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Chocolate and Flowers: Ether Game Playlist

We celebrate Valentine's Day this week on Ether Game. What is more romantic than music trivia?? Browse nine musical kisses below. 

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64: Dance of the Knights Prokofiev’s ballet adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was written at the suggestion of Sergey Radlov, who had staged Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges ten years earlier in Leningrad. Prokofiev spent a productive summer in 1935 working on the piano score before he began workshopping the ballet with the dancers of the Bolshoy Theatre. However the dancers balked at the ending, which Prokofiev had changed so that everyone lives, thinking that the narrative drama of the original Shakespearian conclusion with the tragic lovers’ double deaths was impossible to show in a ballet. At any rate, Prokofiev eventually relented, and the ballet was performed in Brno with the original tragic ending, but not before the music had already been featured separately in an earlier concert. For this concert, Prokofiev extracted selections to make two orchestral suites, the first suite featuring “The Knight’s Dance”, which has become one of the composer’s most well-known melodies.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Liebestraume No. 3 in A-flat Franz Liszt’s three Liebesträume, or “Dreams Of Love,” are perfect examples of the elegant romanticism the composer was capable of evoking within his lovely melodies and complex piano textures. These three dreamy piano showcases were actually piano transcriptions of songs he had written a few years earlier. Each of the three songs were about a different kind of love: religious love, lust, and unconditional love. This third Liebestraum, in A-flat major, has become the most famous of the set. It was even a favorite piece of Margo Channing, the aging actress at the center of the 1950 film drama All About Eve. In the film, Margo (played by Bette Davis), after having a few too many martinis, sits beside the piano player and asks him to play “Liebestraum.” The pianist indulges Margo’s request, despite having already played her favorite piece four times in a row.

George Gershwin (1898-1937) Porgy and Bess: Act II: I Loves You Porgy The idea of composing an opera based on DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy about life among the black inhabitants of ‘Catfish Row’ in Charleston, South Carolina, first occurred to Gershwin in 1926. After many delays, Heyward and the Gershwin brothers signed a contract in October 1933 with the Theatre Guild in New York, and the collaboration was under way. While Gershwin composed the score in 1934, he stayed in South Carolina absorbing local flavor. By early 1935, the composition was finished. Billed somewhat inaccurately as ‘an American folk opera’, Porgy and Bess opened in New York in October 1935 in a Broadway theater. It ran for 124 performances, not even enough to recover the original investment. While the story of poverty, tragedy and love in Porgy and Bess echoes through many libretti, the depictions of race in the opera have been controversial. During the civil rights movement, the opera was decried by some as regressive. More recently, it has gained a new appreciation in the opera community, with regular performances at the Met since 2019.  

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) The Fairy's Kiss: Divertimento Stravinsky was known for borrowing music of the distant past, but the music for his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss comes from the more recent past. It began as a commission from dancer Ida Rubinstein, who wanted to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the death of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, another great Russian ballet composer. Stravinsky took songs and piano pieces by Tchaikovsky and rearranged them for the ballet’s music. The story of The Fairy’s Kiss comes from the fairy tale The Ice Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen about a doomed mortal cursed by a fairy’s kiss (romantic, right?). Stravinsky ended up getting a lot of legs out of this music. Years later, he rearranged the tunes into a suite titled Divertimento (which we just heard). And years after that, choreographer George Balanchine took that suite, and turned it into a completely different ballet!

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) L'elisir d'amore: Act II, Una furtiva lagrima Love potions have popped up throughout the centuries both in literature and on stage. In Donizetti’s comic opera The Elixir of Love, a traveling quack of a doctor named Dulcamara comes to a small Sicilian town and claims to have the recipe for the legendary love potion of Tristan And Isolde. He even has little bottles of it up for sale! The loveable but simple-minded hero Nemorino, desperate to get the girl of his dreams, falls for this doctor’s antics and buys a bottle of the magical concoction. Truth is, though, this “potion” is nothing more than old Bordeaux wine. Various mix-ups and hijinks ensue until Nemorino finally gets the girl and the Doctor Dulcamara leaves town as a rich man from his sales of “The Elixir of Love.”

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) Les Indes Galantes: Overture Almost ten years into his career as a conductor of one of the finest private orchestras in Paris, Rameau split the musical tastes of the French aristocracy over his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes or “The Amorous Indes.” One of his most eclectic works, it features four familiar love stories set in what 18th-century France would have considered exotic and far-flung places. Through the opera, the audience travels the world: from an island in the Indian ocean to a Persian flower garden, and from there to the Inca civilization in Peru. The opera concludes in the French colonies of North America, in what would now be Louisiana. While many were impressed by Rameau's new and elaborate use of harmony, others remained loyal to his recently deceased predecessor. Jean Baptiste Lully. Two camps emerged, the “Lullyists” who criticized Rameau's harmonies as discordant as distracting to the stage drama, and the “Rameauneurs,” who applauded his innovations as a pinnacle of French musical style.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) Dance Ghazal, Op. 37a The ghazal is a 7th century poetic form which flourished in Arabic, Persian and Turkish literary culture. The dual meanings of the Arabic word “ghazal” help define the themes of the poetry. Literally translating as “the talk of boys and girls” signifies that ghazals are always professions of love, usually erotic love, but can also pertain to divine and mystic love. However the second meaning of ghazal refers to the cry of a captured gazelle when it knows it is going to die, so these love poems are always imbued with sadness and longing, or the desire for the end of separation. In the 18th century, ghazals for singing became a key feature of intimate musical gatherings, and like so many poetic forms, became a musical form in its own right. They were introduced to the west by Romantic poets such as Goethe, who wrote several ghazals in German.

Tobias Hume (c. 1569-1645) Love's Galliard In Shakespearean England, the most popular instrument was probably the lute. Captain Tobias Hume, however, bucked the trend. Originally from Scotland, Hume’s 1605 publication “Captain Hume’s Musical Humors”—a play on his own name—was the first collection of music for solo viol. And by the end of the century, the viol became one of the most popular solo instruments. Captain Hume was a peculiar man. His skill on the viol was equally matched by his skill on the battlefield. He was a professional soldier, a mercenary in fact, who claimed to kill thousands of men in foreign wars. His pieces range from the sacred to the profane to the romantic, with titles like “The Passion of Musik” on one hand,  and “Tobacco is like Love” on the other. We just heard some of his dance music performed “Lyra-ways,” a specific way of tuning the bass viol to be able to play chords and melody at the same time. 

Faith Hill The Way You Love Me Audrey Faith Perry McGraw, known professionally as Faith Hill, began her country music career in Nashville working as a receptionist, demo singer and backup singer until she was discovered by Warner Brothers in 1992, who signed her on to release her debut album a year later. The album was a success, and her follow-up album It Matters to Me was a massive success, becoming certified quadruple-platinum in 1995. Next year she married country music star Tim McGraw, and their collaborative duets would become fixtures of early 2000’s country pop. “The Way You Love Me” was released as the second single on Hill’s fourth studio album and, aside from reaching no. 6 in Billboards Hot 100, also charted in the UK, Hungary and Spain.

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