The Belcea Quartet Plays Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn has been called the “Father of the String Quartet.” His sixty-eight quartets, written between 1762 and 1803, pushed the genre beyond frothy court entertainment, setting the stage for composers who followed. Haydn’s quartets demand focused, attentive listening. While earlier string quartets often featured a solo first violin and three accompanying voices, Haydn’s quartets unleash a magical dialogue between equal voices, something Goethe described as, “four rational people conversing.” We often think of …

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Haydn’s Mistitled “Miracle” Symphony No. 96

It isn’t everyday that a piece of music is so fascinatingly inventive that it actually saves lives. But, apparently, that’s what happened when Franz Joseph Haydn conducted his newest symphony at London’s King’s Theatre on the evening of February 2, 1795. The German painter, composer and Haydn biographer Albert Christoph Dies (1755-1822) provided this account: When Haydn appeared in the orchestra and seated himself at the Pianoforte, to conduct a symphony personally, …

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Dona Nobis Pacem: Six Musical Invocations of Peace

The phrase Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us Peace”) comes from the Agnus Dei section of the Roman Catholic mass. It’s a simple, yet eternally powerful, invocation which has come to life in countless musical settings, from the serene simplicity of the traditional canon to the melodic perfection of Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major. At the end of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, it emerges as a triumphant celebration. In the twentieth century, it becomes a …

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Marie Antoinette’s Favorite Symphony

It began with a stunningly lucrative commission. In 1785, Franz Joseph Haydn, who had spent 25 years employed by the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in an isolated backwater of the Austrian Empire, was asked to write six symphonies for the orchestra of Le Concert de la Loge Olympique in Paris. The patron was the Olympic Lodge, one of the wealthiest Masonic lodges in Paris. Haydn was promised an orchestra of 67 musicians (three times the …

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The Yings Play Beethoven

  The finest professional string quartets exhibit an almost scary sense of chemistry. This cohesiveness, almost like a sixth sense, develops when the right combination of people spend hours a day performing together. The Ying Quartet, formed at the Eastman School of Music in 1988, enjoys an additional advantage: the founding members are siblings. Only the first violin position has changed in recent years with the departure of Timothy Ying in 2009. Beginning …

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Music Fit for an Emperor

Violinist Mark Sokol passed away last week. He was a founding member of the Concord String Quartet. Between 1971 and its disbanding in 1987, the Concord String Quartet championed music by American composers including Charles Ives, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman and Morton Feldman. Mark Sokol later joined the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here is the Concord’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3. This quartet …

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Remembering Christopher Hogwood

Conductor, harpsichordist, and early music scholar Christopher Hogwood passed away last week at the age of 73. He was an influential advocate of authentic performance practice and the use of period instruments. He helped pioneer a movement which attempted to recreate the original sound and style of baroque and classical music. In 1973 he founded the Cambridge, England-based Academy of Ancient Music. You can explore a collection of his lectures here and view …

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