University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Pfitzner: Palestrina

10/06/2013 1:00 pm
10/06/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

The German composer Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) was an almost exact contemporary of Richard Strauss. Pfitzner is known today for only one opera Palestrina (1917). Although his musical style is more conservative than that of Strauss, Pfitzner's Palestrina is a most extraordinary composition. No opera calls for so many solo men's voices, especially in the lower register. 

The story concerns the legend about the famous sixteenth century composer of music for the Roman Catholic Church; how the heavenly power of Palestrina's music succeeded in rising above the political infighting at the Council of Trent. Plainchant and Renaissance polyphony color the score. It all blends well into Pfitzner's general post-Wagnerian style. 

Many illustrious German bassos and baritones took part in the 1973 recording of Palestrina for Deutsche Grammophon. Rafael Kubelik led the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Chorus, with the Boys' Choir of Tolz Cathedral in Bavaria. The DGG boxed set of LPs is to be found in our WWUH classical music record library. I first broadcast those LPs on Sunday, November 3, 1985, then again on Sunday, November 6, 1994. Today, going on two decades later, the recording gets its third airing.