Archive | Romantic Period

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Christmas Liszt

When considering sacred Christmas music, Franz Liszt probably isn’t the first composer to come to mind. But Liszt, in fact, wrote a strange outlier of a Christmas Oratorio. It forms the first part of the sprawling Christus, composed between 1862 and 1866, which follows the example of Handel’s Messiah, dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ from birth, to passion, […]

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“The Swan of Tuonela”: Sibelius’ Voyage into Hades

Tuonela, the Kingdom of Death, the Hades of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river of black water and rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela glides in majestic fashion and sings. Jean Sibelius inscribed these words in the early editions of his searing 1895 tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela. Originally conceived as the […]

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Sibelius’ First Symphony: Romanticism and Structure

Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces. -Jean Sibelius There’s a divine logic at work in the seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius. You get the sense […]

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Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky, From Elation to Despair

Over the weekend, I found myself returning to Friday’s post to listen to Ja vas lyublyu, the famous aria from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades. It occurred to me that the aria’s progression from soaring passion to gloomy despair is echoed throughout many of Tchaikovsky’s works. In many cases, this dichotomy of elation and despair relates […]

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”: Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert

In Monday’s post, we explored the warm, instantly-recognizable sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra during its golden age under the tenure of music directors Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. As a follow up, here is a 1978 concert performance of Scheherazade by the Russian Romanticist, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). The symphonic suite, based on The Arabian Nights, is filled with shimmering colors (Rimsky-Korsakov […]

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The “Philadelphia Sound” in Five Historic Recordings

These days, the professional orchestra world is characterized by unparalleled technical skill, dutiful attention to historically-informed performance practice, and a general homogenization of sound and style. Musicians are expected to transition, instantly and seamlessly, from the lush Romanticism of Tchaikovsky to the lean purity of Mozart, with the mixed meters of Stravinsky and John Adams […]

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Renée Fleming

The Transformation Scene from Strauss’ “Daphne”: Renée Fleming, Live

Richard Strauss’ 1937 one act opera, Daphne, (subtitled “a bucolic tragedy”) is based on the mythological figure from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to the legend, the chaste Daphne sings praises to warm sunlight and the trees and flowers of the natural world. She is so rooted in nature that she has no interest in human love, rejecting her childhood friend, the […]

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Rachel Barton Pine Plays “Danse macabre”

The violin’s reputation as “the Devil’s instrument” goes back at least as far as the Renaissance, where paintings such as Pieter Bruegel’s 1562 The Triumph of Death, linked the violin to death and the depravity of dance. The “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) comes with a story in which the composer heard the Devil playing the Sonata […]

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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: Heroism and Virtuosity

Soaring, expansive, heroic, and thrillingly virtuosic…These are words which might describe Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75, written in the autumn of 1885.  Echoes of Beethoven’s violin sonatas surface occasionally in this music (Compare this dialogue between piano and violin with the opening turn of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata). But all of the glistening colors […]

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Franz Berwald: The First Great Scandinavian Symphonist?

In Wednesday’s post, I made the assertion that Scandinavian composers, from Grieg and Nielsen to Sibelius, inhabited their own distinct sound world. They seem to have heard things in a different way, and their music often unfolds with a unique sense of flow and a distinct approach towards time. Perhaps it was a result of their […]

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