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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Mahler and the Cuckoo

Even as a child I was struck by birdsong. -Gustav Mahler The call of the cuckoo, often associated with spring, has long inspired composers. For example, the cuckoo’s harmonious falling major third can be heard in Handel’s Organ Concerto No.13 in F Major, the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, and Frederick Delius’ shimmering 1912 tone poem, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The cuckoo’s call also finds its way into the music of Gustav …

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Augustin Hadelich Plays Brahms

This performance, recorded last June, is one of the gems you’ll find at violinist Augustin Hadelich’s Youtube channel. It’s the Brahms Violin Concerto as experienced from a front row seat in Oslo’s intimate NRK Radio Concert Hall. (The Norwegian Radio Orchestra is conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya). At the end of the first movement, we often hear the cadenza by Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), the German violinist for whom Brahms wrote the Concerto. This performance …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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