Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

The Romantic era in music may have begun, unofficially, with the ferocious opening hammer blows of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. As the story goes, this monumental and revolutionary music was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804, Beethoven reportedly scratched out the dedication on the title page (shown above) and re-dedicated the Symphony to the Hero (“Eroica”), exclaiming So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, …

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Mozart and the Tragic Key of G Minor

Mozart wrote 41 numbered symphonies. Of these, only two are rooted in a minor key- in both cases G minor. The first is the exuberant, fiery Symphony No. 25, which we heard last week. The second and more famous is the “Great” G minor Symphony No. 40.  Last Friday’s post inspired me to consider the uniquely tragic significance of G minor throughout Mozart’s music. This is the key to which Mozart turns in the second …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 25: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). As a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, Bernstein seems to have thrown his arms around the world of music. He brought a unique energy and dynamism to the podium, as well as to his compositions, which run the gamut from the Broadway theater to the concert hall. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the music of Leonard Bernstein. For …

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Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony: “Turning Space Upside Down”

It begins with a distant drumbeat in the night- a barely-audible triple-beat timpani summons. Then, a strangely amorphous scale in the brooding low strings rises out of the darkness. A vague remembrance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde blends into a gradually-shifting kaleidoscope of veiled colors. Icy dissonance opens out into a vast, magnificent, sonic expanse. These are the first, primal seconds of Jean Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. Actually, we don’t perceive this piece as having a …

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Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100

It would be fun to travel back in time to visit the dynamic public concerts of London’s Hanover Square Rooms during the early 1790s. This is when Franz Joseph Haydn was taking the city by storm, conducting his final twelve symphonies (Nos. 93-104) from a seat at the harpsichord. Haydn remained on the payroll of the Esterházy court during this time. But it was London where he was regarded as a rockstar, thanks to an invitation from …

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New Release: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra

A spectacular new hybrid SACD recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, featuring Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, came out earlier this month on the Swedish label, BIS Records. This is the second installment in a project which will include the complete cycle of Mahler Symphonies. (The Fifth Symphony was released last July). Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have already recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Sibelius. The hybrid recording technology attempts to capture …

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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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