Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto: An Intimate and Sublime Dialogue

Each of Beethoven’s five mature piano concertos take us to a distinct place. The Third is set in a turbulent C minor, with a backward glance to Mozart. The Fifth, known as the “Emperor,” springs to life with a sense of monumentality and exhilarating heroism. In between is the sometimes overlooked Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. Here, we enter a magical and quietly intimate world of shimmering colors. Musical lines …

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Ghostly Mozart: The “Commendatore Scene” from “Don Giovanni”

The dramatic climax of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, delivers the ultimate ghost story. Don Giovanni’s horrific fate is sealed earlier in the opera’s second act. In Scene 3, the brash, promiscuous nobleman (also known as Don Juan), wanders into a graveyard where he is reunited with his servant, Leporello. Don Giovanni brags that he took advantage of his disguise to try to seduce one of Leporello’s girlfriends. A voice comes from one of …

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Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony: The Art of Moderation

Within Beethoven’s catalogue, Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major is sometimes overshadowed by its odd-numbered neighbors, the “Eroica” and the Fifth Symphony. Robert Schumann called it “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants.” It’s a testament to the sense of moderation that seems to characterize Beethoven’s symphonic journey. The odd-numbered symphonies are often ferocious, mighty and revolutionary, while the even-numbered works retreat into a world of sunny intimacy. Both offer equally rich rewards. …

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Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” Overture: A 198-Year-Old Curtain-Raiser

A festive occasion took place in Vienna on the evening of October 3, 1822. With great fanfare, the newly remodeled Theater in der Josefstadt opened to the public. (Originally built in 1788, the theater is still in use). The Josefstadt’s director, Karl Friedrich Hensler, commissioned Beethoven to write an overture for the occasion. A theatrical paraphrase of The Ruin of Athens, for which Beethoven had written incidental music in 1811, was on the program. …

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Beethoven’s “Namensfeier” Overture: The First “Ode to Joy”

The story of Beethoven’s slow, painstaking compositional process is told in long, tortured, sketch-filled notebooks. In his lecture, How a Great Symphony Was Written, Leonard Bernstein notes that the melody which opens the Andante con moto of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony went through fourteen versions over the course of eight years. Bernstein allows us to hear a few of the musical ideas Beethoven rejected along the way. Phrase by phrase, we hear stunningly pedestrian and workmanlike …

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Beethoven’s Violin Concerto: Perlman, Barenboim, and the Berlin Philharmonic (1992 Live Performance)

It’s one of the great monuments of the violin repertoire—the Concerto that set the standard for all others that followed. Yet, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major was not received particularly well when it was premiered at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on December 23, 1806. It’s believed that Beethoven finished parts of the score so late that the soloist, Franz Clement, may have been sight-reading some passages in the concert. Additionally, …

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The Marriage of Figaro’s Act IV Finale: Love’s Triumph Over Folly

In Mozart’s hands, the operatic finale becomes a dramatic and compositional tour de force. In a previous post, we explored the complex counterpoint and unstoppable forward motion of the Act II Finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which as the writer Charles Rosen points out, “moves from duet, through trio, quartet, and quintet to septet in a magnificently symmetrical tonal scheme.” Mozart’s music encapsulates the distinct personality and inner thoughts and emotions of …

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