Archive for February, 2007

Beethoven, String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59/3, “Razumovsky”

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, Razumovsky, No. 3, 1806

Ludwig van BeethovenIn 1802, Beethoven directly confronted the severity of his hearing loss for the first time. In October, he penned the Heiligenstadt Testament, a heartbreaking confession of his struggles that mentions, but rejects, the option of suicide. Through an act of will, he transcended the most profound challenge one could imagine for his unique disposition. Shortly thereafter, Beethoven entered his so-called middle period, emerging as the heroic artist that revolutionized every musical genre he touched. The middle period is characterized by bold new works on a grand scale including the opera Fidelio, the Waldstein and Appassionata piano sonatas, and the Eroica (3rd) symphony. (more…)

Ravel, String Quartet in F Major

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Maurice Ravel, 1875-1937

String Quartet in F Major, 1903

Maurice RavelMaurice Ravel is best known as a brilliant composer in two media: the orchestra and the piano (for one, two, four and even five hands). He was amazingly adept at transcribing music from one medium to the other yielding two versions of the same music, one with immense space and color, the other with a finely etched clarity and intimacy, both with the same essential musical character. It seems only natural that he would combine his fine sensibilities for color and texture in a small ensemble. Indeed, Ravel wrote a small number of equally phenomenal if lesser known chamber works: a string quartet, a piano trio, a violin sonata, a duo for violin and cello and the Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. A slow and meticulous composer, (more…)

Mozart, Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502, 1786

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartAfter the string quartet, the piano trio is the most important chamber ensemble since the Classical era, evoking some of the greatest compositions in the literature from nearly every major composer from Haydn to Shostakovich. Its development into a mature form came much later than the string quartet due to at least two important requirements: the emergence of the piano, both the instrument and its technique, sufficient to displace the harpsichord, and, the discovery of effective compositional approaches to blending instruments of unequal tone and dynamic properties in a balanced dialog, namely, the violin, the cello and the piano. (more…)

Schubert, Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Franz Schubert, 1797-1828

Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100, D. 929, 1927

Franz SchubertSchubert spent the majority of his brief but prodigious life writing and performing music within the intimate and convivial company of family and friends. Almost entirely without patrons, commissions nor aristocratic associations, he flourished within a small, cultured middle-class Viennese community where the majority of his music would remain, unknown to the larger world until after his death. Schubert wrote reams of music ideal for the setting: over six-hundred songs, numerous piano works for two and four hands, and a sizable canon of chamber music. In his final decade, Schubert produced a mature series of highly original chamber music that ranks (more…)

Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Arnold Schoenberg, 1874-1951

Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4, 1899

Arnold Schoenberg, self portraitSchoenberg composed his Op. 4, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet in 1899 when he was twenty-five. Despite an earlier, well-received string quartet, it is considered Schoenberg’s first important work, a masterpiece that remains his best known and most accessible music. Lush, dense, highly chromatic yet still just within the bounds of tonality, it can be regarded as a very late example of 19th century German Romanticism, a natural product of the trajectory from Beethoven and Schubert to Brahms, Wagner and Strauss. But while it stands virtually at the end of this great tradition, it was, for Schoenberg, only a beginning, a remarkable demonstration of early mastery that became merely a point of departure. (more…)