Beethoven in 1804, / Detail of a portrait by W. J. Mähler
Beethoven’s odd numbered symphonies have the reputation of being stormy and dramatic, while the even numbered symphonies seem more gentle and easy-going. For that reason, perhaps, the even numbered ones are less popular. Symphony no. 6, Pastoral, is easily the best known and most performed of the even numbered symphonies.
Beethoven worked on his Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, among other major works, between 1806 and 1808. The latter two are the first of Beethoven’s symphonies with trombone parts.
Many symphonies and chamber works are known by nicknames that, more often than not, the composer never thought of. Beethoven himself supplied names for the Third Symphony (Eroica) and the Sixth (Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life).
Interior of the Gewandhaus concert hall, 1845, location of the premiere of the Great C Major Symphony / Illustrirte Zeitung, 19. April 1845, p. 253
Franz Schubert started at least ten symphonies and completed seven of them. The last completed symphony is known as the Great C Major Symphony to distinguish it from the shorter Sixth Symphony, also in C Major. It has been variously numbered 7, 8, and 9.
None of his symphonies were known in his lifetime. Why? Did the Viennese musical establishment callously neglect the young composer?
Generations of critics leveled that charge. But it seems that Schubert’s own insecurities kept him from even trying to gain an audience for his symphonies until very close to his death. Continue reading →
I came across some old notes I wrote about my community orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Suite from Swan Lake. It was kind of a shambles, because, it appears, there is more than one suite. We found that out when the guest conductor had a completely different score than what we had prepared.
Investigating on the internet, I don’t find any explicit description of more than one suite, but I do find that Tchaikovsky himself did not extract a suite from his ballet. And that the ballet was not especially successful in his lifetime. Continue reading →
Children love music. They don’t know or care what music adults think they ought to love. So when they get a chance to hear classical music, children love classical music.
After a Covid-related hiatus, the Eastern Music Festival is presenting its 61st season in Greensboro, North Carolina. Since 2010, it has presented children’s programming in various branches of the Greensboro Public Library called Encircling the City. I first wrote about this project when it was fairly new.
This year, seven different library branches hosted programs. I attended three of them and heard three different string quartets perform. The format was largely the same as before, although it had a different conclusion than I recalled before.
Quartet members were all fellows at the Eastern Music Festival. One of them explained that a fellowship is like an internship. They don’t get lessons, but they have started professional careers and perform with the faculty orchestra. Continue reading →
Statue of Antonín Dvořák in front of Rudolfinum in Prague, Czech Republic / Wikimedia Commons
Brahms is generally considered Beethoven’s chief successor as a symphonist, but a good case can be made for Antonin Dvořák. Most of Beethoven’s followers seemed to regard his middle period as a boundary beyond which they would not go. Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8 in G major, like most of Beethoven’s, charts new structural ground.
Dvořák’s music had an odd relationship with the Brahms wing of German music. Critics such as Edouard Hanslick held it in high esteem. But they believed that German composers represented the pinnacle of musical genius. Being Czech and not German, Dvořák only counted as a second-class citizen of their musical world. Continue reading →
It seems that every year, at least one major article appears that either mourns classical music’s death or seeks to dance on its grave. What’s wrong with classical music? Can it still be important, or is it dying?
(Classical music comprises a wide spectrum of music, but this article only deals with orchestral music to keep focus.)
It seems that fewer and fewer people like it. They complain it’s old and boring music of long-dead composers. How can anything that old still be relevant today? (Never mind that plenty of people enjoy literature, theater, and visual arts of the same vintage.) Continue reading →