A Strad in the Attic

It’s a familiar and often dubious story which almost always ends in disappointment…A homeowner discovers a long-forgotten violin tucked away in a dusty attic. On a slip of paper inside the instrument’s f holes, the words “Antonio Stradivari” can be faintly made out. Most of the time, on closer inspection, these instruments are determined to be cheap copies. But the recent discovery of a 1731 Stradivarius, which belonged to Rodolphe Kreutzer, proves that …

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The Triumph of Inner Voices

No, this post isn’t about following your intuition…today we’re talking about musical inner voices, those sometimes inconspicuous lines between the melody and the bass, which are often the essence of a piece’s drama. If you have any doubts about the importance of these lines, often played by violas and second violins in orchestral and string quartet repertoire, watch this short but funny clip of conductor Sergiu Celibidache rehearsing the Adagio from Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.  Ensemble …

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Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major

In a previous post, I suggested that many of the greatest composers experienced a mysterious, heightened sense of musical insight in their final years, leading to some of the most profound and visionary music. Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who died at the tragically young age of 31, tapped into this sense of revelation at the end of his life. Following a series of charmingly tuneful classical symphonies, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major (“The …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

Can you imagine how shocking the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 must have been for audiences at the first performance in 1808? While the classical style of Mozart and Haydn was rooted in elegance and balance, Beethoven made the orchestra growl. There’s a sense of struggle, as if he’s impatiently pushing the classical orchestra to its limits. The entire symphony springs from the first ferocious four notes. It’s a study …

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Beethoven and the Turbulence of C Minor

The key of C minor held special significance for Beethoven. Emotionally intense and stormy, C minor evoked the turbulence of an age of revolution. It embodied a sense of heroic struggle, which would form the bedrock of Romaticism. In Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion, American pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen suggests that Beethoven’s C minor compositions are closely linked to the Romantic idea of the artist as hero: [quote]Beethoven in C minor …

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“Hey Nick…Can We Go Home Now?”

That’s pretty much what Franz Joseph Haydn said to his employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, except not in those words. Instead, Haydn found a clever musical way to get his point across. As this article explains, in the summer of 1772 Prince Esterházy decided to extend his vacation at his country palace. The court musicians in Haydn’s orchestra were missing their families back home. Haydn gave the prince a gentle musical nudge. The final movement …

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Musical Beginnings

Think about the way your favorite piece begins. From the ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which form the DNA for the entire symphony that follows, to the quiet, mysterious tremolos of Bruckner’s symphonies, to the attention grabbing (and audience quieting) opening fanfares of Rossini’s opera overtures, the way a piece starts tells us a lot about what will follow. As you jump, grudgingly tip toe or stride boldly into 2014, listen …

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