Classical Breakdown

John Banther takes classical music fans behind the scenes with interviews, deep dives, and analysis. Episodes released bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Produced by WETA Classical in Washington, D.C.


  • Debussy's La Mer - Part 3

    Debussy's La Mer - Part 3

    Episode 20 May 5, 2020

    Debussy's La Mer is as imaginative and playful as it was in 1905, and while the original audience wasn't as receptive, it's become an orchestra staple over the last century. The final movement is called "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea) and features a theme originating in the oboe. We'll hear from Nicholas Stovall, Principal Oboe of the National Symphony Orchestra, on what this passage means to him and why he had to play it during Principal Flute auditions.
  • Debussy's La Mer - Part 2

    Debussy's La Mer - Part 2

    Episode 19 April 21, 2020

    The trumpet shines through in Jeux de Vagues, (Play of the Waves), the second movement of Debussy's La mer. This is part 2 of our 3 part series on Debussy's enchanting orchestral work, La Mer.
  • Debussy's La Mer - Part 1

    Debussy's La Mer - Part 1

    Episode 18 April 7, 2020

    An orchestral staple today, this work about "the sea" wasn't well received at it's premiere. Audiences may have expected a Strauss-esque symphonic poem to bring the sea to life, but Debussy was more interested in the abstract. This is part 1 of our 3 part series on Debussy's enchanting orchestral work, La Mer.
  • The Life and Music of Amy Beach, an American pioneer

    The Life and Music of Amy Beach, an American pioneer

    Episode 16 March 10, 2020

    She was America's first woman composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra and the first American composer fully educated in the United States. She was praised and recognized but her journey to success was an uphill battle with obstacles and challenges.
  • Haydn's final London Symphony

    Haydn's final London Symphony

    Episode 15 February 25, 2020

    Let's go on a musical deep dive of Haydn's final symphony. With musical examples we can breakdown Sonata Form, hear influences of other composers, and folk song!
  • What is a Symphony? Part 2

    What is a Symphony? Part 2

    Episode 14 February 11, 2020

    Beethoven changed all ideas and expectations about the Symphony. Bill Bukowski joins me as we figure out what happened to the symphony after Beethoven through the 21st century.
  • The life of Mozart

    The life of Mozart

    Episode 13 January 28, 2020

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's life was kind of complicated. His childhood as a musical prodigy was filled with practicing, writing music, and performing for royalty throughout Europe. He later struggled at times finding suitable employment and wanted to find his own path. It was a life lived under the watchful eye of his father, Leopold Mozart, and cut short at the age of 35.
  • The Planets by Holst

    The Planets by Holst

    Episode 12 January 14, 2020

    Discover music by Holst that was inspired by the gods our planets are named after in our solar system. This seven-movement orchestral suite includes the terrifying sounds of war, the comfort of peace, jollity, and so much more.
  • Tchaikovsky's The Seasons

    Tchaikovsky's The Seasons

    Episode 11 December 31, 2019

    Get into the new year with a work that has music for every month! Tchaikovsky's The Seasons also includes poetry and gives us a glimpse into Russian life, month by month in 1876.
  • What does a conductor do?

    What does a conductor do?

    Episode 10 December 17, 2019

    Waving a baton is just a small part of being a conductor. Michelle Merrill tells what it's like to prepare a concert with an orchestra, from the year before to the downbeat of the concert.