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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Classic Recording: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, The Eastman Trio

Why have you not written a single trio? I regret this every day because every day they play me a trio, and I always sigh because you have not composed a single one. This rueful complaint was addressed to Tchaikovsky in a letter written in the autumn of 1880 by Nadezhda von Meck, the Russian business woman who was one of his most dedicated and long-lasting patrons. (She also gave financial support …

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Remembering Barry Tuckwell

Barry Tuckwell, the renowned Australian horn player, passed away last week. He was 88. Born into a musical family, Tuckwell began playing the horn at age 13. By 15 he was playing professionally as third horn of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. He soon moved on to perform in Britain’s Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. At age 24, he was principal …

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Mozart and the Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, diplomat, politician, writer, printer, political philosopher, scientist, inventor, and all-around Enlightenment Renaissance man, was born on this date in 1706. Among Franklin’s inventions is the glass armonica (now better known as the glass harmonica). While visiting Cambridge, England in 1761, he was fascinated with the “celestial” tones Edmund Delaval produced by rubbing a wet finger around the rim of wine glasses filled with varying quantities of water. …

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Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor: “Free But Lonely”

Embedded in the four note motif which opens the first movement of Brahms’ String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2 are the pitches F-A-E. These pitches form a musical cryptogram which corresponds to the phrase, “frei aber einsam,” (“free but lonely”), the personal motto of Brahms’ friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms offered his own twist on this motto with the phrase, “Frei aber froh” (“Free but happy”). This is another motif (F-A-F) which …

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