New Release: Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic and incoming Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, have released a new album featuring Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. It’s the first of six live-concert recordings the ensemble plans to release on the Decca Gold label. Previously, van Zweden recorded the same pairing with the Dallas Symphony. He steps down as Music Director in Dallas at the end of this season. Wagner called Beethoven’s Seventh “the apotheosis of dance.” He wrote, All tumult, all …

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Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” Overture Springs to Life

You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting. – Mozart in a letter to his father, Leopold dated July 31, 1778 In the nineteenth century, a myth developed surrounding Mozart’s compositional process. The popular romantic notion suggested that Mozart’s compositions were conceived instantly and effortlessly, arriving in the composer’s mind in completed form. In 1815, twenty-four years after the …

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Remembering Jesús López-Cobos

The eminent Spanish conductor, Jesús López Cobos, passed away in Berlin last Friday. He was 78. López Cobos served as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 2001. As a teenager, I listened to a handful of his numerous recordings with the ensemble on the Telarc label. His Bruckner albums (Symphonies 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) were especially notable. During his tenure in Cincinnati, the orchestra (the fifth oldest in …

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An 18th Century Novelty: Music for Mechanical Organ Clock

On Wednesday, I pointed out the persistent “tick-tock” rhythm of the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 101- a detail which earned the piece the nickname, The “Clock” Symphony. That got me thinking about the small collection of music, written by Haydn and other composers, for the mechanical organ clock, a popular eighteenth century luxury item which combined a clock with a small, mechanized organ. It’s a device which epitomized the scientific rationality of …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 101, “The Clock”

My performance schedule this week began with a Williamsburg Symphony program which included Haydn’s Symphony No. 101. This is the ninth of Haydn’s twelve monumental “London symphonies”- his final, triumphant, pinnacle-scaling series of symphonies, written for the second of his two trips to England. Haydn was treated as a rockstar in London. One of his symphonies was performed by an orchestra of 300 musicians, an historical detail which might shatter our notion that …

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Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy”: A Grand Hybrid

It’s part piano improvisation, part piano concerto, and part grand chamber work. Oh yes, and there’s a full chorus at the end. Beethoven’s Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 80, a piece I played over the weekend, is a fascinating and genre-defying hybrid. It was written for a benefit concert that was performed on December 22, 1808. At the end of the concert, Beethoven pulled together the evening’s disparate forces with this …

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Mozart and the “C-D-F-E” Motive

Towards the end of the finale of Mozart’s last symphony (the “Jupiter,” No. 41), there’s an extraordinary moment when five independent musical themes combine to form an explosion of counterpoint unlike anything else in the symphonic repertoire. This dazzling display of musical fireworks culminates Mozart’s symphonic output with a celebratory bang. But one of this finale’s most prominent motives- the four notes, “C-D-F-E” which open the movement– has roots much earlier in Mozart’s writing. Go back and …

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