Bartók’s “Out of Doors”: Ancient Rustic Sounds

The vibrant hum of nature blends with distant, ghostly echoes from ancient Hungarian villages in Béla Bartók’s Out of Doors (Szabadban). Written in 1926, the work is a collection of five brief and atmospheric pieces for solo piano. Taken together, the movements unfold in a symmetrical arch form, a structure Bartók used in multiple pieces, including the Fourth and Fifth String Quartets, Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the Second Piano Concerto. Bartók …

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Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto: A Musical Farewell to Hungary

Béla Bartók completed his Second Violin Concerto in 1938 as the storm clouds of fascism gathered in his native Hungary. That year, he wrote to a friend in Switzerland, What is most appalling is the imminent danger that Hungary too will surrender to this system of robbers and murderers… Hungary, where unfortunately the ‘educated’ Christian people are almost exclusively devoted to the Nazi system. I am really ashamed that I come from …

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Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, Op. 117: Autumnal Lullabies

Composed in 1892, the three Intermezzi for solo piano, Op. 117 are among the final works of Johannes Brahms. Filled with wistful nostalgia, they were written two years after Brahms’ formal retirement at the age of 57. The critic Eduard Hanslick described these brief autumnal works as “monologues” of a “thoroughly personal and subjective character…pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac.” Brahms once described them as “three lullabies to my sorrow.” Along with …

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Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”): Brahms’ “Little Requiem”

In the summer of 1868, while visiting his friend Albert Dietrich in the North German coastal town of Wilhelmshaven, Johannes Brahms was drawn to the poem, Hyperions Schicksalslied by Friedrich Hölderlin. Buried in the middle of a 1797 novel depicting the Greek mythical titan Hyperion, the poem’s two verses contrast the lives of eternally blissful Immortals enjoying “luminous, heavenly breezes” with the restless existence of human beings, who are subject to the cruel whims …

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Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo in E Minor, Rachel Podger

Sparks fly in the exhilarating Preludio which opens J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023. The solo violin unleashes a bold and virtuosic toccata over a mighty E pedal tone in the continuo bass. In many of Bach’s other sonatas, the violin enters into a supporting role with the harpsichord. Here, amid a torrent of bariolage (the alternation of notes on adjacent strings to outline chords), it moves squarely into the spotlight. The Adagio …

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“Try to Remember”: The Autumnal Opening of “The Fantasticks”

The world’s longest-running musical ran for 42 years and 17,162 performances, blocks away from the bright lights and glitter of Broadway’s Great White Way. The Fantasticks opened at the intimate Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village on May 3, 1960. For the original production, $900 were spent on the set and $541 were spent on costumes at a time when budgets for Broadway musicals typically exceeded $250,000. The story is an …

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Bruckner’s Third Symphony: Vindicated by Time

The premiere of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor stands as one of music history’s most infamous disasters. The performance took place in Vienna on December 16, 1877. It was to have been conducted by Johann Herbeck, an Austrian maestro who had led the posthumous premiere of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony in 1865. But Herbeck died suddenly, and Bruckner—an accomplished organist and choral director but an inexperienced orchestral conductor—decided to take …

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