Stravinsky’s Danses Concertantes: Concert Music in Search of a Ballet

Igor Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes unfolds as an abstract ballet. Its quirky cast of instrumental “characters” become virtual “dancers” in a witty, neoclassical drama. The titles of its five movements evoke the sections of a ballet. Motion, elegance, and a joyful athleticism abound. Stravinsky had just emigrated to the United States and settled in West Hollywood when, in 1941, he received the commission from Werner Janssen for Danses concertantes. Janssen was an American conductor and …

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Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 3: The Apex of a Genre

In November of 1792, the young Ludwig van Beethoven left Bonn, the provincial city of his birth, to resettle in glittering, cosmopolitan Vienna. Two years after this momentous move, Beethoven completed the String Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 3. The piece marked the 24-year-old composer’s first foray into the genre. A successor to the Baroque trio sonata, the string trio (violin, viola, cello) was a popular form in the eighteenth century, when …

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Anna Clyne’s “This Midnight Hour”: A Cinematic Journey Through the Night

This Midnight Hour, an evocative tone poem by the English composer, Anna Clyne (b. 1980), suggests the shadowy nocturnal world of film noir. Written in 2015, the single movement orchestral work unfolds as a haunting cinematic journey. Growling low strings initiate a spine-chilling “chase” down desolate alleyways. Amid the throb of an elevated heartbeat, we find ourselves alone with shadowy specters of the night. Distant, indistinguishable sounds echo across an alienating landscape. Suddenly and …

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Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals”: A Zoological Romp

In February of 1886, Camille Saint-Saëns set aside work on his Third Symphony to engage in a brief burst of compositional frivolity. He admitted to his publishers that it was “such fun” he could not resist. The piece in question was The Carnival of the Animals, a humorous musical suite made up of fourteen short, parody-filled movements. Each movement depicts a specific animal and has inspired numerous texts, which include poetry written by …

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Telemann’s Sonata in D Major, TWV 44:1: Bremer Barockorchester

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was one of the most prolific composers of all time. The German Baroque composer produced 3,000 compositions, half of which have been lost. These include 1,700 cantatas, 600 orchestral suites, and numerous operas and concertos. Telemann was the godfather of J.S. Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Telemann influenced a younger generation of gallant composers such as C.P.E Bach, who would set the stage for the Classical period. Telemann’s …

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Remembering Ned Rorem

Ned Rorem, the American composer and diarist, passed away on November 18 at his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He was 99. Born in Richmond, Indiana, Rorem composed three symphonies, numerous concertos, and other orchestral works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Air Music (1974). Additionally, he contributed a host of operas, choral music, and chamber works. Yet, he will be remembered most as the composer of song. The esteemed choral conductor, Robert Shaw, declared …

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Fauré’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” Suite: Incidental Music for a Symbolist Play

Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1898 French symbolist play, Pelléas and Mélisande, centers around a doomed love triangle. Set in an ancient ruined castle and a dense forest, it “expresses a sense that human beings understand neither themselves nor each other nor the world.” (Bettina Knapp) Joan Pataky Kosove writes, Pelléas et Mélisande tells the story of a young and beautiful girl who marries one man, falls in love with another, and dies. But the play …

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