Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony: A Sunny Bohemian Adventure

Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major inhabits a sunny, pastoral world filled with Bohemian folk melodies, rustic peasant dances, distant horn calls, and echoes of the birdsongs of the forest. It’s an enchanting world of exuberant celebration and quiet, lamenting nostalgia. Following the restless and stormy Seventh Symphony, Dvořák remarked that the Eighth, completed in the autumn of 1889, was “different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out …

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Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony: A Requiem

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor is filled with distant, lamenting voices. It was written with remarkable speed during the summer of 1943 when Shostakovich was staying at an isolated retreat maintained by the Soviet Composer’s Union. The composer’s distance from the horrors of the Eastern Front and the siege of Leningrad could not block out the sense of alienation, gloomy futility, exhaustion, sardonic humor, and raw terror that pervades this music. …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, “La Passione”

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 in F minor is shrouded in ominous, gray clouds. It’s filled with the dark drama and turbulence of Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”), a movement that swept through German literature and music from the late 1760s to the early 1780s as a precursor to Romanticism. Beginning with a solemn Adagio, the Symphony’s four movements follow the structure of the church sonata (slow-fast-slow-fast), a baroque form that was already …

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Mahler’s Seventh Symphony: A Journey Through the Night

The Seventh may be the most strange and enigmatic of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies. Its five symmetrically arranged movements take us on a mysterious and haunting journey into the night. This is music that attracted the young Arnold Schoenberg, who heard the crumbling of romanticism in the Seventh Symphony’s daring and sometimes disquieting modernism. Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, completed in 1906—a year after Mahler completed the Seventh Symphony—contains many themes built …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 in C Major: Celebratory Trumpets and Drums

Symphony No. 97 in C Major was the last of the six initial “London” symphonies Franz Joseph Haydn composed. It was first performed at London’s Hanover Square Rooms on the third or fourth of May, 1792. The young Beethoven used this music as the model for a C major symphony which he never completed. Boisterous and festive, Symphony No. 97 is filled with the celebratory sounds of trumpets and drums. A single, emphatic …

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Beethoven’s Second Symphony: Unleashing a Force of Nature

1802 was not a good year for Ludwig van Beethoven. It was around this time that the 31-year-old Beethoven disclosed the persistent deterioration of his hearing to a childhood friend. In a letter to Franz Wegeler, a physician, he wrote of his fear and humiliation: For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. In October …

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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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