Marie Antoinette’s Favorite Symphony

It began with a stunningly lucrative commission. In 1785, Franz Joseph Haydn, who had spent 25 years employed by the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in an isolated backwater of the Austrian Empire, was asked to write six symphonies for the orchestra of Le Concert de la Loge Olympique in Paris. The patron was the Olympic Lodge, one of the wealthiest Masonic lodges in Paris. Haydn was promised an orchestra of 67 musicians (three times the …

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Beethoven’s "Razumovsky" Quartet No. 7

Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 begins with an extraordinary musical conversation. From the first note of the cello’s warm opening statement, we’re immediately drawn into a miraculous, unfolding drama. The cello reaches higher, attempting to express something enormous and cosmic. The violin picks up where the cello left off, reaching even higher with increasing urgency and abandon. Both voices seem to be struggling to find just the …

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Remembering Walter Weller

  Austrian conductor and violinist Walter Weller passed away last Sunday at the age of 75. Weller was one of the last links to a Viennese musical tradition rooted in the nineteenth century. Following in his father’s footsteps, Walter Weller joined the Vienna Philharmonic at the age of 17, eventually becoming one of its concertmasters. In addition, he performed as first violinist of the Weller Quartet. In 1966 he was asked to …

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The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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The Yings Play Beethoven

  The finest professional string quartets exhibit an almost scary sense of chemistry. This cohesiveness, almost like a sixth sense, develops when the right combination of people spend hours a day performing together. The Ying Quartet, formed at the Eastman School of Music in 1988, enjoys an additional advantage: the founding members are siblings. Only the first violin position has changed in recent years with the departure of Timothy Ying in 2009. Beginning …

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Nature in the Key of F

The key of F major has long associations with nature and calm pastoral scenes. As flowers bloom and the pollen count soars, let’s finish out the week with four pieces in F major which evoke images of a springtime pasture: Bach’s Pastorale in F Major Historians believe that bagpipes may have predated ancient Rome. On hillsides in southern Italy and beyond, shepherds played Zampogna (Italian bagpipes). You can hear echoes of the Zampogna …

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Four Musical Firsts

In celebration of the beginning of a new year, here are four pieces which qualify as musical “firsts.” Listen to the music on the list and then share your own favorite musical “firsts” in the comment thread below. Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” Let’s start with the birth of opera. Italian Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is often credited with singlehandedly inventing the art form. In reality, opera gradually evolved out of Intermedio, music and …

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