This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony: An Unfinished Farewell

Feierlich, misterioso…This is the marking Anton Bruckner inscribed above the first movement of Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Indeed, from this opening movement’s first, quietly haunting sounds, we’re drawn immediately into a place of “solemn mystery.” Hushed, shivering tremolo emerges out of silence, followed by a multi octave-deep D in the winds. Quiet, persistent fanfares in the trumpet and timpani intone ghostly echoes of a distant battlefield. Perhaps Bruckner was the …

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The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late 18th century. It spread quickly to both Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout the German state of Saxony …

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