Clara Haskil Plays Mozart

As Clara sat down “the music materialized as if from nowhere. Her arm seemed to glide over the keyboard without preparation, just as a flat stone skims across the water. This was so typical of her playing; nothing seemed to start or end, and everything became timeless.” This is how the late German pianist, composer, and teacher Peter Feuchtwanger described the musicianship of Clara Haskil (1895-1960). The legendary Romanian-born pianist is remembered as …

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Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” Overture Springs to Life

You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting. – Mozart in a letter to his father, Leopold dated July 31, 1778 In the nineteenth century, a myth developed surrounding Mozart’s compositional process. The popular romantic notion suggested that Mozart’s compositions were conceived instantly and effortlessly, arriving in the composer’s mind in completed form. In 1815, twenty-four years after the …

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An 18th Century Novelty: Music for Mechanical Organ Clock

On Wednesday, I pointed out the persistent “tick-tock” rhythm of the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 101- a detail which earned the piece the nickname, The “Clock” Symphony. That got me thinking about the small collection of music, written by Haydn and other composers, for the mechanical organ clock, a popular eighteenth century luxury item which combined a clock with a small, mechanized organ. It’s a device which epitomized the scientific rationality of …

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Mozart and the “C-D-F-E” Motive

Towards the end of the finale of Mozart’s last symphony (the “Jupiter,” No. 41), there’s an extraordinary moment when five independent musical themes combine to form an explosion of counterpoint unlike anything else in the symphonic repertoire. This dazzling display of musical fireworks culminates Mozart’s symphonic output with a celebratory bang. But one of this finale’s most prominent motives- the four notes, “C-D-F-E” which open the movement– has roots much earlier in Mozart’s writing. Go back and …

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Mozart’s Gift to Prague: Symphony No. 38

The first performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 took place in Prague on this date, January 19, in 1787. Intensely dramatic, celebratory, and bursting with counterpoint, this is music on a grand scale. Its premiere at the Bohemian capital’s Estates Theatre was the result of happy circumstances for the composer. While Mozart’s popularity was in decline in Vienna, The Marriage of Figaro created a sensation in Prague. Mozart arrived in the city as a rockstar, noting in a letter, …

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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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The Bach Motet that Inspired Mozart

On Friday, we considered the musical influence of J.S. Bach on Mozart. Born in 1756, six years after Bach’s death, Mozart became fascinated with Bach’s counterpoint around the time he moved from Salzburg to Vienna. In 1789, he traveled to Leipzig and performed on the organ Bach had played at St. Thomas Church (pictured above). Bach was music director of the church from 1723 until his death in 1750. According to an eyewitness, the German …

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