Arturo Toscanini – the Quintessential Italian Maestro

Short, dapper and elegant, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867 – 1957) cut a spritely figure; polite and attentive in congenial company but famous for his fiery outbursts in rehearsals, he marshalled his orchestral forces with a hitherto unheard of precision and intensity to produce a soundscape that was unmistakeably his own. In a long…

Handel in The Strand

Formerly situated just off The Strand in London in front of Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece St Clement Danes church, the Crown and Anchor Tavern seems an unlikely birthplace for a revolution in choral music. Then, as now, taverns (or public houses) were colourful meeting places for eating, drinking, animated discussion and occasionally brawls. In the…

Béla Bartók, Out of Doors

Budapest – a fine city. Formerly a provincial backwater made up of three small towns (Buda, Pest and Obuda), at the turn of the 20th century it was Europe’s fastest growing metropolis and a symbol of Hungarian national pride, the population ballooning from around 300,000 in 1870 to over a million in 1910.  

Confronting Nature in the Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

For many, the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams [1872 – 1958] evokes a dreamy, nostalgic vision of England – more Downton Abbey than Dickens – with folk music blending with tranquil, rural landscapes, and a suggestion of Choral Evensong with “hallowed traditions and hallowed halls”. And his most popular works – The Lark Ascending, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Fantasia on Greensleeves – tend to cement his status as the most quintessential composer of English pastoral music.

A contemporary critic and composer, Peter Warlock, once waggishly remarked that Vaughan Williams’ music is “… too much like a cow looking over a gate”. However, a deeper familiarity with his music gives the lie to this caricature. Vaughan Williams is adept at evoking landscapes and nature: from rural idylls and bustling cityscapes, to bleak and desolate wildernesses. Far from being reassuring, his music often has the power to be deeply unsettling.

Dreams and Poetic Inspiration in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Sunny, warm, mellifluous and comic are not words one immediately associates with Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) but these are entirely appropriate for his late opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg which combines philosophical reflections on art and life with a comedic plot and witty, masterly orchestral writing. It is an opera in which dream – and, prefiguring Freud, dream interpretation – play a central role.