Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major: Majestic and Celebratory

A string of superlatives characterizes the earliest-known audience account of a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major. It comes from Iwan Anderwitsch, who attended an all-Mozart memorial concert in Hamburg in March of 1792, a year after the composer’s death: The opening is so majestic that it so surprised even the coldest, most insensitive listener and non-expert, that even if he wanted to chat, it prevented him from being …

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Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto: A Colossus Reborn

Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor rise ups before the listener as a formidable colossus. The work is scored for an enormous orchestra which includes three trombones, tuba, and an array of percussion instruments. It is set in four movements rather than the traditional three. At moments, the piano seems to be pushed to the edge of its limits and consumed by a blazing, raw power. For the soloist, the Concerto’s technical …

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Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Major, BWV 868, Diego Ares

In a recent video clip for the Netherlands Bach Society, the Spanish-born harpsichordist Diego Ares discusses his lifelong relationship with the music of J.S. Bach: He is a wonderful life’s companion. You couldn’t wish for a better one. He is there when you are happy and also when you’re sad. He can comfort you when you are sad and he can lift your spirit. He is a great source of peace. A sense …

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Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto: Written for Mstislav Rostropovich

In 1943, the 16-year-old Mstislav Rostropovich was in Dmitri Shostakovich’s orchestration class at the Moscow Conservatory. When Shostakovich heard the young cellist play, he was overcome with praise, commenting on the “the intense, restless mind and the high spirituality that he brings to his mastery.” Later, he wrote, Mstislav Rostropovich, never resting, always searching and growing—is of such significance that it seems already possible to claim his name will come to be given …

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Debussy’s “Rêverie,” Zoltán Kocsis

Rêverie (“daydream”) is music of the young Claude Debussy. Written in 1890, this atmospheric piece for solo piano anticipates the composer’s later works. At the same time, I hear a fleeting echo (perhaps coincidental) of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. As with Saint-Saëns, who downplayed his 1886 Carnival of the Animals suite as frivolity, Debussy later turned his back on Rêverie, writing to the publisher Fromont, I regret very much your decision to publish Rêverie. I wrote it in a …

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Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major: An Enduring Wedding Gift, “Con Amore”

One of the most famous and enduring works of the violin repertoire began as a wedding gift. In 1886, César Franck presented the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano to the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, on the occasion of his wedding to Louise Bourdeau. At the time, the 64-year-old Franck was best known as a prominent organist and professor at the Paris Conservatory. Ysaÿe, a committed champion of new French music, …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Pari intervallo”: Geometry Unfolding in Time

Musical lines evoke strict geometry in Arvo Pärt’s brief but cosmic meditation, Pari intervallo (Latin for “in the equal distance”). Throughout the piece, two parallel voices seem to drift quietly into infinity. A continuous and inevitable process unfolds which gives rise to occasional unexpected but delicious harmonic dissonances. In the score, Pärt inscribed a quote from Romans 14:8: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto …

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