James Stewart

VPR Classical Host

James Stewart is VPR Classical's afternoon classical host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.

James received a Bachelor of Science in Music with an emphasis in Composition from Toccoa Falls College in Northeast Georgia in 2001. In 2007, James earned his Master's of Music in Composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There he also made connections with the Open Dream Ensemble, an outreach arm of UNCSA and the Kenan Institute for the Arts.

James wrote original music for five children's shows and spent three years as music director, tour manager, and company member. In 2014, James received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

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The last decade of the 18th century was a time of incredible change in the western world. The technological advances of the industrial revolution, the wars and upheaval of the enlightenment and the rise of scientific rationalization had eroded old certainties within the collective consciousness.

In other words, when you question or change all of the old rules of society, technology, politics and religion what are you left with? You’re left with yourself – at least that’s answer the Romantics gave.

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Composers were not the only ones who shaped the course of music. Sometimes a librarian influences the future in ways that no one could ever imagine. Baron Gottfried van Swieten is a name that isn’t too familiar in the musical world today but his work, energy and encouragement touched a generation of composers.

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The years 1813 to 1816 were a dry period for Beethoven. He was wrestling with his health and with his family.

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At the dawning of the 19th century, Beethoven had not given up hope that his doctors would find a treatment to reverse his hearing loss. His condition was not only affecting his musical output but also his social life, which was very important to him.

Ludwig van Beethoven has been called the most admired composer in all of music history. His legacy stands as a monument for the entire 19th century and beyond.

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Muzio Clementi was called the “father of the pianoforte”.  He earned this title, not because he played the instrument first, but because he played it best out of his generation.

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The rise of the American and French Revolutions were signs of deep changes in the Western world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.   Not only was the Age of Enlightenment a period of political upheaval, It was also marked by economic change as a thriving middle class began to grow in Europe and across the sea in the new world.  This shift had very real and practical effects on the world of music.  It changed the way composers created work and supported themselves.

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Even if you’re not that familiar with classical music you still know the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and can probably even hum a few of his tunes. His music has always been popular and his legacy has influenced composers for centuries.

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The word "symphony" is one of the most iconic musical terms, but what makes a piece of music a symphony? The term itself is a compound word with Greek roots meaning “sounding together."

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Franz Joseph Haydn is a towering figure of the Classical era. He didn’t just mimic the changes of the late 18th century, in a large way, his music was the change. He forged new genres. 

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The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century called into question the powers of the monarchy and religious dogma. There was an emphasis on scientific rigor and simplicity. This movement found its start in the writings of philosophers and made it ways into politics and eventually art – even the world of opera through the reforms of Christoph Willibald Gluck.

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The death of J.S. Bach in 1750 has traditionally been regarded as the end of the Baroque Period. The well-known Classical era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is said to have begun in 1775.  The transitional, 25 year period between is known as Rococo.

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Johann Sebastian Bach had two wives and a total of 20 children. Sadly, only half of those children survived to adulthood. But of those 10, four became notable composers; each with their own story, their own home town and their own relationship with their father’s music.

Timeline's James Stewart speaks with Natalie Neuert, the manager of the University of Vermont Lane Series about Bach's Brandenburg Concerti and the importance of historically informed performance.


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Bach’s seminal work The Well-Tempered Clavier showcases an ability that we take for granted in modern music.  Today, we have the ability to play with anyone in any key thanks to our modern standards of tuning and temperament.

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For the Bach's of Germany music was a family business.  Over 50 members of the Bach family were employed as musicians over the course of two centuries.  The most famous, and arguably the most important, was Johann Sebastian Bach.

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The Baroque era (1600 to 1750) was a time of blending cultures as the European continent was becoming smaller and more connected. A mixture of influences from Italy, France, England and Germany merged into a cosmopolitan style of music. The champion of this new style was the composer George Frideric Handel.

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Georg Philipp Telemann was unquestionably the most prolific composer of his generation. He wrote over 3,000 individual works ranging from chamber music to opera, from oratorios to cantatas.  

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Antonio Vivaldi is a name that has become synonymous with the Baroque concerto. His style and massive output has influenced composers for almost 300 years.

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Though born the son of a humble miller in Florence, Italy, Jean Baptiste Lully was destined to become the “Father of French Opera.” His work and influence took this Italian art form and imbued it with French opulence and pageantry.

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