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Archives: October 2013

Our Top Five Spookiest Selections

Demons, Spooks & Other Things That Go Bump In the Night



Exploring Music's Top Five Spookiest Selections

 Darkness has descended on Exploring Music as we investigate composers’ fascination with ghosts, goblins, Mephistopheles and other phantasmagoria. Here are the top five spookiest pieces we played this week in order from least to most terrifying. Disagree, think we missed something, or want to suggest your own scary selection? Post in the comments below.


Manuel De Falla's El Amor Brujo

More mysterious than menacing, this piece for orchestra and mezzo-soprano by Manuel de Falla follows the journey of one woman as she tries to exorcise the spirit of her dead husband. Anyone familiar with Falla's Siete Canciones Populares may be reminded of his song, "Polo", both pieces have a mezzo-soprano singing "Ay!" over active accompaniment !



Danse Macabre, camille saint-saens,

Join dancing skeletons, Death, spooks and more with Camille Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre.  Evocative use of the tritone might have pushed this selection higher on our list, but the work ends with a happy ending -- the break of day.



Listeners might remember Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain from it's use in the Walt Disney classic, Fantasia, but even without animation this work still frightens. Although, much like Danse Macabre the work ends happily.



Next Berlioz's La Damnation de Faustioz plunges us into deep darkness. The Ride to the Abyss is particularly chilling with real screams and a triplet figure that mimics galloping horses dragging Faust into Hell.



For all of Berlioz's bluster, Schubert is the one who understands true terror. In no song is this clearer than Erlkönig. From the seductive major tonality of Death, to the child's frenzied cries, to the father's denial, to the  narration of the inevitable conclusion, it's hard to think of a more chilling piece of music.

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Verdi Part ii: Bill’s Bibliography

There's no composer that says "opera" like Verdi. Join us for the second part of our two week series as we hear Verdi's take on Shakespeare, Egyptian princesses, and perhaps the grandest requiem ever written. Post your thoughts on the show here and your comment might be read on air. Plus keep reading for a special note from Bill on how he researched the show.

A Note From Bill

verdi'sshakespeareI'd have to say my favorite discovery this week was Garry Wills' book, "Verdi's Shakespeare" which is as wonderfully informed as everything I've ever read from Professor Wills, and in addition to wonderful quotes from Verdi's letters about how he wanted various passages sung (very detailed and extremely knowing as well as demanding) Wills also answers some questions I'd never thought to ask — like, "Why did Shakespeare write so much more for men than women?" Well, mostly cause it wasn't women who were playing those roles, it was twelve year-old boys, who gifted as they were, might not have been up to learning the six or seven hundred lines Shakespeare wrote for his leading characters, but could learn two hundred and fifty or three hundred. Also, the boys frequently doubled other roles, which meant that Lady Macbeth couldn't be on stage when the lad was taking on another role.

verdiwithavengenceIn addition to Julian Budden's three volumes on the Verdi operas, which is terrific and very complete, but almost too much so for me to use on the air, I found a lot of help from William Berger's "Verdi With a Vengeance", which manages to pack a tremendous amount of information into one volume. He's also very knowing, frequently funny, sometimes appealingly catty.

In addition, I used the Grove Dictionary article, which is terrific and in most libraries, and Mary Jane Phillips Matz magisterial one-volume biography. About four years ago I got the nicest e-mail from Ms. Phillips Matz. She had moved back to the US and had taken a liking to Exploring Music. I wrote back to her but didn't go to visit. I was a fool. She lived about a mile and a half from my apartment. Sadly, she died this past January. And so, our ten hours of Verdi had the benefit of her scholarship, but I never got to sit down with her and ask some of the hundreds of questions that came to my mind when I researching the shows.

I should also mention the IMSLPetrucci operalovermusic library which is fabulous. All the Verdi operas are on line, in piano/vocal and full score. I used all of them a great deal. For me, the fastest way to get to know a piece of music is to read it — the score — it's quicker and deeper than listening to recordings or just reading about the opera.

