When Ludwig van Beethoven’s Second Symphony premiered, to the Viennese public it was simply the sequel to a First Symphony by an up-and-coming composer who had studied with Joseph Haydn. Like many early 19th-century premieres, it was a do-it-yourself production: Beethoven conducted, played piano, booked the theater, and sold the tickets.
Brahms added the heft of a full orchestra to the variation form, and then had the nerve to make that the whole piece. What is remarkable is how the ebb and flow of each variation changes, creating different organic shapes within a strict outline.
From 1874–79, Bedřich Smetana worked on a series of orchestral tone poems on Czech themes, ultimately collected as a six-piece cycle called Má Vlast (My Fatherland). No longer was Czech music indistinguishable from that of its Austrian neighbors.
Felix Mendelssohn’s childhood contradicts the Romantic idea that great art must emerge from great struggle.
A little more than 200 years after Mozart wrote his Quintet for Winds and Piano, K. 452, Jean Françaix arranged the piece as a Nonet for Winds and Strings. So really this is a piece by Mozart, but certainly one filled with qualities Françaix favored in his own works: prominent wind writing and a surface-level decorativeness that belies a deeply-felt inner world.
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’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.
1789 was an unusually fallow year for Mozart, who was dealing with the poor health of his wife, Constanze; the death of their infant child (the second in two years); and various financial problems. The Clarinet Quintet was one of few bright spots.
The Clarinet Quintet, Op. 10, is one of Coleridge-Taylor’s first mature pieces, dating from 1895. He wrote it in response to a challenge from his teacher, who remarked that it would be impossible to write a clarinet quintet without being influenced by Johannes Brahms.
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.