Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals”: A Zoological Romp

In February of 1886, Camille Saint-Saëns set aside work on his Third Symphony to engage in a brief burst of compositional frivolity. He admitted to his publishers that it was “such fun” he could not resist. The piece in question was The Carnival of the Animals, a humorous musical suite made up of fourteen short, parody-filled movements. Each movement depicts a specific animal and has inspired numerous texts, which include poetry written by …

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Fauré’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” Suite: Incidental Music for a Symbolist Play

Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1898 French symbolist play, Pelléas and Mélisande, centers around a doomed love triangle. Set in an ancient ruined castle and a dense forest, it “expresses a sense that human beings understand neither themselves nor each other nor the world.” (Bettina Knapp) Joan Pataky Kosove writes, Pelléas et Mélisande tells the story of a young and beautiful girl who marries one man, falls in love with another, and dies. But the play …

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Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor: “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

In 1875, Johannes Brahms sent the newly completed score for his C minor Piano Quartet to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, with the following message: On the cover you must have a picture, namely a head with a pistol to it. Now you can form some conception of the music! I’ll send you my photograph for the purpose. Since you seem to like color printing, you can use blue coat, yellow breeches, and …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Symphony: Adventures in Form

Camille Saint-Saëns was 24 years old when, during the summer of 1859, he composed Symphony No. 2 in A minor. It is a work which is both youthful and convention-defying. Intimate and compact, this music is far removed from the monumental grandeur of the “Organ Symphony,” which Saint-Saëns wrote some thirty years later. It bends symphonic form in surprising and adventurous ways. The first movement (Allegro marcato – Allegro appassionato) begins with …

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Anna Netrebko Sings Rimsky-Korsakov: “Ty, Tsarevich, Moy Spasitel” from “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, is based on a fairy tale poem by Alexander Pushkin.Premiering in November, 1900 in Moscow, it tells the story of three sisters. Tsar Saltan chooses the youngest of the three to be his wife, while he appoints the others to be his royal cook and weaver. Soon after the Tsar goes off to war, the Tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Gvidon. The jealous …

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Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto: From Rejection to Triumph

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor opens with one of the most powerful and iconic introductions in music history. A mighty four-note descending line, stated three times in the horns, is punctuated by orchestral thunderbolts. A soaring and expansive theme emerges in the strings, accompanied by colossal ascending chords in the solo piano. Defying convention, this majestic and memorable theme opens the Concerto, yet never returns. Additionally, it sets up the wrong key—not …

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Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”: Two Legendary Heifetz Recordings

The German composer, Max Bruch (1838-1920), had a longstanding fascination with the “exotic” culture and rugged, enchanting topography of Scotland. Bruch read German translations of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and created musical settings for several poems by Robert Burns. The Scots Musical Museum was an influential collection of Scottish folk music which was compiled by Burns and the engraver and publisher, James Johnson, between 1787 and 1803. In addition to inspiring …

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