Friday, February 26, 2016

Classical Symphonies

No. 216  of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


In past montages, we have considered many symphonies – from the massive opuses by Bruckner and Mahler, to the more modest contributions in the form of “sinfonias” by Mozart and Mendelssohn. The word symphony, which literally means ‘sounding together’, was used in the Baroque period to indicate a piece of music played together by a combination of instruments. The word appears in Handel’s oratorio, the ‘Messiah’, as an instrumental interlude described as a pastoral symphony, quiet music to indicate peace in the fields in the evening.

From the mid-1700’s onwards composers started to shape up instrumental works around this pattern with each part developing as a movement in its own right. Composers such as Stamitz and two of J S Bach’s sons, C P E Bach and J C Bach, were really important in establishing the style, but it was the two great composers of the Classical period, Mozart and Haydn, who completed this development and added a further movement, a minuet and trio, before the final fast movement.

The classical symphony as we regard it today follows a formula that was honed by Joseph Haydn, who composed 104 symphonies, though – to no one’s surprise – didn’t necessarily follow the nould we so readily assign to him.

  • Movement 1: Fast, usually an allegro and in what became known as sonata form.
  • Movement 2: Slow and often in a simple form such as ternary form.
  • Movement 3: Minuet and trio, a dance borrowed from the Baroque period and in ternary form.
  • Movement 4: Fast and usually an allegro, often light-hearted in style and in a form such as rondo form, theme and variations or sonata form.

At the same time a larger orchestra became established of strings, a woodwind section of a flute, two oboes, two clarinets and two bassoons, with some brass instruments, two French horns, sometimes two trumpets and normally only timpani from the percussion section. This larger orchestra became fully established in the symphonies of Mozart and Haydn.

Today’s montage considers three classical symphonies that closely adhere to this formula. Haydn’s 22nd symphony dates from 1764, during his tenure as Vice-Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. As Vice-Kapellmeister Haydn was in charge of all but religious music in the Esterházy household; in particular he was the leader of the orchestra and was expected to compose symphonies for it to perform. This ensemble numbered about fifteen players. The symphony’s nickname ("the Philosopher") is thought to derive from the melody and counterpoint of the first movement (between the horns and cor anglais), which musically allude to a question followed by an answer and paralleling the disputatio system of debate. The piece's use of a muted tick-tock effect also evokes the image of a philosopher deep in thought while time passes by.

Next, chronologically is a symphony written by the then 17-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in October 1773, shortly after the success of his opera seria Lucio Silla. Its first movement is widely known as the opening music in Miloš Forman's film Amadeus. This is one of two symphonies Mozart composed in G minor, sometimes referred to as the "little G minor" - the other is the more famous Symphony No. 40.

To complete the trio of works, we turn to a contemporary of both Mozart and Haydn, Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806 –1826), a Spanish Classical-era composer. He was nicknamed "the Spanish Mozart" after he died, because, like Wolfgang, he was both a child prodigy and an accomplished composer who died young. They also shared the same first and second baptismal names; and they shared the same birthday, January 27 (fifty years apart). The amount of Arriaga's music that has survived to the present day is quite small, reflecting his early death. It includes an opera, string quartets, masses and  a Symphony in D (Sinfonía a gran orquesta), which uses D major and D minor so equally that it is not in either key.

I think you will love this music too!

UPDATE - This podcast provides the background music to this YouTube video - check it out!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Henryk Szeryng Mozart Violin Concertos #3 & #5

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

I take particular satisfaction, in these Vinyl's Revenge posts, to share recordings from my old vinyl collection that allowed me to first discover portions of the repertoire.

I first heard Mozart's violin concerto no. 3 in concert - at the old Mointreal Symphony Summer series at Notre-Dame Basilica. The soloist that day was then-concertmaster Richard Roberts, who studied one summer under the Polish-born, adopted Mexican violinist Henryk Szeryng. In my quest to find some examples of the Mozart concertos, I stumbled into this vinyl re-issue from the 1970's featuring Szeryng and the "New" Philharmonia orchestra. This was part of a larger Mozart cycle, which Philips re-issued a few times since.

Henryk started piano and harmony lessons with his mother when he was 5, and at age 7 turned to the violin, receiving instruction from Maurice Frenkel. After studies with Carl Flesch in Berlin (1929–32), he went to Paris to continue his studies with Jacques Thibaud at the Conservatory, graduating with a premier prix in 1937. From 1933 to 1939 he studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.

