The Golden Age of Cinema

The story of film music—at least orchestral soundtracks from the 1930s through the ’60s—is mostly the story of European immigrants and first-generation East-Coasters who wound their way to Hollywood. American cinema has always imported its materials as much as it has exported its products.

Pavel Haas: Study for Strings

Pavel Haas’s Study for Strings is filled with lively textures with folksy overlays, all while carrying alternating airs of exuberance and introspection. It is hard to know what to expect music written directly in the midst of the Holocaust to sound like, but here it is—Haas was a Czech Jew interned at Theresienstadt where he composed and premiered it.

Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21

In 1829 Frédéric Chopin was still Fryderyk—a 19-year-old Polish pianist of some acclaim. On November 1 of the following year, he would leave for a concert tour to Vienna and end up exiled after a rebellion against the Russian Empire failed, making a return home untenable. Both his piano concertos were written in his last years in Poland, and became passports to success in Western Europe.

Samuel Barber: Second Essay for Orchestra

Samuel Barber is perhaps our only orchestral essayist: he wrote three between 1937 and 1978. The Second Essay is his peak Jimmy Stewart-era entry, written in 1942. It develops personal convictions into a common-sense argument, and then an impassioned speech. It suggests a kind of civic-minded idealism without an ounce of jingoism.

The Kreutzer Sonata

The link between Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for violin and Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata for string quartet runs through Tolstoy, whose 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata took its title from Beethoven. So Beethoven inspired Tolstoy, who inspired Janáček.