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Bill McGlaughlin on “Music in 19th Century Paris: Waterloo to Bismarck”


Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin has produced over 200 weeks of shows since its syndication in 2003. The new show this week is Music in 19th Century Paris: Waterloo to Bismarck. We interviewed Bill McGlaughlin to give you the inside scoop on how he formulated this week’s show. Enjoy the interview below and let us know your thoughts on this week’s theme in the comments!

How did you select the theme for this week’s programs: Music in 19th Century Paris: Waterloo to Bismarck?

You know, it was one of those ideas I found in my sock drawer. You don’t really know where these ideas come from; you kind of have all of this stuff rolling around in your head for a long time.

With Music in 19th Century Paris: Waterloo to Bismarck, I had just listened to a volume of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization and I finished the story with the history of Napoleon. I listen to these enormous, 1200 page audio books while I walk around the streets of New York. So, I had been thinking about Napoleon and this book gave me a different perspective on him. I didn’t realize some of the positive things he did. I knew he was a great conqueror, but I don’t particularly admire people who start wars and kill people. But, everywhere he went, he instituted the Napoleonic code, which threw out the old feudal system, took away a lot of the properties of the church, and set up a constitution.

Also, all the way from 1815 until the demise of Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III, there was a new great nation state on the rise – Prussia – which was led by Otto von Bismarck. Pretty soon all of Germany was even bigger, more populated, wealthier, and finally unified after hundreds of years of being these little states.

So that’s the set-up. Of course, all the while, I have music in my head as I’m listening to these books. I’m thinking about the composers around during the time and the music that they wrote. But, Napoleon and Bismarck are fence posts on which to hang a string which I was going to put my laundry on.

Do you think Napoleon was a music lover and did he commission any music?

Napoleon did commission a number of pieces, but they were ceremonial. Sort of like Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, his taste in music didn’t run to the most advance. He would go to performances, but he knew poets, philosophers, and scientists better. 

How did you decide what music to include in this week?

I chose this music because if you were lucky, or maybe unlucky, enough to live in Paris at that time, this is the music you would hear every day. These were the composers who were there. It was such a tremendous cast of characters. A lot of Italians were in Paris during this time. Cherubini, who came to France in 1785, managed to get through the French Revolution and keep his head on his shoulders despite the fact that he was a close associate to Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette. Then there was Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Paganini. It’s just an interesting period. You can really hear the almost infinite variety in the music.

What other composers will you feature in this week?

Two of the composers we’re doing this week are rarely played nowadays, Cherubini and Meyerbeer. They were so popular in their time; in fact Beethoven first thought that Cherubini was the greatest opera composer. Then, by 1818 he said, “Forget it, Cherubini is the greatest composer alive” (and this was by a man who had written 8 of his 9 symphonies and all of his piano concertos at this point). I mean think of the work that Beethoven had made and he thought Cherubini was the greatest composer alive. I wanted to try to get some sense of the importance of that music and why we should still care about it if a composer like Beethoven loved it as much as he did.

It’s the same thing with Meyerbeer. His works are rarely performed nowadays intact. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a couple of days ago and saw some paintings. One was by Courbet depicting a tenor who is playing the part of Robert le diable from the opera by Meyerbeer in 1831. I looked at this incredibly vivid and wonderful painting and thought, “that painting was done 30 years after Meyerbeer created his opera.” Then I found another painting that day by Degas of the same opera, painted about another 15 years later. Just think about the effect these people had, and not just for a year or two on Broadway. They colored French culture throughout the 19th century and yet, we barely know their names today.  

How do you create a narrative around the music that you choose for a week of programs?

I’m a big walker. It started some years ago when I had some back problems and I found out that they went away when I started walking. So, I’ve got a lot of time to think and I listen to books on tape. I usually just try to imagine what it would be like to be in Paris during some of those years. I try to imagine the clothing they wore or what they ate. Rossini for example, when he turned thirty-eight, he had already written 38 operas. At that point, he said, “That’s it. I’m going to sit by and invent some nice dishes like Tournedos Rossini; maybe I’ll put a little foie gras on my steak.” He’s such a playful character and I love imagining the world around him. Like the salons with all of these poets, painters, philosophers, economists, and generals. I like to imagine the individual composers and how they struggle against people not understanding their works and challenges.

