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The Concert
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
266 Episodes

Works for keyboard and string sextet performed by Charlie Albright, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.

  • Janácek: Sonata 1.X.1905
  • Dvorák: Sextet in A Major; Op. 48, B. 80

Today, we’ll hear from two important Czech composers: Dvorák, whose idiomatic Slavonic pieces were among the first to put Czech music on the Western classical “map,” and Janácek, whose inventive work brought it into the 20th century. We begin with Janácek’s Sonata 1.X.1905, an emotional epitaph written to commemorate František Pavlí, killed October 1st, 1905, in demonstrations in Brno. The demonstrators were calling on the government to open a university in the city; the peaceful protest turned violent when Pavlí, a carpenter, was bayoneted by soldiers. Janácek’s emotion about the incident, and also his reaction to it, is clear from the music. Next, we’ll hear Dvorák’s String Sextet in A Major. Written in 1878, around the same time as the wildly successful Slavonic Rhapsodies and Dances, the sextet, too, draws on traditional Czech forms and styles. The middle two movements are modeled on two such folk sources: the Dumka, a thoughtful and melancholy epic ballad, and the Furiant, a fiery Bohemian dance.

2 years ago | |
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Works for keyboard and string quintet performed by Katherine Chi, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.

  • Busoni/Liszt: Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
  • Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515

The late 80’s were good to Mozart. In 1786, his opera The Marriage of Figaro premiered to widespread acclaim; the next year, Don Giovanni opened to similar accolades. The work we’ll hear on today’s podcast, his string quintet in C Major, K. 515, springs from that wonderfully productive time. For this delightful and sunny quintet, Mozart imaginatively adds a second viola to the standard string quartet. He uses this second interior voice to lovely effect in the third movement in particular, as a duet partner to the first violin. We’ll introduce the quintet, fittingly, with an arrangement of themes from Mozart’s then-recent operatic triumph, The Marriage of Figaro. Katherine Chi will perform the Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Composed by Liszt but left incomplete, the piece and was later completed and published by the famous pianist and Liszt enthusiast Ferruccio Busoni. A charming pianistic take on the opera, the piece quotes two arias: “Voi che sapete” and “Non più andrai.”

2 years ago | |
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  • Tchaikovsky: Meditation
  • Dvorák: String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77

Stravinsky once famously said, “Good composers borrow. Great composers steal.” Today we’ll listen to works by two composers who stole from themselves. “Meditation” began its life as the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, but was rejected and re-cast as the first movement of his Souvenir d'un lieu cher for violin and piano, and finally extracted and published separately, as it is performed in this recording. Dvorák’s String Quintet was originally written as a five-movement work, with an Intermezzo as the second movement, as we hear it performed on this podcast. That movement, however, was cut from the final version of the quintet, and it has had several lives in other arrangements.

2 years ago | |
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  • Dvorák: Terzetto in C Major, Op. 74
  • Dvorák: Serenade for Winds and Strings in D minor, Op. 44

Today, we will hear two pieces by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorák, beginning with his Terzetto for two violins and viola from 1887. Besieged with commissions after several very successful trips to England, Dvorák wrote this piece in just one week! Unapologetically melodic, the Terzetto’s themes dovetail and layer between the instruments, always containing a hint of wistfulness. The piece is far more rich, dramatic, and complex than either its title or its simple instrumentation would indicate. One of Dvorák’s earlier works, his Serenade for Winds and Strings, was written over the course of two weeks in 1879, during another period of increased demand for his compositions. Scored for a large ensemble of winds, brass, cello and bass, it nonetheless maintains a simplicity of line and texture. The work’s solidity of sound and honesty of expression convey an integrity that is present in much of Dvorák’s music, especially fitting for a composer who always placed family, homeland, nature, and music above all else.

2 years ago | |
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Works for voice, piano, and string quartet performed by Jeanine De Bique, soprano; Warren Jones, piano; and the Borromeo String Quartet.

  • Wolf: Six Songs
  • Beethoven: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3

Some composers distinguish themselves in a single genre: Hugo Wolf, for example, whose brilliant lieder are like mini-monodramas, containing a whole world of feeling in less than two minutes of music. We’ll start with a selection of six of Wolf’s songs. But our main order of business on this podcast is a composer who can’t be bound by one signature form: Beethoven. Though published as number three in his first set of string quartets, the D Major quartet was in fact the first string quartet Beethoven wrote. Beethoven had waited about eight years from the time he arrived on the scene in Vienna before trying his hand at string quartets; some have postulated that this may well have been due to the shadow that his own teacher at the time, Haydn, cast over the form. When Beethoven finally published the set of six quartets from which this piece hails, he did it right. These quartets aren’t yet the work of a revolutionary, but they demonstrate Beethoven’s complete command of the form, and they clearly positioned him as one of its greatest living proponents. It was an important turning point: in 1802, Haydn fell sick. Though he battled his illness for several more years, he wouldn’t live to complete another quartet. The quartet, it seemed, had a new king.

2 years ago | |
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Works for string quartet and string quintet performed by Musicians from Marlboro.

