Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major: Majestic and Celebratory

A string of superlatives characterizes the earliest-known audience account of a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major. It comes from Iwan Anderwitsch, who attended an all-Mozart memorial concert in Hamburg in March of 1792, a year after the composer’s death: The opening is so majestic that it so surprised even the coldest, most insensitive listener and non-expert, that even if he wanted to chat, it prevented him from being …

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Beethoven’s Third Symphony, “Eroica”: Music of Revolution

The music of Beethoven, perhaps more than any other composer, embodies the spirit of revolution. It is music filled with ferocious struggle and ultimate transcendence. Heralding the dawn of Romanticism, it signifies the ripping apart of an old order and the emergence of something new. Genteel, aristocratic elegance is replaced by edginess, disruption, and pathos. We hear the music of the court transitioning to the music of the public concert hall. An …

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Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in Two Shades

We explored Maurice Ravel’s magical 1917 suite, Le Tombeau de Couperin, in a previous post. Composed in the aftermath of the First World War, it is music that retreats into the graceful motion and elegance of Baroque dances such as the Forlane, Menuet, and Rigaudon. It pays homage to the keyboard suites of the French Baroque composer, François Couperin (1668-1733), while serving, simultaneously, as a memorial for friends Ravel lost in the war. When listeners commented …

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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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Mozart’s Oboe Concerto: François Leleux and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony

Mozart wrote the Oboe Concerto in C Major for Giuseppe Ferlendis, an Italian oboist who was appointed to the Salzburg Court Orchestra in April, 1777. A few months after the work’s completion, the 21-year-old composer was pressed for time to fulfill a commission in Mannheim from the Dutch flutist, Ferdinand De Jean. He adapted the Oboe Concerto for flute, and the recycled piece became his Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major. After …

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