Has your process changed over the years?

When I first started doing this show, I used to spend a lot of time in the Lincoln Center library. It’s changed over the past 12-13 years because so much music is now available online. But there are a couple of great libraries where you can go and look at a Cherubini Requiem and actually see the full orchestral score. I spent thirty years mostly as a conductor, so I can read a score in the way a lot of other people can just read a novel or a poem. I actually learn faster from reading a score than I do from listening. Then I go to the piano, I’m not really an advanced pianist at all, but I play it so that people can hear what I’m thinking or talking about. 

Why do you demonstrate what you heard in the music on the piano?

When Steve Robinson and I started talking about Exploring Music back in 2002, I was initially reluctant because I was doing a chamber music show for Minnesota Public Radio called “St. Paul Sunday Morning” and I thought that maybe that was enough. But Steve came up with a whole plan and he told me I could do it in New York City in a studio. I thought about it for a little while and I told him that I would need a piano because without one, without some way to play music, nobody would know what I was talking about. If I say that Brahms’s Second Symphony opens with a minor third in the horn, people might think “what the heck is a minor third?! Is it a third that didn’t quite grow up yet? What is it?” If I sing it, people kind of get the idea. But if I play it, and then put it in context and play it again, then they can start to get an idea of what I’m talking about. For someone who isn’t trained in music, they’ve just absorbed a tool to help them understand more music.            

What is your favorite show that you have done so far?

My favorite show is the one that I’m most absorbed in at the moment. I think we’ve done 200-300 of these 5 hour weeks so I can’t really remember.  From the beginning when I spoke with Steve Robinson, I told him I wanted one week a month to be a 5-part musical biography of a composer, because in 5 hours we can really get inside what makes a composer tick. So I like the composer shows a lot.

We often get blizzards of emails and have found so many ideas in those that have turned into radio shows. I’m so grateful for people writing in and suggesting themes. Thank you! Keep them coming!

How do you decide how much you’ll explain about a piece of music?

For me, it always starts and ends with the music. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. When I was 18 years old, I had a high school band in Philadelphia. I was put in front of them and they couldn’t sing or play and I couldn’t conduct very well. But, I was put in front of this bunch of high school kids, and I was barely older than they were, and we would give concerts in school. We would play in front of their classmates, who were kind of a tough audience to play for because they were a little cynical and sullen sometimes, and I would try to break them up a little by trying to relate directly to the music. I would ask them what they heard or I would make goofy jokes about the music. But, the point is that it starts with something I hear in the music and that’s almost always true in Exploring Music.


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Top Tracks: A Green and Pleasant Land

Top Picks from the British Isles

We asked and you delivered! These are the choice picks from our Facebook page, thanks to our well-versed listeners. Special thanks to Michael Rosin for compiling this blog post.

Best British Symphony:

Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony 5 is the Best British Symphony -
Friends, what an honor it is to finally write about this symphony. One
of my favorites since high school, there was a point in my life when I
became obsessed with this symphony, especially the third movement -
listening to it every night before I went to bed. This piece
represents the zenith of Ralph Vaughan Williams' pastoral music.
Written during the entire duration of World War II, the piece is a war
symphony, meant to evoke the landscape of England, at one of the most
threatening and terrifying times in Great Britain's history. Themes
throughout the symphony are derived from an opera Vaughan Williams
composed earlier, entitled "The Pilgrim's Progress."
I've decided to share the life-changing third movement. This
British composer wrote his most beautiful piece during the worst
bombing of the UK. This piece does not appear on any soundtrack, nor
in any commercial. Please listen to the whole thing - I promise it's
nothing like anything you've ever heard before.

Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (arguably the
most authentic recording, being that Boult and Vaughan Williams were
good friends).

