Archive for March, 2013

Haydn, String Quartet in C major, Op. 20, No. 2

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

String Quartet in C major, Op. 20, No. 2, 1772

Haydn, Op. 20, No. 2According to a list Haydn compiled of those works he considered his “true” string quartets, Op. 20 was his third set of six quartets, preceded by Op. 17 and Op. 9. All three groups were composed between 1769 and 1772, a period of merely three years in which the pioneering Haydn produced eighteen quartets. This burst of creative effort might well be regarded as the most important in the history of the string quartet. Showing a steady progress through Op. 9 and Op. 17, Haydn realized the full bounty of his exploration with Op. 20, six masterpieces conceived as an integrated set immediately regarded as a towering achievement, the very first crucial landmark in the history of the string quartet. The cover of the first printed edition featured an illustration of the sun and they have been known as the “Sun” quartets ever since. (more…)

Brahms, Sonata in E-flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, No. 2

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

Sonata in E-flat Major for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, No. 2, 1894

Johannes BrahmsAround 1890, Brahms declared to friends and wrote to his publisher that he would retire as a composer. But he happened to witness a performance of the German clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld who Brahms called the greatest wind player in the world. Brahms was so inspired that he deferred his retirement long enough to write four final works all featuring the clarinet in a starring role. Comprising a quintet, a trio and two sonatas, these last works have an aura that has been called autumnal due to the circumstances of Brahms’ career, the mood of the music and the magic tone of the clarinet.

The sonata in E-flat, Op. 120, No. 2 is the second of the two sonatas Brahms wrote for clarinet and piano. (more…)

Poulenc, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Francis Poulenc, 1899-1963

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, 1962

Francis PoulencA native Parisian, Poulenc was born in 1899 at the dawn of modernism and emerged as a young, brash composer in the artistically fantastic 1920’s. With five other French contemporaries as kindred bohemian spirits, Poulenc formed an artistic society if not a sort of “school” calling themselves the Nouveaux Jeunes but, from a journalist’s label, ultimately known as the Groupe des Six. Inspired by the aesthetics of composer Erik Satie and multi-talented writer Jean Cocteau, Poulenc and his confreres reacted against the older schools: the religious mysticism of César Frank, the “impressionism” of Debussy and Ravel and anything resembling the excesses of 19th century Romanticism that surely came to its just and horrifying end with the Great War. Instead, Le Six aimed for simplicity, clarity, freedom and wit with a love of popular song from the French Music Hall and Jazz. (more…)

Haydn, Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp-minor, “Farewell”

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp-minor, “Farewell”, 1772

During the thirty years Haydn served the Esterházy family, he almost singlehandedly evolved and perfected two extraordinary genres of which he is generally known as the father: the symphony and the string quartet. In the case of the symphony, he was not the originator nor hardly the only practitioner, but his prodigiousness, originality and excellence place Haydn far ahead of any predecessors or contemporaries save Mozart who was, chronologically and historical second after Haydn. Of his 104 symphonies, so many are well-known and beloved that they bear popular nicknames: “Surprise”, “Drum Roll”, “Miracle”, “Clock”, “Queen”, “Bear” and so on. The so-called “Farewell” symphony derives its name from its unique finale and the story, possibly apocryphal, that lead Haydn to compose it. (more…)

Haydn, Cello Concerto No. 1 in C-major

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

Cello Concerto No. 1 in C-major, Hob. VIIb:1 c. 1761-1765

Joseph HaydnMost well known cello concerti in the active repertoire hail from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with only a handful predating 1800. Noteworthy composers of the earlier period comprise Vivaldi, C.P.E Bach, Boccherini and Haydn. Of these, Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D-major is unquestionably the most frequently played, a masterwork of his creative maturity in the fully revealed Viennese classical style of the 1780’s. Haydn wrote a second cello concerto in C-major but it was presumed lost. Its existence was known from Haydn’s own catalog in which he listed all the works he remembered along with a brief thematic incipit for identification. Haydn composed this earlier concerto between 1761 and 1765, quite early in his career during the first five years of employment for the noble Hungarian Esterházy family. It was not until 1961 that a manuscript of the concerto appeared in a collection of papers from another noble estate deposited in the Prague National Museum and recognized by a musicologist there. (more…)

Bach, Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D-minor, BWV 1052

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750

Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D-minor, BWV 1052, c. 1737-1739

Johann Sebastian BachThe history of the keyboard concerto begins several decades before the wide adoption of the piano. While the “fortepiano” begin to significantly displace the harpsichord only in the 1780’s, keyboard concerti intended for organ or harpsichord date back to the early 1720’s, primarily from two celebrated German Baroque composers, Georg Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach. Where Handel wrote for organ, Bach wrote for the harpsichord, proving the first pioneer in the genre with the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto written no later than 1721.

Probably during a two-year period from 1737–39, Bach hand-copied an album of keyboard concerti he most likely intended to use for performances at the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a university and community based orchestra and performance society for which he was director for a decade. (more…)

Britten, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976

Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10, 1937

Frank BridgeThe English composer Benjamin Britten has proven to be one of the most original and enduring composers of the 20th century. Celebrated primarily for his vocal music, particularly his songs, several successful operas and the War Requiem, Britten was an equally brilliant instrumental composer with a number of excellent chamber pieces and at least two very popular orchestral scores: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell (also known as A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) and Variations on the Theme of Frank Bridge. The common element between both works (and a number of other examples in his oeuvre) is a marvelous specialty of Britten’s: a theme and variations with a concluding fugue, naturally based on the theme as well. (more…)