Brahms’ String Quartet No. 1 in C Minor: Music Written for Posterity

For Johannes Brahms, writing a string quartet was no casual undertaking. Brahms was profoundly aware that he was walking in the footsteps of giants—Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert to be specific. In an 1869 letter to his publisher, Brahms noted that Mozart had taken “extreme care” with the set of six string quartets that he dedicated to Haydn. Now, Brahms intended to do his “very best to turn out one or two passably …

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Remembering Camilla Wicks

The legendary American violinist Camilla Wicks has passed away. She was 92. Born in Long Beach, California to Norwegian immigrant parents, Wicks rose to prominence as a child prodigy, performing her first public concert at the age of four. By the age of eight, her repertoire included concertos of Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Paganini. When she was ten, Wicks became a student of Louis Persinger, the influential teacher who guided the careers of …

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“The Promise Of Living”: Copland’s Hymn of Thanksgiving

The Promise of Living forms the first act finale of Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land. Conceived for the NBC Television Opera Workshop but ultimately rejected by the network’s producers, The Tender Land was premiered by New York City Opera on April 1, 1954. Dramatically, it occupies the same hazy, surreal space we encounter in Copland’s ballet, Appalachian Spring. Set in the rural American heartland during the Great Depression, the plot centers around the coming of age of Laurie …

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Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 in D Major: “Arise! Arise!”

The tuneful Voice, was heard from high, Arise! Arise! Arise ye more than dead! – John Dryden (A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day) Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 5 begins with a joyful musical “call to order.” A celebratory fanfare in the solo violin seems to be the “tuneful voice” from John Dryden’s 1687 poem, urging us to “arise!” In fact, the first, second, and sixth movements of this Concerto Grosso …

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Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day”: “From Harmony, from Heavenly Harmony”

Sunday marks Saint Cecilia’s Feast Day on the Roman Catholic calendar. Saint Cecilia, one of the most famous martyrs of the early church, is the patron of music and musicians. Her spirit is celebrated in George Frederich Handel’s cantata, Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, which was first performed on November 22, 1739 at London’s Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The cantata’s text is a setting of a 1687 poem by John Dryden based on the …

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Bartók’s Suite, Op. 14: The Percussive Piano

The piano music of Béla Bartók is filled with the hard edges and exhilarating, swirling motion of Eastern European peasant dances. It strips away Romantic embellishment in favor of something more direct, austere, earthy, and primal. The piano, with its hammer-striking mechanism, becomes a full-fledged percussion instrument. All of this can be heard in Bartók’s solo piano Suite, Op. 14, composed in 1916. In a 1944 radio interview, Bartók said, When this work …

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Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto: An Intimate and Sublime Dialogue

Each of Beethoven’s five mature piano concertos take us to a distinct place. The Third is set in a turbulent C minor, with a backward glance to Mozart. The Fifth, known as the “Emperor,” springs to life with a sense of monumentality and exhilarating heroism. In between is the sometimes overlooked Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. Here, we enter a magical and quietly intimate world of shimmering colors. Musical lines …

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