Bach’s “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend”: Five Settings of a Lutheran Hymn

First published in 1648, the Lutheran hymn, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (“Lord Jesus Christ, be present now!”), provided a fertile source for J.S. Bach. Bach created at least five wildly contrasting settings of the melody, each of which relates to a specific aspect of the text. The melody is by an anonymous composer. (It has been erroneously attributed to Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Weimar). Beginning with an ascending triad, the hymn …

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Strauss’ “Metamorphosen”: In Memoriam

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in the 1930s, Richard Strauss was ambivalent at first. He only wanted to be left alone to compose the next opera. In a letter, Strauss observed, with grudging pragmatism, “I made music under the Kaiser…I’ll survive under this one as well.” For a while, Strauss placated the Nazis, attempting to use his position as a preeminent composer to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and her …

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Strauss’ Four Symphonic Interludes from “Intermezzo”: A Portrait of Matrimony

In a letter to his wife, Pauline, Richard Strauss listed the three areas which gave his life meaning: “nature, notes, and family.” (Bryan Gilliam) Musically, Strauss celebrated his stable family life with the autobiographical 1904 tone poem, Symphonia Domestica, Op. 53. When the work’s subject matter was criticized as trivial, Strauss responded, What could be more serious than married life? Marriage is the most profound event in life and the spiritual joy …

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Khatia Buniatishvili Plays Chopin: Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52

Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 inhabits the world of dreams. It unfolds as a hazy musical hallucination, at once melancholy, sensuous, and volcanic. The English pianist John Ogdon called it, “the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopin’s compositions…It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime.” Composed in Paris in 1842, this was Chopin’s final solo …

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Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht-Musik”: A Cheerful Nocturnal Serenade

Mozart’s G major string Serenade No. 13, commonly known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”), is among the most enduring popular music ever written. Responding to an unknown commission, Mozart dashed it off on August 10, 1787 in Vienna as he worked on the second act of the opera, Don Giovanni. Originally scored for string quartet and double bass, the piece is frequently performed by a string orchestra. German commentator Wolfgang Hildesheimer wrote, “even …

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Elgar’s “As Torrents in Summer”: Cambridge University Chamber Choir

Scored for a cappella chorus, As Torrents in Summer is an excerpt from the epilogue of Sir Edward Elgar’s 1896 cantata, Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, Op. 30.The text is an adaptation of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which tells the story of Olaf Tryggvason, the medieval king of Norway, who brought Christianity to the Scandinavian country. In As Torrents in Summer, the sustaining force of a far-off summer rainstorm, …

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Shunske Sato Plays Vivaldi: “Summer” from “The Four Seasons”

Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) is one of the earliest and most iconic examples of programmatic music. Vivaldi composed the collection of four violin concerti, each depicting a season of the year, during his tenure as music director at the court chapel of Mantua. Together with eight additional concerti, the works were published in Amsterdam in 1725 under the enticing title, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“The Contest Between Harmony and …

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