Kabalevsky, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Shostakovich


Here is a link to my program notes for the final St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra performance of the season:

Click to access 3789.pdf

The concert takes place at Powell Hall on Saturday, May 18, at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are free, with a $1 service charge. Ordering information is here:


There were last-minute space constraints with the YO program notes, which often happens, so the introduction to the Debussy piece got cut. (I understand why–it was the longest essay, even though it is by no means the longest work on the program–so this was the most logical paragraph to remove, and one I probably would have chosen myself if I’d been told to cut for space.) In the interest of completion, though, I’m pasting it here:

Like so many composers before and after him, Claude Debussy turned to literature for musical ideas, and the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé was a particularly rich source. The men were not only friends; they were kindred spirits in their respective art forms. Both were preoccupied with the liminal, with elusive thresholds and ineffable states, with spaces and silences. Mallarmé’s irreducible, intentionally ambiguous verse jump-started postmodernism, anticipating the linguistic theories of Derrida, Kristeva, and Lacan. Debussy, for his part, revolutionized concert music with his setting of Mallarmé’s poem L’après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”), expanding the limits of tonality and symphonic structure. As the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez observed, the flute of the titular faun “brought new breath to the art of music.”

Christine Brewer with the SLSO tonight!

Sorry for the short notice, but in just under an hour (8:00 CT) anyone who isn’t fortunate enough to be at Powell Hall tonight can listen to the live broadcast of the world-renowned soprano Christine Brewer performing with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Here is a link about the program:


Here is where you can tune in if you’re not within the broadcast range of KWMU 90.7, St. Louis Public Radio:



And here is a link to the program notes (not written by me):

Click to access 3527.pdf

Happy birthday, Bartolomeo Cristofori, Piano Man


Happy birthday to Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano we know today,  more or less.

No one knows much about his early life, and no one knows how many pianos he built for his extremely wealthy and (I’m guessing) rather eccentric patrons. Only three of Cristofori’s original piano fortes survive today, all from the 1720s.

  • A 1720 instrument in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. This one was extensively altered by later builders. It’s still playable, but it probably sounds nothing like it did when new.
  • A 1722 instrument in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome, ravaged by worms and no longer playable.
  • A 1726 instrument in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University, no longer playable, although recordings of it exist.

All three of these instruments have the same Latin inscription:


Translation: “Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, inventor, made [this] in Florence in [date].”


1722 version (see above).

In your honor, Signore Cristofori (may I call you Bart?), I’m going to listen to lots and lots of piano music today: Bach, Beethoven, Ligeti, Schubert, Chopin, Franck, Brahms, Debussy, possibly Prokofiev. Maybe some Monk and some Vijay Ayer, too. Oh, and why not throw in some Nicky Taylor and Johnnie Johnson while I’m at it?

And I will dust my beautiful 1926 Knabe parlor grand and rue my faithlessness.

Today’s soundtrack

The perfect soundtrack/antidote to a dreary, chilly day spent inside copy editing.Image


I imagine that it would be a wonderful soundtrack for other purposes, too, but  that’s its purpose today, chez René.

I know I haven’t been updating the blog in a few days. Real life intrudes obnoxiously sometimes.