Finally, I borrowed a copy of "The Opera Lover's Companion", by Charles Osborne, who still lives in London at the last report — Osborne has short (3-5page) pieces on almost all the operas presented in an intelligent, lively style that can give a newcomer a feel for the stories and in a couple of cases, I quoted from his book in recording the shows.

Oh, and I can't neglect the record library at WQXR, which is exceedingly well-supplied due to George Jellinek, who hosted a program called The Vocal Scene for thirty five years or more. I had a ball picking through the opera holdings, which are rarely played intact anymore. I opened up a fabulous Aidia with Leontyne Price and found an odd sort of crumble of foam — it was one of those liners record companies used to insert in multiple disc recordings when they first brought them out. The foam crumbles with time but not the recording. I brushed it off carefully and sat back to listen to Ms. Price in her splendor. I doubt anyone had opened that cd case in ten years.

-Bill McGlaughlin


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Verdi Part One

A towering presence in Italian art and perhaps the greatest composer of 19th century opera, Giuseppe Verdi is one of the most venerated figures in classical music. This week we begin a ten-part series investigating his life and music. Airing this week on a radio station near you!  Join us here, on our Exploring Music blog, for previews and supplemental content for the coming week, read the post, listen to the show, and then tell us what you think! If you're curious what's playing you can click to listen and find  playlists, or you can sign up to have playlists and show summaries delivered to your inbox every Monday!



On Monday we briefly surveyed the operatic tradition that was Verdi's springboard, and began to brush away the cobwebs of myth and mystery of Verdi's early life. Oh, and as always we listen to his music. His beautiful, beautiful, music.


As Bill would say, "Man that boy wrote a lot of music!" On Tuesday we explore all the obscure nooks and crannies of Verdi's repertoire, including a trip to Medieval Spain, Shakespeare's Scotland, and even France!


Rumor has it that a hundred thousand voices rose in song at Verdi's funeral, but don't worry, we haven't finished our week on Verdi just yet, but on Wednesday we do investigate some of Verdi's most stirring opera choruses. Click here to see a cute animated version of the Gypsy Chorus from La Traviata!


Could it get any better than Verdi's Rigoletto and La Traviata? Bill sure doesn't think so. Listen to Thursday's program and enjoy some of the most popular classical music on earth.


Despite Verdi being known for his work in an art form intimately connected with language, his music transcends words. To end our first week on Verdi, we explore some of his greatest overtures.


 Past Shows


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You have opened up the world of Classical Music to me, where previously, it seemed too complicated.
Steffen Demeter
This is simply one of the very best radio programmes in the medium!...The study of the people, the times, and the events that inform the music we otherwise enjoy and even, heaven forbid, take for granted, brings the entire world of the music and the composer to life.
Walther Davies
There isn't a program you broadcast on Exploring Music" that isn't of interest. I find them all engaging. It is a combination of variety of subject, intellectual curiosity and your obvious enthusiasm which characterize your satisfying programs.
Michael Sanders
It’s a great way to re-engage myself with consciousness before heading off to work.
I Love this program! I am in 7th grade and I am the complete opposite of the other kids. I am 4th chair in the orchestra and I love to read. But most of all, I LOVE classical music!
Claudia Wertz
Your show has helped open my mind and heart to this world of music, and every show I hear confirms my place in music and gives me new ideas for where I'd like to go with it in the future….I grew up with classical music as a child and always held it in my heart, but I didn't have the confidence to be a good student (or a good violinist.)
Christine Anderson
Listening to you is almost interactive.You invite us in with so many well modulated dramatic and informative comments, enticing, enthusiastic interpretations, and coherent, beautiful presentations. It's a privilege to follow you into the musical space you create.
Sally Rosenbaum
I just love this program. It is soothing and comfortable at the end of the day. I find his comments interesting, but they aren't so dragged out that there is very little music. The balance of both is just right.
Jean Quay
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