About Scott Chamberlain

Hello and thanks for reading. I’m Scott Chamberlain, a resident of the fair city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome to my blog. It came about primarily because I was commenting extensively on the labor dispute involving the musicians and management of the Minnesota Orchestra—long-standing professional and personal ties to the organization have led me to follow the situation closely. Over time I’ll try to reprint some of my commentaries here to give them a more public airing, but I’ll try to keep current with my posts and comment on developments as they unfold. Although that’s the genesis of the blog, I like to comfort myself by believing I have other things to say. So a bit of background. For most of my life I’ve balanced two more or less equal passions: a deep fascination with the past and a love of music (mostly, but not entirely, of the classical kind). I’ve alternated between these two passions in terms of study, employment and recreation since my days as a very wee lad. On the “past” side of the equation, I’ve been an ethnohistorian working on the pre-conquest cultures of Mexico and a traditional historian specializing in Central American urban and cultural history. (I’ve been known to do people’s astrological “chart” in the Aztec manner. It’s a great party trick.) Along the way, I’ve lived or spent much time in Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico. On the “music” side of the equation, I’ve been an active classical singer (currently with the Minnesota Chorale), and an arts administrator with the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Orchestra, and One Voice Mixed Chorus. I’ve performed several operas, although my true calling as a performer is choral works. The blog name and cover shot are a fusion of these two trends. It’s named for Xochipilli, the Aztec patron god of music and the arts, and specifically for his public visage that hides his inscrutable true nature beneath. The illustration comes from the Codex Becker, a pre-Colombian Mixtec manuscript, and shows an ancient Mexican orchestra composed of flutes, whistles, trumpets and various percussion.

A Classical Spring!

Happy Spring!

With today’s equinox, spring is officially underway.  This is particularly good news for those of us in Minnesota—we are, as I write this, it is currently snowing outside, with a proper snowstorm possible this weekend.

Anyway, I wanted to celebrate the new season with a classical playlist of spring-themed music. It’s a diverse collection that captures the many moods of spring… enjoy! Continue reading

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A Classical St. Patrick’s Day

We’re fast approaching St. Patrick’s Day—a time when everyone celebrates their Irish heritage, whether they’re Irish or not.

Ireland is justly famous for its music, and in the spirit of this festive holiday I thought I’d share a playlist of classical works with a tie to the Emerald Isle.  So, grab a pint of green beer (or better yet, some fine Irish whiskey) and enjoy! Continue reading

Fauré’s Luminous Requiem

My Requiem has been said to express no fear of death; it has been called a lullaby of death.  But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness rather than a mournful passing away…. Perhaps I have sought to depart from what is conventional because for so long I was organist at services of internment.  I’m fed up with that.  I wanted to do something different.

          – Fauré discussing his Requiem in a 1902 letter to Louis Aguettant

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The Requiem—the traditional Roman Catholic Mass sung for the dead—has formed an important part of choral music from the Middle Ages to today.  A vast number of composers from Palestrina to Andrew Lloyd Webber have penned a Requiem, even if they weren’t Catholic… or particularly religious at all.  It’s easy to see why; the Requiem text, like the ritual it is drawn from, is so broadly recognized that it provides as a easily understood starting point to explore universal questions of life, death, and life after death.

In composing a Requiem, there are several approaches that composers have taken.  On the one hand, there those that emphasize the dramatic nature of the words, focusing on anger at our loss, the fear of the unknown, or our terror of Final Judgment.  The Requiems of Hector Berlioz and Giuseppe Verdi are the best-known examples of this train of thought.  On the other hand, there are those that emphasize notions of comfort, solace, and a spiritual release as the deceased is gathered up by a merciful God—the approach recommended by Beethoven himself, who once wrote: A Requiem ought to be quiet music—it needs no trump of doom; memories of the dead require no hubbub.

The Requiem of Gabriel Fauré is one of the best-loved examples of this approach—a work this is luminous and delicate, which emphasizes the idea of consolation.  As Fauré told his friends, “Altogether, it is as gentle as I am myself.” Continue reading

Winter: A Classical Music Playlist

Winter is here, and with it the longest night of the year.  As a season, winter often gets a bum rap—while spring is a season of new beginnings, winter too often gets written off as a season of death and bleak desolation. And indeed, many people start feeling a bit stir crazy this time of year.  So, let me break the seasonal doldrums with a playlist of winter-themed classical music.  Some of the following selections are delicate, some melancholy, some dramatic… but all take winter, ice, or snow as their point of departure.  Note that I have deliberately avoided Christmas or holiday music here… Christmas music deserves its own post.

Cheers! Continue reading

Classical Music’s Vampires: An October Playlist

Classical music has always had a fondness for the supernatural. In earlier centuries, composers had incorporated Christian miracles or classical myths into their works. But by the nineteenth century composers had expanded the repertoire to include mermaids, witches, phantoms… and vampires.

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Vampires have been a staple in classical music since the early 1800s. The vampire craze really took off in 1819, when John William Polidori’s short story “The Vampire” became an international sensation. Soon, vampires were showing up everywhere, in fiction, poetry, and religious treatises. Naturally, composers took advantage of the new-found popularity and brought vampires to the opera house and concert hall, too. Sometimes the resulting works were dramatic, making them precursors to modern horror films. At other times, composers used the vampire story for comedic effect, giving their bloodsuckers an ironic wink.

As October gets underway, I thought I’d share a collection of 10 vampire-themed classical works from the last 200 years. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Classical Music to Welcome Autumn

Happy Equinox!

Fall is a time when iced tea gives way to apple cider, and school buses start to nudge out ice cream trucks on neighborhood streets. With dusk coming on earlier and earlier, there’s a new crispness to the air (at least there should be… it’s supposed to be 90 degrees in Minneapolis today!).

In honor of the new season, let me provide a listening guide to some of my favorite autumn-themed works of classical music, listed alphabetically by composer. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments. Enjoy! Continue reading