Composers on Holiday: Five Pieces Written on Summer Vacation

Summer is here. For professional orchestral musicians, that means a brief respite from the weekly routine of the main concert season. Soon it will be time for summer seasons and music festivals, many featuring outdoor concerts in such idyllic locations as Chautauqua, Vail, and the Tetons. Summer has typically been a productive time for composers. Gustav Mahler, one of the most prominent conductors of his time, retreated to isolated rural settings in …

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The Pastoral Sounds of Brahms’ Second

When it came to the symphony, Johannes Brahms was haunted by a ghost. Approaching the age of 40, Brahms declared, “I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” That giant was Beethoven, who elevated the symphony to new, and previously unimaginable, dramatic heights. As a result, it took Brahms fifteen years to complete his First Symphony. Set in the …

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3 Musical Allusions to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”

And He shall reign forever and ever… It’s one of the most recognizable passages in all of music…ten downward-stepping pitches which somehow evoke the ultimate sense of joy and triumph. The Hallelujah Chorus closes Part II of Messiah, Handel’s most famous oratorio, with a burst of D major combined with trumpets and drums. George II was so moved when he heard the opening introduction that he rose to his feet and remained standing for the …

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The Tetzlaff Trio Plays Brahms

Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 is a piece that bookended the compositional career of Johannes Brahms. In 1854, it became the 21-year-old composer’s first published chamber music composition. As Brahms prepared for retirement over thirty years later in 1890, he returned to this early work for minor revisions. He said, “I didn’t provide it with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little.” The revised version (featured below) is …

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Remembering Kurt Masur: Five Great Recordings

Conductor Kurt Masur passed away on December 19, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 88. Masur will be remembered for his 26-year association (beginning in 1970) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a storied ensemble once led by Felix Mendelssohn. Kurt Masur brought powerful political, as well as musical, leadership to Leipzig. In 1981, following the destruction of the previous Gewandhaus in the fire-bombings of the Second World War forty years earlier, he …

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The Lonely Introspection of Brahms’ Op. 116, No. 4

  Let’s finish the week with Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in E major, No. 4 from the Seven Fantasies, Op. 116 for piano. Written in 1892 in the final years of Brahms’ life, this is music infused with a deep sense of lonely introspection. It draws us into a dreamlike world where every chord and hesitating pause seem to have something important to say. There are moments when the rhythmic feel changes in interesting ways, obliterating our …

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The Mercurial Romanticism of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

Listening to Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 forces us to live in and enjoy the moment. The three short “Fantasy Pieces,” written in just over two days in February, 1849, are filled with abrupt, slightly schizophrenic, changes in mood. Moments of deep introspection, followed by bursts of euphoria, remind us of Florestan and Eusebius, the split personalities which inhabit much of Schumann’s music. In the Fantasy Pieces, each delightful and unexpected harmonic shift whisks …

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