Rex Levang Feature Archive

Can you recommend some pieces of Halloween music? Some real scary ones? And so in that spirit, from the world of classical music, we bring you a passel of quirky, ghoulish and upsetting lore about the people who created it. But be warned. There are no peeled grapes here. Everything you will read here is, as far as can be ascertained, quite true. If you prefer to think of Beethoven as a master musician who made important advances in the treatment of symphonic form, you may want to turn back at this point. But if you're curious who got hold of his skull in 1888. . . . (10/20/2000)
The cultural rebelliousness lit by Jean Cocteau and driven by Erik Satie spawned the next batch of eccentrics from which Les Six, a new musical avant-garde led by Satie and consisting of Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, Germaine Tailleferre, and Georges Auric, was born. Many of their early works were good-naturedly Dadaist and make witty use of quotation and parody, popular music-hall style as well as jazz - a self-consciously simple style reacting against both Romanticism and Impressionism. (03/20/2000)
It's a scenario that plays out every year, and one in which you yourself may have been an observer, or even a participant. The audience is assembled in the concert hall, or church, or school auditorium. The orchestra tunes, the conductor appears, the conversations come to a halt, there is a welcoming round of applause. The orchestra strikes up a brief, vigorous overture. Then the tenor soloist rises to his feet and intones the opening words, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people" - and another performance of Handel's Messiah is underway. (12/02/1999)
ANTONÍN DVORÁK started life as the son of a peasant in the provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ended it as one of the most famous musicians in the world, whose pieces were eagerly received by audiences in the capitals of Europe and America. And there can't be too many American music lovers, especially in the Midwest, who haven't thought about retracing some of the steps of the remarkable journey that Dvorák took to the United States in the 1890s. (09/10/1999)
When you think about music and film directors, Alfred Hitchcock might not be the first name to come to mind. Stanley Kubrick was a greater recycler of classical music, Quentin Tarantino has done the same for Motown, Bergman and Zeffirelli have filmed more operas - and the list could continue. But Hitchcock has his share of big music moments. As the film world commemorates his 100th birthday on Friday, August 13, heres a chance to see how many you can identify. (08/01/1999)
JOAQUIN RODRIGO, the Spanish composer who died July 6, 1999, at the age of 97, was a rarity among contemporary composers—a composer who was not only respected, but beloved. His compositions, with their bright instrumentation and vivid evocations of Spain, won the affections of music lovers all over the world, and one of them, the "Concierto de Aranjuez," became the most popular guitar concerto ever written. (07/09/1999)
Fourth of July concerts are a little like Thanksgiving dinners. The items on the bill of fare aren't always identical - some people go with Copland instead of Gershwin, rutabagas instead of mashed potatoes - but there's a strong family resemblance all the same. So if you're taking John Adams's advice (who said that Independence Day should be "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and iluminations") and heading out to a Fourth of July concert, here's a look at some of the items you may well hear. (07/04/1999)
When Minnesota Orchestra performs a new composition by Thomas Adès later this month, it may not be a media event quite on the order of the Ricky Martin boom, or Queen Amidala's problems on the green planet Naboo. Still, it could turn out to be part of something just as noteworthy. In the world of classical composers right now, Adès is the bright young British star who has gone, in a very short time, from being a student at Cambridge to a sought-after composer whose works are performed all over the world. (07/01/1999)
The explosive popularity of the Maple Leaf Rag, like so many other seminal events in American history, was founded on fortuitous chance. The club that inspired the song functioned for only a year and a half. Scott Joplin, the composer, spent only a few years of his life in Sedalia before he moved on to St. Louis and New York. The music publisher met Joplin only by chance; one story has it that he liked the music he heard one day when he stopped off for a beer. (05/15/1999)
You hear it all the time these days - Shakespeare is hip, Shakespeare is fashionable - but with composers, he’s hardly ever been unfashionable. And with his birthday upon us (April 23, by most accounts), it seems only fitting to celebrate some of the most famous classical works inspired by the Bard. (04/14/1999)
Classical-music comedy has a special place in the affections of music lovers and if there was a list of Frequently Asked Questions on this subject, these queries might be near the top. (04/01/1999)
Every month MPR's music department asks a different individual to give us a list of five compact discs of his or her choosing. The criteria are strictly personal, and the choices cover a pretty wide gamut. But several discs come up again and again: Carlos Kleiber conducting Beethoven symphonies; Miles Davis and colleagues on their album Kind of Blue; and Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. (03/15/1999)
It's the old story: boy gets shot by Cupid's bow and arrow, boy falls in love with girl. So old, in fact, that it forms the story of the very first opera. History has not been gentle with Jacopo Peri's Daphne – most of the music is lost, and the date of the first performance is unclear. But the tradition which it began has been resilient, and of the thousands of operas written since then, most have had some version of boy-meets-girl at their center. Here we take a quick look at some of opera's most famous love duets – and wish you a Happy Valentine's Day. (02/14/1999)
It is one of the great received images of the twentieth century: As the stricken Titanic slips into the ocean, Wallace Hartley and his musicians remain steadfast at their posts, playing "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Music has become an indispensable part of the Titanic myth. With the big exhibit in St. Paul, thousands of Minnesotans are going to become Titanic buffs, if only temporarily, and we submit five very diverse examples of how musicians have responded to the story of the disaster. (01/13/1999)