Composers and the Demon Drink

Theirs was not an auspicious first meeting. The young Johannes Brahms was on a walking holiday en route to visiting Robert and Clara Schumann, when he stopped at  Weimar in June 1853 to hear Franz Liszt give a private performance of his magisterial Piano Sonata in B minor, a work now regarded as one of…

The Astonishing Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes

When in 1917 Sergei Diaghilev was stranded in Spain with his itinerant company the Ballet Russes and in dire financial straits, he fired off a telegram to the wealthy patron of the arts Misia Sert (and friend of Coco Chanel) in Paris for assistance. The reply was curt: “GIVE IT UP SERGE”. This was just…

Press releases: September 2016

(1) Wagner: Overtures, Preludes and Orchestral Excerpts (2) Roussel, Debussy, Poulenc. Orchestral works (3) Fantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams

Le Boeuf: Milhaud’s Love Letter to Brazil

Brazilians hailing from outside Rio de Janeiro sometimes complain that the locals (cariocas) are like the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado: they greet you with open arms but they don’t hug you. Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974) thought otherwise. The twenty months he spent in Rio de Janeiro between 1917-18 as an attaché…

Ernesto Nazareth: the incarnation of the Brazilian soul

One of the singular pleasures of sitting in the many street cafes and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro is to hear live instrumental music played by a small group of street musicians. Comprising a guitar (played with some mesmerising finger work), a flute, sometimes a clarinet and a cavaquinho (a small four-stringed guitar), with drums…

Carlos Gardel – The Legend of a Birth

That a bullet was found lodged in one of his lungs during his autopsy was proof to many that Carlos Gardel had bravely struggled with a gunman on the plane shortly before it careered into another aircraft during take-off at Mendellín in Colombia on 24 June 1935. It was one of many fanciful stories which…

Back in the USSR: Going Viral with Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential pianists of the 20th century. He came to epitomise everything that people expected from a Russian virtuoso: a stern, penetrating intellect, breathtaking skill, demonic powers and magical, tantalising performances. But he was no flamboyant showman. Complex, intensely private and sometimes eccentric, reports of his…

Review: Gleb Ivanov – piano

The Russian pianist Gleb Ivanov opens his programme with a tremendous swagger in Soirée de Vienne, the intoxicating paraphrase on Strauss waltzes by Adolf Grünfeld. It’s one of many glittering and virtuosic arrangements made of his waltzes (others include  those by Dohnányi, Schulhof, Schulz-Evler and Tausig) and it blazes with exuberance and joie de vivre…

The Composer and the Hollywood Starlet

The strange and largely true story of the composer George Antheil and the actress Hedy Lamarr, told in the style of fan fiction. Apologies to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and everyone else.