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.
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.
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.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was always a composer of the long 19th century, but he had become a man of the 20th, interested in cars, speedboats, and airplanes. In these dances, he allowed some of that streamlined luxury into his plush Romanticism.
“Why not begin by remembering the strangely mystical satisfaction of stretching my arms over the piano keyboard and bringing forth—not a melody. Far from it! No, it had to be a chord…”
Sibelius’s Second Symphony is tightly composed with a compelling yet abstract trajectory. The rippling opening bars propel everything that follows, unfurling into a first movement that is inevitably called brisk or bracing.
It took Holst almost four years to complete The Planets and then it was another three years before a complete performance was staged. The piece quickly became extremely popular, and the shy and humble Holst achieved a level of celebrity he never really sought nor wanted.
This violin concerto was likely premiered by Bologne with the Concert des Amateurs, and was published around 1775 by Antoine Bailleux. Look out for the sudden entry of peasant pipes and fiddles, crashing the elegant ambiance—a musical anticipation of the French Revolution to come.