Best British Opera:

Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes" is the Best British Opera -
"Peter Grimes" is a staple in Great Britain's operatic canon. The
opera was inspired by a poem of the same title. The poem was written
by George Crabbe and inspired Britten deeply, since both men were
natives of Suffolk. It premiered in London on June 7, 1945.
Britten's partner, Peter Pears, played the title role for it's first
performance - he was also a key figure throughout the opera's creation
and production. There was an orchestral suite published separately
entitled "Four Sea Interludes" which captures many of the important
themes and moments of the opera. I've decided to post the opening of
the second act (also the second movement of the "Four Sea
Interludes") subtitled "A Summer Sunday Morning." This section in
particular has such incredible orchestration and a deep lively mood,
both of which Britten was so masterful at capturing.
Sir Colin Davis conducting.

Best British Concerto:

Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Tuba
Concerto are the Best British Concerto - The Elgar Cello concerto
really speaks for itself. Written in 1919, it was one of Elgar's last
pieces. Initially, it had been poorly received. It was only after some
time that it became a popular work, receiving much attention. It is
now a standard cello concerto and even part of orchestral repertoire.
Like Vaughan Williams' Fifth, it too was inspired by a world war, this
one instead being WWI - the "Great War."
A famous recording - Jacqueline Du Pre, under the baton of Daniel
Barenboim. London Philharmonic.

- Ralph Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto is a good partner to the Elgar
Cello Concerto. It too was written towards the end of the composer's
life and was not received well at it's premiere. Composed in 1954,
the piece was written for the principal tuba player of the London
Symphony Orchestra, Philip Catelinet. The composition is relatively
short for a three-movement concerto, lasting barely thirteen minutes.
Although it's orchestration initially confused the public, it is now
one of a few standard tuba concertos.
Patrick Harrild on tuba, and the London Symphony Orchestra under the
direction of Bryden Thomson.

Best British Song:

The classic Greensleeves wins by a mile! Most likely England's most
popular folk song, references to it's existence date back as far as
the late sixteenth century. Although the text and music have been
attributed to King Henry VIII, it is not proven that he is the actual
composer. Throughout the centuries, it has been arranged and
transcribed for almost every conceivable instrumentation. The tune is
even a famous Christmas carol, "What Child is this?"
Since Ralph Vaughan Williams features prominently in this blog, I will
share his famous orchestral arrangement of the tune - "Fantasia on
Greensleeves." Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

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Summer Playlist


Our Summer Classical Music Playlist

In light of our theme this week, The Four Seasons, we wanted to make a short playlist of some of our favorite summer music. Follow the links to hear the pieces and comment with your suggestions!

1. The movement "June," from a large, 12-movement work for piano entitled "The Seasons" is the most tender and sentimental of the bunch. Written in 1876, it was commissioned by the famous publisher, Nikolay Bernard, who also selected a Russian poem for each month/movement.
The poem for "June" reads:
"Out on the beach the waves
Will lick our feet.
High up in the skies the stars
Will shine mysteriously on us."
- Alexei Koltsov

In 1942, the Russian composer and conductor Alexander Gauk made a beautiful orchestral arrangement of "June" (both are attached below).

2. "Der Sommer" is one of four large sections in Haydn's Oratorio "Jahrezeiten" ("The Seasons"). The piece was written between 1799-1800. Haydn uses orchestral tone and color to depict certain pastoral scenes (As Bill states in the 'Four Seasons' episode), suchas an oboe to represent the morning rooster, or an ascending scale to represent a sunrise.

3. "Am leuchtenden Sommer Morgen" is an art song from RobertSchumann's most famous song cycle "Dichterliebe." The text is taken from a book of poems by Heinrich Heine, entitled "Lyrisches Intermezzo". The sixty-six poems tell the story of a woeful knight, who has lost his lover. Schumann chose sixteen of them to tell his version of the story, and no. 45 is the poem for this song. The text
is as follows:

"On a sunny summer morning I went out into the garden: the flowers
were talking and whispering, but I was silent. They looked at me with
pity, and said, 'Don't be cruel to our sister, you sad, death-pale
-Suggested by Exploring Music Social Media Coordinator: Sophia Feddersen.

