Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto: From Rejection to Triumph

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor opens with one of the most powerful and iconic introductions in music history. A mighty four-note descending line, stated three times in the horns, is punctuated by orchestral thunderbolts. A soaring and expansive theme emerges in the strings, accompanied by colossal ascending chords in the solo piano. Defying convention, this majestic and memorable theme opens the Concerto, yet never returns. Additionally, it sets up the wrong key—not …

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Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra: A Sublime Hybrid

Listen to the instrumental music of Mozart, and you may hear the unfolding of a virtual opera without words. Transcending mere vocal virtuosity, Mozart’s greatest operas offer layers of character development and dramatic sophistication. The instrumental lines of the orchestra rise to new prominence and engage with the voices onstage to create a magically enhanced drama. The literal reality of the story meets a deeper poetic reality. Boundaries are blurred and musical …

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Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Cycle: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1

Beethoven’s three Op. 59 String Quartets were revolutionary. Written in 1806, six years after the composer’s initial Op. 18 set, the so-called “Razumovsky” Quartets were more complex, expansive in scale, and emotionally dramatic than anything previously conceived in the genre. Earlier chamber works were written for the entertainment of aristocratic amateur musicians. With this music, the string quartet moved decisively into the concert hall. Commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor: Opening the Door to the Romantic World

The summer of 1788 was a low point for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, both personally and professionally. In Vienna, Mozart’s popularity was in decline as the city’s notoriously fickle audiences turned their attention elsewhere. Funding from aristocratic patrons evaporated with the outbreak of the  Austro-Turkish War. As income dried up and creditors pounded at the door, Mozart and his family relocated from central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. In June of 1788, Mozart’s …

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Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, The Netherlands Bach Society

In 1711, a collection of violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi was published in Amsterdam under the title, L’estro armonico (“The Harmonic Inspiration”). It was a prime example of the Baroque concerto grosso form, in which a solo instrument, or small group of instruments, engage in continuous dialogue with a larger ensemble. The British musicologist Michael Talbot has called L’estro armonico “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the …

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Mahler’s Third Symphony: A Progression to the Divine

When Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius met in Helsinki in 1907, the two composers laid out radically contrasting conceptions of the symphony. Sibelius found beauty and ultimate meaning in the symphony’s “severity of form” and “profound logic.” “No!” Mahler replied. “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything!”  No Mahler Symphony gives us a greater sense of this cosmic scale than the Third. Set in six movements, it remains the longest symphony in …

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