Chopin’s Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49: Elation and Sorrow

Frédéric Chopin wrote the following words in a letter from October, 1841: Today I finished the Fantaisie—and the sky is beautiful, my heart sad—but that doesn’t matter at all. If it were otherwise, my existence would perhaps be of no use to anyone. Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor for solo piano is music of persistent melancholy and soaring elation. As its title suggests, it is dreamlike, rhapsodic, and improvisatory. It was written …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Marriage of Camacho” Overture: Music for a Fleeting Opera

Felix Mendelssohn was 15 when he began work on the two-act comic opera, Die Hochzeit des Camacho (“The Marriage of Camacho”) in 1824. The young composer had already written four previous singspiele operas which received private family performances. The Marriage of Camacho, based on an episode from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, was premiered at the Berlin Schauspielhaus on April 29, 1827. Although the work was well-received by the audience, it was met with a hostile reviews. Mendelssohn was …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, “Italian”: “Blue Sky in A Major”

In October of 1830, the 21-year-old Felix Mendelssohn traveled to Italy. Over the course of ten months, he visited Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. With this trip Mendelssohn, who as a child emerged as an astounding musical prodigy and polymath, entered adulthood with the customary Grand Tour, an educational rite of passage for upper-class Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Travels to Britain a year earlier provided the seeds for the …

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Schubert’s “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern”: Song of the Spirits Over the Waters

At the Staubbach Falls, west of the village of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, an Alpine stream plunges over a jagged cliff and cascades 974 feet to the valley floor below. A visit to this topographical wonder in October of 1779 inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to write Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (“Song of the Spirits over the Waters”). Set in six stanzas, the poem compares the mystical journey of the soul to the cycle of …

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“Blumine”: Mahler’s “Blunder of Youth”

Blumine (“Flower”) was the original Andante second movement of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony. It was eliminated following the the third performance, conducted by Mahler in Weimar in 1894. With this revision, a sprawling and programmatic five-movement tone poem was refined into a symphony. Years later, Mahler dismissed Blumine as “a blunder of youth.” The manuscript resurfaced in 1959 and it was included in a June 18th, 1967 performance conducted by Benjamin Britten. Although some conductors have reinserted this music, …

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Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Mitsuko Uchida

Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major is filled with sublime, crystalline melodies which unfold with an inherent sense of logic. It’s music filled with sunshine and the joy of youth. At the same time, there is an underlying and lingering wistfulness. The 22-year-old Schubert wrote this music during the summer of 1819 while vacationing in the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. Surrounded by an “unimaginably lovely” landscape, Schubert composed the …

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Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, “The Trout”: Music of Sunshine and Youth

In the summer of 1819, the 22 year old Franz Schubert went on vacation to the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. He was joined by the noted baritone, Johann Michael Vogl, a close friend and a tireless champion of the young composer’s songs. In elated letters, Schubert described the picturesque, bucolic landscape and the presence of eight lovely young women, “nearly all of them pretty.” This was the youthful, carefree environment in which the Piano …

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