Walter Piston’s “Three New England Sketches”: American Vistas

The American composer, Walter Piston, wrote Three New England Sketches during the summer of 1959 at his retreat in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The symphonic suite was commissioned by the Worcester (Massachusetts) County Musical Association for its 100th Annual Music Festival. Founded in 1858, the Festival is billed as the oldest of its kind in the United States. (Antonín Dvořák performed there in 1898). Walter Piston dedicated the score of Three New England Sketches to …

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Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039: Traverso Triumph

J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039 overflows with sensuous melodies, magical contrapuntal conversations, and joyous rhythmic motion. The Sonata is scored for two flutes and basso continuo. It was probably written between 1736 and 1741 when Bach was director of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum. The chamber music society presented weekly concerts at the Café Zimmermann coffeehouse. This music was so popular that Bach created a version for viola da gamba and …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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Brahms’ Second Violin Sonata, Op. 100 and Five Songs, Op. 105: Musical Siblings

Johannes Brahms spent the summer of 1886 at the idyllic lakeside town of Thun in Switzerland. The holiday was so productive that it is now remembered as Brahms’ “chamber music summer.” Works completed during this time include the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, and several songs. Brahms claimed that the landscape was “so full of …

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Stravinsky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments”: A “Liturgical Dialogue”

In the original Greek, the word, symphony, translates as “sounding together.” Igor Stravinsky was referring to this meaning of the word (as opposed to symphonic form) when he selected the title, Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Scored for an ensemble of 24 woodwind and brass players, the piece was composed in 1920, and was dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, who died two years earlier. Its 1921 premiere in London, conducted by Serge Koussevitsky, …

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Purcell’s Trio Sonata in F Major, Z 810: The “Golden” Sonata

Henry Purcell (1659-1695), the most significant English composer of the Baroque period, is believed to have spent his entire life in Westminster (now part of London). As a youth, he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal of the monarchs. He attended Westminster School and became a copyist at Westminster Abbey. Later, Purcell became the eminent organist of the Chapel Royal, as well as Westminster Abbey. Following his death at 36, he was …

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Hanson’s “Romantic” Second Symphony: A Cinematic, Cyclic Journey

The American composer, Howard Hanson, was born in 1896 in the small Nebraska prairie town of Wahoo. Hanson served as the director of the Eastman School of Music for 40 years, beginning in 1924. In the middle of the twentieth century, his influence was so great that he was hailed as the “Dean of American Composers and spokesman for music in America.” At a time when formalism and atonality ruled, Hanson’s warmly melodic, Neo-romanticism …

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