4. This song is a perfect choice to cool down with. Known for its smooth texture and iconic text, the aria "Summertime" from George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" is the most appropriate choice for this list.

Jascha Heifetz also has a wonderful arrangement for violin and piano, that really depicts the 'laziness' of the song. We have
added both, so you can really hear the inimitable style and élan of Heifetz, as well as the 'Summertime' text in the original.
Suggested by Exploring Music producer Jesse McQuarters.

5. In the middle of your playlist, is music for the middle of the summer! The overture to Overture to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn wrote this impressive piece at the astonishingly young age of 16. He grew up watching and reenacting Shakespeare plays with his siblings, and was deeply inspired by this for his overture. Almost 20 years later, Mendelssohn composed incidental music for a local production of the play, to which he included his overture.

6. "Vltava" (better known by it's German title "Die Moldau"), is a symphonic tone poem by Bedrich Smetana. It is from a collection of six tone poems known as "Má vlast" ("My Motherland"). This is by far the most famous piece of the collection, and is usually programmed independently. 'Vltava' is one of Europe's longest rivers, stretching from just outside Germany all the way to Prague. Smetana brilliantly evokes the feeling of a flowing river, and the warmth of the famous melody feels like a summer wind. The melody, in fact, was based off an ancient folk tune, and eventually became the Israeli national anthem.

7. Brahms started composing his first Violin Sonata in the summer of 1878. He resumed work and completed it a year later, in the summer of 1879. The sonata is sometimes called the 'Regen-Sonate' ('Rain Sonata'), because the musical material that holds the piece together is based off of two previously written art songs by Brahms - "Nachklang" and "Regenlied" ("Tears/Echo" and "Rain song,"
respectively). Throughout the piece, you can hear the gorgeous sound of summer rain in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, where this piece was written.

Suggested by Exploring Music producer Cydne Gillard.

8. The opening of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings is one of the most engaging and luscious in musical history. The thick chords and the key of C major brings to mind none other than a bright sunny day, flying like a bird through a clear blue sky. It was written in 1880, and remains high in the ranking of standard repertoire for string orchestra.

9. The most edgy piece on your playlist (which is also in our 'Four Seasons' episode), is Ástor Piazzolla's "Verano Porteño" ("Buenos Aires Summer") from "Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas" ("The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires"). Written in 1965, this piece is a sweltering dance on the shores of Buenos Aires! One of the most striking moments of the piece, as Bill points out, is a quotation from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." We would expect an excerpt from the "Summer" concerto, but he in fact quotes the "Winter"

10. The final piece on this summer list is the only piece written by a living composer. "The End of Summer" is a chamber piece written in 1985 by the American composer Ned Rorem. The "Fantasy" movement is the middle movement of this work, and it is poignant and introspective. The conversation among the clarinet, violin, and piano seems to portray memories - reminiscing on times long ago. Fitting for the end of the summer.

Thanks to our intern, Micheal Rosin, for help compiling this list!
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5 Fun Sites about J.S. Bach

Bach Sleeps In On Sundays


Five Fun Sites about J.S. Bach

This week Exploring Music is all about Johann Sebastian Bach and his tenure with Prince Leopold. We found five different websites that celebrate the great composer. Leave us a comment if you find any interesting tidbits, or if you have a favorite site dedicated to Bach.

BringBachtoWeimar5. Bring Bach to Weimar

Did you know that Bach's old basement was paved over, but many of the rooms still exist? Those rooms have been placed under heritage protection, but are closed off to the public and above them is a parking lot. If you want to help the citizens of Weimar convert this parking lot into a Bach House, sign their petition or leave a message of support.



4. The Practical and Personal of Bach


If you’re looking for more detailed information on Bach, this article delves into his personal letters and documents to get a better understanding of the composer’s life. This is a dense academic paper but its depth is perfect for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of Bach.

