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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Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” for Guitar and Orchestra: Spanish Breezes

Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez emerges from a mythic Spanish landscape. Written in 1939 in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, the Concerto conjures up ghosts from the past. At moments we can hear vague echoes of the vihuela, the 15th century predecessor of the guitar. The title pays homage to the Baroque gardens of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez south of Madrid, which served as the historic spring residence of the Spanish royal family. In …

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Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto: A Radiant Farewell Gift

Béla Bartók composed the Third Piano Concerto during the summer of 1945. He was in the final months of his life, battling terminal leukemia and financial hardship. The music which emerged can be heard as a radiant musical “farewell” at a time of personal darkness and defeat. Five years earlier, Bartók and his wife, Ditta Pásztory, fled their native war-torn Hungary and emigrated to the United States. For a while, Bartók found …

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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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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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