Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

The Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531 is one of Antonio Vivaldi’s most intensely dramatic and convention-defying works. Out of the composer’s nearly 500 surviving concerti (30 of which feature the cello), it is the only “double” concerto for the instrument. The first movement begins not with the standard tutti ritornello but with the two solo instruments taking center stage with a vigorous conversation in thirds. Immediately, we are …

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Bach’s “Canon a 2 Cancrizans” from “The Musical Offering”: A Divine Puzzle

The canon, which features one or more imitations of the same melodic line performed at varying intervals over a given duration, is one of music’s most intriguing contrapuntal devices. In The Musical Offering, BWV 1079, J.S. Bach takes this technique a step further with the canon cancrizans, or “crab canon.” Here, the melodic line can be played as written, and also in reverse, in a way similar to a crab crawling backwards. …

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Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony: An Awe-Inspiring Contrapuntal Edifice

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music,” said the eighteenth century German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major may be the most architectural symphony ever written. Constructed with monumental building blocks which are assembled according to principles of balance, proportion, and repetition, its four movements add up to a majestic and soaring musical structure. It takes us on a gradual, time-altering procession which requires that …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Da Pacem Domine”: A Timeless Meditation

Time has a deep meaning, but it is temporary, like our lives. Only eternity is timeless. –Arvo Pärt A sense of mysticism and timelessness pervades the music of the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. Emerging from the currents of twentieth century minimalism, it is music which inhabits the quiet, meditative space of Gregorian chant and early polyphony. “The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity,” said Pärt, who …

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Beethoven’s “The Ruins of Athens”: Politics and the Triumph of the Muses

In 1811, Beethoven received a commission to compose incidental music for two Hungarian-themed plays by August von Kotzebue, King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens. The plays were written to commemorate the opening of a magnificent new theater in the Hungarian city of Pest on the banks of the Danube (now the eastern part of unified Budapest). The theater’s construction was funded by Franz I, the last Holy Roman Emperor and the first …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

The revolutionary nature of Beethoven’s three Op. 59 “Razumovsky” String Quartets is documented in this excerpt from an 1807 review: Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets…are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the Op. 59 String Quartets elevated the genre to a cosmic …

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Puccini’s “La Bohème”: The Love Duet, “O Soave Fanciulla”

The duet, O soave fanciulla (“O gentle maiden”) is heard in the closing moments of the first Act of Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera, La Bohème. It is in this moment that the struggling poet, Rodolfo, and the seamstress, Mimì, realize that they have fallen in love with one another. The opera’s love leitmotif emerges as they sing in unison, A! tu sol comandi, amor! The leitmotif is heard earlier in Act I in Rodolfo’s aria, Che gelida …

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