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Celebrating Benjamin's 300th Birthday with Music

Celebrating Benjamin's 300th Birthday with Music
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Hear Franklin's String Quartet, Scottish Ballads, a Handel Organ Concerto and a French Contredanse
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Hear Cecilia Brauer on Glass Harmonica
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Hear William Schuman's 'New England Tryptich'
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Founding Father and statesman Benjamin Franklin had a keen interest in music.

Founding Father and statesman Benjamin Franklin had a keen interest in music. H. B. Hall/J.A. Duplessis /Library of Congress hide caption

toggle caption H. B. Hall/J.A. Duplessis /Library of Congress

Benjamin Franklin had a keen interest in music. He even tried his hand at writing some. The Kohon Quartet plays Franklin's somewhat awkward String Quartet. And we hear James Oswald's arrangements of some of the Scottish ballads he loved so well: "Joky Blythe and Gay" and "The Almond," played by members of the Philomel Baroque Orchestra.

Franklin got to hear George Frideric Handel's very last public performance, so we pay tribute with Handel's Organ Concerto op. 4, #3, played by Peter Sykes and the Philomel Baroque Orchestra. And we hear a French contredanse honoring the meeting between Franklin and Voltaire in France: "La Voltaire and La Franklein," played by hammered dulcimer soloist Ginger Hildebrand.

After hearing a concert played on goblets filled with water in England, Benjamin Franklin came back to the States and invented his own improved version of the Glass Harmonica. From the NPR studios, Cecilia Brauer plays music by Brahms and Dvorak and the Traditional "Greensleeves" on her own Glass Harmonica. Brauer is a Ben Franklin expert and an associate member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

One of the pre-eminent American composers in Ben Franklin's day was William Billings. Like Franklin, Billings was a Boston native. Billings' music was based on the American choral tradition. We'll hear three songs by Billings, transformed into 20th century orchestral music by William Schuman. It's Schuman's "New England Tryptich," in a concert performance by the talented young players of the National Orchestral Institute. Andrew Litton led their concert at the University of Maryland.

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