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.
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 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.