Claude Debussy released his String Quartet in 1894 with the designation Op. 10 and the words “1er Quatuor” (first quartet) on the cover. Both labels are misleading, since he hadn’t actually published nine previous compositions and never wrote a second quartet.
The Pièces de clavecin en concerts are Rameau’s only works for keyboard with additional instruments. The Concerto No. 5 in D minor has three movements, each named in honor of another musician or performer from Rameau’s day.
Jean Françaix, still composing into the mid-1990s, was one of the last living people with a direct connection to the great French tradition of the early 20th century. He was mentored by Maurice Ravel who observed that “among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity.”
Dvořák had no hang-ups about writing symphonies. Perhaps because he was Czech, at the fringe of the German-Austrian mainstream, he wasn’t intimidated by Beethoven, bent on proving himself a worthy heir to a great legacy. He could just be himself.
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, Jean Françaix arranged it as a Nonet for Winds and Strings. So this is a piece by Mozart, but certainly one filled with qualities Françaix favored in his own works too.
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.