Don's Weekly Listen
Each generation projects its own musical tastes onto the past. Our own era’s bias (when we are not busying ourselves canonizing Florence Price), tends toward the grand and the solemn. While a hundred years ago, orchestra concerts frequently programmed five or six selections in a single concert, with comic overtures of Rossini or Suppé alongside Beethoven or Brahms, nowadays it’s far more common to see programs consisting entirely of one “big” work—let’s say, Mahler’s Third Symphony. 90 minutes; 6 movements; no intermission; tons of Nietzsche; no smiling allowed. Meanwhile, stalwarts of the middle-brow, from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld to Smetana’s Bartered Bride, have increasingly found themselves submerged beneath the rising tide of Mahler cycles.
As a corrective to our ongoing loss of the middle-brow, I will be devoting one Weekly Listen per month from now until the end of the summer to middle-brow classics. My goals are twofold: to highlight the contributions of the middle-brow to all concert music—serious and light—and to get audiences smiling again.
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