Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Third Symphony: Landscapes and Ruins

In July of 1829, during his first trip to Britain, the 20-year-old Felix Mendelssohn embarked on a walking tour of Scotland with his friend, Karl Klingemann. After visiting the ruined abbey at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Mendelssohn wrote in a letter to his family, In the deep twilight we went today to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major, “Le Midi”: Bright and Inventive

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major, “Le Midi,” is the second installment in a symphonic trilogy (Nos. 6-8) which depicts three times of day: Morning, Midday, and Evening. It was with these inventive works that the 29-year-old Haydn began his nearly three-decade-long tenure as Kapellmeister at the aristocratic court of the Ezterházy family in the spring of 1761. The appointment provided Haydn with top level musicians and a splendid isolation …

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Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony: A Cosmic Return Home

Gustav Mahler famously described Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), as “half simpleton, half God.” Indeed, Bruckner was an eccentric figure marked by contradictions. Although he spent the latter part of his life in cosmopolitan Vienna, he never shed his rural Upper Austrian roots. An eminent organist who was long employed at the Augustin monastery of St. Florian, Bruckner was devout and unshakable in his religious faith. At the same time, he suffered periods of …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major: Dynamic and Miraculous

According to legend, during the premiere of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, a chandelier fell from the ceiling at London’s Hanover Square Rooms. Moments earlier, enthusiastic audience members rushed the stage to catch a better glimpse of Haydn, who conducted from the pianoforte. As a result, everyone escaped serious harm. Shouts of gratitude rang out. “Miracle! Miracle!” Symphony No. 96 earned the nickname, The Miracle.  In fact, this harrowing event occurred four …

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Borodin’s Second Symphony: Solemn, Celebratory, Heroic

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), the great Russian Romanticist, once said, “I’m a composer in search of oblivion; I’m always slightly ashamed to admit I compose.” By day, Borodin was a brilliant research chemist and a distinguished professor at the Medico-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg. When he was not passionately investigating aldehydes, he was creating some of the most innovative Russian music. The small catalogue of works he left behind includes two completed symphonies, two …

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Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony: A Communion With Nature

Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were completed in the same year of 1808, and were premiered at the same under-rehearsed, four-hour-long concert. Yet, the two works stand as diametric opposites. The Fifth Symphony takes a dynamic journey towards transcendence. It is filled with ferocious, crackling energy and a sense of heroic struggle. Set in the bucolic key of F major, the quieter Sixth Symphony inhabits the stable, enduring world of nature. Beethoven gave it the subtitle, …

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Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony: An Awe-Inspiring Contrapuntal Edifice

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music,” said the eighteenth century German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major may be the most architectural symphony ever written. Constructed with monumental building blocks which are assembled according to principles of balance, proportion, and repetition, its four movements add up to a majestic and soaring musical structure. It takes us on a gradual, time-altering procession which requires that …

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