Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: An Exhilarating Motivic Journey

“Short, short, short, long…” The four notes which open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony outline what is perhaps music history’s most iconic motif. It’s a motif which has been subjected to pop culture cliches and dubious superimposed poetic associations, such as “fate knocking at the door.” This motivic kernel, perhaps derived from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Panthéon, is the seed out of which the entire Fifth Symphony develops. Preceded by a …

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Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major: A Parisian Sojourn

In April of 1778, the 22-year-old Mozart traveled to Paris in an attempt to broaden his horizons and further his career. The trip was less than successful and in letters home Mozart complained about the city’s dirty streets and residents, whom he found “rude and obnoxious, filled with arrogance and obsessed with self-importance.” One of the pieces that resulted from Mozart’s Parisian sojourn was the Concerto for Flute and Harp in C …

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Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto: Youthful Charm

Of Beethoven’s five piano concertos, No. 2 in B-flat major is the least well known. Written primarily between 1787 and 1789, it is some of the composer’s most youthful and vibrant music. In terms of scoring and structure, it follows the model of Mozart. As with Mozart’s concertos, the solo piano and orchestral lines blend together into a sublime musical conversation. The premiere took place in March of 1795 at a charity …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major: Rousing and Rapturous

Franz Joseph Haydn’s triumphant second trip to London started off with a bang. On February 10, 1794, six days after the celebrated composer’s return to the English capital, Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major was premiered at the Hanover Square Rooms. A review of the concert in the Morning Chronicle read, The incomparable Haydn produced a new Overture [Symphony] of which it is impossible to speak in common terms. It is one of …

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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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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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