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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Korngold’s Five Songs, Op. 38: From Film Music to Lied

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the twentieth century’s great composers of melody. We hear this in the dramatic music of Korngold’s 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City), as well as in the soaring Hollywood film scores which followed. Additionally, Korngold was a clever musical recycler. Rich melodies, which were scattered throughout the film scores, formed the basis of Korngold’s 5 Lieder, Op. 38, completed in 1947. The first song, Glückwunsch …

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Ravel’s “Trois poèmes de Mallarmé”: Reveries Transcribed

In a 1927 interview with the New York Times, Maurice Ravel discussed the influence of the French Symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898): Mallarmé exorcised our language, like the magician that he was. He has released the winged thoughts, the unconscious daydreams from their prison. Ravel’s 1913 song cycle, Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, enters this dreamy world in which allusion, metaphor, and ambiguity reign. The composer said that his aim was to “transcribe …

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Berg’s “Altenberg Lieder”: Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts

The year 1913 was infamous for riotous musical premieres. The May 29, 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris remains the most famous example. Yet, an equally scandalous event occurred two months earlier on March 31 at Vienna’s Musikverein. The program, conducted by Arnold Schoenberg, included Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6, Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9, and two of Alban Berg’s Five Orchestral Songs after Postcards …

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Vaughan Williams’ “Silent Noon”: Serene, Pastoral Bliss

The music of Ralph Vaughan Williams returns frequently to the serene, pastoral majesty of “England’s green and pleasant land.” We hear these shimmering, sensuous allusions in Vaughan Williams’ 1903 song, Silent Noon. The song, which was later incorporated into the cycle, The House of Life, is a setting of a dreamy sonnet by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The poem evokes a kind of blissful harmony with nature, experienced by two lovers on a summer day amid the “long …

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Mussorgsky Songs: “Night” and “Where Art Thou, Little Star?”

Modest Mussorgsky’s 1864 art song, Noch (“Night) inhabits a hazy, sensuous nocturnal dreamscape. The text by Alexander Pushkin begins with the lines, “My voice is for you both tender and languid, it disturbs the late silence of night’s darkness.” Throughout the poem, the brightness of eyes illuminated by the light of a “sorrowful candle” is contrasted with the gloom of the night. The psychologically erratic Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was a member of “The Mighty Five,” a …

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Asmik Grigorian Sings Tchaikovsky

On April 14, the Lithuanian soprano, Asmik Grigorian, performed a live-streamed recital at Congress Hall in Vilnius. Although no audience could be admitted, Grigorian’s mother, Irena Milkevičiūtė was in attendance. Milkevičiūtė, a famous opera singer in her own right, celebrated her birthday on the same day. Asmik’s father was the Armenian tenor, Gegham Grigorian. Three Romances The program included three of Tchaikovsky’s Romances for voice and piano. All three songs are tinged with …

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