Brahms’ Four Klavierstücke, Op. 119: Progressive Meditations

Johannes Brahms wrote the Four Pieces for Piano (Klavierstücke), Op. 119 during the summer of 1893 in the Upper Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. The brief character pieces are among the final, autumnal works of a composer who had announced his official retirement three years earlier. They inhabit an introspective world, at times filled with wistful nostalgia. The Klavierstücke, Op. 119 are preceded by three similar cycles (Op. 116, 117, and …

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Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

During the summer of 1886, Johannes Brahms traveled from Vienna to the idyllic shores of Lake Thun in the Swiss Alps. The working vacation, sometimes called Brahms’ “chamber music summer,” resulted in an astonishing number of works, which included the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101. Brahms claimed that the landscape was “so full of …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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Brahms’ Second Violin Sonata, Op. 100 and Five Songs, Op. 105: Musical Siblings

Johannes Brahms spent the summer of 1886 at the idyllic lakeside town of Thun in Switzerland. The holiday was so productive that it is now remembered as Brahms’ “chamber music summer.” Works completed during this time include the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, and several songs. Brahms claimed that the landscape was “so full of …

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Wagner’s “Rienzi” Overture: A Glorious Remnant of Youthful Indiscretion

In his later years, Richard Wagner dismissed his five-act opera, Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes, as a “youthful sin.” Completed in 1840 when the composer was 27 years old, Rienzi stands in stark contrast with Wagner’s mature work. It was elaborately conceived as Grand Opera in the tradition of Meyerbeer. Wagner’s megalomaniacal intention was “to outdo all previous examples with sumptuous extravagance.” The premiere in Dresden on October 20, 1842 lasted over six hours with breaks …

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Borodin’s Second Symphony: Solemn, Celebratory, Heroic

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), the great Russian Romanticist, once said, “I’m a composer in search of oblivion; I’m always slightly ashamed to admit I compose.” By day, Borodin was a brilliant research chemist and a distinguished professor at the Medico-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg. When he was not passionately investigating aldehydes, he was creating some of the most innovative Russian music. The small catalogue of works he left behind includes two completed symphonies, two …

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