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!
Dvorak Symphony No. 9, "From the New World" - LIVE with the Aalborg Symphony!
I had the great joy to do my first ever live edition of Sticky Notes last month with the Aalborg Symphony in Denmark. For this concert, I chose a piece that is extremely close to my heart, Dvorak's New World Symphony. The story of the New World Symphony is a fascinating one. The symphony was the result of an extraordinary series of events, with Dvorak coming to America in 1892, meeting the great singer Harry Burleigh, and falling in love with a totally new, to him, genre of music: Black American and Native American folk music. Listening to Burleigh and other voices around America, Dvorak had discovered a new “American” sound for his music, and even though he would end up staying in the US for just three years, in that time he composed two of his most popular pieces, the American String Quartet, and the New World Symphony
But of course, the New World Symphony isn’t really an American piece. It is a piece written in America by a Czech composer, which means it embodies traits from both sides of the Atlantic. Moments of Black American influence elide into Czech Slavonic Dances and back again with incredible ease. All along the way, Dvorak infuses his highly traditional symphonic style with this "American" sound, a sound that enraptured the public from the very first time they heard it, and remains both incredibly popular and incredibly moving, today. Join myself and the Aalborg Symphony for this exploration of the symphony, followed by a complete performance. I'm extremely grateful to the Danish Radio for allowing me to use this performance for the show.
Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra
Throughout the history of Western Classical Music, folk music has imprinted itself as an invaluable resource for composers from all over the world. In fact, it’s easier to make a list of composers who never used folk music in their compositions than it is to make a list of the composers who did! This tradition began long before the 20th century, but the work of composers like Bartok and a resurgence in the influence of nationalist music sparked a massive increase in composers using folk music throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Bartok is thought of as the king of using folk music, as he was essentially the worlds first ethnomusicologist. But Stravinsky, who used dozens of uncredited folk tunes in his Rite of Spring, as well as Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, Grainger, Vaughan Williams, Szymanowski, Dvorak, and so many others embraced folk music as an integral source for their music. This was in stark contrast to the second Viennese school composers like Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, and post World War II composers like Stockhausen, Boulez, and others who deliberately turned their backs on folk music. One composer who straddled both worlds during their lifetime was the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, a brilliant composer whose career started out in the folk music realm, though not entirely by choice, and ended up in music of aleatory, a kind of controlled chaos! One of his first major works, the Concerto for Orchestra is the topic for today’s show, and it is heavily influenced by folk music from start to finish. It is a piece also inspired and might even be a bit of an homage to the great Bela Bartok and his own Concerto for Orchestra, which was written just ten years earlier. Lutoslawski, if you’re not familiar with him, is one of those composers that once you learn about him, you can’t get enough of him. I’ll take you through this brilliant and utterly unique piece today from start to finish. Join us!
R. Schumann Piano Concerto
In January of 1839, Clara Wieck, Robert's future wife, wrote to Robert, “Don’t take it amiss if I tell you that I’ve been seized by the desire to encourage you to write for orchestra. Your imagination and your spirit are too great for the weak piano.” Clara knew that she would have struck a nerve with Robert, whose history with the piano was full of trials and tribulations. Robert had trained as a pianist, but a 3 year period of reckless amounts of practicing as well as the exacerbating effects of experimental devices meant to strengthen his fingers had destroyed his ability to play professionally. But already from the age of 17, in 1827, Robert had considered writing a piano concerto, probably for himself to perform. He made 4 further attempts to write a concerto, but it seems, like so many things in Schumann’s life, that his marriage to Clara was the final inspiration that he needed to get over the hump. It made sense, as Clara Schumann was possibly the greatest pianist of her age, and someone who was ceaselessly devoted to promoting her husband’s works wherever she played. In 1841, one year after their marriage, Robert finished a one movement piano concerto in A minor, which he called a Phantasie. Clara reported adoring the piece, but no publisher was interested in the work of a still relatively unknown composer. They were especially uninterested in a on movement concerto, and so Robert knew he needed to “finish” the piece with two extra movements. It would take him 4 more years to finally tack on those extra movements, and the first performance would be given 4 years after that Phantasie had been written, of course with Clara as soloist. This concerto has remained popular practically ever since it was written, and there are so many reasons for it, from its arresting opening, to its abundant lyricism, to its constant interplay with the orchestra, something that Robert grappled with when writing this concerto. This piece is one that doesn’t have a story behind it, or any sort of narrative - it lives in the world as a sort of fantasy, constantly evolving in its beauty throughout. We’re going to talk about this piece in detail, from start to finish on this Patreon Sponsored Episode. Join us!
