Sticky Notes is a classical music podcast for everyone, whether you are just getting interested in classical music for the first time, or if you've been listening to it and loving it all your life. Interviews with great artists, in depth looks at pieces in the repertoire, and both basic and deep dives into every era of music. Classical music is absolutely for everyone, so let's start listening! Note - Seasons 1-5 will be returning over the next year. They have been taken down in order to be re-recorded in improved sound quality!
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, Part 1
The most famous thing about Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is the riot that took place at its premiere. Perhaps its overcompensating for classical music's reputation for being a bit stuffy, but musicians and musicologists LOVE talking about the riot at the Rite of Spring, and I’m no exception. But you might be surprised to know that the Rite Riot was by no means the only disturbance at a classical concert. There are myriad stories of chaos at concerts throughout musical history, but none of them are as famous as what happened on May 29th, 1913. We'll talk about the riot, why it happened, and its aftermath. We'll also discuss this groundbreaking piece, which was revolutionary in almost every way, while being more grounded in the past than you might think. As the great writer Tom Service says, “there’s nothing so old as a musical revolution.” Join us this week for part 1, the Adoration of the Earth!
If you listened to my show last week about Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird, you know that Stravinsky’s life was never the same after the premiere of the ballet in 1910. Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes and Stravinsky’s greatest collaborator, said just before the premiere, “this man is on the eve of celebrity.” Diaghilev was absolutely right, as The Firebird made Stravinsky a Parisian household name practically overnight. Of course, immediately everyone wanted to know what was next. Stravinsky did too, and he was thinking that he needed to stretch himself even more, as even though the Firebird had caused a sensation, he still felt that it was too indebted to his teachers of the past like Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov and other Russian greats like Borodin or Mussorgsky. At first, Stravinsky dreamed of a pagan Rite, but quickly he changed course, wanting to write something that was NOT ballet music, and in fact would be a concerto for Piano and Orchestra. But instead of just a straight ahead abstract piece, Stravinsky had yet another story in mind. This time it was this: “In composing the music, I had in mind a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios. The orchestra in turn retaliates with menacing trumpet blasts. The outcome is a terrific noise which reaches its climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of the poor puppet.”
Diaghilev visited Stravinsky in Lausanne Switzerland expecting to hear more about the pagan rituals Stravinsky had been so excited about, but instead Stravinsky played him this strange piano concerto. But Digahliev, ever the visionary, saw the potential in this story and in this music for dance as well, and convinced Stravinsky to turn the piano concerto into a ballet, and Petrushka was born. Within a few months, Petrushka was written, performed, and was yet another sensation. Today, we’ll talk all about the brilliant music that Stravinsky composed for the ballet, the integration of choreography and music, and the radical changes that this music heralded for the western music world.
Stravinsky: The Firebird
In 1906, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev created a sensation in Paris with an exhibition of Russian Art. This was the first time a major showing of Russian art had appeared in Paris, and from this point forward, the city was obsessed with Russian art, literature, and music. Diaghilev, ever the promoter, then put together the Ballets Russes, the Russian Ballet, in 1909, a company based in Paris that performed ballets composed, choreographed, and danced, by Russians. Over the next 20 years, the Ballets Russes became one the most influential and successful ballet companies of the entire 20th century, and a young composer that Diaghilev plucked from obscurity named Igor Stravinsky had a lot to do with their success. The first season of the Ballet Russes relied on the big names of Russian music, like Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov, but Diaghilev was always restlessly searching for something new.
For many years, Diaghilev had wanted to bring not only new Russian art, but also new Russian music to the West, and now he had found the perfect combination - Diaghilev brought together the Russian artist and writer Alexandre Benoit and the Russian choreographer Michel Fokine to create a Russian nationalistic ballet based on Russian folk tales and mythology. He then took a risk, giving the commission for the music to Igor Stravinsky. The result? The Firebird, a ballet that provoked an ecstatic reaction, a score that would propel Stravinsky to worldwide popularity, 3 different orchestral suites played almost every year by orchestras all over the world, and a 19 year collaboration and friendship between Stravinsky and Diaghilev which only ended in Diaghilev’s death and resulted in 8 original ballets, including The Rite of Spring and Petrushka.
But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. All of this had to start somewhere, so lets explore the Firebird, in all of its different versions and orchestrations, along with the folk tales and stories that go along with it. Join us!
Pavel Haas, Symphony
This February, I have the great honor of joining the Indianapolis Symphony for the North American premiere of Pavel Haas’ remarkable unfinished symphony. Pavel Haas, a Czech Jewish composer, wrote the existing music for his symphony between 1940 and 1941 before his deportation to the Terezin ghetto/concentration camp. He was a full participant in the well known cultural activities of the camp, but was unable to complete the symphony before he was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. What Haas did manage to complete is not just a piece that is worth hearing as a historical curiosity, but is one of the towering testaments of both the time in which it was written, and of the unique and innovative Czech symphonic tradition. We are left with 1 fully completed movement, one fully sketched movement, and a "torso" of a third movement. The symphony was completed by the Czech composer Zdenek Zouhar after World War II.
