Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2: The Takács Quartet and Andreas Haefliger

The music of Antonín Dvořák is often filled with a quiet, wistful nostalgia, an embrace of nature, and subtle references to Czech folksongs. We hear all of this in the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, a work of profound depth and monumental scale which Dvořák composed in 1887, between the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. This fully mature music grew out of the composer’s unsuccessful attempt to revise an earlier piano quintet. In the …

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Charles Gounod at 200

Yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Gounod (1818-1893). The French composer is best known for his operas such as Faust and Roméo et Juliette, and the famous Ave Maria, which embellishes J.S. Bach’s C Major Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier.  Gounod’s tender 1857 song, Sérénade, is a gently-rocking barcarolle. The text by Victor Hugo evokes the warmth of a parent speaking softly to a young child cradled in his or her arms. Here is …

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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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Webern’s Piano Quintet and the Spirit of Brahms

What happens when the harmonic language of Brahms meets a dissolving tonal center? The answer might be Anton Webern’s Quintet for Strings and Piano.  Written in 1907, this is one of Webern’s early works. It’s set in a single movement which lasts just over ten minutes. There are tantalizing echoes of the music of Brahms, who died ten years earlier in 1897. We hear the same expansive voicing and soaring, Romantic phrases. But …

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Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2: Stephen Kovacevich

Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 pulls us into a world of dreamy nostalgia, quiet longing, and majestic, serene beauty. It comes from the set of Six Piano Pieces (Klavierstücke), Op. 118 from Brahms’ “autumnal” late period. Listen to the way those unlikely first three notes set the entire piece in motion. As it unfolds and develops, you may sense that the music is “searching” for a way forward, attempting to find …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” Overture: Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Tomorrow marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). In celebration, let’s listen to a classic recording of the Overture to Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Die Meistersinger is one of Wagner’s later works, completed after Tristan and Isolde and between operas of the Ring Cycle. It’s something of an outlier in Wagner’s output- a comic love story in which no one dies and there are no …

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Strauss’ “Muttertändelei” and the Joys of Motherhood

Just look at my beautiful child, With long, golden locks, Blue eyes and rosy cheeks People, do you also have one like it? People, no you have not! Richard Strauss’ ebullient 1899 song, Muttertändelei (“Mother Chatter”), captures the joy of a new mother who would not give her child away “for all the coins in the world.” The comic text is by the German poet, Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794). The song is filled with sudden, delirious …

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