Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: The Hippogriff Takes Flight

Turbulent, expansive, heroic, and boldly virtuosic, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor seems to take flight, like a mythical creature. Completed in 1885, the Sonata is set in four movements which are grouped in two sections. The first two and the last two movements flow together, attacca, with the only break coming in the middle of the work. This sets up the same kind of continuous musical journey we …

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Weber’s “Oberon”: The Romantic Orchestra Springs to Life

Oberon, the final opera of Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), was premiered at London’s Covent Garden on this date in 1826. The three act opera, set in English with spoken dialogue, was described as “one of the most remarkable combinations of fantasy and technical skill in modern music.” Based on a thirteenth century French epic poem by Huon of Bordeaux, it tells the story of Oberon, the Elf King, who has argued with …

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Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”: At the Intersection of Nature and Man

In his novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche challenged fundamental ideas about religion, science, and the individual. Set in four parts, the allegory includes the famously provocative statement, “God is dead,” and puts forth the concept of “will to power,” suggesting that power and aspiration are the main driving forces which motivate the human race. As James M. Keller writes, “Nietzsche’s ideas went to the heart of human existence …

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Bruckner’s Te Deum: A Hymn of Praise

Each of Anton Bruckner’s nine symphonies can be heard as a reflection of the divine. Bruckner seems to have approached composition with the tireless discipline, devotion, and humility that he brought to his steadfast Catholic faith. Each of his symphonies sets out on the same expansive and meditative journey, reveling in awesome, cosmic Powers, haunting mystery, and an ultimate sense of serene majesty. The Te Deum, completed in 1884, compliments Bruckner’s symphonic output …

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Chopin’s Four Ballades: Poetry in Music

The solo piano Ballade originated with Frédéric Chopin. In the early nineteenth century, the title carried literary connotations. In his Henle forward, the musicologist Norbert Müllemann defined the folk ballade as “a strophically-constructed poem that described a dramatic, often also a demonic or mystical scenario within a comparatively restricted frame.” Robert Schumann suggested that Chopin was influenced by the work of the Polish Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz. As with Chopin, Mickiewicz fled political upheaval in …

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Liszt’s “Les Adieux”: A Fantasy on Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette”

On April 27, 1867, Charles Gounod’s five act opera, Roméo et Juliette, was premiered at Paris’ Théâtre-Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet. The same year, Franz Liszt composed Les Adieux (“The Farewell”), a solo piano work described as “a Rêverie on a motif from Gounod’s opéra Roméo et Juliette.” As the pianist and musicologist Leslie Howard writes, He really uses several motifs from the opera, all concerned with the partings of the lovers: the end of the …

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Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony, “With Organ”: Scaling the Summit

Following the completion of his Third Symphony in 1886, Camille Saint-Saëns made the following statement: I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again. Indeed, Symphony No. 3 in C minor takes us on an extraordinary dramatic journey which scales a mighty summit. It augments the sound world of the traditional orchestra with the addition of piano (four hands) and organ. …

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