Brahms Violin Concerto
Brahms’ violin concerto is one of the most difficult works for any violinist to tackle. It is as virtuosic as the hardest piece of Paganini as well as being as musically complex as a Brahms symphony. It takes most violinists years or even decades to feel comfortable with this piece, and many violinists consider it a kind of Mount Everest. Why? What makes this piece so complex, and yet so beautiful? What kind of choices do violinists make in their interpretations? For today, I'm not only going to tell you about this piece and how Brahms composed it, but I'm also going to compare 3 different recordings of the piece(Heifetz, Oistrakh, and Ferras) in order to show you the differences in interpretations between these 3 titanic violinists. We'll also talk about many of the topics we’ve covered before with Brahms; continuous development, gorgeous melodies, and that amazing Brahmsian quality of both respecting established forms while constantly subtly subverting them. Let's start the climb together and get to know this remarkable piece. Join us!
What Does Music Mean?
Today is a bit of an unusual episode. Last month I was invited by the British Society of Aesthetics to address their annual conference. My task was to give a lecture on whatever topic I wanted, having to do with music. So, considering it was an Academic Philosophy conference, I chose the easiest and most straightforward topic possible - What Does Music Mean?
Obviously, this is a topic that has been interrogated from just about every different angle, and I certainly would never claim to have all the answers. But for my lecture, I decided to focus on how to find meaning in these amazing works from a performer's perspective. How do I study and learn these pieces so that I can find the meaning that I think is inside of them? What does history teach us about these pieces and can we use history to find meaning in these works? To try to answer these questions I chose three pieces to explore - Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Barber's Adagio for Strings, and Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. After the lecture I realized it could easily be a podcast episode, so I've slightly changed a few things to make the lecture a bit more podcast-friendly. I hope you enjoy this one, and thanks to the British Society of Aesthetics for their invitation and their warm welcome!
William Grant Still Symphony No. 1., "Afro-American"
On October 29th, 1931, The Rochester Philharmonic presented the world premiere of a new symphony by the composer William Grant Still. A symphonic premiere is always something to look out for in musical history, but this one had an even greater significance. The premiere of Wiliam Grant Still’s First Symphony, subtitled “Afro American,” was the first time a symphony written by a Black American composer was performed by a leading orchestra. William Grant Still was a man of many firsts, whether he was the first Black American conductor to conduct a major orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, the first Black American to conduct an orchestra in the South of the United States, and much more. Today we’re going to focus in on Grant Still’s first symphony, a piece that Grant Still had long thought about, conceptualized, and dreamed of. It was also a symphony wrapped up in the roiling currents of Black America at the time, with the Harlem Renaissance in full swing and Alain Locke’s tract The New Negro sparking discussion and debate all over the country. It was a symphony that attempted to do something no one had ever done before, that is, to marry together the genre of the Blues with that of symphonic music. At the time of its premiere and afterwards, it was quite a success, and until 1950, it was THE most performed symphony written by an American composer. After 1950, the symphony practically disappeared from concert stages, but due to the explosion of interest in Black American composers of the past and present, this brilliant symphony is making its way back into the repertoire of orchestras all over the world. The way that Grant Still constructed this meeting of two genres of music was ingenious and innovative from start to finish, and so today on the show we’ll explore all of the historical context of the symphony, what Grant Still was trying to do with his monumental new endeavor, and of course, all of the music itself. I'm also joined today by the great writer and linguist John McWhorter, who discusses the 4 Paul Laurence Dunbar poems Grant Still added to each movement as epigraphs, as well as their cultural context. Join us!
Fantastic discussions illuminating aspects of classical pieces that I have never fully appreciated.
Thank you for the great work and all the best!
I highly appreciate the fascinating way in which you tell and connect the story of the musical pieces, the music themes and the music. It enriches my music appreciation and it helps me to put some words to the feelings I experience while listening to the music.
Dream music appreciation class
This podcast is everything I wished my music appreciation class had been. The breadth, clarity and engaging style draws you in whether you’re new to classical music or an aficionado. I’ve learned so much, not only about the music, but about the composers, musicians and historical influences. Thank you!