Tis the Season for Death…(and the Maiden)



As the season turns, the feeling of death slowly envelops us. What begins with a beauty of change slowly dawns with the realization that winter is indeed coming. And though each winter season is different, like every life, death comes marching along just the same.

The concept of Death (capital “D”) was a theme that has obsessed composers, artists, writers and the general public from the dawning of the time. Early cave drawings depict not only scenes of life, but also an afterlife of fantastical underworlds (and overworlds). Many of the earliest known burial sites show that humans were indeed expecting something, as weapons and other power items were packed in the grave to accompany the journey to the afterlife.

That Death is an eternal theme throughout our human history is no wonder. Who among us has not pondered it at one time or another? A nagging reminder for most, it becomes an obsession for others. Cultural norms develop and concentrate on making this transition in a healthy way. In many cultures, death receives a personification; as an entity, spectre or god.


European culture had been obsessed with such a personification since at least the Middle Ages—long before both Schubert and Mahler considered the concept. Death as a personification, and also as unavoidable reality, is expressed musically in many of their works. The focus even affects the chosen keys of a piece of music. For the string quartet known as “Death and the Maiden Franz Schubert chose to write in D minor, a key that is often used for expressions of death, moonlight and shadows.

Gustav Mahler became fascinated not only with the thematic elements, but also with the written score of Schubert’s 14th String Quartet, known as “Death and the Maiden,” planning to bring the piece to the concert stage in a new realization for string orchestra. Mahler never completed his edits of Schubert’s score, however, and only the second movement saw a performance in his lifetime. Long after his death, Mahler’s daughter rediscovered the score which was later edited and finally performed in its entirety in 1984.

Schubert’s 14th string quartet takes it’s subtitle from a song of the same name written in 1817. The text reflects both the terror and comfort of death—both the event and the personification. For the quartet, Schubert chose to use only the portion of the song that accompanies “Death” in the song. Although it only appears as the basis for a set of variations in the 2nd movement, Schubert continues the mood of the entire song throughout the quartet—the dichotomy of Death providing both terror and comfort, and the accompanying contrast of light and dark, resulting in what many consider to be an early tone poem.

Here’s the short text from Schubert’s song (text by Matthias Claudius) (from Wikipedia)

Original German English Translation
Das Mädchen:

Vorüber! Ach, vorüber!

Geh, wilder Knochenmann!

Ich bin noch jung! Geh, lieber,

Und rühre mich nicht an.

Und rühre mich nicht an.

Der Tod:

Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebild!

Bin Freund, und komme nicht, zu strafen.

Sei gutes Muts! ich bin nicht wild,

Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!

The Maiden:

Pass me by! Oh, pass me by!

Go, fierce man of bones!

I am still young! Go, rather,

And do not touch me.

And do not touch me.


Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender form!

I am a friend, and come not to punish.

Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,

Softly shall you sleep in my arms!

Luckily, those in the Salt Lake City area can hear Sinfonia Salt Lake perform the Mahler transcription of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden, Monday, October 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple Auditorium. Details and tickets here: www.sinfoniasaltlake.com

Just how powerful is the music you will hear Monday night? Apparently, very powerful indeed. At the state funeral of Norwegian statesman and polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen Schubert’s music replaced the normal eulogies. Rather than speeches reviewing Nansen’s great contributions the audience sat quietly and reflected as Schubert’s Death and the Maiden was performed.

“We all have a Land of Beyond to seek in our life—what more can we ask? Our part is to find the trail that leads to it. A long trail, a hard trail, maybe; but the call comes to us, and we have to go. Rooted deep in the nature of every one of us is the spirit of adventure, the call of the wild—vibrating under all our actions, making life deeper and higher and nobler” ~ Fridtjof Nansen (Norwegian Polar Explorer and Statesman)


Copyright, 2016, Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Photo Credits: http://deathroq12.blogspot.com/

Photo 1: Madeline Von Foerster. “The Promise II ”

Photo 2: Travis Louie, “Miss Margaret and the Spirit of Death”


Dear Wells Fargo: A few facts about life that relate to choosing a career in anything, even the arts

The internet blew up last night as the arts community reacted on social media to an advertising campaign by Wells Fargo that appears critical towards pursuing careers in the arts. The ads suggest that a career in the arts is frivolous and not realistic. Here is the ad:


I’m actually fairly certain that Wells Fargo never directly intended to squash a young person’s dream of an artistic career. But clearly, an important filter was missed in their zeal to attract the business (translation:the money) of young clients. But the unintended consequences of this campaign could negatively affect their business. Certainly their image has already been tarnished.

