Feature Fridays: La Bohème

Feature Fridays: La Bohème

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff highlights a different CD or artist from our collection. This week, Student Assistant Cameron Betchey reviews La Bohème, an opera by composer Giacomo Puccini.

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La Bohème is one of the most influential and famous operas composed by Giacomo Puccini at the turn of the century. The 20th century was a time of artistic revolution and social movement, which are both themes of La Bohème. Art is an important reflection of society and communicates to the audience the struggles of people who are typically silenced for various reasons; in this case the lower classes of society. Maria Callas sings the lead, Mimi a young seamstress living in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

La Bohème was incredibly successful and it has had a lasting impact on popular culture, most notably the musical Rent, which borrows heavily in both character and plot from La Bohème. The theme of the struggling artists and impoverished workers who long for a better life or recognition from the aristocracy has been reinterpreted time and time again because it is always culturally relevant. Although it was written over 100 years ago, this opera is still emotionally and socially impactful today because of these themes.

At the height of her career, Callas is the most successful opera singer in the world, known for her uniquely powerful and emotionally expressive voice. Her ability to convey emotion through the power of her voice pairs well with the romantic nature of Puccini’s composing style. The CD I have chosen is the EMI Classics full recording of La Bohème with performances by Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, and Rolando Panerai. This CD is part of a wide collection of opera recordings that star Callas, many of them composed by Puccini. Callas’s ability to sing lyrical, coloratura, and dramatic roles made her a rare and dynamic performer. Yet, somehow she always sounded like herself, her voice never altered in sound or quality but it was flexible enough to sing in a wide variety of styles. She is an excellent singer to listen to if you want to get a taste of a larger variety of operatic music rather than just listening to a singer who sings in one composer or era.

I would recommend this CD to anyone who is trying to listen to operatic music for the first time. The plot is intriguing and easy to follow, and the romantic era style in which Puccini writes is beautiful and musically interesting. Puccini unlike many other composers began to learn music by playing the violin not the piano. This influence is easy to hear in his music. The melodic lines are dramatic, long, and sweeping and the music is harmonically complex yet never feels too dissonant. The music is drenched in drama and emotion, made clearer to the listener through the power and expressiveness of Callas’s voice. In this way I think that La Bohème can be interesting even to people who do not listen to classical music often. Overall it is a beautiful masterpiece brought to life by one of the most talented opera singers of the 20th century with societal messages that are still resonant today.

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New Music!

Lots of new music has made its may to the new stuff shelf! Be sure to swing by and check out these new titles:

John Adams John’s Book Of Alleged Dances (String Quartet) M 585 .A336 J642 2007

Bedrich Smetana Aus Meinem Leben (String Quartet) M 452 .S64 no.1 2011

Dvorak String Quartet A-Flat Minor op.105 M 452 .D98 B.193 2016

Janacek String Quartet No. 1 M 452 .J36 no.1 2007

Francaix Petit quatuor (Wind Quartet) M 457.2 .F733 P4 2018

Lowell Liebermann Two Impromptus (Piano)  M .L53 op.131 2018

Joan Tower String Force (For Solo Violin) M 42 .T69 S8 2017

John Corgiliano String Quartet (Score) M 452 .C685 Q37 1998

Sebastian Currier Division (For Orchestra) M 1045 .C937 D58 2018

Sebastian Currier Glow (For Solo Piano) M 24 .C957 G5 2018

John Adams John’s Book of Alleged Dances (String Quartet) M 585 .A336 J642 2007

Alberto Ginastera Danzas Argentinas opus 2 (for piano) M 25 .G55 D35 2016

John Williams The Post Score M 1527.2 .W554 P67 2018 

Lusiano Berio Opus Number Zoo (Wind Quartet) M 1625 .B475 O69 1975

Antonio Vivaldi Concerto per Quattro Violini e Violoncello soli M 1140 .V59 E8 no.7

Schubert String Quartet in D Minor M 452 .S383 D.810 1989

Roy Harris Trio (For Piano, Violin, and violoncello) M 312 .H28 T7 1936b

Malcolm Arnold Divertimento for Flute, Oboe, and Clarinet M 357.2 .A757 op.37 1952

Louis Karchin Reflection for Oboe and Violin M 291 .K374 R44 2017

Paul Lansky Ricercare Plus M 452 .L295 R497 2007

William Bolcom Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Band M 1206 .B64 C66 2018

