Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor: “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

In 1875, Johannes Brahms sent the newly completed score for his C minor Piano Quartet to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, with the following message: On the cover you must have a picture, namely a head with a pistol to it. Now you can form some conception of the music! I’ll send you my photograph for the purpose. Since you seem to like color printing, you can use blue coat, yellow breeches, and …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Symphony: Adventures in Form

Camille Saint-Saëns was 24 years old when, during the summer of 1859, he composed Symphony No. 2 in A minor. It is a work which is both youthful and convention-defying. Intimate and compact, this music is far removed from the monumental grandeur of the “Organ Symphony,” which Saint-Saëns wrote some thirty years later. It bends symphonic form in surprising and adventurous ways. The first movement (Allegro marcato – Allegro appassionato) begins with …

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Anna Netrebko Sings Rimsky-Korsakov: “Ty, Tsarevich, Moy Spasitel” from “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, is based on a fairy tale poem by Alexander Pushkin.Premiering in November, 1900 in Moscow, it tells the story of three sisters. Tsar Saltan chooses the youngest of the three to be his wife, while he appoints the others to be his royal cook and weaver. Soon after the Tsar goes off to war, the Tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Gvidon. The jealous …

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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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Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”: Two Legendary Heifetz Recordings

The German composer, Max Bruch (1838-1920), had a longstanding fascination with the “exotic” culture and rugged, enchanting topography of Scotland. Bruch read German translations of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and created musical settings for several poems by Robert Burns. The Scots Musical Museum was an influential collection of Scottish folk music which was compiled by Burns and the engraver and publisher, James Johnson, between 1787 and 1803. In addition to inspiring …

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Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture (“Fingal’s Cave”): Painting in Tones

In the spring of 1829, Felix Mendelssohn embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe. This was a customary educational practice for young men born into affluent families in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the time, Mendelssohn was already a prodigious rising star, having composed works including the Octet, Op. 20 and the famous concert overture inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Additionally, in March of 1829, Mendelssohn arranged and conducted …

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Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor: Color and Motion

Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15 inhabits a magical world of shimmering colors and buoyant, effortless motion. Amid the emotional excesses of nineteenth century Romanticism, this is music made up of pristine lines and classical elegance. It unfolds with a sublime simplicity and directness. Its expression arises from a kind of emotional detachment. Set in the sunniest and most blissful C minor imaginable, undercurrents of quiet lament …

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