Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Trio: Pristine French Brushstrokes

“Wagnermania” swept through Paris in the 1880s. In the years following Wagner’s death in 1883, his influence loomed large among French artists, writers, and composers, fueling a powerful intellectual and artistic movement. French composers made pilgrimages to Bayreuth to hear Wagner’s operas and wrote vivid accounts of their transcendental experiences. Camille Saint-Saëns, who founded the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871 with the purpose of promoting French instrumental music, observed with more …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127

Completed in February of 1825, String Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 is the first of Beethoven’s late quartets. These are the strange, mysterious, and revelatory works which emerged in the final three years of the composer’s life, following the completion of the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. They seem to leave behind all that came before, opening the door to music which transcends style and time period. These six …

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Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major: An Enduring Wedding Gift, “Con Amore”

One of the most famous and enduring works of the violin repertoire began as a wedding gift. In 1886, César Franck presented the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano to the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, on the occasion of his wedding to Louise Bourdeau. At the time, the 64-year-old Franck was best known as a prominent organist and professor at the Paris Conservatory. Ysaÿe, a committed champion of new French music, …

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Stravinsky Meets Tchaikovsky: Reimagining “The Sleeping Beauty”

Tchaikovsky’s fairytale ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, was first performed at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre on January 15, 1890. Among the audience members of this premiere production was the eight-year-old Igor Stravinsky, who later noted it as a formative musical experience. For the first time, the young Stravinsky was struck by the majesty of the orchestra, and well as the music of Tchaikovsky, a personal friend of Stravinsky’s father. In January of 1941, Stravinsky received a …

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Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings: Music from the Heart

In November of 1880, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was hard at work on two sharply contrasting pieces. The first was the bombastic and commemorative 1812 Overture, a piece the composer delivered out of a sense of dutiful professional obligation. The second was the elegant and soulful Serenade for Strings in C Major. Regarding the Serenade, Tchaikovsky wrote to his publisher, “I am violently in love with this work and cannot wait for it to be played.” In an …

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Remembering Ivry Gitlis

Ivry Gitlis, the legendary Israeli violinist, has passed away. He was 98. Born in Haifa, Palestine to Russian-Jewish parents, Gitlis began playing the violin at the age of five. His teacher, Elisheva Velikovsky, had been a student of the German violinist, Adolph Busch. (About the same time, a  young Zvi Zeitlin studied with Velikovsky). Later, Gitlis studied with Mira Ben-Ami (a student of Joseph Szigeti). The influential violinist Bronisław Huberman opened doors …

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Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: A Cosmic Expanse of Space and Sonority

The late works of Beethoven are filled with mystery and revelation. They leave behind historical style and convention and assume a timelessness which speaks to posterity. This is the strange, spiritual landscape of the Ninth Symphony, the late string quartets, and the Missa solemnis, Op. 123. While the Ninth Symphony takes an outward journey, culminating with the Ode to Joy’s declaration of universal brotherhood, the Missa solemnis (“solemn mass”), completed around the same …

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