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Cue Sheet – December 2011

THE GERMAN ROMANTIC SYMPHONY 101

Through January, Classical 90.5 will explore German Romantic symphonies. Every morning between 10 and 11 (except New Year's Day, when we actually launch the series around 11:30), we'll be working our way through the most popular compositions that define the very notion of "symphony"--at least as defined in Germany and Austria.

We'll begin with Ludwig van Beethoven, highlighting one of his symphonies per day Jan. 1 through 9. We'll hear how Beethoven inherited the elegant, Classical symphonic form from Mozart and Haydn and gradually transformed it into something more personal and dramatic. Then, starting Jan. 10, we'll work through the eight canonical symphonies of Franz Schubert (they're numbered through 9, but there's a hole in his catalog where No. 7 should be). Again, this is the work of a pioneer in the Romantic style, building on the Mozart and Haydn models until he takes full possession of the form with the intense lyricism of his "Unfinished" Symphony and nearly bursts from the symphonic seams with his big, irrepressible Ninth.

On Jan. 18, we turn to Robert Schumann, whose four symphonies begin to blur the line between symphony and symphonic poem--particularly with No. 3, a musical voyage along the Rhine River. Then, Jan. 22 through 25 will be devoted to Schumann's good friend Johannes Brahms, whose four symphonies prove that purely abstract forms are capable of high drama.

New attitudes toward just what a symphony should be emerge as we hear the five symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn Jan. 26 through 30. Three of them are homages to specific times or places--the German Reformation, Scotland, Italy--and No. 2, inspired by Beethoven's monumental Ninth, is nothing less than a huge cantata in praise of the printing press and the first printed Bible. We'll wrap things up Jan. 31 with a work that completely erases the distinction between the symphony and the symphonic poem, the "Faust" Symphony by Franz Liszt, the leader of what was, by Romantic standards, the avant-garde in the middle of the 19th century.

One German Romantic symphony will be played each January morning between 10 and 11 (between 11 and noon on Jan. 1, shortly following our New Year's Day in Vienna broadcast).

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GUSTAV LEONHARDT RETIRES

Gustav Leonhardt, essentially the first musician to spur interest in historically informed performance of harpsichord music among hundreds of thousands of ordinary record buyers in the 1960s, has played his final concert at age 83.

Leonhardt was not the first artist to make notable harpsichord recordings, but he was the first specialist in Baroque style to have a broad phonographic impact. Wanda Landowska's recordings in the 1940s and '50s were popular, but still very much of the Romantic school. Ralph Kirkpatrick and Fernando Valenti made little splashes with their Scarlatti records, and other musicians, such as Karl Richter, did have a harpsichord presence on LP, but it was the discographically prolific Leonhardt whose sober, scholarly, but rarely dry performances were imprinted on the generation of classical record collectors active in the 1960s. His was not the only way to perform Baroque music; indeed, one might count Igor Kipnis, with his wry showmanship and florid approach to ornamentation, as the progenitor of such later harpsichordists as Scott Ross and almost anyone from a Mediterranean country. But Leonhardt's way influenced later harpsichordists from England (notably Trevor Pinnock), the Netherlands and Germany.

He hasn't recorded in years, yet he has continued to perform from time to time. But after a recent, draining recital in France, at which he looked thin and frail and apparently barely had the stamina to make it through an encore, Leonhardt abruptly decided that it was time to retire, and canceled all his future concerts. It's sad to see him go, but thanks to his work, there will be no shortage of fine harpsichordists to take his place on disc and on the concert stage.

If you can read French, or persuade your browser to come up with an adequate translation, you can learn about his decision here.

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About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.