Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”): Brahms’ “Little Requiem”

In the summer of 1868, while visiting his friend Albert Dietrich in the North German coastal town of Wilhelmshaven, Johannes Brahms was drawn to the poem, Hyperions Schicksalslied by Friedrich Hölderlin. Buried in the middle of a 1797 novel depicting the Greek mythical titan Hyperion, the poem’s two verses contrast the lives of eternally blissful Immortals enjoying “luminous, heavenly breezes” with the restless existence of human beings, who are subject to the cruel whims …

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Bruckner’s Third Symphony: Vindicated by Time

The premiere of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor stands as one of music history’s most infamous disasters. The performance took place in Vienna on December 16, 1877. It was to have been conducted by Johann Herbeck, an Austrian maestro who had led the posthumous premiere of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony in 1865. But Herbeck died suddenly, and Bruckner—an accomplished organist and choral director but an inexperienced orchestral conductor—decided to take …

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Mendelssohn’s Fourth String Quartet: The Passion and Lament of E Minor

The key of E minor seems to have had special significance for Felix Mendelssohn. It opened the door to music filled with quiet anxiety, mystery, and haunting pathos. For example, consider the turbulent, windswept Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s song without words, the Albumblatt In E Minor, Op.117. Here, the pervasive melancholy of E minor is all the more striking when contrasted with the brief, sudden turn to sunny E major in the piece’s transcendent …

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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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