3. Bach's Life in Pictures


This straight forward website uses photos and paintings to lead the way through Bach’s life and history. The site provides a brief overview of Bach's life and the pictures provide an interesting backdrop.


 2. A Delightful First-Person Blog of Bach's Life

bachandsonsThis imaginative blog takes on the perspective of different people in Bach’s life in order to paint a picture of the composer’s life. Beginning with Bach’s mother Elisabeth Bach at the time of her son’s birth, the posts include history, anecdotes and pictures.


1. Free Books Available To Read Via Google Books

googlebooksWe decided to poke around Google Books and see what we could find. We searched “Bach Brandenburg” and came up with more than 200,000 results! Play around with Google Books and see what you discover about J.S. Bach.

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Help us find more Hidden Gold!


This week on Exploring Music we're going on an adventure in search of the best works you've never heard. With the help of the WFMT staff, we've found a veritable collection of lost masterpieces including works by Rochberg, Haydn, Piston, Thompson and more! However, we know that there's plenty more musical plunder to be had, and we want your help in finding it. Leave a comment on this page with your favorite "lost masterpiece", and the next time we make a "Hidden Gold" episode your suggestion might be featured!
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Camille Saint-Saëns In His Own Words

If you've been listening to Exploring Music this week, you may have noticed that we've been featuring a French composer named Camille Saint-Saëns. Now Saint-Saëns wrote a lot of absolutely fantastic music, and you probably knew some of it before you even heard our program. (Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre, Samson et Dalila.) But what you probably didn't know is that Saint-Saëns was more than just a composer. He was a writer and a darn good one.

His memoir, Musical Memories, is full of sentences like this: "Oceans of ink have been spilled in discussing the question of whether the subjects of operas should be taken from history or mythology, and the question is still a mooted one." But beneath his clever turns of phrases is a first hand account of music and non musical history spanning from just after Beethoven's death to the 1920s. Think of it. Camille Saint-Saens lived long enough that he knew both Rossini and Stravinsky, experienced Napoleon and World War I, the hey-day of Opera and the beginning of movie music.

You can read his whole memoir for free here, but if you don't have time, we submit our top five favorite snippets for your approval.Rossini1

5. Saint-Saëns on Rossini

To Saint-Saëns Rossini was a dying god, only half-content to be worshipped for his past accomplishments and very much aware that his reign had ended. Yet even in his latter days Rossini remained focused on the future of music, and comitted to helping new composers grow. Saint-Saëns was one of them. He writes,

He [Rossini] said to me one day,

“You have written a duet for a flute and clarinet for Dorus and Leroy. Won’t you ask them to play it at one of my evenings?”

The two great artists did not have to be urged. Then an unheard of thing happened. As he never had a written programme on such occasions, Rossini managed so that they believed that the duet was his own. It is easy to imagine the success of the piece under these conditions. When the encore was over, Rossini took me to the dining-room and made me sit near him, holding me by the hand so that I could not get away. A procession of fawning admirers passed in front of him. Ah! Master! What a masterpiece! Marvellous!

And when the victim had exhausted the resources of the language in praise, Rossini replied, quietly:

“I agree with you. But the duet wasn’t mine; it was written by this gentleman.”

Such kindness combined with such ingenuity tells more about the great man than many volumes of commentaries. For Rossini was a great man. The young people of to-day are in no position to judge his works, which were written, as he said himself, for singers and a public who no longer exist."


