Classical Music

Also Sprach Zarathustra; Till Eulenspiegel; Don Juan

By Richard Strauss

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These compositions are known as "tone poems" in which a certain scene, or character, or location, etc. is depicted by the music. People who heard this at the very beginning of the movie 2001--A Space Odyssey were stunned by the orchestra's brass and percussion sections. That music is the very beginning of the first tone poem "Thus Spake Zarathustra." And fear not, the rest of these works are just as exciting as the other "tone poems" by Richard Strauss. By the way, this is not the "waltzing" Strauss.

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The School for Scandal: Adagio for Strings; Essay: for orchestra; Second essay; Third Essay; Medea's Dance of Vengeance

By Samuel Barber

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This recording of the "Adagio for Strings" plus other orchestral works by the America composer Samuel Barber makes this a wonderful introduction to his music. The "Adagio" seems to be searching the soul, probing here and there. It roots out the very essence of spirituality. It is both passionate and profound. This music was heard in the movie Platoon.

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Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography

By Harlow Robinson

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The prolific creator of such classic popular works as Romeo and Juliet, Peter and the Wolf, and Cinderella, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was one of the most important and influential composers of the twentieth century. In this definitive biography of Prokofiev, Harlow Robinson provides a richly detailed portrait of a man whose complex character, like his music, combined the traditional and the contemporary in odd and unexpected ways. Drawing on previously unknown or unavailable Russian-language sources, including extensive archival material, Robinson traces Prokofiev's extraordinary life from the fairy-tale world of Czarist Russia, through his many years abroad in America and Europe, to his perplexing permanent return to Moscow in 1936 under the Soviet Regime. That Prokofiev died on the very day as Josef Stalin, his principal persecutor, was the final irony of his intense and enigmatic career.

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Johann Sebastian Bach, the Learned Musician

By Christoph Wolff

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"A landmark biography of Bach on the 250th anniversary of the composer's death, written by the leading Bach scholar of our age. Although we have heard the music of J. S. Bach in countless performances and recordings, the composer himself still comes across only as an enigmatic figure in a single familiar portrait. Author Christoph Wolff presents a new picture that brings to life this towering figure of the Baroque era.

"This engaging new biography portrays Bach as the living, breathing, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was, while bringing to bear all the advances of the last half-century of Bach scholarship. Wolff demonstrates the intimate connection between the composer's life and his music, showing how Bach's superb inventiveness pervaded his career as musician, composer, performer, scholar, and teacher. And throughout, we see Bach in the broader context of his time: its institutions, traditions, and influences."

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Great Masters: Mozart - His Life and Music

By Robert Greenberg

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One of the Great Courses series of recorded lectures, this is a biographical and musical study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), who composed more than 600 works of beauty and brilliance in just over 20 years. Mozart combined the pure lyricism of song with dramatic timing, depth of expression, and a technical mastery of the complexities of phrase structure and harmony to create a body of work unique in the repertoire. His personal life has generated nearly as much interest. Was Mozart the horse-laughing idiot of theater and cinema? Was he borderline autistic or musical freak? And how did he really die? Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music states that,"The goal of these lectures is to show Mozart to be a person: a talented, hard-working, ambitious man who had friends and enemies and whose music was subject to criticism in his own day."

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Cosima Wagner, Extraordinary Daughter of Franz Liszt

By Alice Hunt Sokoloff

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Cosima was a child of the passionate and stormy union between Franz Liszt and Marie d'Agoult. She married her father's brilliant pupil Hans von Bulow, but her husband's devotion to the "master" he idolized, Richard Wagner, led Cosima to a great passion for Wagner. Scandel and divorce followed, but it was as Cosima Wagner that her life found fulfilment. She gave Wagner the total devotion that he needed, making possible the completion of the Ring cycle of operas and the realization of his dream that became Bayreuth.
The author was a student of Alexander Siloti who was a pupil of Liszt.
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Chopin's Funeral

By Benita Eisler

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At twenty-one, Chopin fled Russian-occupied Poland for exile in France. He would never see his native country again. With only two public concerts in as many years, he became a star of Parisian society and a legendary performer at its salons, revered by his great contemporaries Schumann, Liszt, and the painter Eugène Delacroix. Blessed with genius, success, and the love of Europe’s most famous—and infamous—woman novelist, George Sand, Chopin’s years of triumph ended with his expulsion from paradise: less than two decades after his conquest of Paris, the composer lay destitute and dying in the arms of Sand’s estranged daughter, Solange. Chopin’s Funeral is the story of this fatal fall from grace, of an Oedipal tragedy unfolding, and of illness and loss redeemed by the radical breakthrough of the composer’s last style. This love story is revisited (not completely accurately) in the film Impromptu, starring Hugh Grant and Judy Davis.