The story of Haas’ death, which we will learn about on the show today is, of course, devastating. Hearing his music reminds all of us of the individual voices that we have lost. The voices of the 6 million Jews, and 6 million others whom the Nazis murdered. But this music also reminds us of the proof that Pavel Haas lived. Haas was one of the truly unique composers of the 20th century, and while his tragic story cannot be detached from his music, the music itself transcends its time and acquires the universality of all great music. It Is truly an honor to be bringing this music to the North American stage for the first time, and at a time of rising Anti-Semitism around the world, I hope that his story, his music, and his voice, will reach far and wide. Join me to learn about this remarkable work.
Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
Ask a non-classical music fan to name a piece of classical music. If they don’t say Beethoven 5, or the Ode to Joy, they probably will say The Four Seasons. They might not know that it was written by Vivaldi, but the Four Seasons are a set of pieces that have made that leap into popular culture in a way that almost no other classical composition has. The Four Seasons have been remixed, reimagined, rearranged, and recycled so many times that most classical musicians barely suppress an eye roll when they see them programmed or hear them mentioned. For some classical musicians, especially the ones that disdain anything to do with pop culture, the Four Seasons represent kitsch in classical music, an overplayed and overrated set of violin concertos that could easily be put away forever. But that’s a huge mistake on our part. For me, the Four Seasons are a masterpiece from a criminally underrated composer. They show a remarkable level of creativity, innovation, and ingenuity, and when you strip back the layers of accumulated traditions, all the remixes and “improvements” of them, you’re left with pieces that are way way way ahead of their time, and as exciting and fresh to listen to as they must have been when Vivaldi first wrote them. So today I’m going to take you through the Four Seasons - we’ll talk about Vivaldi’s place in musical history, program music and what that meant in Vivaldi’s time, and how music can portray nature. And I’ll try to convince any skeptical listeners out there that these pieces, far from being overplayed cliches, are actually underplayed, at least in their original form. Join us!
Recording: Janine Jansen with Amsterdam Sinfonietta. Link to video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzE-kVadtNw
Chopin Etudes (and Godowsky!)
You might be thinking, "Why on earth would anyone want to devote an entire podcast to etudes?"
For most instrumentalists, etudes are the bane of our existence. They are studies, meant to develop technique on an instrument. Etudes are an essential part of any instrumentalists work, but they had never been known for their musical content. As a violinist, I had practiced dozens of etudes by Kreutzer, Rodé, Dancla, Sevcik, Schraideck, Kayser, Mazas, and more, lamenting the day I chose the violin as my instrument. But pianists have the same dreaded names, like Czerny for example. Chopin changed all of that. Chopin was the first composer to integrate musical content into his etudes, which meant that Chopin's etudes were both extremely difficult technical exercises, but they also were musically interesting enough to be performed live. LIke everything Chopin did on the piano, this was revolutionary, and Chopin's 27 etudes have been part of the piano repertoire ever since. We'll discuss some of these etudes today, along with the nature of virtuosity itself. We'll also spend a lot of time talking about Leopold Godowsky. Leopold Godowsky is not a name you’ve probably heard very often. But he was one of the great pianists of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, with legions of admirers including legendary pianists like Josef Hoffman, Arthur Rubinstein, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Claudio Arrau, and the composer Ferrucio Busoni. Godowsky’s pianistic gifts were well known, but what about his compositional ones? Well, to speak of one is to speak of the other.
During the 1890s, when Godowsky was in his late 20s, he began making arrangements of famous piano works of Chopin and other composers music. Over the next 20 years, he became engrossed with Chopin’s legendary etudes, or studies, and began writing his own arrangements of them. Now Chopin’s etudes are extremely difficult just on their own, but Godowsky’s studies are on another level of difficulty. In fact, Godowsky’s transcriptions are so difficult that many pianists don’t even dare to play them, though some, like the great Marc-Andre Hamelin, have made them an integral part of their repertoire. So today on the show, we’ll take a look at some of the studies on Chopin’s etudes, analyzing both the original Chopin etudes and then the changes that Godowsky makes to them. This will be a show as much about Chopin as it is about Godowsky, because you can’t understand Godowsky’s achievement without understanding the Chopin first. Join us!
Thank you Maestro for these truly precious episodes, every one of them full of thought and insight, surprise and suspense! In the infinite spectrum of possible approaches to ‘explaining’ a musical masterpiece you find just the right balance between the approachable and the complexity of structures inherent in many of these pieces. I also particularly enjoyed your little recent postlude on the animal sanctuary.
Yours is the one podcast I always and consistently enjoy! Thank you!
Always interesting, really dives deep into the great works (and many less known great works).
One of the two best classical music podcasts in the Universe!
This is an utterly brilliant podcast. Joshua Weilerstein is engaging, unbelievably knowledgeable but accessible at the same time. He has a way of opens up classical music like no one else (apart from Tom Service whose ‘Listening Service’ podcast is the other best classical music podcast in the Universe). Listen to them all - they’re all wonderful!