Stephen Sondheim Suite from the Enclave M 1515 .S694 E64 2016

Yvonne Desportes 20 pieces pour tous les goûts et dans tous les styles (for 3 trombones) M 357.4 .D469 P594 1988

Eric Sammut Sugaria Concerto for Solo Marimba M 1138 .S255 S93 2009

Malcolm Arnold Three Shanties for Wind Quintet M 557 .A75 S5 1952

Feature Fridays: Radio Rewrite by Steve Reich

Feature Fridays: Radio Rewrite by Steve Reich

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff highlights a different CD or artist from our collection. This week, Student Assistant Matt Francisco reviews Radio Rewrite, an album of works by composer Steve Reich.

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After hearing Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood play his 1987 piece Electric Counterpoint, minimalist pioneer Steve Reich was inspired and decided to center his newest work around the sound of Radiohead’s rich music. The result is Radio Rewrite, a work that features re-hashed versions of Electric Counterpoint and Piano Counterpoint played by Jonny Greenwood and Vicky Chow.

 

Greenwood’s performance of Electric Counterpoint is quite interesting; his guitar is a bit more mellow sounding than the original, yet the tempo is greatly increased. The first two movements sound similar to the original, but by the third movement of the piece the meter and energy seem to match that of a modern rock song. The result is an exciting performance that shines Reich’s classic piece in a new light.

 

The final piece, Radio Rewrite, features five movements performed by Alarm Will Sound, a New York-based contemporary chamber ensemble. The work sounds like classic Reich material, but mixes in numerous Radiohead-style moments. In an interview with his publisher, Reich notes: “The piece is a mixture of moments where you will hear Radiohead, but most moments where you won’t.” In effect, the piece—just like Greenwood’s interpretation of Electric Counterpoint—once again blends Reich minimalism with the energy of modern alt-rock music.

 

Stop by the Music Library to hear this great album, and many other works by Steve Reich!

Feature Fridays: What It Is!

Feature Fridays:  What It Is!

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff will be highlighting a different CD or artist from our collection.

This week, Student Assistant Emily Langlois will review the collection What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves.

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Funk music from the late 1960s and early 1970s has influenced modern pop, hip hop, and indie music more than we may know. Although everyone knows about James Brown, Rick James, and the other giants of the era, it turns out that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wide variety of artists that released music during the genre’s golden age. What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves is a 4-disk box set that uncovers some of funk’s most unique hidden gems, featuring over 90 songs “from the vaults of Atlantic, ATCO, & Warner Bros. Records.”

 

Each track included in the What It Is! collection stands out on its own as an embodiment of the genre’s development throughout its prime years. Although there are a few songs from well-known artists such as Earth, Wind, and Fire, these “rare grooves” are meant to highlight the margin of funk artists whose music never got a chance to break into mainstream popularity. The beauty of these albums comes from the unique listening experience of hearing a song that has a familiar funky groove, but is new and different in its own way. The big brass instrumentals, piano riffs, and soulful lyrics are still present; however, there’s a certain freshness that comes with the more experimental synths and percussion coming from each individual artist. You can really feel the authenticity behind this music, but it’s still lively and exciting to listen to.

 

There’s also a booklet included with this box set that goes deeper into the history behind each song. There’s a paragraph-long blurb for every track in the collection, giving more information about its artist, meaning, and sound. Listening to this collection is a great learning experience for those who are interested in the revival of funk and soul music because it really shines a light on the area of the genre that was left behind in the wake of popularized disco. As best explained in the booklet: “This was dirty,gritty, gutbucket funk–the kind recorded not with an array of synthesizers and orchestral arrangement but taped in a ramshackle studio with chicken-scratch guitars, a beat-up B3, and a poorly mic-ed drum kit.”

 

It’s difficult to pick out my favorite tracks because all of them are so original and different, so this is something that you just have to experience for yourself. Whether it’s a thorough exploration or quick listen and groove, you won’t regret turning your sights towards this overlooked area of American music history. Head to the music library and look for it on our oversize CD shelf!

Feature Fridays: Kid A by Radiohead

Feature Fridays: Kid A by Radiohead

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff will be highlighting a different CD or artist from our collection.

This week, Student Assistant Dan McCahon will review Kid A by Radiohead.

