The Anxiety of Influence: Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto

Ah, we shall never be able to do anything like that! Apparently, Beethoven made this remark to the pianist-composer Johann Baptist Cramer after hearing Mozart’s stormy Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, a piece we explored last week. Beethoven’s enthusiasm for Mozart’s Concerto is a testament to its sublime, haunting drama and even Romantic foreshadowings. You can hear its influence in the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, also in C minor. Mozart’s …

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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24: Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate, and the English Chamber Orchestra

Two weeks ago, we explored the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music, from The Magic Flute‘s lamenting aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” to the persistent “minor-ness” of Symphony No. 40. Today, I want to take a similar excursion into minor-key Mozart with the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491. This is one of only two concertos Mozart wrote in a minor key. It provides a dark, stormy counterweight to the bright comedy of The Marriage of …

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A Vivaldi Snapshot

Let’s finish the week with a brief but alluring musical snapshot. This is the beautiful second movement (Andante) from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in F Major, RV 136, completed around 1730. It’s an excerpt from Vivaldi: Arie ritrovate, a 2008 album I featured in last Friday’s post. Violinist Stefano Montanari joins the Ravenna-based baroque orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, led by Ottavio Dantone. I love the way this music draws us in with a sense of majestic, flowing, inevitability. Its roving bass line …

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Happy Birthday, Robert Schumann

Today marks the 208th anniversary of the birth of Robert Schumann (1810-1856). On Monday, we considered the relationship between Anton Webern’s youthful 1907 Piano Quintet and the music of Brahms. Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, completed during the summer of 1864, was greatly influenced by Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44. With this work, written in 1842 during his “year of chamber music,” Schumann practically invented the heroic and often symphonic pairing of string quartet and piano. Notice how …

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New Release: Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque

English violinist, conductor, and Baroque specialist Rachel Podger has released an invigorating new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in collaboration with Brecon Baroque, an ensemble she founded in 2007. This collection of concertos, published in 1725, is so familiar to us today that it’s easy to forget how bold, innovative, and virtuosic this music must have seemed to its first audiences. Accompanied by sonnets, also written by Vivaldi, these works stand as some …

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Clara Haskil Plays Mozart

As Clara sat down “the music materialized as if from nowhere. Her arm seemed to glide over the keyboard without preparation, just as a flat stone skims across the water. This was so typical of her playing; nothing seemed to start or end, and everything became timeless.” This is how the late German pianist, composer, and teacher Peter Feuchtwanger described the musicianship of Clara Haskil (1895-1960). The legendary Romanian-born pianist is remembered as …

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Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” and the Power of Repetition

A simple idea or statement, persistently repeated, can take on a unique power. The idea seems to come alive, gradually seeping into our consciousness and demanding our attention and respect. Perhaps this is part of the profound magic of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, written sometime between 1706 and 1713 when the composer was in his early twenties. It begins with that simple, repeating statement- a quietly unassuming, stepping passacaglia …

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