4. Saint-Saëns On Royalty

Saint-Saëns didn't just fraternize with musical royalty, but with actual heads of state. Often they were of the fairer sex and many of Saint-Saëns anecdotes paint him as a sort of queen-whisperer. A cynic might wonder how many of these tales are embellished, but that doesn't make them any less entertaining. As Camille-Saëns said himself, "History is made up of what probably happened; mythology of what probably did not happen. There are myths in history and history in myth."On Queen Christine of Spain:

Queen Christine expressed a desire to hear me play the organ, and they chose for this an excellent instrument made by Cavaillé-Coll in a church whose name I have forgotten. [..] Some great ladies lectured the indiscreet queen for daring to resort to a sacred place for any purpose besides taking part in divine services. The queen [...] responded by coming to the church not only not incognito, but in great state. [...] I was a little flustered when she asked me to play the too familiar melody from Samson et Dalila which begins Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix. [..] During the performance the Queen leaned her elbow on the keyboard of the organ, her chin resting on one hand and her eyes upturned. She seemed rapt in exstasy which, as may be imagined, was not precisely displeasing to the author.


3. Saint-Saëns on Victor Hugo

Saint-Saëns idolized Victor Hugo, but that didn't stop him from recognizing when his hero had some odd ideas.

"He believed in the most incredible things, as the “Man in the Iron Mask,” the twin brother of Louis XIV; in the octopus that has no mouth and feeds itself through its arms; and in the reality of the Japanese sirens which the Japanese were said to make out of an ape and a fish. He had some excuse for the sirens as the Académie des Sciences believed in them for a short time. "

2. Saint-Saëns on A-Tonality

Despite bearing witness to more modern music, Saint-Saëns was no fan. He held Debussy in disdain and after hearing the Rite of Spring, questioned Stravinsky's sanity. Here's what he had to say about the post-Wagner musical breakdown.

He did not foresee the a-tonic system, but that is what we have come to. There is no longer any question of adding to the old rules new principles which are the natural expression of time and experience, but simply of casting aside all rules and every restraint.

“Everyone ought to make his own rules. Music is free and unlimited in its liberty of expression. There are no perfect chords, dissonant chords or false chords. All aggregations of notes are legitimate.”

That is called, and they believe it, the development of taste.

He whose taste is developed by this system is not like the man who by tasting a wine can tell you its age and its vineyard, but he is rather like the fellow who with perfect indifference gulps down good or bad wine, brandy or whiskey, and prefers that which burns his gullet the most.


1. Saint-Saëns on the Bassoon

It is not entirely fair to say that Saint-Saëns detested the Rite of Spring for its tonality alone. A large part of his loathing stemmed from Stravinsky's extreme use of the Bassoon. In fact Saint-Saëns had his own small vendetta against the instrument, as if writing too exciting a bassoon part was some vice, like eating too much chocolate or drinking before noon.

"I need not speak of his [Meyerbeer] immoderate love for the bassoon, an admirable instrument, but one which it is hardly prudent to abuse."

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Our Top 5 Musical Families

This week we've been listening to musical families, and boy are there a lot. Most of our focus has remained on musical performers, but even the beginning student of Music History knows that there are plenty of families of composers as well.  Here are some of our favorites. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below.


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Top 5 Composers Who Couldn’t Finish What They Started


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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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Tell us about your favorite Exploring Music program & what you’d like to hear in the future

about_bill_mcglaughlin_hdAs we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Exploring Music and the launch of this new streaming website we're eager to hear about:

1) Your favorite Exploring Music program or moment.

2) What topics you'd like to see Bill cover in the future.

Click POST A COMMENT below.

Also, please note that in the near future we'll be adding a feature allowing listeners to comment on specific programs on the Player Page for each 5 hour 'week.' So you can also share your thoughts there and read insights from others listeners.
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Welcome to the Exploring Music Discussion Page – Give us your general feedback on the site!

Welcome to the Exploring Music streaming website. This site allows you to listen to the more than 850+ hours of programs that we've created over the past ten years (please note: some programs are still being added, so if something you're looking for isn't here yet, check back soon).

One thing that we're looking for now is your feedback!

As you use the site, please share your comments. We want to hear what you like and also what you think we should add or improve. Please post your comments below.
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The Exploring Music streaming website is made possible by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and Susan & Richard Kiphart.

Thanks to Oxford Music Online, the home of Grove® Music Online and the access point for other Oxford online music reference subscriptions.

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
Newsletters Thank You!