Category Archives: my favorite music

Heinrich Schütz, “Weihnachtshistorie” (Christmas Story)





The Christmas Story (Weihnachtshistorie) is a musical setting of the Nativity in German by Heinrich Schütz, probably first performed in 1660 in Dresden. It was published as Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi (History of the birth of Jesus Christ).

The Christmas Story is a Historia, a setting of the Gospel intended to be performed during a service instead of the Gospel reading. The original title read: Historia der freuden und gnadenreichen Geburt Gottes und Marien Sohnes Jesu Christi (History of the joyful and blessed birth of Jesus Christ, son of God and Mary). The music was probably first performed in a Christmas service at the court chapel of Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony, in Dresden in 1660. Schütz mentions the elector in the long title: “wie dieselbe auf Anordnung Johann Georgs des Anderen vocaliter und instrumentaliter in die Musik versetzet ist durch Heinrich Schütz” (as set to the music for voices and instruments on an order by the other Johann Georg).

The text is almost exclusively taken from the Bible in the translation by Martin Luther, quoting both Luke and Matthew, framed by a choral Introduction and Beschluss (Conclusion). The biblical narration is based on Luke 2:1–21 and Matthew 2:1–23. The text of the conclusion is a translation of the Christmas sequence “Grates nunc omnes” by Johann Spangenberg (1545). The narrator is the Evangelist. Other characters appear in eight sections termed Intermedium (interlude): the angel to the shepherds, the hosts of angels, the shepherds, the wise men, priests and scribes, Herod, an angel to Joseph (twice).


— Wikipedia






I have always loved this magnificent choral work, which induced me to commence a familiarity with and appreciation of the works of Schütz. I love this particular performance, which was on an LP which I obtained in the past.



— Roger W. Smith

   December 23, 2019

Beethoven’s symphonies, transcribed for piano



Have you ever head Franz Liszt’s transcriptions for piano of Beethoven’s symphonies? They are considered (according to a Wikipedia entry) to be “among the most technically demanding piano music ever written.”

Anyway, from the point of view of a listener, I agree fully with what New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini says (“Beethoven, Now and Forever,” New York Times, March 1, 1996): “… I can’t stop listening to recordings of the Beethoven symphonies as transcribed for piano by Liszt. These are not pianistic stunts but serious, amazingly detailed reconsiderations; and without the orchestrations you hear every detail.”

Here are a couple of samples.
— Roger W. Smith

   October 2019









Philip Glass, String Quartet No. 4 (“Buczak,” last movement)




I purchased a recording of Philip Glass’s quartets by the Kronos Quartet around 25 years ago. Listen to the third and final movement of his fourth quartet — performed on YouTube by the Kronos Quartet — if you feel like it. I find it incredibly stirring. (I can’t avoid hyperbole.) The performance does the work justice.

Glass’s String Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by Geoffrey Hendricks in remembrance of the artist Brian Buczak, who succumbed to AIDS in 1987 at the age of 33. It was premiered at a memorial service on the second anniversary of the artist’s death on July 4, 1989 at the Hauser Gallery in New York City.  (

On a personal note, I remember that terrible time when the AIDS scourge was just that — scary, horrifying — as one could not be unaware in New York City.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

Handel, “Alexander’s Feast” (Handel, the composer)






































“Great composer for his time and parts of the oratorios are moving (to me), but overall doesn’t impress me.”


— email re Handel from an acquaintance with informed opinions about and an abiding interest in and knowledge of music







Posted here above (two acts) is George Frideric Handel’s Alexander’s Feast (1736). It is described as “an ode with music.” The title page of the original score read:






Power of Musick.

An Ode.

Wrote in Honour of S. Cecilia


Set to Musick by

Mr. Handel.



The libretto was by Newburgh Hamilton, who was also the librettist for Handel’s great oratorio Samson.


See my posts on Samson at



Hamilton adapted the is libretto from John Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music (1697), which had been written to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day.

Why do so many people seem to know Handel only from a few works, such as Messiah and the Water Music? I have listened to works such as Alexander’s Feast with pleasure, indeed delight, over and over again. The same for the following Handel works that I can’t hear enough (in no particular order): Samson, Sosarme; Serse; Semele (which I heard performed live last year, inducing me to listen to it many times afterwards, and appreciate it anew); Israel in Egypt; Hercules; Orlando; Judas Maccabeus; L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato; Esther; Acis and Galatea; the Anthem for the Foundling Hospital; and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne.

Handel wrote some of the best arias ever. Listen, for example, to track 16, “Softly, sweet, in Lydian Measures,” from Act One. And track 11 from the same act: “He chose a mournful muse.”

Track 12 from Act One, “He sung Darius, great and good.” The plaintive strings beautifully framing a soprano voice. Such pathos.

