Fanfare for the Common Man

Over the course of five sweltering months spanning the summer of 1787, delegates assembled in Philadelphia to establish one of the most revolutionary documents in human history—the Constitution of the United States. Enshrined in the document is the dignity of the individual. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual, including freedom of speech, press, and religion. These rights, not granted by law but instead …

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Martinů’s Nonet No. 2: Sunny, Exuberant Neoclassicism

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was one of the most significant and prolific Czech composers of the twentieth century. As a young man, Martinů performed as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic and studied composition briefly with Josef Suk. He left Prague in 1923 and relocated to Paris. There he was drawn to new musical currents which included jazz, neoclassicism, and surrealism. During this time, the French composer Albert Roussel served as his chief mentor. With …

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Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody: The Wanderer Finds Solace

Early photographs of Johannes Brahms capture a solitary, contemplative figure. Brahms was a lifelong bachelor whose personal motto, Frei aber froh (“Free but happy”), found its way into the opening three pitches of the Third Symphony in the form of a musical cryptogram. The loving, platonic relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and its creative influence, has been well-documented. Yet, scholars believe that for a period of time Brahms also harbored a deep, …

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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18: A Thrilling “Interplay of Instruments”

Leopold Mozart visited his son in Vienna during the frigid winter of 1785. Over the course of ten weeks, the elder Mozart witnessed a superstar musician at the height of his popularity. In letters, he marveled at the extent to which his son was in demand at prominent venues across the city. Indeed, between 1782 and 1785, Mozart presented two or three new piano concertos each season, establishing “a harmonious connection between an …

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Alex Shapiro’s “Intermezzo,” Adam Marks

The genre-defying music of American composer Alex Shapiro (b. 1962) often blends acoustic and electroacoustic sound worlds. A native of New York, Shapiro now “lives in the middle of nowhere on a small rock between the coasts of Washington State and British Columbia.” Her contemplative, jazz-infused 1998 Intermezzo for solo piano may have been influenced by that picturesque environment. She writes, Intermezzo was composed as a response to the waves of the …

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Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony: “Glorifying the Grandeur of the Human Spirit”

The January 13, 1945 premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major marked a momentous occasion. Fourteen years had elapsed since the completion of the composer’s Fourth Symphony. An expectant audience filled the Moscow Conservatory’s Great Hall. As Prokofiev raised his baton before the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in anticipation of the first movement’s opening bars, a barrage of celebratory artillery fire rang out through the city. The gunfire was a signal …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Fair Melusine” Overture: A Fluid Dreamscape

Felix Mendelssohn’s 1833 concert overture, The Fair Melusine, was inspired by a popular legend from medieval European folklore, first recorded in 1387 by Jean d’Arras. The beautiful Melusine is cursed to take the form of a serpent from her waist down for one day of the week. She agrees to marry a knight and live in the human world on the condition that he does not seek her out on her “serpent day.” Ultimately, the knight …

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