Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63: Passionate Romantic Currents

From the opening bars of Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1, we are swept into a drama filled with soaring passion and turbulence. An expansive and restless melody emerges in the violin’s darkest register. It rises and falls, propelled by swift, ever-changing arpeggiating currents in the piano. Downbeats and phrase endings vanish amid swirling canonic counterpoint between the violin and the piano’s bass register. After reaching heroic and euphoric heights, the music …

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Stravinsky’s Septet: A Turn to Serialism

The Septet, completed in 1953, marks a stylistic turning point in the musical catalogue of Igor Stravinsky. The first movement is a sparkling and witty celebration of neoclassicism. Its dense, pristine counterpoint seems like a twentieth century retrofit of music from the Baroque and Classical periods. In the second and third movements, the tonal center fades and the music enters the twelve tone world of serialism. For the first time, Stravinsky abandons …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1

Beethoven’s three Op. 59 String Quartets were revolutionary. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the so-called “Razumovsky” Quartets were more complex, expansive in scale, and emotionally dramatic than anything previously conceived in the genre. Earlier chamber works were written for the entertainment of aristocratic amateur musicians. With this music, the string quartet moved decisively into the concert hall. Commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador …

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Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 in G Major: A First Farewell

Johannes Brahms intended for the String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111 to be his final piece. In a December, 1890 correspondence with his publisher, Simrock, the 57-year-old composer slipped in the message, “With this note you can take leave of my music, because it is high time to stop.” Around the same time, Brahms told a friend that he “had achieved enough; here I had before me a carefree old …

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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, …

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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 …

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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 …

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