The Marriage of Figaro’s Act IV Finale: Love’s Triumph Over Folly

In Mozart’s hands, the operatic finale becomes a dramatic and compositional tour de force. In a previous post, we explored the complex counterpoint and unstoppable forward motion of the Act II Finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which as the writer Charles Rosen points out, “moves from duet, through trio, quartet, and quintet to septet in a magnificently symmetrical tonal scheme.” Mozart’s music encapsulates the distinct personality and inner thoughts and emotions of …

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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major: Mitsuko Uchida and the ECO

Mozart was hard at work on The Marriage of Figaro when he completed the Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 482 on December 16, 1785. As with many of his instrumental works, the Concerto is infused with a vibrant sense of operatic drama. From the bold fanfare which functions as a “call to order” at the beginning of the first movement, colorful musical “characters” take the stage and enter into a continuous stream of …

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Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments: Enter Neoclassicism

Igor Stravinsky’s 1923 Octet for wind instruments is a playful drama filled with zany, spirited voices. Its comic “characters” take the stage with endearing exuberance and sincerity. With witty allusions to Baroque and Classical form, it represents the beginning of Stravinsky’s dry, pared-down neoclassical period. When this piece was premiered at the Paris Opera in October, 1923, it was met with bewilderment and what Jean Cocteau called, “a scandal du silence.” Among the …

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Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”: Desires and Dreams

The flute’s gentle siren call emerges, solitary and alluring. It wanders freely from C-sharp down to G-natural and back again, drifting hazily into our consciousness, and beckoning us forward with quiet, seductive power. This is how we enter the sensuous dreamscape of Claude Debussy’s colorful and fleeting 1894 tone poem, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). Debussy’s inspiration arose from a poem by the French symbolist, Stéphane Mallarmé. …

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Debussy and the “Tristan Chord”

On Monday, we heard the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work which opened the door to the dissolution of tonality and the atonal sound world of the twentieth century. One composer who was profoundly influenced by this music was the young Claude Debussy. In 1887, Debussy called Tristan und Isolde “the most beautiful thing I know, from the point of view of the profundity of the emotion.” Yet, in a …

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Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”: Prelude and Liebestod

Culturally and aesthetically, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was a game changer. From the moment the opera premiered at Munich’s National Theatre on June 10, 1865 (155 years ago this week), it elicited fervent and wildly conflicting reactions. Friedrich Nietzsche described “a lasting sense of ecstasy,” and proclaimed the work to be “the real opus metaphysicum of all art…[inspiring] insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death…it is overpowering in its …

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Poulenc’s Flute Sonata: Clara Andrada de la Calle in Concert

Francis Poulenc wrote his Sonate pour flûte et piano in 1957 in response to a commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation at the U.S. Library of Congress. The work is dedicated to the memory of Coolidge, one of the twentieth century’s greatest champions of chamber music. A sense of restless melancholy pervades the first movement (Allegretto malincolico) of Poulenc’s Sonata. It opens with an expansive melody filled with delightfully unexpected twists …

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