Debussy, Ravel, and the Battle of the Harps

In 1904, Pleyel, the Parisian instrument manufacturing company, commissioned Claude Debussy to write a piece showcasing what they hoped to be a revolutionary new kind of harp. The harpe chromatique, invented in 1894 by Pleyel’s director, Gustave Lyon, was a cross-string harp designed without need for foot pedals. The standard harp, with its 46 strings and range of six and a half octaves, cannot play all possible half step intervals without relying on seven pedals which can be …

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“To the Distant Beloved”: Schumann’s Obsession with a Beethoven Song

In the final movement of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, an unassuming but persistent motivic cell emerges which propels the Symphony towards its majestic and triumphant culmination. Around three minutes in, all of the music’s forward momentum comes to a halt on a somber C minor cadence. Then, this motive is introduced by the woodwinds. It repeats in other voices throughout the orchestra and develops into an exalted and joyful proclamation. …

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From Flute to Violin: The Evolution of Prokofiev’s D Major Sonata

During the summer of 1943, Sergei Prokofiev escaped the war-torn Eastern Front for the isolation of the Central Asian city of Alma-Ata, where he was hard at work on the sprawling film score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In the middle of this massive project, Prokofiev found himself drawn to music on the other end of the spectrum- something he described as a “sonata in a gentle, flowing classical style.” This piece was born as the Flute Sonata in …

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Mendelssohn’s Stormy Sixth Quartet: The Schumann Quartet at Banff

We often associate the music of Felix Mendelssohn with light, sparkling effervescence (as in the scherzos from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Octet) and a unique fusion of Romanticism with backward glances at the crystalline, contrapuntal classicism of J.S. Bach. The String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, Mendelssohn’s final composition, inhabits a shockingly different world. Completed two months before the composer’s premature death at the age of 38 at a time when he was mourning the loss of his beloved …

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The Tesla Quartet Plays Haydn

Last month, we explored excerpts from the Tesla Quartet’s newly-released debut album. In addition to music by Ravel and Stravinsky, the recording includes Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major Op 54 No.2. Written in 1788, this piece is so daring and adventurous that it fits in perfectly on an album otherwise made up of twentieth century music. You’ll hear this spirit of adventure immediately in the Quartet’s opening bars. The home …

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New Release: The Tesla Quartet Plays Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky

The Tesla Quartet’s exciting debut album was released in September. The recording features two twentieth century works that look back at the classical era- Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major and Stravinsky’s Concertino for String Quartet- as well as the bold, innovative String Quartet in C Major, Op.54 No.2 by Franz Joseph Haydn, who is often called the “father of the string quartet.” Additionally, we hear three Ravel piano miniatures- Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn, Menuet antique, and Menuet …

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Clara Schumann “Romances for Violin and Piano”: Stefan Jackiw

Last week, I had the pleasure of performing with Stefan Jackiw. The young American violinist played the Beethoven Concerto with the Williamsburg (VA) Symphony Orchestra. Jackiw’s playing is characterized by an unusual sense of elegance and refinement. He paints with a wide array of colors and dynamics. In the most intimate passages of the slow movement of the Beethoven, he was not afraid to play just above a whisper. Jackiw’s elegant and stylish approach …

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