, along with his wife, the legendary pianist Clara Schumann, and their 7 children moved to Dusseldorf. The city made a huge to do about the Schumann’s arrival, welcoming him with balls, speeches, and parades. This was a new adventure for the Schumann family, and Robert, at least at first, was invigorated. He loved the less reserved personality of the residents of Dusseldorf, and he was deeply inspired by the Rhine river. Very quickly, Schumann had begun composing at his usual feverish pace. He wrote his cello concerto in just two weeks, and then he began a new symphony, what would turn out to be his last symphony. It would be a celebration of the Rhineland and all of its prosperity, beauty, and charm. Soon after the symphony was written however, the euphoria turned towards catasprophe. Schumann was not a good conductor, and the musicians of the orchestra soon turned bitterly against him. His compositions were still not well understood, and his mental health began sliding towards a crisis point again. So Schumann’s 3rd symphony, the Rhenish, really represents a snapshot in time - a time of euphoria, of joy, of possibility. It is this boundless energy that comes up again and again in this remarkable symphony which we are going to talk about today. We’ll discuss the wonderful varieties of joy Schumann includes in the piece, its unusual structure, it’s transcendent fourth movement, and the unique challenges of performing Schumann’s music, which often bedevil conductors to this day. Join us!

    29 February 2024, 6:15 am
  • 58 minutes 38 seconds
    Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1

    In 1806, the 36 year old Beethoven received a commission from the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky. Razumovsky wanted a set of string quartets for what would soon be his house string quartet which included some of the finest players Vienna had to offer. As part of his commission, Razumovsky asked Beethoven to include a Russian theme in each one of the quartets. Beethoven obliged him in 2 of the quartets, and the Razumovsky quartets, Op. 59 1, 2, and 3, were born. 1806 was near the height of Beethoven’s astonishing so called Middle Period, where the scale of his music drastically expanded from his earlier works and he began writing in a so called heroic style, with much more brash and adventurous music. This all started in 1803 with his Eroica Symphony, but Beethoven did not limit his adventures and his expanding palate to his symphonies. Everything with Beethoven’s music was expanding, including his string quartets. 

    These middle quartets form part of the core of most string quartets repertoires. They are astonishing works in every regard, where Beethoven starts pushing limits we didn’t even, or maybe he didn’t even, know he had. From the expansive 59, 1, to the intensely felt and taut 59, 2, to the often fun loving 59, 3, Beethoven explores every facet of string quartet playing and brings that heroic and passionate new style to the genre of the string quartet. For today, we’re going to go through Op. 59, 1, a remarkably expansive and brilliant piece that explores every facet of string quartet playing, pushing quartets to their technical and emotional limits in ways that were absolutely shocking at the time and still unbelievably challenging today. If you come to this show for symphonies, that’s great, but for me and many other musicians, Beethoven’s string quartets are the greatest collection of pieces by any composer in any genre. I hope that today’s exploration will help convince you of that! Join us!

    15 February 2024, 8:05 am
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