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Johannes Brahms: A Biography

By Jan Swafford

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"Johannes Brahms has consistently eluded his biographers. Throughout his life, he attempted to erase traces of himself, wanting his music to be his sole legacy. Now, in this masterful book, Jan Swafford, critically acclaimed as both biographer and composer, takes a fresh look at Brahms, giving us for the first time a fully realized portrait of the man who created the magnificent music. Brahms was a man with many friends and no intimates, who experienced triumphs few artists achieve in their lifetime. Yet he lived with a relentless loneliness and a growing fatalism about the future of music and the world.

"The Brahms that emerges from these pages is not the bearded eminence of previous biographies but rather a fascinating assemblage of contradictions. Brought up in poverty, he was forced to play the piano in the brothels of Hamburg, where he met with both mental and physical abuse. At the same time, he was the golden boy of his teachers, who found themselves in awe of a stupendous talent: a miraculous young composer and pianist, poised between the emotionalism of the Romantics and the rigors of the composers he worshipped--Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. In 1853, Robert Schumann proclaimed the twenty-year-old Brahms the savior of German music.

"Brahms spent the rest of his days trying to live up to that prophecy, ever fearful of proving unworthy of his musical inheritance. We find here more of Brahms's words, his daily life and joys and sorrows, than in any other biography. With novelistic grace, Swafford shows us a warm-blooded but guarded genius who hid behind jokes and prickliness, rudeness and intractability with his friends as well as his enemies, but who was also a witty drinking companion and a consummate careerist skillfully courting the powerful."

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Berlioz

By David Cairns

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"This biography of composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) describes with unprecedented intimacy, affection, and respect the life of one of France's greatest artists. After long being regarded as an oddity and an eccentric figure, Berlioz is now being accepted into the ranks of the great composers. Based on a wealth of previously unpublished sources, and on a profound understanding of the humanity of his subject, David Cairns's book provides a full account of this extraordinary and powerfully attractive man. Berlioz, Volume I, previously published only in Britain, is now available to American readers in a revised edition, together with the eagerly awaited, new Volume II. These two volumes together comprise a monumental biographical achievement, sure to stand as the definitive Berlioz biography.

"In researching Berlioz's life, Cairns has had access to unpublished family papers, and in Volume I he is able to portray all the people close to Berlioz in his boyhood, and to evoke a detailed picture of their lives in and around La Cte St.-Andr in the foothills of the French Alps. No artist's achievement connects more directly with early experience than that of Berlioz, whose passionate sensibility began to absorb the material of his art long before he had heard any musical ensemble other than the local town band. Volume I also traces the student years in Paris and Italy and discusses Berlioz's three great love affairs, shedding remarkable light on his later character and development. Volume I ends on the afternoon of December 9, 1832, the day of the concert that launched the composer's career."

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The World's Very Best Opera for Kids--in English!

By Various composers and performers

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"Features 14 best-loved arias performed in English by the world's finest opera stars and rising stars and including works from some of the most popular -- and important - operas across a wide range of genres, eras and composers. In addition to 14 stellar performances in English, this CD includes five instrumental-only karaoke-style tracks so that anyone can sing along and be an opera star. The CD includes a synopsis of each opera, performers' biographies and complete lyrics so the whole family can enjoy singing along. Producer Mark D. Goldman and librettist Daniel Libman have taken care to ensure that each translation retains the original language's rhyme scheme, meter and rhythm and that each performance is perfectly articulated and imaginatively interpreted. The result is highly-singable, child-appropriate opera 'songs' the whole family will enjoy."

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