Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto: Brilliance, Structure and Symmetry

Regarding his first two piano concertos, Béla Bartók wrote, I consider my First Piano Concerto a good composition, although its structure is a bit – indeed one might say very — difficult for both audience and orchestra. That is why a few years later…I composed the Piano Concerto No. 2 with fewer difficulties for the orchestra and more pleasing in its thematic material…Most of the themes in the piece are more popular and …

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Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin”: Paavo Järvi and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Maurice Ravel completed the solo piano suite, Le Tombeau de Couperin, in 1917 amid the devastation of the First World War. The 17th century word, tombeau, refers to “a piece written as a memorial.” Ravel dedicated each of the suite’s movements to the memory of a friend who was lost in the war. Yet, there is nothing somber or elegiac about this music. The bleak, mechanized dehumanization of the twentieth century battlefield is left …

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Brahms’ Four Klavierstücke, Op. 119: Progressive Meditations

Johannes Brahms wrote the Four Pieces for Piano (Klavierstücke), Op. 119 during the summer of 1893 in the Upper Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. The brief character pieces are among the final, autumnal works of a composer who had announced his official retirement three years earlier. They inhabit an introspective world, at times filled with wistful nostalgia. The Klavierstücke, Op. 119 are preceded by three similar cycles (Op. 116, 117, and …

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Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

During the summer of 1886, Johannes Brahms traveled from Vienna to the idyllic shores of Lake Thun in the Swiss Alps. The working vacation, sometimes called Brahms’ “chamber music summer,” resulted in an astonishing number of works, which included the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101. Brahms claimed that the landscape was “so full of …

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Franco Donatoni’s “Hot”: Imaginary Jazz

The young virtuoso saxophonist, Ryan Muncy, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week. Critics noted his talent and capacity to “show off the instrument’s malleability and freakish extended range as well as its delicacy and refinement.” (The Chicago Reader) Before joining the International Contemporary Ensemble, he served as saxophonist and artistic director of the Chicago-based Ensemble Dal Niente. Muncy’s solo debut album, Hot, was released in 2013. The title track features a thrilling 1989 chamber …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major: Steven Isserlis in Frankfurt

The British cellist, Steven Isserlis, has called Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, “the greatest Classical cello concerto. It’s full of joy, of joyous virtuosity. It’s perfect.” Haydn wrote this music in the early 1760s, around the time that he began employment as music director at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. During the same time period, Haydn produced his first symphonies, while he expanded and refined the Esterházy Orchestra. The …

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