To be fair, Wells Fargo does support the arts—ballet, symphonies, community theatres, etc. This is well documented. But a grave error in marketing occurred with this campaign. How that could have escaped attention of the people paid to protect their company image is baffling.

So, a mistake was made. Granted, even big businesses make mistakes. And since everyone should have a chance to make up for errors, I add my voice to call on Wells Fargo to rectify the situation. As a Wells Fargo customer, with personal and arts business accounts, my continuing relationship with this bank may depend on how they respond to the criticism.

Here are a six ways to refute the assumptions made by the Wells Fargo ad campaign:

  1. Going into the arts is actually a certain choice.

Going into anything is uncertain. Life is uncertain. However, pursuing your dream is something that can be done with utmost certainty. Whatever that dream may be: astronaut (Sally Ride), violinist (Itzhak Perlman), actor (Tom Hanks); it is followed because the individual finds it a meaningful goal towards living a meaningful life. That of course does not mean there won’t be doubts along the way. Every artist has likely experienced questions along the way. The same may be said of the accountant, the botanist and the engineer. Healthy doubt is merely smart reflection and refocusing. Crushing doubt can be destructive, however. The Wells Fargo ad campaign bends the needle towards that scale.

  1. A career in the arts is a mature choice of profession.

It takes a great deal of courage to go into any arts profession. The uncertainty mentioned above can cause hesitation, surely, but the artists, actors, writers and musicians that I work with are also among the bravest people I know. I takes a mature mind to steadfastly pursue a dream. It takes heroic effort to pursue artistic aspirations. In becoming an artist (a lifelong journey, by the way), you learn to believe in yourself. You also learn very quickly that there is something much bigger than our individual selves expressed through artistic endeavors.

  1. Life is not only about stuff, contrary to what big business may want us to believe.

Too much emphasis is placed upon the material things we should attain in life—The big house, the fancy car…jewel encrusted phone cases for the overpriced phone. It’s a seemingly human trait (or failing?), this accumulation of stuff, and becomes an obstacle to our contentment. Certainly there are expensive things that we need for our life, even careers. Houses are expensive. (But few people truly ask: what type of house, car, furniture, etc do I really need?) Let’s also remember that many a musician has taken out loans from banks to afford a top quality instruments. So, yes, business is necessary. It would be refreshing, however, to find a business that also encourages the accumulation of less tangible things—integrity, truth and beauty. (Or at least doesn’t discourage that pursuit).

  1. Kids are easily influenced. So are their parents.

We tend to believe what we see, and it is well known that advertising works effectively on a subconscious level. The Wells Fargo marketing campaign seems to suggest that the silly notions we have as children are nothing more that—things we need to outgrow. This implies a grown-up choice is something that can only be a quantifiable career: science, engineering, BANKING. This is an example of singular thinking. And it is antithetical to the human experience. We need both sides of the equation. What is often missing is the qualitative side of life provided by the arts.

Consider for a moment that the finest minds in almost any field were creative thinkers. (Einstein played the violin) Conversely, many scientists I know are also fine imaginative thinkers, poets and musicians. The great minds of the sciences received much of their inspiration from other sources, going back at least as far as Pythagoras. One need not be exclusive of the other.

  1. History is rife with examples of great artists who were discouraged to pursue their dream, yet succeeded.

In my own field of music alone, there are many examples of great composers and performers who were discouraged by family members from pursuing their professional dreams. We are forever thankful they didn’t take that advice. One wonders how many more simply gave up based on pressure from family and society. The power of suggestion is indeed powerful. We must be mindful of the message.

  1. Not everyone is the same.

We must be wary of the desire to fit everyone into a similar mold, lest it become a cubicle confining our potential.

I look forward to posting positive updates as to how Wells Fargo responds. The arts world is indeed watching.

Copyright, 2016. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Update: Wells Fargo did isue a statement/apology Sunday morning:

Wells Fargo is deeply committed to the arts, and we offer our sincere apology for the initial ads promoting our Sept. 17 Teen Financial Education Day. They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. We are making changes to the campaign’s creative that better reflect our company’s core value of embracing diversity and inclusion, and our support of the arts. Last year, Wells Fargo’s support of the arts, culture and education totaled $93 million.


Olympic Spirit. Olympic Art.

Olympic time again. My how time lies. This is a post from 2012 about the history of art as an Olympic event. Really.

