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Siegfried Idyll

Some babies are put in swaddling clothes. Others are born into families where expectations are so great that they begin to resemble similarly physical restrains. Siegfried Wagner, the only son of Richard, was born in 1869. Richard wrote the “Siegfried-Idyll” to mark the occasion, a work with and flashes of mesmerizing genius. As the male […]

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Bells

By · Illustrations · Date 09/29/2016 When you think of small towns in rural England, you envision medieval stone buildings, carefully manicured gardens, and tearooms with Thomas Hardy-esque quietude, serenity, even sleepiness. That is, until you hear the bells. In every church. Ringing every hour, on the hour. Every Sunday morning, I remember incessant calls […]

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Scores on the Sidewalk

In late 1981 or early 1982, the composer and vocalist Julius Eastman was evicted from his apartment in New York City. City marshals placed his belongings on the sidewalk, including all of his scores, and Eastman walked away, leaving everything behind. After years of drifting in and out of homeless shelters and bumming money from […]

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An Exorcism

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion,” Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”: These are considered some of the premier artistic anti-war statements of our time. Just as worthy to be a part of this company is French composer Arthur Honegger’s Third Symphony—a work that you may not have heard in quite a while. […]

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Black Magic

On the evening of March 7, 1983, the French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier went for a drink at a bar in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. He picked up a young man there and brought him back to his apartment for sex. The man then stabbed Vivier to death. If, before he fled, the killer had […]

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Free But Alone

No one composer, perhaps in the history of Western classical music, was more active in averting history’s prying eyes than Johannes Brahms. Brutally self-critical about his own work and exceptionally shy when it came to his personal life, Brahms sought to preserve his legacy by keeping his private thoughts out of the grips of unforgiving […]

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The Pianist’s Eye

The pianist Lilian Kallir was a formidable sight-reader who could easily play a Mozart Piano Concerto on the first reading, though she was mostly known for the instinctive musicality, tonal beauty, and precocious maturity of her playing. In 1991, presented with a last-minute change in a program, switching from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in F Major, […]