Elgar’s “Chanson de Matin”: Sunshine and Flowers

This week, we have explored music of the English composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), from the blazing orchestral virtuosity of In the South, to the youthful charm of the Serenade for Strings. We’ll finish the week with a brief and breezy aubade—music which suggests the cheerful innocence of pastoral flowers catching the first light of dawn. Chanson de Matin (“Morning Song”) is the sunny companion to the more melancholy Chanson de Nuit. Published as Op. 15, No. 1 and …

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Elgar’s Serenade for Strings: Music of Youth

Composed in March of 1892, the Serenade for Strings is one of the earliest works of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). It may have been a reworking of a previously written suite. It is the music of spring, filled with youthful vitality and charm. By definition, the title “serenade” suggests music played in the evening, outdoors amid the beauty and abundance of nature. As depicted in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it also conjures up images …

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Elgar’s “In the South (Alassio)”: Music from “The Garden of the World”

From Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky to Richard Strauss, the sunny climate of Italy has been a source of inspiration for numerous composers on holiday. One of the most significant examples is Sir Edward Elgar’s blazing 1904 orchestral tone poem, In the South (Alassio), Op. 50. In November, 1903 Elgar and his wife traveled to the Italian Riviera where they planned to spend the winter. The composer was exhausted and needed to recuperate after …

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Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: Five Key Excerpts

Die Walküre (“The Valkyrie”) is the second of four operas that make up Wagner’s Ring cycle. The story, based on Norse mythology, involves the Volsung twins Sieglinde and Siegmund, who are separated at childhood. When they meet and fall in love, the gods are angry and demand that Siegmund must die. Wotan’s daughter Brünnhilde faces the retribution of the gods after valiantly saving Sieglinde and the couple’s unborn child, Siegfried. Prelude to …

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“The Black Gondola”: Liszt’s Haunting Memorial to Wagner

Earlier in the month, we listened to music from Wagner’s iconic 1865 opera, Tristan und Isolde, and explored its influence on later composers such as Claude Debussy. With its distinctively dissonant “Tristan chord,” this is music which, for many theorists, marked the beginning of the “dissolution of tonality” and opened the door to the tone rows of the twentieth century. Franz Liszt’s haunting solo piano work, La lugubre gondola (“The Black Gondola”), is filled …

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Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”: Prelude and Liebestod

Culturally and aesthetically, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was a game changer. From the moment the opera premiered at Munich’s National Theatre on June 10, 1865 (155 years ago this week), it elicited fervent and wildly conflicting reactions. Friedrich Nietzsche described “a lasting sense of ecstasy,” and proclaimed the work to be “the real opus metaphysicum of all art…[inspiring] insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death…it is overpowering in its …

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Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony: A Sunny Bohemian Adventure

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major inhabits a sunny, pastoral world filled with Bohemian folk melodies, rustic peasant dances, distant horn calls, and echoes of the birdsongs of the forest. It’s an enchanting world of exuberant celebration and quiet, lamenting nostalgia. Following the restless and stormy Seventh Symphony, Dvořák remarked that the Eighth, completed in the autumn of 1889, was “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out …

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