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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Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand: Big, Bold, and Jazzy

In the fall of 1929, Maurice Ravel received a commission for a concerto from the Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein. After losing his right arm in the First World War, Wittgenstein relaunched his career, performing left hand piano repertoire. He solicited works from numerous composers, including Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev, and Richard Strauss. Wittgenstein proved to be a difficult client. After receiving Strauss’ thickly scored work, he wrote back, “How …

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Elgar’s Violin Concerto: Venturing into the Inner World

Two worlds collide in the music of Sir Edward Elgar. Outwardly, there is heroism and swashbuckling adventure, tempered with a distinctly English sense of regal majesty. This is the composer of the brilliant tone poem, In the South, and the stately Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Yet, as this facade melts away, an intensely intimate inner world emerges in much of Elgar’s music. These moments are sometimes slightly unsettling, filled with haunting mystery, tenderness, nostalgia, and …

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Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor: A Lost Score Reconstructed

No original manuscript exists for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor. The lost score was reconstructed from Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1060. According to musicologists, that work was almost certainly an arrangement of an earlier concerto in the same key for oboe and violin, dating from Bach’s years in Köthen (1717–1723). Heard in its likely original form, the Concerto unleashes a vibrant musical conversation. The violin and …

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Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto: A Colossus Reborn

Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor rise ups before the listener as a formidable colossus. The work is scored for an enormous orchestra which includes three trombones, tuba, and an array of percussion instruments. It is set in four movements rather than the traditional three. At moments, the piano seems to be pushed to the edge of its limits and consumed by a blazing, raw power. For the soloist, the Concerto’s technical …

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Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto: Written for Mstislav Rostropovich

In 1943, the 16-year-old Mstislav Rostropovich was in Dmitri Shostakovich’s orchestration class at the Moscow Conservatory. When Shostakovich heard the young cellist play, he was overcome with praise, commenting on the “the intense, restless mind and the high spirituality that he brings to his mastery.” Later, he wrote, Mstislav Rostropovich, never resting, always searching and growing—is of such significance that it seems already possible to claim his name will come to be given …

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Remembering Camilla Wicks

The legendary American violinist Camilla Wicks has passed away. She was 92. Born in Long Beach, California to Norwegian immigrant parents, Wicks rose to prominence as a child prodigy, performing her first public concert at the age of four. By the age of eight, her repertoire included concertos of Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Paganini. When she was ten, Wicks became a student of Louis Persinger, the influential teacher who guided the careers of …

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