When World War II broke out, General Wladyslaw Sikorski - the Premier of the Polish government in exile - asked Szeryng, who was fluent in seven languages, to serve as his liaison officer and interpreter. In 1941 he accompanied the prime minister to Latin America to find a home for some 4,000 Polish refugees; the refugees were taken in by Mexico, and Szeryng, in gratitude, settled there himself, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1946. Throughout World War II, he appeared in some 300 concerts for the Allies. After the war, he pursued a brilliant international career; was also active as a teacher. In 1970 he was made Mexico's special adviser to UNESCO in Paris.

Szeryng's noble tone, flawless technique, and eloquent expressivity are wonderfully well-suited to Mozart's youthful concertos, and his lyrical yet playful interpretations touch the elegant impetuosity at the heart of the music. Philips late-'60s stereo sound is absolutely translucent and immediate.


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major, K.216
Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major, K.219 ('Turkish')

Henryk Szeryng, violin
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Alexander Gibson, conducting
Philips 6570024 Festivo Series (AAA)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Piano Quintets

No. 215 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s montage completes a short series of chamber music podcasts, where we looked at unique combinations of instruments exploring different eras and traditions.  This week’s installment goes back to the quintet – featuring strings and a “solo” instrument. Last month, we looked at the clarinet and this time, a more familiar instrument in quintet repertoire, the piano.

Though we could legitimately say it also for the clarinet, I think we typically view the piano quintet more like a chamber concerto rather than a piece of chamber music where the five players are “equal partners”.

The term “chamber concerto” in this context isn’t inappropriate at all– consider this piece by Ernest Chausson, featuring a string quartet as the backdrop for a pair of “soloists” – violin and piano.

Chausson studied composition under Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, and so did one of our featured composers this week, Gabriel Pierné . As a student at the venerable institution, Pierné won first prizes for solfège, piano, organ, counterpoint and fugue, and won the Prix de Rome in 1882. He was a seasoned organist (he studied under Franck and succeeded him as organist at Ste Clotilde), he also conducted the première of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird with the Ballets Russes in 1910.

Pierné’s output as a composer is quite diverse, including several operas and choral and symphonic pieces, as well as 2o-odd pieces of chamber music. His chamber work, Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire, for saxophone quartet is a standard in saxophone quartet repertoire. His quintette en trois parties for piano and strings is dedicated to another giant of the era, Gabriel Fauré, in whose modal language the work relies heavily. The work, composed in the throes of World War I also shows some tinges of the overall austere national mood of the time.

A survey of piano quintets, albeit short, would be incomplete without Schubert’s “Trout” quintet for piano and strings. Rather than the usual piano quintet lineup of piano and string quartet, Schubert's piece is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Schubert wrote a piece that was quite popular at the time, his lied "Die Forelle" (The Trout), D 550. Set to a poem by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart,it tells the story of a trout being caught by a fisherman, but in its final stanza reveals its purpose as a moral piece warning young women to guard against young men.

In 1819 Sylvester Baumgartner—a music patron and amateur cellist—commissioned Schubert to write a piece of chamber music based on "Die Forelle"; which became the quintet for piano and strings in which he quoted the song in a set of variations in the fourth movement. The piece later became known as the Trout Quintet (D. 667).

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Robin Alciatore Plays Chopin

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

I know I'm a few days shy of Valentine's Day, but I thought I would share some romantic music for this month's installment of Once Upon the Internet, and delve into some downloads from the defunct MP3.COM.

For those of us who emember the site, there were a few "special pages"of classical content, and one of them was aptky titled "The Music of Frederic Chopin" and featured American pianist, and well-known Internet artist, Robin Alciatore. According to her website, Robin Alciatore is one of the most popular classical pianists on the internet. Her recording of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" has been downloaded more than 4 million times. 

Robin holds degrees from Loyola Marymount University and the University of Southern California. Her former teachers include Johana Harris, Daniel Pollack, and Nino Albanese. In addition to her six full-length CDs and several singles, Robin has provided music for several feature films and many documentaries. She maintains a full teaching schedule and collaborates often with vocalists and instrumentalists.

I don't know if it's appropriate for me to call her a "new age music" specialist, though her CDs seem to point us in that direction... These well-known Chopin works are given a solid look, an honest interpretations. Well worth listening!

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

·         Etudes, op. 10 no. 1, no. 2 and no. 5
·         Mazurkas, op. 6 no. 1; op. 63, no. 3; op. 68 no. 2 and no. 3
·         Nocturnes, op. 9 no. 2; op. 27, no. 2; op. 37, No. 1; op. 48, no. 1; op. 55, no.1
·         Prelude, op. 28 no. 6, no. 15, no. 20 and no. 24
·         Waltses, op. 64, no. 2; op. 69, no. 1 and no. 2; op. 70, no. 1 and no. 2; op. post (BI 56)
·         Polonnaise op. 26, no. 1
·         Ballade no. 1, op. 23

Robin Alciatore, piano
(Downloaded from MP3.COM)