Before the Downbeat


I once organized an Olympics…in my neighborhood.  Such was the Olympic fever I felt growing up.  The 1972 Munich Games were the first in my memory.  I was inspired to organize the neighborhood competition during the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games.  We even flew a homemade Olympic flag on the porch of our house.

It wasn’t only sport that inspired us.  It was also the art associated with the games.  Restaurants offered prints by LeRoy Neiman, celebrating the variety of Olympic achievement, and from various countries.  (Note Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, above).  It seemed that there was also a new fanfare or theme written every year.  The numerous pieces composed by John Williams continue to inspire.  I still get a chill hearing Olympic Anthem – Bugler’s Dream” – composed by Leo Arnaud.

I was surprised to find an article from the Smithsonian that discusses the fact that the Arts were…

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Concerts with Conscience

Sinfonia may 2016

I am privileged to be the music director of a fledgling professional chamber orchestra, Sinfonia Salt Lake, made up of some of the finest freelance talent in the region. Our concert last night, our second concert ever, was a resounding artistic success.

After a hellacious week of concert preparations, radio interviews, rehearsals, last minute emergencies and constant worries about finances, Sinfonia Salt Lake performed an energetic and refined program (Handel, Haydn, Purcell and Walton) with aplomb. We’ve happily discovered a superb acoustic at the historic First United Methodist Church in downtown Salt Lake City. Yet we performed to what a critic might refer to as a “small but enthusiastic audience.” You can interchange many adjectives for “enthusiastic:” appreciative, enraptured, attentive…but small is small. Quite simply, we had hoped for a much larger crowd.

“Small, but appreciative” doesn’t pay the bills, and yet something perhaps more important almost went by without notice last night.

Last night’s Sinfonia Salt Lake concert had four young visitors who rode their bikes 40 blocks from South Salt Lake to attend our performance.  They were students from the Utah International Charter School, where we performed a school program last week and offered the students free admission for our concert.  Part of our mission as an ensemble is to reach beyond the concert hall and into the community for every concert by partnering with underserved populations and community charities. This particular school teaches a diverse community of children largely from immigrant and refugee families. These four youngsters were so enthused by our contact with them, a mere 45 minutes with live music and musicians, that they traveled 7 miles by bicycle to attend the concert.  They had to leave at intermission so they could get home before it got dark. They still had to ride 40 blocks to get home!

I’ll wager those kids made more personal investment that anyone else in the audience in order to attend our concert. And while we spent a lot of time beating the bushes and pulling our hair out trying to find the money for this concert, our investment in these kids may matter more in the long run. Yes, we need bigger audiences and donations to keep our ensemble afloat. But this type of story is one that reminds us of the greater purpose of being an artist. It is also something that we can use to illustrate how we as musicians can make a difference in the community.

So while we continue to fret about finances, even as we excitedly announce our next season, this provided a good perspective for what we can achieve beyond the notes on the page. Among all of the little details and stresses, it is nice to know there is something intangibly beautiful about what we do.


Leslie and friend Charter school

Picture: Sinfonia Concertmaster, Leslie Henrie with a new friend from our school concert

Information (and a donation button!) can be found on our website. Please consider spreading the word of our group and consider making a donation if desired and able. We really appreciate it!




Sinfonia Salt Lake’s mission is to provide professional quality classical music concerts with a community conscience. In addition to providing professional quality chamber orchestra concerts in various historic locales around the Salt Lake Valley, the ensemble has a unique mission to connect with the community for every concert by partnering with underserved populations and community charities. Collaborations have included the Utah Food Bank, and for this concert, the Utah International Charter School, a school serving largely children from immigrant and refugee families.

And if you are in the area, consider attending our concerts next season! You’ll be glad you did!

Sinfonia Salt Lake 2016-2017 Season

September 12: Italian Inspirations

  • Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances No 3
  • Mozart: Exsultate Jubilate (Melissa Heath, soprano)
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence

October 10: Towards the Dark Side…

  • Boccherini: Symphony No. 6, La Casa del Diavolo
  • Hermann: Suite from Psycho
  • Schubert/Mahler: Death and the Maiden

December 3: Amahl and the Night Visitors with Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble

  • Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors

January 16: MLK Day Concert. The Voices of America. Guest speaker TBA

  • Gould: Spirituals for Strings
  • Edward Reichel: Night Echoes, World Premiere written for Sinfonia Salt Lake!
  • Walker: Lyric for Strings
    Copland: Appalachian Spring (original 13-instrument version)

March 13 (DATE yet to be confirmed) Vivaldi in the Ospedale: A New Concert Experience. Narrator/Actors/Dancers, TBA.

