Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor: “Leave this to the Professionals…”

In 1785, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, who had just opened one of Vienna’s first music publishing businesses, commissioned Mozart to write three piano quartets—at the time, a novel new form in which a viola augments the traditional piano trio. Hoffmeister wanted popular music—easy, instantly gratifying, and marketable. In an era long before recordings, that meant music that amateurs could play in their homes. Mozart was not above dashing off this kind of light …

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Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

We call it a “Cello Sonata,” but the official name Johannes Brahms gave this piece, completed in 1865, is “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello.” To stress further the equality between the two instruments, Brahms specified that the piano “should be a partner—often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner—but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role.” The E minor Sonata is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, an Austrian music …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131

In his 1998 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, the late literary critic Harold Bloom made the bold argument that Shakespeare “went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it.” According to Bloom, Shakespeare’s complex and multifaceted characters “take human nature to some of its limits, without violating those limits” and open up “new modes of consciousness.” The drama that unfolds in the lines of …

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Remembering Mario Davidovsky

The Argentine-American composer Mario Davidovsky passed away on August 23. He was 85. Davidovsky will be remembered as a pioneer of electroacoustic music (the blending of traditional instruments with new, electronic sounds). In addition to his work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, he served on the composition faculty of, among other schools, the Mannes School of Music. Born in Buenos Aires, he emigrated to the United States in 1960 and studied with …

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Debussy’s Cello Sonata: A Celebration of Classical Form

In 1914, at the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: The Land of Laughter and Tears

In 1914, with the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Debussy’s Violin Sonata: An Autumnal Farewell

The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor was Claude Debussy’s last completed composition. It was written in 1917 at a time when the composer suffered from terminal cancer. Europe was plunged into the bleakness and devastation of the First World War, bringing food and coal shortages and economic hardship to Paris. Exhausted and watching the prewar world he had known slip away, Debussy wrote to a friend, I only wrote this …

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