Remembering Ida Haendel

The eminent Polish-born violinist Ida Haendel passed away Tuesday at the age of 91. As a student of Carl Flesch and George Enescu, Haendel represented one of the last direct links to the distinctive and personal violin playing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a child prodigy, she was a top prize winner in the first Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, where she competed against such towering figures as David Oistrakh …

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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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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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Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio: A Haunting Elegy

Dmitri Shostakovich completed the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor in 1944, shortly after composing the “wartime” Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Shostakovich had scarcely finished the first movement when he received word of the sudden death (at age 41) of his close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a brilliant musicologist, critic, and artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. For nearly twenty years, Sollertinsky had been one of Shostakovich’s most loyal defenders. His influence included introducing …

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Korngold’s String Sextet: Basking in Romanticism’s Vibrant Twilight

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of music history’s greatest prodigies, along the lines of the young Mozart and Mendelssohn. When he was 10, Mahler declared him to be a genius, and by age 13 his music was performed at the Vienna Court Opera. His 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt (“The Dead City”), was performed extensively throughout the world, reaching more than 80 stages. Then, with the rise of the Nazis, Korngold was …

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Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18: Janine Jansen and Friends

There is something comforting and nostalgic about the opening of Johannes Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major. It begins with an expansive theme in the cello, which seems to draw us in and wrap its arms around us in a warm embrace. In this melody, you can hear the motivic seeds of the similarly warm and majestic theme from the final movement of Brahms’ First Symphony. Completed in 1860, this is music by …

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J.S. Bach and the Joy of G Major

Throughout the music of J.S. Bach, G major seems to be associated with a distinct sense of joy and deep-rooted contentment. For example, consider the Fantasia in G Major for Organ, BWV 572, which opens in the instrument’s highest and most sparkling register with figures that skip along with an infectious, playful exuberance. This amazing piece, which we explored in a previous post, proceeds on into a massive five-voice chorale which concludes with a mighty …

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