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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Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18: A Thrilling “Interplay of Instruments”

Leopold Mozart visited his son in Vienna during the frigid winter of 1785. Over the course of ten weeks, the elder Mozart witnessed a superstar musician at the height of his popularity. In letters, he marveled at the extent to which his son was in demand at prominent venues across the city. Indeed, between 1782 and 1785, Mozart presented two or three new piano concertos each season, establishing “a harmonious connection between an …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor: Opening the Door to the Romantic World

The summer of 1788 was a low point for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, both personally and professionally. In Vienna, Mozart’s popularity was in decline as the city’s notoriously fickle audiences turned their attention elsewhere. Funding from aristocratic patrons evaporated with the outbreak of the  Austro-Turkish War. As income dried up and creditors pounded at the door, Mozart and his family relocated from central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. In June of 1788, Mozart’s …

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Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ”: Meditations on a Sacred Text

In 1786, Franz Joseph Haydn received an unusual commission from a Spanish priest. It was for an orchestral work to be performed for the Good Friday service at the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, an underground church in the city of Cádiz. Haydn was asked to compose a series of slow, meditative “sonatas,” each relating to one of the seven last words of Christ during the crucifixion, as outlined in the Canonical …

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Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 18 in G Major, Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil

In 1778, Mozart and his mother, Maria Anna, left Salzburg and set out on a long journey which culminated in Paris. The 22-year-old composer was searching for new employment. He had become restless in his post as Konzertmeister to the Salzburg Court, a title that he had held since age 13. Mozart found his native Salzburg to be provincial and artistically stifling. He was paid a low yearly salary of 150 florins, and …

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Schubert’s Fifth Symphony: In Search of “Magic Tones”

On June 13, 1816 the 19-year-old Franz Schubert wrote in his diary, This day will haunt me for the rest of my life as a bright, clear, and lovely one. Gently, and as from a distance, the magic tones of Mozart’s music sound in my ears. With what alternate force and tenderness, with what masterly power did Schlesinger’s playing of that music impress it deep, deep in my heart! Thus do these …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127

Completed in February of 1825, String Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 is the first of Beethoven’s late quartets. These are the strange, mysterious, and revelatory works which emerged in the final three years of the composer’s life, following the completion of the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. They seem to leave behind all that came before, opening the door to music which transcends style and time period. These six …

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