Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36, Harriet Krijgh and Friends

The British musicologist Sir Donald Tovey called the String Sextet No. 2 in G Major “the most ethereal of Brahms’ larger works.” Indeed, there is a sense of mystery and haunting celestial beauty underlying this music. Who could have imagined that G major can feel this melancholy and unsettled? Brahms was 31 years old when he wrote this music in 1864. In contrast to the warm, songlike Sextet No. 1, completed four years earlier, …

Read moreBrahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36, Harriet Krijgh and Friends

Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1, The Maxwell Quartet

Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Apponyi” String Quartets (Op. 71 and 74) achieved a groundbreaking distinction in the history of chamber music. They are remembered as the first quartets written, not for an aristocrat’s private palace, but for the public concert hall. The set of six string quartets were composed in 1793 following Haydn’s first extended visit to London. During his thirty year tenure at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, the composer’s published …

Read moreHaydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1, The Maxwell Quartet

Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, “The Trout”: Music of Sunshine and Youth

In the summer of 1819, the 22 year old Franz Schubert went on vacation to the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. He was joined by the noted baritone, Johann Michael Vogl, a close friend and a tireless champion of the young composer’s songs. In elated letters, Schubert described the picturesque, bucolic landscape and the presence of eight lovely young women, “nearly all of them pretty.” This was the youthful, carefree environment in which the Piano …

Read moreSchubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, “The Trout”: Music of Sunshine and Youth

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 …

Read moreMartinů’s Nonet No. 2: Sunny, Exuberant Neoclassicism

Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: The Hippogriff Takes Flight

Turbulent, expansive, heroic, and boldly virtuosic, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor seems to take flight, like a mythical creature. Completed in 1885, the Sonata is set in four movements which are grouped in two sections. The first two and the last two movements flow together, attacca, with the only break coming in the middle of the work. This sets up the same kind of continuous musical journey we …

Read moreSaint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: The Hippogriff Takes Flight

Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor: An Escape to a Better World

Maurice Ravel composed his Piano Trio in the spring and summer of 1914 as Europe descended into the First World War. Swept up in the fervor of the moment, Ravel rushed to complete the work in order to enlist, “working with the sureness and lucidity of a madman,” as he wrote to a friend. In a letter to Igor Stravinsky, Ravel wrote, “The idea that I should be leaving at once made …

Read moreRavel’s Piano Trio in A Minor: An Escape to a Better World

Three English Phantasies: Music of Vaughan Williams, Purcell, and Britten

The fantasia is a genre which spans more than four hundred years of English music. It flowered in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, with the viol consort music of composers such as William Byrd, John Jenkins, and Henry Purcell. Emerging from the word fancy, these compositions are free in form and feature an intricate, polyphonic dialogue between instruments. A predecessor to sonata form, the fantasia grew out of madrigals and vocal motets. Twentieth …

Read moreThree English Phantasies: Music of Vaughan Williams, Purcell, and Britten

Send this to a friend