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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“Là Ci Darem La Mano” from “Don Giovanni”: Mozart’s Most Seductive Duet

Don Giovanni (or Don Juan) is one of literature’s most infamous seducers. In Mozart’s two act 1787 opera—a sublime blend of comedy, melodrama, and supernatural elements— the character takes on a new and intriguing complexity. As the cultural historian, James H. Johnson writes in his essay, Sincerity and Seduction in Don Giovanni, Mozart and the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, “deliberately employ a tone of sincerity that keeps to the surface in conveying Giovanni’s …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major: Majestic and Celebratory

A string of superlatives characterizes the earliest-known audience account of a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major. It comes from Iwan Anderwitsch, who attended an all-Mozart memorial concert in Hamburg in March of 1792, a year after the composer’s death: The opening is so majestic that it so surprised even the coldest, most insensitive listener and non-expert, that even if he wanted to chat, it prevented him from being …

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Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, “Appassionata”: A Turbulent Drama

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor is filled with volatile mood shifts, turbulent drama, and revolutionary fire. It was completed around 1805, during what is now known as the composer’s “heroic” middle period. Beethoven did not provide the familiar and apt nickname, Appassionata. It was added in 1838 when the German publisher, Cranz, created a piano duet version. The pianist Carl Czerny, a student of Beethoven, called this Sonata “the most perfect …

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