Beethoven’s First Symphony: The Past Meets the Future

Beethoven’s First Symphony springs to life as a frolicking newcomer, teeming with audacious youthful vitality. Premiering at Vienna’s Burgtheater on April 2, 1800, it seems to say goodbye to one century, while eagerly anticipating another. “This was the most interesting concert in a very long time,” reported the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Germany’s foremost musical periodical at the time. The review noted the work’s “considerable art, novelty and wealth of ideas.” Make no mistake, Beethoven’s …

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on or around this date in 1770. Although the exact date remains unclear, Beethoven’s baptism was registered for December 17, 1770. At the time, Catholic officials required newborn babies to be baptized within twenty-four hours of birth. Strangely, throughout his life Beethoven insisted that his actual year of birth was 1772, despite evidence to the contrary. In celebration, here is the late Mariss Jansons’ vibrant recording of Beethoven’s Symphony …

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Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony: A Journey from Darkness to Light

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor begins in the shadows. A halting melody emerges in the solo clarinet, shrouded in the gloom of the low strings. It’s a melody built on simple, repeating phrases—something akin to a lamenting Russian folksong. In fact, this theme seems to have developed out of a phrase from Mikhail Glinka’s 1836 tragic opera, A Life for the Tsar, accompanying the words, “turn not into sorrow.” The Fifth Symphony’s introduction …

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Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 59, “The Fire”

Surprises lurk around every corner in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 in A Major. Firmly fastened seatbelts are required for this exhilarating music filled with volatility, theatrical drama, and freewheeling innovation. Movements from Symphony No. 59 were used to accompany a performance of Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann’s play, Die Feuersbrunst (“The Conflagration”), at the Esterházy palace in 1774. That is probably how the piece earned the nickname, the “Fire Symphony.” Yet …

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Mahler’s Sixth Symphony: The Hammer Blow of Fate

Gustav Mahler said, My Sixth will be asking riddles that can be solved only by a generation that has received and digested my first five. In fact, Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A minor remains an unsettling enigma. Completed in 1905 at one of the happiest times in the composer’s life (he had married Alma Schindler in 1902 and they already had two young daughters), the Sixth Symphony is Mahler’s most dark and …

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Sibelius’ Sixth Symphony: “Pure Spring Water”

The Sixth may be Jean Sibelius’ most enigmatic symphony. It doesn’t offer the kind of heroic and triumphant journey we experience in the Second and Fifth Symphonies, or the strange, brooding darkness of the Fourth. Instead, it drifts through a soundscape which is shimmering, austere, and mysterious. “The Sixth Symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow,” said Sibelius in 1943. On another occasion, the composer spoke of the …

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