Music for Washington’s Birthday

The legacy of George Washinton looms large in our nation’s history, having made a mark in almost every realm from politics to pop culture. In the arts, too, composers have frequently been inspired by the life and character of this multifaceted figure. To celebrate the February birthday of Washington, here are four classical pieces that honor the “father of our country”:

1. Michael Daugherty: “George Washington” from Mount Rushmore

Perhaps best known for his quirky pieces that riff on American pop culture, Michael Daugherty has also composed works of a more serious character. One example is his 2010 oratorio for chorus and orchestra—Mount Rushmore—which takes inspiration from the eponymous monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The opening movement (of four total—one for each president carved into the mountainside) spotlights George Washington. Quotations from “Yankee Doodle” and the popular Revolutionary War anthem “Chester” (sung in an ebullient shape-note style) are juxtaposed with a tender choral reflection on words of Washington himself.

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“Bite-sized” Masterpieces

Want to hear to some great music but don’t have the time (or attention span) to sit down and listen to a whole opera or an hour-plus-long symphony? Have no fear! There are plenty of pieces of classical music out there that don’t take a Bruckner-sized chunk out of your day; works that are mere minutes long, in fact. (Interestingly, the French composer Darius Milhaud wrote three operas that are each around ten minutes long!) Here are a six of my favorite “bite-sized” masterpieces, all of which are self-contained works that are seven minutes or less (not movements from a longer piece). Overall, it’s only about twenty-five minutes of music total. That’s basically one episode of The Office!

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Mahler’s Symphony No. 3?

1. Igor Stravinsky: Greeting Prelude (1955)

Combine one of the most famous composers of the twentieth-century with one of the most famous tunes in the world and you get Igor Stravinsky’s Greeting Prelude. Stravinsky composed this short orchestral arrangement of “Happy Birthday” in 1955, as an 80th birthday present for the French conductor Pierre Monteux (who had conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s infamous Rite of Spring back in 1913). Clocking in at less than a minute long, the Greeting Prelude is far from a straightforward adaptation. Stravinsky transforms this simple (and rather banal) melody into a brief showpiece for orchestra, full of wide leaps, unusual chords, and cheeky wit, resulting in a surprisingly amusing setting of the song that has been embarrassing birthday “guests of honor” for decades.

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Beginnings

Hi everyone! Welcome to my first blog post! First thing’s first, if you want to read a bit more about me and this blog, feel free to click the About tab at the top of the page (or just click here).

Anyway, let’s kick things off with a story. This blog won’t feature many personal posts like this (it’ll mostly just be a platform to share and talk about cool music), but I thought this would be a fun way to get things going. Anyway, grab some popcorn, pull up a chair, and read on…

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