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Atmospheric and eerie are the two words that spring to mind when thinking of Radiohead’s album Kid A (2000). The album opens with “Everything in its Right Place” an electronic song that released in complete opposition to the rock-n-roll identity that Radiohead had established itself as with their prior works. A melody descends in electronic hums and the song murmurs into being, building itself up scrambled voices as it progresses. Thom Yorke’s voice then lifts itself above the murmurs, finding the right place for himself. This juxtaposition is intriguing, as the electric sounds swirl and crescendo along with his voice, at times appearing to blend into his vocals.

The lyrics are a mix of phrases and questions that seem nonsensical: “Yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon” to “There are two colors in my head”. Yorke has explained them as his feelings on his depression following a Birmingham performance. This uncertainty atop the atmosphere sets the shifting and ever-changing tone that the album carries.

The title track “Kid A” continues that theme of introducing a melody through instrumentation, building upon itself with distorted vocals buzzing as percussion makes its way into the space. The percussion and tempo build up and then dissipate, folding into itself, blending and transforming as the voices still distorted sit amidst a sustained electronic hum. These constant changes and electronic nature of the songs is a foundation for the remainder of the album. However, as change is its nature Kid A does not remain static and will continue to surprise listeners with new instrumentation, dissonant melodies, and unconventional rhythmic structures as they make their way through the fog of sounds that Radiohead has created. 

Radiohead is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019! Come to the music library to check out other Radiohead albums: OK Computer (1997) and The Bends (1995).

Feature Fridays: The Pianist

Feature Fridays: The Pianist

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Every week, the AU music library staff will be highlighting a different CD or artist from our collection.

This week, Student Assistant Cami Betchey will review The Pianist, the soundtrack from the 2002 film.

The Pianist

The Pianist is a film made in 2002 by Roman Polanski about a Jewish Polish pianist during World War II. It is a devastating film about loss and the bittersweet gift of survival in the midst of death and losing everything. The pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is one of the most well known and accomplished pianists to perform Chopin in Poland at the time of the occupation. The soundtrack is therefore composed of Chopin works, each of which is meant to break the heart more than the last. Sprinkled throughout the movie the sound track serves to illuminate the viewer to the complex and somber depths of Szpilman’s emotions.

The majority of the soundtrack is made up on Chopin’s work, mainly his Nocturnes and Ballades. Each of the nocturnes selected are composed in minor keys, in fact only one song on the soundtrack is written in a major key. The whole score has a melancholic tone, yet it is not depressive or difficult to listen to. Like many of Chopin’s works, there are moments are happiness that peak through keeping the listener intrigued. The sheer complexity of Chopin’s work is also one of the main highlights of this soundtrack. Each of his pieces is so technically complex even the most unskilled of listener can appreciate the difficulty and rigor in just one of these songs, yet it does not feel like a task. Each piece is intricately woven to create fluid melodies that are harmonically challenged. The right hand carries long withheld notes while the left plays complex chords and patterns, just one of the ways that Chopin was so innovative as a composer for piano.

I would recommend this CD for people who enjoy romantic era music or for people who are looking to get into classical music. You would never be bored listening to the work of Chopin, or his romantic contemporaries. The work of Chopin although complex still has a feeling of romance and whimsy about it that makes it enjoyable to listen to. Even if you don’t listen to classical music often, anyone would be moved by this soundtrack. It also makes great study music for people who are interested in finding classical music to study with.

The Music Library has over 2000 albums of Chopin’s works on CD and streaming, including one with Wladislaw Szpilman at the piano.

More New Music (+ A New CD)!

Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James Mcalister Planetarium CD 10573

Hinterbichler 11 Orchestral Etudes (Tenor Trombone) MT 465 .H55 E5 2016

DeGreg Jazz Keyboard Harmony MT 239 .D44 2004

Glass Piano concerto No. 2 M 1011 .G53 no.2 2017

Bresnick Passions of Bloom (Chorus) M 1533 .B836 P3 2018

Bach Aria with 30 Variations M 559 .B1186 G65 1974

Williams Tribute to the Film Composer M 1070 .T75 2017

Davis The Matrix Score M 1527 .D38 M3 2014

Elfman Batman Score M 1527 .E44 B37 2016 

Friese and Lepak The Complete Timpani Method MT 660.2 .F74 1982