Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo in E Minor, Rachel Podger

Sparks fly in the exhilarating Preludio which opens J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in E minor, BWV 1023. The solo violin unleashes a bold and virtuosic toccata over a mighty E pedal tone in the continuo bass. In many of Bach’s other sonatas, the violin enters into a supporting role with the harpsichord. Here, amid a torrent of bariolage (the alternation of notes on adjacent strings to outline chords), it moves squarely into the spotlight. The Adagio …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth String Quartet: The Passion and Lament of E Minor

The key of E minor seems to have had special significance for Felix Mendelssohn. It opened the door to music filled with quiet anxiety, mystery, and haunting pathos. For example, consider the turbulent, windswept Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s song without words, the Albumblatt In E Minor, Op.117. Here, the pervasive melancholy of E minor is all the more striking when contrasted with the brief, sudden turn to sunny E major in the piece’s transcendent …

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Enescu’s Piano Quintet in A Minor, The Schubert Ensemble

George Enescu (1881-1955) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists, and as the composer of the exhilarating, Gypsy-tinged Romanian Rhapsodies. Yet, a closer look at Enescu the composer reveals deep and substantive works that, strangely, remain hidden treasures. During Enescu’s lifetime, these pieces were overshadowed by the popularity and flash of the Rhapsodies. Later, they seem to have been lost in the shuffle as twentieth century music moved onward into …

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Henry Eccles’ Violin Sonata in G Minor: Two Contrasting Recordings

The enigmatic English baroque composer Henry Eccles (1670–1742) is most remembered for his Violin Sonata in G minor. It’s the eleventh in a set of twelve sonatas, published in 1720. Musicologists have discovered that large swaths of the collection were borrowed from the work of the innovative Italian composer and violinist, Giuseppe Valentini, specifically his Op. 8 from 1714. Most of the G minor Sonata appears to have been written by Eccles, …

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Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, Héloïse Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis

Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, HWV 363a unfolds as a vibrant musical dialogue between the solo voice and the accompanying basso continuo. Its five movements alternate in tempo between slow and fast, suggesting the Italian church sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement (Adagio) is both majestic and lamenting. Its expansive, singing melody might remind you of an aria from one of Handel’s operas or oratorios. The second movement (Allegro) erupts with …

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Fauré’s Second Piano Quintet: “Youth and Serenity”

The Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 115 was one of Gabriel Fauré’s final pieces. Completed in 1921, three years before the composer’s death, it retreats into the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. It’s filled with the subtle and inexplicable sense of mystery and revelation we hear often in the late works of the most canonical composers. Dedicated to Paul Dukas, it was written in secret, seemingly for posterity, at a …

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J.S. Bach: Three Adventures in B Minor

On Wednesday, we explored J.S Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, a festive and celebratory collection of Baroque dances that is nonetheless shrouded in veiled, mysterious B minor. (It’s the only one of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites to be  set in a minor key). The nineteenth century Austrian pianist, composer, and educator Ernst Pauer believed that each musical key embodies a distinct atmosphere. He called B minor “that very melancholy key” which “tells …

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