Claude Debussy at 150: We take his musical revolution for granted

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, one of Western music’s revolutionaries.

As with the varying styles of Impressionist paintings, the long view represents something defined, but the closer you get, the more his compositions start to fall apart into the individual components that our minds work imperceptibly to piece together into meaningful shapes.

The long view is so sleek and seductive that listeners long ago began taking Debussy’s art for granted.

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Listening: Happy 137th birthday to Maurice Ravel

French composer Maurice Ravel was born on this day in 1875. To mark the occasion, here are three absorbing samples of his work:

  • French choir Accentus (we meet music director Laurence Equilbey at the start) performing the Pavane of Sleeping Beauty, from the Mother Goose suite:
  • The great Géard Souzay sings Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, the last three songs Ravel wrote. If his interpretation seems a bit understated, close your eyes and listen again:
  • Angela Hewitt playing Le Tombeau de Couperin at Koerner Hall, courtesy of the CBC:

John Terauds

Video: Happy 220th birthday to Gioachino Rossini, champion of Freedom 37

Of course he’s famous for his operas, but Gioachino Rossini retired from that hurlyburly after writing 29 of them, at age 37. he spent the rest of his 76 years having, among other things, fun with other musical forms.

So, to help wish him a happy 22o, here are three of my favourite bits of later Rossiniana. As you can hear, the man took himself out of opera, but no one could take opera out of the man: Continue reading

Video: Happy 327th for George Frideric Handel

327 is a strange anniversary year. So, to mark the birth of George Frideric Handel on this day in 1685, I thought I’d choose something strange — and neat: a brace of flautists performing a Handel Passacaglia:


Philip Glass celebrates 75th birthday with release of classically structured 9th Symphony

American composer Philip Glass turns 75 today, marking the milestone with the release of his Symphony No. 9.

His Year of Fabulous Celebrations has already started in New York City, and it will grow to include Toronto with the Canadian premiere of his five-hour-something-that’s-almost-an-opera, Einstein on the Beach, at the Luminato festival in June. Continue reading

Listen: Ireland’s master pianist John O’Conor turns 65

Pianist John O’Conor is almost a national treasure in Ireland, but known by a relatively small circle of connoisseurs here. I was sad that I was away for his masterclasses at the Royal Conservatory of Music last week, and his solo recital last Sunday.

A sensitive, elegant performer, Beethoven master and champion of the music of John Field, his understatement masks a profound artistry. Continue reading