In 1885 the New York philanthropist Jeannette Thurber founded the National Conservatory of Music of America, and in 1892 recruited Dvořák to be its director. In the words of H. L. Mencken, he was hired to “introduce Americans to their own music.”
The longest gap in Dmitri Shostakovich’s symphonic output was the eight years between his Symphony No. 9, in 1945, and No. 10, in 1953. In between, he was denounced by Soviet authorities for a second time, accused of “formalism”—writing music without a proper social purpose.
Both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Niccolò Paganini were virtuosos of their eras. There the similarities seem to end.
Bacewicz wrote her Overture (Uwertura in Polish) in Warsaw in 1943 under German occupation. It was not premiered until September 1945, in a very different world.
In about nine weeks over the summer of 1788, Mozart wrote three symphonies that embraced an idiosyncratic personal vision.
Maurice Ravel’s Introduction et allegro is really a little harp concerto commissioned by the Érard instrument company in response to a competitor, Pleyel, commissioning Claude Debussy’s similar Danse sacrée et danse profane. The two companies were engaged in harp war, each championing a different technology.
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.