Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

Can you imagine how shocking the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 must have been for audiences at the first performance in 1808? While the classical style of Mozart and Haydn was rooted in elegance and balance, Beethoven made the orchestra growl. There’s a sense of struggle, as if he’s impatiently pushing the classical orchestra to its limits. The entire symphony springs from the first ferocious four notes. It’s a study …

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Beethoven and the Turbulence of C Minor

The key of C minor held special significance for Beethoven. Emotionally intense and stormy, C minor evoked the turbulence of an age of revolution. It embodied a sense of heroic struggle, which would form the bedrock of Romaticism. In Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion, American pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen suggests that Beethoven’s C minor compositions are closely linked to the Romantic idea of the artist as hero: Beethoven in C minor …

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The Elegant Artistry of Arthur Grumiaux

Elegance, good taste and a beautiful, bell-like singing tone were all characteristics of Franco-Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). In contrast to today’s relatively homogenized violin playing, Grumiaux exhibits a distinctly French style. Listening to Grumiaux, I’m also struck by the musical honesty and lack of fussiness in his playing. His musical phrases speak with a purity and simplicity which is hard to come by today. In his book, Great Masters of the …

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Five Musical Sunrises

Natural cycles, from the change of seasons to the predictable routine of day turning to night, shape our sense of time. Can you imagine how our perception of time, and subsequently music, would be different without these events? Nature’s visual grandeur has also been an inspiration to composers, especially the eternal drama of the sunrise. Here are five musical depictions: [typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Haydn’s “Sunrise” String Quartet[/typography] Haydn’s String Quartet in B flat …

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Mozart’s Wordless Operas

Listening to Mozart’s symphonies, concertos and chamber music, you might get the sense that you’re hearing wordless operas. Even without a libretto, we can sense distinct characters, musical conversations and dramatic situations unfolding in the music. It’s as if the innovative and prolific composer of The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute couldn’t shut off the flood of opera arias and duets entering his mind. As a musician I have found that approaching …

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Late Beethoven Revelations

The greatest composers serve as visionaries and prophets, giving us a glimpse at a higher reality. Looking back through music history, many composers seem to have experienced a sharpening of this sense of vision in the final years of life. The Ninth and final symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner are filled with mystery, foreboding and spirituality. The first movement of Bruckner’s Ninth is marked “Feierlich“ (Solemn) and ” misterioso.” Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, “The Great”, is a sublime …

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“Hey Nick…Can We Go Home Now?”

That’s pretty much what Franz Joseph Haydn said to his employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, except not in those words. Instead, Haydn found a clever musical way to get his point across. As this article explains, in the summer of 1772 Prince Esterházy decided to extend his vacation at his country palace. The court musicians in Haydn’s orchestra were missing their families back home. Haydn gave the prince a gentle musical nudge. The final movement …

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