Or track 6, “The List’ning Crowd,” from Act One, where Handel — as he so often does — ravishes the listener with a feeling of rapture. And with a chorus such as “Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure, / Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure” (track 9 from Act One), we see how Handel can write music that is at once magnificent and that reflects human experience and feelings.

Why isn’t this music — the oratorios and a whole lot more — more often heard and better known? Not just by Handelians.

This outstanding performance is by the Deller Consort.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019











An Ode

Words by Newburgh Hamilton






1. Overture

2. Recitative

‘Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won
By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state
The god-like hero sate
On his imperial throne:
His valiant peers were plac’d around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound.
So should desert in arms be crown’d.
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride,
In flow’r of youth, and beauty’s pride.

3. Air (tenor) and Chorus

Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.

4. Recitative


Timotheus plac’d on high,
Amid the tuneful quire,
With flying fingers touch’d the lyre.
The trembling notes ascend the sky,
And heav’nly joys inspire.

5. Accompagnato


The song began from Jove,
Who left his blissful seats above;
(Such is the pow’r of mighty love)
A dragon’s fiery form bely’d the God;
Sublime, on radiant spires he rode,
When he to fair Olympia press’d,
And while he sought her snowy breast:
Then, round her slender waist he curl’d,
And stamp’d an image of himself, a sov’reign of the world.

6. Chorus

The list’ning crowd admire the lofty sound,
“A present deity!” they shout around;
“A present deity!” the vaulted roofs rebound.

7. Air


With ravish’d ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the God,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.

8. Recitative


The praise of Bacchus, then, the sweet musician sung;
Of Bacchus, ever fair, and ever young:
The jolly God in triumph comes;
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums:
Flush’d with a purple grace,
He shows his honest face;
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!

9. Air and Chorus


Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.


Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

10. Recitative


Sooth’d with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o’er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!
The master saw the madness rise,
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heav’n and earth defy’d,
Chang’d his hand, and check’d his pride.

11. Accompagnato


He chose a mournful muse,
Soft pity to infuse.

12. Air


He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate,
Fall’n from his high estate,
And welt’ring in his blood:
Deserted at his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed,
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

13. Accompagnato


With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
Revolving in his alter’d soul,
The various turns of chance below,
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.

14. Chorus

Behold Darius, great and good,
Fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, welt’ring in his blood;
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

15. Recitative


The mighty master smil’d to see
That love was in the next degree;
‘Twas but a kindred sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love:

16. Arioso


Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he sooth’d his soul to pleasures.

17. Air


War, he sung, is toil and trouble,
Honour but an empty bubble,
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying;
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, oh think it worth enjoying,
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the Gods provide thee.
War he sung. . . da capo

18a. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

18b. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

19. Air


The Prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gaz’d on the fair,
Who caus’d his care;
And sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and look’d,
Sigh’d and look’d, and sigh’d again:
At length with love and wine at once oppress’d,
The vanquish’d victor sunk upon her breast.
The Prince. . . da capo







20. Accompagnato and Chorus


Now strike the golden lyre again,
A louder yet — and yet a louder strain!
Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark! — the horrid sound
Has rais’d up his head,
As awak’d from the dead,
And amaz’d, he stares around.


Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.

21. Air


Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the furies arise,
See the snakes that they rear,
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unbury’d, remain
Inglorious on the plain.
Revenge. . . da capo

22. Accompagnato


Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew:
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes,
And glitt’ring temples of their hostile gods!

23. Air


The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

24. Air and Chorus

Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey;
And like another Helen, fir’d another Troy.
The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.


The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

25. Accompagnato and Chorus


Thus long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learn’d to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus to his breathing flute,
And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.

At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiasts from her sacred store,
Enlarg’d the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.

26. Recitative


Let old Timotheus yield the prize,


Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,

She drew an angel down.

27. Soli and Chorus

Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,
She drew an angel down.

[Additional Chorus]

Your voices tune, and raise them high,
Till th’echo from the vaulted sky
The blest Cecilia’s name;
Music to Heav’n and her we owe,
The greatest blessing that’s below;
Sound loudly then her fame:
Let’s imitate her notes above,
And may this evening ever prove,
Sacred to harmony and love.

“Domine, Fili unigenite”







This morning, I was “tormented” trying to identify a musical passage running through my mind. Passages come back to me like this. Rhythm or stress must be an essential aspect of music (yes, I know, it goes without saying), because — this is from a nearly functionally illiterate music lover — I kept recalling how this particular passage is accented or stressed; that is how I best remember it. I am not sure what the particular musical term is. Agitato? Sforzando?

Listen to this movement for chorus from Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589: namely, Domine, Fili unigenite (the only begotten Son of God). It’s a little over two minutes long.

Is it not marvelous? It is passages and works like these that make Vivaldi so special and inimitable. His music uplifts.



— Roger W. Smith

    July 2019



P.S. It is music like this that makes me feel like I want to weep with tears of joy.