Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

During the summer of 1886, Johannes Brahms traveled from Vienna to the idyllic shores of Lake Thun in the Swiss Alps. The working vacation, sometimes called Brahms’ “chamber music summer,” resulted in an astonishing number of works, which included the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101. Brahms claimed that the landscape was “so full of …

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Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major: Triumph Over Censorship

In the years following the Second World War, Stalin’s “propagandist-in-chief,” Andrei Zhdanov, drafted a series of resolutions that were designed to censor Soviet art, literature, film, and music. All art had to adhere to the ideals of Soviet “socialist realism.” The Zhdanov Doctrine proclaimed that “The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best.” First, Zhdanov banned the works of Anna Akhmatova, arguably Russia’s greatest living …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

In 1805, Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, commissioned Beethoven to write three string quartets. At the time, chamber music was often conceived for the entertainment of aristocratic amateurs. In contrast, Razumovsky’s commission would be premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet, a group of highly skilled musicians who formed what was likely the first professional string quartet. The result was groundbreaking music which moved the string quartet decisively into the concert hall. …

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Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major: From Youth to Maturity

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8 exists in two versions. The first was published in 1854, only months after the 21-year-old Brahms met Robert and Clara Schumann for the first time. Thirty-six years later, Brahms returned to the work during the summer of 1889 with the intention of trimming its “youthful excesses.” That September, he wrote to Clara Schumann, You cannot imagine how I trifled away the lovely …

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Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Poulenc: Three Twentieth Century Pastorales

With roots in the Baroque period, the musical pastorale evokes a serene, bucolic landscape. Often, it rolls along in a gentle 6/8 time and suggests the simple, free-floating melodies and drones of a shepherd’s bagpipes. J.S. Bach’s Pastorella In F Major, BWV 590 for organ, the final movement of Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto, and the Pastoral Symphony from Handel’s Messiah are famous examples. The sound world of the twentieth century was dominated by …

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Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G Minor: Elegiac and Transcendent

Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26 was written in the wake of personal tragedy. In August of 1875, Dvořák lost his newborn daughter, Josefa, within days of her birth. The G minor Piano Trio was composed four months later. Written over the course of seventeen days, it was the first piece Dvořák completed following the painful loss, and it opened the creative floodgates for music to come. …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

The revolutionary nature of Beethoven’s three Op. 59 “Razumovsky” String Quartets is documented in this excerpt from an 1807 review: Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets…are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the Op. 59 String Quartets elevated the genre to a cosmic …

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