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Noon Edition

Summer Breeze

Summer breeze makes me feel fine!

Well it's finally summer. So, this week on the show, the Ether Game Brain Trust is saluting sunscreen, hotdogs, and beach vacations by looking at some summer-themed music in a show we're calling "Summer Breeze."Â Check out our summery playlist below:

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  • Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), Concerto in G Minor, "Summer" (from Four Seasons) – The finale to Antonio Vivaldi's "Summer," one of the famous set of concertos known as the Four Season, represents an all-too familiar summer thunderstorm. The entire concerto is based on a sonnet that Vivaldi himself wrote, with this final movement corresponding to the lines "The Heavens thunder and roar and with hail / Cut the head off the wheat and damages the grain." Terrifying natural phenomena seem to be a bit of a thing for Vivaldi. Historians uncovered that on the day Vivaldi was born in Venice, an earthquake shook the city. This may be why the midwife performed an emergency baptism right after Antonio was born, instead of waiting a few months as is custom. Whatever the reason for this emergency baptism, an earthquake is a certainly a dramatic way to make an entrance.


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  • Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture – Mendelssohn's first major success, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, became so popular that the young Mendelssohn supported himself for a while just by conducting the work in concerts throughout Europe. Amazingly, the overture was written when he was only 17 years old, in a version for piano 4-hands. In 1842, sixteen years after he wrote the overture, Mendelssohn was appointed as general music director by the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The King must have liked the overture that we just heard, because the first task he gave to his new music director was to compose a set of incidental music to the entire Shakespearean play A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mendelssohn set to work and quickly turned out a set of twelve new musical numbers including the well-known "Wedding March," which you've probably heard at a summer wedding or two.


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  • Samuel Barber (1910–1981), Knoxville: Summer Of 1915 – Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 has become one of his most enduringly popular works. Upon receiving the commission for this work, Barber was instantly attracted to poet James Agee's recollection of a fading past in Knoxville, Tennessee. Despite the specific location of the text, Agee's prose captured a universal nostalgic feeling. Barber, for instance, felt it perfectly captured his own memories of growing up not in Tennessee but rather in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The work was commissioned and premiered in 1947 by soprano Eleanor Steber, who was also taken by Agee's nostalgic text, remarking to Barber's biographer Barbara Hayman: "That was exactly my childhood!" Steber, however, grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia.


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  • Anton Webern (1883–1945), Im Sommerwind – If you're at all familiar with the work of Anton Webern, you likely will not recognize this as a piece by him. Webern was a member of the so-called Second Viennese School, and the most angular, pointillistic, and atonal of that lot. But Im Sommerwind (or "In the Summer Wind"), an "Idyll for Orchestra" is downright tonal, and brims with the lightness of something by, say Tchaikovsky. It was written in 1904, when the composer was still a young lad, and was inspired by his summers spent at the Webern family estate in southern Austria. Before Webern became a proponent of the forward-thinking, atonal teachings of Arnold Schoenberg, he studied closely the music of other more traditional composers. For instance, when Webern was a student at Vienna University, he wrote a musicological thesis on a work by the 15th-century Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer Heinrich Isaac.


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  • Hector Berlioz (1803–1869), Les Nuits D'Été – Berlioz composed over 50 songs during his career, but only six of them are collected into a set, this set of songs called "Summer Nights." It's not entirely sure why Berlioz chose that title. For one, they don't have much to do with summer; the only seasonal reference in the entire set is in one song, and that's to spring, not summer. Many of the songs have to do with death or loss of innocence, not your typical summertime themes. Also, all the songs, despite being individually beautiful, don't function all that well as a cycle. When Berlioz orchestrated these works years later, he even intended them to each be sung by different voices. The one thing that does definitively tie them together is the poet. Berlioz was personal friends with poet Théophile Gautier, from whose collection La comédie de la mort these poems were drawn.


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  • Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953), Summer Day Suite and Summer Night Suite– Sergei Prokofiev wrote more than one work about summer. In 1941, he wrote a suite called Summer Day and 1950, he wrote a suite called Summer Night. Surprisingly, the Summer Day Suite and the Summer Night Suite have little to do with one another. The only thing they have in common are the fact that they are both light in character, and were both based on earlier works. Summer Day is an orchestral suite that derives from an earlier piano work called Music For Children, a work he wrote because of a directive from the Soviet government to write more accessible music. The Summer Night Suite, however, is based on a earlier comic opera that Prokofiev wrote in 1940 called Betrothal In A Monastery. It took Prokofiev ten years to assemble the orchestral suite of the opera's themes. The result, the Summer Night Suite was much lighter in tone than the biting satire of the original opera.


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  • Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Pastorale D'Été – Pastorale D'Été (or "Pastoral Summer") was an early orchestral work from composer Arthur Honegger. He wrote it in 1920 when he was 28 years old and a few years out of the Paris Conservatoire. Inspired by a summer spent in the Swiss Alps, Pastorale D'Été is atmospheric and dreamy, almost like it could be a sequel to Debussy's Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun. Honegger inscribed a quote by famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud on the score that read "J'ai embrassé l'aube d'été" (I have embraced the summer dawn). The work was lovely, but did not bring him any acclaim. That would come a year later when Honegger premiered his choral work Le Roi David or "King David." The success of this work would later lead to his nickname "Le Roi Arthur," or in English, "King Arthur."


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  • William Grant Still (1895–1978), Summerland – William Grant Still was an American composer and arranger who spent much of his life breaking down the glass ceiling that confined African-American classical musicians during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Mississippi, just five years before the turn of the century, his achievements were great and varied. He was the first black American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, the first to conduct a white radio orchestra, the first to have an opera performed on national television, and the first to have one of his own symphonies performed by a major orchestra. He was also an adept instrumentalist who, in addition to having formally studied the violin and the piano, taught himself to play the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello, and viola. His work "Summerland" was originally written for piano, but later arranged by Still for various ensembles, including string quartet and orchestra.


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  • Mungo Jerry, "In The Summertime" – The 1970s British rock band Mungo Jerry actually got their name from one of the cats ("Mungojerrie") from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (yes, the same book that inspired the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats). Their song "In The Summertime" is the perfect carefree summer anthem. It has a fun jug-band groove, it's light and breezy, and it's incredibly catchy-which is amazing because it took the lead singer Ray Dorset only about 10 minutes to write. It's also, somewhat surprisingly, one of the biggest selling singles of all time. That's right, Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime" is one of the only 40 or so singles (prior to the digital age) that have been given the Diamond certification, selling over 10 million copies. Just to put this into perspective, "In The Summertime" sold more copies than any single song by Queen, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and (with the exception of "I Want To Hold Your Hand") The Beatles.


Music Heard On This Episode

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