Haydn’s Mistitled “Miracle” Symphony No. 96

It isn’t everyday that a piece of music is so fascinatingly inventive that it actually saves lives. But, apparently, that’s what happened when Franz Joseph Haydn conducted his newest symphony at London’s King’s Theatre on the evening of February 2, 1795. The German painter, composer and Haydn biographer Albert Christoph Dies (1755-1822) provided this account: When Haydn appeared in the orchestra and seated himself at the Pianoforte, to conduct a symphony personally, …

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The Chiara Quartet: Bartók by Heart

Here are some excerpts from the Chiara String Quartet’s recently released album, Bartók by Heart. The two-disc set features all six string quartets by the twentieth-century Hungarian composer, Béla Bartók. The Lincoln, Nebraska-based quartet was formed in 2000. As the album’s title suggests, the Chiara String Quartet has begun performing all repertoire completely by memory, a practice which one member of the group has compared to “flying without a safety net.” In a recent interview with Richmond Public Radio’s …

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Autumnal Fauré

Autumn is the subject of one of Gabriel Fauré’s most celebrated art songs. The season becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness and inevitability of time, the nature of memory, and ultimate mortality. A 33-year-old Fauré wrote Automne, Op. 18, No. 3 in 1878, the year the Eiffel Tower was under construction for the Great Paris Exhibition. The text is by the poet Paul-Armand Silvestre: Autumn, time of misty skies and heart-breaking horizons, of rapid sunsets and pale dawns, I …

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Five Great Perlman Recordings

This weekend, Itzhak Perlman will join the Richmond Symphony for our season-opening Masterworks program. The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is on the program for this already-sold-out concert. And unlike this recent BNY Mellon TV commercial, it’s safe to assume Rhea Perlman will not be attempting to fill in. (That’s the introduction of the Mendelssohn in the background of the commercial). Perlman is one of a handful of musicians who has achieved genuine celebrity status …

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Don Juan: Strauss’ Blazing Storm of Pleasure

It may be the most brazenly self-confident music ever written. Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Don Juan, opens with a sudden, blazing flash of raw energy- a bravado-filled upward flourish. It sets the stage for a soaring theme in the strings, which gives us a visceral sense of upward sweep and catapulting forward motion. It’s a melody which never worries about flying too close to the sun. The musicologist Carl Dahlhaus described the “breakaway mood” of these …

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Rachel Podger’s Recent Bach Exploits

Last week, English violinist, conductor, and Baroque specialist Rachel Podger released a recording of J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue with members of Brecon Baroque, the dynamic ensemble she founded in 2007. You can hear an excerpt from the recording here. This is the latest in a series of acclaimed Bach recordings Podger has made on the Channel Classics label. The Art of Fugue was Bach’s monumental final work. The fourteen fugues and four canons grow …

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Mendelssohn’s Second String Quartet: Beyond Teenage Love

We don’t know any of the details- not even her name. But in 1827 the 18-year-old Felix Mendelssohn seems to have fallen head over heels in love. In June of that year, Mendelssohn was inspired to write the words and music for a love song called Frage, Op. 9 (“Question”). The short song is full of teasingly hesitant questions which find contented resolution in a plagal cadence which evokes the serene, dreamy final bars of …

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