  • Dvorák: Two Waltzes, Op. 54
  • Dvorák: String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97, B. 180

Much of Dvorák’s music—including the piece that he’s perhaps best-known for now, the New World symphony—inhabits a sort of cultural limbo. In the case of New World, it’s a musical homage to popular and folk tunes of America, but it’s written by a Czech composer, and at times Dvorák’s own background comes through. Today’s podcast features another of Dvorák’s “American” works, the string quintet in E-flat Major, inspired by the composer’s first long vacation in the States. As the story goes, Dvorák was immediately taken with the simple, pentatonic folk songs he heard during his time in Spillville, Iowa, and this delightful string quintet does indeed sound distinctly “American” from the start, despite its foreign authorship. We’ll set the stage for this piece—which makes up the bulk of today’s program—with another example of Dvorák’s cross-cultural explorations, this one with a more distinctly Slavic accent. The two waltzes, opus 54, apply Dvorák’s sensibility to that classic Austrian form: the waltz.

2 years ago | |
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Works for voice and piano performed by baritone Randall Scarlata, soprano Jennifer Aylmer, and pianists Jeremy Denk and Laura Ward.

  • Ives: Selected Songs
  • Tin Pan Alley Selections

Today’s podcast features a wonderful bouquet of American song—beginning with selection by Charles Ives, and then moving onto works by Tin Pan Alley composers. Though at first blush they may seem like odd bedfellows, it’s important to remember than many of the Tin Pan Alley greats were contemporaries of Ives. The context was certainly different—Ives is often thought of as an under-appreciated (and commercially unsuccessful) pioneer, while the writers on Tin Pan Alley were employed by music publishers, and as such their work was expected to have commercial appeal. But both were masters of their respective domains. We’ll begin with 8 selections by Ives, performed by baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Jeremy Denk. Ives is a master of setting the scene, of evoking a time and place with just a few minutes of music. He does so here with great skill. Scarlata then joins soprano Jennifer Aylmer and pianist Laura Ward to perform 11 tunes from Tin Pan Alley—some familiar, some less so, but all delightful.

2 years ago | |
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Works for mezzo-soprano, strings, and piano performed by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Musicians from Marlboro.

The two works on today’s podcast share a common inspiration: Romantic literature. First on the program, we’ll hear Respighi’s Il Tramonto, or The Sunset, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet or orchestra. Respighi was in his early 30s when he wrote the piece, working on it simultaneously with what was to be his career’s watershed composition, The Fountains of Rome. The work hinges on its text—a 19th-century poem by Percy Shelley that brims with the unfulfilled love and longing that characterize much poetry of the era. The second piece on the program, Brahms’ third piano quartet in C minor, is inspired by another tale of star-crossed lovers: Goethe’s famous Werther. Brahms gave the quartet the subtitle “Werther” himself; apparently, he thought the first movement embodied the protagonist’s sorrow and desperation in finding that his beloved has married another. Interestingly, this piece, like Respighi’s, was an early composition: Brahms began work on it as early as 1855, when he was in his early twenties.

2 years ago | |
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Works for solo piano and string quartet performed by Charlie Albright, piano, and Musicians from Marlboro.

  • Haydn: Piano Sonata No. 62 in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52
  • Haydn: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 17, No. 4, Hob. III:28

For most of his life, Haydn enjoyed a level of stability and comfort most contemporary composers would envy. For about 30 years, he was resident composer to the Esterhazy court, where he wrote musical works by the dozens and was given his own orchestra to perform them. Although much of his output was dictated by his employer’s needs, some works in his catalogue seem to have been personal projects, or at least destined for players beyond the palace walls. Haydn’s dazzling, ambitious Piano Sonata No. 62 was written for a close friend who was a virtuoso pianist in London, and is designed to show off not only her skill, but also the capabilities of the new, powerful English pianos. There’s no evidence that the second piece on today’s program, Haydn’s String Quartet in C minor, was ever played at the Esterhazy court. Haydn’s quartets were, however, performed in Vienna, where they were apparently a hit with audiences, according to contemporary critical accounts.

2 years ago | |
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Works for solo piano and string quartet performed by Seymour Lipkin, piano, and the Belcea Quartet.

  • Schubert: Impromptu in E-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 2
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (“Death and the Maiden”)

Once you get to podcast 131, we figure you earn the right to repeat yourself. And we’re doing just that with this encore performance of one of the great string quartets: Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” In contrast to certain other titled works, which were appended with descriptive names by publishers trying to sell sheet music, the title “Death and the Maiden” was given, in this case, by the composer himself. It was very much intended as a descriptive, alluding not just to Schubert’s quotation of his own song of the same title (which appears in the second movement), but to the thematic content of the entire piece. Written at a time when Schubert was suffering from a prolonged battle with syphilis, many scholars have suggested that the quartet exposes his own longing for the relief of death. Before jumping into this work, we’ll hear Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat Major, a brief keyboard work written a few years after “Death and the Maiden,” near the end of Schubert’s life.

2 years ago | |
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