  • Vivaldi: Concerti with Sinfonia players
  • Hohnstein: Night in the Ospedale

May 15: A Mozart Family Affair. Gerald Elias, guest conductor

  • Selections include a Sinfonia by Leopold Mozart, a Piano Concerto by Franz Xavier Mozart , and a Symphony by WA Mozart

June 24: Utah Arts Festival, Composers Chamber Commission Concert


Copyright 2016, Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Beethoven, Prince (with a nod to the Blues)


2015 and 2016 have been a rough years for some of the major names in the music business. I’ve written some tributes myself, here and here. As an orchestral conductor and trained classical musician, it’s been interesting to note that when I express admiration for an artist such as David Bowie or Prince, it elicits some to comment with surprise that I listen to this music:

“You have such eclectic tastes for a classical musician

I don’t mind the comment at all, in fact I find this type of comment interesting, as if we are supposed to only listen to a prescribed playlist once we begin a career. But it opens up an opportunity for new conversation and exploration.

It is true, I don’t only listen to the “three B’s.” Personally, I feel it is imperative to explore all musical styles, not just the ones that you are trained in. Does listening to the Blues help me shape phrases of Ravel? Absolutely. Does experiencing the music of Prince help me understand energy flow in Beethoven? How can it not? And, I truly feel that listening to rock, folk and alternative concept albums helps me to interpret programmatic symphonies and tone poems.

My philosophy is that when the range of experience is wider, the possibility for depth in a single experience increases exponentially. I refuse to pigeon-hole myself in to the box of what we “should” listen to. I’d rather listen to what fires my imagination, be it Bach, Brahms, Bowie or B.B. King. (Or even an occasional work by Buxtehude!)

So I, like millions of others, mourn for Prince, the artist formerly known as an influence during my college years. I also listen with renewed interest to the new musicians of the day, always managing to find one or two visionary artists whose music speaks and relates to that other music, centuries old–the music of my particular career.

Copyright, 2016 Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

The Rite Connections

Monteaux and Stravinsky

Recently, I discovered there was only one-degree separating me from an event that changed music history forever.
The most amazing coincidences happen in life. Last Sunday I was at a dinner reception for a concert I conducted in Lexington, Kentucky. I was seated next to an older woman who grew up in Maine. As we got to talking, she asked if I knew who Pierre Monteaux was. Well, indeed I did! Monteaux was the conductor who premiered Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in Paris, 103 years ago. The fuse was lit–her eyes twinkled as she mentioned that as a girl growing up in Maine, her next-door neighbor was, believe it or not, Pierre Monteaux. (I’m sure a memorable sound from that reception was the sound of my jaw hitting the table). She mentioned how he was like a grandfather to her and her siblings, bouncing them on his knee and playing with them in the yard.
This weekend, I find myself conducting my second “Rite” in performance (I’ve also played it twice). But now there is a living connection to the watershed event in the history of music. Layers of meaning added with a chance encounter.
Mind. Blown. Apart.

If you are in the Salt Lake region, come check out the performance with the Salt Lake Symphony.  Here are the details:


Salt Lake Symphony: Primal Energy!
Saturday March 19, 2016 7:30 pm

Libby Gardner Concert Hall
Hasse Borup, violin
Robert Baldwin, conductor

Dvořák Slavonic Dances #2 and 7
Jett Hitt Yellowstone for Violin and Orchestra (Utah Premiere)
Stravinsky The Rite of Spring

Few pieces have the primal energy as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. This year marks a first for the Salt Lake Symphony, our initial performance of this monumental work. Originally intended for ballet when composed in 1913, the piece has become a staple in the concert hall as the quintessential work of the early 20th century. With its driving rhythms and eerie sounds, it’s a piece that creates a lasting memory for performers and audiences alike. It’s not the only legacy we will celebrate at this concert, though. We will open the concert with our annual side-by-side performance, featuring talented young musicians sitting alongside our musicians. After their rousing opening of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, we will perform the Utah premiere of Jett Hitt’s Yellowstone Concerto, with Dr. Hasse Borup playing the solo violin part. Join us for and evening of music and musicians filled with energy and excitement. This is an event not to be missed!

Tickets $10 adults, $5 students and seniors.
Available by calling 801-531-7501 or at the door with cash, check or credit card.

Be sure to attend the free pre-concert lecture by Dr. Baldwin, discussing the culture behind the music, at 6:15 p.m. in Room 270, right behind the concert hall.