Mendelssohn’s Wee Bit of Irish

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, an occasion when everyone seems to claim a “wee bit of Irish” heritage, if only in spirit. So let’s hear what happens when a beautiful Irish folk song ends up in the hands of a composer otherwise unconnected to the Emerald Isle. Felix Mendelssohn drew upon a popular Irish folk song for his Fantasia on “The Last Rose of Summer”, Op. 15, a piano work written around 1830. It’s …

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Beethoven’s Seventh: The Apotheosis of Dance

Next week, on Monday evening, I’ll be joining my Richmond Symphony colleagues to perform a free benefit concert for the United Way, organized by the Symphony Musicians of Richmond, our players’ association (details here). The program includes Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a piece we explored briefly in this past Listeners’ Club post. It’s hard to imagine any music more appropriate for the occasion. In fact, the first performance of the Seventh Symphony, which took place on …

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Dona Nobis Pacem: Six Musical Invocations of Peace

The phrase Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us Peace”) comes from the Agnus Dei section of the Roman Catholic mass. It’s a simple, yet eternally powerful, invocation which has come to life in countless musical settings, from the serene simplicity of the traditional canon to the melodic perfection of Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major. At the end of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, it emerges as a triumphant celebration. In the twentieth century, it becomes a …

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Symphonie Fantastique: Berlioz’s Musical Hallucination

Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, first heard in 1830, shares some surprising similarities with a teenager’s rock music: It’s shocking, rebellious, and at least partially drug-induced (Berlioz was under the influence of opium). It may have been written to impress a girl (Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress whom Berlioz saw in a production of Hamlet in 1827, leading to an infatuation and ultimately short-lived marriage). It deals with the pain of unrequited love, yet this …

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