Archive | Romantic Period

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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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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Traditional Norwegian fisherman's cabins, rorbuer, on the island of Hamnøy, Reine on the Lofoten in northern Norway. Photographed at dawn in winter.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto: Color and Atmosphere

It’s one of the most memorable opening statements in all of music history. Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor begins with the ominous rumble of a timpani roll and then a sudden, bold proclamation in the solo piano which seems to say, “Here I am.” The music which follows has echoes of the hushed restlessness of Robert Schumann’s Piano […]

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A Brief Musical Tour of Catalonia

Catalonia was thrust into the headlines last week amid a tumultuous attempted referendum regarding independence from Spain. For centuries, the sliver of land on the Mediterranean, once under Moorish control and now home to 7.5 million people, has alternated between independent republic, French protectorate, and Spanish region. Anchored by its capital, Barcelona, Catalonia has developed […]

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Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”: Saying Goodbye to Romanticism

Richard Strauss lived long enough to witness the death of one world and the emergence of another. Consider that when Strauss wrote his first song, Weihnachtslied, in 1870 at the age of 6, Wagner was just hitting his stride with the premiere of Die Walküre, and Tchaikovsky had recently completed his gushingly romantic Overture-Fantasy, Romeo and Juliet. By 1949, the year […]

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Solitary Liszt

Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art. The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ’s religion illuminates with His divine light. -Franz Liszt We often think of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) as a kind of nineteenth century rock star whose piano music is filled with dazzling displays […]

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Jascha Heifetz in Concert: Five Amazing Clips

There is no top. There are always farther heights to reach. If one thought himself at the pinnacle, he would slide back toward mediocrity by that very belief in his success. -Jascha Heifetz Watch performance clips of Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), and you may get a vague sense of the supernatural. Is Heifetz playing the violin […]

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